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Breaking the Window

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Bellatrix Black grunted as she kicked against a small rock as hard as she could. It shot forward, skidding over the uneven ground of the Forbidden Forest, ticking as it collided against other rocks. Finally, it came to a halt right in front of her feet and she kicked it again for good measure, gleefully imagining it to be Rodolphus Lestrange's bloody, stupid, severed head.

The rock shot forward again, this time landing in the underbrush and no longer in the frustrated Bellatrix's path.

Rodolphus had been particularly insufferable ever since her betrothal to her had been agreed upon by both their families. Oh, the papers loved it, of course: it was all over the society pages. Of course, she herself hadn't had any say in this whatsoever. Bellatrix let out another frustrated shriek, looking for something to kick and finally taking it all out on a fallen log.

It wasn't fair.

She'd been offered an auror apprentice-ship after her graduation! She'd aced all her NEWTS to this date, to a point that even McGonagall had named her the Brightest Witch of her Age! She developed her own spells! She was the Slytherin team star chaser! Yet bitterness overcame her in light of the fact that all of those great achievements would mean absolutely nothing: Rodolphus had made it clear that he expected her to stay at home and pop out plenty of pretty pure-blood kiddies on a regular basis.

It made her angry. So very angry. Of course she understood her duty to pure-blood society and wizardkind: there needed to be pure-blood offspring and as a girl, she was expected to birth the next generation of pure-bloods. Fine.

But this was 1968! It was perfectly possible to have a family and a career. Many witches already did so. This was a modern time, after all.

Unfortunately, her father agreed with Rodolphus: pure-blood procreation above everything else, he had said. Though it had pained him to have to disappoint his eldest daughter, the future of wizard-kind was more important than her happiness. Yes. Bellatrix was still bitter about it and would likely feel that way for the rest of her life.

Bellatrix let out another cry of frustration and gave the log a few more savage kicks, grunting with every impact. A sharp pain shot through her foot as her toe hit the log at an unfortunate angle.

Great, now her foot hurt. Could this day get any worse?

Bellatrix closed her eyes and let out a few deep sighs, forcing herself to calm down. She took in the silence of the Forbidden Forest in the dead of night, and found the place soothing. Certainly, she'd been told it was dangerous and off-limits, but that had never stopped her before. She knew all the ways to get in and out of Hogwarts undetected and did so often... stopping by the Hog's Head for some old-fashioned underage drinking or simply enjoying a few moments of freedom by taking a walk through the Forbidden Forest to enjoy a moment of solitude.

Solitude without the burden of expectations or politics. Just being on her own.

She stopped and sighed: sometimes she wished she could just talk to someone. She had allies and toadies, but no friends. No real friends at least. Nobody to confide in. No shoulder to cry on. There were Andie and Cissy, of course, but they wouldn't understand. They couldn't understand what fate was looming above their heads too.

So Bellatrix lost herself in her hobby: stories of the macabre, the frightening and the disgusting. Another thing she couldn't share with her sisters, since Andie had no taste for it and Cissy was one big scaredy cat who jumped at her own shadow.

Horror. Horror was a clown at your back door at midnight: the wrong thing at the wrong place at the wrong time. And here, surrounded by the darkness of the Forbidden Forest, she found a good atmosphere to read lovely short frightening tales... and write them.

Oh, she couldn't compare with the great authors of the macabre, even she was grounded enough for that, but she did get the feeling she was getting better at writing and spinning words to paper. Besides, it was very therapeutic.

She found a nice spot to sit down and produced a scroll and quill. Hm, what to write today? What violent and successful death would the male protagonist of the story, a gormless-bloke-who-was-in-no-way-a-representation-of-Rodolphus-Lestrange-no-really-how-could-anything-think-that?-It's-absolutely-not-true-whatsoever-and-anyone-who'd-suggest-so-is-a-rotten-liar, suffer through today? Hm, perhaps a wendigo? Or a skinwalker? Skinwalkers were always good. Or perhaps a cat-and-mouse-game with a vampire or just a good old simple gory cave bear mauling.

Wouldn't it be funny if a cave bear would maul Rodolphus' todger off so father would have to find another marriage candidate for her? She briefly wondered if it would be possible to rent a cave bear from somewhere. A really big one with big claws.

She's just put her quill to the paper to proclaim that 'it was a dark and stormy night' when something caught her eye in the distance. Truth be told, she ended up a bit deeper in the Forbidden Forest than she was used, so she didn't know the terrain all that well here. She spotted an odd glow in the distance, bright and blue.

Curious. That kind of glow could only be produced by the fields of glowcaps which were located in this part of the forest, but she had just passed the largest one she knew of at least. This warranted further investigation.

Carefully, she pushed herself through the underbrush and found herself standing in a small clearing. In the center of a clearing stood what seemed to be a large and gnarly dead and petrified tree with massive roots. Located in the space between two of the largest roots was a small pool of blue glowing water.

Being a pure-blood witch, she could feel the sheer power tingling in the air. That pool she was looking at was radiating pure concentrated magic from its still waters. The entire forest had seemingly gone silent around her. Bellatrix closed her eyes and enjoyed the feeling of the powerful waves of magic passing through her body.

Bellatrix was very much aware that this setup was starting to look a lot like one of the scenarios of one of her favourite horror stories... which usually never ended well. Still, curiously overcame any sense of self-preservation. The magic here: it was so strong that it simply pulled her towards it.

Carefully, she took a look into the pool. At first glance, it seemed like a normal small and still pond, but when she took a closer look something was off.

The pool was smooth as a mirror even though there was a slight breeze on the air. But the reflection of the forest around her was different: in the surface of the pool, she could see a fallen tree, snapped in half by what looked to be a lightning strike. When she looked behind her, she could see the same tree standing proud and fierce. She could spot more differences, but one thing was so glaring yet so subtle that she didn't notice at first: she couldn't see her own reflection.

She held out her hand above the pool and... nothing. Just as she was contemplating picking up a stone and dropping it into the water to see what would happen, she heard someone approach. It was the tell-tale sounds of twigs snapping underneath feet. Instinctively, she turned to look but saw no one. Until she realized that the sounds were coming not from the forest, but from the pool itself.

Exciting!


Hermione Granger held on to her basket as she made her way through the Forbidden Forest. It had taken some time for her to get the permission needed to exit the castle at night so she could look for the glowcaps she needed for an experiment in potioneering she'd been working on, but so far she found the pickings slim. This forced her to go a bit deeper into the forest than she was comfortable with.

She had no idea why Filch was being so difficult, really. She had fought in a war, after all. If she should stand up to Voldemort and his ilk, there was little in the Forbidden Forest which could be a threat to her.

Since glowcaps, a magical mushroom, only came out at night, she'd have to traverse the darkness of the forest. Still, she found the quiet to be soothing.

And it wasn't as if she got much sleep these days anyway.

When the dust settled and the war ended, she was left to deal with the consequences. What she hadn't expected, however, was to deal with the trauma and nightmares. Honestly, she'd been doing fine until she actually had the time and luxury to stop and think about all the bad things which had happened to her the past few years. All the lies, the violence, the war, the pain. She wondered how Harry was dealing with it all.

Adamant to finish her education, she had returned to Hogwarts to do her seventh year. Unfortunately, she was one of the only ones from her year to do so. Harry and Ron went straight to the auror corps, most of her friends either elected not to return at all or simply skipped a year to make sense of what had happened in her life. Luna, for example, had decided to take a year off Hogwarts to travel Europe with her father. So had many others.

She broke up with Ron, of course, so that was a thing. Honestly, they were never a good fit and she didn't know which one of them had been more relieved when they finally decided to break it off. Hermione wouldn't be welcome at the Weasley household for a bit until things would cool down, but at least she and Ron were still good friends.

Still, this left her without her friends to talk to. And to stave off her own trauma and nightmares, she threw herself one her academic pursuits with gusto. If she could only keep busy enough, she could push all her worries and fears to the background where they belonged. Focus on her work meant less focus on her... her...

… her soul-crushing loneliness.

Hermione stopped in her tracks, feeling involuntary tears well up again. She had mood-swings like this more and more often. The tears came and she let them flow, her body shaking. She didn't even quite know just why she was crying, even.

Hermione wiped her tears away with her sleeve. Perhaps her mum had been right: perhaps she should see a therapist. Therapy and mental healthcare had seen a bit of a surge in the wizarding world after the end of the second wizarding war, to a point where Hogwarts was considering putting a therapist on staff. Perhaps she should talk to McGonagall about finding a good therapist who was in the know about the wizarding world.

She couldn't go on like this. That was for sure. Hermione closed her eyes and remembered her breathing exercises.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Glowcaps. Focus on the glowcaps. Forget the rest.

Hermione thus forced herself to focus and search for more mushrooms, pushing anything else aside like she always did. When she spotted a bright blue glow in the distance, she felt elated for a moment, thinking she had hit the jackpot. She rushed forward and pushed through the underbrush... only to be surprised not to see a single glowcap in the clearing. Disappointed, but still curious, she noticed she had arrived in a clearing where a large petrified tree stood in the middle and nestled between its root was a blue glowing pool which was still as a graveyard.

The magic in the air was… astounding. Though she had not grown up around magic like some others, the amount of energy in the air was nothing short of overwhelming. The tips of her fingers started to tingle from the power. Hell, magical currents like this would probably have her hair stand on end from static discharge.

Hermione approached carefully, twigs snapping underneath her feet. She put down her basket on one of the larger roots to peer into the pond.

Immediately, she was given the fright of her life: in that pool she saw a face she had seen in every single one of her nightmares. Bellatrix Lestrange: the woman whom had tortured and tried to murder her. The very representation of everything what was wrong in this world. A woman whom she known was dead and, to her shame, had been happy to see die, was now looking back at her with those dark eyes of hers.

Hermione let out a brief cry, taking a step backwards only to trip over a branch and full straight on her bum. She quickly scrambled away from the pool, pressing her back against the tree and being too afraid to move for a moment.

"I saw you," sounded from the pool.

That voice.

Her voice.

This couldn't be. This wasn't happening. It can't be her!

Her heart was pounding in her chest like a jackhammer and had started to hyperventilate. Hermione fought to keep her breathing under control, but fear had taken over. She remembered her breathing exercises.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Unfortunately, breathing exercises where utterly useless when one was panting like a dog.

"I can still hear you," sounded her voice. "I know you're there."

This was not happening. This could not be happening. She was dead. Bellatrix Lestrange was dead!

"Come out," sounded the voice, rather friendly even. Hah. Friendly?

Hermione remained silent for as much as she could while hyperventilating. God, she felt like she was going to faint.

"I promise I won't bite."

By now, Hermione had calmed down slightly, but enough to actually listen to the voice. The voice was unmistakably Bellatrix, but she sounded… younger. Livelier. There was a touch of Mancunian dialect on her voice, even. It sounded nothing like the screeching voice of her nightmares.

"Are you going to keep hiding all night?" sounded the voice, now with a touch of irritation. "I promise you I'm dead sound, on my honour as the eldest daughter of the House of Black."

Hearing that was enough for Hermione. In that moment, she was back on the cold floor of Malfoy Manor, a cruel hand pushing her head to the stone while a cruel taunting voice alternated between hissing whispers and ear-piercing shrieks. Hermione hissed and grasped her fore-arm: she still suffered from the cursed wound carved in her skin and stress often caused it to reopen. Right now, the jumper underneath her coat was sticking to her skin because of the blood.

This was a nightmare. A horrid nightmare. Hermione steeled herself and prepared to make a run for the treeline.

"Talk with me," sounded from the pool. "Please?"

That gave Hermione pause, even against her better judgment. That sounded… sad. Pleading, even.

Human.

Though her heart still pounded in her chest, Hermione turned her head to the pool. From her vantage point, she could only see the glowing surface. This pool. This place. That voice. All these things shouldn't be here and yet they were.

Curiosity started to override fear somewhat. Hermione decided she would at least investigate this mystery, but keep a healthy distance for now. She steeled herself and faced her fears

The young witch took a few breaths and slowly turned to face the pool again. Nervous as she was, she fought to keep herself under control. The face in the pool was undoubtedly Bellatrix Lestrange, but now that she was getting a better look, she was different. Her cheeks were fuller, her curly dark hair was more voluminous, definitely more well-kept and lacked any sense of grey. She had thicker eyebrows and no bags under her heavy-lidded eyes. She still had her strong jaw and those intense dark eyes of hers. This was Bellatrix, but... younger. If she'd have to hazard a guess, she was around her own age, perhaps a little younger even. What struck her were two things: one, what an astonishingly beautiful young woman Bellatrix was and two, how that smile on her face looked warm, inviting and so utterly alien to her.

"Hi there. Finally decided to show yourself, hm?" spoke Bellatrix. She sounded friendly enough, but that only made Hermione even more wary.

"Uhm... hello?" Hermione returned softly.

"You're not in this clearing with me," Bellatrix stated matter-of-factly.

"I... I don't think so, no," Hermione said, looking around. Then, she noticed. "The reflection in the water. It's... it's different."

"I know!" replied the young Bellatrix. "Do you feel the magic coming from the pool? It's well good, isn't it?!"

Hermione nodded. She had, in fact, noticed. "It's... it's making the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end."

"I've never seen or felt anything like this before," said Bellatrix. "You?"

"No," Hermione shook her head. "I can honestly say that I haven't."

Bellatrix frowned for a moment. "Oh, how rude of me. I have yet to introduce myself! Bellatrix Black, of the Most Noble and Ancient House of Black. Pleased to meet you."

Well, at least this iteration of Bellatrix was polite, if a little prideful… and enthusiastic.

"Hermione Granger." Hermione returned, almost automatically. "Of, well, the Completely Unimportant and Nondescript House of Granger."

That made the girl in the pool laugh. "I've never heard of your family, but then again I don't pay much attention of high society gatherings. That's more my maman's cup of tea. And Cissy's, I suppose," Bellatrix responded.

Hermione didn't bother to correct her, not sure how the younger Bellatrix would react. So far, she seemed surprisingly friendly enough. "What are you doing out here in the dead of night?"

Bellatrix smirked and crossed her arms. "I could ask the same about you."

"I was out here looking for glowcaps. Nothing more, nothing less," said Hermione, immediately on the defensive.

"Glowcaps?" Bellatrix replied. "Oh, you're quite close. They tend to grow in darker groves. You should find a big field of them about fifty yards in that direction." Indeed, Hermione followed her gaze to the direction Bellatrix was pointing out and already saw the bluish glow in the distance. "As for what I'm doing out at night? Well... I was just... I wanted to get away from it all for a bit. Not to think about anything and just enjoy some quiet."

"I think I understand that," Hermione gave the girl a half-smile.

"And then I found this pool. And you," said Bellatrix. "Wait, I have an idea."

From her vantage-point, Hermione could see that Bellatrix saw lowering her arm into the pool. Her hand slipped into the water ever so slowly. "Hermione?" she asked. "Is my hand coming out of the pool on your end?"

"No," replied Hermione. "And really, is it wise to stick your hand in an obviously strong magical pool while you have no idea what it actually does or what it is?"

Bellatrix shrugged. "Who can tell?" she said. "Come on, stick your hand in the pool. See if you can feel my fingers in the water."

"What?!" Hermione blinked. "No! That could be dangerous!"

"Oh come on," Bellatrix made a face. "Yellow chicken. Stick your hand in there."

Hermione shook her head. "This goes against every guideline about safe magical experimentation, as is described in Professor Penrose's guidebook on..."

Bellatrix sighed through her nose. "Right. Yellow chicken it is, then."

The young witch bristled: she would not be made fun of, certainly not by the likes of Bellatrix Lestrange... or Black... or whatever. "Fine!" she sighed and carefully let her hand slip in the pool. So far, the only thing she could feel was water and nothing else. She felt around and the shallow pool.

"Anything?" Bellatrix asked.

"Just roots and mud," replied Hermione. "You?"

"Same," said Bellatrix. "I guess the magic is just on the pool's surface. We are in the same place, that's for certain. But things are different. Take that tree for example. The fallen one behind you? That tree is upright behind me. This is amazing. Both here and yet we're both not."

Hermione nodded. Indeed, this was amazing. And had the person on the other side of the pool had been anyone else than Bellatrix Black, she would have been endlessly more excited. Still, this Bellatrix seemed so... so innocent and wide-eyed, lacking any of the fanatical zeal or the madness her older self had shown.

Or perhaps she was simply hiding it well.

Something was happening, however. The light around the pool was faded slightly and the image in the pool was shimmered.

"Hermione?" asked Bellatrix. "What's happening?"

The image was fading further and further until the girl in the pool was becoming harder to see and to hear. In a way, that was a blessed relief, as part of her was happy to see the girl fade away. However, before she faded fully, there was a single question. It was asked with a soft and almost wistful tone, in a way that made Hermione more curious than afraid.

"Hermione?" Bellatrix asked softly. "W-will you be back tomorrow night?"

Chapter Text

It was around midnight when Hermione arrived at the pool in the clearing, yet she found it to be a perfectly normal pond. There was not an iota of magic in the air like she had felt emanating from the pool the previous night, nor was there any kind of glow. For any passing individual, this would just seem like nothing more than a regular pool of water. Naturally, she waved her wand over to cast a few detection spells but came up with absolutely nothing.

Curious. Even if the magic had gone inactive, there should be residual traces.

Hermione sat down on one of the petrified branches to think. Had she just imagined it? She hadn't been sleeping well, after all, and the nightmares hadn't been kind of her.

It wasn't encouraging to think about, really. If she had all imagined it, that would mean she had some serious psychological issues. And, truth be told, what had happened was so outlandish that she had spent a lot of hours lying awake in her bed wondering if her sanity had slipped so far that she had started seeing people who weren't there.

She had debated with herself if she should have returned at all. If it had been all in her mind, there was no point. But if this was the real Bellatrix somehow, would she with messing with the time-line simply by talking to her? Was that how time even worked?

Temporal shenanigans aside, she asked herself if she really even want to talk to Bellatrix at all. Hermione had suffered greatly at the hand of the evil witch, who now regularly featured in her nightmares. The scar on her arm still hurt sometimes, the old wound opening up and dripping blood down her sleeve at inopportune moments. Did she really want to talk to the person who did that to her? Even if she was younger and seemingly more friendly?

Still, in the end, curiosity had won out. She was curious if what she had seen was real or not. If it wasn't, that would be a signal for her to seek more professional help. If it was real, well, then she'd have an interesting mystery on her hands. Despite Bellatrix being involved, she still preferred the latter over the former.

Hermione decided to wait besides the pool, wrapping her legs in a blanket and reading a book. She found it rather soothing and lost herself in the text. When she checked her watch, it was almost three in the morning.

Hermione let out a sigh. What was she doing? She'd been sat here in the dead of night next to a still pond in the middle of a dangerous forest for almost three hours now. The fact alone didn't speak wonders for her mental state.

"You're losing your mind, Hermione," the young witch sighed to herself and snapped her book shut. "Time to go back to Hogwarts, crawl into bed and forget that all this nonsense ever happened."

She was about to get up when she felt a gust of magic in the air and found the previously still pool radiating light and magic. Instantly, the hairs on the back of her neck stood up now that the air was suddenly charged with magic. Hermione turned her head towards the pool and found the smiling face of Bellatrix staring back at her.

"Hermione! You came back!" exclaimed Bellatrix, excitement on her voice. It almost seemed as if she hadn't been expecting that.

"Good evening, Bellatrix," greeted Hermione, sounding far more apprehensive than she would have liked.

"Don't you mean 'good morning'?" Bellatrix raised an eyebrow.

That was a good point. What time was it? The young witch checked her watch and saw that it was deep within the night. "Hm. Exactly three in the morning," she muttered, almost suppressing a yawn.

"Yeah, same here," replied Bellatrix. "Curious."

"Three AM," said Hermione, rubbing her chin. "The Witching Hour."

"That is no coincidence," Bellatrix nodded.

The Witching Hour, the time of day when all magic was at its strongest, and when supernatural events were more likely to occur. This was a well-known fact within the wizarding community and the very reason who so much magical experimentation took place in the dead of night.

"Did you happen to catch the time yesterday when the pool's magic abruptly cut out?" said Bellatrix. "I'm willing to bet it was four in the morning."

Hermione nodded. "I did not," she replied. "But we're likely to find out today. Have you been waiting long?"

Bellatrix smiled briefly. "Since about seven in the evening, right after dinner."

This made Hermione blink. She herself had arrived at midnight, and thought that had been long while Bellatrix had been sitting besides the pool for almost eight hours straight. "Wait," she said. "You've been here since early evening?"

"Hm," Bellatrix nodded. "I don't need much sleep, I got all my homework done and have been working on a new story so it's not time wasted. You?"

"Since midnight," replied Hermione, settling her back against the tree after propping her blanket between herself and the bark and getting comfortable. "Though if it's really only the Witching Hour when the pool is active, we could plan out chats better."

A brief smile crossed Bellatrix's young features. "So you'd like to chat more?"

Hermione bit her lip. Did she really? She supposed she did, for now at least. "This whole situation is fascinating, isn't it?" she responded, and that was definitely not a lie.

"I know!" replied Bellatrix. "I looked for you, you know? I've spent some time at the library looking through old yearbooks and photographs. The only reference to the Grangers I found were the Dagworth-Grangers from Kent. Not members of the Sacred 28, but a prestigious magical line nonetheless. Founders of the Most Extraordinary Society of Potioneers. That's a lot to live up to, Hermione. You must be so proud."

It was rather disturbing to hear that Bellatrix had been looking for her and into her personal history. Likely, there was actually a connection between her family and the Dagworth-Grangers, but she figured it was probably a good idea not to correct her on this assumed connection. "Well," said Hermione. "I try to be my own woman as much as possible. Sometimes, you have to make a name of your own."

"I can certainly respect that," replied Bellatrix through the pool. "But hear me out, right? I have a theory. The design of your uniform, it's different. Not like any design I've seen or managed to track down into the school archives. And then there's the matter of the dead tree behind you, while the same tree behind me is standing proud and fierce. It might be the same time, but I'm guessing it's not the same year. I'm guessing you are in the future. Well, for you it's the present, but from my perspective, I mean. So, what year is it on your end?"

Hermione bit her lip. She supposed that Bellatrix was smart enough to figure it out eventually. Should she say it? Or shouldn't she? There was really no reason to lie, she supposed. "1998," she responded, only to almost immediately regret saying it.

A gasp came from Bellatrix. "Wicked! No wonder I didn't recognize the name of your house or that I never saw you at Hogwarts! It's 1968 here. That's a difference of thirty years! That's amazing! What's the date?"

"The 30th of September."

Bellatrix grinned. "Same here."

That did make Hermione think, though. "Three AM? Thirty years? On the 30th day of the ninth month? I don't think that's a coincidence either."

"I doubt it is. My grand-père was a magic researcher and unspeakable for the French ministry before my mother's family came over to the United Kingdom," Bellatrix rubbed her chin. "When he was still alive, he told me stories that there were inherent magical traits to the number three and its multiples, like thirty, six, nine, or three-hundred. The reason why is not really understood, but grand-père devoted a lot of his life to the study of magic in numerology. He believed it was related to the Pareto principle, you know, where 80 percent of effects come from 20 percent of the causes? It's one of those mathematical rules you find everywhere in the universe."

"It is an intriguing mystery," said Hermione. And it was. What was this pool? Where had it come from? Why was it only active during the Witching Hour? How long had it been here? How long would it be here? She had to admit that, at an intellectual level, her curiosity had been more than piqued. "After all that had happened the past year, I'm all up for a more intellectual challenge."

Bellatrix fell silent for a moment, which caused Hermione to start to look down into the pool. The younger face of Bellatrix was there still, bright in the moonlight. She seemed rather conflicted about something.

"Hermione?" Bellatrix started. "If you're really thirty years in the future, there is… a good chance that I'm still alive."

Of course, she wasn't. But Hermione felt it wasn't her place to tell her that. She did her best to keep her expression as neutral as possible as she peered into the pool.

"I don't want to know what happens to me," said Bellatrix, her voice resolute.

"You don't?"

"It might be good, but it might also be bad. Or something in between. I don't want to… to lose hope. I don't want to live towards a bad future," Bellatrix cast her eyes downward, the sadness clear in her expression.

"But what if it's good?" Hermione asked, instantly cursing herself for asking that question. Bellatrix's future, as it stood, was anything but good after all.

Bellatrix looked up again. "You see, that's the thing. Good and bad is in the eye of the beholder. I… just don't want to take the risk, Hermione. So promise me. Promise me you will never tell me about what's going to happen in my future. And not even the future in general. I just don't want to know. I want to live in the now. I don't to live worrying about things that might or might not happen."

Hermione nodded. "I promise. And I promise to be careful."

"Good," smiled Bellatrix. "We can chat about everything else. School. Life. Family. Hobbies. Anything."

"Hm," said Hermione. "It helps to have a guideline. How about... we don't talk about anything that could be in the Daily Prophet? Things like local or world news, I mean. Does that make sense?"

"That does makes sense," smiled Bellatrix.

"I can't promise I won't let anything small slip in casual conversation, but I'll do my best to be very careful," Hermione promised. Perhaps sharing too much with Bellatrix' about her ultimate fate would be terribly cruel indeed.

"I won't lie. I have thousands of questions, but it's for the best that I don't ask them," replied Bellatrix.

They spent some time chatting about minor things, mostly school work related, until Bellatrix apparently checked the time and found it to be 3:55. If their theory was correct, the pool would soon stop working again. "Will you be back tomorrow?" Bellatrix asked, again oddly hopeful.

Hermione thought a moment. "I'll have to find another way to get permission to be out late. I can't keep telling Professor Sprout I need to go out to find more glowcaps."

"Permission?" Bellatrix blinked. "You asked permission?"

"Yes. Didn't you?"

"Pfft, no," Bellatrix raised an eyebrow, slightly Hermione a slightly mocking expression. "I go where I please, Hermione, and I have my ways," she leaned forward and grinned. "You know the painting of Shifty Pete Bivander, right? On the ground floor some two corridors away from Gryffindor Tower and about three from the Slytherin dungeon entrance?"

"Yes," replied Hermione. The painting was that of a famous wizard, called trickster by some and con-artist by others. He was a rather cheeky fellow who stole money from the rich but unfortunately never got around to actually give it to the poor. A scoundrel, yes, but also a master at Alchemy and Transfiguration.

"Just whisper the word 'Unxmaal' in his ear and he will allow you to pull the level behind his frame to reveal a secret corridor leading out underneath the lake right into the Forbidden Forest, near Hogsmeade," said Bellatrix. "It's just one straight walk to freedom. That's how I get in and out of the Hog's Head for some good old fashioned underage drinking. Or if I just want to be by myself out here to write or some such."

"Unxmaal," Hermione repeated. "I don't know if I should. It sounds rather..."

"Oh, come on, Hermione," Bellatrix pouted slightly. "I'd love it if we could chat more."

Hermione sighed. The pool started to shimmer as the magic was once again fading away. "Alright, I'll give it a shot. What's the worst that could happen?"

"Good!" Bellatrix replied. "See you tomorrow!"

"Goodbye," Hermione said, the last thing she saw in the pool being Bellatrix's smile. Hermione sat there for a moment, staring at the now still waters showing her own reflection and thinking just how surreal all of this was becoming.

Oddest thing was that Hermione was actually looking forward to talking to Bellatrix again and she didn't really know why.


As it stood, she simply gathered her things, folded up her blanket and gathered her basket full of glowcaps. Hermione headed back to the edge of the forest until she hit the bank of the lake and then steeled herself for the long trek towards the main entrance of the castle. Supposedly if this secret entrance came out near Hogsmeade it would mean far less of a walk. She promised herself she'd scope it out tomorrow.

When she arrived at the castle, she suppressed a yawn: the sky was clear and she could see the sun starting to rise from the east. Thankfully, it was Saturday so she could sleep in late. She knocked on the gate and after a glaring Filch let her in, she headed straight to the dorm. Her bed was very welcoming after she had tossed off her clothes and went for a quick wash. After lying down, she let the tiredness wash over her. Still, Hermione was curious.

Bellatrix seemed... nice. So innocent, enthusiastic, even. Hell, when not shouting in her face or blabbering on about magical purity, she actually seemed like an honest to goodness person.

But Hermione also remembered the vile woman she'd become: the scar on her arm was a clear indication of that. What could have happened which turned her from that cheerful teenager into the insane and deluded Bellatrix Lestrange whom had so cruelly tortured her?

Hermione was ever more determined to find out.

By now, Bellatrix had become an undeniable expert at sneaking in and out of Hogwarts. In all her years at this school, she had only been caught once and even then managed to get away with it by claiming she'd been sleep walking. Which the prefect on duty, rather miraculously, actually believed.

It never did stop being exciting. Just going out on her own, sneak into town, into the forest and whenever she wanted to go. She navigated the halls expertly and had gotten it down to an art. Slinking along the walls, she made her way back to the Slytherin dungeon and crept back to her dorm room. Her three hapless roommates had no idea she'd even been gone and, after applying a spell to herself which would muffle any sounds, changed into her night clothes and crawled into her warm bed.

As she lay staring at the ceiling, her thoughts immediately drifted to the girl in the pool.

Hermione.

She was interesting. Smart. Funny.

A smile crossed her face: cute. She was also cute.

Then, her finely tuned Slytherin instincts kicked in again. Bellatrix wondered why she was so trusting of this girl? She usually wasn't, after all. At Hogwarts she couldn't trust anyone but a a very few select individuals: all others would use her for their own devices, either as a means to gain access to her prominent family's influence or her own considerable skills. In her fourth year, there was a boy whom had thought up an staggeringly complicated multi-level scheme for the mere reason of wanting to copy her homework on the regular.

Bellatrix still lay staring at the ceiling, new-formed doubts gnawing at her.

Would this girl be any different? She could just be another parasite with the desire to latch onto her, after all?

But how would that make sense? Bellatrix was in the past. Hermione was in the future. There was thirty years of time in between them, very much a unique situation. And, being from the future, how could Hermione actually benefit from trying to exploit her? What could she possibly gain? If anything, Hermione should be far more distrustful of her. Bellatrix could stand to gain more with future knowledge than Hermione could from past knowledge.

One thing that struck her that Hermione might be trying to influence future events, but how could that even be? From Hermione's perspective, all of this would have already happened. Hell, if the Warlock Paul Manheim was correct, and she was sure he was, the immutable aspects of time flows could mean that Hermione was supposed to contact her from the future to make sure that whatever happens in future actually happened. Damn… this stuff was complicated.

Either way, it meant very little to her in the present. There was no harm in talking to Hermione. Hell, she even seemed rather wary when Bellatrix had mentioned her prominent family name, which was a rather rare reaction.

Of course, there was the question of the magic pool itself. What was this pool? How could she speak to someone so far in the future? It had all been a pure chance meeting, but that made it all the more special. A friend... from the future.

This was different than sneaking out for some under-age drinking or practicing dark arts in the forest. This was... an actual adventure. A secret adventure. Something that was for her and her alone. Bellatrix decided that she wouldn't even share this with her sisters. She couldn't. Andie was too much of a blabbermouth and Cissy would try to find a way to exploit knowledge from the future. No, she'd have to keep it a secret.

This was excitement. Perhaps even… the last adventure she would ever experience before fulfilling her duties to wizarding society as a pure-blood witch. One last chance before…

A grim thought crossed over her and, really, she didn't want to think about it. For now she would sleep and, perhaps, dream about the mysterious girl in the pool.


For the few hours left in the night, Bellatrix had slept exceedingly well. After a refreshing shower, she twirled her wand through her hair and ended up with curls which were just a tad puffier than usual. This suited her fine for now.

She changed into a uniform which she, at least, couldn't wait to ditch at the of the year and left the Slytherin dungeons for the Great Hall for breakfast, her bookbag strapped over her shoulder. Students were already pouring in by the time she got there.

Bellatrix strode over to the end of the Slytherin table, where three seats next to each other were free. Three seats which every Slytherin knew were reserved. Bellatrix took the middle seat and waited a while. It didn't take long for her sisters to arrive. Andromeda, an eager fifth year with soft brown hair and Narcissa, a plucky third year with stark blond hair, were chatting merrily as they entered the Great Hall, immediately making a beeline for their seats.

"Well, good morning you two," Bellatrix said, greeting the only two people in the world she fully and completely trusted.

"Hey there," Andie returned.

"Bella, have you seen what happened near the Hufflepuff common room?" Cissy giggled.

Bellatrix frowned. "I only just got out of the shower. What did I miss?"

"Some gormless arse set up some stink-hexes near the door," Andromeda rolled her eyes. "So when the first students came out this morning, they exploded and made the whole corridor… and all the people in it… smell like absolute shite. Then a few of the students ran back inside the common room and carried the curses with them, where they spread to the rest of the puffs. Every single puff has it on them now."

"HAH!" Bellatrix laughed. "I'm sorry I missed that."

"I know!" Cissy giggled. "Best start of the day ever!"

Come to mention, there had been a rather… intrusive whiff coming from the Hufflepuff table. Whoever devised that prank had intimate knowledge of the many smells of the English countryside. Instantly, Cissy started making faces at them.

"Don't do that, Cissy," Andie huffed, giving a few of at the Hufflepuffs a sympathetic look.

Bellatrix shrugged. "Well, for once, they can't blame me for it. I was at the dorm when it happened and I have witnesses."

"Oh, they already dragged the culprit off to the Head Master's office," said Narcissa. "Gryffindor. Upset about a lost match. Seriously, if it had been a Slytherin, they wouldn't have gotten caught in the first place."

The three sisters were quickly drawn to see what the house elves had on the menu for today and there was a plethora of choice. "Hm, nutbread!" exclaimed Andie, glad that her favourite food was on today. Cissy went for scones and clotted-cream, while Bellatrix went for a full-on fry-up. Bacon, eggs, baked beans and sausages. Bellatrix could certainly do with some hearty bangers right now. Almost full nights up required a hearty refuelling at the start of the day.

"Transfigurations first," sighed Andie after chewing and swallowing a piece of nutbread. "McGonagall hates me."

"If you're not wearing red, you're on her shit-list immediately," Cissy rolled her eyes.

Bellatrix shrugged after popping a bit of sausage in her mouth. "Eh, she's alright. It's not as if other teachers don't have favourites. We don't depend on others. We only depend on ourselves. That's how it's always been."

The curly-haired witch took a moment to wrap an arm around both her sisters' shoulders. Not only for a show of much needed affection, for the three sisters had an unbreakable bond, but also to subtly signal to the other students that both her sisters were under her complete protection.

A signal that if someone were to do harm to them in any shape or form, there would be… consequences. And it always worked. Few people dared to mess with Bellatrix Black, after all. So for her sisters, life was relatively easy at Hogwarts when it came to interactions with other students.

"Bella?" asked Cissy, being somewhat embarrassed. "Will you help me with my Arithmancy assignment? I just can't wrap my head around some of these calculations."

"Sure," said Bellatrix. "I think I already know what problems you might be having. Drop by at the seventh year dorm later and we'll figure it out."

"Thanks, Bella."

It was then that Andie gave her an intense look.

"What?" Bellatrix frowned.

"There's something different about you today, Bella."

"Oh?"

"You're less dour, smiling more, there's a twinkle in your eye. And you didn't even roll your eyes once when Cissy asked you to help her with her homework. What's going on here?" Andromeda chuckled, crossing her arms while giving her a knowing smirk.

Bellatrix shrugged, keeping her expression neutral. "Who can tell?"

"I can tell! I'm going to find out, you know?" Andie winked.

"Good luck!" said Bellatrix, right before blowing her a raspberry.

Andie promptly made a face. "Oh, that's nice!" she rolled her eyes.

Bellatrix chuckled and offered her a grin. "Don't think I haven't seen you glaring at the Hufflepuff table. New rivalry, huh?" she said. Instantly, Andie was on the defensive, her hackles definitely raised.

"I don't know what you're talking about," she huffed, raising her chin slightly.

Oh, now Bellatrix knew for certain something was up. She wondered what it could be about this time. Someone speaking insult to Andie's face, gloating about getting a better grade or simply blocking her path once would be enough. The three sisters, though they loved each other dearly, were very different in character and demeanour, after all. Bellatrix would react to slights instantly and viciously. Cissy was a consummate backstabber for whom almost everyone was fair game. But Andie? Andie held grudges. She was an expert at playing the long con, striking when least expected and often months after the initial slight. Andie never forgot or forgave. In fact, there was a definite case to be made that, of all three Black sisters, Andromeda was the most dangerous.

The three sisters chatted a bit more until breakfast was done and class was about to begin. Bellatrix rose from her seat and sighed before following her sisters into the hallways.

Time for more mind-numbing boredom for a couple of hours.

The real moment she was looking forward to, was talking to Hermione again later that night.

Chapter Text

The library was still one of Hermione's favourite places at Hogwarts. Being surrounded by so many books, so much history and the smell of ancient magically preserved paper soothed her and reminded her of a more simpler time in her life. A more innocent time.

But Hermione wasn't here for study or recreation today: she was in an oft overlooked section of the library. The school archive contained records, photographs, yearbooks and accounts of students going as far back as Hogwarts' founding in 993. It had been a bit of a chore to actually find the old records and yearbooks of 1968 as madam Prince had been in the process of optimizing the archive for the past weeks and was only making slow progress. Everything had been put in boxes ready to be sorted into the school archive: unfortunately, the boxes had been rather poorly marked. Sorting through it all had taken her far longer than she would have liked.

Once she did eventually track down the files from 1968, it didn't take her long to find Bellatrix Black's records. From the look of things, Bellatrix had graduated with full honours, having achieved an 'Outstanding' grade on her NEWTs in no less than nine subjects. Two more than the seven Hermione had picked. One of the filed records was actually her final Arithmancy thesis, spread out over three scrolls. She unfurled them and glanced through it, only to be instantly enthralled. In her thesis, Bellatrix postulated that the certainly magical properties of numbers could shape reality of those calculating with them, which could in turn affect the magical properties of said numbers after reality had been reshaped. Hermione was woman enough to admit that the subject almost went over her head, but the calculations Bellatrix provided to prove her thesis all checked out and were stunningly precise.

This thesis was undeniably a work of brilliance, once Hermione had managed to wrap her head about the concept of high density randomness zones and low density void zones. If this was but one of her works, the word prodigy wouldn't even begin to describe Bellatrix.

Then again, unlike Hermione, Bellatrix had a list of reprimands as long as her arm. Mostly minor things such as pranks, general disruptive behaviour or simply not turning up for class at all. She was a troublemaker… a troublemaker who had graduated with full honours. It had all of the hallmarks of a person too clever for the courses and getting bored in class as a result.

Then to the yearbook. She flipped through the yellowed pages until she came to the Slytherin part of the book. First was the photograph of the Slytherin Quidditch team, where Bellatrix was one of the chasers. She stood there, leaning on her broom in her green tunic and leather limb protectors, smiling at the camera. Bellatrix seemed happy in this photograph, vibrant and full of life.

A stark contrast with her end-of-year class photograph, where she and her fellow Slytherins sat for the photo holding their well-earned diploma's. She looked dour, miserable and bereft of any joy.

"What happened to you?" Hermione whispered to herself.

She flipped through more pages and spotted Bellatrix in a few more photographs. Flying broomstick with two others girls, younger. It took her a while to identify them as the Black sisters. Then there was a photograph of her at Herbology... it seemed odd to see someone like Bellatrix, a rich pure-blood aristocrat, sat on her knees digging in the dirt to look for blisterwort roots. Another photograph showed her on top of the Astronomy tower with a few Slytherins. She studied the photograph intently, trying to figure out why Bellatrix was looking so... forlorn.

"Ah, miss Granger. I figured you'd be here," sounded the voice of McGonagall as she stepped into the archive. "Once you go missing, you will turn up in the library sooner rather than later."

"Professor?" Hermione looked up, but instantly closed her eyes and let out a sigh. "We had an appointment..." she muttered to herself. "I'm so sorry, it completely slipped my mind."

"Though I suspect you will be inundated with job offers the moment you graduate," McGonagall said, a slight hint of a smile on her face. "That does not diminish the need for career advice. In fact, it should make it all the more poignant."

"Again, I'm so sorry," replied Hermione. "I completely lost track of time."

McGonagall looked over her shoulder, apparently glancing at the yearbook. Some concern was etched on her face. "Are you having more nightmares, miss Granger?" she asked gently.

Hermione pursed her lips. How to breach the subject? "I... was just wondering," Hermione asked. "Some of her work was in the file. Groundbreaking work, stuff I can barely wrap my head around. She was a genius."

McGonagall's gaze became somewhat distant. "That she was. Undeniably so."

"You knew her when she was a student, right?" asked Hermione. "What was she like back then?"

McGonagall took a seat and sat down at the side of the desk to look Hermione in the eye. "Miss Black was... a regular seventeen year old girl in many regards. Brilliant, certainly. She earned the title Brightest Witch of her Age ten times over, which is probably why You-Know-Who was so interested in recruiting her."

You-Know-Who. Even with Voldemort being confirmed dead, many wizards and witches still referred to him in that way. She supposed some habits were hard to shake.

"However, she was also quite the troublemaker," said McGonagall. "Sometimes smart people are that way when they lack challenge. She was passionate and bold. Even somewhat of a romantic."

"Bellatrix Lestrange? A romantic?" Hermione frowned. "That's the last thing I would describe her as."

"Hm," McGonagall nodded. "There was great sadness within her. However, unlike you, miss Granger, she actually attended her career advice sessions."

"Ouch," Hermione sighed, but smiled when she saw a twinkle in McGonagall's eye.

"Miss Black told me often and passionately about all the things she would love to do with her life," said McGonagall. "She wanted to be an explorer and travel the Earth in search of new lands and new discoveries. At one point, she wanted to be a monster hunter. I admit that was a new one for me and one I haven't heard since. During her later years, she focused on more creative outlets such as painting or writing. Though her interests lay decidedly among the disturbing and macabre, the stories she did show me were certainly well-crafted. And, well, time spent working on her horrific tales was time not spent being setting the Gryffindor house banners on fire. Starting from her seventh year, however..."

"Yes?" Hermione asked.

McGonagall pursed her lips. "It is a terrible thing, being asked to sacrifice one's own happiness and wishes for the sake of a failing ideal. She came in only once and that was basically to tell me that any further appointments would be pointless, as there would be no career for her in her future. This was a day after her impending marriage had been widely announced in the Daily Prophet. I had never seen her so sad and bereft of passion."

Hermione pursed her lips and blew out a sigh through her teeth. "Arranged marriages..."

"I've heard of love growing from an arranged marriage, certainly," replied McGonagall. "But just as often, it does not."

Hermione nodded. "What do you think turned her into the monster she became?" she asked. "Could it be this?"

McGonagall shook her head. "I don't think it was any one thing, miss Granger," she said. "Ultimately, Bellatrix is responsible for her own choices in life. Perhaps it was through You-Know-Who where she hoped to gain the freedom and exciting life she craved. Perhaps having to sacrifice her own wishes embittered her to a point she started to resent others. Perhaps both. Perhaps neither. I have no doubt that, in another life, she could have been a great witch known for exploring the darkest of Africa or weaving the most wondrous of tales."

"But instead it was not to be," said Hermione. "Instead she became known as a dangerous murderer, wielding the darkest of arts."

"Fact remains that she was not so different from you and I at one point. It is a reminder that any one of us can be capable of falling into great darkness. A sobering thought, perhaps."

"I've been thinking of her a lot as of late," said Hermione.

"I don't blame you," replied McGonagall. "But don't forget that she is beyond harming you."

"Is she?" Hermione raised an eyebrow.

McGonagall put a hand on her shoulder. "We've all suffered through this war, miss Granger," she said. "Perhaps it is time to let go, hm? Shall I reschedule our appointment?"

"Please do," said Hermione. "I'm not exactly in the right state of mind for it at the moment."

"Perhaps you should take some time off," said McGonagall. "Spend some time with your family."

"I would like that," said Hermione. "I'll think about it."

After McGonagall left her in the archive, Hermione spent some time watching one last photograph. One of Bellatrix at the duelling club. Though the picture only captured a brief moment of the duel, it was obvious that she was relentless and focused, wiping the floor with her opponent. Even then, it was clear she could be deadly.

Was she playing with fire by talking to the younger Bellatrix? She didn't quite know why she didn't tell McGonagall about the magic pool or her contact with the young Bellatrix. There was something alluring about having a secret and... there was something about young Bellatrix which intrigued her, even though she couldn't lay a finger on it.

Tonight, she would see her again and, to be honest, the idea of sneaking out of the castle in the dead of night felt exciting to her. Almost as exciting as talking to Bellatrix again.

After packing her bag and replacing the books in the archive where she had found them, Hermione exited the library and headed over to her dorm for an exciting afternoon of studying. Unfortunately, she wouldn't get far. A few steps out of the library, she rather absent-mindedly rounded the corner and found her way blocked by an arm stretched from the wall to its owner: Cormac McLaggen.

The boy who wouldn't take 'no' for an answer.

Hermione supposed she was partly to blame for this situation: a year ago, she had asked the boy to accompany him to a gathering of the Slug Club for the sole reason of making Ron jealous. It was one of stupidest soap-opera like ideas she had ever had and was still paying the price for it. He was arrogant, self-absorbed and, unfortunately, rather over-assertive when it came to romantic endeavours. And he quite fancied her, a feeling which was certainly not mutual.

He had been so obsessed with Quidditch that he sacrificed his schoolwork and actually had to be held back a year. Unfortunately, that meant Hermione was forced to spend a lot of classes with him. She'd caught her staring at her from a distance more than once. Though Hermione had little to no romantic attention, the way Cormac was overdoing it was more than a little disturbing.

"Hhhherrrmione," the wire-haired boy grinned his usual grin. "When are you going to stop playing hard to get, hm?"

Hermione let out a sigh. "McLaggen. I am not in the mood for you today. Please let me go on my way."

McLaggen sidled forward, placing his other arm to the wall as well and trapping Hermione between his two arms. The way he bent forward rather disturbed Hermione. "I said 'no'," said Hermione, trying to be assertive, but hearing her voice crack a little. Something about this was way too familiar about the time... the time Bellatrix had her trapped on the floor of Malfoy Manor, pitting her down, leering over her... hurting her.

Hermione looked up at him, anger in her eyes. With all the energy she could muster, she grit her teeth and hissed. "Let... me... go..."

"Come on, Hermione, you don't know what you want," chuckled Cormac. "Let me treat you to a good time. Don't you get it, we're such a good match. You the brains and the beauty, I the brawn and the power."

Hermione bristled. "McLaggen. For the last time. 'NO!'. Is that so hard to understand?!"

"Come on, Hermione," McLaggen showed that toothy grin of his. "You still owe me for the mistletoe at the Slug Club Christmas party."

Hermione was sure that, in his mind, he was a suave and sophisticated Casanova who meant to sweep her off her feet with his witty and clever banter. In reality, McLaggen simply didn't realize that he was being a boorish lout who had been trying to use that mistletoe-fact against her every since they'd both returned to school and, despite having been told off many times before, simply refused to learn. So, she would endeavour to tell him again.

"McLaggen," Hermione sighed. "Enough. Just... enough! I'm not interested! Get it through that thick skull of yours that standing under the mistletoe almost two years ago doesn't give you any legal rights to whatever it is you have on your mind! So stop being so forward and take a hint! NO MEANS NO!"

"Oh, Hermione," Cormac laughed, once again proving that he wasn't able to take a hint. "You just don't know what you want. I'd be happy to help you decide."

What happened next was a flurry of happenings and it went by so fast that it took Hermione a few moments to reconstruct what had happened. In the end, Cormac ended up sprawled on the floor rubbing his painful jaw, giving Hermione a chance to recover from the claustrophobic experience. The person whom had delivered the punch was no other than Ron, now standing over him and glowering. "Hermione told you to leave her alone," Ron snarled.

"What the hell?!" Cormac grunted as he scrambled to his feet. "You've had your chance, Weasley! She rejected you, so step aside for someone else!"

"Get lost, McLaggen!" Ron narrowed his eyes. "Hermione is my friend and if I see you near her again, I swear I'll do more than just punch you out on your arse!"

Apparently, McLaggen finally gained enough understanding of the situation to take the hint and, after a bit of grumbling, took off into the corridor. Ron turned Hermione. "Are you alright?" he asked.

"Yeah," Hermione lied. Honestly, she was quite shaken up from the experience. Not so much because of Cormac's antics, but rather about the flashback it had given her. The flashback of Bellatrix torturing her on the cold floor of Malfoy Manor. Still, she tried to keep a brave face on, more for Ron's sake than for her own. "I'll be fine," she lied.

Together, the two of them walked over to the Great Hall and sat down at on the tables. "What brings you here, Ron?" asked Hermione after pouring them both some drinks.

"Auror stuff," said Ron. "Tagging along with Savage and Proudfoot to the Hog's Head here in Hogsmeade. One of the locals had a potential lead on Rodolphus Lestrange. Found out I'm not really all that good at interrogating people. Savage says I still have a lot to learn, but I'll get there eventually. Figured I'd step in for a visit to see how you were doing."

Hermione gave him a smile and a nod: she was grateful to catch up with an old friend. Truth be told, she missed him and Harry. She missed the friendship and companionship. Her seventh year was shaping up to be a very quiet one without her friends.

"Why did you even even return to this miserable place?" Ron laughed. "You should have become an auror with us. The three of us together at the auror office would have made us unstoppable."

"Ah, you know me," said Hermione. "I hate to leave something unfinished. Besides, I'm not sure being an auror is for me. Honestly, I'm not quite sure what I want to do with my life yet. Been trying to figure out what I want to do."

"I think you can do everything you want to do, Hermione," Ron shrugged.

"I'm more concerned about so many Death Eaters still being at large," said Hermione.

"Eh," Ron shrugged. "We've tracked down quite a few, but others like Dolohov or Lestrange? It seems they've fallen right off the Earth. But don't worry, we'll find them. Without Voldemort, they're just regular run-of-the-mill dark wizards. Are you sure you're alright, Hermione? You do look a bit tired."

"I haven't been sleeping well," Hermione replied.

"Nightmares?" Ron asked. Hah, her friend knew her well.

"Been thinking about Bellatrix a lot lately."

"Bellatrix?! That foul harpy?" Ron snorted. "Though, yeah, I'd say I know why you'd have nightmares then."

"You ever wonder, Ron?" Hermione asked. "You ever wonder what could make someone become someone like her?"

"Sometimes," said Ron. "I don't believe people are born pure evil. But I do think that there must always have been something bad within her. Regular people just don't become... her."

Hermione pursed her lips, losing herself in thought. "Perhaps. I'd like to think that, at some point, Bellatrix was just another teenager, just like us, with hopes and dreams and wants. And then something... I... I don't really know... It just makes me sad."

Ron regarded her for a moment and put her hand on hers. "Hermione, why don't you ask McGonagall to give you a few days off school and come back to the Burrow. You'll be among good company, and enjoy some delicious home cooking and, best of all, just have some time to relax."

"I don't think your mum will like having me around," Hermione gave him a half-smile. "She still thinks I dumped you."

"Nonsense," said Ron. "We all still love you and would enjoy having you around. I'll handle my mum should she get a bit crabby. We both decided to part as friends. Everybody knows that. It was even in the papers thanks to that Skeeter bint."

Hermione bit her lip for a moment. "I don't know..."

Ron laughed. "McLaggen was right about one thing: you really don't know what you want."

The young witch let that statement rattle through her head for a moment, and sighed when she could only agree. "I finally have enough time to stop and think. And I have a tendency to over-think. You're right. I have no idea what I want. Still, I do know what I don't want."

"Which is?"

"Having McLaggen slobber all over me like an over-eager Saint Bernard," Hermione chuckled briefly.

"Hah," said Ron. "Comparing McLaggen to a Saint Bernard is an insult to such a noble breed of dogs."

"Yes," Hermione laughed. "At least the dogs are actually cute. Thanks Ron."

"For what?"

"Making me laugh."

"Any time," said Ron before patting Hermione on the hand and getting up to leave. "Remember, my offer stands."

Hermione seemed thoughtful for a moment. "Ron? Could I ask you something?"

"Hm?" Ron turned around, waiting for Hermione to speak.

"Speaking... completely hypothetically, of course," Hermione bit her lip. "Say that you suddenly had the opportunity to... speak to someone in the past. To talk to them. To get to know them. To maybe... change an outcome you know is a bad one. Would you do it?"

Ron frowned at first, mulling it over for a bit. "Hm," he muttered. "Change someone's fate, you mean? But how would you be sure the new outcome would be any better?"

Hermione nodded as she considered that response. As she watched Ron leave, Hermione had definitely been left with some food for thought.


After a rather riveting afternoon of grading transfiguration essays, Minerva McGonagall felt the need to catch some fresh air. Her office, located in the Turris Magnus, was conveniently located near the top of the tower where there was a high parapet looking over the lake before. This was off-limits to students and only she and Filch had the key. Perfect for spending some time alone with her own thoughts before heading back down to the Great Hall for evening meal.

So imagine her surprise when she found that someone was already there.

A girl, seventh year, short in stature, bearing Slytherin colours, was stood staring over the chest-high wall, down at the lake. McGonagall could recognize the girl immediately as Bellatrix Black: the vibrant curly black hair was unmistakable.

Her first reaction was to bristle: Miss Black was being disobedient yet again. This parapet was off-limits to students because it was unsafe and somehow miss Black had found her way through a magically locked door. McGonagall wondered what excuse could she have for this particular transgression.

She was about to rush to the student to give her a piece of a mind and a month's worth of detention until something gave her pause. The way miss Black's shoulders shook… and that sniffing sound she heard when she was close enough to hear it was unmistakable. Miss Black was weeping softly.

She stopped for the moment, wondering what to do. The girl had yet to notice her and McGonagall decided that the best thing to do was to announce herself. A brief cough would do the trick.

And it did. Instantly, the now startled girl whirled around, looking at her with wide, wet and red eyes the moment she did. "Oh… OH!" she exclaimed. "Professor! I… Sorry, I just… I just have something in my eyes."

Ah, her stubborn pride.

"Of course," said McGonagall. "It can be quite windy up here."

The girl nodded.

"Which is exactly the reason why this door is usually locked," said McGonagall. "Care to explain how you found your way onto this parapet, miss Black?"

"Well," miss Black bit her lip, her tears now dried. "The lock obviously is enchanted to shock anyone with no key or the wrong key, correct?"

McGonagall nodded. She had enchanted the lock herself, after all. A few moments later, Miss Black produced a small hand mirror, set in a cold iron frame. "I enchanted this mirror to capture magical discharges on its surface and expel it when the charge gets too high. Because it's set in cold iron, the magic has nowhere else to go but outward. I had to find the right angle, but if you reflect its own magic back unto the lock, it'll open."

McGonagall was about to say something, but closed her mouth just as quickly. A slight semblance of a smile tugged on the corners of her mouth: miss Black was a very clever problem-solver, and had bypassed the lock by using the characteristics of its own charm against it. Not to mention, using cold iron which was a notoriously poor conductor for magic, to direct the flow of magic itself was just the type of solution to a problem miss Black would come up with.

She remembered first seeing miss Black so long ago now: all of eleven years old, arrogant and determined. Miss Black walked into the school with her head held high with intentions of conquest. Truly, miss Black only 'mellowed', as it were, when her two younger sisters also started to attend school.

And yet, young Bellatrix had been the subject of a hatstall during the sorting ceremony. The Sorting Hat had a long deliberation on whether miss Black should be placed in Slytherin or Ravenclaw. Though she was undeniably Slytherin material, McGonagall couldn't help wondering if Ravenclaw could have been a far better environment for miss Black.

"I suppose I should change the charm on the lock, but I have a feeling you will simply break it again," said McGonagall. "So perhaps I should simply give you the key and spare us both the trouble, hm?"

Miss Black gave her a grateful look for a moment, before turning her gaze back to the lake.

"To think. To be alone," she spoke.

"Miss Black?"

"Why I'm here," she said. "That was going to be your next question, right?"

"I would think you should be quite familiar to that feeling," said McGonagall, instantly regretting her words. They had come out much harsher than she had intended: miss Black had no true friends, after all. She was about to apologize when miss Black simply nodded.

"You'd be right," said miss Black. "Now that Evelyn left, I have no one else to talk to than my sisters. Though perhaps… perhaps…"

"Miss Black?" McGonagall frowned as miss Black turned her gaze towards the Forbidden Forest in the distance.

Miss Black said nothing, simply staring off into the distance again. "Do you ever wonder what it's all about, professor? The purpose of it all?"

McGonagall stood next to her, frowning. "Oh dear, miss Black, are you asking me for the meaning of life? If you are, I have no answers for you. Greater wizards than myself have struggled with that question without ever finding an answer."

"Nothing quite so profound," replied miss Black. "I just… I wonder why I bother."

"How so?"

"My family is rich beyond belief. I will never want for anything," said miss Black. "My life is laid out for me. I will marry. I will have children. I will be a pure-blood paragon. I will live a life of luxury… but I will accomplish nothing."

"Miss Black?" asked McGonagall, a soft prodding for her to explain herself.

"I don't need to put in any effort. At all. I could score an outstanding mark or a troll mark and nothing would change my future," said miss Black. "And yet I want to apply myself. I want to succeed. I want to be the best."

"Truth be told," said McGonagall. "You don't need to exert yourself to gain an outstanding mark. Your behaviour not withstanding, miss Black, you have a natural talent for magic."

Miss Black smiled briefly, but it faded quickly. "That's not what I mean, professor. I look out there and I see the Forbidden Forest in the distance. And I think to myself 'I want to go there'."

"Years ago," said McGonagall, getting a bit uncomfortable revealing something of a personal nature. "I had to choose between love and a magical career. To this very day I wonder if I made the right choice. But it is the choice I made and have to live with regardless."

Miss Black seemed to think over her words for a moment. Then, in a voice that was laced with bitterness and eyes that once again turned red with unshed years, miss Black gave a reply. "At least you had a choice."

Miss Black was someone who refused to be pitied, filled with stubborn pride as she was. That day, however, she allowed McGonagall to lay a hand on her shoulder as the two of them stood there in silence, watching over the lake until it was time for evening dinner.

Chapter Text

As per usual Bellatrix woke up around midnight after only a few hours of sleep. She turned her head to the window and found the full moon out above a clear sky. A smile tugged at her lips as she carefully slipped out of bed. Bellatrix had done this dance so many times before now that she'd gotten quite adept at silently getting dressed and had already prepared her pack. In less than two minutes, Bellatrix was ready to leave her clueless roommates behind in their beds and silently stalked through the corridors.

Left. Left again. Up the stairs. Hard right.

The painting of Shifty Pete loomed at the end of the corridor: a rather roguish black clad sorcerer tipped his hat when he saw her approach. "Evenin' Bella," he greeted with a whisper.

"Evening Pete," replied Bellatrix, keeping her voice down. "Unxmaal."

"'Ave fun," he winked as his frame slid aside, revealing an opening in the wall and a spiral staircase leading down. Bellatrix quickly entered the opening and rushed down the stairs just as the painting replaced itself.

Ahead of her was a long, dark and dank corridor which led all the way underneath the lake. From here on, it was smooth sailing. Bellatrix calmed walked through the corridor, its magical torches bursting to life as she approached and going out behind her when she'd crossed enough distance. Finally, she arrived at another set of stairs leading up and, after a short climb, a hatch opened itself and Bellatrix emerged on the shores of the Black Lake. Behind her, the hatch closed and to anyone not in the know, the passage would only look like a small collection of large stones lain on the shores of the lake.

Bellatrix closed her eyes and took in a deep breath, taking in the smells of the lake, the sounds of the forest and the coolness of the night air. This is what it meant to be free.

She checked her watch and found she still had plenty of time until the witching hour. First, she was drawn to the lights of Hogsmeade and, after a five minute walk, entered town. Still, she had to be on her toes a bit: she'd rather not run into a teacher here so she avoided the high street until she came to the Hog's Head.

She found the Hog's Head in a bustle with quite a lot of wizards and witches around. As per usual, she did a quick scan of the room to make sure there weren't any teachers in sight. By now, the proprietor of the Hog's Head had already spotted her and waved her over. She gotten know the bearded man quite well over the past few months and he would usually give her a hand-sign if there was a teacher in the common room. Today he did not, so the coast was clear.

Soft music played from a visiting band while she plopped herself onto a barstool and listened to two witches arguing about the current prices of frost tubers. Aberforth Dumbledore stood behind the bar cleaning glasses. He held up a mug and studied it. Finding it clean enough, he put it in front of Bellatrix.

"Ah, how's my favourite under-age drinker doing?" he asked.

"Thirsty," Bellatrix replied and tossed a few coins on the bar.

"That's what I like to hear," the man who was, ironically, Dumbledore's brother, chuckled heartily. "Remember what we agreed upon. One drink only. I don't want a repeat of the last day of school back in June."

Bellatrix grimaced. She'd celebrated the end of school a bit too... enthusiastically. Waking up with a pounding headache in a pen while a goat was licking her face had been quite the experience. Seeing Bellatrix was still underage, she'd had to promise Aberforth to limit her intake to one drink per visit until she'd turn 18.

So, ale or fire whiskey? What a choice. Fire whiskey was always good, but she'd be meeting Hermione again later on the other side of the magic pool and she wanted to be lucid for that. "Pint of ale," Bellatrix finally decided. That would make her just tipsy enough for some inspiration to work on her next story.

"Ale it is," Aberforth smiled and poured her a pint of Ole Fishy Green Ale, a local speciality. Minty, cinnamon tinted ale laced with eggs of lake sturgeons. She found the drink soothing and refreshing while the alcohol shot right to her head. Bellatrix thanked Aberforth and, now sufficiently emboldened, stepped out of the Hog's Head and practically ran into the Forbidden Forest straight towards the location of the magical pool: her alluring secret adventure with the mysterious girl from the future.

Of course, once she arrived at the pool, she found it to still be inactive. The young Slytherin simply unpacked her backpack and produced blankets and a pillow to prop herself up against the gnarly dead tree: she would kill some time by working on her story, having decided that the creature that would kill the Rodolphus Lestrange lookalike would be the most vicious, meanest and ugliest skinwalker she could imagine.

Time passed as she worked, her quill sliding over the scroll effortlessly as the words came to her by the most inspiring mug of Old Fishy Green. In fact, she almost didn't notice that the magic of the pool had activated and was bathing the clearing in bluish magical light. Delighted to be able to talk to Hermione again, Bellatrix finished her sentence, rolled up the scroll and turned to... not see Hermione there.

That was odd.

She put away her quill and waited rather impatiently. Had something happened? Where could she be?

The answer came soon enough when a panting Hermione emerged in the pool. She was red in the face and looked like she had been running. "S-sorry. Sorry I'm late!" Hermione took a moment to catch her breath.

"Whoa, take a few breaths," Bellatrix smiled. "What happened? Did something chase you?"

"You could say that," Hermione took a few deep breaths. "I was almost caught trying to sneak out of the castle. I did what you said and followed the route to the painting hiding the secret passage. I almost fouled it up. I left my book-bag by the door, tripped over it in the dark and fell flat on my face right in the corridor. I still can't believe the prefect patrolling in the next corridor didn't hear the noise."

"Hah," Bellatrix chuckled. "Always remember where you put your things when you sneak out in the dark."

"It didn't help I couldn't find all my clothes at first," said Hermione. "That cost me precious time. And when I stepped out of the tower, I almost ran straight into the Hufflepuff prefect."

"Ouch," replied Bellatrix. "Bad timing!"

"And then when I was near the painting, I almost ran into a prefect again! Ravenclaw this time!" Hermione muttered. "Seriously, they're never around when you need them, but when you want them gone they're all over you."

"Sounds like my first and only boyfriend," Bellatrix snorted.

"Once I got through the painting, it was smooth sailing," said Hermione.

Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "Was that... your first time trying to sneak out of the castle? Oh, it was, wasn't it? Hah, the first time is always the best. Exciting, isn't it?"

Hermione let out a brief laugh, showing that she quite agreed. "Oh, you could say that," Hermione replied. All I could think of was all the detention and lectures I'd get if I'd get caught and dragged back to the dorm. And then to get away with it. God, such a rush!"

"Don't let it go to your head," chuckled Bellatrix. "Remember, you still have to get back inside your dorm later. Getting out of the castle is only the first half. A successful reentry is the second."

"I'll worry about that later," said Hermione as she settled herself down next to the pool. "For now I just want to bask in my success."

That made Bellatrix laugh again. "Escaping is something you'll get better at the more you do it."

Hermione seemed thoughtful for a moment. "Tell me about your first and only boyfriend."

Bellatrix shrugged. "Not much to tell. Puppy-love romance in my fifth year. Everett was a Ravenclaw. Nothing really came out of it. Just kid stuff. Peck on the cheek and holding hands. That sort of thing. You? Is there a man in your life?"

"There used to be," Hermione cast her eyes downward a little. "Ron. We were really good friends and went through a lot together. It eventually developed into a romance of a sort, but... it just got really awkward really quickly. I'm not sure which of us was the most relieved when we just decided to break up. We've gone back to just being really good friends and I'm grateful for that."

Bellatrix nodded. "Sometimes it just doesn't work out," she said.

"His mum still blames me for it, I think," laughed Hermione. "That's one woman you don't want to be angry with you. It's a shame, really, I would have enjoyed spending some time at their house."

"Hah, I'll keep that in mind," Bellatrix snorted, her mood falling more than a little. "The man in my life, if you could even call him that, is Rodolphus Lestrange."

Odd. She could see an involuntary cringe go through Hermione's body at the mere mention of his name: perhaps Hermione had heard of him in some way? Part of her wanted to ask, but then she remember she'd rather not know about the future. Regardless, that was no reason not to tell Hermione exactly what she thought of Rodolphus.

"What a disgusting little turd he is. And I'm supposed to marry him a few weeks after my graduation," Bellatrix spoke, sounding more embittered than she'd wanted to. "He already treats me as if he owns me! A man of wonderful pure-blood pedigree, Father tells me. Well, that may be, but he still has the manners of a particularly dim-witted troll and the dignity of a pill-bug! And saying that is an insult to pill-bugs! And to think I'm going to have to spend the rest of my life tied to that prat and share his bed!"

Hermione gave her a sad smile. One of sympathy. Though Bellatrix never did liked the idea of being pitied, this felt different. It felt as if Hermione understood. "Arranged marriage?" she asked.

"Yeah," Bellatrix muttered softly.

"I'm sorry," Hermione replied.

"Not your fault," Bellatrix shook her head.

Hermione pursed her lips. "There's a rotter like that in my life as well," replied Hermione. "And his name is Cormac McLaggen! He's been stalking me ever since the start of the school year! Yesterday, he cornered me in the corridor and refused to let me pass. That man is just so... romantically assertive and it's annoying me to no end!"

That made Bellatrix chortle briefly. "By romantically assertive, you mean he's trying to get inside your knickers, right?"

"And then some!" Hermione bristled.

Bellatrix shook her head. "Men, eh?"

The pool shimmered a little when Hermione gave her an indignant look. "It's not men! Some of the best people I've known are men… and some of the worst. It's just pathetic blowhards like McLaggen who never grew up and think they're entitled to everything. Infuriating little boys. No scratch that! I've known little boys with more maturity in their pinkie finger than McLaggen has in his entire body!"

Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "Are we still talking about McLaggen or are we talking about Rodolphus Lestrange? Because I can't tell the difference at this point."

"Well, then you understand why I'm so frustrated!" Hermione huffed. "He won't take no for an answer. God, how could I have been so stupid?!"

Bellatrix frowned. "Why do you call yourself stupid while he's the one harassing you?"

The brown-haired witch bit her lip for a moment and let out an embarrassed sigh. "I... I might have asked McLaggen out on a date to a Christmas party two years ago purely as a tactic to make Ron jealous because he really hated McLaggen."

Wait. What? Did she really hear that correctly? Bellatrix blinked once. Twice. "Yeah, that really was stupid," Bellatrix sighed, speaking honest truth. "What were you thinking?!"

"I was thinking Ron was less oblivious than he turned out to be," Hermione grimaced. "Regardless, I am now stuck with McLaggen. Worst thing yet, I at one point during the evening, stood under the mistletoe with him and he... got very forward."

"He tried to shove his tongue down your throat and stick his hand up your skirt," Bellatrix helpfully translated.

"Exactly!" Hermione's tone was one of disgust. "And he's still on about that missed kiss from two years ago! As if it was some sort of raffle prize!"

Bellatrix put her finger to her lips and thought a moment. "Hermione?" she started. "I think you need to be a bit more forceful here. Obviously he hasn't taken the hint and if he hasn't by now, he never will."

Hermione cocked her head sideways. "You think that'll help?" she asked.

"Oh, definitely!" Bellatrix smiled broadly. "Really put your foot down. Take out your wand. Hex him for good measure. Tell him you've got quite enough of his antics and don't be afraid to back it up with magic if he's still not listening!"

"Hm," Hermione rubbed her chin, but from her expression, Bellatrix could tell that her friend was very much liking this idea. "Mostly, I just want him to leave me alone. If I can achieve that by being more forceful, I will give it a try."

"It doesn't always work," Bellatrix sighed. "I try to be forceful to Lestrange, but... I don't know, it just makes things worse. Last time I got so angry I ended up duelling him. Actually disarmed him and got ready to hex him something fierce, when he just looked up and chuckled how he was going to 'tame' me when we'd be married. Turn me into a proper wife."

A shudder went through Bellatrix at the mere thought.

"Hm," said Hermione, considering her tale."How about being less forceful in your case? You're only egging him on and emboldening him. How about… being a bit more subtle. You're smart enough, use your brain a little more. Figure out how to hit him where it really hurts. That might get him to leave you alone for a while."

Bellatrix nodded, glancing up at the sky for a moment. "His pride," she whispered. "I could take him down a notch by wounding his pride. I'll have to think on how to do this."

"Well, there you go," smiled Hermione.

"Hm," replied Bellatrix. "Well, aside from the McLaggens and Lestranges of this world, do you have any other prospects?"

Hermione shook her head. "Too busy studying to really focus on boys, really. Perhaps I'm just not looking right now."

"What about girls?"

"What about them?"

Bellatrix found that a rather odd statement. She bent forward, looking into the pool to better study Hermione's expression. It surprised her that Hermione had a baffled expression on her face.

"You... you've never been with a girl?" asked Bellatrix.

"No," Hermione frowned. "Why do you ask?"

"Oh, Merlin!" Bellatrix chuckled and shook her head. "Hermione, you've been missing out something fierce!"

"Have... have you?" Hermione asked, stammering the words.

"Oh yeah," Bellatrix grinned broadly. "Multiple times, in fact. Spent the latter half of my sixth year in a relationship with Evelyn Greengrass. Beautiful girl... though more woman than girl. One year above me. I had the passion, she had the fierceness. We were not friends, but… I think rivals is the best way to describe it. Yes. Rivals. For a long time, in fact, until, well, something developed. Evelyn and I had a deeply sensual relationship."

Bellatrix almost chuckled when she saw all the blood in Hermione's body rush to her head, causing her to look like a freshly cooked lobster and, oh my, did she just gulp?! Still, Bellatrix could tell that Hermione wasn't used to talking about sex and not wanting to scare off her new friend, she decided to tone it down a bit. Still, it was curious: this was 1968 with the sexual revolution in full swing. Would people become more prudish again in the future, or was this a more personal thing?

"W-where is she now?" Hermione asked.

"Married," Bellatrix shrugged. "Like me, she was funnelled into an arranged marriage immediately after graduation."

"I'm sorry," replied Hermione again.

"Don't be," Bellatrix shook her head. "We both knew it was coming. We both knew it wouldn't last forever. That made the time spent together more special. When it's finite and short, you treasure every moment. I've… lost sight of her since then."

"That makes sense, I guess," Hermione said.

"A lot of pure-blood girls have relationships with other girls at some point in their lives," said Bellatrix with a smile. "Almost all of them, in fact. It's an opportunity to be adventurous without chance of a pregnancy which can ruin a carefully cultivated blood-line. And, really, girls are just fantastic."

Hermione still blushed while she cocked her head sideways. "W-what's it like?" she asked carefully.

Bellatrix bit her lip to stop from chuckling. Though Hermione wasn't much comfortable about sex, she could tell that friend was still very curious.

"Girls are fantastic," Bellatrix closed her eyes and smiled to herself. "So soft. Imagine wrapping yourself in soft, warm velvet while relaxing at the warmth of a fire. Soft long hair sliding over your skin and gentle, nimble hands massaging your back. In my experience, Hermione, girls understand a lot better just exactly what other girls like. Much better than boys. The kisses..."

There was that gulp again.

"You should try it!" Bellatrix winked.

"I... I don't know."

"One way to get rid of McLaggen is to kiss a girl right in front of him," chuckled Bellatrix. "Just imagine the look on his face!"

"I..."

"Name the first girl that comes to mind."

"Luna?" Hermione replied, before catching herself and gasping.

"Right," said Bellatrix. "Your assignment: find this Luna and kiss her."

"I... I can't do that!" Hermione gasped.

"And why not?!" Bellatrix crossed her arms, challenging her.

Hermione gulped again. "Because... because... Luna is strange enough to actually probably be up for it!"

"And how is this a problem?!" Bellatrix raised an eyebrow.

"It... it just is!"

Bellatrix held up a hand. "I'm just teasing you, Hermione. If you're not interested in girls, that's more than fine."

Hermione was looking really uncomfortable now. "There's nothing wrong with liking girls, it's just... I... I'm not sure it's for me... No. Wait. I am sure it's not for me. Completely sure. Completely and utterly sure!"

There was just a little too much self-doubt in that statement to be any way convincing to Bellatrix, but for now she would have to stop teasing. She was clearly making her new friend uncomfortable and that was not what she had intended. Besides, she wanted to talk more and this might scare Hermione off a bit. "Tell me, Hermione," Bellatrix asked. "Do you have any siblings?"

"Hm?" Hermione replied, but judging from her expression Bellatrix could see that her friend was grateful for the change of subject. "Oh, no, I'm an only child. I must admit, I've often thought what it would be like to have a brother or a sister."

"Oh, you're missing out again," replied Bellatrix. "I have two younger sisters. Andromeda is two years younger than me and is in her fifth year. Narcissa is four years younger and in her third. We're all in Slytherin together. That fact alone makes school bearable."

"Are you and your sisters close?" Hermione asked.

Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "Are you kidding? We're the Black sisters. We have a bond that is unbreakable. We look out of each other, have each other's backs always. You need people you can trust in Slytherin and the only people in Slytherin we Blacks can trust is our own family."

"Is it really that bad in Slytherin?" Hermione frowned.

"Oh, you have no idea," Bellatrix chuckled. "Put a bunch of the most ambitious people in the wizarding world together in a small confined space and they'll eat each other alive until only the strongest survive. Well, figuratively speaking, of course, not literally. But only because literally eating each other alive would get someone into a lot of trouble."

"I had no idea things in Slytherin were that awful," Hermione frowned. "No wonder Slytherins are always mean and angry."

"Hah," Bellatrix chuckled. "It's not that awful. But then again, I am one of the strongest ones. And I do look out for my sisters always. Steer them around the bend, you see? Make sure they don't fall into the same traps I fell into when I was younger."

"You are your sisters are very close from the sound of it," said Hermione. "Have you told them about us? And the pool?"

"Nah," Bellatrix shook her head. "Andie wouldn't be able to keep her mouth shut about it and Cissy? Well, I think she might look for a way to exploit the power of the pool for her own gain. She'd have you find out next week's lottery numbers for her or some such. And, well, as close as we sisters are, sometimes I want something secret for myself, you know?"

"So I'm your secret?" Hermione laughed. "I don't know if I should be flattered or afraid. Maybe both. A question, though."

"Hm?"

"Hypothetically speaking," Hermione asked. "If one of your sisters were to do something you vehemently disagree with, would you still stand by her?"

She considered that that was a rather oddly specific question for Hermione to ask. Still, at least she wasn't doing any more boiled lobster imitations. Bellatrix settled next to the pool and thought a moment. "Yes," said Bellatrix. "Depending on what it might be, I would likely yell, kick and scream, but ultimately I would stand by my sisters, no matter what. Blood is thicker than water, Hermione, and pure-bloods know this better than most."

A rather warm smile crossed Hermione's features. "I'm so glad to hear you say that, Bellatrix."

Just then, the pool started to shimmer once more, the light slowly fading. "Oh, bother," said Hermione. "Have we already been talking for an hour?"

"Seems that way," said Bellatrix, disappointment clear on her voice. "Same time tomorrow?"

"Absolutely!" Hermione replied cheerfully just as she face started to fade and eventually morphed into Bellatrix's own reflection in the moonlight as the water of the pool turned back into regular run-of-the-mill water. Bellatrix let out a sigh and started to pack in her things to sneak back into the castle and head back to bed. Tomorrow, she would speak to her new friend again.

And she couldn't wait.

Chapter Text

Today could have been a very uninspiring morning at Transfiguration. Conjuring a cup of water. In a seventh year Transfiguration class? Seriously?

Bellatrix supposed such a spell could come in handy when in a pinch, but still... a seventh year class? Worst thing still, it was an embarrassment to see some of her classmates actually struggle with it. Even the pure-bloods. Especially the pure-bloods. She'd known how to conjure up water since she was five! How come these louts were even struggling with this?! The quality of magic-users had really gone downhill.

Bellatrix stepped through the hallways of Hogwarts with her book-bag slung over her back. It would be time for lunch soon and thus she was making her way to the Great Hall. Her robe swished around her body as she moved with a self-satisfied step in her stride.

Though she and McGonagall had often been at odds, she found that now in her final year, McGonagall was fast becoming her favourite teacher. 'Maybe if I actually give you something challenging to do', McGonagall had told her, 'it'll stop you from getting so bored in class you start setting your fellow students' hair on fire!'.

That was the crux of it, really. Bellatrix didn't have many challenges at Hogwarts, often got bored and started making her own jollies by being a 'troublemaker', as McGonagall put it. Of course, she didn't see herself as a troublemaker. So what if some of her schoolmates awful coupes were treated to a bolt of flame? Hair grew back, after all.

And so McGonagall was the only teacher whom had actually started giving her special assignments which were extra difficult, to keep her mind and wit occupied. Today's assignment was to take a simple log of wood and transfigure it into a mechanical clock. A working mechanical clock. Basically, the challenge was to take a single, solid lump of wood and turn into into objects with many interlocking smaller moving parts made from different types of substance... and while having no idea how a mechanical clock even was supposed to work or how it would fit together. McGonagall had also smiled that surprisingly wicked smile of hers when she had also told Bellatrix that it was a timed assignment: she had a total of three hours to figure it out.

Her first few attempts had been disastrously embarrassing: she ended up with bits of wood flying everywhere as her lack of understanding of how a mechanical clock was supposed to work turned into a hampering factor.

The answer, ironically enough, was in the Muggle-studies section of the library. Bellatrix had left the class, made a rapid search through the library and managed to track down a book which included cut-out diagrams of muggle mechanical clocks. She took note of all the parts: the springs, the dials, the gears, the weights and spent two hours forming a mental map in her head of how all these components would move and fit together and applied the mathematical formulae and measurements to make sure that what she had mapped in her mind would actually be able to accurately tell the time.

Armed with that knowledge, she returned to the classroom and got to work. Her first two attempts were close, but were failures. After some adjustments, and about five minutes left before the deadline, Bellatrix quite proudly and in front of the class, managed to transform the log of wood into a beautiful, working mechanical table-cock in a wooden frame with a beautiful and shiny copper plate.

If she didn't know any better, Bellatrix thought that McGonagall had actually been impressed. The clock had been carefully placed in her book bag and she couldn't wait to tell Hermione all about it tonight.

As she was cutting through one of the smaller courtyards, she heard a bit of commotion instead. This particular courtyard was smaller and lay a bit off the more travelled areas of Hogwarts. One student seemed to be yelling and three others laughing. Curious, Bellatrix steered towards the source of the yelling and found it to be a muggle-born first year... surrounded by three seventh years. Lestrange, of course, and two of his toadies. The three of them had the first year dangling upside down in the air above a fountain and Lestrange was rather animatedly dipping his head into the water by raising and lowering his wand.

Normally, Bellatrix wouldn't have bothered with this. She'd simply have shaken her head, walked by and continued on her merry way. But this pathetic display gave her somewhat of an idea, thinking back on Hermione's words.

"What is all this then," Bellatrix approached, announcing herself.

"Ah, my future bride!" Rodolphus Lestrange replied, repeating a fact he loved to remind her of in front of his pathetic snickering hyena-like friends. "Come to see how we're punishing this mudblood? We're teaching him what happens to thieves who steal their powers."

"My my, " replied Bellatrix, crossing her arms and giving him the most mocking grin she could muster. "What a big, strong man you are! Such an effort it must be to bully an eleven-year old. And you even need two of your friends to help you."

Bellatrix put her hands together and clapped rather slowly. Rodolphus frowned while his friends, sensing the changing mood, had no idea how to respond and turned to look at each other.

"What are you playing at, Bellatrix?" Rodolphus narrowed his eyes.

"I'm not playing, but you fucking are," Bellatrix snorted. "Bullying a first year. This is how you show your superiority? This is how you show you power? By picking on someone who's clearly weaker than you and can't fight back?! Such a big, strong macho man! Do you need me to hold him for you just in case he escapes and makes a swing at you?"

"Are you a mudblood lover now?!" Rodolphus was bristling now while his friends started to snicker. Bellatrix grinned and went in for the kill.

"Hardly," she snorted. "But picking on someone weaker than you doesn't prove your strength. It only shows your own weakness. Maybe you aren't worthy of me. Maybe I should tell my father to find me someone else. Someone with more spine than you."

Rodolphus grit his teeth as his friends laughed.

"I dare you," Bellatrix interrupted. "Prove your worth to me. Prove it by trying to do what you did to to that boy to Dirk Jones instead."

Dirk Jones. Dirk was a muggle-born Welsh Hufflepuff whom she had faced off with at Quidditch plenty of times. He was their team star beater and in her seven years of playing Quidditch for the Slytherin team, she had never seen a beater slam a bludger harder than he could. He was a boy of inordinate size, earning himself the nickname 'The Welsh Mountain' and was surprisingly quick with his wand... and his fists. Even Bellatrix had to admit a grudging respect for him.

"I know," said Bellatrix, grinning. "I shall lure him here, into the open. Then, you can pounce and try to take him down and dip his head into the fountain."

Rodolphus blanched. "That... that won't be necessary."

"What?" Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "Why not? I thought you were a big strong macho man. I thought you were a superior wizard. Surely you can take on a single mudblood. I shall go fetch him..."

Just as Bellatrix was about to turn, Rodolphus shot forward. "Wait, no!" he spoke quickly. "That won't be necessary! STOP!"

Bellatrix chuckled when she turned around. "What? You can't seriously be scared of little Dirk, now can you?"

More snickering from his friends. A snapped gaze from Lestrange shut them up for now. "What are you trying to pull, Bellatrix?"

"Pull? Me?" Bellatrix feigned innocence. "I just want to help my future husband to prove his manhood. Or don't you want to prove your superiority?"

Lestrange almost growled as his friends snickered again. "Bird has a point, Rod," sounded one of them.

Rodolphus crossed his arms and glared at her. "Well," said Rodolphus. "I don't see you aching to take down Dirk to prove your superiority."

That was a tactic Bellatrix had been prepared for: Rodolphus wouldn't be able to shift his way out of this one. "I already have!" Bellatrix giggled. "You saw me last match. I knocked him clean off his broom with his own bludger and took him straight out of the game! And need I remind you, Slytherin won that match! Afterwards, Dirk approached me and bought me a pint. If that's not recognizing and submitting to my superiority, I don't know what is."

"Yeah," said one of his other friends. "Bella is right. She doesn't have to prove a thing. Come on, man, you can take him."

Yes. He could take his fists. Dirk would wipe the floor with him and Lestrange knew it. The boy-child looked like a deer frozen in the woods while a hunter was approaching. There were no snappy comebacks, no smug grins, not even a hint of bravado. And his friends knew it. They snickered. They mocked. They laughed. Face now red with embarrassment, waved his hand and caused the boy to fall to the ground. The young mudblood scrambled to his feet and quickly rushed towards the door. "Thanks," he whispered to Bellatrix.

Bellatrix snapped her head towards him and gave him a death-glare. "Fuck off!" she hissed. "Don't talk to me, mudblood!"

The stricken boy, now even more confused, said nothing more and rushed into the corridor eager to be away from them all.

"As for you, Lestrange," Bellatrix mocked. "I can handle Dirk just fine. If you even balk at the thought of handling Dirk, how do you even think you can handle me?"

One of his friend, the greasy haired blonde, let out a big laugh. "Oh, you gonna be so whipped, mate!"

"I'm thinking he'll be spending his wedding night on the sofa," Bellatrix winked at the blonde man. "As well as practically every other day of the year."

Rodolphus' head looked like it was about to explode. He let out a frustrated grunt and rushed past her, into the corridor with his friends in tow.

Quite pleased with herself, Bellatrix continued on her way to fetch lunch at the Great Hall, walking off with a grin. Rather than simply throwing a tantrum or yelling at him, she had used her brain, found a soft spot and managed to embarrass him completely in front of his friends.

Another thing she looked forward to telling Hermione about.


Hermione sat at the writing desk of her empty dorm, just putting the finishing touch on a report for Herbology. With a flourish, she signed her name underneath the parchment, rolled it up for hand-in tomorrow and reached over to check her next assignment… only to find out all the work for the evening had been done and there was nothing more on the list.

These were the moments she dreaded. These were the moments when she'd be left alone with her thoughts as she sat there in her empty dorm room. It was only eight in the evening… far too much time left in the evening to be alone with her thoughts. She glanced around the room, regarding the empty, immaculately made beds. All unoccupied except hers. Curiously, really, as in her earlier years she had wanted nothing more than to have the dorm all to herself. Her roommates had all been noisy, messy and irritating at the time. But now that none of them had elected to return for their seventh year, empty just felt so… empty.

Deep down Hermione realized quite well that she was not… alright. Not really. Oh, she tried to hide it by throwing herself on her school work, but that didn't change the fact that she suffered from frequent nightmares to the point that there were days when she preferred not to go to sleep at all until she'd eventually collapse from exhaustion. The Dreamless Drought only went so far to block out the night terrors. There were times where she wondered if it all had meaning. The world chugged on, old prejudices still existed and nothing was really changing. What had it all been for? Why had she even bothered? Wouldn't it have been better to just give up her wand and move back into the muggle word? What if she had? Maybe she wouldn't have magic, but she'd be happy. What even was happy?

More than any of that, Hermione was lonely. Sure, she'd had made many friends during her early years, but where were they now? Deep in her heart, she knew it wasn't fair to think this way. Her friends simply had different priorities after the war: Harry and Ron wanted to be aurors. Luna wanted to travel Europe with her father. Ginny wanted to start her new life with Harry. Despite knowing all that, Hermione couldn't help but feel that she'd been abandoned.

Even Crookshanks had run away. She had left him with the Weasleys in the early days of the war and when she had come back Molly had tried to carefully and diplomatically tried to tell her that nobody had seen Crooks for over a month. Hermione let out a wry laugh: not even her own goddamn cat wanted to be anywhere near her!

Teardrops started falling onto her desk. She hadn't even noticed she had started to cry.

Hermione hated feeling like this, hated being so helpless. She let out an angry grunt and roughly shoved all her books onto the floor. They weren't helping.

Nothing was helping.

Hermione decided to grab her robe and go for a walk across the parapets to clear her head. She'd have a dreamless drought ready for bed. Funny how talking to Bellatrix had become the highlight of her day. It almost frightened her just how much she looked forward to talking to her.

After grabbing her robe, she headed out into the courtyard. This far into autumn, twilight was already setting in. A few younger students were still mulling about in the halls and the courtyards and Hermione steered around them until she climbed the stone steps leading up onto the parapet. Once there, she leaned onto the stone to watch the lake beyond.

Abandoned. Maybe that's how Bella had felt too. Forced into a loveless marriage, feeling betrayed by Andromeda and then seeing her youngest sister starting a life of her own. Maybe that's why she threw herself on her work for Voldemort, sucking in his vile ideology like an empty sponge.

But now that she had gotten to know the young woman whom she had been, Hermione was certain that she deserved better. The young Bellatrix whom had become her friend deserved so much better than the hand life had dealt her. She wanted to help her. And through helping her, help herself.

Unfortunately, her train of thought was roughly interrupted by a certain someone who leaned onto the parapet with one elbow, stood a little too close to her. Cormac McLaggen, that cheeky grin spread over his annoying face, was ready to make his move. "Interested in making some magic together? My wand is at the ready."

Hermione felt her jaw muscles tighten as the double-entendre of his awful pick-up line fully landed. At least this was a new one in his repertoire, for whatever small mercy that was.

When Hermione gave no reaction, Cormac pressed his luck. "Your smile is like Expelliarmus. Simple but disarming. Come on, Granger. You know you want to."

Feeling her hands trembling, Hermione kept her gaze towards the lake. "Fuck... off..." she muttered, taking on a rather dangerous tone of voice. Normally, Hermione wasn't someone who'd consider swearing, but perhaps Bellatrix had a point: she'd have to be a tad more forceful here.

"Harry might have been the Boy Who Lived, but you're the true cho..."

He never got to finish his sentence. Hermione whipped around with wand in hand and eyes blazing with fire. Before McLaggen could react, he was blasted off his feet and was flying off into the courtyard. With a single flick of her wand, Hermione plucked him out of the air and with further flicks, sent him rag-dolling back and forth above the courtyard with speeds that weren't healthy for the human body to endure. "ENOUGH! ENOUGH!" Hermione shouted in sheer rage. "GET IT INTO YOUR THICK SKULL THAT I'M NOT INTERESTED IN YOU, YOU DISGUSTING LITTLE CRETIN!"

McLaggen let out some pathetic screams as he was being rag-dolled. And for once, Hermione was in complete control of the situation. This time, she didn't have to rely on Ron throwing a punch on her behalf.

"NEXT TIME YOU SEE A LADY LOST IN THOUGHT!" Hermione shouted. "YOU WILL LEAVE HER THE FUCK ALONE!"

By now, she had started to attract quite a bit of attention. The younger students were flocked towards the scene and either laughing or looking on with awe. Of course, they all knew who she was, all knew what she had done in the war. Hermione Granger: destroyer of horcruxes, companion of the Boy Who Lived, war-hero and living legend.

Hermione Granger, who was now completely losing her shit and letting it all loose on Cormac McLaggen.

"YOU ARE SO FAR OUT OF MY LEAGUE IT'S NOT EVEN FUNNY!" Hermione shouted. "I'M NOT GOING TO KISS YOU BECAUSE OF SOME MISTLETOE MALARKEY TWO YEARS AGO. SO TAKE YOUR LIMP WAND, STUFF IT BACK IN YOUR TROUSERS AND NEVER TALK TO ME AGAIN!"

With that said, Hermione cancelled her spell. This, naturally, caused the forces of gravity to take hold on McLaggen and tore him down back to the ground with a little more force than looked comfortable. He lay there groaning on the ground while in the background, some fetched teachers were now running into the courtyard. While Flitwick rushed over to see how McLaggen was doing, McGonagall hurried up the stairs towards a still irate Hermione.

"Miss Granger!" she exclaimed, more out of concern than anger. "What happened? Why is mister McLaggen lying face down on the ground?"

"Well," Hermione replied, anger still soaring through her. "If he didn't want to be airborne, then maybe he shouldn't have messed with me!"

McGonagall blinked, then crossed her arms. "Miss Granger, what on Earth has gotten into you?!"

Hermione snapped her head towards McGonagall. "Maybe I should be thinking about myself a bit more than I have in the past! Maybe I should focus a bit more on the things I want instead of what others want! Haven't I sacrificed enough for this damn wizarding world of yours?! IT STOPS TODAY!"

McGonagall blinked at first, but soon narrowed her eyes.


"... and then she gave me detention!" Hermione told Bellatrix as she sat besides the glowing pool in the darkness of the Forbidden Forest. "ME! Hermione fucking Granger! Detention! I'm the smartest person in that whole damn castle and they know it!"

In the pool, Bellatrix let out a chuckle. "And clearly the most humble."

Hermione not catch the hint and continued on her tirade. "I'm a fucking war-hero and now I'm stuck writing 'I will not cause a fuss in the courtyard' a thousand times on a piece of parchment for seven days!"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Bellatrix raised her hands. "No talking about future events, remember?"

Hermione realized her faux-pas and closed her eyes, forcing herself to calm down. "Sorry, I..."

"It's alright," Bellatrix smiled. "Regardless of the consequences, how did it make you feel?"

"Good. So good. It was liberating," Hermione smiled, her voice much calmer now. "I was holding that in for weeks and to let it just go was a complete discharge of the pent up rage."

"See? Worth it," Bellatrix winked. "You have no idea just how many pieces of parchment I've filled with the same sentence over and over. It goes by quicker if you find a tune to it."

"How did it go with you and Rodolphus?" Hermione asked. Bellatrix took a moment to recount her adventure with Lestrange and his friends and Hermione listened carefully.

"Well, sometimes letting out pent off rage isn't enough or not the right tactic. Sometimes you have to be more smart and tactical about it, I've learned. He's steaming and seething. He actually started to avoid me in the hallways! It was a sport for him to make me angry, I can see that now," replied Bellatrix. "So now I'm not playing that game anymore and he simply can't adjust to it. He's not nearly as smart as he thinks."

"Some people just live for that," Hermione said. "Picking on others, I mean."

"Oh, I meant to show you," said Bellatrix. Hermione watched in the pool as her friend was rummaging through her bag. It was a bit hard to see, but it seemed as if she was holding up some sort of contraption.

"Is that a clock?" Hermione asked.

"I've made this," smiled Bellatrix. "From a log!"

Hermione listened to Bellatrix as she told the tale of her assignment by McGonagall. How she had studied the inner workings of a muggle device and managed to emulate it magically through transfiguration. Hermione could hear the pride in her voice. Mostly, what Hermione heard, though, was the fact that Bellatrix had spent two hours doing an in depth study of a muggle device and considering that, perhaps, McGonagall had had an ulterior motive with this assignment.

"I have to admit, it is a clever little device," said Bellatrix. "I never really thought about how clocks worked until today."

"Hm, what are you going to do with it?" asked Hermione.

Bellatrix seemed lost in though for a moment, then grinned slightly. "Hold on, I have an idea," said Bellatrix. A few moments later, Bellatrix stepped away from the pool. From her vantage-point, Hermione had no idea what she was doing, but it sounded a bit like she was shifting things around. The flash of a magic spell lit up the darkness of the night for a bit and, a few seconds later, Bellatrix returned with a broad smile on her face.

"Okay, Hermione. Look to your right. Find the second root on the other side of the gnarled tree and look for the knothole."

Curious, Hermione did so. After looking around for a bit, she found a knothole the size of a small cat. When she reached inside, she felt her hand brush against a smooth static bubble of a magical preservation spell. A whispered word cancelled the spell, allowing her to reach down further until she felt something. Pulling her hand back, she was now holding the clock Bellatrix had shown her in the pool.

Though it seemed to be the design of an antique table clock, it looked and smelled completely new: a lovely wooden frame and a shiny copper plate. Hermione smiled as she wound the key and heard the mechanism inside starting to tick. All she had to do was to set the proper time and perhaps add a self-winding charm.

"You like it?" Bellatrix asked expectantly.

Hermione smiled as she regarded the clock. "It's lovely. Thank you."

"Look at the back," said Bellatrix.

Hermione turned the clock around and found a small inscription which Bellatrix apparently had made with her wand before putting the clock in the knothole. 'For Hermione from Bellatrix', it read.

"Now I feel bad that I can't send you a nice gift," Hermione replied.

Bellatrix chuckled. "It's not as if you can send stuff back in time. But... well, it's, uhm... I'm just glad I have someone to talk to," she stammered softly. Apparently, this was a rather difficult admission.

Hermione wasn't sure how to respond, but was forced to when the pool started to shimmer once more. Damn, had it already been an hour? Perhaps people were right when they said that time flies when one is having fun.

"Same time tomorrow?" Hermione asked.

"Absolutely!" Bellatrix replied just as the pool's magic shimmered away. Hermione was left watching her own reflection in the pool for a few moments after Bellatrix's face had morphed into that of her own.

Then came the trek back to Hogwarts through the secret tunnel. Hermione had gotten adept at leaving and entering the castle this was surprisingly quickly. Once she was inside, she rushed through the three corridors back to her dorm room: studying common patrol routes and the prefect schedule helped a lot. As usual, she made it back to her room undetected and got ready for bed.

She'd fallen into a good pattern: go to bed early, wake up at around 2:45, sneak out of the castle to speak to Bellatrix and then be back in back around 4:15 to sleep the rest of the night.

Tonight, however, she took a little extra time with Bellatrix's gift. It was a very nice clock and quickly settled on putting it down on the nightstand near her bed. After positioning it and winding it up, she undressed and crawled into bed, turning her head to watch it after putting out the lights.

Hermione saw none of the evil in young Bellatrix which her older self would gleefully display and commit. The young she had talked to was simply a normal teenager. A troubled teenager, yes, but, really, which teenager wasn't?

Her young friend wasn't evil, she couldn't be. Hermione was completely convinced of that now. The young witch was now more determined than ever to find a way to help her. To prevent her from ruining her life.

If only she could figure out how.

Chapter Text

"Today has been heaven," said Bellatrix. Hermione smiled as she leaned on the tree, having brought a pillow and a blanket. It'd been getting a bit colder as autumn was progressing. She'd thought about doing some more preparations such as making a small hutch so she could leave her pillow and blanket there so she wouldn't have to bring it along every trip. Perhaps put in an umbrella too. So far they'd been lucky not to have had rainy or windy weather.

"Oh?" Hermione asked. "He's not been giving you any more trouble?"

"Not a peep!' replied a grinning Bellatrix. "I actually caught him ducking away into another corridor when he saw me approach. Heh, if only I could make him disappear before it's time for the wedding, that would be great. But I'd definitely say that the balance of power between us has shifted. What about you and this McLaggen chap?"

"Cormac has shifted to leaving passive-aggressive notes in my books. Progress, as far as I'm concerned," Hermione shrugged.

"Whoa," replied Bellatrix. "He must be really slow in the head to think he still has a chance with you after all that."

"Well, he was held back a year," said Hermione. "At least I'm out of detention for the time being. I should never have been in it in the first place."

"Eh, wear it as a badge of honour," Bellatrix chuckled. "Regardless, I had some free time to work on a new story today so I used my time productively for a change."

"Hm, Bellatrix?" said Hermione. "It occurs to me that I've never actually heard one of your stories. Would you read one to me?"

"Uhm..." a slight blush came over Bellatrix's cheeks. "It's... it's just some scribblings. Nothing special, really."

Good lord. Could it be? Could it actually be that Bellatrix was being self-conscious about something? Though she didn't quite know why, Hermione found that to be very endearing. "Come on," Hermione pressed. "You know I won't judge you."

In the pool, Bellatrix still seemed unsure of herself. "Okay," she spoke with a somewhat demure voice while rummaging through her pack. She produced a leather-bound notebook and opened it "This one I wrote a bit a ago and has been revised twice now. I call it, 'The Experiment'."

Hermione leaned against the tree while a rather demure Bellatrix got comfortable and started to read.

"My name is Jean-Phillipe Artois, once an unspeakable and senior apparation researcher for the French Ministry of Magic. For years I have remained silent on the events which ended my career and the lives of four of my esteemed colleagues. Now, in my old age, fear and guilt have caught up with me, and I can hold my tongue no longer," sounded Bellatrix. What made Hermione smile was that Bellatrix was reading the story with a thick French accent. Of course Hermione guessed she would have likely heard this type of accent daily from her own mother's voice, so it came to her naturally.

"Back in the forties, right after the fall of Grindelwald, I was part of a joint venture between the French and English Ministry. The Grindelwald crisis had made it painfully clear that, despite our advances in magical travel, sending troops and supplies across a large distance still posed a problem for the wizarding world. Carrying cargo by flying carpet was slow and cumbersome, while the international portkey hub had a tendency to quickly become congested due to the war effort. Our focus lay on extending the range of apparation. After months of research, we had finally cracked it: our solution was as simple as it was elegant. To extend the range of the teleportation, objects were enchanted to give any teleportation spell a boost. Think of it as a magical slingshot: the enchanted items would simply push the spellcaster along, extending the range. Unlike a portkey, these items were not bound by having a set destination and we felt we were on the verge of a revolutionary discovery."

Hm, a story about a secret government project. She supposed the concept was just as relevant in the sixties as it was in the nineties. Bellatrix had created a good setup and was building up towards the inevitable disaster. Meanwhile, now that she was certain that no mockery was coming her way, Bellatrix had gained more confidence and brought more power to her accented voice.

"Testing facilities were built in both Calais and Dover, which is the shortest distance to travel between France and the United Kingdom and yet still comfortably out of apparation range. We set up a system with these enchanted objects, which we called Portboosters. For the next few weeks, we tested with apparating objects from Dover to Calais. At first we only had minor success with small, solid objects. Objects over a certain mass would invariably appear above the North Sea and sink to the bottom of the channel. It took months of tweaking and testing, and the mood was generally high."

Ahah, Bellatrix had done her research too. The distance between Dover and Calais was indeed just out of apparation range.

"We had a good working relationship with the British team. Mirrors were set up for communication and we were very talkative: those were some of the best moments of my career. We'd run experiments, discuss the results and talked about every little detail in our lives in between. Clive Conebush, the oldest member of the British team, always talked about his grandchildren. Franklin Mistle, who would be getting married soon and was waiting for the bonus payment he would get from this project so he could throw the wedding of the century. And then there was Gina Juniper. Gina, a junior unspeakable, brilliant and brazen, was excited to be on what was her very first project. I won't lie, I was utterly enamoured by her and the feeling was completely mutual. She joked that once they had figured out how to properly teleport humans with boosted apparation, I would have to take her out on a date in Paris. If only it had ever come to that..."

By now, Hermione had already figured out that the people she had mentioned were likely all going to die. Establishing a relationship between them and the main character would make their deaths more meaningful to the reader. Indeed, while Hermione wasn't a writer, she was definitely a reader.

"After a month of work, we managed to bring over inanimate objects without a hitch, but the problem started when the test-rats we started to send over all arrived dead. Of course, we adjusted and while the rats arrived alive with the newer settings, they were... different. Apparated rats cowered in the corner of their cages. We didn't think much of it at the time. Apparation can be traumatic, after all, and rats lacked the mental strength to deal with the stresses. We were so focused on our success that we didn't even consider anything else. The UK team was so eager to apparate themselves over..."

Researchers ignoring obvious signs of 'wrongness'. She'd fallen for that trap herself in the enthusiasm of discovery.

"And so they did. Clive went first. Through the mirror, we saw him apparate. We were all cheering, so excited. We were going to change the world."

Ah, here it comes.

"The first sign that something went wrong was that it took Clive much longer to arrive than our previous test subjects. For a moment, I feared Clive had materialized above the North Sea. At first I was relieved when Clive appeared in front of me... until I took in the full brunt of the state he was in. Bloodied gashes covered all parts of his body, covering him from head to toe. The man fell to his knees, sobbing. 'We went too far!' he yelled. 'I'm so sorry! We went too far! We went too far!'

Something had obviously went terribly wrong. While my assistant rushed over to help Clive, I ran back to the mirror and shouted for Franklin and Gina to stay where they are. But only silence greeted me: they had already teleported and were on their way here."

Slow dawning horror. Waiting for the inevitable to come.

"Franklin emerged next. And mon dieu, it would have been more merciful if he hadn't. His limbs were twisted, his head was hunched forward and his torso bent sideways at an impossible angle. Franklin reached out to steady himself with one of his misshapen limbs he no longer knew how to move properly and the scream... that scream will haunt me until my death. It came out as a gurgled cry of horror with blood spurting from his mouth. He... fortunately... did not live long after that."

Oh, body-horror. Yep, that sounded fitting for a teleportation research story.

"Gina would come in next. My heart constricted when I felt another magical burst starting to take shape. With a crack, Gina appeared in front of me, back turned to us. At first I was relieved, of course. There were no signs of any of the slashes or mutations. But Clive... Clive started sobbing and crawled away from her in a panic. And when she turned around, I saw why.

Whatever had rematerialized, it wasn't Gina. It was some sort of a vile creature with eyes as black as coal and an inhuman grin on her face which was too wide to be natural. My heart constricted in my chest as I knew that the young woman I had grown so attached to was no more. Whatever she was now, it simply took us all in and raised her arms. Magic exploded all around us and my memory is hazy. All I remember is the pain and the horror as the facility went down in flames. The last thing I saw before darkness took me, was whatever it was which now wore Gina's face apparating away."

Possession by something living outside of reality, freed by the hubris of man. It was a theme as old as humanity itself.

"I was the only survivor and spent months in recovery. Dark magic had burned away almost all the skin off my body and healing was slow and painful. Both Ministries were quick to respond. They seized all research and locked everything away in the deepest of holes. For a moment, I was afraid they would make me disappear too, but instead I was visited by a Ministry representative. I was to be given an early retirement with enough money to live comfortably for the rest of my life on the condition that I would be sworn to secrecy. Considering the state I was in, I took the offer. I still don't know why they didn't obliviate me: perhaps the Ministries would want to restart the experiment at some point, though I truly hope they won't.

Now that I am older, I fear that the thing wearing Gina's face is still out there. I swear that sometimes, in the darkest of nights, I can see her sitting at the edge of my bed, that awful inhuman grin aimed at me. I abide this no longer. Tomorrow I will walk into the woods and never return. So heed my warning: do not go too far. I fear the thing we have unleashed upon the world.

I fear there might be more of them, wanting to be freed."

"The end," Bellatrix concluded. "What do you think?"

"That was really good," said Hermione. And she meant it. Though the story didn't actually bring anything new to the table, it was well-crafted for what it was. As a horror story, it was short and too the point.

"Y-you really think so?" Bellatrix asked warily, as if she was used to people sucking up to her with empty praise. And, honestly, they probably did. Hermione offered a genuine smile and a brief nod.

"It's a well-crafted short story with a clear beginning, middle and end. It establishes relationships, has a nice build-up of suspense and has a good reason for happening. Horror works best in short bursts, I think. That's my personal opinion, though," said Hermione.

"T-thank you," came a genuinely grateful response from Bellatrix. "You're only the second person I've shown this to. McGonagall wanted to read one after my last career advice appointment. I think she actually liked it."

"Heh," Hermione chuckled. "You should talk to my father sometimes. I get the feeling him and you are going to get along fine."

"How about another one?" said Bellatrix as she leafed through the book. "My uncle Achille really liked this one and I've done a few revisions already. Hold on. I call this one 'The summoning'."

Hermione settled in again for another story. She had to admit that Bellatrix was actually quite a good storyteller. That the stories she told were her own original work was just the icing on the cake. After clearing her throat, Bellatrix started to read.

"Filomena was a big girl. A big girl who could stay at home when her mother was out to fetch more ingredients for her experiments. And why shouldn't she? She was almost eight, after all. That was practically adult! Filomena skipped through the drawing room with a smile on her face. Her magic had awakened within her and mother would take her wand shopping soon. She couldn't wait to get her very own wand. Maybe it would be ash or beech or oak! She had spent many times lying awake dreaming about her soon to be given wand.

When she skipped through the hallways on the way back to her own room, Filomena suddenly stopped dead in her tracks. She heard... something. It sounded like a whisper, but she couldn't quite make out what the words were. One thing was certain, though. The whispers were coming from her mother's lab.

Now, little Filomena knew she wasn't supposed to enter her mother's lab: she'd been warned it was dangerous. Still, that had never stopped her before. She'd snuck in plenty of times and nothing ever happened to her. The lock on the door would do nothing to keep her out either, as Filomena was an enterprising young witchling. She simply lay her hand on the lock and whispered her spell. The lock on the door opened with a satisfying 'snick' and the curious little witchling pushed the door open.

Immediately, the whispering stopped, but the source became very clear the moment Filomena entered. All the furniture in the lab had been shoved to one side and in the center of the room had been drawn large circle surrounded with arcane symbols Filomena didn't recognize as well as eight lit candles. A large book stood on a pedestal near it, but that wasn't the strangest thing little Filomena saw. The strangest thing was that in the middle of the circle stood a little girl her age.

The little girl smiled at her, wearing a black dress while fiery red hair cascaded down her back. Something about this little girl made Filomena's hair stand on end. There was something off about her. Her eyes were... so strange. And something about the way she moved wasn't quite right, though little Filomena couldn't explain what, however.

"Hi!" greeted the little girl.

"Uhm, hello?" Filomena asked. "What are you doing in my mum's lab?"

"Your mum brought me here," said the little girl. "For you! So we can be friends."

"Okay..." Filomena frowned. "Why didn't mum tell me?"

"She wanted it to be a surprise!" smiled the odd little girl. "What's your name?"

"Filomena," the young witchling replied warily. "What's yours?"

The little girl gave her an odd grin. "You may call me Lucy."

By now Filomena noticed that there was something off about the girl's voice. She couldn't quite put a finger to it, but it sounded as if this little girl like Lucy was actually two people talking at once. One being a little girl, the other was... something else. Something much bigger and angrier."

Hermione was quite enjoying the tale so far. What made it even better was that Bellatrix again did voices, using magic to change her voice into that of a little girl when speaking as Filomena and doing the rather eerie double-speak effect for 'Lucy', which really did rather creep her out. There was something decidedly unsettling about hearing the same words spoken simultaneously in the voice of a small girl and an unknown entity.

"You shouldn't be in mum's lab," said Filomena. "It's dangerous here."

"Oh, I know. It's so scary!" Lucy pouted. "But I can't leave! Look!"

Now, for the first time, little Filomena noticed that the little girl named Lucy was fully surrounded by the circle of ash and salt. Apparently the little girl didn't dare to step near it. "Just step over it," Filomena said.

"I can't!" the little girl sounded close to tears, sniffing loudly. It sounded quite odd in that weird double voice of hers. "Please help me. All you have to do is rub a little bit of that ash and salt away. If you help me, we could play together! We'll have ever so much fun!"

"I don't know," said Filomena as she studied the powdery circle, remembering her mother's words. "It could be dangerous. Mother always did warn me about not touching anything in her lab."

"I could give you things!" Lucy said, opening her palm and revealing a few precious gemstones. "Look. Shinies! They're yours if you help me."

Now, Filomena and her mother weren't very rich and she did know they could use a little bit more money. But what good was money if she accidentally exploded herself in her mother's lab? "Let's just wait for mum to come back. She'll find a way to release you."

"NO!" shouted the little girl, her smile turning into a snarl for the just the briefest of moments, before it softened again. "I'm scared, Filomena. I'm really scared. What if... what if I get hurt before your mum comes back? You have to help me."

Filomena bit her lip. "I don't know. I..."

"If you don't like shinies there are other things I could give you," said Lucy. "Knowledge. Power. All you have to do it rub some of that powder away with your foot. That's all! Don't you want me to be your friend? Is there nothing you want?"

Filomena cast her eyes downward. "All I want is for mum to be happy again," replied Filomena. "She's never been the same after dad..."

"Yessss," replied Lucy. "I know just the way to cheer her up. We're going to surprise her!"

"Like... a party?" Filomena asked. "With cake and sweets and music?"

That odd grin returned on Lucy's face. "Oh, yes... the sweetest of symphonies. The most precious of dirges. An anthem of agony! We will give your mum an experience like she's never had before!"

"I want to make mum happy!" Filomena stepped forward and slowly, but carefully, rubbed a little powder away, leaving a small opening in the circle. Lucy noticed this, and an unnatural grin formed on her little face.

"Thank you, Filomena," spoke Lucy with a voice laden with… with… Filomena didn't quite know how to place it.

"Come on," giggled Filomena as she turned around to walk out of the lab, happy that she could do something for her mother. "Let's get mum's party ready!"

"Yes," sounded Lucy, her second deeper voice now starting to drown out her little girl voice. A hand lay on Filomena's shoulder and she yelped a little when she felt nails dig into her skin with more force than a little girl should have. "Your mum is in for quite a surprise indeed."

"The end," concluded Bellatrix

Hermione let that story sink in a bit. "Oh, that was good," said Hermione.

"You think so?" Bellatrix smiled again. "I wanted to leave the ending a bit ambiguous."

Ah, it seemed that Bellatrix had figured out that imagination could always do much worse than spelling things out. Her friend was a horror writer in the making, it seemed. "I bet it's nothing good, though. Reasonably sure who 'Lucy' is meant to be," said Hermione.

"And he's not very nice," Bellatrix chuckled and started to rummage through her pages until she found something. "Another one? This one is more of a work in progress, though. Still a bit rough and doesn't have a title yet," she said, sounding far more confident about her abilities than earlier.

"Certainly," replied Hermione.

"Okay," Bellatrix cleared her throat and started reading. "Dorolphus was out in the Forbidden Forest at night because he's a stupid git doing dumb things."

Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Uhm, I think you have to work on his motivation a bit more."

Bellatrix shrugged. "Yeah, I wanted to get to the good stuff first, so I kinda rushed that bit. Think of it as a placeholder. I actually made him into a unicorn poacher, so let's continue from there."

"Yes, I hunt unicorns. Don't judge me. Every part of a unicorn is used for something in this world of ours. And you want your unicorn hair as your wand core, you want your unicorn hoof grindings in your anti-headache potions, you want your unicorn steaks in your fancy restaurants and you want your unicorn horns to adorn your mantlepiece. You're as guilty as I am," Bellatrix read.

Hermione nodded as Bellatrix had managed to touch on a sore subject: unicorns were rare magical creatures, but there always seemed to be enough components for everything, far more than the few unicorns bred in captivity could ever provide. There was a dark underbelly in the wizarding world and it was rarely addressed.

"Besides... there's always demand for unicorn blood on the black market," Bellatrix read on. "Not a single bit of my catch goes to waste or remains unsold. And money is something I desperately needed. My bitch of an ex-wife, product of an arranged marriage, left me high and dry and took everything I had. I need to do this to survive! So don't you judge me!"

That almost made Hermione laugh: Bellatrix was obviously expressing a hope and dream in her story.

"I have my ways of catching these creatures," read Bellatrix. "It is as simple as studying their patterns, going to their favourite drinking places and simply lying in wait in the underbrush. They are skittish creatures, but if you are quiet enough, they will approach the glen without suspecting a thing. From there it's a simple killing curse and you've bagged yourself a unicorn. Then you take it home... my cellar has been outfitted to strip a unicorn bare. You start with sawing off the horn and hooves, removing the tail and mane, then draining the creature's blood... all 34 litres of it... liquid gold as far as I'm concerned. After that it's skinning the hide, processing and curing the meat. Everything can be used, from tendon to skeleton. One unicorn can bring up close to eight-thousand galleons. I'm surprised more wizards aren't doing this."

So far this was quite bone-chilling already. Bellatrix had apparently been doing her research and was aware that there was a lively poaching trade in magical creatures and their... parts. The mental image of someone sawing up a unicorn in their cellar was disturbing enough, but realizing that this was not something Bellatrix had made up and rather something that could be happening right at this very moment meant that 'disturbing' not an inadequate description.

"I was making my way to the new drinking place I had tracked the herd to," read Bellatrix. "When I came to a most peculiar sight. Though I was still a few yards away from the drinking place, I spotted the corpse of a unicorn ahead of me. At first, I cursed under my breath. The herd was skittish and whenever one of them was killed, they moved to a different part of the forest. I'd have to track them again. However, there were still things I could salvage: horn, hooves, tail, manes, bones. It meant the effort wasn't a complete loss. However, as I approached the fallen creature, I froze. I was expecting to see the telltale signs of a natural kill by a predator: a claw mark, signs of feeding and struggling. But when I got close enough, I could see that the creature had been... torn apart. Its legs had been broken, neck had been twisted and it looked as if the creature had come just short of being ripped in half."

Bellatrix took a moment to take a sip of water from her flask before continuing. The grin on her face showed Hermione was she was quite enjoying herself, and apparently tormenting an expy of Rodolphus Lestrange was quite a bit therapeutic.

"No predator I know of would do such a thing. At first I thought there might be a troll nearby, but those aren't exactly subtle and would have left tracks. Furthermore, the corpse was warm and the blood fresh: whatever had done this, it had done it just moments ago. Then, for the first time, I noticed the forest had gone completely and utterly quiet. The forest is never quiet: from crickets to the wind blowing through the trees or the hooting of an owl, the forest was always bustling with activity. But now? It was as silent as a tomb, as if something was absorbing all the sounds nearby. Dark unnatural shadows cast down from the trees and then... I saw it. It was standing on the opposite side of the glen... I almost didn't see it as it was clouded in shadows... No. Not clouded. One, with the shadows. Two grey pinpricks of light almost swallowed by the darkness, staring me down. I experienced a depth of fear I had never felt before as I stood there frozen for a moment when the... whatever it was... shot towards me. I yelled and turned to run, tripping over the corpse and covering myself in its blood. I tried to get up, but I slipped in its gore. In a final act of desperation, I grabbed hold of my wand and squeezed it tightly, apparating away before it could get to me."

Bellatrix took a moment too look up from her scroll and into the pool. By now, Hermione was picturing everything which was happening in her mind: that she was sitting in the middle of a very dark and potentially dangerous forest didn't help much either. Apparently, her expression pleased Bellatrix and she continued on with the story.

"I should have known that escape wasn't that easy," read Bellatrix. "You might not notice it, but shadows surround us everywhere there is light. In your home, in your pub, in the streets, in the day and in the night. And it was everywhere. I am here now, in my cellar, where I always plied my trade. I tried to get away, to flee, but it was no use. Here I am now, in the dark of my cellar with a single oil lamp for company, surrounded by shadows. Everywhere I turn and look, I see those eager eyes. The shadows come closer every moment and whatever is in them hungers for their prey. But it will not get me. I will take fate in my own hands. I take hold of the noose and step on the stool. As I feel the chafe of the rough rope around my new, take swallow hard and hesitate for a moment before kicking away the stool."

Bellatrix paused a moment. "And that hesitation became my doom. Just then, the lamp went out and the two grey bluish eyes are upon me in an instant. An impossibly cold clawed hand grasps my head with untold force and hoists me up into the air as the noose is ripped away. I scream and I scream as I am dragged away to die in the shadows. But I don't die. I never die. I am its plaything. I am torn apart and reassembled... not always correctly. I have become a sculpture of flesh, dancing to its whims. It uses me for parts: sometimes it takes a bone, a pint of blood, or patches of skin. Could it be poaching me as I have poached the unicorns? Are these creatures, whatever they are, using human bodyparts as spell components in their world? Is my flesh the core of an unearthly wand? I do not know. I do not want to know.

The blood of the unicorns I've slaughtered sustains me through this unlife. I hope and pray for the merciful release of death, but it never comes. I know I will spend eternity in darkness. No hope. No mercy. No release."

"The end," said Bellatrix.

"Yikes," Hermione bit her lip, feeling the unease wash over her. "You've got a dark mind."

"Thanks, Hermie," Bellatrix winked at her. "You know just the nicest things to say to a girl."

"Hermie?" Hermione raised an eyebrow.

Bellatrix pursed her lips. "Yeah. Isn't that what friends do? They give each other nicknames, right?"

"Hermie..." the young witch nodded. "I suppose I could live with that. But don't you dare start calling me 'Mione! I hate that!"

"Fair enough," smiled Bellatrix. "What'll be your nickname for me?"

Bellatrix looked at her in anticipation, waiting for Hermione to come up with something. Hermione thought for a moment, thinking that Bellatrix had some odd ideas about friendship: they both had perfectly good names, so why not use them? Still, if this was what Bellatrix wanted, why not? "How about... Trix?" Hermione suggested.

"Trix... Trix..." Bellatrix let the name roll over her tongue and eventually gave her a rather satisfied smile. "I like it! Everyone else just calls me Bella, and I do mean everyone. I love it that you have a somewhat unique way to call me."

"Come to think," Hermione chuckled. "You're first person without a mental handicap to ever call me Hermie."

"There you go," Bellatrix raised her chin imperiously. "Unique!"

Just then, the portal started to shimmer again. The girls said their goodbyes and Hermione found herself sitting alone in the Forbidden Forest.

A very quiet, dark and foreboding forest. Hermione wasn't someone who took stock in urban legends and ghost stories, but suddenly found herself rather jumpy. Did that shadow over there next to the tree just move? What was that sound? That was not an owl! Did... did she just hear a twig snap?

"Is someone there?" Hermione called out.

No answer. Of course, there was no answer. But the forest was quieter than before. In her mind, she was being stalked by all manner of ghost, hag, troll and demon for just a moment until the logical half of her brain took over and reassured her nothing was there. She packed her belongings and returned back to the secret passage... though walking quite a bit faster than she usually did.


To say Bellatrix was over the moon was an understatement: she'd been giddy on her way back to her dorm, through the secret passage, the hallways and the dungeons. In fact, she'd been so distracted she'd almost been caught by a prefect due to be being careless and more noisy than she should have been.

But how could she not be? Hermione liked her stories! Hell, she even looked scared by that last one, a work-in-progress no less!

Maybe her writings were better than she thought. Maybe she could actually be an accomplished fiction writer one day. It made her even more determined to focus on her stories: only through practice could she become better and better. There was still a smile on her face as she slipped into bed after silently undressing without waking her hapless roommates.

However, once she lay in bed, she found sleep hard to come and elation made way for concern. Once again, she lay staring either at the ceiling or at the large window looking out upon the unearthly landscape of the bottom of the lake beyond while shafts of moonlight broke the surface of the water above.

Bellatrix didn't want to know about the future and, really, she couldn't blame Hermione for accidentally letting something slip. Unfortunately, it had something rather big.

War. Somewhere in the future, there'd be a war. And Bellatrix couldn't stop thinking about the implications of that.

Though she hadn't been alive at the time, Bellatrix was certainly aware of the deep scars Grindelwald's insane crusade had left on the wizarding world and her own family. And yet another war was coming. Bellatrix once again stared at the ceiling, wondering what would happen in the future that could lead with it and who could possibly lie at the heart of it.

The young Queen Ealdwynn of Iceland came to me. She and her savage Nordic warriors had claimed Iceland, Greenland and great swaths of frozen wasteland of the Arctic as their own territory. The self-styled Frozen Queen of the North and the raids she led with her neo-viking mages had been a consistent problem for Northern Europe. Ealdwynn been yelling about expanding her territory, but, really, nobody wanted to challenge her claims to the frozen North and she'd like to think these neo-vikings weren't really big enough of a group to kick off a large scale war that would involve the UK.

The Japanese Mahou-Shogunate then? They'd been banging drums about expanding their influence through the Far East for decades now. Though that should only worry China and Korea for the most part. Even if the Mahou-Shogunate would invade China, how would that affect Europe and the UK?

Warlord Yesufu Koroma, perhaps? Same as with the others, he was more of a problem for Africa and African muggles had much more to fear from him than wizards ever could.

Honestly, Bellatrix couldn't see it. Perhaps it would be someone new? Or perhaps Grindelwald would escape and would try to finish the mess he started?

Bah, speculation was useless.

Whatever would happen, that fact that a war was in the future certainly explained a lot about Hermione's mannerisms. After more than six years in Slytherin, Bellatrix had gotten to be rather adept at reading people… not even through magical means. These days, she could tell people were lying to her the moment they opened their mouths. Even with their minds shielded, small quirks in mannerisms could easily give them away.

Though Hermione was friendly and jovial for the most part, Bellatrix noticed she was almost always skittish and easily startled by loud or unexpected noises. She often looked over her shoulder and Bellatrix had noticed that Hermione would nestle herself at the pool in such a way that it would give her the widest possible view of the forest beyond, as if she was afraid that someone might sneak up on her at all times. Hermione might not even be aware she was doing this. But Bellatrix had seen it just fine.

Then there were… certain moments. Moments of lull during their conversations where Hermione's expression would become distant, and she would become lost in thought. Moments where her eyes became unfocused, as if staring miles into the distance without actually looking at anything. In that moment, Hermione became dull and lifeless, as if she were a porcelain doll sat on a shelf while gathering dust. Moments where Bellatrix would have speak up louder to yank her friend back into reality.

Bellatrix had seen that look many times before on the face of her own father.

Years before she was born, before her father was even married, he and her uncle Alphard travelled to the Americas to fight against Grindelwald, against the express wishes of their family. The both of them believed strongly that Grindelwald's mad crusade to establish wizarding rule over muggles and subsequent exposure of magic to the muggles would lead to the doom of wizards and witches everywhere.

Merlin, her father had been around Hermione's age when he went to war. He and her uncle linked up with the American branch of House Black, native Americans from Montana, to join the fight. They were there for years, waging magical guerrilla warfare on Grindelwald's many followers.

Bellatrix remembered one particular night back home, she must have been something like eight or nine years old at the time. She'd been roaming the house in the dead of night as she often did when she couldn't sleep. Usually the house was quiet and Bellatrix would either slip into the library to pass the time or try to raid some sugary snacks from the kitchen. That night, she came upon her father. He was simply sat on the sofa in one of the sitting rooms, simply staring into the fireplace and the roaring fire beyond.

Bearing that same distant look on his face Hermione often had.

Her father wasn't angry with her. Even as young as Bellatrix was, she realized that whatever was happening with her father was very serious. The cuddle she offered had been very much welcomed, in fact.

Her father never liked talking about the war or the darker things that happened. Still, his memories of the war was an odd mix of good and bad. As much as he hated to talk about the fighting itself, he loved to talk about other things that happened when in the right mood: stories of camaraderie, stories of the American Blacks or the time he and her uncle's had a frightening encounter with skinwalkers on the Blackfoot reservation grounds while on leave back in Montana. Or cursing her other uncle Orion's short-sightedness for breaking off all ties with their American cousins.

At the end of that long night, she had made a promise to her father: fight for what you believe in, fight for family and loved ones, but never fight someone else's battles.

It was a promise Bellatrix intended to keep.

And so Hermione returned to her thoughts. Hermione had been through a war. Had it been her choice? Had it been forced upon her? Did that even matter?

Some quick math in her head and Bellatrix calculated that she'd be in the tail-end of her forties in 1998. It was no point worrying about cause and effect: whatever would happen that would cause that future war, it would happen whether she'd want it to happen or not. She shouldn't be worried about it and she'd only have to wait to learn more and have it happen on her own.

So there was no reason to lie awake and worry about it. Right?

Bellatrix continued to stare at the ceiling until it was time for breakfast the next morning.

Chapter Text

Autumn break was coming up. The weather was changing and the nights were getting noticeably colder by the day. This particular night, Hermione had decided to wear a thicker jacket, had covered her legs with a blanket and had brought a thermos-flask with hot tea. She had just poured herself a cup while Bellatrix was talking about the upcoming autumn break for the both of them.

"You're not staying at Hogwarts?" Hermione asked. Though students would be allowed to stay at Hogwarts over autumn break, few actually did. Both she and Bellatrix would be going home and though she would love to see her parents again, she would miss talking to Bellatrix. And judging by Bellatrix' expression, the feeling was absolutely mutual.

"No," Bellatrix let out a sigh. "Going back to the manor. Normally I'd love to spend some time with my sisters, but my parents have other plans. Wedding rehearsals! Fucking wedding rehearsals!"

Bellatrix crossed her arms, looking much like the angry pouting teenager she, well, currently was. Hermione supposed she couldn't really blame her. "But your wedding is a year away."

"10 months and 17 days," Bellatrix muttered, sighing the words as if she was reading the time off some sort of death clock. "And then my happy life comes to a close."

Dramatic, perhaps, but for Bellatrix that was true.

"Tell you what," said Bellatrix, her expression a devious one. "We could use this to our advantage, though. When maman came over from France, she took grand-père's entire library of esoteric magical works with her. It's all at the manor, mostly for display sadly. But if there is some knowledge out there on what this pool actually is, it will be in one of my grand-père's books. I am sure of it!"

Hermione nodded. The past two weeks the both of them had been looking at the school library trying to do some research on the pool they had found, but unfortunately turned up empty handed in both their time lines. She supposed the library at Hogwarts had texts on a lot of different subjects, but disappointingly little focus on specialized magical research, something the Black family library was supposed to have in abundance.

"I'd love to see that library one day," said Hermione. "You've certainly been piquing my curiosity with it."

"Biggest collection on esoteric magic, dark and otherwise, this side of the continent," Bellatrix smiled. "And it's put on display. Grand-père would turn around in his grave if he knew. What about you?"

"Just going home," replied Hermione, her gaze drifting upon. "I haven't been home for a long time. I... I regret not spending more time with my parents the past seven years. There was always something else to do, never enough time for the simple things, you know?"

"I get that," replied Bellatrix. "It's easy to get caught up in school work or projects or whatever. Makes you forget about the simple things."

"That's why I'm spending the entire week with them," Hermione smiled to herself, her thoughts drifting away. She had always put her family on a second place and had done so for too long a time. No longer. Her parents deserved better. She deserved better. "Just... simple things. Family dinner. A night of theatre. Or just staying in and having a pizza and having the worries of the world just slide off your back. Like old times."

"Hm, sounds nice."

"There's already so much of my magical life they can't be a part of," Hermione sighed wistfully. "I don't want us to drift apart more than we've already have."

Bellatrix remained silent for a bit, giving her an odd look. "Wait," she asked carefully. "What do you mean?"

"Hm?" Hermione looked down at the pool to see Bellatrix giving her a scrutinizing glare.

"Why can't they be part of your magical life?" Bellatrix narrowed her eyes now. Hermione froze. She'd just made a bit of a faux-pas and hadn't even realized she was making it. She kept her expression as neutral as possible and looked at Bellatrix, thinking of some what she might salvage the situation.

"Your parents are muggles," followed the accusing statement. "You're... you're a mudblood!"

Ah.

There it was.

And Bellatrix had figured it out within seconds from a single faux-pas. Hermione should have figured. Hermione hadn't been quick-witted enough to find a way to turn this situation enough. Bellatrix was clever, after all, and her mind worked fast. By the time Hermione was still trying to think of a response, Bellatrix had read her expression, weighed her choice of words and had already come to a singular, damning conclusion.

In a way, Hermione knew it would be coming at some point, but the anger and indignation in Bellatrix's once so gentle face told Hermione everything she needed to know. Her expression reminded her of her older self: that angry self-indulgent glare. The face, though younger, of the woman whom had tortured her. Flashes of being thrown onto the ground at Malfoy Manor shot through her mind, causing her to square her jaw to try to push those memories down again.

Bellatrix' breath quickened, her jaw squared, her voice was low when she next addressed Hermione. "Why didn't you tell me you are a mudblood?!"

Hermione felt anger soar through her very being. With gritted teeth and voice laced with poison, she replied. "You never asked."

Bellatrix' eyes were still narrowed, while a torrent of emotions shot across her face: anger, sadness, shock... but one stood out: the way Bellatrix looked at her screamed of one thing. Betrayal.

That was the worst one of all.

Seemingly at a loss for words, Bellatrix was staring her down through the pool. For a moment, Hermione felt as if she was being carefully studied. Still, she'd had plenty of sadness of her own at this moment.

"I should have known all of this was pointless," Hermione spoke softly, gathering her blanket and her flask, sad and angry for having wasted her time on a fruitless effort. "It always comes back to blood purity, doesn't it? After all we've shared, after all the talks we've had this stupid blood purity thing still outweighs it all. I really thought we could be friends. I had hoped... No. I'll waste no more words on you. I'm done," she said while getting up. Bellatrix gave her an incredulous look on the mirror end of the pool.

"You know what? I feel sorry for you," Hermione hissed through clenched teeth before stomping away towards the edge of the forest.

"Hermie!" sounded from the pool behind her. "Please! I didn't mean it! Please come back!"

Hermione wasn't swayed. With grim determination, she kept walking away.

"I'M SORRY!"

That made Hermione stop dead in her tracks. Had she heard that correctly? Slowly, Hermione turned around and looked towards the pool. During her chats, she had gotten to know Bellatrix quite well. She had become a friend yes, was often jovial and funny. But also prideful and arrogant. To hear those words from her mouth, of all people.

And then there was the way she said it. From her position, Hermione could only see the pool from an angle, meaning Bellatrix wouldn't be able to see her either. She stood there for a moment, wondering what to do.

"I'm sorry," sounded from the pool again, softer this time. Laced with… was that regret? Goodness, was Bellatrix... crying?

"Come back... please come back... I didn't mean it... Please... come back..."

She was crying! Hermione could hear it clearly. Slowly and silently, she approached the pool. When she looked into it, she saw a genuinely upset Bellatrix, her eyes downcast while tears ran over her cheeks. This surprised her more than anything.

"Trix?" Hermione asked softly.

Bellatrix' head snapped upwards, peering into the pool so close to the water that Hermione feared Bellatrix was about to tumble forward right into it. Through her tears, she let out a broad and happy smile. "You... you came back..." she stammered.

Still, Hermione wouldn't let her off the hook just yet. "How would you feel," started Hermione, her voice soft. "If you were constantly being judged for something that was never your choice and is something you could never change?"

Bellatrix sniffed and lowered her gaze slightly, letting Hermione's words sink in a little. "Pretty shit," was her soft-spoken response.

Hermione let out a sigh, sitting down at the pool again while pulling her blanket over her legs. "You pure-bloods have it so easy, you know. You have everything in spades and everybody just assumes you're better because of your blood status. You don't even realize what kind of privilege you enjoy."

"Oh?" sounded from the pool. Hermione looked down again to see Bellatrix drying her tears, looking back at her, eyes shining with renewed intensity. "You think pure-blood life is easy?! To have to give up your hopes and dreams for the sake of some sort of abstract ideal? The pressures put on you? Wealth isn't everything. I'd give it all up if it meant I could forge my own path. And you know what's even worse? It's the loneliness. I don't have any friends! I never know when someone is genuine or is looking to use me as a tool to further their own goals or position. If I didn't have my sisters I would have gone absolutely bonkers by now!"

"I..." Hermione stammered, but falling silent again.

"So besides not being able to fully trust anyone, I'm forced to marry a man I detest! All that so called privilege comes with a lot of strings attached!" Bellatrix bristled. "So yeah, you may assume that I'm generally quite aware of the things that are happening around me, Hermie! Or haven't you been paying attention during our heart-to-hearts?!"

Hermione closed her eyes and sighed. This time, it was her turn to feel like a heel. Assumptions were dangerous and this was once again proved. "You're right. I'm sorry too, Trix."

Silence took hold for a bit. All they could hear were the sounds of the forest at night. Crickets. Nightbirds. The wind in the trees.

In the pool, Bellatrix nodded in acceptance. Hermione did the same.

Bellatrix lowered her gaze, looked up again and smiled briefly. "I don't think you're inferior, Hermione."

Hermione accepted that with a nod. "And I don't think you're a privileged bitch."

Bellatrix snorted. "Well, you're half right."

"Which half?"

"You decide."

Both girls shared a brief laugh. And there it was. The miracle of mutual understanding.

"Hermie? Can we get past this?"

Bellatrix' voice was soft. Apologetic. Hopeful. Even a little bit scared. Funny how all the arrogance and self-assuredness had simply fled her at this moment.

Hermione closed her eyes and smiled. The fact that Bellatrix had even asked this question told her just how wrong Hermione had been to write her off immediately. Friends could have arguments and still be friends afterwards. Friends could and should forgive each other. So Hermione gave her friend the only answer she could.

"Of course we can, Trix."

Bellatrix let out what could only be described as a sigh or relief just as the magic of the pool started to fade. At least it has left them enough time to properly exchange their apologies.

"Right," smiled Bellatrix. "I'll see you next week, Hermie. Hopefully, with some knowledge of this pool. Have fun with your family, Hermie."

"And you with yours, Trix," said Hermione. "Until next week."

After the magic had faded and Bellatrix's visage had morphed into her own reflection, Hermione gathered her belongings and strode towards the edge of the clearing, this time with hope renewed.

Bellatrix was not beyond saving.

That fact alone made Hermione have a smile on her face all the way back to the castle, only to fade once sleep claimed her back in her bed.


Bellatrix suppressed a yawn as she stood on the platform waiting for the Hogwarts Express to arrive. She and her sisters would soon travel and take the stop at Leeds where they would take the portkey back to Manchester where their ancestral home stood proudly. Bellatrix had been glad to toss her uniform and exchange it for a stylish black knee-high dress, warm cloak and matching floppy pointed hat. She would have liked to have worn a mini-skirt, but her parents wouldn't approve as it would be too muggle. Best to avoid conflict for now.

Besides, it was a bit too cold to be out with bare legs.

She checked the clock above the platform, only to sigh when she realizes that her sisters were late, as per usual. That left her alone with her thoughts as other students were starting to gather on the platform with her. With her reputation, nobody really dared to approach her and that suited her fine at the moment.

Bellatrix considered she had spent plenty of time with her thoughts already, since she hadn't caught a wink of sleep this night. Her mind was too busy thinking. Of Hermione.

The plucky young dark witch was the first one to admit that she had led a somewhat sheltered existence. During family meetings, it was often her uncle Orion, the head of House Black, who would hold bombastic orations that that mudbloods were the lowest of the low. Thieves who stole their magic. Unintelligent, drooling fiends who had no semblance of manners, good breeding or redeeming qualities and would stab you in the back and steal your magic as you lay bleeding. The Blacks would stem the tides, would keep the Barbarians out of the gates and would preserve wizarding purity for generations to come.

Uncle Orion had a way with words. And a way with family members who didn't agree with those words. So naturally, Bellatrix had attempted to avoid all association with mudbloods. To do so was to invite death and betrayal. Just like she had been taught.

And that was the thing. She had spoken at length with Hermione before finding out she was a mudblood and found that she was a perfectly normal girl. Well, not exactly normal, that would be an insult: Hermione was intelligent, witty, knowledgeable and polite. She had listened to her stories and had given her honest feedback. Their conversations were things Bellatrix looked forward to every day. Hermione was nothing a mudblood was supposed to be. She wasn't a thief. She wasn't a liar. She wasn't a traitor.

Hermione was her friend. The only real friend she'd ever had.

It had made her think. Dirk, that mountain of a boy, had been her main rival at Quidditch for years. A mudblood, yes, but thinking back he had always treated her with respect and joviality. Bellatrix then glanced over to a pair of students waiting for the train. Three sisters, actually, known mudbloods. The dark-haired witch watched the three of them for a moment. They were joking, messing about, chatting, smiling, laughing. They were eager to go home to see their families again. Just like herself and her own sisters.

These were... three normal girls.

How come she had never even seen this before? Had she simply never bothered to look?

Mudbloods... being not so different than pure-bloods. The very thought alone was anathema. Heretical, even. But she couldn't deny what was right in front of her. She couldn't deny the truth that her friend Hermione was... just a normal witch like any other.

A terrifying thought came over her: if this one thing she had been taught was false, then what would that mean for all the other things she'd been taught? What if those were false too?

She felt her breath quicken and swallowed hard. What was true and what was false? She simply didn't know what to believe anymore. Bellatrix tried to calm herself, trying to keep her heretical thoughts from overwhelming her, when something heavy suddenly jumped on her back.

Startled, Bellatrix shot forward, only to realize that Cissy had jumped her and was now giggling while she was riding her back. Bellatrix cursed and tried to throw her off: carrying her worked fine when Cissy was eight and tiny, not now that she was thirteen and a lot bigger and heavier.

Andromeda stood by the side and laughed a bit. "You were miles away, Bella!"

"That no invitation to jump on my back!" Bellatrix challenged while Cissy's feet found the ground again.

"That's no invitation to not jump on your back either," Cissy giggled.

"Come on," said Andromeda as the Hogwarts Express stopped at the station. "Let's board."

The Black sisters boarded the train and quickly claimed a compartment in one of the front cars for just the three of them. The girls folded out the table and set out their prepared snacks, sweets and games they had prepared for the three hour trip. All three of them used their wands to float their hand-luggage to the racks above and settled on the leather seating.

While Bellatrix was eyeing a rather delicious looking bag of Fiery Black Pepper Imps, she noticed Cissy had her face pressed against the windows. "Look at them," Cissy muttered. "Bunch of mudbloods looking gormless. You can just see the drool gathering in pools on the ground."

From her position, Bellatrix could see that Cissy was looking at the three sisters she had witnessed earlier. And then she noticed something else which she never had before: the people passing their compartment in the corridor were all pure-bloods. People she knew for a fact weren't there waiting on the platform when the train arrived. Meanwhile, the half-bloods and the mudbloods which had been there waiting alongside her were still stood on the platform. She could clearly see Dirk towering above the rest beyond the window.

She realized they were letting the pure-bloods board first. Something she simply never noticed before.

It was then that Cissy blew a raspberry at the three mudblood sisters.

"Cissy, don't do that," Bellatrix admonished, almost automatically. It left her to wonder why she had reacted so strongly.

Cissy turned her head around and gave her elder sister an odd look, while Andromeda laughed. "Yeah," Andie jumped in. "Don't gob all over the window! I'd rather not stare at your spit all the way to Leeds."

Cissy made a face while Bellatrix was grateful for the distraction. It didn't take long before the train started to move. Bellatrix was mostly deep in thought during the first leg of the trip, left to ponder unless addressed. At first, her sisters didn't seem to notice much as Cissy was raving about her boyfriend Lucius, while Andie mostly bragged about her high marks in potion class.

"Hey," said Andie while laying a hand on her shoulder and shaking her a bit. "You've been awfully quiet, Bella. That's not like you."

"Yeah," said Cissy. "I'd expected at least one macabre tale by now."

Bellatrix forced a brief smile. "I've just... got a lot on my mind, that's all."

Andie and Cissy shared a look. "The wedding stuff?" Cissy asked.

Bellatrix thought a moment. That would do. "Yes, among other things," Bellatrix pursed her lips and ran a hand through her curly hair.

Cissy scooted over and grabbed her by the hand. "Hey," she spoke softly. "It's not all going to be wedding stuff. We're going to have some fun together."

"Just the three of us," said Andie. "Why don't we go camping together? Spend the night out in the tent and just enjoy the quiet of the night."

Bellatrix smiled briefly, but was still conflicted. Once she had felt like she could share everything with her sisters, talk to them about everything. They'd been there for her when she'd been told about her upcoming wedding. She had cried and screamed and cursed and wept... and her sisters were there for her to listen, to hug and to console.

But to tell them about this? About her... doubts? About Hermione? No. She couldn't. She wouldn't. Bellatrix simply didn't dare. How would they even react?

As much as it pained her, it was for the best to keep the secrets for now. And so she did.

Bellatrix simply sat next to the window while her sisters carried on about their next topic, while she stared out across the passing countryside and found her thoughts wandering towards Hermione.

Chapter Text

After an uneventful train-ride, the Black sisters finally arrived at their ancestral home situated in Greater Manchester: Catterborough Woodhouse. Though the name was a bit of a misnomer, as it was a neo-classical English country house consisting of a large three story central building and two sprawling two story wings on either side. Surrounding it were rolling hills and endless lawns. This was the home where Bellatrix and both her sisters had been born and had grown up in.

It was the home and seat of power for the Manchester Blacks, her branch of the Most Noble and Ancient House of Black, and one of the largest private residences in all of Europe. Her family's fortune was based on the ownership of land and property, as well as significant investments in a myriad of businesses, not to mention a lot of old money. Old money responsible for her very lavish and wealthy upbringing: what kid could claim that they had their own zoo attached to their home, after all?

It was very much a generational household, it always having been home to parents, grandparents, children and close relatives, as well as a small army of servants. Sadly, both sets of their grandparents were no longer alive, but her oncle Achille, her mother's brother, had moved into their home as the both of them had come as a package deal. She made a mental note to pay her uncle a visit later.

What did irk her was that she could see party tents having been erected right next to the large indoor botanical garden at the very end of the east wing. Unfortunately, Bellatrix was set to be married at the manor too which also meant Lestrange would be moving in. Something which would forever taint this wonderful place in her eyes.

She didn't want to think about it. Not now, at least.

She and her sisters shared a pleasant look: homecoming was always wonderful for all of them. Broad grins were exchanged and it didn't need to be said that they would race to the steps and the large double doors leading into the entrance hall. Giggling, the three girls dropped their luggage and shot forward, their shoes gripping into the gravelled path and kicking small stones back as they ran.

Andie won the race today and promptly knocked over Sebastian, the family butler whom had opened the door on their approach. As Andie was wont to do, she profusely apologized while Bellatrix and Narcissa had a laugh at her expense. Sebastian himself had been part of their household since before she'd been born. A thin, clean-shaven wizard with greying hair and a perpetual serious expression to his face, he was clad in the traditional black attire butlers were known for. After all, her mother distrusted house-elves and preferred to hire wizarding staff who lived with them in the sizable servant quarters of the house. As far as Bellatrix was concerned, Sebastian had been part of the family in his own way: whenever she had been playing in the garden and scraped her knees, he had been there to heal them. Whenever she had lost something precious, he had been there to help her find it.

"Well," said Sebastian after picking himself up. "With the misses Black back at the house, the manor is bound to become lively again."

Sebastian took care of their luggage as the three girls walked into the cavernous entrance hall lined with marble columns and a double staircase in the back. Bellatrix closed her eyes and took in the pleasant smell of the home she'd grown up in. Despite everything, it was so good to be here again.

"My young ladies," Sebastian called after the three girls as they went up the stairs. "Your mother wishes to see you in the south parlour before you head to your rooms."

The parlour was actually located on the third floor of the central building and it took the girls a few moments actually get there, passing through the upper corridors until they arrived at a luxurious parlour. As with always the case in her ancestral home, the room had a high ceiling and was well-lit through tall and broad windows. Paintings of family members of the distant past hung from the wall, while expensive antique furniture adorned the room. One the velvet settee sat their mother, a petite raven-haired woman with heavily lidded eyes. It was always said that Bellatrix and Andie took after their mother, while Cissy had far more resemblance to their father.

Her mother's mouth curved into a smile, accentuated by her curly hair, the moment she saw her children. "Oh!" she sighed. "Mes belle enfants! I 'ave missed you so!"

Druella Black had always been a caring mother and quickly took her children in a four-way hug. The four of them chatted a bit in the parlour, mostly talking about mundane things such as school, the trip home and what had been happening in the manor. Honestly Bellatrix didn't really care which servant had broken which plate and she found her mind wandering. In her mind, she was already figuring out what that magic pool actually was until she was starkly reminded why she was here when she saw the top of one of the tents through the window. Rodolphus' disgusting little face floated through her mind and ruined whatever good mood she had left. Funnily enough, thoughts of Hermione came to her as well, almost to relieve her of the horrors. She wanted to talk to her again so badly already and it hadn't even been a full day.

By now, Andromeda and Cissy excused themselves to had back to the East wing where their rooms were, but Bellatrix remained seated, lost in thought.

Her mother sat next to her, a hand tapping her on the knee. "Is something wrong, chouchou?" asked Druella. "Are you worried about your grande jour, perhaps?"

Grande jour. What a fucking joke.

"Something like that," Bellatrix muttered.

"Ah, don't be worried, chouchou," said Druella, running a hand through her curly hair. "I'm certain everything will go just swell. It's why we have re'earsals, non? My girls are growing up. Time goes by so fast."

Bellatrix felt the walls coming in at her at that moment, but she closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths. "Maman?" asked Bellatrix. "May I take a look through grand-père's collection in the library? I'm looking for something specific for a... school project."

Grand-père Rosier was a world-renowned unspeakable who amassed a massive library on the history of magic in its many forms. Bellatrix was reasonably sure that if any knowledge on the magic pools existed, grand-père would have knowledge of it in his sizable collection.

"Oh, my studious girl," smiled Druella. "I thought you'd 'ave quite enough of dusty books. Just don't forget to 'ave fun with your sisters, non?"

"Like my sisters would let me forget," Bellatrix chuckled. "They want to go camping."

"On the lawn?" Druella smiled. "Like when you were small, yes? Even though you pitched your tent only ten meters away from the front door, your father was so worried 'e stayed up all night to make sure you three were safe."

"I remember," Bellatrix laughed. "The same loving father who's now selling me to the Lestranges."

Druella squeezed her shoulder slightly. "Don't say that, chouchou. We only want the best for you."

"Why don't I get a say in that?!" Bellatrix bristled, but quickly calmed down. Mother was not at fault here. "I'm sorry, maman. It's... it's been a long trip."

"Why don't you get some rest, chouchou?" her mother patted her knee. "It'll be a long day tomorrow."

"Is father in?" Bellatrix asked.

"Your father will be back from London tomorrow morning," said her mother. "He'll be cutting 'is business trip short to be able to be with the three of you tomorrow. Dinner will be in an 'our. Why don't you get some rest, hm?"

Bellatrix nodded and got up from her chair. After saying goodbye to her mother, Bellatrix made her way to her room on the other side of the estate.


Hermione couldn't help but smile when she had stepped off the bus and walked the streets of Hampstead Heath. Sure, she could have taken the portkey to the park and taken it from there, but there was something deeply cathartic about looking out the window of the bus and seeing familiar places loom in the distance.

Especially when it was the rather nice upper class and leafy part of London and the neighbourhood she'd grown up in.

After a rather uneventful trip of reading all the way down from Scotland to King's Cross on the Hogwarts Express, Hermione decided to take a scenic route stroll through the neighbourhood under the pleasant afternoon sky. It might be getting colder, but there was thankfully no rain. She passed the park she had played in while growing up, the streets she had travelled on the way to her old primary school, the benches where she used to sit outside reading in the summer.

Times seemed so much simpler back then.

She stopped at the corner of her street. Her home was already in sight. It was a very pleasant detached home, small for the area perhaps, but it was a home she still loved to this day. After restoring her parents' memories, it had been a bit of a chore to get everything back in order: she had left the home and its furniture completely intact, but had transferred ownership to a fictitious person and it had been a bit of a bureaucratic nightmare to transfer ownership back. Hermione chuckled which thinking back to this summer: dealing with London municipalities was a good argument in favour of legalizing the imperius curse. In the end, it seemed as if her parents had never even left.

Hermione was stood at the garden gate, regarding the bay windows of their living room and the master bedroom upstairs. Hermione's own room was right above the front door, the single window giving the permanently darkened interior a cozy atmosphere. The young witch closed her eyes, her heart constricting with regret. She had missed so many moments with her parents... all the holidays she had spent studying at school or at the Burrow or simply being on the run. She could count the weeks she had actually spent with her parents the past few years on one hand.

So much time lost. And for what? She told herself it'd been important: for her education, for her friends, for the war. But had it really been? Had her many sacrifices meant anything in the end?

After taking a few deep breaths, Hermione stepped onto the garden path feeling the gravel shift underneath her feet. A few seconds later, she raised a hand to the doorbell to ring it, finding it rather funny that she didn't even have the key to her own childhood home.

She waited a bit until the front door opened and was confronted with the rather shocked expression of her mother. Emma Granger took one look at her and gasped. "H-hermione!"

Hermione smiled. "Hi, mum," she said. Of course, her parents weren't aware that she'd be coming. "May I come in?"

"It's your house too," her mother laughed and embraced her. Hermione closed her eyes and simply enjoyed the moment.

"No studying," replied Hermione. "No magic, no war and no worries. Just the three of us for a week, just like it used to be."

"Jack!" Emma called over her shoulder into the house. "Look who's here!"

A few moments later, her father, a lanky man looking rather bemused with his paper still in is hand, emerged from the living room. The moment he saw Hermione, he dropped his paper and rushed forward. "Puppet!" he exclaimed and was next in turn to embrace her, even more tightly than her mother had. "This is a nice surprise!"

"Hi dad," Hermione smiled. "Mind if I stay here for a week?"

"Mind?!" her father laughed. "Puppet, I might never let you leave again!"

And so Hermione found herself in the living room having a rather animated conversation with her parents. It almost felt like old times again. Almost.

For one week, Hermione could forget all about the vagaries of the wizarding world and all its troubles. Everything could be set aside and she could feel as if she'd be back in easier, simpler times again. And maybe, just maybe, she wouldn't be plagued by nightmares or shades of regret and pain.

Maybe she could feel like the old Hermione again. Just for a moment.


After spending some hours after dinner chin-wagging with her sisters, Bellatrix felt it was time to retire to her bedroom. The three sisters had their own space in the east wing: a spacious common room where all three of them could relax and work which gave access to three private bedrooms. As the eldest sister, Bellatrix had the privilege of having the corner room. High ceilings and tall windows, just like the rest of the estate, the center of a room held a gigantic four poster bed. On the bed lay a small army of animal plushies.

Bellatrix kicked off her boots and let herself fall forward onto the softest mattress. So much softer than that awful bed in her dorm back at Hogwarts. Still, she had done plenty to make this room her own: bookcases lined the wall and wherever was not a bookcase, there were posters of famous witches past. Quidditch players, pioneers, ancestors. Witches whom had made their mark on the world.

On a prominent place in her room, right above the huge fireplace opposite to her bed, hung a framed poster of Eleanore Snowbell, her childhood hero. Eleanore Snowbell was an explorer, adventurer and sometimes monster hunter. The poster itself was from an exhibition about her life and works at the Museum of Magical History a few years back: an exhibition she had begged her mother to bring her to.

Not to mention that she'd had an enormous crush on her during her early teen years,

To Bellatrix, Eleanore Snowbell embodied everything a witch should be: accomplished and daring, magically gifted and adventurous, fiendishly clever and delightfully witty. She had so enjoyed reading about Eleanore's travels and many adventures all over the world. When she'd been younger, she'd wanted to follow in her footsteps: become an explorer, an adventurer and perhaps a monster hunter.

Bellatrix pursed her lips.

That wouldn't be happening.

Bellatrix let out an annoyed grunt and rolled to her back, letting her tiredness wash over her. She'd have to get up and undress, wash up and brush her teeth at the private bathroom attached to her room. But perhaps she wouldn't care and would sleep in her clothes tonight.

She glanced over the glass display case near her bed: it was piling out with the porcelain dragon figurines she collected in her childhood. A smile crossed her features when she remembered once enchanting all of them to move and fly. One of them even breathed fire, as evidenced from the slight scorch mark still visible on the carpet. She'd promised herself she'd continue collecting after her Hogwarts years.

Perhaps that was yet another thing she would never finish.

This wasn't going to well: she'd longed to enjoy going home to get away from it all for a bit and all it did was to remind her of the impending doom hanging over her head. Perhaps she should just go to bed early today.

One thing, however, was foremost on her mind and for once it was not Lestrange or the wedding.

More than anything else, Bellatrix wondered what Hermione was doing right now.


Hermione had spent a lovely evening with her parents. Just chatting and catching up. It had felt... good. In fact, she'd felt better than she'd had in a while. It was good to get away from the wizarding world for a bit, she figured.

Since skipping the brushing of the teeth was considered anathema to a point of heresy in this house, Hermione had spent some time in the bathroom getting ready for bed. After changing into her fluffy pyjamas, she made her way to her old room. And such a relief and joy it was to step inside of it. Unlike her lonely dorm, this room quite literally felt like home.

Funny. It seemed bigger before she'd left for Hogwarts.

The room was cozy and welcoming beyond measure. It only had a single window and thus was quite pleasantly dark on all hours of the day no matter the weather outside. Underneath the window was a well loved writing desk and on opposite sides of the wall were bookcases, all piling out. On top of her bookcases were displayed several fairy figurines from her 'fairy-phase'. Next to a bed was a corner book-case of about waist-height which doubled as a display for photographs. Pictures and paintings of flowers hung from the few free spaces of wall. The entire room was immaculately organized aside from a single messy pinboard.

Hermione chuckled as she picked up Pete, a ratty old bear with button eyes which was almost as old as she was. Pete had been given a prominent place of honour among her photographs, but today she would take Pete to bed like she had always done in her younger years. Hermione decided it was silly to be embarrassed about it and would place Pete where he belonged: on her pillow.

The bed itself was a small but wonderfully soft single bed she was almost too tall for at this point, but the duvet welcomed her as if she were an old friend. With Pete clutched to her chest, she lay on her side and enjoyed the familiar surroundings of home with her parents near.

Complete safety.

So why was she crying?

Hermione hadn't even noticed she was crying at first. It had just started. Just like all the other times it had happened when she had gone to bed at Hogwarts at her lonely and cold dorm room. Her body shook as tears kept coming and coming.

Even here. Even at home.

"Why the fuck am I crying?!" Hermione hissed to herself, partly angry, partly sad.

Was there no place left where she could feel safe? Was there no place left where she could feel herself?

Would she ever feel better?

Still sniffing, she clutched Pete to her chest and had a single thought pop in her mind: she wondered how Bellatrix was doing and hoped she was coping with the wedding rehearsals well enough. Talking to Bellatrix, oddly, had become on the highlights of her day: something she always looked forward to.

Curious. She'd stopped crying.


Bellatrix had quickly decided that wedding rehearsals were a complete pain. A wizarding wedding, especially a pure-blood one, was an affair of customs, charms, protocol and precision. There were tons of phrases, rituals and even moves for her to remember, as well as the correct order to do everything in. The wedding guests, and there would be many, would be ranked by relationship for their family and every rank had a different set of rules for treatment attached to them. Now, being the perfectionist Bellatrix was, she would learn it all by heart and execute it immaculately as was expected of her.

But that didn't mean she'd have to like it. Among other things, she was expected to curtsy. Curtsy! HER! It was enough to make her want to run off into the woods, scream her head off and using the trees around her for target practice.

There were tents set up all over the back yard along with hundreds of seats facing the altar. The altar itself was a large platform with a heart-shaped bough lined with white flowers. Heart-shaped… what a hilarious idea.

All their servants would be playing the role of wedding guests and were seemingly having a grand day at it. Her sisters would be the bridesmaids, of course. From the tent where she stood, she could see Cissy and Andie having a whale of a time trying on their dresses and curtsying to each other as if all of this was some sort of fucking joke.

Well, it was a fucking joke. Just not a particularly funny one.

At least the groom wasn't here: Rodolphus was spending time with his own family, so Sebastian would be taking his place for the rehearsal. At least that was a small mercy. Bellatrix actually liked Sebastian, which meant she wouldn't be retching all the way to the altar. Right now, a seamstress was fitting her into her grandmother's wedding dress. The dress itself was a gorgeous, multi-layered pristine white garment, accompanied by a large white cloak which would drag three meters behind her and a traditionally pointed hat. Though the garment itself was heavy and cumbersome, it was enchanted to be feather light and flow around her body like water. It was a dress with history as it had served both her grandmother and her mother quite well, she supposed. But for her it was just the gateway to the end of her carefree existence.

"'old still, chouchou," her mother smiled as the seamstress adjusted the fit of the dress' corset and Bellatrix felt all the air being pushed out of her lungs for a moment. "There," her mother smiled. "Ah, you look gorgeous, Bellatrix."

"I don't feel gorgeous," replied Bellatrix, her curly black hair falling down over her back. "And I am not wearing my hair in a bun!"

"Ah, don't be so difficult, chouchou," said her mother, whom was apparently quite excited about the whole idea: well, at least someone was happy about all this nonsense. A few moments later, her father Cygnus appeared, stepping into the tent with a smile on his face. This was the first time she had seen him this week: though he had been trying to cut his business trip short, things had been popping up which required his attention.

Cygnus Black was a tall and lanky man, dressed in expensive finery, clean-shaven and had a neatly kept head of hair which had gone prematurely grey. The youngest of three siblings, her father was someone who always seemed to be at work in some capacity. While uncle Orion from the London branch of the House Black was officially the head of the family and set all the rules, her own father led the financial backbone of House Black and provided all of the branches of their house with tremendous amounts of income.

Her father gave her a warm smile. "Ah, you look gorgeous, my precious girl," said he. "It's hard to believe you're growing up so fast. You look lovely and radiant in your wedding gown."

Bellatrix pursed her lips, absolutely bristling. Lovely and radiant? Lovely and radiant?! She was miserable and angry! Why didn't her parents see that?! They were supposed to see that!

"Father," Bellatrix greeted, her displeasure clear on her voice, something which did not pass him by unnoticed. Her parents shared a look and Cygnus gave her mother a brief nod.

"Ella? Why don't you try to reel in Andie and Cissy before they accidentally destroy the altar, hm?" Cygnus asked.

Druella agreed, after which Cygnus asked the seamstress to take a brief moment to leave him alone with his daughter. Once they were alone, Bellatrix felt like she could let out what she'd been feeling all day.

"Come here," her father's voice sounded kind and welcoming. Tears burst from her eyes while she flew into his arms. Her father held her tightly, pressing her head against his chest. "I know all of this must feel so terribly unfair."

"All that work at school," Bellatrix sniffed. "Why did I even bother?"

"Don't say that," replied Cygnus. "You were always talented. You were always eager to prove yourself. And you have. Many times over. I've lost count of the many times you have impressed me."

"There's so many things I want to do," Bellatrix felt her lip tremble. "So many things I want to see."

"And you can! You will!" Cygnus smiled. "You're not going to be locked up into a tower for the rest of your life. Have you ever seen me lock up your mother? As if she'd even let me!"

"It's different kind of cage!" Bellatrix bristled. "One of expectations. Mum is expected to run the house and our local holdings as lady of the manor! I don't want that! I want to be an adventurer! An explorer! A writer! An auror!"

"That... will be more difficult," her father admitted.

"Besides, you're not him. He pretends to be a polite and thoughtful man, but he's neither. You don't know him like I do!" Bellatrix returned, still sniffling. "Why him?! Why Rodolphus Lestrange of all people?!"

"Bellatrix," Cygnus replied. "We're proud, pure-blood wizards. Among the last of our kind. We have a duty to the wizarding world to keep magic strong."

Bellatrix grunted in anger. "Are we really so afraid of mudbloods that we do these kinds of things to ourselves?!"

Her father stiffened for a moment, raising his head slightly and giving her an intense stare. "Bella," said her father. "You know I don't want to hear that type of language in this house. I do believe we have had terse words about that term before."

"Excuse me, father," said Bellatrix, her gaze pointed downward. "It was an outburst. Uncle Orion…"

Her father's jaw stiffened. "Your uncle Orion is a gormless fool who should learn to keep his filthy mouth shut long enough to stop making idiotic decisions such as cutting off an entire branch of his own family for the most idiotic of reasons! He should not talk about things he does not understand!" he snarled, but immediately let out a sigh when he saw his daughter's stricken look. "Bella, I'm not angry with you."

"I know, father," Bellatrix looked up and smiled. She'd become good at reading people and, judging from her father's outburst, he had just come out of a meeting with uncle Orion. That always seemed to leave her father exhausted. Her thoughts drifted back to the many family gatherings where uncle Orion would never miss an opportunity to whip up the gathered siblings, cousins and other relations to orate about the foulness of dirty blood and the 'scourge of mudbloods' infesting the noble wizarding world to the cheers of many. Bellatrix would sometimes see her father seething in his chair, blinded with rage.

When she was much younger, Bellatrix had thought that her father simply strongly hated muggle-borns, but as she grew older and more adept at reading people, she could clearly tell that her father's rage was only directed towards one single individual in the room he completely and utterly loathed. Today was the moment he came closest to ever confirming it.

"And I don't believe all muggle-borns are bad," whispered Bellatrix, Hermione's smiling face drifting to her mind.

"Of course not," said Cygnus. "I've met many in the States during the… troublesome times. Decent and well-meaning individuals, all of them and I do not fear them personally. But I do fear what they represent on the whole. Our families take a stand for the continued future of a safe wizarding world. Muggle-borns simply belong with their own kind as much as we belong with ours. And that is why you and your sisters shall marry into strong magical lines and produce strong magical offspring. It is how things are done in this family."

"Is that all I am?!" Bellatrix bristled. "A brood-mare?!"

"Of course not, you're exaggerating now, Bella," her father hugged her again and stroked her curly hair. "You do know that your mother and I hated each other to the core when we first met? Oh, loathing doesn't begin to describe it. And look at us now. Love developed and grew between the two of us. We've both led successful lives and had three wonderful daughters. I want the same for you, Bella. Why can't the same happen between you and Rodolphus?"

"It can't!" Bellatrix hissed. "You can't compare maman to Rodolphus. Maman is clever and kind. He's despicable and rotten!"

"Oh, you say that now, my precious child," said her father. "But give it time."

"Couldn't you at least have found me a girl?" Bellatrix sighed heavily. In the past she had made her taste and preference quite clear.

"Believe it or not, I've tried," Cygnus sighed. "But Rodolphus simply had the best pedigree."

Her father sounded… remorseful? Bellatrix sniffled again. "But father..."

"Tell you what," replied Cygnus. "I can see you're upset. Why don't limit the wedding rehearsals to a single day for now and pick it up again at a later date when you're more used to the idea. Let's spend autumn holiday together as a family, just the five of us. With no weddings or anything like that looming over your head."

"I'd like that," said Bellatrix. She had been given, at least, somewhat of a reprieve. Hermione came to mind again. What she wanted right now more than anything else was to talk to possibility the only true friend she had in the world.

"I worry about your sisters," said Cygnus while he stood in the entry to the tent. Bellatrix stood next to her father as they watched the two of them still flinging some cantrips to each other despite their mother's best efforts to put a stop to it.

"They don't know what's looming over their heads," muttered her father. "And I hope they will never have to."

Bellatrix stiffened for a moment, studying her father's expression for a moment. Cygnus tried to hide it by keeping is expression unreadable, but his eyes betrayed his concern.

"Father?" asked Bellatrix. "What does that mean?"

Cygnus sighed heavily. "F… forget I said anything," he spoke softly before placing his hand on her shoulder and trying his best to offer a comforting smile.

That only worried Bellatrix more.

Chapter Text

With a yelp, Hermione sat up in bed panting and bathing in sweat. She closed her eyes and needed a moment to catch her breath and slowly realized where she was: in the safety of her room at her childhood home. Bathed in darkness, Hermione had only a sliver of light from the moon outside while the autumn wind howled past her window.

Hermione rubbed her face and used the duvet to wipe the moisture away. The nightmare was the same as always. Flashes of the war, the terror, the pain and... Bellatrix. The older Bellatrix. The torture.

She checked her arm: at least the cursed would hadn't reopened this time. Small mercy, that.

Hermione checked the time and found it to be quarter past four on her alarm clock. Knowing quite well how this went by now, she knew wouldn't get an ounce of sleep for the rest of the night. She settled for simply turning on her night light and picking up one of her books to spend a few hours distracting herself while she let the anxiety simmer down a bit. So, she fluffed up her pillow, leaned back and got comfortable while reading a simple muggle book. The book in question was Treasure Island. Fitting, as pirates seemed more palatable than wizards at the moment.

It was getting lighter outside and Hermione was just enjoying a witty exchange between Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver when she heard some ticking outside her window. Curious, Hermione looked up and saw an owl sitting at the window: an owl she immediately recognized as Pigwidgeon. Owls usually waited to deliver mail until the receiving party was up… and since she was, Pigwidgeon felt it was time to deliver his message.

Hermione put the book to her side and slipped out of bed, shivering slightly from the cold rush of air after opening the window. "Hello there, Pig," Hermione greeted. "What are you doing here?"

The answer was a letter which was swiftly lain in Hermione's hands, from Ron of course. Hermione broke the wax seal and tried to make sense of Ron's almost indecipherable handwriting.

"Hey, Hermione,

I stopped by to visit at Hogwarts but was surprised to find you had left. McGonagall told me you're spending autumn break with your parents. I'm glad you did, considering everything that's been happening. Still, I'm hoping you can spare at least one day, the last day of autumn break, at the Burrow. Just grab a floo at any point in the day since we'll keep our fireplace open for visitors. Everyone's coming, Harry too, for a lovely Sunday roast. We'd love it if you'd drop by for a bite and a chat. And if you're worried about mum, don't be. She's not angry with you at all.

Hope to see you Sunday!

R."

Hermione smiled a bit. She motioned for Pigwidgeon to wait a bit and quickly wrote a reply that she'd be coming next Sunday. It would be on the way back anyway and she'd be able to catch the Hogwarts Express in the station at Leeds. Hermione gave the letter to Pig and the plucky little owl was off. Afterwards, Hermione curled up in bed with Treasure Island for a bit more until she started to hear movement in the house. She put the book away for later and slipped out of bed to go through the morning routine of shower and dressing.

Hermione greeted her parents as cheerfully as she could muster and joined them at the table for a hearty English breakfast. It didn't take long at all for the whole situation to turn decidedly awkward. As a family they often chatted at the table about everything and anything: stories from school, happenings at the practice, old stories from the past of family, making plans for holidays they would never go on and general philosophy. As an only child, Hermione had a tight bond with her parents.

But today? Nothing. It wasn't as if Hermione didn't want to talk to her parents, it was just that she couldn't think of anything to say to them. And her father was looking at her as if he had something on his mind, but didn't seem to want to be the first person to talk. Her mother looked back and forth between the two of them, looking rather demure.

"More tea, dear?" asked her mother. The first word spoken in ten minutes. Hermione gave only the slightest hint of a nod.

More silence.

The situation was becoming unbearable until her father finally put down his fork and looked at her intently. "So... are we just going keep pretending we haven't heard the crying or the screams last night, Emma?"

"Jack," her mother hissed.

There. It was out. It almost felt like a relief to Hermione. "Dad..." she started to say. Of course after the while incident with the memory charms a few months back, getting their family home back had been only one part of Hermione's worries: she had definitely had some explaining to do. So, she had told her parents everything without holding back this time. All the details.

Her dad had not taken it well.

"What happened to my curious and active little girl?!" her father pleaded. "I remember you vividly regaling us with the most minute details of the wizarding world. All the things you've learned, the wonders you've seen. And now? You've been silent as the grave. And not just today. Yesterday, you've been so withdrawn. I've never seen you like this."

"Jack," her mother gently took hold of his time. "Give Hermione some time."

Hermione closed her eyes and sighed. "No, mum," said Hermione. "Dad... dad's right. I haven't been myself for a while now. I've been trying to deny it myself, throwing myself on my school work to hide from it, but... I know I'm not well. I have nightmares and flashbacks. I... I feel... I..." Hermione took a few deep breaths. "I'm not myself. I don't think I'll ever be myself again..."

Her father closed his eyes and shook his head. "Good lord," he whispered. "What have they done to you?"

"Who?"

"Those wizards and witches, of course!" her father exclaimed.

"Oh, Jack," spoke her mother. "I'm certain that Hogwarts is giving Hermione the help she needs. Right, dear?"

Her mother was trying to be the voice of reason. Obviously her parents had been talking. Unfortunately, the true was a bit more uncomfortable than she would like. "Mum, dad, I'll deal with it. Really. Hogswarts... the wizarding world... psychiatric care isn't really a thing there and it's not as if I can go to a muggle therapist."

"So they just left you to deal with it yourself?!" her father sighed. "How could they do that?! They owe you! The Ministry of Magic owes you! Hogwarts owes you!"

Emma reached over to wrap an arm around her shoulder. "Oh, sweetie, they're not doing anything for you at all?"

Hermione smiled briefly. "I have McGonagall to talk to..."

"Not good enough, dammit! Not good enough!" her father slammed the flat of his hands on the table as he rose from his chair, causing Hermione to start briefly. Her father wasn't someone who would get angry. In all her twenty years of life, she had only seen him angry a handful of times. This was one of them. His anger wasn't directed at her, though. In fact, it broke her heart to see her father so close to tears. "Hermione, they made you fight a war! A bloody war! What kind of sick society makes children fight a war for them?!"

"Dad!" Hermione snapped back. "I chose to fight! I chose to make a stand! I fought in the war because I thought it was just and right. And if I hadn't, I'd have been a victim! There were people around me who were far worse off that I've ever been!"

"Puppet," her father sniffed. "You were tortured."

The word slammed a weight on her of a thousand tons, as if someone had dropped an anvil on her back. Hermione tried to respond, but couldn't. "I..." she muttered, her voice cracking and tears coming. For a moment there, she was no longer in her parents' house, not longer at the breakfast table. She was in that dark manor, on the cold floor, with Bellatrix Lestrange hovering over her, biting, cutting, clawing and punching. Carving her skin, mocking her, belittling her. Screaming and cackling in her ear.

Hermione felt her hands start to tremble, her body starting to shake. She doubled forward and started bawling uncontrollably, until both sets of parents' arms wrapped around her. Hermione calmed down somewhat and looked her father in the eye with quivering lip. "Yes. I was," she replied. "What do you want me to say? That I'm broken? That I feel that my friends are abandoning me? That I feel frightened and alone? That I feel I might never be myself again? And that the one person who does make me feel like myself is someone I can never speak of? Oh, irony upon irony."

Her father still held her while he shook his head. "I never should have let you go," he whispered.

"Jack," spoke her mother. "It was never your fault. We decided together. Hermione had a voice in it too."

And finally, Hermione understood: her father had his own demons and guilt to deal with.

"If only we hadn't allowed you to go, you would have stayed with us in the muggle world," said Jack. "You would have done great things with your life, puppet. You could have been a doctor, an engineer. Hell, even a hairdresser. Better than the alternative."

"The traumatized mess I am now?" Hermione raised both eyebrows.

"Yes! No! I mean..."

"I'm still Hermione Granger, dad," said Hermione. "I'm still your daughter. I'll always be."

"Hermione, I'm your father! I was supposed to protect you!" her father squeezed his eyes shut. "I... I failed you just as much as Hogwarts and the Ministry failed you."

"Don't say that," Hermione shook her head. "I've been a bad daughter. I've neglected you and mum for stupid things I now regret! It was my choice to go to the wizarding world, it was my choice to fight in the war. I now have to deal with the consequences of those choices. And you both are here for me now."

Her father let out a deep sigh while her mother embraced her once more. "I swear," spoke her father. "If that vile woman who tortured you wasn't dead already, I'd be scouring the countryside for her. And once I'd caught her, I'd be making a pyre for a good old-fashioned witch-burning!"

That caused Hermione to chuckle in spite of herself. "That's a bit culturally insensitive, dad. Besides, she… she's not all bad. She was a victim of this war too. The more I learn about her, the more I sympathize. And the more certain I become that she could be saved."

Jack Granger smiled, then laughed. "Trust my Hermione to sympathize with her tormentor."

"Enough," said her mother. "Enough guilt-tripping from either of you. Jack, you are not at fault for what happened to Hermione. None of us are. And Hermione, you need to realize that there are more people who care about you than you might know. You don't have to be lonely."

"How about," Hermione nodded. "We try to get past this? Remember when I used to be home from school during holidays and got incredibly bored and dad wouldn't let me read books all day? Let's just do... dumb stuff, silly things, like in the old days. How about we order a pizza? And then watch some of dad's old crap horror films?"

"Hey, those are vintage!"

"Sure they are, Jack," her mother rolled her eyes.

"And then we go to theatre, or London Zoo, or Camden market, or maybe even a trip to Stonehenge!" said Hermione. "Just spend time together as a family, like we used to do... like I... skipped out on so often."

Apparently, her parents picked up on the hint and part of the cause of Hermione's guilt. Her father put his fingers to his chin. "Spending some time together cozied up in the safety of home and family. I think we can arrange that."

"It's decided then," her mother smiled. "But, Hermione, no more secrets, alright? You can tell us anything and everything."

"It's a promise," said Hermione, feeling a bit bad about already having broken her promise. But to explain that she was talking to a younger version of her tormentor through a magical pool which allowed her to speak to people in another time-line sounded so ludicrous even for the wizarding world that she wisely decided not to mention this to her parents for now.

They probably wouldn't understand. Still, she hoped Bellatrix was faring well with her family visit.


The downside of living in a house as big as hers was that you could wander the halls of Catterborough Woodhouse for ages until you actually ran into a person. This early in the morning, this was actually a good thing: her sisters wouldn't be up at this ungodly hour and as soon as they were up, they'd want to do things. Things like chatting, broom riding and general family stuff. All nice things, certainly, but Bellatrix still had a bit of a mission and she didn't want to return to Hermione empty-handed.

Before she headed to the library, the turned to the ground floor of the house near the back of the central building where the family chapel was. She could probably use a little luck right around now.

This was no mere muggle chapel. This was a family gathering place to honour the ancient magics. It was a small room, but mostly open space. A few stain-glass windows depicted the Crann Bethadh, the Celtic Tree of Life. Aside from that, there was a lot of maintained greenery in the chapel, staged around a small holly tree at the back. Before the holly tree was stood her family's most ancient possession: a regular, non-magical, run of the mill statue of a bearded man with a deer's antlers, sat cross-legged with a torc in one hand and a staff in the other. The offering bowl in front of the man had been emptied, it seemed, but Sebastian had placed fresh incense in the pot next to the bowl.

Bellatrix took a moment to savour the smell before she moved to a cloth bag near the statue, containing a stack of pennies. As was customary, Bellatrix used her wand to light a candle and the incense, before giving the statue a small offering of copper or tin by placing it in the offering bowl. She stood there for a moment, enjoying the smell of the incense. All members of her family… well, except her oncle… regularly made an offering of copper or tin.

Honestly, Bellatrix didn't quite know why she did it, but asking for a little luck never seemed like too much to ask for. And it was not as if this ritual took very long. Right, off to the library, then.

She walked the marble halls of the west wing which contained most of the house's rooms devoted to magical study and headed to the massive double doors leading into the library. Catterborough Woodhouse's library was sizable, and a centrepiece to the household. A massive bottom floor filled with bookcases and two story mezzanine running along the sides of the room with even more bookcases, connected to the bottom floor by twin spiral staircases. Several reading desks were placed near the entrance, along with a model globe which was almost the same size she was. Stain-glass windows let in a pleasant reading light. The floor was the finest of marble, and whatever bits of the wall weren't covered by bookcases were lined with the finest of wood panelling. The most precious of books were located behind glass. The most dangerous of books behind magical forcefields.

The only part of the library which wasn't meticulously organized was the family archive, located in the turret tower near the back of the library, but she didn't have to go there at the moment.

This library was the result of combining the collection of generations of Blacks and was painstakingly maintained by her mother. Grand-père's entire collection had practically doubled the amount of books stored here. Bellatrix thought of Hermione and how she would probably never want to leave after setting one foot in it.

"Right, Bella," she told herself. "Let's get started."

Now, Bellatrix was a studious girl and knew this library by the back of her hand, having spent many hours here in her younger days. Unfortunately, the number of books to choose from was slightly overwhelming. With the index in hand, she moved to the section of the library on ancient magical legends and found three stacks filled with hundreds of books. She bit her lip and moved on to the topic of magical forests and was confronted with four stacks filled to the brim with even more books.

Bellatrix had discovered a bit of a flaw in her plan: she only had a vague idea what to look for and trying to find it would be like trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack: it could take her months to stumble upon something relevant among these sheer amounts of books. She needed something more specific, some clues of where to look.

"Think, Bella, think," she paced back and forth, putting her fingers to her lips. She could feel her anger mounting... what to do? What to do? Then, it hit her and she snapped her fingers with a smile: uncle Achille! He and grand-père had been rather close and grand-père would often share legends he'd been researching with him. If she was lucky, oncle might know. It was certainly worth a try first.

Oncle Achille's atelier was located in part of the attic of the central building of the manor house. It was the place where he worked, slept, often ate and spent most of his time. When Bellatrix entered, she could already smell the pleasant odours of fresh paint. This part of the attic stretched on for hundreds of feet, cavernous and large and walls and roof covered with so many paintings practically no part of the original wall plaster or wood panelling could be seen. Near the door stood some paintings which were all packed up for shipping to those who commissioned them, waiting to be picked up.

Her father had always called Achille a lazy bounder and a useless layabout, but Bellatrix had always thought that to be very unfair: Achille Rosier was a celebrated artist and no matter which time of day Bellatrix would enter his atelier, from the earliest of the morn to the dead of night, she would find him busy at work to a point that she wondered if the man ever even slept at all.

She surmised that her father's disdain for oncle Achille was more related to the fact that he was a pure-blood who was unmarried and childless, nor someone who was dedicated to further developing magical power. Oncle Achille was a man whom lived only for his works of creation.

Right now, her oncle was hard at work creating, as usual. The thin man, about forty years of age and with a head of wild black hair, stood with his back turned to her on the other side of the attic, slapping paint on a massive canvas with broad strokes and humming to himself. "Ah," he greeted with a thick French accent without turning around. "Ah! Salut, Bellatrix! Is it autumn break already? It seems like it was only summer a week past."

Bellatrix blinked. How did oncle do that?!

As if sensing her thoughts, oncle chuckled briefly. "It is no mystery, cherie. I saw those wedding rehearsal tents being put up. And aside from ma soeur, you are the only one who visits me up 'ere."

"Yeah," Bellatrix sighed. "Father is really pushing the importance of this wedding on me."

"Pfah! Not a creative bone in 'is body, that one," oncle Achille kept painting as Bellatrix stood next to him. She could already see the painting take shape. It was about two meters high and almost as broad. On the canvas was depicted her mother Druella along with herself and her two sisters dressed in their finery. The four of them stood smiling and looked full of zest and life. It was amazing that oncle had painted this completely from memory.

"A present for your mother's birthday," said oncle Achille. "A très magnifique family portrait."

"Father isn't in it."

"Noticed that, hm?" oncle chuckled. There was definitely no love lost between them. Bellatrix smiled for a moment. "Cherie, 'ave you been keeping up with your writing?"

"I have!" said Bellatrix. "I've been working on some new stories."

"Bon, bon," oncle nodded in approval. It was he who had encouraged her to seek a creative outlet. He'd been right when he'd told her that it would give her a way to deal with the issues in her life, and that it could turn negativity into the positivity of creation. Bellatrix's talent had not lain within the realm of painting and drawing, but rather in writing and storytelling. He'd been a willing audience for many of her early writing attempts.

"I feel like I'm getting better with every story I write," Bellatrix replied.

"It is a good feeling, no?" oncle turned his head to wink at her. "Don't let your father know, though. 'e'd likely give you a lecture. Did you know 'e warned me not to fill your 'ead with distractions before the wedding? I told 'im to go eat a baguette."

Bellatrix cocked her head sideways. "A baguette?"

"A big black fleshy vein-y baguette," oncle smirked.

Yikes. That was mental image Bellatrix could had lived without. Still, she appreciated the sentiment.

"Of course, the man 'e found for you is just as uncreative as 'e is," said oncle. "What was 'is name again? Rudolph something? Like the reindeer with the red nose, non?"

"Rodolphus. Rodolphus Lestrange," Bellatrix crossed her arms while she replied, the name still leaving a dirty taste in her mouth. "And if he thinks I'll be the meek little wife who dances to his every whim, he's got another thing coming! He's going to be faced with the fight of his life for the rest of his life! Which will be really short if I can help it!"

"Good girl," oncle smiled, but his smile quickly fell. He put down his paints and turned to her while cleaning his hands with a rag. "But, cherie, I would rather see you 'appy, non?"

Bellatrix closed her eyes and sighed heavily. "That's not going to happen any time soon, I think."

"Ah, don't say that, cherie," oncle shook his head and reached out to lay a hand on her shoulder. "There's always options. There's always 'ope. There's always... a way out."

Bellatrix pursed her lips, letting her oncle's words rolled through her mind. "Are you suggesting... I run away?"

"Oh, 'eavens no," oncle gave her an obviously faked look of shock. "I'm not saying that at all, Cherie! Just, 'ypothetically speaking, you'd do more than fine on your own if you were to. You are a talented and strong young woman, after all."

Run away? Leave her family behind? Could she do that? Should she do that? Where would she even go? The implications were just staggering.

"Cherie," said oncle, apparently sensing her distress "I didn't mean to upset you."

"You didn't," Bellatrix replied. "I... I sometimes wish you were my father instead..."

"... and my sister still your mother?" oncle hissed through his teeth. "I may be pure-blood, but I'm not that pure-blood."

"Hah, you know what I mean," Bellatrix laughed.

"I do," smiled oncle. "And I appreciate it, Cherie. 'ave you come to read me another story?"

Bellatrix shook her head. "Actually, I wanted to ask you about something, oncle."

"Oh?"

"You see, there's this girl I've met..."

"Oh, oh, oh," laughed oncle Achille. "L'amour has struck!"

Bellatrix blinked and snapped her mouth shut for a moment. "No, no, it's nothing like that. She's... she's my friend."

"Uh-huh," oncle winked.

"Oncle, please, this is serious!" Bellatrix pouted slightly.

Oncle Achille's smirk faded somewhat, but still maintained his jovial appearance. "Of course, Cherie. What may I 'elp you with?"

"My friend and I were working on a... research project," said Bellatrix. "I was hoping to find something in grand-père's library, but there's so many esoteric books on so many different topics. It's hard to know where to start. I could search for months in grand-père's library and I couldn't find a thing. Oncle, you know a lot of about tales of old. You and grand-père were very close and I know you've painted some of the tales and subjects grand-père researched. Perhaps you have some across what I seek."

"Well, you certainly 'ave my curiosity piqued, cherie," chuckled oncle. "Describe what you are looking for."

"A magical pool. About the size of a small pond and just as shallow. Located in a clearing in the forest and nestled among the roots of a long dead petrified tree. The pool becomes active and magical, but only during the witching hour, when it will emit a blue magical glow which looks like..." Bellatrix searched the many painting and finally pointed out the blue dress of an unknown lady in a nearby portrait. "... that colour! But that's not all. When you look into the pool when it's active, you do not see your own reflection. You will see the same place around you, but in the same passage of time."

Oncle Achille, rubbed his chin slightly, seemingly in deep thought trying to recall a memory of long past. "'Old on, cherie," he said and rushed to a small side-room in the attic. He moved a sliding door aside and stepped into a storage room where many older paintings were stored on racks: these were the works he wanted to keep but had no room to display for. Bellatrix watched oncle move from rack to rack until he found what he was looking for with a loud 'ahah!'. What he produced was a small 50 by 50 centimetre canvas in a frame which he handed to Bellatrix.

Curious, Bellatrix took a look at the painting and found it to be of eerie familiarity: on the canvas was depicted a dark clearing in a deep forest of evergreens. A pool nestled in the roots of a dead tree illuminated the clearing while a unicorn was taking a drink from the water, its reflection not being white of skin but rather black as coal with glowing blue eyes. No. Not one set of eyes. A cluster of three eyes on each side of the head, close together. How strange…

A label on the frame read 'Réflexions sur la forêt noire'.

"Reflections upon the Black Forest," Bellatrix muttered.

Oncle nodded. "The Schwartzwald, to be more precise. Germany's biggest and deepest forest. I don't quite remember the tale itself, it's been so long ago after all. What I do remember is that, while rare, these pools sometimes show up in forests of a deeply magical nature. This painting was based on a folk tale papa was studying which resonated with me enough to paint this."

"Folk tales surrounding magical forests. Schwartzwald," Bellatrix muttered while being unable to rip her eyes away from the painting. "I think those some good angles for me to get started."

"Keep the painting," said oncle. "It's only gathering dust 'ere and, who knows, it might 'elp you impress your girlfriend."

"My friend," Bellatrix pressed, narrowing her eyes a little.

"Pardon," chuckled oncle with a wink. Still, Bellatrix was most grateful. She'd been given the lead she needed and couldn't wait to get started. The plucky young curly-haired witch took another look at the painting. There was something rather unsettling about the reflection of the unicorn in the pool. Perhaps she'd find out more later.

Furthermore, this might keep her focused on something else than those damnable wedding rehearsals. She couldn't wait to get started. "Thanks, oncle!" she said while putting the painting under her arm and turning towards the door.

"Bonsoir, cherie!" oncle called after her. "And think of all the kisses your 'ard work will earn you!"

"ONCLE!"

"I kid, cherie, I kid!" oncle chuckled. "Or am I? Describe 'er for me."

Bellatrix crossed her arms and gave her oncle a pouty expression. Eventually, she just let out a sigh, picturing Hermione in her head. "Long brown hair, cascading down her back," she spoke softly. "Deep brown eyes, expressive eyebrows. Creamy white skin, somewhat less pale than myself. Fiercely intelligent, but somewhat unsure of herself. Slender, a bit taller than I. Likes to wear a school uniform even when she doesn't have to. Has this oddly bossy quality to her voice."

Her oncle laughed now. "And when she speaks, you want to listen to 'er all night, don't you, cherie?"

"Oncle," Bellatrix started again, feeling a little dejected.

"Right, I'll stop," Achille replied softly. "Still, you 'ave a great eye for detail. Maybe I should paint this mysterious friend of yours sometimes, non?"

Her oncle was merely teasing her, of course. He probably didn't realize how rare it was for her to have an actual friend. She said her goodbyes to her uncle and made her way back to the library. With the index at hand, she crossed referenced books about the German Black Forest and ancient legends and had a bit of an epiphany when she regarded the painting uncle had given her. The painting had been made in 1931, some twenty years before she'd been born. Now, she knew her uncle to be a capricious artist, someone who quickly lost interest in ideas if not executed quickly enough, so she was certain that if grand-père had shared the tale with him, it would have to have been that same year.

So, Bellatrix dug up her grandfather's diaries and research notes from the private section of the library for 1931 in the turret tower. In itself, that was a task as well, considering grand-père had been a very prolific researcher. Thankfully, Bellatrix was fluent in French and poured through the notebooks until she found it.

Elated, she came across references to an ancient legend with scant few actual evidence to back it up, but what was in the notes described the phenomenon to a tee. A broad smile was still on her face as she dug up the book referenced by the notes and turned to the correct chapter. And there it was: the story of their pool, lain out in a book from 1878... ninety years ago. Another multiple of three. Coincidence was becoming less likely.

So, she had her grandfather's research, a book describing the legend and her oncle's painting. Quite a bounty to share with Hermione. Her friend was bound to be impressed.

Her thoughts drifted for a moment... was she trying to impress Hermione? Why?

She pushed the odd thought to the back of her mind and let her hand slide over the illustration of the book, reading the name underneath the picture. "Fae Mirror," she whispered.

"BBBOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" sounded just as a heavy weight fell on her back and two hands covered her eyes.

"AAAAAAH!" Bellatrix exclaimed, rose from her seat and started struggling to throw the unseen assailant off her back, twirling around while the figure held on for dear life. Finally, she did manage and the person whom had glomped her fell to the floor. Bellatrix snarled and twisted around, drawling and aiming her wand.

"What?!" Bellatrix shouted when she saw who it was. "CISSY?! WHAT THE FU... WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT JUMPING ON MY BACK?!"

Bellatrix caught herself as swearing was frowned upon in this household. Meanwhile, Andie was doubled over and leaned against the door-frame, looking ready to piss herself from laughter. "Oh, Bella," Andie laughed. "You should see the look on your face."

Cissy was giggling too now, pointing at her.

"Seriously," Bellatrix replied, letting out a chuckle of her own now. "What's with this current trend of jumping on your older sister's back?"

"It's just funny," Cissy said. "And stop being so boring, Bella! Why are you in the library anyway? It's holiday! No more school!"

Bellatrix felt a twinge of panic and rushed back to the table, quickly scooping up the books and stuffing them into her book bag. "Just a project for school, nothing special. Anyway, it's done now."

Cissy accepted this answer, but Andie gave her a somewhat suspicious look. Bellatrix turned her gaze away and refused to met her eyes: her younger sister had a strange knack for figuring out when she was up to something. She slung the bag over her back and decided to act casual. "Come, let me drop this off in my room and we'll go have some fun. How about we set up an obstacle course in the backyard? Let's see which one of us can get the best times without touching any of the rings!"

"Oh, you're on!" Cissy raised her chin.

"Cissy," Andie smirked. "Bella is the Slytherin team star chaser!"

"Yeah, but I'm fast and nimble!" said Cissy. "And Quidditch doesn't have you flying through rings."

"Oh, you're on," Bellatrix grinned: she had done what she had come to do. Now she'd have the rest of the week to spend with her family for a fun holiday with her sisters... likely her last.


Hermione groaned as she lay on the sofa in the living room of her childhood home, content and uncomfortable at the same time. Content from having a belly full of junk food and uncomfortable for having eaten an entire pizza which had clearly exceeded the capacity of her stomach.

Today had been a very good day: walking around the Heath, past the greens of Parliament Hill and the magnificent interiors of Kenwood House. Though Kenwood was a museum, Hermione realized that Bellatrix actually lived in much a stately manor. Today had been a trip down memory lane, a reminder of simpler and perhaps even better times.

Then it time to head right back home for pizza and Predator with her parents. Granted, she barely paid any attention to the movie itself, but the pizza was absolutely delicious. During the film, she found her thoughts often drifting to the magic pool. What was it? How did it work? What was its purpose? Did it even have a purpose?

Though Hermione knew she shouldn't dwell on it too much… Bellatrix was in a far better position to find clearer answers on her end, after all… it was simply hard to let go. Instead, Hermione simply stretched on the sofa, doing her best to get comfortable.

"Hermione dear," sounded the voice of her mother, accompanied by a pat on the leg. "If you're feeling tired or not well, you should probably lie down in bed. I've never seen you eat so much before!"

"Comfort food. I really needed some," Hermione chuckled at first, before regretting her words. Her mum was never a particular fan of gallows humour. Her dad was, though… probably not when it pertained to his own daughter. "Sorry, mum, I didn't mean…"

"It's fine, dear," said her mum. "Today was good."

"It was," smiled Hermione. And she meant it. She had felt a little like her old self today. Just a tad. "Where did dad go?"

"Oh," her mother chuckled to herself. "Alf from next door came by. There was a package delivery while we were out. From Forbidden Planet."

"Ah," smiled Hermione, her curiosity piqued. Shifted slightly, her stomach protesting as she moved to get up from the sofa. It took her a moment to steady herself until the pizza settled in her obstinate stomach before she could make her way up the stairs to her dad's hobby room. It was there where she found him, surrounded by a healthy mix of Stormtroopers, Enterprises, Batman paraphernalia and other assorted figures: the result of a lifetime of collecting. In fact, Hermione was surprised that her father hadn't claimed her room yet to store part of his massive collection. Perhaps her mum had put a stop to that.

"Oh, hello there, puppet," her father said as he had just put the remains of a box on the room and had just removed some items from its packaging. Considering her father was moving figures about on his dedicated Dalek shelf, she had an inkling what it could be. Indeed, it was a three-pack of different coloured ones and he was finding a good home for them.

"New Daleks?" Hermione asked.

By now, her mum had settled herself in the doorframe and was shaking her head. "Honestly, Jack, I don't get it. They're all the same."

"Obviously not," Jack shook his head. "Look, they're all different colours and sizes!"

"But they're still all the same!" said her mum. "Except that one, I guess. The little man there."

Hermione chuckled. "That's Davros, mum. Even I know that."

It was then that she and her father shared a look. Her father's expression saying 'your mum just doesn't get it' and Hermione's expression saying 'quit trying to explain it to mum, its pointless'.

"You two are absolutely terrible," said her mum, a wry grin tugging at the corners of her lips before withdrawing. Still, this was good. This was a familiar place, something she shared with her father. Even when she was a little girl, she understood that these weren't toys to be played with, but she marvelled at some of the things regardless. It something she shared with her father, and remembered sitting on his lap as a little girl while he piddled with his home computer. Of course, the ZX Spectrum of old was now displayed on one of the top shelves as a fond relic of old and a Compaq PC had taken its place, but the feelings were still the same.

This room make her feel comfortable. Safe.

"Any new pieces since I last was here?" asked Hermione.

"Oh, yes, many!" said her father with his usual enthusiasm. "Wait, let me show you this Captain Kirk figure I picked up from…"

Hermione only listened partially while her father told her of his fierce and relentless eBay bidding war. Instead, she focused entirely on being surrounded with good memories.

Chapter Text

"Is she back yet?! Is she back yet?!" Cissy shouted as she was restlessly shifting from the sofa to the window, then to another window, then back to the sofa, only to rush back to the window. Sat in their common room, located between all three of their rooms, Bellatrix simply watched a relentlessly energetic Cissy with a bemused smirk.

"Are you bouncing?" Bellatrix chuckled. "I do believe you're actually bouncing."

"Oh, be quiet, you rotter," Cissy stuck out her tongue before turning back to glue herself to the window. "I'm excited. I can't believe you're not!"

"I am!" Bellatrix laughed. "But bouncing up and down and shrieking like a concert girl isn't going to get Andie back here any faster! Find something to occupy your time with. It'll pass quicker."

"I just can't!" Cissy wailed and threw herself on one of their sofas, pressing her head against the pillows while letting out a muffled scream.

Though clearly amused, Bellatrix felt that Andie was far more courageous than her to a point that she considered there might be a bit of foolhardy Gryffindor within her: for it was Andie who braved a visit to Muggle inner city Manchester. All on her own. Without her sisters or any wizard to rely upon. If Bellatrix hadn't known that Andie could handle it, she never would allowed her to go and certainly not for a guilty pleasure the sisters shared.

Cissy merrily continued bouncing until she finally announced Andie's return with shriek which almost made her eardrums burst. "THERE SHE IS! THERE SHE IS!"

"Quiet down!" Bellatrix hissed, looking over her shoulder. Of course, Catterborough Woodhouse was so large that it had mostly empty corridors on the best of days, but the laws of the universe would state that if the sisters were doing something they shouldn't, it was increasingly likely that either their parents or Sebastian would be nearby. And even though Andie was now on the premises, she would still have to run a gauntlet before she'd be back at their rooms. So, Cissy did as she was told, sat down while biting her lip and kept as silent as possible. And yet she was still bouncing ever so slightly.

"Seriously, how did they ever let you in Slytherin?" Bellatrix joked, earning herself a stuck out tongue in her general direction.

Thankfully, all worries where for nought as Andie came bursting through the door still wearing her muggle clothing and bearing a grin so broad it almost snapped her face in half. Of course, Cissy was the first to pounce. "Did you get it?" she bounced again. "Didyougetitdidyougetitdidyougetit?!"

Andie said nothing, merely held up a paper bag before fishing out a small muggle vinyl record, slid it out of its cover and held it up. On it was the depiction of a green apple.

"Play it!" Cissy demanded and proceeded to almost drag Andie and Bella along to Andie's room.

"Hey, ow! Watch the hair!" Bellatrix demanded, pulling herself loose from Cissy's grip and sauntered in after her sisters. Andie's room was a lot different than hers or Cissy's. For one, the ceiling was sloped making the room seem a lot smaller, but Andie didn't mind as it made it feel more cozy to her. Adorned with light pastel colours, the room just screamed 'middle sister' as she had chosen it to stand out from Cissy's bright pinks or Bella's darker browns and greys. Andie put down her bag and pulled her record player from under her bed to set it up. After pulling her wand, she aimed it at a painting of four cats and transfigured it into its true form: a concert poster of The Beatles.

Bellatrix smirked. All three of them liked the Beatles. Who could not? In fact, it was their little rebellion: if their parents knew that they were listening to muggle music there'd be hell to pay. Still, this was a little secret the three of them had as sisters. While Andie was setting up her record player, Bellatrix did her part by putting a silencing charm on the room while Cissy bounced rather impatiently on Andie's bed.

While Andie was busy, Bellatrix took the single cover and took a look. "Hey Jude," she said after reading the title.

"Yeah, brand new," Andie beamed. "Just released last week! I wouldn't even have known about if Ted hadn't told me about it."

"Who's Ted?" asked Bellatrix.

"Oh," Andie waved dismissively. "Boy in my year. You wouldn't know him. The important thing is, we now have something ace to add to our collection."

Said collection being a copy of every album and single the Beatles had ever released, cleverly disguised as vinyl records of innocuous and boring wizarding bands. The three sisters sat cross-legged around the record player, the silencing charm allowing for a good volume.

 

Hey, Jude, don't make it bad

Take a sad song and make it better

Remember to let her into your heart

Then you can start to make it better

 

Already, she could tell it was a very good song and her sisters were already getting into it... swooning as young teens were wont to do. But Bellatrix... Bellatrix found her mind wandering. The entire song had started to remind her of her own situation: how her carefree life would soon come to an end. How the great times spent with her sisters were finite and fewer in number every day. It hit her like a punch to the gut.

 

Hey, Jude, don't be afraid
You were made to go out and get her
The minute you let her under your skin
Then you begin to make it better

 

For some reason... that made her think of Hermione. She could see her brown tresses floating by in her minds eye, seeing her face floating in front of her. Her smile. The kind of smile on a girl who was always willing to listen. She hadn't talked to her in days now and it was frightening to think on just how much she missed her.

 

Hey, Jude, don't let me down
You have found her, now go and get her

 

She shook her head. She shouldn't think these things. Hermione was her friend. And they were literally thirty years apart.

 

Remember to let her under your skin
Then you'll begin to make it better

 

Once again, Bellatrix was lost in thought. About her future, Hermione, Lestrange and whatever would come after her ill-fated wedding. When she looked up, she could only smile as the song had whipped up and Andie and Cissy were both loudly singing along with the 'nah, nah nah, nah's. Well, they were easy lyrics, at least, and she chuckled when Cissy still managed to mess them up regardless.

The song finally ended and Andie stopped the player. "That was fantastic!" Andie raved. "But you were being rather quiet, Bella!"

Bellatrix rolled her eyes. "I was enjoying that song until you two philistines started crowing along. It's like listening to two hippogryphs mating!"

"Hey!" Cissy pouted.

"Oh, you rotter!" Andie laughed. "You'd better be singing along next time, if you know what's good for you!"

"Again!" Cissy demanded.

"Not yet," said Andie as she held up the magically warmed bag. "I got the other thing too!"

"Doner kebab?!" Cissy asked... another forbidden thing in the house.

"Doner kebab!" Andie grinned and started unpacking.

Bellatrix couldn't help but smile: spending time with her sisters chatting, gossipping and eating junk food while listening to the Beatles on repeat. Yes, this would be another one of those memorable moment spent as sisters. Times which were finite and would never return once lost.


Today had been a good day. Coming to visit her parents had been a wonderful decision on her part. They had spent the entire day together, enjoying everything which London had to offer. Restaurants, fun walks, listening to some of the nutters at the Speaker's Corner in Hyde park, London Aquarium. Today, she had felt like the old Hermione again; curious, full of life and enjoyment.

Well, that ended quickly when it was time to go to bed. Here, in her room, she simply lay staring at the ceiling as sleep refused to come. That sense of soul-crushing loneliness had returned. That sense of abandonment. That sense of having no one.

She hated it.

Oh god, she hated it so much.

No matter what she did, no matter what she wanted, no matter what she told herself, it always relentlessly returned, sometimes tenfold after a good day. Unless she kept her mind of things.

So, that was just what she did. Hermione tried some reading. It didn't help. Then she tried to listen to some music by turning on the radio, but found the UK singles chart as insipid and uninspiring as ever. Finally, she simply threw the blankets off and found her slippers. A few moments later, she was seated at her desk and started scribbling on a notepad. If sleep didn't find her, perhaps working on her herbology thesis might help. Though she had left all her notes at Hogwarts, she could at least work on the intro and the structure of her work.

She got through three paragraphs when, to her chagrin, she realized she had left the radio on. She was about to get up to switch it off until the refrain of some new pop song caught her ear.

 

Don't wanna close my eyes
I don't wanna fall asleep
'Cause I'd miss you, baby
And I don't wanna miss a thing

 

Hermione frowned. For some reason, that made her think of Bellatrix. Bellatrix, the woman whom had tortured her... and the girl whom had become her vast friend despite the odds. In so many ways, she was still an enigma to her. And, to her own surprise, she found that she missed their conversations.

No.

Her.

Hermione missed her.

Quite a lot, in fact. The thought gave her pause and she put down her pen for a moment. The song continued in the background while Hermione closed her eyes and saw Bellatrix' smiling face. So different from the evil woman she had once faced.

A moment later, Hermione shook her head, tossed her pencil to the desk and walked over to the radio to switch it off.

"What a crap song," Hermione muttered to herself and sauntered back to her desk. There was work to be done, after all.


Bellatrix and her sisters stood at the railing of a large magically warded pen looking upon the Snowdonia mountains of Wales. Both she and her sisters were in awe of the magnificent old Welsh Green which had landed right in front of them. More young wizards and witches came running to the railing to have a look.

Truth be told, Bellatrix had never seen a dragon from this up close before. She could count every scale, see every scar, look him right in the eye.

It was obvious that this old dragon was used to being around humans and was a bit of a show-off. He spread his wings wide, threw his neck up and unleashed a massive ball of flame into the air. Bellatrix, along with the other young ones gathered, let out a gasp in appreciation for this magnificent beast.

So far, the family visit to the Welsh Dragon Sanctuary had been a marvellous success. Even oncle had gone with them: he stood near them at the railing looking at the dragon and then the sketchbook he was holding. The charcoal sped over the page as oncle Achille was working on getting the muscle tone of the dragon's neck just right now that this beast had come in for a close-up.

As family visits went, this one was special in that oncle had joined them. A rare occasion. Perhaps it had something to do with father having business with the Sanctuary head of staff, dragging mother along with him and oncle had been asked by mother to be their chaperon.

Unfortunately, that meant her father hadn't been there with them for the most part.

"Bella!" Cissy yelled and pulled on her purse. "Give me some galleons! I want to give him a treat!"

"Right, right, calm down," Bellatrix said and handed Cissy a few coins. Immediately, her little sister ran to a big red dispenser and inserted the coins. A few moments later, the carcass of a slaughtered pig slid down a funnel and landed right in front of the old dragon. The dragon didn't waste any time, bending its snout down, grabbing the pig to throw it into the air where it deftly caught it and crushed it between his jaws. After his meal, he let out an appreciative bellow and rewarded the crowd with another big ball off fire before taking off.

"Now, that dragon is definitely a show-man," Andie laughed as she used a pair of binoculars to watch him fly off.

After all the excitement, the four of them went into the cafe next to the visitor's center for some tea and scones. Freshly baked, the scones smelled wonderful and, after a liberal application of jam and clotted cream, Bellatrix found out they tasted delicious too. While Cissy and Andie were chatting and raving about their dragon encounter, Bellatrix fished a leather-bound notebook from her purse and folded it open. Though originally meant as a diary, she used it as a notebook to jot down ideas and work on drafts of stories: and today, she had gotten a few ideas on how to work dragons into a story she'd been planning. Her quill diligently in hand, she quickly wrote down the ideas in short incomplete sentences before they had a chance to sink into the misty mires of an eager mind.

"Something you're working on, cherie?" Achille asked.

"Oh, a new story?" Andie asked.

Bellatrix looked up. "No, just some... ideas. Nothing yet."

"Oh, come on, surely there is something you 'ave to share, non?" Achille winked while Andie smiled.

Bellatrix gave the both of them a wary look. "Well, there is something. It's not finished, though, I'm not sure if I should..."

"I don't want to hear a scary story!" Cissy pouted.

"See?" Bellatrix tried.

"Cissy never wants to hear a scary story, because she's a stupid baby," Andie rolled her eyes. "Come on, Bella!"

Bellatrix bit her lip. "I don't know..."

"Come on, we're family. We won't judge," said oncle.

"Are you kidding?" Bellatrix huffed. "You lot are my harshest critics. But... fine! If I don't, I won't hear the end of it all week."

Bellatrix leafed through her book looking for the first draft of a story she'd been working on. The pages it was written on had seen a lot of corrections and words scratched out. When she was done revising, she would copy it to another book where she kept all her final versions, but it wasn't yet ready for that. "Okay. I call this one 'Obsession'."

"It all started when Fraser, my neighbour, tripped over a rock in his backyard. He, like myself, has been a lifelong resident of the township of Cobblepot, a wizard-only community near Somerset. Nothing much happened in our sleepy little town. It is telling that someone tripping over a rock is considered a source of commotion.

'Damn yer eyes,' I heard him yell while hanging up the laundry and came to investigate. He'd been tilling the earth to plant a new batch of roses and had come across an oddly shaped rock. It was obsidian, black as coal and hard as granite. Fraser cursed and cursed as he tried his wand to lift the rock up from his garden and levitate it over his fence. The rock, however, never budged. It was not as if his magic was ineffectual, but rather that it was too large to move: it was then that we realized that what we were seeing was only a small part of it.

'Need any help?' I asked, more out of politeness than anything. Fraser gave me a nod and soon enough, the two of use were digging out the rock. We figured that if we freed it from the soil, the two of us could apply our wands to it.

After about half an hour of digging, we noticed two things. First, the rock was hewn and smooth as silk. Second, there seemed to be no end of it. The top of the rock was shaped as a point and expanded outward slightly as the soil around it was removed."

Bellatrix looked up from her story to see Andie looking at her eagerly, waiting for her to continue. Cissy was cuddled up against Andie while oncle had found inspiration and was sketching. So far, it was all going well.

'Figures', said Fraser with a gruff, defeated voice. 'My bloody house is right on top of a bloody graveyard or somethin'.'

Clearly the two of us wouldn't be enough to dig this thing out. Fraser decided to call upon the help of the townsfolk. No less than an hour later, two of us had become twelve while mrs. Miggins was kindly providing us hard workers with tea and biscuits. We started working in shifts, with one group digging and another doing the wandwork to move the soil away from the yard.

The sun was about to set when we realized we had something special on our hands. As the light of the evening sun shone upon the rock, green magical runes appeared, glowing with faint power. They were runes of the likes none of us had ever seen before and didn't even remotely resembled the iconography our ancestors used.

'There's new magic down there,' Fraser told me and the others. 'I feel it in my bones!'

'New magic'... those words went like a whisper through the entire gathering. Still, it was decided that we would rest for the night and continue the work tomorrow.

I slept rather uneasily, dreams of the rock and runes. Calling out to me. The lure of the new magic. Or is that old new magic? Regardless, when I opened my eyes, I found myself standing next to the rock, shovel still in hand. I had been digging. And it was daylight. All around me, dozens of my fellow witches and wizards were hard at work on freeing the rock from its earthly prison. The entire town was here, including children and the elderly. A hole around the rock had been dug at least ten meters deep, but the end was still not in sight.

Bellatrix looked up again. Cissy was really trembling now, but then again she was a baby who was scared of her own shadow. Andie had her eyes locked on her as she sipped her tea.

I could see what it was then: not a mere rock, but a carved obelisk standing fierce and ominous, covered with runes now glowing an angry green. Its magic still lay far beneath the Earth. I could feel it... and its pull. It wanted us to find it. The obelisk wanted us to benefit from it!

And so we worked. And we worked. And we worked. Around me, the bodies of some of my fellow villagers lay either exhausted or dead. No matter. Their sacrifice will be remembered after we claim the new magic.

'New magic... new magic... new magic...' we all chanted in unison. The obelisk loves us. The obelisk wants to bestow its gifts on us because it loves us. All we have to do is to free it, so we can love it too.

So we dug. And we dug. Until, finally, we found the doorway. Cavernous and ominous, but oddly welcoming. The obelisk stood freed now, proud and fierce with runes aglow. The new magic is ahead of us now and we are ready to step inside as a group. Some of use have gathered the bodies of the fallen so they might benefit even in death.

Yet... part of me hesitates as I take a slight hesitant step into the darkness. A part of me is filled with mortal dread, yet I cannot fathom why. Like a cow that has glimpsed the inside of a slaughterhouse, I cannot grasp the context or nature of my doom, but I know enough to be filled with mortal dread.

But any fear is mercifully stripped away from me with every step taken as the pull of the new magic gets ever stronger.

'New magic... new magic...' we all chant as we all step into the obelisk's loving embrace. And forget everything."

"Whoa," Andie smiled. "That was a good one!"

"Great," Cissy muttered. "A mind-controlling obelisk. I'll be having nightmares all week!"

"That was good, cherie," replied Achille.

Bellatrix bit her lip a little. "It's, uhm, just a few scribblings."

"Don't be modest, Bella," Andie chuckled. "It doesn't suit you."

All the while Achille had been working his sketchbook again and turned it around to show the girls: a quick and dirty sketch of a group of people working hard to dig out a rather ominous looking obelisk out of the earth. Bellatrix smiled when she saw it, getting somewhat excited that her oncle might be turning that sketch into a painting later.

Unfortunately, all bliss quickly came to an end when their parents entered the cafe. Their business apparently concluded, Cygnus and Druella came in. Unfortunately, her father took only one look at the book in Bellatrix' hand and the sketch on the table and turned towards Achille, who swiftly rose from the table and stood between them. Cygnus' voice as low and filled with anger. "Why am I not surprised to find you filling my daughters' heads with nonsense?"

"Nonsense?" Achille crossed his arms. "Creativity. Enjoyment. Are these nonsense now, hm?"

"By Merlin's beard, you are a waste of space, Achille!" Cygnus roared. "You sire no offspring! You don't expand magical knowledge! All you do is paint all bloody day long without a goddamn care in the world!"

Bellatrix grit her teeth, narrowed her eyes and shot forward. "That's not true! Oncle is a celebrated artist! He creates beautiful things! What have you ever created?!"

Oncle held out his arm in front of Bellatrix's chest and slowly herded her back, away from her father. "Cherie!" he spoke, silencing her.

Though momentarily stricken by Bellatrix' words, Cygnus merely sighed and shook his head. "Again your nasty habit of poisoning my own children's minds against me rears its ugly head. I shouldn't be surprised," Cygnus sighed.

Unfortunately, despite Achille keeping the two of them apart, Bellatrix stood close enough for her father to make a grab for her book. "Hey!" Bellatrix protested while her father held it.

"This needs to stop!" her father demanded while he held up the book, just out of reach. "Bellatrix, you must focus on your future and not drown yourself in idle fantasies! Or you'll end up just like him! A useless layabout who wastes his days locked away alone in an attic globbing paint on a bit of canvas!"

Bellatrix almost chuckled: her father had no idea just how appealing what he had just described sounded to her. Regardless, that notebook contained all her recent work and plenty of story ideas and she was loathe to lose it. She was about to plead for its return when oncle Achille took a few steps towards her father until he was so close to him that they were mere inches away. There was a calm yet dangerous look on Achille's face, a look Bellatrix had never seen before.

"Give... it... back..." oncle Achille hissed through clenched teeth.

"J'en ai assez!" Druella shouted at the top of her lungs. "Can't we 'ave a simple family outing without the two of you 'aving a go at each other?! Just once?! Cygnus, give Bellatrix 'er book back!"

"Ella!"

"Do it!" Druella demanded. "Mon dieu, it's just a few stories! Bellatrix writing some frightening tales isn't going to ruin her life! We both know it's not about her stories either, Cygnus!"

Cygnus, now fairly enraged, thrust the flat of the book into Bellatrix's chest and stomped out of the cafe, apparently to calm down. Bellatrix took hold of her prize and quickly put it back in her purse while oncle and her mother looked at each other. "Achille," Druella sighed. "Must you always antagonize Cygnus so?"

"Hm," Achille rolled his eyes. "Maybe if he'd stop being an English asshole, I'd stop taunting 'im."

"I'd... I'd better go after him," Druella sighed. "Watch the girls a bit longer, non?"

And so the four of them sat the table in silence for a bit, the outburst having put a bit of a damper on the cheer. Cissy was actually trembling a bit, while Andie stared in her tea. Bellatrix turned to her oncle. "Why did you let him yell at you like that?" she asked.

Achille chuckled. "Eh. 'Appens when two people are as different as I and your father," he said. "'E's right. I never 'ad children. Never wanted to. Too much 'assle. That's fine in France, but English pure-bloods rather look down on that. Worse thing is, is that 'e's doing all of this out love and wants the best for you three... and this is apparently what 'e thinks is the best for you. Your father fears 'aving me around will 'ave you three turn into me."

"That's not so bad," Andie replied.

Achille chuckled. "Don't let your father 'ear you say that."

Bellatrix let out a sigh. Now that the commotion was over, she sank back into the booth and popped the last bit of scone in her mouth. After crewing for a bit, she shook her head. "So much for our fun family gathering today."


London Zoo was just as Hermione remembered it. When she was a little girl, she loved coming here with parents or the few friends she had, staring wide eyed and full of awe at the elephants or the giraffes, pointing at the lions or laughing at the monkeys.

Nostalgia was a powerful force and being here with her parents, surrounded in a place she had loved in her youth, was making her feel as if she was a human being again after the major setback she had had last night.

Hermione enjoyed leaning on the railing to watch into the kangaroo enclosure. As the animals hopped around, the young witch couldn't help but smile at their antics. With the exception of one bad moment, for the past few days she had spent with her parents she felt like she had been slowly crawling up out of a pit to take a gasp of breath as some sense of normality.

It was the way she felt whenever she was talking to Trix, oddly enough. Strange how it had taken this experience at the zoo with her parents to realize that. For now, however, she wouldn't question either and would simply enjoy the feeling for as long as it lasted. Truth be told, part of her never wanted this day to ever end.

They moved to the reptile house, undoubtedly passing the enclosure where Harry had first discovered his magical abilities. Unlike other most girls her age, she had never minded her cold-blooded scaly friends. As a child, she had begged her parents for a bearded dragon as a pet. Unfortunately between her mother's fear of anything with scales and her father allergies, a pet of any kind had never been in the cards while growing up.

It was getting near closing time now and she and her parents were slowly moving towards the exit which, conveniently and cynically, forced them to move through the gift-shop first. They would have dinner at a fancy Japanese restaurant and then maybe watch a film at home. All-in-all, today was a very good day.

"It's good to see some colour come back to your cheeks, puppet," her father smiled when they stopped at the penguin enclosure for a moment. Together they watched the birds as they glided through the water below them.

"I've been doing a little better the past few days," replied Hermione.

"I am loathe to send you back to that horrible school," said her father.

"Jack..." her mother started.

Her father ignored her mother. "Won't you stay with us a little longer?"

Hermione shook her head. "I do have to return to school. Finish my coursework. You know I can never leave anything unfinished."

"Why not?" Jack muttered. "Your other friends did. When they left you there."

"That's not fair dad," said Hermione, her voice sincere. "They have lives of their own and they went through the same thing I did. I don't begrudge them anything."

Hermione knew that was a lie. Hermione knew that she felt abandoned, in a somewhat irrational way. Her father seemed pensive, but Hermione had one more thing to add. "Besides, I won't be alone," Hermione started as the three of them moved towards the gift shop. "There is... someone."

"Oh?" asked her mother, her interest obviously piqued "Someone we have met?"

"No," Hermione shook her head. "There's this girl. It's... complicated."

"A girl, hm?" her father chuckled.

"Not like that!" Hermione admonished him with a brief stare. "She's... a friend. We talk often. She... she and I are a lot alike in many ways and very different in others. I rather look forward to talking to her again. I always do."

She couldn't help but notice her parents exchanging another look, causing Hermione to narrow her eyes. "It's not like that!" she pressed home.

"It's alright if it is, sweetie," said her mother, but a harsh glare from Hermione silenced further discussion.

"Well, at least it's good to know you won't feel alone," said her father. "Having a friend or otherwise will really help you."

Her father hit it right on the nail there: ever since she had met Trix, the younger Bellatrix, she had been feeling a lot better. And maybe, just maybe, she really was helping herself by helping Trix. The thought alone brought a smile to her face, a little something that didn't go unnoticed by her parents just as they stepped through the gift-shop and were met with terribly overpriced knick-knacks. Around them, children were yelling at their parents for stuffed of plastic animals. Hermione didn't really see anything which captured her fancy, but she did want to have a reminder of the fun day. Perhaps one of those ballcaps with the London Zoo logo on it or one of the small coin purses. Something useful too.

"I got something nice for you," Hermione heard and almost had her jaw drop to the ground when she saw her father holding a life-sized plush Siberian tiger in his hands.

"Dad!"

"You've always wanted one when you were little," said her father. "Now I'm getting you one. A little late, certainly, but better late than never."

"Dad, that thing costs three-hundred quid!"

"So? Is me own money, innit?" said her father and pushed the tiger in her hands, almost knocking her over in fact. The tiger was very soft and fluffy, but also quite heavy. "Now you'll have something to cuddle at night, even if your girlfriend won't."

"Trix is not my girlfriend!" Hermione protested, almost involuntary rubbing her cheek against the soft fluffy tiger while her father paid for it at the till. Her expression softened quickly. "Thanks dad, mum. For the tiger and for spending the week with me. I really needed it."

"Next time, bring your friend," said her mother. "We'd love to meet her."

Hermione wasn't quite sure how to tell her that her friend didn't even live in the same time period as she did. Still, she supposed she appreciated the sentiment. "Perhaps, one day," replied Hermione as she left the Zoo holding her tiger in front of her. "Uhm, dad, do we have somewhere to put this thing?"

"Hm," said her father. "I was about to say we put it in the boot until we get back from the restaurant, but I just remembered we came here by tube. Did not think this through, did I?"

"Let's just get an extra seat at the table when we get to the restaurant," her mother helpfully suggested while Hermione slung the tiger over her shoulder, almost causing her to tip over.

Chapter Text

On the last day of their well-deserved autumn holiday, the three Black sisters decided to do something fun and nostalgic. They would be adventurous, outdoorsy and rugged! They would rough it in the wilds and, like the old days, would pitch their family tent and sleep under the stars in the great outdoors!

On their lawn.

Ten feet from the front door of their manor.

With Sebastian the butler in earshot in case they wanted tea.

After their tent had been set up, Bellatrix had laid out the sleeping bag. There was one sleeping bag for all three of them to fit in, just like they had when they were little girls. Unfortunately, they weren't little girls anymore, a fact which become painfully obvious as the three of them were struggling to all fit inside the single sleeping bag.

"Ow!" Bellatrix swore. "Whose elbow was that?!"

"Sorry!" said Cissy and Andie at the same time.

"Well, whoever is the owner of the elbow, get it out of my side!" Bellatrix muttered as she stretched and moved further to the side, only to find herself being kneed in the back. "OW!"

"Sorry, that was me," said Andie. "Was trying to turn."

"Aaaah, we need a bigger sleeping bag!" Cissy muttered. "My hair's going to look a mess tomorrow."

"Try not to break my spine on your next turn, Andie," Bellatrix said, rolling her eyes.

"Okay, I'll just break your leg instead," Andie giggled.

Bellatrix struggled to get comfortable and lay on her back. Together, the three sisters looked up through the transparent canvas and the clear sky above. Though it was autumn, the tent was enchanted to radiate a room-temperature heat and would keep the sisters comfortable during the night.

"This was easier when we were smaller girls," said Bellatrix. "The tent seemed so much bigger then. The world seemed bigger too."

"We're women now," said Andie. "Well, you and I are, Bella. Cissy's still a baby."

"Hey!" Cissy protested, elbowing Andie for good measure. Unfortunately, this move rippled through the sleeping bag, causing Bellatrix to grimace slightly at the sudden move.

"Okay, stop moving or I'll hex you both into oblivion!" Bellatrix hissed. At least her sisters stopped doing whatever it was they'd been doing for now. The three of them watched the sky for a moment, getting comfortable for the night. The stars were out and bright with nary a cloud overhead.

"This is nice," said Cissy.

"It is," said Andie.

"I might be one of if not the last time we'll get to do this," said Bellatrix with a bit of a melancholic tone.

"Don't say that, Bella," replied Andie. "Whatever happens, we'll always be sisters. The three of us have an unbreakable bond."

Bellatrix bit her lip and kept her eyes pointed skyward. "I hope so," she said. "I doubt my 'future husband' will approve of me sleeping on the lawn with my sisters."

"I wonder who father will pick for me and Cissy," Andie muttered. "I can't say I like the idea of an arranged marriage."

"As long as it's Lucius, I'm fine!" Cissy raved, causing Bellatrix to roll her eyes.

"Playing kissy-face with Lucius behind the dragon statue again, hm?" Bellatrix chuckled. Another ripple was being sent through the sleeping bag as a result.

"Dad should have matched you and Evelyn," said Andie. "You two were great together."

"As girlfriends, sure," replied Bellatrix. "As wives? I don't know. Besides, dad wouldn't have gone for a Greengrass if a Lestrange is available. 'Better pedigree' or rot like that. You know what's worse, though? Black pedigree is considered best pedigree. That's why Uncle Orion and Aunt Walburga were matched as cousins! Maybe I should be happy Sirius is only nine years old or I might have been matched with him!"

"Eeeww!" Cissy made a face.

"Quite," said Bellatrix, letting out a sigh.

"How about we just enjoy ourselves tonight and not think about the future too much," said Andie, apparently not wanting to think about whatever arranged marriage was in store for her. Bellatrix definitely couldn't blame her for that. So they lay there in silence, watching the stars while the crickets in the underbrush sang their song.

Funny how her thoughts kept drifting back towards Hermione: the girl whom had become such a good friend in such short a time. Bellatrix wondered how her friend was doing, if she was enjoying herself back home. Of course, she'd hear all about it tomorrow evening.

Thoughts about Hermione drove her to another point, though. The plucky young Bellatrix knew that Hermione had a tendency to put a brave face on, but couldn't hide the sadness within her: something had happened to Hermione recently. Something bad. Something she had yet to deal with, if even she could.

Perhaps Bellatrix could help her somehow. Perhaps this one last adventure she was having was something of a way to help Hermione too. An adventure they could share together, just the two of them.

As her sisters were drifting off to sleep, Bellatrix was lost in thought once more. It almost frightened her just how forward she looked to talking to Hermione again, to share everything she had found and to see her face again.

Slowly but surely, Bellatrix drifted off to a dreamless sleep, all worries disappearing into a blissful night.


The Burrow was just as Hermione had always experienced it: cozy, homely and with that persistent feeling of magic in the air. Not to mention that there were loads of people around, Weasleys or otherwise, and they were all mulling around the living room chatting rather animatedly.

Perhaps she shouldn't have come. Perhaps she should have stayed a few more hours with her parents. Her father had particularly been against letting her go back to school. But she had to. For Bellatrix if not anything else. She'd fed her parents the same cock and bull story about wanting to finish what she'd started.

Typical. She had promised herself to do better, yet kept feeding her parents the same lies she had always had.

It didn't do much to improve her mood, though through no lack of trying from the Weasley family. The first thing which happened was that Mrs. Weasley showed her no sign of resentment for breaking up with Ron. She expressed this with a fierce hug and subsequently trying to stuff her full of food.

Still, as the party continued on, Hermione felt herself drifting into background. The sounds of the song and cheer became dull and lifeless as she became ever more withdrawn: these days she didn't really care much for being surrounded by happy people. Nursing a drink, she found herself changing position ever so often, gradually moving towards the door almost against her own will… just waiting for a moment to slip away unnoticed.

Unfortunately, her fiendishly clever plan was aptly foiled by the Boy-Who-Lived, who plopped down right next to her and patted her shoulder. Sighing inwardly, she realized this must have been how Voldemort must have felt during his time of defeat, with Harry Potter always turning up when least expected.

"Hey Hermione," greeted Harry.

"Hey."

The dull tone of her of voice surprised even herself. Still Harry kept smiling. "Not enjoying yourself, are you?"

Hermione shook her head. "I've not been enjoying myself for much longer than I'd like," Hermione replied honestly.

"Is it because of a… certain someone?" Harry raised an eyebrow.

Hermione snorted, knowing exactly whom he meant. Sat on the opposite side of the room, being the absolute life of the party, was Pansy Parkinson. Pansy fucking Parkinson.

Ron's new girlfriend.

Seriously, it boggled the mind.

"Yeah," Hermione narrowed her eyes, glaring daggers in Pansy's general direction. Something the other girl undoubtedly noticed, but was putting great effort to ignore. "How did that even happen?"

It had surprised her to learn that Pansy had actually fought in the battle… on their side, no less. Hard to imagine, really. Personally, she hadn't seen her do much of anything, but the battle had been so chaotic and hectic that she could have easily missed it and others confirmed that she, indeed, had been there. This is why Pansy, like many others, had not returned to Hogwarts for her seventh year which was a fact which had given Hermione no end of relief at the time.

"Pansy's been working as a junior analyst for the auror office to help us find some of the Death Eaters who are still at large," said Harry. "Ron and Pansy talked for a bit at first. Then longer. And they started having lunch together. One thing just… led to another."

Hermione glanced over to the girl, now chatting with Ron. She couldn't help but narrow her eyes: not because she was jealous, of course, since that ship had sailed long before. Still, she worried that Pansy, being the manipulative Slytherin that she was, had her hooks in one of her best friends. Harry, however, didn't seem to be in the least concerned. "She's really changed, Hermione. She's not the same person we knew at school. I don't know what it is which changed it. Perhaps the reality of the war, being out of school, not having Slytherins around her all the time."

"She's the girl who wanted to hand you over to Voldemort!"

Harry simply shrugged. "She was just scared, Hermione. A lot of people were. Life's too short to hold grudges."

Life's too short to hold grudges. Now that was something Hermione had become very familiar with. By all rights, she should hate Bellatrix for what she had done to her, for the pain she had put her through and turning her into the emotional wreck she had become. Still, whenever she looked at the younger Bellatrix, talked to her, listened to her hopes and dreams, she couldn't bring herself to hate her. Far from it, in fact. Should… she show Pansy that same courtesy? Perhaps, but she didn't think she was ready for that yet.

Thankfully, she and Pansy had avoided each other like the plague for the entire duration of the party. Pansy had been her gleeful tormentor for the past seven years and things like that weren't easily forgiven, despite her apparent change of heart. It seemed both girls were reluctant to have that conversation right now. A small mercy, that.

"I've been thinking about Bellatrix a lot, Harry," said Hermione. "She's been on my mind ever since I've had time to stop and think."

"I'm not surprised," Harry patted her shoulder for a bit.

"I've been wondering," said Hermione. "How things could have been different. What if she had someone should could rely on during her difficult moments? What if there had been someone she could trust? What if... I mean, how things could have been different if..."

"You'll drive yourself bonkers thinking like that," said Harry. "You can't change the past, Hermione. And you don't know if anything would have been different in the first place."

"Wouldn't it?" Hermione half-smiled. "I've been looking into her past, Harry. When she was my age. And I see nothing bad, nothing evil in the person she used to be. Something happened to her to make her that way, I just know it. What if that could have been prevented? Ah, perhaps it's just idle fantasy and I'm just driving myself crazy."

"I don't think you're crazy, Hermione," said Harry. "I just think you're trying to make sense of what happened to you. I do the same every day."

Hermione and Harry chatted for a while longer, but when she looked at Ron and Pansy looking very much like a couple in the early stages of a developing love affair, Hermione wondered just what the hell she was still doing here. Having to return to London to catch the Hogwarts express was a compelling excuse to leave. Hermione promised herself she'd apologize to Ron for leaving without saying goodbye later, for she simply could not muster the will to deal with Pansy right now.

The young witch fled into a kitchen to fetch herself a drink of water and planned to slip out the back door. After filling a glass by the faucet and taking a long sip, she enjoyed the quiet of the kitchen with the sounds of the party in the other room being more muffled: at least she didn't feel like the walls were moving in on her anymore.

"Are you alright, dear?" asked Mrs Weasley as she entered the kitchen behind her, just a tad fast enough to make Hermione think she had come in to see how she was doing. Hermione looked up and gave the Weasley matriarch a quick smile. "You... don't seem like yourself, dear."

Hermione shook her head. "I'm not," replied Hermione. "I'm glad to be here, don't get me wrong. It's just that... sometimes I feel as if I'm living past other people. As if I'm not in the same universe they live in them. Does that make sense at all?"

"I think it does," replied Mrs. Weasley.

"I... I am not well," replied Hermione, a clear statement. "I haven't been for months. I'm just glad you're not angry with me."

"Whatever made you think that?" Mrs. Weasley smiled.

"You know. Me and... Ron..."

"You and Ron wouldn't have lasted a month and you know it," Mrs. Weasley winked. "Be glad you're still friends, dear."

Hermione laughed in spite of herself. Mrs. Weasley was right, at least there was still the friendship. "Ron and Pansy. That'll take some getting used to. She's actually polite here."

"It's a surprisingly good match," replied Mrs. Weasley. "Pansy will know how to run a household like a tight ship."

"Perhaps," said Hermione. "Mrs Weasley, may I ask you something?"

"Of course, dear."

"What do you think about Bellatrix?" said Hermione.

"Because of your nightmares? Ron told me. She can't hurt you anymore, dear," Nrs. Weasley replied. "Nor anyone else."

"No, I mean..." Hermione paused a moment. "You went to Hogwarts with her, right? You must have met her. What was she like?"

Mrs. Weasley thought a moment. "I honestly don't know. I went to school with her, yes, and I must have been two of three years above her. She was uppity, arrogant and generally not very nice, but she wasn't a bad apple. I remember that she didn't have many friends, if any. That was not to say that she wasn't outgoing. I don't think it was easy for her to trust anyone."

Hermione nodded. Her own assessment of Bellatrix almost completely aligned with that of Mrs. Weasley.

"It's the tragedy of Slytherin, I suppose," Mrs Weasley continued. "Too many people who want to use you for their own gain and stab you in the back at a moment's notice. You bunch up quite a lot of those kind of people into a relatively small space for seven years and it can do quite a bit of damage to someone. You can somewhat see it with Pansy: she's skittish and guarded still, but it used to be a lot worse. But even since she and Ron have been seeing each other, she's been slowly opening up and has become more approachable."

"Are you saying that if Bellatrix would have had a friend. Someone she could trust... things might have been different?" Hermione asked.

"Ah, it's moot," Mrs. Weasley replied. "The past is the past."

"Ron seems to think she must have always been bad," said Hermione.

"Nonsense. That's a young person talking. Someone who doesn't know any better," scoffed Mrs. Weasley. "I don't think so. Sometimes even small things could make a difference. There was no one to help her when she struggled with her inner darkness. She was easy prey for the likes the You-Know-Who."

"Do you regret killing her?" Hermione asked.

For a moment, Mrs Weasley seemed deflated, pursing her lips and seeming miles away. "At the time, no. And I would do it again if I have to, in a heart-beat. But, ending someone's life... for any reason. Let's just say I have plenty of nightmares of my own, dearrie, and leave it at that."

The Weasley matriarch demanded a hug and Hermione had to admit that a motherly hug was just what she needed right now.

She rather hated keeping her chats with Bellatrix a secret from her closest and dearest friends, but for now it was necessary. If she was to save Bellatrix from herself, she would have to do so without interference. Hermione would go back to Hogwarts and see her friend again in secret.

And she very much looked forward to seeing Trix again.


Tomorrow, Bellatrix would see Hermione again. She couldn't wait: in a few hours, she and her sisters would floo to Leeds and catch the Hogwarts Express on the way back. Though she wasn't particularly happy about going back to school, the thought of seeing Hermione again made her more than a little excited: they'd have so much to tell each other.

With her luggage packed and stood at the foot-end of her bed while her sisters still packing theirs in their own rooms, she had some time to kill. On her bed, with pillows in her back, she spent some time working on her latest story.

She was just thinking how best to phrase the act of someone's ribcage being crushed by massive jaws when there was a knock on her door. Bellatrix groaned and tossed down her quill, her flow now ruined. "Go pack your own luggage! It's not my fault you're both slackers!" she shouted from the bed.

"It's not your sisters, Bella," sounded the muffled voice of her father from the other side of the door. "May I come in?"

"Father?" Bellatrix called out. She quickly blew the ink dry and stuffed her notebook underneath her pillow. "Come in."

Bellatrix frowned, still sat on the bed when her father simply sat down on a chair next to it and let out a rather awkward sigh. "Bella, I..." he sighed again. "I wanted to apologize before you left for Hogwarts. Clear the air, as it were."

"Apologize?" asked Bellatrix. "For what?"

Her father gave her a brief stare. "Your uncle Achille and I... have our differences, we've always have. But it's not right that you got caught in the crossfire. Of course there's nothing wrong with you writing your stories. Nothing at all. I was wrong to take your notebook from you."

Bellatrix frowned briefly. "Did maman put you up to this?"

"Hah!" her father chuckled. "No. Though she has plenty to do with it. I would very much like to sleep in my own bed again."

"It's fine, father," replied Bellatrix. "All is forgiven."

"All?" he said, eyes wandering. "I doubt that. But at least one small thing is."

An enigmatic response for sure. "Father?" Bellatrix asked. "Why do you hate oncle Achille so much?"

Her father snorted again. "Because he's a free-spirited bounder who doesn't care about anything important and gets away with everything."

Bellatrix looked at her father intently, studying his distant expression. Then it hit her like a flash of lightning in the darkness. "You..." Bellatrix started, her voice cautious. "You wish you could be more like him."

Her father didn't look her in the eye. Not at first. Instead, he looked towards the far end of the room for a moment, into the embers of a dying fire. Then, he turned his head and smiled. "Perceptive as always, my little witchling. That's going to serve you well in life. As for the answer, well, yes and no. No because if I hadn't done my duties to my family, I wouldn't have met your mother. I wouldn't have had you or your sisters, and my life would have been less of it. Yes, because, well, no duties, no wars to have lived through, not being faced with the tough decisions and…"

Her father shifted uncomfortably, and from his expression Bellatrix could see he was torn. "Bellatrix," she spoke. "Make me a promise. Promise me that what I am about to tell you will never leave this room."

Bellatrix nodded. Judging from her father's tone, this was something quite serious. "I promise."

"Good," said her father. "I know you are a young woman of your word. You know of your uncle Alphard? My older brother?"

"He was exiled from House Black by uncle Orion," said Bellatrix.

"Yes, he was," said her father, taking a moment to pat her on the knee. "Alphard has... a kind soul. He taught me my first spell, you know? We ran around Catterborough Woodhouse always looking for mischief. Oh, the pranks we pulled on your aunt Walburga were epic! One time we replaced her make-up with wartweed powder and it turned her cheeks into a lunar landscape for a week. Heh, if you think she has lung-capacity now, you haven't heard her then!"

Having met aunt Walburga and having been at the receiving end of her lung capacity, Bellatrix mused that her father painted a rather vivid image. Still, he had a wistful, forlorn look about him as he started ahead, glancing away from her. There was a pain in his eyes, that much was clear.

"At Hogwarts, Alphard was always looking out for me and I for him. We had each other's back. We went to war together. WAR! Where were faced life and death together! We were brothers. We are brothers. You don't shut that off, not even when your bastard of a cousin orders him to be cast out of the family and the rest of us to cut off contact with him!"

Bellatrix realized just what her father was trying to tell her. "You... you never cut ties with uncle Alphard."

"Not even your mother knows," chuckled her father. "You have cousins, you know? Their names are Morag and Malcolm. Twins. Nine years old. Morag is thin and athletic, unlike her father. Loves to draw. She's going to be a killer Quidditch player one day. Malcolm is clever and quick of wit."

Her father gave her an intense look. "You will never meet them. And they will never meet any of us."

Her father gave her a harsh look for a moment. "I know you've been thinking about running away. I know you don't want to be married. But I urge you not to run. Because Orion will cast you out if you turn your back on your obligations. I doubt your sisters will give up on you, and neither will I or your mother. But we'd only be able to meet in the deepest of secret. And your children will never be able to see their own family or claim their birthright. Alphard is fine with this, but that is not the life I want for you, my little witchling."

Bellatrix cast her eyes downward, weighing her father's words. Yes, she supposed she saw the wisdom in them, but one question remained. "Why did it have to be him though?" Bellatrix pouted. "Why Lestrange?"

Her father sighed. "If it had been up to Orion, you would have been promised to Cantankerous Nott."

That made Bellatrix' eyes spread wide, knowing full well that wedding contract negotiations had started right after her tenth birthday. "WHAT?!" she exclaimed. "But he's almost seventy years old!"

"Your reaction mirrored mine," said her father. "Orion told me if I could find a marriage candidate of equal or higher status, he would allow contract negotiations. Precious few fit the bill."

"Is there really nobody else?" Bellatrix asked with a small voice. "Anyone?"

"The negotiations with the Lestrange family took over seven years alone," said her father. "Only the head of House Black could break open the contract."

Bellatrix sighed. Orion...

"I might as well try to persuade a cat to bark," sighed her father. "I'm sorry, Bella. But take heart... any husband taking a wife from House Black always learns that the Black women are not easily controlled or suppressed. You least of all. It won't be the end of your life, my little witchling. You will thrive. Of this I have no doubt."

Bellatrix simply closed her eyes and let out a sigh. She had held out some hope that, perhaps, her impending marriage could still be avoided. Perhaps she should focus on beyond, what she would do once married, what tactics she should use to circumvent Rodolphus' undoubtedly harsh demands of her. She supposed it could have been worse: walking down the aisle next to a seventy year old man, for example.

"Bellatrix?" asked her father. "I must admit I am curious. Would you read me one of your stories?"

"You want to hear one?" Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "Really?"

"I'll have you know the ashtray you made for me when you were five is still on my desk."

"That was a flowerpot," Bellatrix chuckled. "I... just didn't have enough clay."

The curly-haired witch pulled the notebook from under her pillow and flipped through it while her father sat back and settled against the chair.

"Okay," said Bellatrix. "I call this one 'Obsession'."

She told her tale. And her father listened. They shared an embrace.

Bellatrix was quiet and restless the entire trip back to Hogwarts.

Chapter Text

The first day after autumn break was just like every other day at Hogwarts and students quickly fell back into their usual routines of classes, dinner, homework and whatever evening enjoyment they would choose. Still, Bellatrix had trouble keeping focus through it all. She went through the motions of her classes, undoubtedly giving the correct answers to questions she barely remembered being even asked while running all the things she had found about the magic pool through her head.

Truth be told, she was counting the minutes until today's witching hour. Not only because it had been a tumultuous holiday and she needed to vent a bit of steam to someone she trusted, but also because she desperately wanted to share what she had found. No doubt Hermione would approve of her diligence. She had been ordering her notes and her books for what seemed like twenty times today and had to do it twice because she had all the materials, including her oncle's painting, duplicated by Sebastian before she'd left.

By the start of the day, she was counting the hours. Right before dinner time she was counting the minutes. She walked through the hallways, still ordering her thoughts when she barely noticed being approached by someone. Still rifling through her notes, she bumped into someone, gave out an irritated shout to tell whoever it was to bugger off and kept going, only to be rudely pulled from her trance when someone grabbed her by the arm.

Bellatrix let out a hiss, drew her wand and pressed it against the offender's throat while protecting her notes by holding them behind her back. Only then did she realize that she had come face to face with Lestrange, him giving her a stricken look while he held up his hands.

Lestrange, the last person she had wanted to see.

"Whoa, whoa! Bloody hell, Black," he muttered. "What's gotten into you?!"

"Go.. away," Bellatrix hissed.

"I'm not allowed to speak to my fiancee now?" he raised an eyebrow.

"It's a business arrangement!" Bellatrix hissed. "Nothing more, nothing less. I've got nothing to say to you until the wedding. And quite possibly nothing after!"

"Look," Lestrange gave that annoying smirk of his. "I realize you prefer to make things difficult for yourself, Bellatrix, but get used to the idea... you will be my wife."

The curly-haired witch felt every muscle in her body tense up, clenched her jaw and narrowed her eyes. "It must be so wonderful for you. To get access to my family's wealthy, connections, our... pedigree. You don't deserve any of it, Lestrange!"

Lestrange smirked again. "Bellatrix, Bellatrix, Bellatrix," he chuckled, but his voice took on a more sinister tone as he grew quieter, glancing around to see if there weren't any eager ears nearby. "I do have plenty to offer you and you'll change your tune when you see my connections. Times are changing, Bellatrix. Soon, very soon, I will introduce you to someone. Someone extraordinary beyond measure! Someone who will change the world... for the better. Someone who can make blood purity mean something again. Once you see his magic, once you see his power, Bellatrix, you will beg to be my wife."

Bellatrix rolled her eyes at him. No doubt he was posturing like he always was. "Whatever," she muttered and brushed past him. She had no time and no mood for his pathetic antics.

Still, the encounter with him had soured her mood considerably, to a point where she elected to stick close to her sisters the rest of the day, starting at dinner at the Great Hall, doing homework together after dinner and then hanging around the common room between the three of them.

At her dorm, Bellatrix didn't get a wink of sleep and decided to slip out of the castle a bit earlier than usual. After a visit to the Hog's Head for another lovely pint of ale… which she had to vacate rather quickly when that stupid oaf Hagrid entered the common room… she made her way into the Forbidden Forest. At the pool, she sat on the largest root and leaned against the pillow she had brought. It was definitely getting colder now, so the magically warmed blanket she had brought and wrapped over her legs was very much a necessity. Wearing a woolly hat, Bellatrix unfurled her scroll and started writing a bit. Inspiration came quickly and a whole new tale started to form in her head.

After an hour or two of writing, Bellatrix gasped in joy when the pool sprang to life and once again bathed the clearing in a magical blue hue. She put away her quill and quickly leaned towards the water. "Hermione!" she exclaimed.

No answer.

"Hermione?" she asked again.

Again, no answer.

She tried to peek into water to try to get a better look at the clearing on the other side of the reflection. Usually, Hermione was perched on the same large root she was currently sat on, but there was no sign of her.

Perhaps, she was just a little late?

So Bellatrix waited.

And she waited.

Five minutes passed. Ten minutes. Still no Hermione.

Bellatrix swallowed hard. Had something happened to her? Was she alright?

Fifteen minutes. The curly-haired witch was really getting nervous now, pacing back and forth while she tried to control her breathing.

Twenty minutes.

'She isn't coming. Something happened. Is she hurt? Is she alright? Does... does she still want to be friends? Was it something I said? Is she still angry with me for calling her a mudblood? Have I ruined our friendship somehow? What did I do? What did I do wrong?!' she repeated over and over in her mind, torturing herself with endless possibilities why Hermione would no longer want to be associated with her.

Twenty-five.

When the time passed the half hour mark, Bellatrix was fighting back tears. 'Where is she? Why isn't Hermione coming?' The curly-haired witch hopped off the root and started pacing back and forth, running hundreds of scenarios through her mind.

Had something happened? Had she been delayed? Was she ill? Could… could something had happened on the way here? The Forbidden Forest could be dangerous, after all. What if Hermione was hurt and needed help? Perhaps… perhaps she could warn someone in the future. How would she do it? Yes, she could perhaps formulate a note for McGonagall to be delivered at this date in 1998 so they could go look for her if something was wrong. She already had the paper, but she had yet to write it.

She ripped a page from her book and started. 'Hello, this is Bellatrix from 1968. I assure you this is not a jest or a prank. Hermione might very well be in danger…' Bellatrix grit her teeth and wondered how the hell she would even explain the Fae Mirror to someone in the future. "Relax, Bella, relax," she forced herself to calm down. "Even in Hermie is in mortal peril, she's still thirty years in the future. You have all the time in the world to get your note right."

When the clock was about to hit 3:35, Bellatrix heard some rustling from the other side of the mirror. The curly-haired witch tossed her note to the side, dashed to the pool and parked herself on the root and tried to act as nonchalant as possible, but was unable to keep the sheer joy from her voice when Hermione came into view, panting as she did so.

"Hermione! You came!" Bellatrix exclaimed before she caught herself. "I mean, uhm, of course you did."

Hermione, for her part, was panting heavily and needed a moment to catch her breath. "Sorry, I'm late. I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting," she offered. "I ran all the way here. I didn't get much sleep last night so I overslept today. I didn't mean to worry you."

Wearing a somewhat warmer muggle denim jacket rather than her robe, Hermione made a somewhat different impression. Honestly, she didn't look well: pale, with bags under eyes and the exhaustion clearly etched in her face, having all the markers of a woman for whom the wiser course had been to simply stay in bed that evening. Still, Bellatrix was beyond grateful that Hermione had shown up regardless and she saw past it all: to her, Hermione was an angel in denim.

"I wasn't worried at all!" Bellatrix lied. "I figured something must have kept you. Anyway, you won't believe what I found out!"

In the pool, Hermione offered a warm smile. "You certainly sound excited."

"Right," said Bellatrix as she held up a small wooden box. "In about half an hour, I'll bury this box underneath that root over there. You should be able to find it now."

In the pool, Hermione moved to the root Bellatrix had pointed out. "Here?" she asked. Bellatrix confirmed it and, after digging a little, Hermione fished up the wooden box and, after retrieving it and using a spell to unlock the box, had exactly the same books and notes in her hands as she had. For her part, Hermione seemed very much intrigued, especially when she took a look at her uncle's painting. Removed from the frame, Bellatrix had rolled it up to fit it inside the box along with copies of the rest of the books and notes.

"What we're looking at, what we're talking through," said Bellatrix. "Is called a Fae Mirror and they're really bloody rare. This had actually been the first sighting in the UK! Isn't that exciting, Hermie?!"

"A Fae Mirror," Hermione let the term roll over her tongue a few times. "Doesn't ring a bell."

Bellatrix was elated. Now was her time to shine. Now was her time to impress and excite her friend. "Grand-père did research on ancient legends from both the magical and the muggle world, right?" said Bellatrix. "Trying to determine how much was truth and how much was myth. He had labelled Fae Mirrors as myth until he found references in Russian Ministry accounts of magic forests, in particular the taiga woods in the Verkhoyansk river valley. There have been more sightings in Jiuzhaigou forest in China and the Sagano bamboo forest in Japan. The oldest known sighting in the Black Forest in Germany and the description is always the same: located in a clearing and among the roots of a long dead petrified tree. It always glows blue when it's active and, get this, all descriptions my grand-père found refer to the surface of the pool 'reflecting not the surroundings, but showing a reflection of a different time. Sometimes looking forwards, sometimes looking back'. Just like it is in my oncle's painting."

"Good work, Trix," said Hermione, causing Bellatrix to allow herself a satisfied smile. "Wait. A. Rosier. You are related to Achille Rosier? The artist?"

"Yes," said Bellatrix. "He is my oncle. Mother's side. Apparently grand-père told him the myth of the Fae Mirror and he was intrigued enough to make a painting about it. He was my lead to find out more about the legend."

Apparently Hermione was making a rather intense study of the painting. "Trix," said Hermione. "Have you taken a good look at the painting? What do you make of the reflection of the unicorn in the pool?"

"Hm, good question," said Bellatrix, remembering that in the painting, a regular stark white unicorn was peeking into the pool and saw the reflection of a unicorn which was black as night. "There's no such thing as black unicorns. Doesn't matter if the pool reflects past or future, it can't show what doesn't exist."

Hermione seemed lost in thought for a moment, staring rather intensely at her oncle's painting while nibbling down on her lip a bit. It looked, honestly, rather cute. "Perhaps... it is looking through the pool at something else entirely. This warrants further investigation. Have you found the original myth the painting is based on?" Hermione asked.

"I have," said Bellatrix. "It's in a book called 'Verlorene magische Geschichten aus dem Schwartzwald' but our library doesn't own it. In fact, no library in the UK owns it, but there are two existing copies in the German state library. Curious how a book about lost tales is in the verge of becoming lost itself, isn't it? Sadly, I didn't have time to get it, and getting books from the other side of the channel is a complete pain anyway."

"Let me," said Hermione. "I can ask a friend in the Ministry if he could put in a requisition form for it with the German Ministry. Requests from aurors always get fast-tracked. Well, fast-tracked is a relative term, but it should take weeks, rather than months."

"I'll take it," smiled Bellatrix.

Hermione suddenly let out a sigh. "Oh, bother," she muttered.

"What?" Bellatrix asked.

"This is a unique and rare magical phenomenon and we haven't been documenting any of it since we've started our chats," Hermione sighed. "Honestly, I could kick myself!"

"Never too late to start, I suppose," Bellatrix replied. "But I think we both enjoyed our chats a bit too much to really think about the particulars."

"There is that," Hermione smiled. "Again, great work, Trix. I'll see if I can find out more on my end and share what I find. Seriously, though, the artist Achille Rosier is actually your uncle?"

Bellatrix chuckled. "He certainly is. I'm glad you've heard of him," she said, rather gratified to know that her oncle was still well known for his work thirty years from now.

"Heard of him? It's hard not to know who he is," said Hermione. "He's a celebrated artist and a famous recluse."

"Yeah, he's not very social," returned Bellatrix. "Not outside of his family, really. If you ever have the chance to meet him, just tell him you know me and he'll chat your ears off, no doubt. Might even paint you something if he's in the right mood."

Hermione went really quiet for a moment. "I'll keep that in mind," Hermione spoke in a soft, almost neutral tone. Bellatrix found that a bit odd, but was in too good a mood to pay much mind to it.

"How was your autumn break?" Bellatrix asked. "Did you enjoy your time with your parents?"

Her answer came in the form of a slight nod and an ever slighter smile. "It was good. Funny thing is that you simply don't realize how quickly time passes until it's too late. I've spent far too little time with them over the past years. It always seemed that other things seemed more important at the time, you know? I've decided that I'm going to join them on their skiing trip over Christmas holidays. It's been a while since I've hit the slopes, so I think I'll be a little rusty."

"I've never skied," replied Bellatrix. "Seems a little dangerous to me."

"Skiing? Dangerous?" Hermione laughed. "Trix, you are a chaser of a Quidditch team!"

"So?" chuckled Bellatrix. "That's not dangerous. The worst thing that could happen is that I fall off my broom for a bit."

It was a statement that made Hermione sputter and struggle to form a responsible. "At, what? Twenty-five miles an hour speed?!"

"Not nearly as dangerous as standing on bits of wood in the snow," pouted Bellatrix. "I mean, come on, Hermie, how would you even stop once you get going?"

"It's quite easy, actually," replied Hermione. "You just fold your legs a little so that your ski's cross a little and the friction will slow you down."

Bellatrix made a face. "That sounds like a recipe for snapped ankles."

"Falling off your broom from a twenty meter height sounds like a recipe for snapped necks," Hermione replied.

"Nah, it'll fine," Bellatrix shrugged.

"Anyway, how was your autumn break?" asked Hermione, her face showing that kindly smile of hers.

"Fun," replied Bellatrix, meaning it. "I mean, once I got past the wedding rehearsal and usual bollocks. Got to spend a lot of time with my sisters at home, just enjoying ourselves, so it wasn't all bad. Had a good conversation with my father too. Oh, do remind me to show you Catterborough Woodhouse some day. Our mansion is a sight to behold."

The corners of Hermione's mouth formed a bit of a half-smile. "I'm not sure your family would like to have a muggle-born guest."

"Pfft," Bellatrix snorted. "I'll handle them. The servants are nothing but polite, oncle won't care, I'll keep my sisters in line and the house if big enough that you could stay there all week without even seeing my family once."

"I'd like to see it," said Hermione. "But there's a little bit of an issue."

"Thirty years apart," sighed Bellatrix. "And yet I feel we are so close together."

"Same," smile Hermione, just as the pool started to shimmer. "Oh, bother. I'm so sorry, Trix. I'll be on time tomorrow, I promise."

"It's fine, Hermie," replied Bellatrix. "Go get some sleep and we'll talk again tomorrow."

After the girls said their goodbyes and the magic of the pool faded away, Bellatrix set towards her final task of the evening, which was to put all the research she had done into the box, magically lock it and bury it underneath the root so that Hermione could find it in the future.

As she was doing so, her thoughts drifted back to Hermione and how relieved she was to see her today: no kidding, Bellatrix had really been worried about Hermione be it for having accidentally insulted her or her being injured somehow. And when she had appeared in the Fae Mirror, having that wonderful fuzzy feeling in the pit of her stomach. An angel in denim, such an apt description: Hermione was smart, witty and was someone who was willing to put up with her antics... someone she could trust.

Pretty too, though from her chats she could tell that Hermione didn't consider herself to be a pretty girl. Well, she was wrong. That lovely brown hair of hers, those eyes... that brief cute little half-smile dancing on her lips she shot at her whenever she told her something which amused her.

She briefly wondered what it would be like to kiss those lips.

Instantly, Bellatrix froze, her hands hovering over the box she had just set in place to bury.

Kiss those lips?

Where had that come from?!

Bellatrix let out a sigh. The point was moot anyway, as she reminded herself once again that they were indeed thirty years apart.


Hermione had been dead tired all day and running all across the Forbidden Forest certainly hadn't helped. Truth be told, she simply hadn't slept well after returning to Hogwarts straight from the Burrow. Perhaps her encounter with Pansy had been to blame, she had first considered, but dismissed that theory quick enough. Though seeing Pansy again had reignited old hatreds, perhaps even unfairly, it was falling back into the same routine she had been since the start of this school year which had been bothering her.

Sneaking back into the castle and getting back to her dorm room was easy enough, but sleep deprivation was starting to get the better of her. At least her first scheduled class tomorrow would rather late in the morning, so her schedule permitted her to sleep in. This, of course, meant that she would have to skip breakfast, but she needed sleep more than food at the moment. Hermione had a few chocolate bars on reserve, one of which would cover her until lunch time tomorrow.

Still, Hermione knew that she wouldn't catch a single wink of sleep if she wouldn't take care of one little thing first. Prepared as always, Hermione sauntered over to her oft-used and loved writing desk and opened a drawer containing all sorts of paperwork. One of those was a requisition form for books not owned by the Hogwarts library. Normally, she'd fill these out and hand them over to Madam Pince and, usually, Hermione knew not to bother unless it was for a long-term project since it would be a matter of months before she'd get the books in, especially if the book wasn't even on British soil. This is where Ron came in.

After filling out the form to requisition 'Verlorene magische Geschichten aus dem Schwartzwald' from the German State Library, she picked up another scroll and started writing a letter.

"Hey Ron,

I'm sorry that we didn't have a chance to speak much at the Burrow yesterday, but I still had a fun time there. So, you and Pansy, hm? Harry told me a bit about how you and Pansy started dating. Don't worry, I'm not angry. Just surprised! Next time we speak, you should tell me all about how it happened. I'm certain it'll be a tale of circumstance worthy of a Weasley and I mean that in the best possible way.

Anyway, I'm hoping you could help me out. I'm trying to get my hands on a certain book and you know as well as I do how slow the Ministry gears grind. But if an auror were to requisition it, it would take six weeks to get here rather than six months. I've already filled out the entire form. All you have to do is sign your name and file it.

We'll talk soon. And thanks for helping.

Yours,

Hermione."

She put down her quill and started to blow out the candles. Hermione'd bring the scrolls to the owlry tomorrow, but she wouldn't be whom she was if she didn't have everything prepared in advance. But now, it was time for bed. Clothes were shed, a wash was had and her teeth were brushed. Stomping from the wash basin in the formerly communal bathroom to her bed as if she were a zombie, she let herself drop down onto the mattress and pulled the cover over her and her nightly companion.

The life-sized tiger-plushie her dad had bought her at London Zoo had not been given a name: Hermione was no longer a child, after all. But it was large enough to be a big artificial cuddle-cat. She wrapped her arms around it and pressed her body against its soft fur.

Nice. That was nice.

To lie in bed and hold something soft and warm, to pull it close and embrace it tightly.

So nice.

It only it could hold her too. Maybe if she flipped it around a little so its paws could simulate arms. But she was simply too tired.

Tomorrow.

She'd have the tiger hug her tomorrow. Sleep now.

Sleep. Sleep and dream that someone would hold her while she slept to keep her warm and safe.

Thankfully, she was out like a light almost immediately.

Chapter Text

Hermione couldn't help but shiver. Meeting up in the middle of the night in a Scottish autumn could be challenging. If the temperatures in late November were anything to go by, they were headed towards a rather cold winter this year. Though snow had yet to fallen, temperatures in the evening and at night had often fallen below freezing point. At least it wasn't raining today; yesterday, the both of them had sat next to the pool in the pouring rain, having donned raincoats and umbrellas while the downpour ruined all the clarity of the magic pool.

Thankfully, today was merely phenomenally cold.

It was hard to believe that it had been five weeks since autumn break: time did fly, as they say. Life continued on at Hogwarts and Hermione found herself going through the motions of academia while, in the evenings, Hermione would still head over to the Fae Mirror and neither girl had missed a single day. Cold temperatures nor rain would not stop Hermione from seeing her friend: having donned a thick winter jacket, an ushanka on her head and armed with a thermos filled to the brim with scolding hot tea, Hermione made her way through the Forbidden Forest, her breath condensing in the cold air.

The cold did cause her to move a little slower and she arrived a few minutes after three. When she arrived at the clearing, the pool already shone brightly with its magic glow. Glancing in the magical waters, Hermione found that, as usual, Bellatrix was already there waiting for her to arrive. The curly haired girl smiled brightly while Hermione propped herself up against the tree next to the pool.

Apparently, the temperatures in 1968 weren't all that much better, as Bellatrix was wearing a thick coat and a scarf while her long curly hair spilled out from under a winter beanie. A pair of earmuffs finished the image. Hermione took in the look of Bellatrix, her pale skin a bit reddish in the face from the cold: the curly-haired witch looked beyond stunning, and Hermione always got this strange, warm and fuzzy feeling in the pit of her stomach whenever she saw Bellatrix's face in the pool after a long day of school.

"Good evening, Trix," greeted Hermione as she unscrewed the top of her thermos to pour herself a cup of tea.

"Hey Hermie," replied Bellatrix. "Merlin, what a day. That idiot Prewett made a cauldron explode today in potions. I don't think I've actually seen that happen before ever."

"Goodness, was anyone hurt?" asked Hermione.

"Bunch of us got splashed with corrosive potion residue, including me," said Bellatrix. "Luckily, nothing got in my eyes or on my skin, but the stuff did start to eat through my robe to the point that I had to rip if off. So here I was, stood in potions in my underwear yelling and cursing at Prewett who rather miraculously never got a single drop on him even though he was standing right next to the thing! Dirk got the worst of it, though. Had a big piece of metal shrapnel sticking out of his leg. Visited him in the medical wing. He's fine and is bragging about his scar."

Despite the apparently nasty accident, Hermione was oddly gratified to know that Bellatrix had taken the time to visit a rival at Quidditch and even a muggle-born at that. She liked to think that was her influence in action.

"My day wasn't nearly as exciting as yours," replied Hermione. "For me the problem started right after dinner and his name is Cormac McLaggen."

"Still?!" Bellatrix chuckled. "After that dressing down you gave him last time? He's persistent, I'll give him that."

"Tell me about it, Trix," Hermione sighed. "He's been strategically placing mistletoe in the Gryffindor common room. It'll be like trying to navigate a minefield come Christmas Eve."

"Already?!" blinked Bellatrix. "It's still five weeks until Christmas!"

"And I'm going home for the holidays," Hermione said, fully intending to spend the holidays with her parents again. "So there's at least that. What about your stalker?"

"Rodolphus?" Bellatrix shrugged. "He's keeping quiet. I think he's just biding his time since he knows…. he knows the wedding is coming anyway. At least he'll leave me alone until then, I hope."

"Working on Herbology project," said Hermione, eager to change the subject as she saw in Bellatrix' expression that she was not happy to talk about Rodolphus at the moment. "Trying to grow some Fluxweed, but I'm not having much luck. I don't know what I'm doing wrong, but I've followed all the proper instructions and all I get are tiny stems which die off the next day. Maybe I just lack a green thumb."

Bellatrix thought a moment. "Have you tried planting them during a full moon, Hermie?" asked Bellatrix.

"I have and... nothing," sighed Hermione. "I'd hate to have to wait for an entire month before I get another try."

Bellatrix seemed lost in thought for a moment and then suddenly snapped her fingers. "Alright, I have an idea. Go to the lake and search the edge of the Forbidden Forest for a patch of Glow Grass."

"Glow Grass?" Hermione frowned. "Isn't that a weed?"

"It is," replied Bellatrix. "So you can transplant it easily to anywhere. Just plant some Glow Grass in a pot and put it right next to the pot where you planted the Fluxweed. The light coming from the Glow Grass closely resembles moonlight and you'll be able to fool the Fluxweed into growing. Works one hundred percent of the time. Just make sure the Glow Grass is isolated from the rest of the greenhouse, though. It spreads like wildfire if you're not careful."

"Thanks, Trix. I'll give that a try," Hermione said. She was woman enough to admit that, while she had learned a great deal about the wizarding world and magic from books, she lacked the sort of knowledge and experience one could only have from growing up in the wizarding world: knowledge and experience Bellatrix had in spades.

"Hermie," Bellatrix started. "You're going to be very, very smug. I've actually gone to a muggle studies class, like you've been bugging me to do for weeks."

"You have?!" Hermione felt her eyebrows raise to her hairline. Like Bellatrix said, she'd been trying to convince her to just go to a class, something which her friend had stubbornly refused to do to a point that Hermione was about to throw in the towel. It seemed persistence had paid off. "What did you think?"

"I was always taught that muggles were sad pathetic creatures, but some of the things they came up with are really clever," said Bellatrix, her tone of voice betraying that this was a rather reluctant admission. "I'd like to fly on one of those muggle airplanes one day. They go much higher than brooms, even, and I'd love to look down upon the Earth from that high up."

"Maybe you'll get the chance one day," Hermione replied.

"And give my poor parents heart-attacks?" Bellatrix raised an eyebrow.

They chatted a bit more about the usual things: school, happenings, family. Until Bellatrix casually mentioned something which made Hermione's blood run cold.

"So Cissy's going to drag the three of us to some sort of rally tomorrow," said Bellatrix. "It's all very hush-hush and on invitation only. Cissy heard it from her boyfriend Lucius, he got it from Mulcibur, who in turn heard it from Macnair and who heard it from Rodolphus. Lestrange has been pestering me to go to that rally for weeks now and moved on to convince others instead. Almost all of Slytherin is going, so I might as well join them and turn it into a day out. The three of us will be going shopping at Diagon Alley afterwards, so it's all fine."

Rally?

And then the people she mentioned?

Voldemort. She was talking about Voldemort.

Hermione took a deep breath This was it. This had to be the moment Bellatrix's life would take a turn for the worse: by all accounts this rally was where Bellatrix fell in with the future Dark Lord, despite her expressed reluctance now. And Hermione was right there to witness it all happen. If she didn't act, she would lose her friend to darkness.

"Really?" Hermione said, feeling the blood drain from her face. "Anything more?"

"If there's new magic being taught, I'm game," replied Bellatrix. The expression of her face was an eager one. "I'm not a stranger to the dark arts. You know this. And it's not as if they teach that at Hogwarts. And if it's all the load of bollocks, well, then there's always the shopping trip. Win-win, I say."

"Don't go," Hermione whispered softly, before she caught herself.

"Why not?" asked Bellatrix.

Hermione thought for a moment. How to breach this subject carefully? Perhaps she shouldn't tell Bella not to go outright: she'd known the girl for some time know and realized that telling her not to go would just give her more incentive to go anyway. But perhaps…. Perhaps she could prime her a little. "Bella, have you ever heard of Jim Jones? Oh, wait, no, how silly of me, of course you haven't. It hasn't happened yet."

Bellatrix seemed intrigued. "Is this Jim Jones a powerful wizard? I thought we agreed on not discussing future events."

"This happened in the muggle world," replied Hermione. "He was a wizard, in a way. A wizard at manipulation, you could say. Jim Jones was a faith healer and the leader of a cult who built a commune with his followers in French Guyana. He cut them off from the rest of the world and enslaved their minds. He had complete mental control over all his followers and they did everything for him without question. Eventually, all his followers either committed suicide or were forced to commit suicide on his word. Parents willingly fed their own children poison on his word alone."

Bellatrix had listened intently. "Bonkers. You think this is something like that?"

"How does he present himself?" Hermione asked.

Bellatrix rubbed her chin. "Well, he does call himself a 'Dark Lord'. That's not exactly normal, I'd say. What should I look out for?"

"Just be careful, alright?" Hermione said. "He'll try to present himself larger than life, paint a picture of a world that is full of problems which only he knows how to fix. He'll try to appeal to your vanity, praise your talents and tell you that you will be the key to the future. He'll preach about the good old days and how the world has become decadent compared to the old days. He'll probably spin some nonsense about muggle-borns stealing power from true wizards and witches… and then say you are a true witch whose powers are being stolen. He'll create a problem in your mind and then offer the solution to it. And the solution is following his orders to the letter, complete subservience. You won't be allowed to question. You'll be shamed if you do. He'll ask you cut those out of your life who won't follow him as they will 'stray you off the path'."

"Alright," said Bellatrix. "Ah, it's almost four o'clock already. We'll talk tomorrow again, okay?"

"Okay," smiled Hermione. "Bella? Be safe, alright?"

"Hey, you know me, Hermione," chuckled Bellatrix. "Safe is boring. Still, I guess I shouldn't play with fire. Catch you on the flip side!"

The pool's powers faded and the clearing was once again bathed in darkness, but Hermione wasn't left with the usual fuzzy feeling inside she felt after a long evening of talking with Bella. Instead, her heart constricted with worry.

"Be safe, Bella," Hermione whispered. "Please be safe."


The next day was complete agony for Hermione. It was a Saturday, so she had no classes to distract her mind. She found that she could not concentrate on any of her school work either. How could she? Right now, back in 1968, Bellatrix and a bunch of Slytherins would have their introduction to the man who would become Lord Voldemort. Some would fall under his influence and, if history was to be believed, Bellatrix was one of them. Her friend could cease to be her friend and turn into a pure-blood fanatic the likes of which the world had rarely seen.

Hermione couldn't eat. She was literally sick with worry and could not keep anything down.

Had it all been futile? Could she change nothing? Was history already written? Was she helpless to save her friend?

Restless and weary, she found her hands too shaky to hold her quill, so out for walks she went in hopes of clearing her head. Instead, she only came back more worried.

Eventually, she decided to skip dinner and headed straight to her dorm after preparing a Dreamless Drought in the potion lab, She knew herself well enough that a day of worries would lead to the most heinous of nightmares and she really didn't want to think of Bellatrix in that light at the moment... she didn't want to think of Bellatrix as the woman she became, but rather as the friend she was so desperately trying to save from her herself.

She took a glance at the clock Bellatrix had gifted her, still stood on her nightstand and ticking like there was no tomorrow. In fact, she used it as an alarm clock these days, perpetually set to 2:30. Though it was still lights out, she hoped just sleeping the hours away would help her.

Of course, she was way too tense to actually catch a wink of sleep, so she lay in bed with her plush tiger on one side and stared up at the ceiling. This wouldn't do.

Hermione kicked off her pyjama bottoms and settled underneath the duvet. She was alone in her room and didn't have to be careful anymore. Still, there was still a slight sense of embarrassment about the whole thing, so she kept herself covered by the duvet. Hermione was a healthy nineteen year old girl with healthy desires and was no stranger to pleasuring herself: one couldn't get through the night with books alone, after all, and pleasuring herself often helped her sleep better. Perhaps it would relieve some tension here as well.

She let her hand slide over her stomach and let it slip between her thighs. She closed her eyes and settled in, her fingers working their proverbial magic. Her breath quickened with every rub. With her free hand, she undid a few buttons on her pyjama top and slipped her hand inside. Her nipples were already hardening and she quickly set to gently kneading her breast.

Quickened breath led to sighs and brief exclamations as she quickened the pace of her rubbing, feeling the heat of her center.

Almost without wanting it, she imagined Bellatrix. Not the Bellatrix whom had tortured her, but the younger Bellatrix: the girl whom had become her friend. Hermione imagined the weight of her naked body on top of her, her lips pressed on hers. In her mind, Bellatrix was such a good kisser.

The hand on her breast was not her own, but it belonged to Trix. The hand rubbing her most sensitive parts was not her own, but belonged to Trix, playfully teasing her as pressure started to mount within her abdomen.

She imagined Trix kissing a trail down her body, lips on her neck, her breasts, her stomach, lingering at her navel and licking her skin. She imagined impossibly soft curly hair between her thighs while Trix lovingly pleasured her with a tongue that was playful and cruel in equal measure. She imagined Trix looking up at her with sultry eyes. She imagined Trix's fingers slipping deep inside of her, treating her to gentle strokes.

Release came far swifter than Hermione would have liked, accompanied with an orgasmic exclamation.

The young witch rolled to her side with cheeks red and sweat covering her brow. She pulled her legs up in a fetal position, her mind filled with embarrassment, wondering just where the hell that fantasy had just come from.

Suddenly, there was now a second worry to the mix. God, how was she going to be able to look Trix in the eye the next time she'd see her?


Hermione did end up catching some sleep and once she got up she practically ran all the way from the castle to the Fae Mirror. In fact, she was still panting when she almost collapsed next to the dead tree. She had arrived ahead of time and the pool was not yet active.

And when it did become active, Hermione got the fright of her life: Bellatrix wasn't there.

"Trix?" she asked.

No answer.

That never happened. Bellatrix was always on time, always there waiting by the pool when it became active. Anxiety gripped her by the throat. Bellatrix had been first and foremost on her mind and now? She wasn't there yet and every minute of waiting by the pool seemed to last an eternity.

For a moment, she was worried that Bellatrix wasn't coming. She closed her eyes and shook her head: had it all been pointless? Had it been the last time she had seen Bellatrix?

"Oh, Hermione! You're already here!" sounded from the pool. After opening her eyes, she found the smiling face of Bellatrix looking back at her. She had apparently just arrived and quickly settled herself. "Do I have a story to tell you!"

Relief washed over Hermione: Bellatrix was there and seemed to be in good spirits all round. "How did it go?" Hermione was almost afraid to ask. "At the rally, I mean?"

"Oh sweet Merlin, Hermione!" Bellatrix raved. "It went exactly like you said it would go!"

Hermione closed her eyes and let out a sigh while Bellatrix started to tell her story, a smile etched on her young face. "So, the three of us come to this magical tent set up in the middle of this field in the read-end of Cornwall, right? We were late because Cissy wanted to try out different colours of shoes for some reason and most Slytherins were already present. When we arrived, we were funnelled through this long corridor and there was this sense of magic going through it. It was sort of designed to make use feel as if we were approaching a powerful source of magic and Andie and Cissy were really impressed until I took out my wand and roved it around looking for charms and it turned out there were charms in the air to make it feel as if the magic was swirling around the place."

Bellatrix paused for a moment. "So we meet the 'Dark Lord'," she said while making air-quotes in front of her. "Now he was attractive and charming, black robe and everything, I'll give him that. Did his little speech about how the world was going to hell in a hand-basket, just like you said. Then he came to us. Asked if we were the infamous Black sisters he had heard so much about."

"Intriguing," said Hermione. "He knew who you were?"

"Not impressive," said Bellatrix. "My family is part of the sacred twenty-eight and he is looking to recruit pure-bloods, so it's not a surprise that he'd done his homework. See? I used my brain, Hermione," she said while tapping the side of her head. "I have one, you know?"

"Nice to see that at least some of the things I told you didn't go into one ear and right out of the other," Hermione smiled warmly.

"Oh, pish-posh," Bellatrix pouted for a bit. "Anyway, he tried to appeal to my vanity, like you said he would. He told me I was a talented young witch with so much potential for power and offered to teach me. So I started to ask a few questions, right? Simple questions like what his plans were and how exactly the muggle-borns were stealing magic without anyone noticing. If he was so convinced of this, he should have an answer. And then he started shaming me in front of the others instead of answering my questions. He said that I was part of the problem because I doubted his word, and then graciously said he would forgive me for the impetuous of youth. Then came the promises of power and a better world if only I'd would follow him. That smile he gave me was just so… false."

"So what did you do next?" asked Hermione.

"I told him that he was yet to answer my question," Bellatrix pursed her lips. "Never did get an answer either. When he saw I wasn't biting, he almost immediately lost all interest in me and moved on to his next target."

"I'm glad," said Hermione. "Uhm, not that he shamed you, I mean… Glad that you didn't fall for his tricks."

Truth be told, Hermione was positively elated. Bellatrix was smart; very smart. And just by putting a little bit of doubt in her head, Hermione just might have managed to keep the girl whom had become her good friend from making one of the biggest mistakes of her life.

Bellatrix chuckled. "Come on, Hermie, what do you take me for? Expect me to fall for some charlatan's honeyed words? I grabbed Andie and pulled her out of there. By that point, she'd seen through him as well. I just… I…"

"What it is?" Hermione asked with some concern.

"I'm so worried about Cissy, though," Bellatrix sighed, her eyes downcast. "She was completely taken in by him. Merlin, you should have seen the starry eyed look on her face. Andie and I tried to get her to leave with us, but she wouldn't. She's… she's young and impressionable. And she has that idiot boyfriend of hers who's also taken in by that 'Dark Lord' which is certainly not helping. I... Andie and I are going to have a talk with her later."

A terrible feeling came over Hermione: she had, perhaps, rescued her friend from a terrible fate, but by doing so, had Hermione condemned another person to go off the deep end instead?

"I'm sorry to hear that," replied Hermione.

"Don't worry about Cissy," smiled Bellatrix. "It's two against one."

"I would love to meet your sisters one day," replied Hermione.

"I know Andie would like you," Bellatrix bit her lip. "Cissy, though? Doubtful."

Now that the tension was ebbing away, something else came to the surface. Mainly, the fact that she had imagined her friend naked and pleasuring her the night before. Seeing the cheeky grin on Bellatrix' face had brought all of that back front and center. Instantly, shame and embarrassment overcame her as she lowered her head while her cheeks turned bright red.

"Hermie?" Bellatrix frowned from the other side of the pool. "What's wrong?"

Try as she might, she simply couldn't look Bellatrix in the eye. "Trix, I..." she croaked, her voice tiny as she swallowed hard.

"Oh, you did something naughty!" Bellatrix cackled. "Come on then. Share!"

"I... I..." Hermione gulped, desperately looking for a way to change the subject.

This was going to be a long night.

Chapter Text

"Thanks for coming out with me to the lake today, Bella," said Andie as the two sisters sauntered along the shores of lake Black to look for merfolk scales to use for Andie's project in potioneering. As autumn days in Scotland went, it was a rather pleasant day with the sun out shining over the water. Though the temperature was close to zero, the company was pleasant and she could think of no better person than to spend the afternoon with. The sun would make the shiny scales far more easy to spot, though.

"Ah, it's fine, Andie," Bellatrix shrugged, bending down to pick up a few scales with a pair of tweezers and putting them in the pot. "How much do you need?"

"As many as we can get our hands on," replied Andie, bending down to fetch more scales to put in her own pot.

"We're both already members of the Slug club... why bother with this extraordinarily complex potion?"

"Because I want to get it right and want a high mark, of course," replied Andie. "Besides, you would. Slug club or not."

"Fair point," Bellatrix crossed her arms. "You do realize that Slughorn has only invited us to join because of our family's wealth and influence, right?"

"That's not true," said Andie, moving a bit closer to the forest's edge. "Lestrange wasn't invited and his family is pretty influential. You have to have actual talent too or you won't get in."

"Doesn't mean we're not getting exploited," said Bellatrix as she looked over the lake for a moment. However, the plucky young witch was startled to hear a yelp coming from behind her. Bellatrix spun around, wand in hand, but could only giggle once she saw what had happened.

"How'd you manage that?!" Bellatrix exclaimed when she saw her little sister trapped within a copse of Devil's Snare near the edge of the forest. She had only lost sight of her for half a minute and then this. Thankfully, Andie wasn't in any danger since this plant appeared to be a small and young specimen. She was however, completely and utterly stuck with vines binding her arms, wrists and legs.

"Never mind how I managed this!" Andie hissed. "Get me out of here!"

Bellatrix snorted and raised her wand to free her younger sister, but suddenly changed her mind and gave her a mischievous look. "What will you give me for freeing you?"

"What?!" Andie narrowed her eyes. "I'm your sister, for Merlin's sake!"

"We're both Slytherins, you know how this works," Bellatrix grinned while putting her finger to her lips. "That box of chocolates. The white ones with the creamy filling? I want those."

"No!" Andie pouted. "Those are custom-made Belgians! I waited three weeks for those to be delivered!"

"Well, if you don't want to be free..." Bellatrix grinned, shrugging a little. "I'm Hagrid will come along in an hour or so. Maybe two. Quite nippy out here, wouldn't you say?"

Andie bristled. "Oh, you are such a rotter, Bella! Fine! The chocolates are yours, just get me out of here."

"Deal," Bellatrix said, raising her wand again. Unfortunately, during her negotiations, she had failed to notice the vines creeping towards her along the ground. With a yelp, she found herself hoisted up into the air, dropping her wand in the process. Scant seconds later, Bellatrix found herself just as trapped as Andie was. She looked up to see the smirking face of her younger sister, causing her to bristle.

"Don't look so pleased with yourself!" Bellatrix hissed while Andie laughed. The two sisters hung side by side and both knew better than to struggle. The entire forest was silent, except for the rippling water hitting the shore, the nearby birds and both sisters' calm breathing.

"How long do you think we'll be stuck here?" asked Bellatrix.

"Hagrid knows where we went," said Andie. "Might be a couple of hours before we're missed. He'll come to free us eventually, just like you said."

"Great, just great," sighed Bellatrix.

Andie turned her head towards Bellatrix smiling a bit.

"What?" Bellatrix demanded.

"There's something different about you," said Andie.

"Oh?"

"Ever since father announced your engagement, you were never quite a same," said Andie. "Always angry, withdrawn, or sad. It's like the fire you had within you died out."

Bellatrix felt her nostrils flare. "You try being engaged to a bastard like Lestrange and see how you like it! Merlin above, I'm expected to bed him!" she muttered, feeling the familiar tears stinging.

"I know that," Andie spoke softly. "And I know that will be my fate some day if... if I don't choose otherwise."

"We don't get to choose, Andie," Bellatrix chuckled wryly. "We pure-blood paragons don't get to choose and the mudbloods do. They don't know how lucky they are."

Andie pursed her lips. "Bella, you know what I mean. Something's changed. I'm seeing so much of how you used to be again. The fire within you has come back. Bella, are you planning something? What happened?"

Bellatrix closed her eyes and smiled. "Andie? Will you promise not to tell anyone?"

"You know I won't," said Andie. And Bellatrix believed her: she had always maintained that her little sister had been too honest to be a proper Slytherin. She believed she could tell her at least something.

"I met a girl," Bellatrix whispered, almost regretting it.

Andie gave her a sly grin. "Oh. I see."

"Not like that!" Bellatrix retorted quickly. "She's... a friend. Just a friend. An actual honest-to-goodness friend! Not a toady or a social climber or a Slughorn. Just... someone who wants to get to know me for me. We've been chatting for hours."

Andie raised an eyebrow. "Is it someone I know? I would have noticed you chatting for hours with someone at school."

"No, she doesn't go to Hogwarts," Bellatrix shook her head, deliberately omitting the word 'yet'. She decided not to say anything about the Fae Mirror or the fantastical fact that Hermione was yet to be born. Of course, that she was muggle-born would complicate matters further. "I sneak out of the castle to meet with her. I... she understands me. I can talk to her and she to me. I... I always look forward to seeing her."

"Bella?" Andie looked at her, head cocked sideways. "Are you planning something?"

"Am I planning to elope, you wonder?" Bellatrix muttered. "Or escape? If that would be possible... perhaps. But it's not. As it stands, I just want to have one last adventure before..."

"Lestrange," Andie nodded. "I won't blame you if you'd run away, Bella. And I would never turn my back on you, whatever happens. You'll always be my sister. Hell, I'd even help you."

Bellatrix went quiet for a moment. She knew her sister to be sincere, yet she dared not tell her more.

"You could do it, you know?" Andie smiled. "Escape, I mean. Carve your own path. All it takes is a good plan, some preparation. You're a talented witch and you'd have no trouble finding good paying work. And you'd be able to be true to your own self. Sure, mother and father would both get a heart attack, but you'd still have me and Cissy too, I'm sure of it. They won't exile all three of us."

Bellatrix gave her a piercing stare, mulling all of this over, letting it sink in. She had always been taught to put her own wants and needs aside in favour for pure-blood ideals and expectations. But it was a lesson which she had never quite learned as well as her parents had hoped she would.

"I told you," Bellatrix turned away to look over the lake. "Hermione is just a friend."

Andie never stopped smiling as she shook her head briefly. "No," Andie replied softly. "She's not."

Bellatrix snapped her head back to Andie, giving her a glare. Andie, however, was not so easily intimidated. "Bellatrix Black going to a muggle-studies class? And signing up for the next course?"

"What?" Bellatrix shrugged, instantly regretting that when the Devil's Snare pulled tighter around her waist. "I'm just broadening my horizons."

"With muggle-studies?!" Andie raised an eyebrow. "There hasn't been a Black in muggle-studies since... well, ever. And to sign up for a whole course..."

Bellatrix made a face. "I'm simply curious. It is not as if I will suddenly become a muggle-lover. If anything, it'll give me more ways to mock them," Bellatrix replied.

"Lie to yourself all you want, but I know this has to do with that girl you mentioned," Andie winked. "Look, I won't say a thing, but know that people are talking."

Bellatrix scoffed. "People talk about us all the time. We're the infamous Black sisters."

"It's not that," replied Andie. "Bella, when you went to that muggle-studies class, that turned a lot of heads. It's all over the school and there's whispering going on at Slytherin House. Apparently, it's really worried Lestrange too."

"Hah, good!" Bellatrix giggled. "Maybe he'll call off the wedding. If only. I bet he's still upset about me not being impressed by his precious 'Dark Lord' and me embarrassing him at that rally by calling out that naff charlatan for what he is. Honestly, he expected me to 'beg him to be his wife' and did you know that he cornered me in the corridor this morning to yell at me? Yeah, grabbed me by the shoulders and everything. Well, that was one way to get himself hexed."

"Just be careful, hm?" Andie said, face etched with concern. "He's the type of person who will seek revenge."

"Lestrange? He's a talentless coward who wouldn't even dare think about harming me. Let's just say that I won't lose any sleep over it," Bellatrix scoffed again. "Oh, and Andie? I still want those chocolates."

"What?!"

"I still want those chocolates!"

"Uhm, I'm thinking no," replied Andie. "Those chocolates were promised in exchange for a service rendered. The service was never rendered, as is evidenced by the fact I'm still stuck in the Devil's Snare, so you get no chocolates!"

Bellatrix pouted slightly. "So you're not even going to share a few with your big sister?"

"You were going to take the whole lot!"

"I would have shared with you!"

"Liar!"

"Bitch!"

"Extortionist!"

"Greedy goblin!"

"Trollface!"

"Gorgon-hair!"

"Hufflepuff!"

"Oh, that's just mean!"

Andie sighed. "Tell you what," said her sister. "When we get out of here, we'll get fetch Cissy and the three of us will have a good old-fashioned chocolate binge."

"Yesssss," Bellatrix grinned, but her expression quickly turned serious. "Just, don't tell Cissy about Hermione, okay? She never keeps her mouth shut."

Andie nodded in understanding and together they chatted a bit while watching the sunset, waiting for Hagrid to arrive to rescue them from the devil's snare. It did give Bellatrix some time to reflect. Muggle-studies? Madness, certainly, but equally intriguing. Plus, it would give her the opportunity to impress Hermione with some muggle knowledge. Cissy was another subject of conversation, especially after the two of them sat her down for a serious chat about 'Dark Lord Charlatan'. That insipid boyfriend of hers certainly wasn't helping matters, but between the two of them they seemed to have talked some sense into her.

Honestly, Bellatrix didn't really get why Hermione seemed to be so wary about this dork lord, though she supposed he must have some sort of sway considering he managed to wrap so many people around his finger. Best not to think about it.


Regardless of the embarrassment of needing to be rescued by Hagrid in itself, it unfortunately for Bellatrix and Andromeda took him much longer to come and find them than either girl would have liked. Cold as a stone and stiff as a board from hanging around in the freezing cold for so long, Bellatrix found herself sat in McGonagall's office wrapped in a blanket and holding a steaming cup of hot cocoa while Andie had sought the comfort of her warm bed at the dorm. Bellatrix would have joined her there if not for this summons, but the curly-haired witch too the opportunity to shift slightly to sit a bit closer to the roaring fireplace.

"Well," started McGonagall. "You and your sister have managed to get yourselves into quite a predicament, it seems."

With clattering teeth, Bellatrix took a sip from her hot drink before looking McGonagall in the eye. "You have a talent for stating the obvious, professor," she replied, not even bothering to keep the sarcastic edge from her tone.

"I meant no harm," McGonagall said, in a rare admission of what could be conceived as fault. "I would like to take the opportunity to speak with you. The scuttlebutt around the school is that you have signed up for a muggle-studies course. I was indeed surprised to see your name on the roster."

Bellatrix rolled her eyes, almost instinctively. "You too?" asked Bellatrix. "Why is the fact that I'm taking a muggle-studies course world news all of a sudden? Can't a girl broaden her horizons in peace?"

"It simply surprises because it doesn't fit earlier patterns of behaviour," said McGonagall. "In the past you've been quite vocal about your disdain for muggles and muggle-borns."

"I've said a lot of things," said Bellatrix. "Look, if you have any complaints about my academic performance…."

"None whatsoever," McGonagall interrupted. "Your academic performance has always been exemplary and far surpasses that of every single student currently attending Hogwarts, even your own sisters. You are, by all regards, the brightest witch of your age."

Bellatrix fell silent for a moment, letting the words sink in. Praise from McGonagall was rare, especially high praise such as this. A brief smile crossed her features, as well as a nod in thanks. She honestly wasn't quite sure what to say: it wasn't as if she didn't put any special effort into her schoolwork. She just… did her thing as it came to her. "Not bright enough not to get caught by Devil's Snare," said Bellatrix.

"An unfortunate and perhaps sobering incident, miss Black, which can happen to the best of us," said McGonagall. "But what I wanted to discuss was not your academic achievements, but your recent behaviour."

Great. Detention again, it seemed. Bellatrix sighed and pursed her lips. "What have I done now?" she almost groaned.

"It's not what you have done. It's what you have not done. More precisely you haven't been a troublemaker for the last few months," said McGonagall. "You might have noticed me giving you tough assignments, both for your sake to keep your devious mind occupied and for the sake of your fellow students around you. But for the past few months there has been no need for me to do so. At first I considered that your focus on your stories was the cause, but that can't be the entire reason."

Bellatrix said nothing. Of course she wouldn't tell McGonagall about Hermione: their friendship, their relationship was a secret. Something which only belonged to the two of them. Though she had slipped a little to Andromeda, she had spilled none of the finer details and would never do so. And thus, she remained silent.

"Your apparent change of heart has not gone unnoticed," said McGonagall. "I understand mister Lestrange accosted you in the hallway this morning, the reason for it was you taking a muggle-studies course."

"He was pathetic," chuckled Bellatrix. "And I hexed him. I admit it. Give me all the detention in the world, professor, but I refuse to apologize to him."

"Though I do not condone the act of hexing a fellow student, I shall give you no detention," said McGonagall. "I understand the words he spoke to you were quite cruel."

Cruel. Cruel? Unbelievable. Some baseless, stupid insults about her becoming a muggle-lover for not liking his 'Dark Lord' was something McGonagall considered cruel? Rage came bubbling to the surface almost instantly.

"You know what is cruel?!" Bellatrix shot up from her seat, slamming her mug on the desk miraculously without breaking it. "Cruel is having the course of your life set in stone by being forced into a loveless marriage, getting to terms with that and then meeting someone you truly care for! Cruel is knowing there is nothing you can do to change the path you are on no matter how much you want to! Cruel is that you and the person you care for are literally years apart! Don't talk to me about cruelty!"

Bellatrix breathed hard, rage in her eyes and staring the unflappable professor down. But as quickly as it came, it went. Bellatrix sank her to her chair and wrapped the blanket around her again.

Another voice sounded in the room, coming from behind a curtain separating McGonagall's office space from a small private library. The distinct voice of Albus Dumbledore. "Good evening, Bellatrix," the old wizard greeted as he emerged from behind the curtain.

"Head Master?" Bellatrix responded, offering a questioning look at McGonagall.

"I'm afraid we haven't been entirely honest with you," spoke the old Head Master. "Please forgive the deception, but we need to be cautious in this regard. I'm certain you will see why."

Bellatrix gave the both of them a curious look as the Head Master took a seat. A glance at McGonagall showed that the professor was clearly ill at ease.

"It has come to my attention that a large number of students from House Slytherin have recently visited a rally of a... clandestine nature. It has been said that you and your sisters were among these students," Dumbledore spoke calmly.

Bellatrix thought for a moment. Her first instinct was to deny it, but after a second thought this seemed pointless. Dumbledore obviously got his information from somewhere, after all. "I was there," said Bellatrix. "And it was a complete farce."

"I see," replied Dumbledore after sharing a look with McGonagall. "Thank you for your honesty. The man in charge of this rally, I believe him to be a quite dangerous individual."

"You are worried about a charlatan with a circus tent?" asked Bellatrix.

Another look was shared. "Could you describe your experience? Start at the beginning," said the old man, now taking a chair at the desk and tenting his hands.

Bellatrix nodded. "When my sisters and I arrived the rally had already started, so we missed the introduction. We were funnelled through a corridor and were overwhelmed with the flow of magic. Undoubtedly it was meant to impress those entering the tent. But after a bit of an investigation, I detected a cantrip which altered the flow of magic in the air to make it seem as if we were walking towards a great source of power. It was subtle, but it was definitely there."

"What about the people at the rally? How many were there? Did you recognize many attendees?" Dumbledore asked.

"There were about forty people, us included," said Bellatrix, putting a finger to her lips as she tried to recall details. "About half of them were from Hogwarts, mostly seventh or sixth years. All pure-blood. Majority of them were Slytherins, but there were some Ravenclaws there too. I'm guessing you already have a list of names."

Dumbledore gave a brief nod and prompted her to continue.

"There were others there as well. Older people. Most I didn't recognize, though Misters Borgin and Burke were there," shrugged Bellatrix.

"What can you tell me about the man himself?" said Dumbledore. "What was your impression of him?"

Bellatrix thought a moment. "He tried to appear larger than life and was charming, I'll give him that. But there was something off about him. He looked a bit sickly, especially around the eyes. Knew how to work a crowd, though. Talked a lot about the old days, about pure-blood and wizarding power. Fed me a line how I could be the future of the wizarding world if only I were to follow him. How muggle-borns were stealing magic from real wizards. I asked him for proof of this and he tried to shame me in front of the others. I asked for proof again and he just moved on."

Dumbledore and McGonagall shared another look. Bellatrix couldn't help but notice that they were doing that a lot... and that McGonagall was increasingly uncomfortable.

"It speaks of your character and intelligence that you have seen through this man's tricks," said Dumbledore. "Many do not."

Yes, she had seen through this 'Dark Lord'. That Rodolphus hung from his every word like a particularly foolish lemming did not speak wonders of his intelligence.

"So did Andie," replied Bellatrix. "Cissy was a bit too enamoured by him for our tastes, but we'll talk to her some more to make sure she's changed her mind. I can tell you one thing, though: Rodolphus was not happy that we left early and he really doesn't like the fact that I wasn't impressed by his 'Dark Lord'. He proclaimed to 'forbid his future wife' from coming near anything muggle or mudblood. Well, he's welcome to try."

The old wizard got up from his seat and paced the room a little. "Bellatrix," he started. "What I am about to say must remain between the three of us. Share it with no one, not even your sisters. You must promise me this, for I know how close the bond between the three of you is."

Bellatrix gave him a brief nod, curious as she was, she would at least hear him out.

"The man you have met is a former student of ours, one Tom Marvolo Riddle," said Dumbledore. "I believe him to be one of the greatest threats to our world."

"Again, a charlatan with a circus tent?" Bellatrix raised an eyebrow.

"Do not underestimate him," said Dumbledore. "I would ask something of you which will involve a great deal of risk. I would ask you to go back to the rally when it is held next. I would ask you to pretend to have had a change of heart. Your family name alone should be convincing enough. I would ask you to gather information. On the rally. On the attendees. On Riddle himself. I would ask you to be our source on the inside."

Intrigued, Bellatrix shifted forward on her seat in such a way that she almost fell off the edge. "You... want me to be a spy?"

"If you desire to call it that," Dumbledore smiled, a twinkle in his eye. "But don't take any unnecessary risks. Simply observe and report back."

"Albus..." McGonagall muttered briefly. "This is not what we discussed..."

"This is a chance we cannot let slip, Minerva," Dumbledore pressed, a slight amount of force in his voice. McGonagall, for her part, seemed less than pleased and brimmed with... was it worry? Worry for her?

Still, this would be, dare she say it, an adventure! Some excitement! Being a spy sounded quite intriguing and fun. And all she had to do was to keep tab of comings and goings. People who fell in with that charlatan deserved whatever they got: she didn't consider it any form of betrayal.

"Why don't you take some time think about it," said Dumbledore. "We will not think less of you if you decline. There will be risk involved, I won't lie. Keep in mind that you will be performing a service to the greater good in the long run. But there will be benefits for your own sake as well. It is our belief that Rodolphus Lestrange is already deeply involved with Riddle's activities and he will not be able to claim you as his bride if he resides in Azkaban."

"Albus!" McGonagall hissed.

Now that got her full attention. Regardless of McGonagall's protestations, Dumbledore had given her an opportunity which was worth risking anything for: a way out of this loveless marriage looming over her head. Elated didn't even begin to describe her: Dumbledore was right. Her father was sure to pressure her uncle Orion into cancelling their marriage if Lestrange was revealed to be involved in illegal activities and got himself sentenced to Azkaban.

"Remember," said Dumbledore. "Discuss this with no one."

She would discuss this with Hermione tonight, Bellatrix smiled to herself. Certainly her friend would be happy for her now that she had been given this opportunity.

"We will speak again, miss Black," McGonagall said as Bellatrix gathered her blanket and got up from her seat. "Albus, a word in private..." she heard McGonagall speak before she left. Though it was subtle, it was obvious that the professor was absolutely seething. Still, she cared not: a chance to escape from her own wedding was something worth taking a few risks for.

She was certain that Hermione would agree.


When Bellatrix rather animatedly and enthusiastically told Hermione what had happened that afternoon, she had expected her friend to be happy for her. Excited even. Not only would this be an adventure, but an honest-to-goodness chance to escape her impending marriage with her pride intact.

What she absolutely did not expect was for Hermione to grow increasingly pale while listening to her and to see the wild panic... actual panic... in her eyes.

"Hermione?" Bellatrix asked. "What's wrong?"

"Trix, don't go back," Hermione replied, her voice cracking. "He's dangerous. You have no idea just how dangerous."

"But..." Bellatrix swallowed. "All I have to do is simply pay some lip-service, keep my eyes open and report back to Dumbledore. That doesn't sound very dangerous."

Hermione cocked her head sideways, expression brimming with concern. "Trix, the very fact that Dumbledore is involved should be enough of a clue."

"Why?!" Bellatrix demanded. "He's a charlatan with a circus tent! Why is everyone so concerned about him? You told me yourself he's nothing more than a naff cult leader!"

It was then that Hermione went really quiet, averting her eyes and... not looking at her. That made Bellatrix swallow hard: she had never seen her friend act like this. Then it hit her: while they had plenty of conversation normal teen witches would have with either other, it was easy to forget that Hermione was thirty years ahead of her. Bellatrix wasn't insipid: this could only mean one thing.

"Hermie?" asked Bellatrix. "You know something, don't you?"

The little tremor that went through Hermione before she caught herself told the whole story. "No," Bellatrix raised her hand. "Don't tell me, like we discussed."

"I want to," said Hermione, close to tears now. "Believe me, I want to. But I don't know what that will change. And if that change will be good or bad."

She could tell now that Hermione was very upset and frightened... for her, she realized. Flattering, certainly. "Hermie," Bellatrix started, her voice a bit quieter. "I'll be careful. I won't take any risks. But I can't miss this chance. If Lestrange is involved in illegal activities and is caught, that would reason enough for my father to force uncle Orion to cancel our marriage contract. And that alone makes it worth trying. I promise I'll be careful."

Hermione nodded, still upset but somewhat calmer. "Remember," said Hermione. "I'll be here for you every step of the way. I'll help you the best I can."

"Nothing to worry about yet," smiled Bellatrix, giving her friend a sly wink. "This 'Dark Lord' holds rallies only once a month and the last rally was only a few days ago. It'll be a few weeks before the next one is held, so I'll have plenty of time to prepare. You can breathe easily for now."

Hemione bit her lip again. "Trix, I really can't," replied her friend, causing Bellatrix to frown.

They chatted a bit more and the moon continued its journey across the heavens. Thankfully, the other topics were less heavy and involved school, family life and the vagaries of muggle music of past and future, of all things. And as the magic from the pool started to fade, Bellatrix saw Hermione's face morph into her own.

Standing in the dark, Bellatrix was simply left wondering: just why the hell did everyone seem to be so afraid of someone calling himself Lord Voldemort?

Seriously. Lord Voldemort? What kind of a danger could a clown calling himself Lord Voldemort even be?

Chapter Text

The next day after her conversation with Trix about her going to spy on Voldemort in an effort to earn herself her freedom from her impending marriage, Hermione was in quite a state. She hadn't slept, she couldn't eat nor could she find escape in her academic pursuits for a sheer lack of concentration.

Hermione was quite literally sick with worry for her friend. Right now, back in 1968, Bellatrix was putting herself at great risk.

Or would be.

Or had been.

Or could have been.

Hermione groaned as she sat behind her desk, staring at the empty parchment which was to contain a report on the growth cycle of the common glowcap, a report she simply couldn't muster the will to start on. She tossed the quill to one side with an angry grunt: aside from being sick with worry, thinking too hard upon the vagaries of temporal mechanics was giving her a headache.

It didn't take long, however, for worry to make way for anger. No, not anger. Unbridled rage! Aimed at Dumbledore. Dammit, she had Trix convinced to stay away from Voldemort! She was safe! And then that sanctimonious old goat Dumbledore just had to reel her right back in for the sake of that self-righteous concept of the 'greater good'. And he had known just the right thing to entice Bellatrix to risk her life and future for. For all she knew, it was him whom had caused Trix' downfall by sending her on the path to self-destruction.

Hermione leaned back in her chair, letting her head hang back for a moment: maybe the conspiracy theorists had been right all along. Maybe Dumbledore was simply using his old tricks for a different goal, but has always remained the same power-hungry manipulator he had always been and used people to further his own goals.

The young witch let out a sigh as she regarded the quill on the ground: maybe she was more angry with herself than anything. Hermione felt completely and utterly helpless: when she'd been with the boys, she could usually convince her friends to see things her way... and if not, there'd always been a big book to beat them over the head with until they complied.

That didn't work so well with Bellatrix. Not only could she only speak with her one hour in the day, but unlike the boys, Hermione wasn't smarter than her. In fact, Hermione had to admit that in some ways, Bellatrix was actually smarter than she was. Convincing Bellatrix to see things her way would be like herding a cat.

'Think, Hermione! Think!', Hermione forced herself. Maybe there was some sort of option here. Yes, 1968 already happened, correct? Perhaps looking a bit more into Bellatrix's personal history from around that time might help give some insight. Could it? Wasn't she changing things? Would anything still apply?

Argh, temporal mechanics again.

And then there were… the feelings. Feelings she could barely make sense of. How she ached for Trix every single day, an ache that could only be relieved when talking to her in the depths of night. Now the mere mention of her name made her heart skip a beat. How she'd like to pretend that her life-sized tiger plushie was actually Trix, the paws her arms holding her. Then… the more… physical… fantasies… Shameful fantasies. Thoughts of kisses, caresses and deep desires.

There was a knock on the door and being disturbed out of her concentration annoyed her to no end. Before she could stop herself, she aired her frustration by shouting out a vitriolic "FUCK OFF!".

The door opened and Hermione was startled for a moment when the door swung open and in the doorway stood McGonagall with one eyebrow raised.

"P-professor," Hermione muttered, her anger subsiding quickly.

"No need to apologize, miss Granger," said the professor as she strode inside, closing the door behind her. "Your frustration today is quite clear. In fact, Professor Flitwick asked me to speak with you: he's been getting quite concerned. And then there is the matter of a letter from your father."

"My father?" said Hermione. "He sent a letter?"

"A rather... strongly-worded letter," McGonagall pursed her lips. "Your father is angry at us for not taking better care of you. For not helping you with your current troubles. And for exposing you to a war at a tender young age. Try as I might, I cannot find fault with his arguments."

Hermione nodded. She quite understood: her dad felt helpless too. His daughter was hurting and there was nothing he could do. Even if it was just by writing a letter, it was a way for him to give a voice to these feelings of helplessness. Perhaps she should do the same... perhaps she should just tell Trix how she felt. Perhaps...

Hermione's silence was an invitation for McGonagall to continue. "Truth is, we have failed you. We haven't been giving you the help you need. Frankly, we don't know how. Mental care is something muggles have, but we don't. Merlin knows, with all the mad wizards and witches in our world, it is something we should consider. Perhaps you should take some time off and spend it with your family. Take as much time as you need. School will be here when you return."

The young witch let out a gasp. Though the offer was kind enough, she couldn't be away from the school. Not now. If she couldn't talk to Trix, she wouldn't be able to prevent her from causing her own downfall. This couldn't help. "No!" Hermione yelped. "I cannot leave. Not right now. I have to keep near Hogwarts."

"Why?" asked McGonagall.

"I..." Hermione fell silent for a moment and looked away. "I..."

"Miss Granger," said McGonagall. "I'm seeing some disturbing parallels with another young witch who used to walk these halls. Like you, she wouldn't eat or sleep, slowly withdrew into herself and tried to toss herself on her schoolwork to keep herself distracted. She went from a clever, vibrant young woman to a withdrawn and unstable recluse. It is one particular history I would not see itself repeat."

Hermione sighed. "You're talking about Bellatrix Black, aren't you?"

A slight nod was all she needed to see. This made Hermione bristle with anger. "Where were you and Dumbledore then when Bellatrix needed you, hm? And was her becoming a withdrawn and unstable recluse before or after you sent her to spy on Voldemort?!"

To say that McGonagall was startled was an understatement. "How did you know...?" she blinked, but soon resigned herself. "I suppose it doesn't matter. Yes, you are correct. We threw miss Black to the wolves even though we knew the risks. At first, she gave us some valuable information, but nothing which we couldn't have found out through other sources. At some point, she started buying into the rhetoric and turned down a much darker path. Something happened. We're not sure what or when. You're quite right, miss Granger. I should have done more. I should have protested Albus' plan. But I did not. And through our actions, we sacrificed a promising young woman and practically handed her to You-Know-Who, who turned her anger and power into a weapon for his cause. Miss Granger, if I could turn back the clock, I would. But the past is the past."

The past is the past?

Not if Hermione could help it.

"I'm sorry, professor," said Hermione, only half lying.

"I might not have been able to help miss Black," said McGonagall. "But I do want to help you. As of today, you are suspended from all classwork until I deem you fit to return."

Hermione blinked, letting those words run through her mind until she realized just what her professor was saying. "Are you expelling me?!" she yelled out in a panic.

"No," said McGonagall. "I am forcing you to deal with your issues and that will never happen as long as you have your classwork to distract yourself with. You have two days to make arrangements to find a living space. After that, you will be barred from school grounds until I say otherwise."

"I..." Hermione blinked.

"That is final," said McGonagall. "Deal with your issues any way you see fit. Stay with your family. Rest in Hogsmeade. Enjoy a vacation. The choice is yours. But I am taking away your opportunity to stick your head in the sand. We will, however, give you a stipend for the time being to cover your expenses."

A flabbergasted Hermione was left behind her desk while McGonagall gave her a nod before leaving the room.


"So it finally happened. Your worst fear has come true!"

"It's not funny, Ron!"

Sat in the common room of the Three Broomsticks, it was still a bit on the quiet side at 1 pm. Hermione's plans to continue classes and focus on her homework were effectively cancelled indefinitely. Still, Hermione wouldn't be Hermione if she couldn't adjust quickly and get on her feet.

She had gathered all her clothes, the life-sized tiger, a plethora of books and notes as well as all the gear she would need, tossed it all into a bottom-less bag and booked a room at the Three Broomsticks. McGonagall might bar her from Hogwarts, but she couldn't bar her from Hogsmeade. And Hogsmeade was, actually, closer to the Forbidden Forest. For now, it would be a good place to stay.

Ron came back to visit and was promptly directed towards the Three Broomsticks, where the two friends were now enjoying a meal and a pint of ale.

"I don't know what you're complaining about, Hermione," chuckled Ron. "Free from schoolwork and getting paid for doing absolutely bugger all? Sounds like slice of fried gold to me."

"It's just the circumstance of it all," Hermione muttered. "This is exactly what I don't need right now."

"Really?" said Ron. "Hermione, you're not the same as you used to be."

"Part of growing up, Ron. You should try it," Hermione bit back and quickly let out a sigh. "Sorry, I didn't mean..."

"It's alright," Ron chuckled, but his face quickly fell. "We're all dealing with the aftermath of the war in our own way. Still, I'd rather see you happy and smiling again... even if you'd just want to beat me over the head with a book."

"I'm quite aware I haven't been myself lately," Hermione muttered.

"No kidding," said Ron. "I hoped inviting you over at the Burrow would pull you out of your shell a little, but you hardly talked to anyone. I would have, but..."

"Pansy," Hermione chuckled. "She seems a bit... high-maintenance."

"Noticed that, huh?" Ron gave her a goofy grin. "Yeah, yeah, I know what you're going to say. It's just that... she was doing some things for the auror office, we got to talking about a case. Then we got to talking about other things. Then we went to have lunch together. It sort of escalated from there."

"Considering your family's opinion on Slytherin..."

"... and yours on Pansy," Ron added, to which Hermione let out a snort.

"Anyway," said Ron. "Not sure where this is going to go, but so far we've been enjoying ourselves. She actually gets along quite well with my parents and likes staying at the Burrow. I don't think her parents ever paid much attention to her, to be honest."

Hermione was about to say something, but quickly swallowed her words. Bellatrix turned out to have hidden depths and was not the same in 1968 as the woman whom had tortured her. If she could see her tormentor whom had scarred her for life in a different light, why couldn't she do the same for the girl who only made nasty comments at her in the hallways? Granted, it was seven years worth of nasty comments, but still…

"Seriously, I do hope it works out," smiled Hermione. She did want her friend to be happy. And if he could find happiness with Pansy, who was she to stand in his way?

"Oh, before I forget the whole reason I stopped by," said Ron as he made a grab for his bag. "Your book finally came in."

Ron produced a rather ancient and heavy tome, leather-bound and dusty, it looked as if it hadn't been moved from the shelf in decades. Embossed into the leather in gilded lettering was the title: 'Verlorene magische Geschichten aus dem Schwartzwald'. Hermione loved old books like this: the musty smell, the artful leather binding and how the edge of the pages were seemingly gilded as well.

"Not sure what you're going to do with it now that you can't enter Hogwarts anymore," shrugged Ron. "There's no return date, so you can keep it as long as you like."

"Oh, you have no idea how you've helped me, Ron," said Hermione while running her hand over the leather-binding slowly and lovingly.

Ron snorted for a moment. "Do you two need a moment alone up in your room?"

Hermione made a face and, reluctantly, continued on having her meal and chatted with Ron. After having another cup of coffee, Hermione said her goodbye to Ron and the moment he was out the door, she grabbed the book at ran upstairs to her room.

Her home for the time being was a surprisingly spacey room above the common room of the inn with a single large double window by the side of a two-person bed. A small, but perfectly functional private bathroom had a nice shower and opposite to the bed was an armoire. The room, thankfully, came with a rather comfortable chair and writing desk, one where which she had placed the books she had brought. The life-sized tiger found a home on the bed. As did the clock Bellatrix had gifted her, which looked just fine on the nightstand.

This forced vacation was a bit of a blessing in disguise: Hermione didn't read German and would need to translate the text in the book with the help of a German dictionary. That would take time... and now that her hands had been freed, she had all the time of the world to actually work on her translation.

And if she needed a book from the Hogwarts library? Well, she had a way to sneak out of the castle undetected and that would work perfectly well the other way around. For now, she was fine.

After scanning the index, she found the story of the Fae Mirror. Or rather, Feen-Spiegel, as it was named in this book. The moment she reached the page, she found something odd. On the page, between the chapter title and the start of the text was what seemed to be a familiar looking ink sketch. Immediately, Hermione reached over to her satchel and unrolled the painting which Bellatrix had gifted her. Holding it next to the sketch, she found to be almost the same: a unicorn looking into a Fae Mirror and its dark reflection looking back at it. Furthermore, she checked other chapters and found no such ink sketch anywhere else in the book. She could only come to the conclusion that someone had drawn it in the book. Perhaps a young Achille Rosier had been idly doodling into this very book before committing it to canvas? She could only hazard a guess.

Almost instinctively, she touched the drawing. And immediately withdrew her hand as it if was burned. The lines in the ink shifted beneath her fingers, almost artistically forming into lines which in turn formed into letters. 'Hello miss Granger. Please meet me at this address at your earliest convenience. Yours truly, A. Rosier. 31st of January 1982.'

Bellatrix's uncle? And that date... that would be a few months after Voldemort's fall. And scant a few days after Bellatrix' trial and sentencing.

She quickly grabbed a quill and wrote down the address before the sketch returned to its original shape. Though she had set out to translate the original tale, this had taken an unexpected turn so far. She turned her head to the clock on the nightstand, and made a swift decision.


For a moment, Hermione wasn't sure she had gotten the address right. She'd gotten to Manchester by train just fine after apparating to Glasgow and arrived around 4 pm. Following the map to the address had led her towards some of the older districts of Manchester, where old factories and warehouses from the Industrial Revolution stood. Most of these old buildings, once the places where most of the cotton processing in the UK had been done, had been converted to living areas or upscale coffee shops. This single building looked as if it had stepped right out of the 19th century, waiting for scores of the working class to arrive to work their 12-14 hour back-breaking shifts.

It was a two-story building made from stones with a sandy colour and when she looked up, she was expecting plumes of smoke to emerge from the two chimneys. Its windows were large, wide and high. Fitting as a cotton mill needed plenty of light. She approached the large wooden double doors and banged the knocker. It remained silent for a long time.

Part of her worried that she had made the long trip for nothing. Achille Rosier, while a very famous and prolific artist, was a notorious recluse. I wouldn't surprise her at all if he would refuse to see her. Her fears were for nought, however as the sound of a heavy bolt moving behind the door. The door swung open but no one appeared. Hermione carefully approached the door and stepped through the portal. The door closed behind her and she found herself standing in an entrance hall. A small office was at the end of the hall, next to a few trolleys of packaged up paintings which were undoubtedly ready to be sent to those who had commissioned them. The occupant of the office was a small female goblin, immaculately dressed and currently writing in a ledger.

"Welcome," spoke the goblin with a high pitched voice. "Mister Rosier has been expecting you for quite some time. Please, step through the door."

Hermione gave the goblin a nod and pressed forward. The moment she stepped through the door, she found herself in what once was the cotton mill hall where the factory's machines had stood. It was now, however, filled to the brim with paintings. Beautiful paintings. Some were put on trolleys, others were prominently displayed. Aside from the windows, every bit of wall was covered by a painting. Multiple racks had been placed in the middle of the hall to display more paintings, making make-shift corridors in this large room. The entire factory was Rosier's atelier.

She was startled when she came face to face with a rather prominently displayed painting... of her. For a moment it startled her: Hermione stood clad in a school uniform, among the trees of a forest. The painting itself was quite large, some two meters high and one meter wide and framed in oak. What surprised her the most was the year next to the signature: this painting had been made in 1969, ten years before she'd been born.

"Hm," a French accented voice sounded near her. "Long brown 'air, cascading down 'er back. Deep brown eyes, expressive eyebrows. Creamy white skin, somewhat less pale than my niece 'erself. Fiercely intelligent, but somewhat unsure of 'erself. Slender, slightly taller than my niece. Likes to wear a school uniform even when she doesn't 'ave to. 'As this oddly bossy quality to 'er voice. Bellatrix gave a good description, though it was rather impossible to give the quality of your voice a proper impression in the painting."

The man who presented himself was thin and pale, indicitive of an indoor sedentary lifestyle. With graying hair, the man looked to be in his seventies, middle-aged for a wizard, bearing a white apron which was speckled with paint. The man quickly removed it and tossed it to his side, revealing comfortable muggle slacks and shirt. This was, undoubtedly, Achille Rosier, a celebrated and prolific artist in the wizarding world… but also a famously reclusive and private person who barely interacted with the public.

"Achille Rosier, I presume?" Hermione asked, extending her hand.

Achille Rosier took it and smiled warmly. "And you are Hermione Granger. Though I knew what you looked like long before I even learned your name. Bellatrix would not speak of it, but she did give me instructions for this painting. I made that for 'er, you know? She didn't want to forget you."

"I found your letter," said Hermione, getting right to the point. "Or rather, sketch. In the book."

Achille scraped his throat. "I knew you would and... ach, forgive my 'oarseness. I do not speak often."

"It's quite alright," said Hermione just as Achille pulled a white cloth from another painting. It was another painting of herself... with young Bellatrix. The two of them stood in the forest, Bellatrix laughing and Hermione smiling while the both of them held hands. It looked as if Bellatrix was trying to coax Hermione into dancing with her.

"That was one of 'er favourites too," Achille chuckled. "A fantasy, really. A dream. Before it all went to merde for 'er. Would you be kind enough to follow with me for a moment?"

"Of course," said Hermione. She couldn't help but feel intrigued. Apparently the Bellatrix of the past had shared some details of their impossible discussions through time and space with her uncle at some point. And her uncle had remained silent as the grave for almost thirty years. She followed Rosier out of another door leading into a small courtyard, surrounded on three sides by the building and one side looking out over the water. A green patch and a few trees adorned the courtyard, but the centrepiece was a marble column. A grave. Approaching, Hermione could see the writing on the column.

 

"Bellatrix Druella Black

1951-1998

Rest well, cherie. You deserved better."

 

Achille set down on a small bench next to the grave and patted the marble for a moment. "I found 'er, cherie," he spoke softly. "She's 'ere for you."

Hermione's heart skipped a beat when the full realisation hit her. "God, is that..."

"Yes."

"But I thought all Death Eaters whose bodies were unclaimed were buried in unmarked graves," said Hermione.

Achille nodded. "I still remember my nieces when they were young women. They had a bond which we all thought unbreakable. After all that 'appened, I cannot blame them for not stepping forward. I think… I think Andromeda would prefer to remember Bellatrix as the big sister she once was to 'er. And Narcissa, well, she 'as a family of 'er own to think of now."

"But Bellatrix still had family left," said Hermione. "You."

"Correct. I claimed 'er body," said Achille. "In the deepest of secret. I 'ad some favours left with some Ministry workers in the right places. I would not see my poor niece buried underneath some tree in the Forbidden Forest forgotten and unmourned. Bellatrix Lestrange... people know 'er as a killer, an insane dark witch, Voldemort's most loyal servant. But you knew 'er like I did..."

"A smart, but troubled girl," whispered Hermione. "Someone who loved her sisters, dreamed of going on adventures. Academically gifted and with an interest in the macabre. Someone who managed to figure out a muggle clock and willed a working one into being from a single block of wood in three hours."

Achille Rosier nodded solemnly, turning towards the headstone. "You see, cherie? She remembers. I told you she would."

"What happened?"

"Thing is about Fae Mirrors," Achille snorted. "They come into being randomly. And they cease existing just as randomly. That one remained as stable for as long as it did was a miracle in itself. My niece loved talking to you. She looked forward to every conversation. Until one night she came to the pool and... it just didn't appear. Nor did it ever afterwards."

Hermione took a few deep breaths. "And then?"

Achile remained silent for a moment, glancing first at the grave and then back at Hermione. She could see the hesitation etched on his features, as if he was debating with himself to share what he wanted to share. A few moments later, he finally made his decision. "Bellatrix loved you, you know?"

Hermione gasped, many different emotions dropping into her stomach like a brick. Trix… loved her? Equal measure of joy and dread fought for dominance within her being as Hermione turned her gaze towards the silent grave.

Achille continued. "She didn't realize it fully until you were yanked out of 'er world suddenly. Bellatrix fell into a deep depression. She lost 'er only friend a few months before 'er wedding," said Achille. "Wouldn't eat. Wouldn't sleep. Threw 'erself on distractions until it wouldn't 'elp anymore. Sadness became anger. She felt abandoned. Oh, in 'er mind she understood, but 'er 'eart... my niece was a creature of passion, miss Granger. She became angry with everything, with the world, with 'er fate and with you. That anger turned to 'atred and 'er feelings of betrayal became projected on all muggle-borns. That rat-face Rodolphus and that lord of them exploited that when she was at 'er most vulnerable and turned 'er into a weapon for their own devices. And 'er parents, those two mouchards, just stood by and let it 'appen!"

Hermione swallowed hard, her breath quickening. Achille was gritting his teeth, angry but not at her specifically. He grabbed a rock and hurled it into the water. "They sold my nieces! They sold Bellatrix and Narcissa to pure-blood lines for the sake of alliances! And when poor Andie did not go along with this, they exiled 'er! I tried to plead with my sister to come to 'er senses, but she agreed with her con of a 'usband! Even told me I was never to talk to 'er again… Cygnus tried to feed me some cock and bull story about meeting with Andie in secret only! So I told them both to eat a baguette and moved out the same day. All that rot about the importance of family. It's all bullshit!"

Hermione nodded. It was good to know that the Black family had at least one decent member. "What happened next?"

"I 'elped Andie get on 'er feet. She sometimes visits still," said Achille. "But by that time Bellatrix 'ad descended into madness. She no longer wished to associate with me. Blood-traitor, she called me. Voldemort 'ad completely brainwashed 'er, made 'er do terrible things. I once sought 'er out before the first war, I reminded 'er of you. She said nothing, but walked out the door with tears in 'er eyes and told me she would kill me if I'd mention you again. Then came Azkaban. Black manor stood empty now: Andie exiled, Narcissa gone, Bellatrix gone, Cygnus dead because of a potioneering accident and Druella... suicide by poison out of loneliness."

Bitterness and guilt was obvious on Achille's voice, especially when he mentioned his sister's name. A terrible thought came over her. "Mister Rosier? I... perhaps you've heard, but Bellatrix, she... she tortured me... I..."

"I know," replied Achille sadly. "I am sorry."

"Do you think she... she realized who I was when she... when..."

"I know for a fact she did, miss Granger," said Achille.

Hermione just couldn't take it anymore. Her body started to shake and her lip started to quiver. Tears burst from her eyes as she wept. Though she had only met the man a few moments ago, she allowed him to embrace her. "There there, miss Granger. It's not your fault. It was never your fault."

"Yes it is!" Hermione sobbed. "I thought I was helping her! I thought I could change things! I thought I could make things better! But I just made everything worse, didn't I? She... she's my friend and I... There has to be something I can do!"

Helpless. Hopeless. It all came crushing down upon her all at once. Time was a harsh mistress: it wasn't Dumbledore who was the reason for Bellatrix' fall. It was Hermione herself. She had given Bellatrix hope in a dark time, friendship and caring... and then when it had been ripped away, it had left Bellatrix is such a damaged state that it left her vulnerable to be exploited.

The horrible and crushing truth was that by trying to prevent Bellatrix' fate, Hermione had caused it.

"I tried to save her! Are you telling me she became the way she was because I tried so hard to save her?!" she fought back more tears. "Time is immutable. I should have known… I should have realized!"

"Time, she is a cruel mistress, non? I see you 'ave come to care a great deal for my niece," said Achille, offering her a hankerchief which Hermione took with gratitude. The young witch dried her tears as the man smiled at her. "There might be a way to break the cycle… by breaking the rules."

Her produced a satchel which was filled with books. "Everything I could find on Fae Mirrors. It took me years, but this should 'elp you. I am a 'umble painter, miss Granger, not a researcher like mon père or you. But I think you can make sense of this and not 'aving to track down these books should 'elp you save some time. Because make no mistake, miss Granger, if you still want to 'elp my niece, you are definitely 'on the clock' as they say."

"How long do I have?" asked Hermione.

"March 3rd 1969. Or 1999, apparently," said Achille.

"Another combination of threes or multiples," said Hermione, rubbing her chin. "That can't be a coincidence either."

"Hm, now that you mention it," replied Achille. "Ah, but that is because you are the academic and I am not, non?"

"Thank you so much," said Hermione. "I promise you, I am committed to helping Bellatrix."

Achille nodded with a smile. "But why?" said Achille. "What do you owe the woman who tortured you?"

"Because..." Hermione started, thinking of her own nightmares and trauma. "I haven't been myself since that day at the manor. Since the war. And... if I help Bella, I feel as if I'm helping myself too. Like you said, she deserves better. And so do I. We both do."

"Ah, you see, cherie?" Achille turned to the grave. "Hermione never forgot about you. You were wrong. And she will find a way to undo this injustice. Won't she?"

Hermione nodded sternly. "I will!" she stated with conviction. "I will do whatever it takes!"

Just then, Hermione felt a bit woozy. She reached out and put her hand on the headstone to keep herself from falling over. Then, she went weak in the knees and the world started spinning. The next thing she knew she was lying on a cot just inside the atelier, letting out a groan.

"Careful, miss Granger," said Rosier. "Don't be sitting up too quickly, non?"

"Hm," sighed Hermione as she raised her hand to her head. "Wh... what happened?"

"You fainted," said Achille, holding a cup of water for her to drink. "My assistant and I put you on the cot for a rest. Are you alright?"

Hermione let out a sigh. "Haven't been sleeping well. And then... all this..."

"Ah, it is a bit overwhelming, non?" said Achille. "You are welcome to stay the night, if you wish. My assistant could order dinner to be delivered."

"No... no thank you," said Hermione. "I have to get back to Hogsmeade."

"Or Bellatrix might be worried when you don't show up to chat with 'er, non?" grinned Achille.

"I was a late a few nights back," said Hermione. "Overslept due to lack of sleep. She tried to hide it, but..."

"I understand. Be well, miss Granger."

By now it was close to six and she would need to catch the train back to Glasgow. With any luck, she'd be back around 10 pm, hoping to catch a few winks on the train and have a bit of a kip at the inn after some food.

Like Rosier said, Hermione was on the clock now. And she'd have to use her time very efficiently.

Once sat in her compartment, however, with the train now speeding through the English countryside, the full weight of the implications came bearing down upon her. Thankfully, it was a private compartment so nobody could see her anguish. She couldn't keep her hands from shaking while a torrent of negative emotions flooded her every thought. In that moment, Hermione hit proverbial rock-bottom. She had never felt this anguished, this shredded or this useless in her entire life. A failure, a fraud, a fool, a fuck-up… a burden and a detriment to everyone around her.

Grey clouds and rain slashing against the pane of glass while her train passed through Bradford, the UK's most dull and dreary town in existence, didn't do much to improve her mood.

She felt like hopeless, helpless and damaged beyond repair, stuck down in a pit so deep that looking up at the light above only reminded her of the endless climb she'd have to do to get out of it.

Her hands were shaking again. Her entire body was shaking. She'd felt like this when the magic was raining down upon Hogwarts that fateful day. Only difference then was that she didn't have the time to think about it.

She didn't want to feel like this anymore. She didn't want to be like this anymore.

Hermione glanced at the railing of the baggage container. It looked sturdy and inviting. Had she been wearing a belt, it would have been perfect. Close the curtains, tie the double doors together and it might be two of three stations further before she'd be found. She'd be free.

But, of course, she wasn't wearing a belt today. Yet another fuck-up…

It wasn't the first time Hermione had thoughts like this, not by a long shot, and it likely wouldn't be the last time. She'd never shared them with anyone, not Harry, not Ron, not even Trix. Hermione wasn't quite sure what prevented her from sharing, or prevented her from going through with it. Perhaps it was the realization that it would hurt people she loved, no small amount of shame and maybe, on some level, there was some small spark of hope left in her.

'She loved you'. Achille Rosier's words came back to her. 'Bellatrix loved you'.

Hermione glanced at her side, to the bag of books. No. No, this was no time for selfish acts. Not at all. Hermione grit her teeth and squared her jaw, yanking the topmost book out of the bag and opened it to scan the table of contents.

'She loved you'.

Hermione would save Trix. She would. There was a stark realization that she wouldn't be alone in this. She'd have Trix to rely upon. Lord knows the girl was smart, perhaps even smarter than she was on some levels. The two brightest witches of their respective ages would figure this Fae Mirror out. They would cheat fate. They would cheat time. All they had to do was to find a loophole in fundamental laws of physics and magic itself. And, to be honest, changing the laws of time and the universe actually felt a hell of a lot more attainable than fixing herself in that moment.

Pushing all her despair aside, she opened her notepad and started vigorously taking notes as she diligently worked her way through three books for all the hours it took for the train to reach Hogsmeade. She picked up a cheap soggy sandwich from the station vendor and headed straight into the Forbidden Forest, where she sat at the pool for hours while working in her notepad. In fact, she lost track of time and was only broken from her work-induced reverie when the area around her was illuminated blue.

Looking up, she saw Bellatrix' dark eyes looking back at her. Instantly, Hermione heart soared and her mouth involuntary curved into a smile as her darkest thoughts were banished by a radiant sun. "Hey Hermie!" Bellatrix greeted while pouring herself a cup of tea. "Oof, what a day. Lestrange has been whining again, about something more mundane this time. He thinks it's embarrassing that his future wife consistently gets much higher marks at everything than he does, so he's rather pathetically asking me to botch up a few assignments. I told him the next time he asks, he'll get a hex to the knackers instead."

'She loved you'.

"Trix," Hermione said. "Wait till you hear what I found out."

'She loved you'.

She would keep secrets from Trix. She wouldn't tell about meeting her uncle. She wouldn't tell her what fate had in store for her. But she would tell her everything she would need to know to crack the secret of the Fae Mirror. Together.

Chapter Text

One good thing about being effectively expelled for a month was no morning classes, meaning Hermione could sleep late for as long as she wanted. It was a surprise even to her how much she needed and enjoyed her rest. Working herself to the bone and having an irregular sleeping pattern on top of that had been taking its toll, and the past couple of days she had slept until well past noon.

So decadent.

A pattern had quickly emerged: Sleep in late, breakfast, research, optional lunch, research, dinner brought up, more research, chatting with Trix, sleep. Repeat.

McGonagall had done her a huge favour by expelling her, but probably not in the way she had intended: Hermione now had her hands free to totally devote herself to researching the Fae Mirror. And, now that she was on the clock, that was a huge boon. She only had about four months before the Fae Mirror would stop appearing and her friend would be doomed to follow the path history had laid out for her.

Sat at the pool leafing through her books, she felt the snow still bearing down upon her. Early in December as it was, this was looking to be an inordinately cold winter judging from the early snow fall. Still wearing her ushanka and thick winter coat, she had also donned fingerless wool gloves to keep her hands warm while still being able to handle her books. Despite her clothes, despite the hot cup of tea, she felt herself shivering. Apparently, the weather in 1968 still wasn't a hair better as she saw her friend in the Fae Mirror with a thick wool scarf around her neck.

"Alright," said Hermione as she found the correct page. "I've finally finished the translation. Bear with me, it's a bit rough. 'On the eve of summer solstice, when the moon was its highest, a herbologist was searching through the woods for those plants which bloom in the moonlight. As he followed the flow of magic through the forest, picking up plants to sell at his shop, he came across a most magnificent sight. In the middle of the forest, in a clearing and nestled among the dead roots of petrified willow, lay a pool of pure magic. It bathed the clearing in an eerie blue glow. Yet, the herbologist was not afraid. He was incapable of being afraid.

The only reason why he wasn't afraid, was because of a magnificent unicorn which had sauntered into the clearing. Perhaps this was the unicorn's favourite drinking spot. It mattered not, as the curious creature was drawn to the waters. Yet, it did not drink.

From his perch, the herbologist could just make out the shadow of a figure in the pool looking back into the clearing. But, to his surprise, it was not a reflection of the unicorn itself. Suddenly, the majestic creature whinnied in abject terror and, for a moment, the herbologist thought that it might have spotted him. This was not the case, however, as the direction the unicorn took to flee was towards him. As the creature passed, the herbologist could see that the figure was still there.

More curious than frightened, the man stepped towards the magic pool. To peer. He instantly was given a powerful fright, for staring back at him was a creature of nightmare. A unicorn, yes, but one with skin as black as coal, three sets of clustered eyes as blue as the moon and an expression of baleful malice.

The herbologist, through some form of telepathy or his own intuition, received the impression that this frightful creature wished to harm him in ways man had never known or could even imagine in his darkest dreams.

This pool. This Fae Mirror. It showed him terrors from beyond. A dark mirror of his own world. A land of endless nightmares.

The herbologist dropped his basket and ran as fast as his legs could carry him. He ran and ran and ran, all the time swearing that the frightful creature was just behind him, nipping at his heels. He ran into his town, his home, and bolted the door behind him. He refused to leave his home for days.

Later, his son, who was rather sceptical of this fantastical tale, want back investigate the woods his father refused to returned to and found no sign of a magic pool. Next to the man's dropped basket was a normal pool of gathered rain water, no sign that there had ever been an ounce of magic in the air.

The herbologist never returned to the forest."

"Hm," Bellatrix rubbed her chin. "Interesting."

"That is the first documented occurrence of a Fae Mirror and the book places the tale as being written somewhere in the 13th century. Unfortunately, it doesn't give us much new information," said Hermione, slightly frustrated at having seemingly wasted a lot of time translating this story.

"Wait... he followed the flow of magic through the forest, right?" Bellatrix bit her lip. "I wonder if he's referring to magical lay-lines. There's usually a slew of magical plants glowing along the path of a lay-line, so it would make sense of a herbologist to follow them. Hm, the path of the magical lay-lines through the Forbidden Forest is well documented and I just bet that if we find the place were all the lay-lines intersect on the map, it'll be right where we are now. I'll look into it. That might be something we could use."

That made Hermione smile briefly. "That's something at least," said Hermione. "It's just a tad disappointing that the story seemed to be more about that black unicorn than about the Fae Mirror itself."

"But, of course, there are no black unicorns," said Bellatrix. "There never have been. They're creatures of light. It's antithetical to their nature."

"There's been no recorded sightings at all? Could it have been some sort of genetic anomaly?" Hermione mused. "Something like a reverse albino. Or a panther."

"None," said Bellatrix. "A unicorn isn't a normal horse. All of them are stark white with a blonde mane as belies their light magical nature. Trust me, if there were mirrored coal-black unicorns out there which are attuned to sluts, they'd have been seen all over the place."

It was a joke, pure and simple, but Bellatrix did raise a good point. The colour was tied to their magical nature and wouldn't change unless their magical nature would be different too. While Hermione was lost in thought, Bellatrix tapped her fingers on the root she was sat on. "Hermie, I'm going to say something completely barmy. Let's assume two things: the story is correct and the herbologist actually did see a black unicorn in the Fae mirror. And secondly, black unicorns never existed, not in past, present or future."

"Those two assumptions are contradictory, Trix," Hermione replied.

"Not necessarily," said Bellatrix. "Not if we add a third assumption in the mix: Fae Mirrors aren't only a window to other times, but other places as well."

"But there isn't any evidence for…." Hermione started to say, but swiftly caught herself when something fluttered on the edge of her memory. "Hold on…"

Immediately, Hermione tossed herself onto her notes and swiftly grabbed two books which had been marked with yellow post-its. After a quick search, Hermione found the passages she was looking for. "There was another Fae Mirror sighting in the Black Woods around 1877. The huntsman who found it claimed to have seen, and I quote, 'a wondrous land of colour and life, unlike anything I have ever witnessed during my short time exploring God's creation. Praise be to the Lord Almighty, for I have lain my eyes on the Garden of Eden'. Religious rhetoric aside, this is a very different description from most of the other eye-witness accounts, which describes the Fae Mirror mirroring the same location in the future or past, just like ours is doing. It's not a single account either. There's an eye-witness account of a Japanese muggle salary-man who went into the suicide forest around Mount Fuji to hang himself after his wife left him in 1975, but changed his mind after seeing 'an indescribable scene of beauty and wonder, full of colour and life'. I don't know if you've ever seen pictures of the Japanese suicide forest, but I wouldn't exactly describe it as a place of wonder. Most recent account is of a dragon-watcher in the forest of Romania in 1994, whom had gotten lost in said forest and spent 'many an hour marvelling at the very fabric of nature itself'."

Bellatrix shifted forward. "Merlin, Hermie, where did you find all of this? And in so short a time?"

"It's just research," muttered Hermione while looking away from her friend. 'Your uncle loved you enough to spend 30 years pulling everything he could find on Fae Mirrors in the hopes that it would help a girl he only knew the name of to change the past.' Truth be told, Hermione felt like a bit of a fraud: Achille Rosier had done most of the leg-work while she and Bellatrix were simply connecting the dots. Granted, to gather all this information could have easily taken her years of research and, as it stood, there simply wasn't time for that.

"Could it be?" Bellatrix rubbed her chin. "Hermie, there's a lot of magical creatures out there. Some beyond fantastical…"

Hermione nodded her head, realizing what Bellatrix was trying to say. "Trix, you might have a point there. There are magical creatures with a clear evolutionary lineage. Kneazles, for example, though magical in nature, but share a common ancestor with the regular house-cat. The fact that they can interbreed only proves that point. Still, there plenty of magical creatures with no clear evolutionary lineage."

At that moment, Bellatrix seemed a bit huffy. "I'll have you know we are well aware of the existence of Darwinian evolution in the wizarding world. And I know what a kneazle is, thank you very much!"

"I didn't mean to suggest…"

"… it's fine," Bellatrix waved her hand, eager to move on. "Point being, they couldn't have sprung into being from nowhere. They must have come from somewhere! What if… they came through the Fae Mirror somehow?"

Hermione bit her lip. Though there was no direct evidence for that claim, the fact remained that forests where Fae Mirrors had been sighted were teeming with magical life, sometimes bordering on the fantastical. One such a forest would be a statistical anomaly. But all of them? No, Bellatrix might be on to something here.

"You realize this is pioneering work, right?" Hermione chuckled.

Bellatrix nodded and gave her a slight grin. "And the two brightest witches of their respective ages are doing the pioneering, across time and space."

Hermione couldn't help but smile at that. "This is going to make for one hell of a dissertation."

In the pool, Bellatrix leaned forward. "I'll do you one better… what if we go there?"

Hermione blinked. "Come again?"

"Think about it," she said, roving her wand over the pool for good measure. "I've been taking some readings and it seems like this pool is a funnel of a magical vortex. It's unmistakable. I mean, every time you apparate, you create an artificial magical vortex connecting one place to another. The very reason why people get so sick from apparating too far is because an artificial vortex doesn't want to exist and is being forced to stay open long enough for the apparition to take place. A portkey is a more stable, permanent magical vortex, but there are also a lot of naturally occurring magical vortices and if this is one side of a funnel… Or a funnel system…"

"… then there's other funnels it's connected to," Hermione finished. "And if it's stable enough to allow for travel or if it can be connected to the right funnel..."

"We could meet up!" Bellatrix yelled out, sounding positively elated. "Either in one of our time-lines or maybe even in this mysterious place that's been described by those eye-witnesses! Oh, Merlin, Hermie, what if we manage to pull this off?! What an amazing adventure it would be! For both of us!"

Hermione couldn't help but smile. Her friend was certainly enthusiastic. She hated to put a damper on it. "If we can manage it. Such things are usually done by ritual, but it doesn't exist. Not yet. We'll have to invent one."

Thing about ancient rituals was that they had to have been invented at some point. Finding one was much easier than creating one, which involved endless amounts of trial and error finding the right words, the right cadence to words, the right wand movements and the right order of doing things in. And where to even start?

"Blood," Bellatrix spoke resolutely. "It'll be a blood ritual."

"Why?"

"Blood is life. Blood is power. Blood is a vessel for magic," said Bellatrix. "Why do you think pure-bloods are so eager to keep their bloodlines unpolluted? Or why blood sacrifices are a thing? Read your history of magic: early apparition experiments involved plenty of magic blood as a spell component. If we are going to make this work, it'll have to be through a blood ritual. Do you have something sharp on you? We could do a bit of a test."

"Are you sure blood of a muggle-born will suffice?" Hermione said with a sarcastic edge or her voice.

"Are you on about that again?" Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "I apologized for that, which is something I rarely do, by the way."

"Right, sorry, sorry," Hermione said quickly and fished around in her pocket, finding a small pocketknife used for peeling the occasional apple. She unfolded it, the tip looking sharp enough to do the trick. When she looked into the pool, however, she was given a bit of a fright. Trix was holding in her hand an oddly shaped dagger which she had come to be intimately familiar with. Almost instinctively, she made a grab to her forearm, to make sure that the cursed wound hadn't reopened again.

Bellatrix, in the meantime, apparently mistook her reaction for one of admiration. "Cool dagger, isn't it?" smiled Bellatrix. "Picked it up at Borgess and Burke on my last shopping trip. It's actually cursed: if I wanted to, I could inflict a wound which would leave a really ugly scar which reopens ever so often. Sure, I mostly bought it because it looks cool, but I would really love to carve 'I love long big cocks' in the skin of Lestrange's forehead."

Hermione fought to keep her breathing regular. For a moment, she was back on the floor of Malfoy Manor, a sneering, giggling Bellatrix pressing on top of her. She felt her weight on her body, her voice in her ears, the tip of the dagger carving through her skin. Hermione forced herself to think that Trix wasn't that woman. Not yet. And if she could manage it, not ever. Trix was her friend. Her friend. Not her enemy.

"Hermie, are you alright?" Hermione heard Bellatrix say, snapping out of her haze. "You look like you've seen a ghost."

"It's... it's nothing," said the young witch. "Shall we begin?"

Hermione hissed when she pressed the tip of her pocket knife into the palm of her hand. A droplet of blood started to form on the blade. On the other side of the Fae Mirror, Trix did the same with that infernal dagger of hers.

"Ready?" said Bellatrix. "On the count of three. One… two…"

On the count of three, two droplets of blood in two different time-lines fell towards the waters of the Fae mirror and hit the surface at almost the exact same time. For a moment, the waters of the Fae Mirror and the blue light turned into bright red very briefly. The Fae Mirror seemed to churn for a moment and the blue magical light seemed a little brighter than before. The two girls shared a look and gently let their hands slip into the water. This time, unlike many moons before, Hermione was almost startled to feel a gentle touch. Bellatrix' hand in the water wasn't solid enough to grasp, but solid enough to brush across her skin.

"I feel you!" Bellatrix giggled, sheer joy on her voice.

"Same," Hermione grinned. "We have a proof of concept!"

They both withdrew their hands, both apparently realizing at the same time that they had just stuck their hands in a pool of water which had a temperature near the freezing point. After both dried their hand, Hermione faced the pool once more. "So. Lay-lines, blood magic and magical vortices. That's three new avenues of research," said Hermione.

"I'll handle the lay-lines and find a map of those. Oh, I know," said Bellatrix. "Over the weekend, I'll ask Sebastian… that's our butler, by the way… to mail me two books from grand-père's library. I'll make copies and bury them in a small box underneath the third root to your left, along with a copy of the map of the lay-lines."

Hermione looked to her side and counted the roots. One, two, three… Ah, there it is. A bit of digging later and Hermione found a box containing a map and two books. Looking at the map, she could see that Bellatrix had already circled the place where they intersected: as they predicted, it was the clearing they were both sitting in. Then, Hermione picked up the first book. "Wellspring of magic. Vortices in the wild," Hermione read the title. This was hardcore theoretical stuff and a staple of advanced magical theory. She herself had attempted to breach this subject in her fourth year, but she lacked a proper theoretical basis. Many of the things described in this book were still a bit over her head… not that she would admit that to Bellatrix, of course, and in all fairness this was a separate field she had yet to fully focus on. That was until she noticed something incredible. "Wait. Thibaud Ludolf Rosier. Your grandfather wrote this book?!"

A nod and a smile from Bellatrix confirmed this. "And the notes?" Hermione asked, after discovering annotations and liner notes on almost every single page.

"Grand-père was working on a third, revised edition, but he never got to finish it before he died," said Bellatrix with some melancholy on her voice.

"There's notes in a different handwriting here," said Hermione, noticing a second set of handwriting among the notes at many places.

"Mine," smiled Bellatrix. "I was planning to finish the work on the third edition in my grand-père's name, but some experiments need to be redone and I lack the means or experience at the moment."

Her friend let out a heavy and mournful sigh. "Yet another thing I won't be able to do." Another flash of pain across her eyes: though she didn't say it out loud, it was clear to Hermione that Bellatrix felt like she was letting her grandfather down. It dawned on her just how different Trix was from the woman she would eventually become. Oh, the similarities were there: there were flares of obsession, streaks of arrogance here and there, as well as the occasional outburst of anger. But nothing that was unhealthy. Nothing that reminded her of the madness of Bellatrix Lestrange. In fact, she was rather impressed with Trix: she was clever, insightful, full of life and passion. That she not only wanted to finish her grandfather's work, but understood it so thoroughly spoke volumes.

"I think your grandfather would have been very proud of you regardless," spoke Hermione with utmost sincerity.

That seemed to be the boost which Bellatrix needed at the moment. She looked up, eyes slightly watery while curls danced over her cheeks. A slight, brief smile was a silent word of thanks. "I miss him," Bellatrix spoke softly.

"I'm sorry," replied Hermione.

"He would have liked you, you know?" she replied. "He cared less about blood and more about intelligence, skill and strength of character."

"I think I generally like your mother's side of the family better," chuckled Hermione.

"Hah!" Bellatrix laughed. "Tell me that again after you've met maman, Hermie. She can be… critical."

"Still," sighed Hermione. "To return to the subject at hand, I do know enough about vortices that if there isn't already an existing natural or artificial one on every side, we'll need a participant ritualist on all active sides of this cosmic door. Meaning, we'd need a third person to break through. Dammit!"

Bellatrix looked away for a moment, tapping her chin while in thought. "Not necessarily…" she muttered.

"Trix?"

"I've just handed in the first draft of my Arithmancy thesis the other day and I think we could put some of the theory in practise," said Bellatrix.

Ah yes, Hermione remembered. There was a copy of Trix' rather mindbogglingly esoteric thesis in her school file. She recalled it was about manipulating numbers to reshape reality.

"Alright, lay-lines are like underground rivers of magic, flowing through the entire forest. Through the Fae Mirror, we are both connected to the lay-line flow in both our times," said Bellatrix. "I would need to take some measurements and do some calculations, but I think that if we carefully place a series of lodestones right into the flow of the lay-lines on both our sides of the Fae Mirror, we could alter the flow of magic to create voidzones."

"Voidzones?" Hermione frowned. "What would be the purpose of that?"

"No, no, that could work!" grinned Bellatrix. "Voids want to be filled, right? It's a universal law. Nature abhors a vacuum. Well, magic does too. Voidzones fill and become high energy zones. Enough high energy zones in the right places at both our locations and…"

Hermione gasped. "… you want to fool the magic into thinking there's the third participant on the other side of the Fae Mirror!"

"It's not purely theoretical. Grand-père has managed to create a portkey that way between two continents on his own without a second person purely by manipulating lay-lines," said Bellatrix. "Granted, this is a bit bigger than that, but with enough of a charge… I should talk to Antonin, perhaps."

Hermione almost did a double-take when she heard the name. There was only one person this Antonin could be. Antonin Dolohov, one of Bellatrix' fellow Death Eaters. Hermione supposed she shouldn't be surprised that Bellatrix would know him before the Death Eater days. Hell, she might have be the very person who recommended him to Voldemort. "Antonin?" she asked carefully.

"Hm?" Bellatrix muttered. "I'm sure I mentioned him before… I think… No? Well, he's a Ravenclaw, one year below me. Durmstrang transfer. Smart. What's important, though, is he that he's really involved with Hogwarts student radio."

Hermione raised an eyebrow. "I… don't quite follow."

"Oh, magical resonance as it travels through lay-lines resembles radio waves quite a lot," said Bellatrix. "For the trick we're trying to pull, we'll need to have the purest possible magical resonance and for that we'll need to find a way to 'clear' the signal, as it were. Don't worry, I'll keep the discussion purely theoretical to hide what I'm really after."

"I'll… take your word for it," Hermione took a deep breath.

Great. Hermione couldn't help but wonder if it indeed had been Bellatrix whom had introduced Dolohov to the other Death Eaters. If that was the case, it would seem that by giving Bellatrix a reason to speak to Antonin Dolohov, Hermione had potentially ruined yet another person's life through her good intentions. As if she she needed more reasons to change fate.

"Hermie, take a look at the other book I sent you."

It was then that Hermione noticed the second book in the box: it was much older than the previous one, looked to be leather bound and locked with an iron clasp. After a quick spell to open the lock, she flipped the cover and read the title. 'Blood rites and Bacchanals. Exploiting the power of thy blood'. After flipping through a few pages, she glanced over a few rites described and saw a few of the heinous illustrations. "Jesus, Trix, what have you just sent me?!"

"It's an ancient collection of blood rites from olden times," said Bellatrix. "Compiled in the middle ages. We've already seen that blood is the key, so if we use part of the rites described in this book as a template, it might save us some time."

More pages turned, more horror. Hermione's mouth fell open when she saw an ancient woodblock depiction of a witch holding up the severed head of a goat above a roaring fire. "Trix, these rites… They aren't just black arts… they are vantablack arts! Seriously, books like these might the reason why witch-finders were a thing!"

She saw a flash of annoyance crossing Bellatrix' features. "Magic isn't inherently good or evil, Hermie. It's how you use it and what you use it for which determines that. Dark arts can be used for good and light spells can just as easily be used for evil purposes. Besides, there's far more benign rites in the middle part of the book. Still, you probably shouldn't leave it lying around unguarded. That particular book is banned in most wizarding nations. For really stupid reasons, I might add."

Indeed, shades of the woman she could become were still there: the ruthlessness and the willingness to do whatever it takes. Trix was Slytherin through and through, seeing magic as a tool and generally not being bothered about ethics. The younger Bellatrix might not be a dark witch, but she was certainly a grey one.

They chatted a bit more about mundane things before the Fae Mirror fizzled out for the day. A tired and cold Hermione made her way back to the inn and, after warming herself by the fire somewhat, tossed the books on her desk and crawled underneath the blankets for some much needed rest. Tomorrow would be another busy day of research.


Hermione lay on the cold floor of Malfoy Manor, tears welling from her eyes as she trembled in fear. Above her hovered Bellatrix Lestrange, her expression one of a twisted smile. The dark witch was greatly enjoying seeing her in pain, laughing mockingly at her whimpers and cries. "Please..." Hermione dared to speak, her voice hoarse and tiny from all the shouting. "I've done nothing to you..."

The dark witch's twisted smile transformed into an incredulous expression before it continued to morph into abject rage. "LIAR!" shrieked Bellatrix in her ear after slapping her hard in the face. "You abandoned me! You left me all alone! You are a filthy lying piece of mudblood offal! You never were anything else than offal! You'll pay, you'll pay, YOU'LL PAY! THIEF! LIAR!"

Pain more terrible than she had ever experienced in her short life exploded through her body as yet another Cruciatus curse burned through her nervous system. Impossibly, this one was even worse than the ones she had inflicted upon her just before. Her body trembled while spots flashed in front of her eyes... she had bit her cheek so hard she tasted blood.

"Get used to pain, little mudblood!" Bellatrix shouted. "You'll be feeling a lot of that tonight! I'm going to drive you mad! I'll destroy that precious little mind you are so proud of! It's what you deserve!"

"NO! Please! I haven't..."

"SILENCE! CRUCIO!"

Hermione started awake only to find herself sat upright in her bed while her body was drenched in sweat. She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths, now realizing where she was and that she was quite safe. As expected, she was in her room at the inn.

Hermione ran a hand through her hair and let herself fall back onto the mattress. Ever since her conversation with Achille Rosier, her nightmares had returned with a vengeance. She relived her traumatic experience at Malfoy Manor almost every night and, also since talking to Rosier, a few of the words Bellatrix had spoke to her on that fateful night stood out.

'You abandoned me', 'You left me all alone'. Though these hadn't made much sense at time and Hermione hadn't exactly been in a position to give them any kind of deep thought. However, now that Achille Rosier had given her some more context the meaning behind it had gotten quite clear: Bellatrix had known whom she was, because she remembered talking to her in 1968. Bellatrix had met Hermione, before Hermione had met her. Obviously, Bellatrix had also been quite resentful towards the young witch despite the fact that the Fae Mirror inevitably collapsing was something that was completely out of her control.

It pained Hermione's heart, for causing her friend such heartache was not something that she had ever intended. She was still determined to change Bellatrix' fate, temporal mechanics be damned!

She turned her head to her side and saw that the sun was already up. She threw her feet over the side of the bed and into her waiting slippers while making a grab for her bathrobe. Her first stop was the door of her room, which she swiftly opened and found the agreed upon breakfast tray waiting for her just outside. She swiftly wheeled it in and enjoyed a bite of Cumberland sausage over a cup of tea when she sat down at the desk and started working. Honestly, these days she barely bothered to get dressed unless it was to run an errand or to go out at night to visit Trix.

Three weeks. Three weeks she had been living this way. Honestly, it had been an inspiring time for her, especially when there was such a clear sense of progress.

If she'd still been in school, Christmas holiday would fast be approaching. As it stood, she had her hands free for experimentation which took up the greater part of her day. Deep in December as she was, she would soon spend a week with her parents, but already had a plan in motion to maximize her time spent with her parents, while sacrificing as little research time as possible.

Both girls had already donated pints of their blood to the cause, slashing and healing the palms of their hands more times than she'd even dare to count. She was slightly worried about going anaemic, so had picked up a few bottles of iron pills at a pharmacy in Dufftown and made an effort to eat more food which was rich in iron-content.

Still, she and Trix were making a lot of progress. It was easy for Bellatrix to share her part of the research by simply burying it in a box to send it forward in time. Unfortunately, the only way for Hermione to do the same was to share it with Bellatrix by telling her over the Fae Mirror. She was forced to do so in a to the point and efficient manner.

To that end, she had decorated the walls of her room with all manner of notes, pictures, pages of books, illustrations and connecting it all with red ribbons. By now, papers covered so much of the walls almost none of the original wood could be seen. A lot of the research was rather dark in nature, which was to be expected when researching blood rites: Hermione had permanently put up a 'Do not disturb' sign on her door outside or the cleaning lady much start to think that she was some sort of cultist... or worse, clean it all up and mess up her carefully crafted setup or sort the papers out of order.

Hermione chuckled. Her room would probably look like the abode of a madwoman to any outsider.

Still, over three weeks of painstaking and intense research later, Hermione actually felt close to a breakthrough. She found she meshed well with Bellatrix: though the two had had some heated debates, Bellatrix had offered plenty of fresh and practical ideas and insights alongside Hermione's more analytical and theoretical approach. Though it sometimes meant she'd had to cut a few corners she preferred not to cut, she couldn't argue with the clear results.

Right now... or right now in 1968? However that worked... Bellatrix had finally cracked one of the problem plaguing them: for a three-way connection through a magical vortex, a person would be needed at the end of every connection point to perform the blood rite. And, of course, there were only two of them.

Apparently with some help from the younger Antonin Dolohov, Bellatrix had calculated the best spots to place the lodestones to alter the flow of magic to suit their needs. However, when Hermione went to place the lodestones in her time-line, some things didn't end up. Hermione was surprised to learn that Bellatrix actually made a few mistakes in her Arithmancy calculations... which Trix had been quite embarrassed about. Correction had been made.

While Bellatrix had been working the lay-lines, Hermione was mostly focused on creating a blood ritual from scratch by using bits and pieces of existing rituals as a baseline, using her earlier experiments as a guide for adjustment. She felt she was so close to the solution now, she could almost taste it. Tonight. Tonight might be when their hard work paid off.

Hermione had to admit that she was getting more and more excited. Not only for helping her friend by preventing her dark path, though that was obviously part of it, but also the fact that the two of them were doing some pioneering work here which had never been done before. She was making sure that every step here was carefully documented.

If this worked, she and Trix could actually meet. Talk face to face. Touch.

Perhaps that was the most exciting thing of all.


Bellatrix had been so engrossed in her work that she never heard Andromeda enter her dorm until her sister was literally looking over her shoulder. As soon as she did, Bellatrix slammed the notebook shut and twisted around. After panic faded, she forced herself to act calmly and grinned at her sisters.

"What's up?" she asked, her own tone of voice betraying her. Looking at the time, her sister likely came to fetch her for dinner. But the look of concern on Andie's face told another story.

"Bella..." asked Andie. "What are you doing?"

"Oh," Bellatrix shrugged. "Just a project I'm working on for Slughorn. I..."

"Bullshit!" Andie interrupted, with a tone of intensity which startled Bellatrix: her sister was always soft-spoken and gentle... sometimes cold, yes, as a Slytherin could be, but never this intense. Her sister took a step forward. "Do you think I'm stupid, Bella? Do you?!"

Bellatrix narrowed her eyes and stepped forward as well, looking her little sister in the eye. There was no way she'd allow herself to be intimidated by Andie of all people. Being just as much a Black as she was, however, she did not back down nor even flinched.

"I don't think you're stupid, Andie."

"Good!" shouted Andie. "Because I know a blood rite when I see one! What are you up to, Bella? Is it for that Voldemort person?! Are you trying to impress him?!"

Bellatrix froze. "What?! No!"

"Then why is Lestrange boasting that you'll be going with him to another rally, hm?!" Andie crossed her arms. "I thought we promised each other we wouldn't return. We've just convinced Cissy to stay away and now you're running right back to him?! What kind of example does that set for her?"

Bellatrix sighed. Of course, the both of them were worried about Cissy and what she was doing might be giving off the wrong impression. She and looked around the room. Finding no prying eyes, she put her hands on her sisters' shoulders and smiled briefly. "I'm only going because Dumbledore asked me to."

"Wha... The Head Master?"

"Yes!" Bellatrix chuckled. "I'm not in the least bit convinced by that idiot clown calling himself 'Dark Lord'. What kind of moron do you take me for? No, Dumbledore asked me to look around a little, see what I can see and then report back to him."

"Bella, these are dangerous people!" Andie spoke, eyes brimming with concern.

"But if we catch them doing something illegal, if Rodolphus is involved and implicated, Dumbledore can bring in the aurors and then I won't have to marry him!" Bellatrix smiled. "Don't you see, Andie? This is my chance. If I find something juicy and damning, I won't have to marry him!"

Andie visibly paled. "Oh, Merlin, Bella! Don't you realize that Dumbledore is telling you exactly what you want to hear? Father will just find someone else for you to marry!"

"No doubt," said Bellatrix. "But that won't be Lestrange. And by now I'm old and strong enough to actually be a part of the conversation. Besides..." She glanced at the notebook for a moment. "Perhaps there's another way out of it."

"Still doesn't explain why you're researching blood rites," Andie narrowed her eyes. "Does this has something to do with the girl you've mentioned? It has, hasn't it?"

Bellatrix said nothing, but her silence told the whole story even if she hadn't wanted it to.

"What is she involving you in? Blood rites..."

"... are dangerous. Are dark arts. Corrupt the soul, defile the innocent, fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, rivers and seas boiling, forty years of darkness, earthquakes and volcanoes, the dead rising from their graves, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!" Bellatrix rolled her eyes. "I've heard it all before. And as a Black, you of all people should know better than to buy into the ignorant mewings of Ministry fops."

Andie rolled her eyes. "There's a reason blood magic is strictly regulated, Bella. You could go to Azkaban."

"If practitioners of blood magic were all arrested, about 75 percent of the wizarding population would be in Azkaban, Andie!"

"That's besides the point!" Andie sighed. "You're toying with your life. Is... is that girl making you do this? Because if she is..."

"Andie..." Bellatrix glowered, raising her chin and daring her sister to continue this line of questioning.

"She is making you do this, isn't she?" Andromeda pursed her lips. "It's this Hermione who put you up to this!"

"ENOUGH!" Bellatrix shrieked in Andie's face. "I WILL DO WHAT I DAMN WELL PLEASE, ANDIE! HERMIONE AND I ARE GOING TO PERFORM AN EXTRAORDINARY FEAT WHICH HAS NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE, EVER! GO BACK TO TURNING RODENTS INTO WOOD GOBLETS FOR TRANSFIGURATIONS CLASS AND LEAVE GREATNESS TO THOSE WHO ARE WORTHY OF IT! STAY THE TINY MOUSE YOU ARE, ANDIE! AND BE GLAD I WILL ALLOW YOU TO STAND IN MY SHADOW!"

Bellatrix's chest heaved while Andie stared her down, eye watery and hands trembling. Instantly, Bellatrix's expression softened. "Andie... I... I didn't mean..."

"FINE!" Andromeda shouted back as she turned to rush to the door. "DO YOUR BLOOD RITES! AND BE DAMNED! SEE IF I CARE!"

"Andie..."

The door slammed shut with a resounding bang, leaving Bellatrix to stand in the room feeling her heart constrict with remorse.

"Fuck," she muttered, and made a mention note to make it up to her later. For now, she had work to do. As much as her heart constricted with regret at her outburst, she would have to learn the words to the ritual by heart, as well as the wand movements and even the cadence of her voice. Everything had to be perfectly executed and she could allow no distractions.

If they succeeded tonight then she would see Hermione. In the flesh. The very idea sent a tingling sensation down the length of her spine.

Chapter Text

Hermione shivered and pulled her coat a little tighter. Tonight was a particularly cold night, well below freezing. She was already setting up at the pool while waiting for Bellatrix to arrive. The dagger, the fond and, of course, the script for the ritual. Still, it was rather curious that Bellatrix wasn't there yet: usually she was there waiting as soon as the pool activated.

Hermione had to admit she was nervous. The both of them had put in so much work the past couple of weeks and, honestly, it was starting to hurt Hermione to see Bellatrix so actively and enthusiastically driven to crack the secret of the Fae Mirror, all the while oblivious to the fate hanging over her head. There had been times that Hermione simply wanted to scream and reveal everything, but knew that doing so would change nothing until all the rules set could be broken. But no, the Fae Mirror was still the key to everything and figuring out how to actually change fate would be step 2.

They were only up against the tides of Cause and Effect and the general laws of the universe' progression of time. Both Insignificant things, really… Hermione snorted and rolled her eyes.

Still no Trix. Hermione took a moment to reflect on how they got to this point.

After expanding their proof of concept with some solid experimentation, Hermione had managed to MacGyver together a completely new blood ritual from about twenty existing ones. Cadence and wording was important, but even more important were intentions and desires behind the words. That was why their first real attempt at breaching the Fae Mirror had failed: the words of their first attempt were discordant with the intentions. Granted, Hermione had always been more of a theoretical writer than a creative one… which is where Trix came in handy. Together they managed to streamline it and Hermione was grateful for it. She was feeling a bit out of her depth, even though Bellatrix told her that she had done great work already and that every writer worth their salt improved on first versions of a work with a second, third or even fourth pass.

Their second attempt at a breach failed because Bellatrix had underestimated just how much magic the Fae Mirror would demand. Though redirecting the flow of magic through the lay-lines worked perfectly, the reserves just weren't enough to simulate a third person. A frustrated Bellatrix went back to the drawing board, talked with Antonin Dolohov on her side more and tried to figure out ways to make the magical flow purer and more plentiful, but simply couldn't figure out where she had gone wrong. She delved into deep theoretical material to a point where the talk about 'void zones', 'flow currents', 'activity spikes' and 'Zero-point magicals' was starting to make Hermione's head spin. Until Hermione asked to see the notes of her calculations and while Arithmancy was one of Hermione's favourite subjects, it quickly became clear to her that Bellatrix had a grasp on the magical nature of reality far beyond her own. That is, until Hermione noticed that Bellatrix had made an error in her primary calculations which were a supposition for all her future calculations, undoubtedly because of her enthusiasm, Bellatrix had placed a dot at the wrong decimal and had missed this completely as she kept working. This incorrect value had worked its way through the entire work and Bellatrix never found it because she was consistently looking for fault in the wrong place.

When Hermione had told her, Bellatrix had turned bright red and avoided looking her in the eye for the rest of their conversation. It showed a side of Bellatrix Hermione had rarely seen: gone was the confidence, the arrogance, the self-assurance. Bellatrix was demure, timid, apologetic and embarrassed, constantly cursing herself and apologizing to Hermione for wasting so much of their time.

It was really rather cute. Until Hermione realized that Bellatrix' confidence had been completely shattered and was as much in need of a pep-talk as she had been when she had botched up the first version of the ritual. Of course, it was right back to work soon enough.

Today would be the third attempt. If the law of threes held up, tonight might be the night. What wonders would they see? Would it even work? Would they finally be able to see each other face to face? She could only hope.

Still no Trix. She wasn't usually this late. Hermione wondered what could be keeping her.

Her answer came when a panting Bellatrix came running into the clearing and collapsed next to the log. "Sorry, sorry," Bellatrix caught in between laboured breaths. "I just wanted to do a last check-up on one of the lodestones. I wasn't sure I had buried it with the positive end pointing in the right direction. But it was. I'm completely convinced it will work now."

"No worries," said Hermione. "Take a moment to catch your breath. We still have plenty of time. And we need to rehearse the words and the cadence anyway."

"Good," smiled Bellatrix, her eyes drifting away slightly. She seemed distracted. Hermione couldn't help but pick up on that immediately. It was the way her eyes darted around, unfocused. There was obviously something on her mind. Their ritual would require utmost concentration and focus if it was to work. But, more importantly, if there was something on Bellatrix' mind, something must be worrying her.

"Trix?" she asked. "What's wrong?"

By now there was an understanding between the two of them. Trust. They felt they could share their thoughts and woes. Even so, Bellatrix rather hesitantly shook her head. "It's just..." she sighed. "I had a fight with Andie earlier this evening and... I said some things to her I shouldn't have. Things I regret saying."

Hermione could tell that it was really bothering Trix. "I'm sorry," said Hermione. "What was it about?"

"She caught me studying our rite," replied Bellatrix with pursed lips. "Gave me a lecture about the dark nature of blood magic."

"Well..." replied Hermione, biting her lip. "She's not wrong..."

"Not you too!" Bellatrix snorted. "I'll... I'll make it up to her later. I'll buy her some of those bonbons she likes. Take her out to Hogsmeade. I promise I won't let it distract me."

"Good," said Hermione. "I never had any siblings, but I understand well enough that you need to take good care of them."

Bellatrix chuckled. "Spoken like an only child! Honestly, siblings can be a piece of piss at the best of times, but… Look, let's just begin, alright?" she asked. Hermione agreed. Together they rehearsed the rhymes and the wand movements for about half an hour until they both felt they had gotten it just right. "Remember," said Hermione. "Where I say past, you must say 'future'. I noticed that bit threw you off a bit earlier."

"I'll keep that in mind, " said Bellatrix. "About the words. Who is which?"

A fair question. "I don't think it's either of us," said Hermione.

"Or it could be both of us," Bellatrix suggested.

"We're both sacred and damned?" Hermione asked.

"Think about it. Neither of us is in the best state at the moment," said Bellatrix. "I got a loveless marriage hanging over my head and you're recovering from a war. But we are both still alive regardless and we both still hope."

Hermione was actually pleased to hear that. "Ready?" she asked, apprehension creeping into her voice as she was both excited and frightened for what they were about to do.

"Ready!" Bellatrix confirmed with grim determination.

The ritual started with acute timing. Both girls took their daggers and slid it across the palm of their hands. By now, they had done it so often that they had gotten used to the pain. Putting the dagger aside, they held their hands above the pool and let droplets of blood fall into the magical waters, the colour changing from blue into deep red. While holding their wands in the other and making the required wand movements, the two girls chanted in unison.

 

"Blood of the present

Blood of the past

Blood of the sacred

Blood of the damned

 

Blood of the lover

Blood of the loved

Blood of the false

Blood of the true

 

Blood of the wicked

Blood of the wise

We give of ourselves

We give of our lives

Grant us a glimpse,

Carry us off to paradise."

 

When the chant was done, silence overcame the clearing. This was utter silence, as if all sounds from the forest and the denizens of the night were being blocked out. For a moment, Hermione was unsure if it had actually worked, but was confronted with the fact that it had soon enough.

Blood rites drained life, magic and essence and earlier attempts had certainly done so. There'd been times where she'd been so drained that she had slept half the day away. Of course, all these things replenished with time and rest so there were no worries there. But this attempt? This attempt drained a lot. A lot to a point that Hermione fell to her knees and fought to keep herself awake. A glance down the pool showed that Bellatrix was in a similar state. Okay, that certainly meant that on their next try, they'd both have to be very well rested.

Then. It happened.

A blinding flash of red light overcame Hermione, to a point where she could see no more. She felt no ground underneath her feet as her body was suddenly thrust forward. For a moment, Hermione felt like her body was being shoved through a narrow tube and her tissues being stretched beyond what should be their limits. Whatever had happened, though, it did not last long enough for her to actually feel any sort of pain until she she was rather roughly expunged from whatever magical process she had started and deposited on the ground.

The warm ground.

Even with her eyes closed, she could feel the light of the sun on her skin. Something had happened. She had been transported... somewhere else.

When she opened her eyes, she was blinded by daylight. She scrambled to her feet, used her hand to protect her eyes and, when they adjusted to the sudden influx of light, Hermione gasped at what she saw. She was standing at the edge of a large landmass, stretching as far as the eye could see. Above her was a bright blue sky, but she could see no sun or clouds. Large floating rocks, landmasses in themselves, floated freely in the air far above and around them. Hermione counted five... no seven... more…

She took note of her immediate surroundings. Hermione had been deposited on a rocky plateau overlooking what seemed to be a tranquil savanna with a large forest in the distance. She gasped when she realized she was standing uncomfortably close to the literal edge of the world, with a sharp drop-off into an endless bright void stretching to infinity in every direction. Apparently this landmass was another one of those floating rocks. She quickly backed away a little.

What also struck her were the colours. Vibrant green, powerful red, bright brown... in fact, every colour had an unnatural shade of bright vibrancy to it, as if this strange world was a Pixar film come to life. Hermione turned around and saw near her a rift through which she could still see the Forbidden Forest. Next to the rift lay her wand as well as her thermos flask of tea and all her books and notes. It seemed all her supplies had been brought along for the ride as well well.

"Oh wow," she whispered. "We actually did it..."

"Hermie!" sounded from the other side of the plateau. Hermione gasped, realizing that Trix was here. Thankfully, Bellatrix had been deposited quite near her. "Over here!"

Hermione froze when she saw Trix waving at her. She had never seen her friend by daylight: Trix was paler than she had expected, her curly hair dancing around her as her face was adorned with a happy and genuine smile. The girl rushed forward until she stood a few meters away from each other.

Trix was a few inches shorter than her, looking at her with heavy-lidded eyes. Her landing had not been a great one as there was a bloodied scratch on her chin. But that nothing a little healing potion couldn't help with: they'd still have to heal their hands too, after all.

"We did it," Bellatrix laughed. "We really did it!"

Without a further word, the two girls rushed to each other. They had been friends for months and this was the first time they met face to face. It was Trix who made the first move and took her in a firm embrace, one Hermione quickly returned. Clutching onto each other, Trix giggled in elation.

Hermione closed her eyes and simply enjoyed the sensation. "You're so beautiful," Hermione found herself whispering before she even realized what exactly she had just said.

A few moments later, both young witches were sat on a fallen log overlooking the magical and alien landscape below, taking in the majestic sight in silence. A flying creature passed by in the distance, which looked to be a cross between a pterodactyl and a dragonfly, as impossible as that sounded. But for all the unique splendour of this magical realm, Hermione found herself almost unable to tear her eyes off Bellatrix.

Bellatrix, for her part, was beyond excited, eyes roving across the valley. "Hermie," Bellatrix chuckled. "We're actually the first witches to ever set foot in this place. Do you realize that we get to name the things we see and discover?"

Bellatrix rose to her feet. "I name this plateau 'Black's Landing'! For a Black quite literally landed here. On her chin."

Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Shouldn't it be named 'Black's Faceplant', then?"

Her friend sat back down, but not before giving her somewhat of a glare. "Shut up!" she muttered, yet the twinkle in her eye was undeniable.

"There were times when I wondered if you were actually real," said Hermione. "There were times I thought you were a figment."

Bellatrix seemed contemplative for a moment. "Same," she replied. "I never realized how much I needed companionship until I met you. Tell you what, though..."

"Hm?"

"I'm glad you're real," smiled Bellatrix.

"Absolutely," Hermione replied. Above them, the sky was as bright as ever. Try as she might, she could not spot a single cloud. No sun. No cloud. Were there even weather patterns in this realm? Was there even a day-night cycle? So many questions.

"Oh, damn!" Bellatrix cursed and picked up a notebook. "We should be documenting all of this! This is all new discovery! We should take detailed notes of what we see and what we encounter."

"Well," said Hermione. "We did document the ritual and our journey to it. That's a good start."

"It's what Eleanore Snowbell would do," said Bellatrix as she started to scribble in the notebook. "Right, Black's Landing is here and... oh, bother, how do we know which direction is North? Fiddlesticks, I'll figure that out later. Oh, wait!"

From her perch, Hermione could see that Bellatrix was drawing a crude map. However, she was more interested in what Bellatrix had just said. "You know Eleanore Snowbell?" Hermione asked.

"Of course!" smiled Bellatrix, looking up from her notebook. As she talked, she fished one of the left-over lodestones from her bag and made it magically float in the air with a quick wordless spell. "I wanted to be just like her when I was just a little witchling. Going out to explore the world and getting in all matter of adventures, like the time she got herself embroiled in the yeti civil war when searching through the ruins of Shambhala in Tibet. Or documenting the runic tablets of the draugr at Greenland and being beset upon by the drowned dead."

That made Hermione chuckle: though she had read Snowbell's work a few times, she felt that the woman was exaggerating some of the more outlandish parts of her travels for the sake of exciting her readers, but Snowbell was undeniably a great explorer. By now, the floating lodestone had settled and pointed north. Curious, apparently there was a magnetic north in this Realm for the lodestone to work.

"What?" Bellatrix raised an eyebrow at Hermione's chuckle.

"Oh, nothing," Hermione replied. "I just love that you love Eleanore Snowbell."

"And why wouldn't I?!" Bellatrix raved. "She's everything a witch should be! Brave. Smart. Strong willed. Magically gifted. Adventurous!"

"In that case," said Hermione. "You'll be pleased to know that she's still active in 1998. Snowbell is trying to get an expedition to find old Hyperborea off the ground, but she's having some trouble finding financing. With the war just being over, expeditions to far lands aren't exactly considered a high priority right now."

"What a shame," pouted Bellatrix. "Adventure and exploration are important, especially after dark times. Still, I hope she gets the expedition going. She'd be what? 110 years old in 1998?"

"107," Hermione replied. "Not that you'd be able to tell. She looks and acts like a witch in her fifties."

Bellatrix shook her head. "I hope I'll be as sprite and active when I'm that age. Hermie? We need to explore this place. Set up an expedition of our own! Look at the world that's out there and imagine that we're going to be the first to see it! Adventure and glory is here, Hermione! And all we have to do is to reach out and grab it!"

Hermione had to admit that did sound alluring and more than a little exciting. Still, she had to remember she had an ulterior motive she was keeping from Bellatrix: she had to be saved from her future fate. Still, it seemed that these two things now coincided. They had already achieved the impossible: two witches 30 years apart in time were now in the same location... wherever or whatever it was. Was this what Achille Rosier had meant by 'breaking the cycle'? Did he know of this place or was he merely guessing himself?

"I agree, but we need to make preparations for that and we need to know more about how this world interacts with ours," said Hermione. "For example, it'll be 4:00 AM in about five minutes and I don't think we want to be trapped here. Not without supplies."

Bellatrix bit her lip. "You're right, of course," she said. "Eleanore Snowbell said it herself: 'An expedition that is poorly prepared is an expedition doomed to failure'. Wise words."

Hermione stood up and squeezed her friend's shoulder. "Trust me, I want to explore this world as much as you do."

"I want to do this right," Bellatrix smirked. "I want to explore this realm and discover its secrets... with you."

The way Bellatrix had spoken those words gave Hermione a tingling sensation in the pit of her stomach. Slowly, Bellatrix dared to reach over with her hand to slowly grasp Hermione's. Fingers intertwined and soft skin slid over soft skin. Hermione felt her heart jump, especially when Bellatrix gave her that deep and alluring look. Hermione almost went weak in the knees when Bellatrix slowly squeezed her hand.


If she was being brutally honest with herself, Andromeda had often wondered if she had ever actually been Slytherin material. Oh, she valued cunning and ambition well enough, but doubted she had what it took to actually do some of the things which needed to be done to be a true Slytherin at heart. For one, she always had her big sister who looked out for her. In the past, Bellatrix had made it known far and wide in Slytherin that anyone who would swindle, harm or negatively impact her in any way, would have to deal with her as well. And since Bellatrix was feared and respected throughout Slytherin House as well as the entire school, that claim held a lot of weight.

Thing is, Bella's respect had been earned through prowess, talent and the occasional act of violence. Andromeda herself was seemingly only respected because of who her big sister was. In that regard, perhaps Bella had been right: she had been standing in her big sister's shadow.

But right now, Andromeda was planning to return the favour. Though she might be a lesser witch than Bellatrix, Andromeda was far from stupid and realized quite well what Bellatrix's patterns were. Wearing an invisibility cloak borrowed from a friend in Ravenclaw, Andromeda was following Bellatrix after she had entered the Forbidden Forest.

Sometimes a little sister had to look out of her big sister. In fact, she already had: Andie had noticed Bellatrix talking to Antonin Dolohov from Ravenclaw a lot as of late so Andromeda did some sleuthing of her own. Dolohov was no Slytherin and thus surprisingly trusting and talkative when approached with the right questions. Apparently he and Bellatrix had been talking a lot about radio waves, magical signals and cadence, apparently to support some project Bellatrix was working on for Theory of Magic. Now Andromeda knew Bellatrix well enough to know that she didn't give a flying fuck about radio, so this must have had something to do with the blood ritual. Dolohov didn't seem to know any further details, so Andie surmised that he wasn't a participant.

That left only 'Hermione'.

Andromeda would discover who this 'Hermione' really was, where she lived and then would have some serious words with her: honestly, she knew blood rites were often still practised by pure-blood families, including her own, but that didn't make them any less dangerous. Many a cocky young wizard or witch still died of taking a blood ritual too far and draining themselves completely and she was damned before she'd let that happen to Bellatrix.

Andromeda kept a respectful distance: though she was wearing an invisibility cloak, she knew that Bellatrix was far from stupid and would likely notice she was being followed if she got too close. Cloaks only hid her from sight, after all, but it would not hide the cracking of fresh snow underneath her boots or the tracks she left.

She followed Bellatrix through the forest and watched as Bellatrix started to dig near the roots of a large oak. Whatever she found there, Bellatrix seemed pleased and reburied the object without taking it.

Curious.

After this, Bellatrix took a sprint which momentarily startled Andromeda. Had she been discovered? It didn't seem so as Bellatrix didn't run towards her or headed back to the school, but rather headed deeper into the forest.

She followed suit, sprinting herself until she saw her sister coming to a stop in the distance. Andromeda swiftly found a good perch behind a fallen tree to watch her from a distance and came across a most curious sight: her sister was sat on the root of a dead tree in the middle of a clearing, peering down into a pool of water which bathed the clearing in a bluish glow. Powerful magic was at play her, as she felt the power radiating through the air.

"Sorry, sorry," Bellatrix spoke to the pool in between laboured breaths. "I just wanted to do a last check-up on one of the lodestones. I wasn't sure I had buried it with the positive end pointing in the right direction. But it was. I'm completely convinced it will work now."

What the... who was Bellatrix talking too? Was there someone else here?

"No worries," sounded the voice of a young woman. "Take a moment to catch your breath. We still have plenty of time. And we need to rehearse the words and the cadence anyway."

How odd. The voice unmistakably came from the pool. Though she would like to, Andromeda wouldn't dare to get closer for fear of being discovered. If she would, not only would Bella give her one hell of a bollocking, but there was no doubt in her mind that she would lose any hope to actually help her sister.

"Good," replied Bellatrix and even from her, Andromeda could hear in her voice that she was feeling a little bit down.

"Trix?" asked the young woman. "What's wrong?"

Bella shook her head. "It's just..." she sighed. "I had a fight with Andie earlier this evening and... I said some things to her I shouldn't have. Things I regret saying."

"I'm sorry," replied the young woman. "What was it about?"

"She caught me studying our rite," replied Bellatrix with pursed lips. "Gave me a lecture about the dark nature of blood magic."

"Well..." said the young woman from the pool. "She's not wrong..."

"Not you too!" Bellatrix snorted. "I'll... I'll make it up to her later. I'll buy her some of those bonbons she likes. Take her out to Hogsmeade. I promise I won't let it distract me."

That made Andromeda smile. Oh, Bella might act tough and aloof at times, making it seem as if nothing in the world could bother her, but Andromeda knew better. She was the one who had stroked Bella's curly hair when she had her head in her lap while bawling her eyes out after her engagement to Rodolphus Lestrange had just been announced. Poor Bella had been inconsolable. Though she hid it well, Andromeda knew she could be just as fragile as anyone else, if not moreso.

But through it all, Andromeda knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that Bella loved her. And Cissy too. The three of them had an unbreakable bond.

"Good," said the young woman. "I never had any siblings, but I understand well enough that you need to take good care of them."

This young woman in the pool had to be Hermione. For someone to put a smile like that on Bella's face... she hadn't seen that smile since, well, Bella had been involved with Evelyn. Though Bellatrix had put a brave face on at the time, telling everyone that she had always known their relationship would come to an end, Andromeda knew better. After Evelyn married her now-husband... as a proper pure-blood witch was wont to do... Bellatrix had been devastated and had refused to eat for two weeks.

No. That smile she had on her face right now told Andromeda enough. Bella was in love. Shit, that would make this so much harder.

When they performed their ritual, Andromeda was glad she had decided to follow Bellatrix today: the rite looked to be a complicated one and most deaths occurred when a complicated blood rite drained more life from a witch than she was prepared for. Being alone in those cases, could be a death sentence. So if something went wrong, Andromeda could step in and help catch some of the drain herself to keep Bella alive if need be.

Bella only. Family first. Family only. 'Hermione' would be on her own.

Suddenly, a flash of light blinded her, causing her to grimace slightly through the sheer intensity of it all. When she looked back at the pool, Bella... Bella was gone!

Andromeda blinked and frantically looked around the clearing only to see no sign of Bella. Panic gripped her by the throat: had Bella just blinked herself right out of existence?!

"Bella?" Andromeda called out. To hell with stealth right now. "BELLA?!"

She was about to rush into the clearing when another flash blinded her. And, right as if she had never left, Bella was sitting on the log again, a massive smile plastered on her face. "Hermie!" her sister exclaimed while Andromeda dove back behind the fallen log. "That was amazing! I'm so glad to have shared that with you."

"Right on time too," sounded Hermione from the pool. Andromeda didn't dare to take a closer look, though she would very much like to see this Hermione's face. She kept herself hidden while Hermione continued on. "We made it back at almost exactly 4:00 AM."

"Huh," Bellatrix bit her lip. "And yet the pool is still here."

"Right," replied Hermione. "Could we have altered the pool's magic?"

"No," said Bellatrix as she looked to the sky. "The moon's still in the same place. What about on your end?"

"Uhm..." sounded Hermione. "I'm sorry, but I didn't pay attention to it."

"I just bet..." said Bellatrix with a grin. "It will close in half an hour. The time we were in the Realm doesn't appear to have passed at all in our world. I think time works differently there. Let's measure it and make sure."

"Interesting," replied Hermione from the pool.

And so they did. Bellatrix and Hermione chatted together for about half an hour while Andromeda watched. They chatted like old friends would: about family, about hopes and dreams, about school... but mostly they talked about some strange place they had apparently just been to and how they were going to explore it.

Curious.

One thing which did stand out to Andromeda was that Hermione certainly didn't seem unkind. Of course, that didn't mean anything in itself. A popular saying in Slytherin was 'the bigger the smile, the sharper the knife', after all. Kindness could be a manipulative means to an end. Of course, Bellatrix would know this. And for someone from outside the family to earn Bella's trust in the way that she had... was not only extraordinary but also very telling.

Then again, they were performing blood rites.

Ah, she just didn't know what to think right now.

Finally, the two girls said their goodbyes and Andromeda could hear the sense of disappointment and longing in both their voices. Typical, really: both obviously in love with each other and both either to stubborn or to ignorant to admit it to the other.

Once Bellatrix had left the clearing and was once again on her way to Hogwarts to spend the rest of the night in bed, Andromeda shivered as she found out just how well and truly cold it was tonight. After rubbing herself a bit for warmth, she slowly crept towards the pool and found it to be... a completely mundane and utterly normal pool of water nestled amid the roots of a dead tree. After roving her wand over it, she found absolutely no sign of magic. Curious. Considering the magic she had felt, that should have left at least a bit of residue.

But now? Nothing.

This absolutely warranted further investigation. For now, she would not confront Bella. Not just yet. But she vowed to keep her big sister safe, even from herself.

Chapter Text

It was the last Friday before Christmas break, and the last school day of the year. Both in 1998 and 1968, the students of Hogwarts were excited for having some time for themselves or simply spending it with their families over the holidays. But in both time-lines, two girls were very much excited for a very different reason.

Today, right before both girls would leave before their perspective family homes the next morning, would be the start of a very special adventure. Preparing for it had taken a few more days than, Bellatrix at least, would have liked. Aside from the need of gathering the supplies required for a prolonged stay in what had been dubbed the Fae Realm, Hermione insisted... much to Bellatrix's chargin... that they needed to do more tests to confirm their initial findings. The blood rite had a repeatable result, which was gratifying, but of more concern was that the flow of time in the Fae Realm appeared to be different than in their own world. Passage of time in the Fae Realm was barely noticeable when compared with their own world, if at all. For every hour spent in the Fae Realm, the time passed in their own world was negligible. If Hermione's calculations were correct... and they always were... they could stay in the Fae Realm for weeks on end and emerge maybe a few minutes after they left in the real world.

Satisfied, their expedition could begin and Bellatrix and Hermione divided their duties to gather supplies. While Bellatrix would handle logistical and scientific equipment, Hermione was in charge of the other supplies. Here is where Hermione had to admit that she didn't have all that much money to spend: most of her small stipend went towards renting the room, after all.

So Bellatrix buried a literal treasure chest for her: a wooden box the size of shoe-box filled to the brim with galleons which was more than enough for what Hermione had in mind. The ease with which Bellatrix had given her the equivalent of a credit card with no limit along had startled her a bit: she had plenty left after buying all the supplies and even felt a bit guilty about investing some of the excess money into a new pair of walking boots. It was easy to forget just how obscenely rich Bellatrix' family was: for her friend this was nothing but pocket change and she didn't even to want any of it back.

"I'm excited!" said Bellatrix on the other side of the pool. Hermione couldn't really make it out, but noticed her friend was dressed differently and was wearing some sort of hat. Hermione put the dagger down and prepared the now painstakingly memorized ritual chant in her head. Next to her were all the boxes of supplies set next to the pool, ready for transport. "Aren't you?!"

"Heh, I am," chuckled Hermione. And that much was true. There was something special and magical about setting foot in a strange new land. Suddenly, Bellatrix' head snapped to one side.

"Something wrong?" asked Hermione.

"Nah," said Bellatrix after scanning the woods for a moment. "Thought I heard something. Let's just get too it."

As the previous days, the girls met up at the pool and performed their ritual. Blood was shed, chants were done and, like before, they ended up on the brightly lit Black plateau.

After applying some healing unguent to her palm, the first thing Hermione spotted was that Trix had donned a very different attire. Though she had an inkling when looking into the pool earlier, she couldn't quite make it out in the dark until she stepped into the daylight of this Fae Realm. Bellatrix looked as if she had stepped off the set of a 1920's silent safari film: a brown jodhpurs, snug around the calf and flared at the hip, above high dark leather boots. A cotton blouse with a lighter shade of grayish-brown was closed up with oversized buttons while a curly mane of black hair cascaded over her shoulders from underneath a white pith helmet. Hermione had never seen Bellatrix outside of a dress and soon realized that her friend had caught her staring. Trix, for her part, didn't seem to mind.

"Like what you see?" Bellatrix chuckled, giving her a bit of a wink while putting her hands on her hips.

"Uhm," Hermione looked away. "Sorry, Trix. I... I was just surprised to see you wear anything else than black," she muttered, hoping her excuse would work.

"Hah," replied Bellatrix. "I followed the example of Eleanore Snowbell. This is the kind of attire she would wear on an expedition with this kind of climate."

Of course, Hermione was dressed for the occasion as well. Her new walking boots were only an accessory to a more modern exploration attire: a blue cotton shirt and brown trousers. Rather than a pith helmet, Hermione had opted for a far simpler white beanie with a visor knitted on to keep the sun out of her eyes.

"You look great, Hermie," replied Trix, a compliment which set Hermione's heart aflutter. "Come, let's go set up base camp."

In the muggle world, an expedition of this kind could never be completed by two people alone, but magic was a great help. An entire campsite with months worth of supplies could simply be carried in two enchanted backpacks to offset the bulk and weight. Hermione was first to show her bounty: with one yank on the strings of her backpack, she produced an entire pallet of food and water. A collection of square five litre bottles stacked up, enough to last them for two months if need me.

"Whoa," Bellatrix blinked and approached the pallet, placing her hand on the clear bottles. "Wait, this isn't glass?"

"It's plastic," said Hermione. "Clear, thin plastic. Easier to carry, less likely to break and see that little faucet over there at the bottom? You don't even need to pour it. Just fill a cup and drink."

"This is... strange."

"What were you expecting?" Hermione asked.

"Barrels," replied Bellatrix. "Wooden barrels. But I have to admit these seem a mite handier."

"Well," Hermione joked. "If you can stand to be around muggle-bottled water..."

"Muggles created these?!" Bellatrix turned to her. For a moment, she thought Bellatrix was angry at the thought of having to deal with something made by muggles, but she seemed more intrigued than anything. "Well, at least that's the water taken care of. So what about the food?"

Hermione pointed to a gathering of tins. "We've got a wide variety of tinned foods, ranging from fruits and vegetables to meats, beans and fish. Everything was hand-picked and balanced out for a completely healthy diet including all food groups. Even got some spicy chili in the mix. Enough to last us for two months, should we stay as long as that."

"We were only planning to stay for two weeks max," Bellatrix frowned.

"It's best to be prepared," said Hermione. "Imagine if the portals close all of a sudden and trap us here for a bit. We'll have plenty of supplies should that happen."

Bellatrix nodded in understanding and picked up one of the tins. "What's this? It says 'Spam'. Never heard of that."

"Oh, of course, she picked up one of those," Hermione rolled her eyes. "Those are only for dire emergencies," she said, snatching the tin out of Bellatrix's hands and replacing it with another filled with more appetising content.

"Hm," said Bellatrix, studying the label. "Pine-apple slices."

"Of course, plenty of teabags," said Hermione, pointing at a big wholesale box of mixed flavours. "Didn't forget those."

"Of course not!" Bellatrix spoke in approval. "Always English!"

"Now, this might be a bit controversial," Hermione said and pulled a 4 burner flat camping gas stove from the bag, along with a few propane tanks. Bellatrix looked on warily as Hermione demonstrated the device. Bellatrix looked on warily and in silence while Hermione hooked up the tank with a hose and startled Bellatrix by making the burner catch flame.

"That's... that's a muggle device!" Bellatrix raised her chin imperiously, looking at it as if it was an infectious leper and kept her distance.

"I'm a muggle-born girl," Hermione reminded Bellatrix after shutting down the burner. "What were you expecting? How were you planning to cook our food?"

"Well..." Bellatrix bit her lip and crossed her arms, offering Hermione somewhat of a glare. "A campfire cooking pot, obviously."

Hermione raised an eyebrow. "And have you actually ever cooked something over a campfire?"

"Well... no," Bellatrix pouted slightly.

"Trust me," said Hermione. "If you had, you'd be thanking me right now."

That didn't make Bellatrix any less wary, though she did seem to stand down somewhat. "Alright," Bellatrix said carefully. "I trust you."

From her tone of voice, Hermione surmised that she would be doing the cooking for the duration of their adventure. Still, that suited her more than fine: cooking on campfire was a complete nightmare so avoiding that was a major victory in itself. "Just keep in mind, propane is highly flammable and explosive. If this tank gets punctured or too hot, it'll basically be a bomb."

"Right," Bellatrix took involuntary step back. "How about I show you our home away from them, after you put that propane-thing back in the deepest, darkest part of your backpack."

By the time Hermione had repacked the supplies, Bellatrix stood proudly next to a pitched tent. Outwardly, it looked much like a normal run-of-the-mill canvas camping tent. Of course, when it came to wizarding tents, looks were definitely deceiving. Much larger on the inside, Hermione was quite happy to find a spacious expedition tent with all the comforts of home.

"Right," said Bellatrix. "My sisters and I have spent many a night in this tent. Let me give you the grand tour. First of all, look at that sunroof." Pointing above, Hermione could see that the largest part of the tent's roof was made from transparent canvas, letting the light from the sun pour into the tent. "It's amazing to watch the stars at night."

Bellatrix presented a dining area, which consisted of a table and three chairs and was located in a cozy nook near the back of the tent. Three lazy sofa-chairs were a platform lower around a coffee table and Hermione imagined the three Black sisters hanging around in those chairs chatting about the affairs of the day. More impressive was the office area where the expedition's essentials lay. Bellatrix was committed to document every aspect of their adventure, much like her hero Eleanore Snowbell would have done: there was a rather expensive model camera which, while resembling an old-timer model, had a rather large lens attached to the front. Two pairs of binoculars with equally large lenses lay next to it, along with a series of yet-to-be-filled travel logs and a magical cartography set: the map would draw itself in as they explored their surroundings, saving them both precious time.

Bellatrix had spared no expenses.

"Right," said Bellatrix as she pointed to another section of the tent. "You can put your clothes in the dresser over there and change behind the flap. The toilet is right at the back, right next to the shower. Don't worry, we won't have to use our drinking water: the tent is enchanted to convert rain-water... provided it even rains here. Still, we can always scourgify ourselves."

Which left the sleeping arrangements. The tent's bedroom was in the central part of the tent, right underneath the sunroof. It was a rather cozy looking big mattress, but she was rather startled by what lay on top of it.

A sleeping bag.

A single sleeping bag.

For two.

"Uhm," Hermione gulped. "Is that..."

"A sleeping bag, yes," said Bellatrix. "I suppose this tent fits a bed. Several, I'd wager, but that wouldn't be very rugged and outdoorsy, now would it? We always wanted our camping experience to be authentic."

"Right..." Hermione gulped. "So... where do I sleep, then?"

Bellatrix frowned. "In the sleeping bag."

"So... where you do sleep?"

"Also in the sleeping bag," Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "Hermie, are you alright? Did you have a poor landing and hit yourself in the head?"

"No! I.. I... So... we're sleeping together then?" Hermione blurted out, instantly regretting her words and blushing profusely. "I... I mean..."

"You'll have to cook me dinner first," Bellatrix winked, a flirty joke which Hermione didn't quite appreciate at the moment. Or did she? God, what a mess. "Still, you don't have to worry about it. It barely fits me and my sisters, but seeing there's only two of us, it'll suit us fine."

At that moment, Hermione's mind was reeling: in a few hours, she'd be... in bed with Bellatrix... spending the night with her... very close... together... Immediately, she chastised her mind for going places she did not want it to go. To think about laying next to Bellatrix. Holding her. Being held by her. Her lips on hers. Her hands on her body, her skin, her cheek, her breasts. She fought to keep her breathing under control.

Bellatrix was her friend. Nothing less. Nothing more. She needed to get those unruly feelings of hers under control.

"Are you alright?" asked Bellatrix. "You seem a bit flustered."

"It's, uhm... I'm just still wearing my winter coat and it's far too hot for that," lied Hermione while unbuttoning her coat.

"Sure," said Bellatrix. "You can put it in the wardrobe I showed you."

Seizing the opportunity to flee this bit of the tent and put a bit of distance between her and Bellatrix to hide her deep shame. A few weeks back, she had felt similar shame when she had pleasured herself while thinking of Bellatrix... since that first time, however, it had become a nightly re-occurring flight into fantasy.

And, by Merlin, Hermione found herself hunkering for the real thing a lot more than she'd care to admit to.


The first hurdle to be overtaken during their grand adventure was actually getting down from Black Plateau into the plains below. But Bellatrix wouldn't let a six meter drop dampen her spirits. It is the very reason why she had brought plenty of magical rope. When she dropped the end of the rope, it automatically bound itself to the nearest structurally sound object that would hold her weight, in this case a large boulder, while she attached the other end of the rope to her pack. She then carefully lowered her down the side of the drop-off. After she landed on both feet, she looked up to see Hermione looking up at her warily.

"Come on down, it's perfectly safe," Bellatrix called up, and adjusted her travel pack.

"If you're sure," Hermione replied, biting the inside of her cheek. Breaking both her legs on the first day of the expedition would make for a poor end.

Bellatrix put her hands on her hips. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you've never used a magical rope before."

"Of course I have!' Hermione replied, more than a bit too quickly. "Many times before!"

"Uh-huh," Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "Just attach it to your belt and let the rope do the work."

And so Bellatrix became witness to the epic struggle of Hermione trying to descend a cliff-side despite being aided by a magical rope which should make such an effort impossible to fail.

Yet Hermione managed to achieve the impossible, first by somehow managing to descend upside down while flailing all her limbs and then by unceremoniously plummeting down with a yelp when she had only two meters left to go. She landed on her back with grunt and, due to the size of her backpack, was unable to get up on her own. With a smirk, Bellatrix stood over her and extended her hand. "I see you've used magical ropes many times before," she giggled while Hermione narrowed her eyes before taking her hand.

"Oh, do shut up," Hermione replied while patting herself down a bit. Bellatrix gave the rope a few shakes, causing it to release itself, coil up and attach itself to her belt.

"Good thing you weren't holding the camera, though," said Bellatrix as she took the camera which hung from her neck and took a few snaps of the grasslands.

"So what's our strategy?" asked Hermione. "And I can't believe I didn't ask that before we actually went down that cliff."

"Well," said Bellatrix. "Eleanore Snowbell always has a base-camp when she starts out and as she explores the surrounding area she sets up forward camps along the route. But with only two people in the Black-Granger expedition, that doesn't make much sense, now does it? So I'm thinking of doing the opposite: we fully explore the surrounding area and look for suitable sites for camps. Then, when we're doing exploring one area and have decided where to head next, we move our entire base-camp forward."

"How do we find our way back?" Hermione asked.

"With these!" Bellatrix said, producing what looked to be a conch-shell on a stick. "Magical beacons. They're linked to our map and always show up. We can always find our way home using these."

She planted one of the beacons in the ground and it started glowing for a bit. Hermione did check her map and was seemingly pleased to see a red dot appear on it. Oh, Bellatrix certainly liked Hermione well enough, but for a Gryffindor, Hermione certainly was being overly cautious.

"How about we explore the grasslands first?" Hermione suggested. "Everything is in plain view and there's a few landmarks already. Should fill out our map quite nicely."

In front of them stretched the grasslands, a mostly flat area of land with some copses of trees dotted around them, reminiscent of a mix between the rolling hills of the midlands and the savannas of Africa. In the distance, they could see a thick forest before a mountain range much further back. Indeed, it would be a good place to start.

Bellatrix wrapped an arm around Hermione's shoulder and found the other girl stiffening under her touch. "Exciting, isn't it?!" Bellatrix raved, and she was excited. Exploring this strange new world was, perhaps, the biggest adventure of her life and she was sharing with her best and only friend she had ever had... who was from another time-line entirely. Nothing about this situation was in any way regular or normal, and the curly-haired witch loved every moment of it.

"Yeah," Hermione almost whispered. When Bellatrix was about to withdraw her arm, Hermione quickly grabbed her wrist, leaving her arm draped around Hermione's shoulders. Hermione's other arm wound its way around her waist. Ah, a moment of shared celebration.

"I named the plateau," said Bellatrix. "So it's only fair you get to name the grasslands."

Hermione turned her head towards her, her expression one of reserved joy. Bellatrix watched as Hermione let her eyes rove over the rolling plains. "Tranquillity," she finally spoke.

"Tranquillity," smiled Bellatrix, taking in the atmosphere. "Fitting. Shall we go?"

"Wait, before we go," Hermione put her hands on her head. "Trix... that hat. Honestly, that hat..."

"What?" Bellatrix instinctively raised her hands to the pith helmet. "What's wrong with it?"

"You honestly have no idea just how silly you look?" Hermione raised an eyebrow.

"But... Eleanore Snowbell always wears these," Bellatrix could hear the pout in her own voice.

Hermione shook her head. "In the twenties, Trix. She always wore those in the twenties."

Bellatrix was someone who never cared about what others thought of her: she knew she was more powerful, more clever and more capable than everyone who talked behind her back or even to her face: such things were born out of jealousy more often that not, and Bellatrix was far superior to all of them. But... Hermione? That was someone she trusted. Someone she cared for. And sure, they had had plenty of banter before, but this felt different.

Was this really happening? Was Hermione... making fun of her? And her childhood hero to boot?

It surprised her just how much it stung. Just how embarrassing it was. A twinge of anger welled up in the pit of her stomach.

Apparently, all that showed in her expression as Hermione's mocking grin softened into a gentle smile. "Here," she said, snatching the pith helmet from her head before she had a chance to respond.

"Hey!" Bellatrix protested, but Hermione quickly stepped out of reach, yanked her own hat off and put the pith helmet on her own head.

"This is how silly you look," said Hermione, doing a brief curtsy bow with the pith helmet on her head. Bellatrix couldn't help but giggle at the oversized white hat above the brown tresses of Hermione's long mane.

Giggles turned into laughter. "Merlin," Bellatrix snorted. "You look like you have a tit on your head!"

Hermione stepped forward and put the beanie-hat on Bellatrix's head and adjusted it for good measure, pulling the visor down to shield her eyes. "There," said Hermione. "I'm fine with wearing the silly hat for now."

And so started their grand adventure, wandering away from the plateau and finally starting to explore this strange new land with its bright colours, clear sky and floating islands above.

After an hour of walking, they came across a shallow lake about forty feet in diameter and, judging from the many footprints, it saw a lot of traffic from the local fauna. More striking, however, was a large field of red poppy-like flowers north of the lake. The colour red was almost painfully bright, much like all other colours in this strange realm. Hermione took an interest in the flowers, as Bellatrix knew she would: her friend had a keen interest in herbology, after all.

"Look! Wildlife!" Bellatrix proclaimed as from over the hill approached a small herd of creatures. She counted fifteen of them while they calmly approached the lake for a bit of a drink. The creatures were decidedly odd: from a distance they resembled horses, but on their long snout they had short rounded beaks. They had strong, muscular shoulders and long front legs, but their back haunches and hips were decidedly smaller and shorter. One of them, the largest, sported a large set of horns while the rest had none. There were five more adults and the rest were calves. Bellatrix and Hermione watched them come surprisingly close when they sifted their beaks through the water or grazed a little near the water's edge.

"They're not afraid of us," said Bellatrix.

"Why would they be, Trix?" Hermione replied. "They've never seen humans before."

Bellatrix took her camera and got in a good position to snap a few pictures. "We need to give them a name too."

"Hm, whose turn is it?" Hermione muttered. "Let's see, you named our entry point, I named the grasslands, you named mountain range in the distance, I named the lake... your turn."

"Hm," Bellatrix put a finger to her lips. "That's a tough one. Beak-horse... Borse? No, that sounds wrong. Hippoduck? They do look like someone took parts of a duck, a horse and a gorilla and smashed it all together. Dipporilla?"

"Well, you think about it some more," said Hermione. "I'm going to take some samples of those flowers over there. I suppose I get to name those."

After Hermione left to fetch her samples, Bellatrix hunched to her knees to get a few more pictures and watched the creatures enjoy their drink- and bath time. They really didn't seem to mind her at all, though she did keep an eye out for the horned one. Curiously, though, it seemed like they weren't interested in the flower field to the north. The creatures were undoubtedly plant-eaters and those flowers seemed like an easy meal... so why weren't they going for it?

Her train of thought were interrupted when one of the calves turned out to be a bit more curious than the others and sauntered over to her. At first it seemed a bit wary, but when Bellatrix plucked out some long stems of grass and held it out for it to eat, the small creature came so close she could touch it.

"Hello there. Do you like to be named a 'borse'?" Bellatrix greeted as the tiny creature started eating out of her hand. She gently patted and rubbed the creature's head and it let out a purring bray in appreciation. So far, the rest of the herd didn't seem to mind. What did puzzle Bellatrix, however, was that the horned one was chasing away one of the calves from near the field of flowers.

"Hey, Hermie!" Bellatrix called out. "Come pet this little one!"

No answer.

"Hermie?" Bellatrix called out again.

Silence.

"Hermie?!"

Now concerned, Bellatrix rose to her feet and scanned her surroundings, letting out gasp of breath when she saw Hermione lying prone on her stomach, having fallen into the field of flowers. Immediately, the curly-haired which sprinted towards her. "Hermie!" she shouted. "What's wrong?!"

When she got nearer, she skidded to a halt when still a few meters away from Hermione. From her vantage point, she could see there were sun-bleached piles of bones lying among the flowers. Duck-billed piles of bones. Above the flowers itself was a fine haze of white dust in the air: spores, she realized. Well... that explained why the borses didn't want to be anywhere near this field.

"Heeeeelllpppp," sounded the tired and drawn-out voice of Hermione, as if it had taken every bit of effort left in her body to actually speak that single word.

"I'm coming, Hermie!" Bellatrix yelled back, but knew that she'd be doomed to end up on the ground right next to Hermione if she wasn't careful. Shit, shit, what to do?! Shit!

An idea came to her. After drawing her wand, she quickly applied the bubblehead charm to her face and rushed in to help her friend. She had to be quick: go in, grab Hermione and drag her out as quickly as she could muster. The moment she entered the field, she could feel the spores stinging her skin and her eyes, causing her to hiss in pain. Though the bubble-head charm did help, it only delayed the effect of the spores. She already felt her arms grow heavy and her mind started to fog up with fatigue. Still, she grit her teeth in grim determination, grabbed Hermione by the belt and started dragging her out of the field of flowers.

Dead weight was a good way to describe Hermione right now: she was completely incapable of moving on her own and Bellatrix wasn't as strong as she had wanted to be in this situation. Dragging Hermione and her pack out of the field took much longer than she would have liked. After making sure her friend's body was completely out of the field and rolling her towards the lake, Bellatrix staggered over to the water to dip her face into the lake to get the spores off her exposed skin. Almost immediately, she felt much better.

Clutching Hermione to her chest, she splashed water in her friend's face and put her canteen against her lips. That should get the spores out of her mouth. Hermione's breathing started to get even again and it didn't take long for her eyes to flutter open. "Feeling better?" Bellatrix asked.

"Hm, thanks, Trix," Hermione took a few deep breaths. "I... I don't think I can move just yet."

Bellatrix sighed in relief. "That was close. I guess this realm is more dangerous than we first thought."

"Have to be... more careful..." Hermione struggled to speak. "... didn't... pay... attention... Saw the bones... too late."

"Rest a bit," Bellatrix said while still holding on to her.

For her part, Hermione nestled her head against her chest while being held. "I... I like... where I am... right now..."

Bellatrix frowned. She wondered if Hermione might still be a bit delirious.

Chapter Text

With a groan, Hermione's eyes fluttered open. After a moment of disorientation, she realized she found herself in the sleeping bag in their tent, staring at the sun pouring in through the canvas skylight.

Curious. She didn't remember returning to the base-camp. Nor being put to bed. The last thing she remembered was... lying in Bellatrix's arms as she clutched her tightly and pressed her head against her chest. Almost instinctively, Hermione closed her eyes and felt a smile creep over her face. That had been so nice. So very nice indeed. It was almost worth being poisoned by flowers and dying to an endless sleep.

She had slept in her clothes, obviously, though they seemed scourgified and Bellatrix had removed her boots before putting her to bed. Hermione did feel very much rested and fully recovered from the many blood rites she and Trix had performed the days before. She stretched and got up. Bellatrix herself was nowhere in sight, so Hermione quickly made the sleeping bag and sauntered into the bathroom area to splash some water in her face.

Once she left the tent, she found that the location had changed. Their base-camp was now located somewhat near the lake, but thankfully far away from the field of red flowers which had almost done her in the previous day. The beaked creatures were still there, leisurely sifting through the water with their beaks. It was a sunny day again, warm and welcoming, though the lack of actual day-star in the sky was still a little disconcerting.

"Ah, good morning, sleepy-head!" greeted Bellatrix. Her friend was sat on a fallen look while looking rather out of her depth. She had apparently unpacked the camping stove and a tank of propane to put a kettle on for morning tea. Unfortunately, she didn't quite know how to work it, but had managed to fasten and connect the tank properly, at least. Next to her stood one of the five-litre square water bottles and she had apparently decided to drink some water instead.

"Morning, Trix," Hermione yawned. "How long have I slept?"

"Almost fifteen hours," smiled Bellatrix.

"Explains why I feel very relaxed and energetic. How about I fix us some breakfast, hm?"

"Good," said Bellatrix. "I'm witch enough to admit that I can't for the life of me figure out how this muggle contraption works."

Which was probably a good thing, though Hermione didn't say that out loud. Hermione started to turn on the camping stove, when she realized something was off with the tank. "Trix?" she asked. "What happened to the safety lock on this tank?"

"Oh, the red thing?" Trix called over from her perch. "I couldn't get it to disengage, so I knocked it off with a rock."

Hermione blinked. "You… you… knocked it off…"

"With a rock!" Bellatrix added cheerfully.

Right. Hermione couldn't smell any gas, but decided not to take any chances. She put the small tank away in one of her sidepouches for disposal later and went to fetch another propane tank from her pack just to be on the safe side. The camping stove was operational a few minutes later. After putting the kettle on for tea, she decided that since she hadn't eaten the previous evening, it was time for a hearty and filling full English fry-up breakfast. Baked beans, bacon, sausages, mushrooms and tomato, all from tins. While eating rather ravenously, both girls did have a bit of a conversation between bites.

"Hm," said Hermione before taking a bite of bacon. "So explain to me how the tent got here."

"Oh," said Bellatrix, taking a bite from a sausage. "I went back to fetch it."

"You... left me here while I was sleeping?" Hermione raised an eyebrow.

"Oh, don't look at me like that," Bellatrix pouted. "I charmed you with a shield and covered you with an illusion. Besides, I sprinted for the most part and was back in little over an hour. I think it's for the best if we change our plan and bring out base-camp along instead of leaving it behind in case, you know, something like this happens again."

"Maybe you're right," shrugged Hermione. "Wait... you put me to bed?"

"I figured you earned a rest," said Bellatrix. "Oh, this realm definitely has a day-night cycle. You should see the sky at night. It's beyond gorgeous. There's a great view from the sleeping bag through the sky-light, but you slept through it all."

Hermione felt her heart skip a beat: she and Bellatrix had shared a bed last night and she had slept through it all. "Hm, sorry I missed it," said Hermione, muttering wryly.

"You'll get another chance soon enough," smiled Bellatrix.

"I'd better," Hermione spoke before she caught herself and quickly focused to devouring a particularly hearty bit of mushroom. "So, what did you eat last night?"

"Oh, this," said Bellatrix and held up an empty tin of spam. Hermione blinked. Somehow, the mental image of someone whom was basically a wizarding aristocrat used to eating delicacies from golden plates eating raw spam from a tin with a plastic spoon was deeply comical. "I don't know why you're so negative about it. It was really nice."

Truth be told, Bellatrix never ceased to amaze her.


After a hearty breakfast, the two witches broke camp and, after saying their goodbyes to the grazing borses, decided to follow the stream feeding the lake further north. The stream ran parallel to the forest and led further into the grasslands, which give them more of an opportunity to explore. There were also more fields of the red flowers, much larger than had been at the lake. The two girls wisely decided to give those a wide berth, but it limited their options somewhat.

After losing some time by walking around a particularly large, seemingly endless field of large flowers, they found the stream again and followed it further north.

Every so often, Bellatrix would put down another magic conch on a stick to serve as a beacon. All in all, there was a nice path to follow back to the exit of this Realm should they need it. They came to a location near the stream where the plant-life was noticeably larger. The flowers they encountered looked like run-of-the-mill dandelions, though they stood as tall as sunflowers, with stems as thick as mooring ropes and flowers the size of a serving table.

"Nice bit of shade," said Bellatrix, taking a sip from her canteen while sitting down. "Bit of a break?" she asked while handing the canteen over to Hermione. Hermione took a sip and agreed: the non-existent sun was bearing down on them and the weather was rather stiflingly hot midday. A bit of a rest would do her wonders. She sat down and leaned against one of the giant dandelions, wiping the sweat from her brow.

"I suggest we go to that forest tomorrow," said Bellatrix. "The canopy should give us some cover."

"Hm, sounds heavenly," replied Hermione.

Hermione closed her eyes: she was used to hiking, certainly, but this was a distinctively un-British climate. Bellatrix didn't seem to be comping much better, though she seemed to be driven by pure enthusiasm. Funny thing, really: she had never expected to be exploring a strange new alien magical land with the younger version of an insane dark witch. Such wonders the universe could hold.

Though, she supposed thinking of Trix as insane wasn't fair. Bellatrix Black wasn't Bellatrix Lestrange and should not be judged so unfairly.

She suddenly felt a weight on her head. That was odd. Did something just drop on her? Still, though the weight was there, it hadn't heard it and it wasn't falling off either.

"Uhm, Hermie..." Bellatrix started to say while Hermione looked up to see two antennae poke over the brim of her pith helmet... along with a pair of mandibles. It didn't take long for her to put two and two together, especially after she recognized the shape.

"Trix..." she hissed through clenched teeth, trying to remain as still as possible. "There's a giant wasp on my head!"

"I see it..." Bellatrix replied with a hushed whisper.

The giant wasp turned around slightly, giving Hermione a full view of its abdomen and, more disturbingly, the stinger at the end of it. A stinger the size of a butterfly knife, even while still mostly sheathed. Her body betrayed her by way of involuntary shudder. Thankfully, the wasp didn't seem to be agitated by it.

"Hold on," Bellatrix sounded, followed by the tell-tale sound of a camera snapping.

"What?!" Hermione blinked. "There's a wasp the size of a large house cat sat on my head and the first thing you do is to snap a picture of it?!"

"Well, what do you expect me to do about it?" Bellatrix shrugged.

"Get rid of it, of course!" Hermione hissed. "Just... avada kedavra it!"

Bellatrix blinked in response. "That's... a bit excessive."

"Excessive?!" Hermione balked. "You're not the one with a giant wasp sat on your head!"

The wasp was shifting again now, turning around on top of her head as if it was a turret. Meanwhile, Bellatrix drew her wand and sort of aimed it at the wasp. "Alright," said Bellatrix. "Let's see if I can lure it away with a bit of light."

Before Bellatrix could say anything else, there was a loud crack and, to Hermione's relief, the wasp was gone. The relief didn't last long, however, as the wasp was now sat on Bellatrix' head instead. So... a giant teleporting magical wasp the size of a house cat. This was just getting better and better. Bellatrix, for her part, seemed frozen but more curious than afraid.

For the first time, she got a good look at the wasp. It was indeed the size of a particularly large cat, but much resembled the yellow-jackets from home, though its adornments were more of an orange-yellow. A big set of compound eyes were on either side of a head which also sported a small set of mandables. So far, the wasp was yet to make an aggressive move, but with a stinger that size it wasn't worth the risk.

"You were saying?" Hermione hadn't meant to sound quite as smug as she did, but felt it was a deserved payback. She took out her own wand and aimed it at the insect.

"What are you doing?!" Bellatrix said without moving a muscle.

"Hold still..."

"Have you ever even cast the killing curse before?!" Bellatrix hissed. "You don't strike me as a particularly dark witch, Hermie."

"Well... no..." Hermione replied.

Bellatrix bristled. "Then don't! You'll either fail completely, fry your wand core, accidentally hit me with it, or all of the above! No killing curses if you have no experience with it! I have a better idea. Hermie, open the bag with the provisions and fetch a chocolate bar."

Hermione did so, holding it out. Bellatrix made a bit of a motion with her fingers and the chocolate bar levitated towards her. Once she had it, she gently and awkwardly undid the wrapper with one hand. Slowly, but surely, she brought it up towards her head. The wasp, now having picked up on the sugar content in the air through its merrily twitching antennae, seemed supremely interested and shifted towards it. It reached out and carefully took a bite out of the chocolate bar with its mandibles. The taste was apparently enjoyed quite much, which was what Bellatrix had been hoping for. She held the bar away from her and the wasp took off, wings buzzing. It hovered around the chocolate bar and quickly gobbled up the rest of it. After the bar was consumed, it hovered in between the two girls.

"See?" Bellatrix smiled. "He's just hungry."

"Trix!" Hermione hissed as she watched her friend reach out again. "What are you doing?"

By now, Bellatrix was patting the flying wasp on the head, gently rubbing the chitin between its eyes. "See?" Bellatrix said. "He's friendly."

Hermione mood turned towards exasperation. "Trix! It's a wasp! They lay eggs in still-living paralysed creatures! They eat caterpillars! Have you seen the size of the stinger on that thing?!"

Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "Don't be so bigoted, Hermie. It's unbecoming."

Hermione blinked. Once. Twice. "Bigoted?! Me?! You are calling me a bigot?!" Hermione retorted, causing Bellatrix to cross her arms.

"Yes, I do, in fact," Bellatrix countered, eyes narrowed. "This creature has done nothing to us and all you've wanted to do is kill it. It hasn't attacked us. It hasn't stung us. It's hasn't made a single aggressive move. Why does it deserve to die?"

"What's next? You telling me I'm racist against wasps?!" Hermione muttered back. "It's a wasp. They are aggressive pests!"

Bellatrix' expression never changed. "It's a witch. They are irredeemably evil. They deserve to be burned at the stake."

"What's that got to do with anything?" Hermione asked, already knowing the answer to it.

"It's a mudblood," said Bellatrix. "They are wicked and untrustworthy thieves. They don't deserve to wield magic. There was a time when I held that as an unshakable truth. Hermie, you taught me to open my mind. Before I met you, I never would have willingly associated with a muggle-born."

Hermione shook her head. "Are you comparing me to a wasp?"

"That's not the point," said Bellatrix. "And you know it."

Hermione closed her eyes, now well and duly chastised. After a few deep breaths, she spoke softly. "An oak and a reed were arguing about their strength. When a strong wind came up, the reed avoided being uprooted by bending and leaning with the gusts of wind. But the oak stood firm and was torn up by the roots."

Bellatrix frowned. "What does that mean?"

"Aesop," replied Hermione after slinging her backpack to her back. "Something I'll do some catching up with once our expedition is over. Seems I can still learn from it."

"Enough of a break?" smiled Bellatrix. "We still have some ground to cover."

"Yeah," said Hermione, watching as the wasp hovered around the dandelions while the two girls went along their way.


Thankfully, the rest of the day was rather uneventful. There were no more fields of poisonous flowers, giant wasps or anything else unsavoury. The witches spent most of their time chatting as they traversed the grasslands, cataloguing and naming several more types of, thankfully benign, flowers and observing another flying creature in the distance with binoculars. Bellatrix added plenty of more photographs to her collection and by the time the light of the sun started to dim, it was time for the girls to set up camp. Tomorrow, they would explore the nearby forest.

They had dinner by the campfire. Not that a campfire was needed, but now that the non-existent sun was apparently setting, it was just a pleasant addition to their camp. And then, finally, came the moment Hermione had been dreading: her first conscious night in this realm... and spending it sharing a sleeping bag with Bellatrix. After dousing the fire, Bellatrix cleaned up the campsite and went inside. With a lump in her throat, she made her way inside only to find Bella already in the sleeping bag, looking up at the sky through the canvas skylight. Hermione washed up at the sink and exchanged her clothes for a set of pink pyjamas. Girly, she knew, but it was comfortable and she made no apologies for it.

When she emerged from the dressing area, she rushed towards the sleeping bag, only to dive into it and lay on her back, stiff as a board. Even so, she could feel Bellatrix's closeness as she lay next to her, staring up at the sky.

"How amazing is that?" said Bellatrix, referring to the light about. Stars... or whatever they were supposed to be, shone brightly in the deep purple night sky. Though it all, ribbons of green light shone among wispy strands. "Aurora Borealis in this alien world," smile Bellatrix, eyes fixed above. "Beautiful."

Hermione's gaze was not on the sky, but on the girl next to her. She couldn't help but smile when gazing upon her countenance, an expression of childlike innocence upon in. "Indeed. Beautiful," whispered Hermione.

Why was she doing this? Telling herself that it was to help herself by helping Bellatrix, but undeniable truth: she had feelings for Bellatrix. Romantic feelings. Hermione was open-minded enough not to be shocked by being romantically attracted to a girl.

In love.

'Say it for what it is, Hermione.'

She was in love with Trix.

Perhaps she had been ever since Bellatrix mentioned she had dallied with girls in the past. Perhaps learning that little fact got the ball rolling. Part of her yearned to confess her feelings for her, but... she wasn't sure how Bellatrix would react. Certainly, she seemed to be more accepting for muggle-borns now, but friendship and romantic relationships were two very different things. Worse yet, it might impede her attempts to save Bellatrix from becoming her future self.

So for now she would keep her feelings to herself and gazed upon the sky. A day of walking had tired her out enough to quickly slip into mires of sleep. Unfortunately, sleep decided not to be kind of Hermione.

Hermione was once again on the cold floor of Malfoy Manor, a heavy weight shifting on top of her. Bellatrix Lestrange, her face twisted in a frightening mask of abject rage, lowered her head to scream in her ear. "FILTH! LIAR!" she shrieked, causing Hermione to attempt to shy away from her. Apparently, Bellatrix found this amusing, and made a point of it grab a fist-full of hair and slam the side of her head into the hard tiles.

Pain exploded through her skull, the sudden move leaving her more than a little dazed. Hermione cowered underneath the wicked woman's terrifying form. "Tell me... TELL ME! WHEN DID YOU TAKE IT?! WHEN WERE YOU IN MY VAULT?!"

"I never was!" Hermione felt tears run over her cheeks. "Please... please, I didn't take anything."

Hermione screamed as the woman literally bent down to take a bite onto the nape of her neck. "Please... please... don't hurt me anymore," Hermione cried.

Apparently, the begging amused Bellatrix enough to let out a fierce cackle. "Oh, it'll end. But not before I get my answers. And not before you scream so hard your vocal chords will tear. Filthy, filthy little mudgirl. You think you can walk among your betters, strut around thinking you are our EQUAL?!"

"Please... I haven't done anything to you!" Hermione trembled when the cold blade of a knife was dragged over the soft skin of her cheek.

"Hm," Bellatrix chuckled. "I wonder how many bits I can cut off your body before you'll faint. I'm guessing four. Shall we find out together, hm?"

Hermione had never felt so terrified. So helpless. This wasn't something she could reason herself out of. This wasn't a problem she could solve with her smarts. This woman was relentless and merciless.

"Oh!" Bellatrix giggled like a little schoolgirl. "I have such a lovely idea!"

Hermione felt Bellatrix roll up her sleeve and once the tip of the blade carved through her flesh, she could do nothing else but to close her eyes and scream through the blinding pain.

"Hermione?" sounded in the darkness. "Hermione!"

The voice of Bellatrix Lestrange and faded into that of the younger Bellatrix Black. Malice giving way for concern and worry. Hermione's eyes shot open and found herself drenched in sweat while staring up at the alien sky through the canvas skylight above, intensely colourful even at night. She was... not in Malfoy Manor: she was in pyjamas in the big sleeping bag she shared with... with...

Bellatrix's much younger face hovered over her, her expression in stark contrast to that of her older self Full dark curls fell down the side of her head. The girl, also clad in her own sleepwear, gently lay her hands on Hermione's cheeks. "You were having a nightmare," said Bellatrix. "You were screaming."

Hermione fought to keep her breathing under control, panting as she tried to push the nightmare far into the back of her mind. "Trix..." Hermione muttered. "I... I'm sorry I woke you, I... Just a dream. It's nothing."

"Didn't sound like it was nothing," Bellatrix pursed her lips. "You were screaming for someone to stop hurting you."

Hermione sighed. "You're right," she replied softly, sitting up while Bellatrix starting running a hand through her brown hair. "It wasn't 'nothing', I... that person can't hurt me anymore. Ever."

"Good," replied Bellatrix, her expression one of determination. "Because if anyone or anything even thinks about hurting you, they're going to have to get through me first!"

Hermione regarded the seventeen-year old Bellatrix. Though the girl whom had become one of her closest friends had her moments of fool-hardy bravado, this was not one of it. From her expression, Hermione was certain that she had meant every single word.

"Trix," Hermione smiled warmly and gently flowed into the other girl's arms, embracing her tightly. The embrace was soon returned, with Bellatrix parking her chin on her shoulder and snaking her arms around her back.

At that very moment, Hermione felt more safe than she had ever felt before. She trusted Trix as much as she hated the woman she could potentially become. She felt ever more determined to try to prevent that from ever happening.

"I'll save you," Hermione whispered softly.

"What?" Trix frowned and let go of Hermione to look her in the eye. "That doesn't make any sense at all. I thought I was comforting you."

"I was just saying," Hermione replied. "That I'd do the same for you."

Bellatrix smiled briefly. "Well. I don't feel like sleeping much at the moment. How about we just watch the stars for a bit. Or, well, whatever passes for stars in this strange realm."

"Lets."


After some moments of chatting and watching the stars together, Hermione had calmed down enough to try to catch more winks. Only to wake up again in a tent barely illuminated by starlight above. By now, Hermione had gotten over her initial fear and embarrassment over sharing a sleeping bag with Bellatrix, especially after what had happened earlier in the night. Apparently, it was around two-thirty in the morning... according to her watch at least. This Fae Realm did have a tendency to mess with her sense of time, after all. Still, this was the time she usually got up to make her trek into the Forbidden Forest to talk to Trix for the past few months, so it was no surprise her body was still used to that pattern.

More to the point, Bellatrix still lay sleeping next to her, on her side and head smushed against the pillow. She looked so... peaceful. So innocent.

Hermione supposed that everyone had the potential to become a monster under the right circumstances, but if there was one thing she had learned, was that monsters were once perfectly normal, well-adjusted people.

Well... in case of Trix, mostly normal and mostly well-adjusted, when looking at her from a certain angle.

And right now, Hermione was definitely looking at Bellatrix from a certain angle. She was sleeping, right? What was the harm? And, well, it was Bellatrix whom had suggested the two of them would share a sleeping bag. It'd be hard not to look, wouldn't it? And look she did.

Carefully and quietly, Hermione lifted the top of the sleeping bag ever so slightly, letting enough light in to sneak a peak. Unlike her own pyjamas, Trix had decided to sleep in a top and shorts, giving Hermione an excellent glimpse of her toned legs: the legs of a Quidditch chaser. Hermione swallowed hard as her eyes followed every curve. Bellatrix was a combination of brains and brawn. Funny really, earlier this night she had been too upset to notice, but now? Bellatrix was given all of Hermione's undivided and lustful attention.

Seriously, Trix really was good at everything she did... well, except for social situations, Hermione supposed.

Eyes roved further to her belly and her abs. And her chest. Oh dear god and what a chest it was. Rising and falling slowly with every rhythmic breath. Hermione felt her own breath quickening, her cheeks reddening and her body tingling. Trix' breasts were a tad bigger than her own, which caused her a slight pang of jealousy.

And then, finally, her face. Her strong jawline, her curly mane and her intense countenance. God, even while sleeping, young Bellatrix had such an unbelievably strong presence. It was no wonder that Voldemort had wanted to recruit her for the Death Eaters and considered her such a valuable asset.

Well, not if Hermione could help it. Trix was her friend. And Hermione was going to make damn such that Voldemort wouldn't get his claws inside her head.

No, Hermione wanted Bellatrix all to herself. All of Trix. All to herself. Every bit of her.

Immediately, Hermione paused. That was on odd thought to have. Where did that come from? Still, she had to admit the attraction was undeniable at this point. All those feelings soaring through her she had yet to make sense of.

She dared a touch. Gently, slowly and methodically, Hermione slowly raised her arm and reached towards Trix. Slowly, ever so slowly, her fingers reached for curly dark hair. And with the tips of her fingers kissed silky softness, she gently started stroking back and forth.

God, so soft.

The tips of her fingers buried ever deeply into a silky soft ocean of curls.

"Hmmm," sounded from Bellatrix, a smile spreading on her face while her eyes were still closed. Her friend shifted a little closer to her. Then, all of a sudden, Hermione gasped when her friend's eyes fluttered open and Hermione literally felt like she had been caught with her hand in the till. Even for a sleep drunk Bellatrix, it was hard to miss that Hermione had her hand in her curly hair.

Thankfully, Bellatrix wasn't angry or repulsed, but merely smiled.

"Sorry, I..." A blushing Hermione started to say, but Bellatrix chuckled.

"It's alright," Bellatrix replied softly, but shifted a little closer to her, startling Hermione when she raised her own hand.

"Quid pro quo. It's only fair," Bellatrix smirked when she noticed Hermione's discomfort and reached out her hand, far less slowly and carefully than Hermione had. A shudder went through Hermione when she felt fingertips sliding through her hair. Back and forth, back and forth. Once again, Hermione's breath quickened, especially when Trix's smirk transformed into a soft smile.

Her hand stopped her stroking motion, only to rest her palm on Hermione's cheek and gently rubbed the skin with her thumb. Again, Hermione blushed profusely as wicked thoughts once again made her way through her lust-fogged brain. Bellatrix shifted a little closer to her. Was she... Was she going to?

For a moment, Bellatrix looked very unsure of herself. Dark eyes spread wide open. Searching. Questioning. Doubting.

Then, determination. A slight smirk. A slight tilt of her head. A slight but sure shift towards her.

God.

Was she… going to kiss her?! Sweet merciful god, Trix was actually going to kiss her!

Hermione whimpered slightly, closing her eyes and preparing herself mentally for something she had only dared to dream been about for weeks.

But instead of Bellatrix' soft lips on hers, there was... the sound of buzzing and a slight weight dropping on her side. When she opened her eyes, she was confronted with the sight of a giant wasp walking over their sleeping bag.

"AH!" Hermione exclaimed and shifted away from Bellatrix, all sense of romance now completely ebbed away.

"Oh!" sounded Bellatrix, a bit more cheerful. "Our friend's back!"

The romantic moment now well and truly lost, Hermione rolled her eyes, curling up her body while the curious wasp was seemingly exploring the outside of their sleeping bag. "Wonderful," she sighed with a sarcastic edge on her tone of voice. "Did he teleport inside?"

"No," said Bellatrix. "The canvas is enchanted with an anti-apparition charm. Standard security, really. Hm..."

Bellatrix pointed towards the doorflap and, following her gaze, Hermione could notice that the bottom half of the doorflap was parted. "Hah," laughed Bellatrix. "He must have figured out how to work the zipper. You're very clever, aren't you?"

Hermione didn't know what was more disturbing... the fact that a giant wasp had managed to zip open the tent to crawl inside or that Bellatrix was cooing over a giant wasp while it was merrily play-biting at Trix' wrist with his mandibles.

No, scratch that. The most disturbing thought what that she could have been snogging Bellatrix right now if it hadn't been for that goddamn wasp interrupting them!

Chapter Text

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.

Maybe.

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.

A creature.

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?"

"Priorities, Trix!"

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."

"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."

"Trix, no!"

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.

Perfect!

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!"

"Priorities, Trix."

"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 soft.

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.

Chapter Text

Well, Bellatrix certainly got what she'd been hoping for. A grand adventure wrought with discovery, romance and danger. And after today, she certainly been on the receiving end of all three in spades.

Funny thing, really. Though it was so obvious right now, Bellatrix had never realized that she was in love with Hermione until today. She'd always been looking forward to talking with her through the Fae Mirror, told her things she'd never told anyone. Her heart would skip a beat whenever she saw her face in the portal and during the day, she counted the minutes until she could see her again and was so often in her thoughts. How could she not have seen it? It was was so obvious.

For Hermione, it'd been quite mutual. That much was obvious too now. A pure-blood and a mud... muggle-born. Truth be told, if they had met under more regular circumstances, a romance between them likely never would have blossomed, making it all the more special. They had been friends first, of course, good friends. And somewhere along it simply developed.

Still, there were some issues at hand they'd have to contend with. They were still in the middle of the forest, battered and bruised and judging by the waning light the day would soon come to an end. They walked together through the forest, which now seemed so much more vibrant with sounds and life. Perhaps it was because that black unicorn abomination was now gone and the smaller creatures and birds of the forest finally dared to show themselves again, or perhaps it was simply a reflection of the mood she was in right now.

Bellatrix and Hermione didn't really speak much as they trekked. What good were words when a simple smile, a loving look or holding hands could say more than a thousand words? All those three things happened quite often while they were trying to find their way through this thick and surprisingly large forest. Though they had lost the beacon at their camp, there was still the beacon Bellatrix had placed at the entrance of the forest, which had been easy enough to find. They knew their camp had to be somewhat near, but it was still frustratingly hard to find in a thick forest where every tree looked the same. Their camp had to be found, though, as all their supplies were there as well as all the facilities in their tent.

Though glad to have discovered love, it would not be able to slake their hunger, thirst and fatigue. After using their compass to plot out a search grid, they'd been walking back and forth that area of the forest for what seemed like hours. Just when the sun had set and the forest was bathed in darkness, the girls decided it would be wise to return back to the entry point, improvise their sleeping arrangements and continue their search tomorrow. Ironically, on their way back there, they stumbled upon the clearing they had set up their camp.

"Oh, Merlin above," Bellatrix heard herself say. "Some good fortune at least."

"You have no idea how happy I am right now," replied Hermione.

Thankfully, the monstrous black unicorn hadn't done very much damage to the camp as all their supplies were still there and the tent was untouched. Bellatrix quickly got a campfire going while Hermione was fiddling with that muggle stove.

"Going to make us some dinner," said Hermione.

"Can you still cook without that propane thing?" asked Bellatrix.

"I've brought several," replied Hermione. "But we probably shouldn't lose more of those tanks."

The wasp has been following them around, buzzing merrily. But once the tent was in sight, there was a pop as teleported to the side of the tent's doorflap where he walked down over the canvas and started pulling on the zipper with his mandibles to make an entrance. He promptly crawled inside through the opening it had just made, undoubtedly to look for more sugar and chocolate. This was fine with Bellatrix: as far as she was concerned, the friendly wasp had earned his keep.

Meanwhile, Hermione had gotten the muggle stove up and running and was opening a few tins of what seemed to be a hearty beef stew. Something Hermione could warm up quickly. Bellatrix' stomach growled in anticipation and she decided to get a drink of cold water from their supplies.

Today had been quite a day of excitement to say the least and she would sit down on a fallen log next to the cooking Hermione to document the events of the day in her travel journal. Every so often, they would gaze upon each other and scoot over for a quick cuddle or a kiss.

It was odd, really. Bellatrix had often made fun of her fellow students acting all 'lovey-dovey' in public, but now that she had clearly fallen for Hermione, she wanted nothing else than to be close to her and being in physical contact with her as much as possible. Judging by the way Hermione would often snake her arm around her waist while cooking, the feeling was quite mutual.

Bellatrix was still writing in her journal when Hermione announced that dinner was ready. Hearty beef-stew along with tea and cupcakes floating in preservatives for dessert. After the events of the day, Bellatrix wasn't complaining: it was the evening dinner of queens for all she cared.

It only brought home just how exhausted they were. Both of them wanted nothing more than to enjoy their dinner, get inside the tent, wash up and go to bed.

They did just that, after dousing the fire and heading inside. After Bellatrix had washed up and switched into her sleepwear, she found Hermione already in the sleeping bag wearing her pink pyjamas. The curly-haired witch swiftly climbed inside the sleeping bag as well and quickly found herself being cuddled up to by Hermione. The wasp was somewhere in the tent too and, according to Hermione, insect slept too. No doubt the wasp had found a quiet spot to have a bit of a kip and Bellatrix couldn't blame him in the slightest: he'd had a rather active day too.

Hermione next to her. It was a good feeling, to have her soft body pressing into her side, arm draping over her stomach. Together, they watched through the canvas skylight into the sky above. They brushed lips ever so often and neither saw the need to speak at first. That was, until Hermione broke the silence.

"Trix?"

"Hm?"

"Tell me a story."

"You haven't experienced enough horror today?"

Hermione chuckled. "I just want to listen to the sound of your voice."

"You're in luck," smirked Bellatrix. "I too am in love with the sound of my own voice."

"Pfft, arrogant..."

"Noticed that, haven't you?" Bellatrix chuckled.

"About that story..."

"Okay," replied Bellatrix. "Let me get my notebook."

"Noooo..." Hermione pouted and clung onto Bellatrix, keeping her firmly in place. "Don't goooo..."

"It's right there on the table. Three meters away."

"Noooooooooooooo..."

"If want a story, I'll need my notebook," Bellatrix raised an eyebrow.

"You're creative enough. Think one up," Hermione demanded.

Bellatrix thought a moment. Any story would do at the moment, it seemed. "Alright," said Bellatrix. "How about a classic? Once upon a time, there was an elderly witch who lived in the woods."

"Hmmm, good start," Hermione murmured with her eyes closed.

"The elderly witch lived near a muggle village and often had the children of the village come visit," said Bellatrix. "Now, she never had a family and was often lonely. So she would often make lavish amounts of sweets for the children who would stop by for a chat or for play. The elderly witch was quite popular as a result and the village, whose inhabitants were quite often far too busy with their farming and hunting, paid the witch little mind. This went perfectly well for years on end. Until, one day, the village fell on hard times. Their harvest had failed and many animals had migrated to a different part of the forest after a fire had broken out. Though the witch was quite happy to keep on treating the now often starving children, the relationship between her and the village was starting to get a bit more tense."

"Oh dear," Hermione pouted. "I want a happy ending."

Bellatrix rolled her eyes. "Listen to the story first. Okay, so one day there is a knock on the door. Thinking more kids have come to visit, the elderly witch takes a bowl of candy and shuffles towards to the door. When she opens it, she sees two teenagers standing in her yard. A boy and a girl. They were the fattest teenagers she had ever seen. Seriously, they were absolutely bulbous in their enormity. 'Good day, witch,' spoke the boy. 'I am Hansel and this is my sister Gretel. We are two sad and hungry orphans and we haven't eaten for a week'. Now, the elderly witch found this to be a little dubious considering their bulk and the fact that there was chocolate residue still smeared all over their fat faces."

"I heard this story before," smirked Hermione. "But it's a little different that how my mum told me."

"You've probably only ever heard the muggle version. The vicious, slanderous anti-witch propaganda version! This is the actual story," said Bellatrix. "Now hush while I'm telling it!"

"Right, sorry, sorry."

"So Gretel grabs the bowl of candy and just pours it into her mouth. The elderly witch looked on in dismay as the two fat 'orphans' brushed past her and make a beeline straight to her dinner table only to devour the chicken dinner she had prepared for herself. 'I don't think you are orphans at all,' said the elderly witch. 'I clearly recognize you two as the boyar's children'. The fat orphans weren't impressed, however, and started eating all of her candied nuts and her honey, moving from pot to pot in her kitchen as if they were two really fat locusts.

So Gretel scoots over to her and puts her arm over her shoulder. 'Listen, you old bag,' spoke Gretel. 'Here's how this is going to work. You are going to feed us to our heart's desire, and we won't get to our father to convince him you tried to cast a spell us that will get you burned at the stake. Capiche?'. Now, the elderly witch was a practical sort: she figured that if the two fat teenagers would have their fill, they would likely just leave. So she fed them. Pounds and pounds of candy, mountains of sweetrolls, meters of taffy, trays of fudge, metric tons of cake. And the fat, bulbous slobs completely cleared her out. Incredulous, the elderly witch listened as the orphans demanded more. 'Give us more food, you old bag!' Gretel shrieked at the top of her lungs while Hansel whined. 'If you have nothing more, you are useless to us!'. The elderly witch sighed. 'Fine,' she said. 'I'll fire up the oven and make some more cake'. However, the moment she opened the over-sized door to her stove, she was suddenly shoved inside! When met with the searing heat, she turned around and pounded on the door to the oven, only to see the fat orphans laughing at her. 'We were going to tell our father to burn you anyway. We're just shaving off some time in thanks for the fine meal,' she heard them say while laughing sadistically.

So, the elderly witch knew just what to do. They were foolish enough to leave her with her wand, and had conveniently forgotten that she could do actual magic! So she apparated right behind them, wand in hand. For the first time, she saw the fat orphans gulp as they realized their mistake... and let out a cry as she cackled merrily.

The next day, a few of the children came to visit her again. Unlike the fat orphans, these were nice and polite... and thin children. So the elderly witch smiled and told them that she was throwing a party. All children of the village were invited, so she asked them to fetch the rest. It was a fun party and the kids played games in the yard until the elderly witch, bearing a smile as a broad and as warm as she could muster, wheeled out two giant lumps of gingerbread. Now, the children loved the elderly witch's gingerbread so they all cheered in unison.

And so the witch smiled as the children dug in relentlessly. She smiled as she saw the human eyes of the two giant gingerbread figures, rolling around in sheer panic as they were being slowly but surely devoured bit by bit by the happy, laughing children, enchanted in such a way that they felt the agony of every break and every bite as more and more of their bodies found their way into the children's bellies.

Moral of the story? Don't fuck with a witch! Ever! Even the nice ones!" Bellatrix concluded the story, turning to Hermione to smile at her.

Hermione smiled back. "You just made that up on the spot, didn't you?"

"I might have," giggled Bellatrix. "Come out rather morbid at the end there. In fact, I'd better go write it down before I forget the details..."

"Nooooooo!" Hermione whined again and clamped herself around Bellatrix's waist, keeping her firmly in place and pulled her down again when she made a move. Bellatrix yelped as she was being pulled closer to Hermione, facing her as they lay in the sleeping bag. The curly-haired young witch felt Hermione's closeness, smelled the scent of her shampoo, felt her breath on her skin... and she was lost.

Hermione eyed her nervously when Bellatrix shifted closer and wrapped her arms around her. A cheeky smirk playing on her lips, she leaned in to kiss Hermione on the lips again. There was a hunger to it this time. Their closeness, their intimate embrace, sending itself to more cheeky thoughts.

Tongues met again, for the first time since their celebratory kiss after the defeat of the black unicorn. But there was more desire behind it. More lust. Bellatrix wanted more. And she wasn't the only one. She could see it in Hermione's eyes, in her trembling lips. That want. That desire. That lust.

"You've been thinking about this, haven't you? You and me. Together in bed," Bellatrix smirked. "More than once."

Panic was evident in those lovely brown eyes of hers. And the fact that her cheeks now coloured bright red told her more than words ever could, and made any attempt at denial utterly futile.

"You have!" Bellatrix laughed. "You completely and utterly have!"

There it was. Judging from her expression, poor Hermione wanted to just crawl into the sleeping bag, close the zipper and never come out again from the sheer embarrassment. It was then that Bellatrix went in for the kill.

"Don't worry," Bellatrix raised her chin imperiously. "It's quite common for girls to think of me when they pleasure themselves at night."

Beet. Red.

Caught red-handed, as it were. Betrayed by her own body, no less. Now done with her relentless teasing, it was time for a confession of her own.

"It's alright," she spoke to a girl now close to tears and whimpering from embarrassment. "I've been thinking about it too. A lot. But I will tell you, though: the real thing is so much better. And I'd love to share it with you."

Hermione looked at her with those big brown, startled eyes of her. And, with tremors going through her body, gave her an almost imperceptible nod.

"Your world will never be the same," Bellatrix chuckled and leaned in for another kiss. Their lips brushed and again Hermione whimpered slightly. Love was, indeed, a curious thing. From friendship to romance, the feelings had bound the both of them tightly together. Hell, they had transcended the boundaries of time, their world and, if this realm was any indication, their very own dimension as well. Now if that wasn't a romance worthy of the storybooks, she didn't know what was.

Those brown eyes of hers, spread open wide, looked at her expectantly. If she'd have to hazard a guess, Bellatrix didn't think Hermione had had much experience. Not that she minded... having Hermione melt into a puddle of pleasure was its own reward.

First things first: Hermione needed to be peeled out of that pink monstrosity she was wearing. Bellatrix slid her hands over her side and tugged at the hem, giving clear indication of her intent. Hermione, for her part, swallowed hard but offered little resistance after shifting a little to allow Bellatrix to lift the pyjama top over her head. Once her torso had been bared, Hermione immediately crossed her arms over her chest and squeezed her eyes. Obviously not used to being seen as an object of desire, all of Hermione's confidence had fled her... it was as if Hermione feared that Bellatrix would reject her if she were to lay eyes on her bare frame.

"It's alright," Bellatrix smirked. "Here, I'll go next."

Well, that got Hermione's attentions. Eyes shot open just as Bellatrix shifted to pull her own top over her head, revealing her breasts and abdomen. The curly-haired witch was quite aware that she was an attractive young woman, with toned abs from her years of playing Quidditch and by the way boys... and plenty of girls... had a tendency to stare at her breasts when they thought Bellatrix wouldn't notice, she knew she wasn't in any way lacking there.

Hermione was no different, causing Bellatrix to smirk again when she saw her lover's eyes transfixed on her chest. For a moment, Bellatrix recalled when she had been in exactly the same position Hermione had been in: Evelyn Greengrass, an older girl, buxom, had introduced her to the pleasures of sapphic love in what could best described as a friendship-with-benefits... in that relationship, Bellatrix had been the wide-eyed trembling virgin until she had gained more experience and, right now, she was just paying it forward.

Bellatrix knew that she had to force the issue a little to get Hermione to crawl out of her shell... hell, Evelyn had to do the same for her two years ago. The curly-haired witch grabbed hold of a startled Hermione's wrist and gently pulled it towards her to lay her hand on her breast. Bellatrix heard a sharp intake of breath and it didn't take long for Hermione to slowly start rubbing her hand back and forth. The sensation was more than pleasant, feeling her own nipple harden in response. She offered Hermione an encouraging smile. Slowly, but surely, Hermione gained the courage to actually show herself to Bellatrix.

"Beautiful," Bellatrix whispered when she was finally allowed an eyeful of Hermione's breasts which, though smaller than hers, were perfectly rounded and lovely. At first, Hermione seemed a bit doubtful, but her frown quickly turned into a smile and a blush. And then it was as if the floodgates were opened.

Hermione pounced upon Bellatrix, shifting towards her and crushing her body against hers. Her lips latched on the side of Bellatrix's neck as if she was a vampire desperate for a meal. The curly-haired witch let out a brief giggle before matching Hermione's intensity. The girls lay in the light of the stars above, pressing their bodies together. Their lips met, their tongues wrestled and Bellatrix felt eager hands sliding over her skin. She held Hermione closer, until they broke the kiss and pressed their noses together.

"Lay on your back," Bellatrix demanded with a husk, gently pushing Hermione away from her. Again, Hermione swallowed hard, looking at her with heavy desire after tearing herself away from her body and laying on her back. She wouldn't have to wait long: Bellatrix slid over her, pinning her down and captured her lips. Arms snaked around her waist and pulled around her back while Hermione kissed her hungrily, moaning her mouth. Meanwhile, Bellatrix put her hands to work, shifting a little to lay on her side, the tips of her fingers sliding across Hermione's sensitive creamy skin. Merlin, she shuddered under the tiniest of touches... fingers sliding over her shoulders, her breasts, her belly... Hermione was like a delicate flower, her body a soft petal underneath her touch.

A sharp intake of breath sounded when her hand slid further downward, resting on a thigh before gently forcing her legs apart just a little. Hermione whimpered when Bellatrix' hand found her most sensitive spot, still covered and protected by the fabric of her infernal pink pyjama bottoms.

Bellatrix chuckled when she felt just how damp the front of her pyjama bottoms were. She slid her fingers over the fabric, feeling Hermione's heat as she gently rubbed her fingers back and forth in a steady rhythm.

Well, that had the desired effect. But when Bellatrix took it a step further and slid her hand down the front of those same infernal pink pyjamas and found the folds of her womanhood, she watched Hermione as her eyes practically rolled into the back of her head.

And she held her friend-turned-lover, kissing her passionately as her fingers entered her. And Hermione shuddered, arching her back and whimpering in sheer sensory overload. Hah, it really was her first time. A nineteen year old virgin... how about that?

With that knowledge in mind, Bellatrix slowed the rhythm somewhat: it wouldn't take much to send Hermione screaming over the edge the way this was going. She already felt her tighten around her fingers. "T-trix..." Hermione managed, and the curly-haired witch felt nails digging into her fresh as Hermione held on to her.

Release came, obviously much more quickly and far louder than Hermione would have liked. She trembled as she recovered in Bellatrix' arms, who smirked at her while she lay panting. Once she had recovered enough, the two of them shared another kiss. More loving this time, but no less passionate.

Another surprise came when Hermione smiled at her and went from caressing her cheek to laying the flat of her hand on her shoulder and then sliding it down. Hermione lingered at her breasts before sliding further down, across her belly, until she felt the tips of Hermione's fingers inside the hem of her shorts.

Apparently, a grateful Hermione wanted to pay her back in kind.

Well. Who was she to argue?

Bellatrix gave Hermione a brief nod and that was all the girl needed. Hermione bit her lip as her eyes gazed into hers, searching blindly for her target. Hermione was more... careful... more hestitant... than she had been, but found her folds just as easily. However, fingers did not enter her: Hermione wasn't yet daring enough for that. Eager fingertips found her nub, however, and her quickening breath was all the encouragement Hermione needed.

Bellatrix closed her eyes and met Hermione's lips as the gentle massage of her bud overwhelmed her with pleasure. Oh yeah, Hermione had used her hands before: if not on another girl, than certainly on herself. "H-hermione," she managed in between hungry kisses, the sensations of tongues meeting mixing with the wonderful feeling of Hermione's fingers working the most primal of magics. Bellatrix's release was not nearly as loud as Hermione's, but it still sent a shudder through her body.

Chuckling, the girls hugged and kissed.

She lay on her side, still basking in the afterglow. Here they lay in each other's arms, still panting from the exertion, skin glistening underneath the light of the stars in the alien sky. She reached out and gently stroked Hermione's long brown hair while gazing in her lovely brown eyes.

Merlin, there was so much love in those eyes. So much desire.

"I love you."

The words spoken by Hermione startled Bellatrix. There was desire there. Longing. Affection. Honesty.

Another flurry of feelings overcame her. However, these were not as wholesome. She was overcome with grief, sadness and anger all at once. Her body shook as she squeezed her eyes shut to stop the incoming flow of tears. Bellatrix ripped herself from a startled Hermione's embrace, roughly threw herself to her side and hugged herself as the sobs came, pulling her knees up until she lay in the fetal position.

"Trix?" asked Hermione as she scooted over. She felt her lover's warmth press against her back, a soft hand sliding over her arm. It only made more tears flow forth. "What's wrong?!"

"This is beyond cruel," sobbed Bellatrix. "To find love with someone... actual mutual love... and then to have it all shattered when I go back home in a few weeks. And Rodolphus will still be looming over my head! I've been kidding myself... Dumbledore lied to me. I can spy all I want, but nothing is going to stop that marriage from happening. Why is the universe pulling this cruel prank on me?!"

Bellatrix sniffed slightly. Hermione remained silent for while. "Trix?" she spoke softly, almost carefully. "Why don't you come with me?"

Bellatrix frowned and shifted to crane her neck to look over her shoulder. "W-what do you mean?"

Hermione tried to offer a confident smile, but Bellatrix could easily tell that she was unsure of herself. "Trix," said Hermione. "You don't have to go back to 1968. Both portals work. For both of us. Come with me. Back to 1998."

"1998?" Bellatrix blinked.

"Think about it," smiled Hermione. "You can't be forced to marry Lestrange if, well, you're not actually there to marry him. And imagine: the world will have changed a lot in thirty years. You'll have so much to explore."

Her mind was reeling. Was Hermione really saying this? What she essentially suggested was a thirty-year time-skip. To enter a whole new world where everything was different and... "leaving everything behind," Bellatrix whispered.

"Not saying it'll be easy," said Hermione. "But I'll be there for you. Every step of the way."

"But..." Bellatrix turned on her side, facing Hermione to peer in her eyes. Hermione was sincere. Hopeful, even. "My family... my sisters... everything I've ever known... But especially my sisters... I'd have to leave them behind!"

Hermione fell silent for a moment. Of course, Hermione meant well and she wanted them to be together just as much as Bellatrix wanted. And she would be lying if she'd say that she didn't greatly desire it. But it still came with a hefty price-tag attached. "You could just as easily come back with me to 1968," said Bellatrix. "We could run away together. Find a quiet place. Start over."

Hermione bit her lip for a moment, her thoughts apparently distant. "With my knowledge of the future, I could do a lot of damage to the time-line. And... well, my parents. I'd have to leave my parents behind."

"Yet you're asking me to do the same!" Bellatrix returned angrily, her body tensing up. However, that moment, she did realize something. Her expression softened and she once again reached out to Hermione, pulling her bare body close to her. Her smile. Her scent. Her warmth. "You know something, don't you?" Bellatrix asked softly.

Though Hermione said nothing, Bellatrix was given her answer pretty much immediately when a flash of panic crossed her gentle features. Suddenly a lot of things made sense. Hermione mentioning a war and having fought in it, being victimized to an extent. Hermione's nightmares and her telling her that she would 'save' her. Save her from what, exactly? Would she die in the war? Was that why Hermione didn't want to go back in time but wanted her to move forward, to where the war was over?

"That charlatan with a circus tent you warned me about," said Bellatrix. "He isn't just a charlatan, is he?"

Hermione was about to open her mouth until Bellatrix shushed her by placing a finger on her lips. "No, no. Remember your promise. I don't want to know about the future. It was a rhetorical question."

"Trix..."

"Hermie," Bellatrix pressed. "No."

Hermione nodded, seemingly exasperated. There were things her now lover was desperate to tell her, it seemed, but Bellatrix needed to put a stop to that. "Hermie, I'm not afraid to die," said Bellatrix, her body tensing up. "But... my sisters. If I go to 1998 with you, what will happen to them if I'm not around to protect them?! Merlin, you should have seen Cissy at that rally. I mean... if I arrived in 1998 and something happened to Andie or Cissy... I would never forgive myself."

Hermione gave her a sympathetic look, but there was something else underneath. Was it... a flash of frustration? How odd. It went as quick as it came and Hermione started stroking her hair. "You have a kind heart, Trix."

That made Bellatrix snort. "I have a kind heart? Me?! That's a first..."

"You do," Hermione whispered. "And I want to make sure you keep it."

Another odd thing to say. Hermione was being particularly enigmatic today.

"You don't have to make a decision right now..." said Hermione. "Just... just think about it for a bit. Especially if you focus on what could be... between us."

"For now," smiled Bellatrix. "There's just the two of us. In this tent. In this world. No war. No past. No future. No decisions. Just you and me."

Hermione smiled at her when Bellatrix leaned in to kiss her. A brush of lips quickly deepened into an open-lip kiss where both girls pressed their bodies together in a fierce embrace. When Bellatrix broke the kiss, she gaze into Hermione's eyes for a moment... before turning around and laying on her side. Hermione's arms snaked around her waist and she felt her warmth press against her back. She pulled the covers over them and settled in.

No more worries for tonight. Tonight, Bellatrix was simply content to be the little spoon.

Chapter Text

Hermione stretched while yawning in the comfortable sleeping bag. Above her, the nonexistent sun shone brightly, warming her skin. "Hm, Trix?" Hermione muttered groggily while turning to her side and reaching out. Memories of the wonderful sensations and pure emotions she had experienced last night came flooding back. The young witch smiled and was willing to bet that if anyone were to see her lying in bed right now, they'd see a grin on her face which was beyond goofy.

Unfortunately, the found the other side of the bed empty. She opened her eyes and chuckled when she saw a yellow flower lying on Bellatrix's pillow. Hermione should have known that Bellatrix would be up already: unlike her, the curly-haired witch was definitely an early riser.

After a quick wash and getting dressed, Hermione emerged from the tent with flower in hand where she found Bellatrix sitting on a log near the campfire stove. The curly-haired witch gave her a warm smile. "Good morning," she greeted as she was stirring the breakfast in the pan, which looked to be scrambled eggs with bits of bacon. Apparently, Bellatrix had worked out how use the campfire stove, without blowing herself up even. Though she supposed that she shouldn't be surprised.

Of course, Bellatrix also had a giant wasp on her head, but didn't seem to mind. A few moments later, the wasp teleported to the ground and started to lazily walk around the campsite.

"Hi," Hermione greeted and sat down next to her. A quick brush of lips followed. Funny... she had expected to find things awkward after she had basically, well, slept with her friend. It was surprising just how natural everything felt, even when Bellatrix reached over to squeeze her knee.

"Breakfast is ready," said Bellatrix and shovelled half of the frying pan's contents on a plate. "It was originally meant to be bacon and eggs, but, well... mistakes were made."

"I'm sure it'll be fine," replied Hermione. In fact, she knew the perfect thing to go along with Bellatrix' creation. After fetching her back, she rummaged around and found her prize. Right before leaving on their expedition, Hermione had visited her favourite artisan bakery in Dufftown. Perfectly preserved in a magically enchanted plastic bag, emerged a loaf of full-wheat bread. The smells were wonderful, as if it was fresh out of the oven a few minutes ago. She'd been saving this for a special occasion and this was as special as it got. Hermione held it close to her nose and savoured the smell, ran her hand over the loaf to feel that perfect texture.

"Ahum," sounded Bellatrix. Hermione looked up and found her friend looking at her with one raised eyebrow. "Do the two of you need some time alone in the tent? I'll wait here."

"What?" said Hermione, unaware that she was still stroking the loaf of bread in her hands. "No, just… don't feed Bread to the wasp, okay? It's mine!"

"Alright then," Bellatrix chuckled. They ate together, but Hermione soon noticed that Bellatrix had grown a bit quiet, adopting a bit for a moody look. She often gazed in the distance, seemingly lost in thought.

"Trix?" asked Hermione. "What's wrong?"

"Hm?" replied Bellatrix, starting a little before letting out a sigh. "Oh, it's just... I was thinking about the fight I had with Andie. I was supposed to apologize, but I was so excited about going to explore this place that I simply hadn't gotten around to it yet. It's been days and... well... it just doesn't sit well with me."

Hermione smiled and lay a hand on her shoulder. "It'll fine, Trix," replied Hermione. "She knows you love her and, well, time works differently here. We could spend weeks here and it'll just be minutes in our own world that have passed."

Bellatrix returned the smile. "Hermie, you always know just what to say."

Hermione nodded, squeezing her shoulder a little. Yesterday, she had almost told Bellatrix the truth of what would happen to her if she were to stay in 1968: she would fall in with fanatics, she would turn against her own family, she would murder and torture people in the name of another.

She was glad that she didn't, because after hearing this, Hermione doubted Bellatrix would have believed her. Oh, sometimes Hermione would see glimpses of the woman she'd become, but the difference between young Bellatrix and the woman she would become were like night and day. Telling the truth wouldn't probably do any good and would likely result in Bellatrix laughing at her: the way she was now, Bellatrix simply couldn't imagine bringing harm to her sisters, like she did when breaking off all contact with Andromeda, or putting Narcissa through hell during her stay at the mansion and encouraging Draco to serve the Dark Lord.

Hell, Bellatrix as she was now likely couldn't imagine serving anyone.

No, telling her the truth was out of the question. Hermione would have to find another tactic. She'd keep working at it, though. She'd have to convince Bellatrix to join her in 1998... and now that the two of them were very much in love, that became more important than ever.

Simply stunning her and dragging her back into 1998 with her was an option that was definitely still on the table for Hermione as far as she was concerned. Now more than ever.

"Oh, Hermie," said Bellatrix, interrupting her from her thoughts. "Take a look at this!"

Put in her hand was a smooth multicoloured stone which was cool to the touch. Many different colours scintillated across its surface, causing Hermione to hold it against the light. "Is this… an opal? Where did you find this?"

"Ask our wasp friend," Bellatrix pointed to the large wasp sat near the tent. "He had it in his mouth this morning. He's been bringing me interesting shiny rocks all morning. I think he must have seen us collecting samples the other day and decided to help. Or maybe he just wants to play. Anyway, I thought I'd show you before I catalogue it and put it in a container."

"Huh, how about that," said Hermione, glancing at the wasp for a moment.

After breaking up camp, the two witches returned to the forest and found the rest of morning to be rather uneventful. Most of the time was spent exploring and mapping out the forest, finding and naming locations, flora and fauna along the way. When they emerged from the other side of the forest, they found themselves in another set of grasslands. Unlike the savannas near their entry point, this one more resembled a meadow. This meadow was several acres across and was nestled among another rocky plateau on the other side of this floating island.

Though the meadow contained many patches of colourful flowers, experience had taught certainly Hermione that it behooved them to be careful around the local flora. Thankfully, there were no repeats of her incident with the paralyzing flowers on the other side of the floating island. Bellatrix took more photographs and Hermione suggested gathering seeds to see if these hitherto unknown species of flowers would grow in their own world. Meanwhile, the wasp lazily buzzed along with them and, in some cases, actually led them to some new honey-filled flowers they had overlooked.

It was about two o'clock in the afternoon when the two witches approached the edge of the world and stopped by a grouping of blue orchid like flowers. "Look," said Bellatrix, grinning at Hermione. "I think I will name these after Andromeda. That'll do as an apology, don't you think so?"

"Hm," Hermione chuckled at her. "She says this right after she names an intensely ugly reptilian bat-thing after her sister Narcissa."

"Hey," Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "Cissy will get the joke. She always does."

By now, Bellatrix had developed a bit of a method for gathering flora. First, she'd take a few pictures. Then, she'd use her wand to detect any dangers. If safe, she would pluck one or two to press them in a separate notebook and gather some seedpods to bring home with them. She was about to do just then when the flowers suddenly flared up in a pleasant blue light, not unlike the hue of the Fae Mirror.

"Hm," said Bellatrix. "I wonder why they do that..."

Instantly, the wasp buzzed past them to snack from the apparently rather sweet flowers and flew off with a load of pollen stuck to his legs.

"Ah, that'll be it," said Bellatrix.

"Whenever something magical passes by, the flowers start glowing to attract their attention," said Hermione.

"Goes for us too," said Bellatrix as she moved her hand in and out of range, playing with the flowers as if it was turning a light-switch on and off again.

It had been a rather productive day and the witches decided to set up camp on a rocky plateau which was near the pillar hosting the Andromeda flowers. The plateau was nicely flat and had some outcroppings to sit on. However, as they set foot upon it, they noticed a barely visible shimmering in the air. It looked to be a tall circular column stretching off into the sky. Setting up camp was forgotten for now, as the two witches regarded their new find.

"I'd take a photograph, but I'm not sure it will even show," said Bellatrix as she kept a respectable distance.

With her wand out, Hermione tried to take a few readings. "Hm," she said. "I sense it's some sort of kinetic spell, but unlike anything I've ever seen before. I feel an odd flow of magic."

"Hold on, let me get in a bit closer," said Bellatrix as she took a step forward and thrust her wand towards her. Almost immediately, a tendril of magic shot out and drew Bellatrix straight into the column. Her body shimmered and seemed to fade into a black cloud which shot up into the sky with dazzling speed.

"Trix!" Hermione hissed, taking a step back. "Trix, are you still there?"

A few agonizing moments later, the black spot shot down through the magical column again and deposited a smiling Bellatrix safely onto the group. "Oh, Hermie!" she laughed in sheer joy. "Come on, you have to see this! Take all our gear, we're camping somewhere else tonight!"

As if to make a point, the wasp casually flew right past them and into the column to immediately disappear. Bellatrix grinned and extended her hand expectingly. Hermione let out a sigh, grabbed hold of her pack and took Bellatrix's hand to be pulled into the maelstrom.

The familiar sensations of apparation overcame her, but unlike apparation in her own world, the effect was quite benign. Calming, even. Hermione let the magic guide her through the column as she shot through it until she and Bellatrix were deposited... somewhere else.

"Oh, wow," Hermione gasped when she found herself standing at the edge of another floating island. This particular one had a much more darkened atmosphere, bathing the entire island in a permanent evening gloom. In front of her stretched peaceful marshlands, dotted with massive fungal growths and giant mushrooms. Creatures far more alien than she had ever seen passed her or flew over without paying her much mind. Bird? Reptile? Mammal? It was hard to place any of them. The wasp, apparently familiar with the terrain, parked himself on a smaller mushroom and regarded the two witches for a moment.

"Look behind you," Bellatrix said, pointing beyond the rim of the floating island. And Hermione indeed had to agree that there was a spectacular sight to be seen. Behind her and far below her, was the floating island they had come from. It was so far away that she could clearly see the shape and form and lay of the land, of the grasslands and the forest.

"I need to adjust my camera," Bellatrix muttered. "Not enough light."

While Bellatrix was fiddling with her camera, Hermione thought a moment, processing what had just happened and what she was seeing.

"These floating islands," said Hermione, putting her fingers to her chin. "They're biomes. I'm willing to bet that if we find a way to yet another floating island, it'll be another biome entirely. And that portkey-like pathway we have just used. It strikes me very much as a wildlife crossing."

By now, Bellatrix had found the right settings for her camera and snapped a few shots of the floating island and her new surroundings. "Wildlife crossing? What's that?"

Of course Bellatrix wouldn't know: there wasn't much need for wildlife crossings in the wizarding world. "Sometimes when muggles build a motorway, it cuts through an existing forest. To safely allow animals to get to either side of the forest, the muggles sometimes build green bridges or underpass tunnels. That column we just used reacts to magic and magical beings and allows them to travel from one island to another without much trouble. It just might be the same thing."

"I'll tell you one thing, though," said Bellatrix. "I don't think that column is naturally occurring. It's too... focused. Too... precise. It just doesn't feel like naturally occurring magic."

Here, Hermione had to concede a point to Bellatrix: unlike her, Bellatrix had grown up in the wizarding world and lived and breathed magic from birth. She would definitely know the difference between naturally occurring magic and purposefully placed magic and could determine that by feeling alone. "If it's not natural... that means someone put it here. We could be in a preserve... or a zoo..."

"If that's the case," said Bellatrix. "Where's the zookeepers? Or the park rangers? Why haven't we seen them?"

"Or do we even want to see them?" Hermione raised an eyebrow.

"Regardless," grinned Bellatrix. "We have more to explore! I'm so happy to share this with you, Hermie!"

And so started a second bout of exploration. However, the downside of suddenly exploring marshlands quickly became apparent. Marshlands were inherently rather wet and soggy, while the lack of much sunlight made the landscape damp and cold. When the two witches had first discovered the Fae Realm, they had assumed that the entirety of the area consisted of dry and warm grassland savannas and had dressed for that particular climate. It didn't take long for the girls to switch back to their winter coats. This in itself caused a bit of a problem because those coats were far too warm in comparison, which was rather bad when doing a lot of walking. Of course, their choice of footwear wasn't helping much either, though Hermione managed a lot better with her new walking boots compared to Bellatrix's suede leather calf boots.

This made their progress through the marshlands slow and arduous, forcing them to stick to the dryer parts and rockier ground.

Still, it didn't limit their enthusiasm one bit, in particularly Bellatrix'. The landscape was dotted with glowing magical flowers and mushrooms in every colour of the rainbow and each had to be named and samples had to be taken.

Due to the slog it was to traverse these lands and the eternal gloom making it hard to tell the time, Bellatrix and Hermione found themselves taking plenty of rest stops along the way. So far they had remained closer to the edge of the floating island where the ground was more rocky and easily traversable.

It was during one of these rest-stops where they found a perch on a large rock, watching a herd of large creatures pass. The herd seemed to pay them little mind and weren't hostile. These massive three-legged and tall insect-like creatures sauntered through the marshlands as calmly as could be. The beasts stood nine foot tall with thick segmented legs and through they had no discernible head on their round bodies, long tentacles hung from underneath their carapace and dipped into the water. The end of said tentacles were divided in brush-like appendages of which Hermione deduced that they were filtering nutrients from the water.

As Bellatrix was snapping a few pictures of the passing herd, Hermione once again found herself slapping her skin. "Damn mosquitoes," cursed Hermione after once again being assaulted by the wide variety of insect-life these boglands were privy to. "I swear, I'm being eaten alive here."

"Hm, they don't seem to like pure-blood much at all," Bellatrix replied.

"Lucky you!" Hermione glowered.

The wasp was still with them, of course, having found perch on Bellatrix' head as per usual while they rested. Considering the wasp's size, Hermione hoped there weren't giant mosquito's flying about somewhere.

"Ugh, I need a shower," said Bellatrix while regarding her muddy clothes. "And I need to scourgify my clothes."

"So far, we've yet to find a good place to pitch our tent and set up a camp. We should look for higher ground," said Hermione.

"Not much higher ground in sight so far," said Bellatrix. "What was the time again?"

"Close to six in the evening," said Hermione. "We've been walking for hours."

"Hm," said Bellatrix. "Time for dinner and finding a place to set up camp to process our findings. That should be our next goal."

Again, Hermione slapped her hand on her skin. "Hah!" she smirked. "Got one of the bastards! Anyway, how about we look for some more of a dry, stable surface near the edge of the island."

"Sounds like a plan," said Bellatrix and started looking around her with her omniculars, unfortunately finding the pickings for a good camp location to be rather slim. They'd likely have to head closer to the edge of the floating island first where the terrain was much rockier.

"Hah," laughed Bellatrix after letting her mind wander a bit.

"Hm?"

Bellatrix glanced to her side, grinning at Hermione. "Oh, just thinking about maman," she said. "She'd be utterly, utterly horrified to the point of fainting at the thought of her eldest daughter traipsing through a swamp. Maman is wizarding aristocracy, you see? Always prim and proper, a proponent of class and style and always adamant about keeping up appearances."

"Sounds like the Victorian age is alive and well in the wizarding world," said Hermione.

"That's the thing," added Bellatrix. "Whenever me or my sisters got in one scrape or a spot of bother, she would scold us terribly. Go on these long tirades about how were young ladies and should act like it. How the Blacks were supposed to be example to the rest of the wizarding world, how we should always act with class, style and superiority. Thing is, whenever we were alone in the room, maman would always sit us down and ask us what it was like and have this broad grin on her face whenever we told the story."

"Hah," replied Hermione. "Public face and private face. Victorian indeed. Tell me more about her."

"There was this one time where Andie and I jumped the fence of a nearby orchard to steal a few apples… Merlin, must have been thirteen at the time… Well, we weren't exactly good thieves, judging by the way we couldn't stop giggling while we were filling my rucksack with apples, so of course we get spotted and chased out of the orchard with an angry farmer and his dogs hot on our tails. So we ran out into the field until we couldn't run anymore and collapsed near a tree to enjoy our prize. Of course, by the time we got home, maman was already aware of what we've done, parades us into the study and berates us for about fifteen minutes straight. 'Mon dieu!' Bellatrix took on a dramatic pose while speaking in an exaggerated French accent. 'Your father and I did not raise you both to be petty sneak-thieves! What on Earth possessed you two fine young ladies from an esteemed bloodline to behave like a pair common mudblood urchins in the street?!'

Hermione made a face. "You do realize you're not painting your mother in a favourable light, hm?"

Bellatrix ignored her and continued. " 'You, who have everything you desire and wealth beyond belief? Why would you risk your virtue and reputation… for apples?! We could buy you thousands of apples!'. I just looked her in the eye and told her: 'Maman, those were the best apples I've ever tasted.' And for a moment, she just stared at me, this bare hint of a smirk playing at her lips. She understood. In that moment, she completely understood. Maman, she too had hopes, dreams and a thirst for adventure, but she had to bury it underneath all that prim and properness after her arranged marriage with father. Now, I have no doubt that my parents love each other very much, but it's just that maman… and father too, I think… have had to have made many sacrifices for the sake of the things which were expected of them. For tradition, for pure-blood values. But in that moment, I could see my maman's adventurous spirit. I like to think I inherited that from her."

"I suppose that makes sense."

"Didn't change the fact that I couldn't sit properly for a three days, though," Bellatrix cringed.

"And what would your maman say if she knew you were on safari with a muggle-born?"

"Oh, not to worry. She'd probably just think you're my porter," Bellatrix snickered the moment she saw Hermione's reaction.

"Oh, that's nice!" Hermione huffed, scrunching up her nose while crossing her arms.

"And then maman would praise me for giving a disenfranchised minority a chance at making an honest wage so they wouldn't have to resort to burglary, pick-pocketing or prostitution to eke out a miserable existence on the streets of Diagon Alley," Bellatrix snickered.

Hermione blinked once. Twice. "This just keeps getting better and better," Hermione snorted. "You're really not painting your maman in a positive light."

"I suppose you should meet her," said Bellatrix. "What about your mum, then? What's she like?"

"Long-suffering and having the patience of a saint," Hermione chuckled. "And she needs to be the level-headed one because my dad's so impulsive and I have a tendency to be uncompromising."

Bellatrix gasped in an over-exaggerated fashion. "No! Say it isn't so!"

"It's true, I..." Hermione started to say, then closed her eyes and sighed heavily. "Gee, thanks a lot..."

"Sorry," Bellatrix snickered. "Continue."

"I remember this one time in school when I was sent to the Head Master's office because I had corrected my teacher one time too many," said Hermione. "Naturally, I was adamant that I had done absolutely nothing wrong and was sat in the waiting room glaring at everyone and anyone, firm in my belief that I was not at fault."

"Of course," Bellatrix winked.

"So my parents were called into the office, the Head Master starts to explain the situation, and the first thing dad does is to slam the flat of his hands of the table and yell out 'well, you should hire competent teachers then! Or are you too incompetent yourself to actually recognize competence?'. My dad was completely on my side and the moment I could see the Head Master's mouth falling open, I just give him this piercing stare and started smirking smugly."

"Oh, I see it," Bellatrix chuckled.

"So my mum tries to salvage the situation by acting the diplomat," said Hermione. "How even if I was right, that was no excuse for being rude and all that. She always did try to find the middle ground."

"I don't envy her," said Bellatrix. "People like your mum have a tendency to get trampled by both sides."

"She often did!" said Hermione. "Generally, dad and I had a tendency to form a bloc against her. My time growing up must have been infuriating to her at times. In fact, she often told us she had to deal with two children. Which, of course, insulted us both because I didn't consider myself a child and dad, well, for obvious reasons."

"Hah, maybe..." Bellatrix started to say, but never got the chance to finish her sentence. Hermione spotted something large and pink shoot towards them from the corner of her eye and it hit Bellatrix against the arm. With a yelp, the curly-haired witch was yanked from the log they were sat on and was roughly dragged to one side.

Startled, Hermione rose to her feet and spun towards Bellatrix, drawing her wand. She found her friend-turned-lover in a rather precarious position: Bellatrix was on her knees in the muck and had her arm stuck to the shoulder inside the cavernous mouth of what looked to be a giant muck-green toad. That the girls hasn't seen the toad approach was understandable, as it was perfectly camouflaged to its surroundings and didn't move very fast. Even now it just... sat there... with an angry witch growling at it while slapping it with her free arm.

"Eeewwww, eewwwww!" Bellatrix yelled, her face contorted into a disgusted scowl. "I can feel its previous dinner! Hermie, get me out of here!"

Oh, the toad wasn't actually large enough to eat Bellatrix, but it if would decide to start hopping all of a sudden, Hermione didn't doubt that its weight and bulk trampling Bellatrix could lead to a few broken bones. So far, it was unflappable, even with an increasingly irate Bellatrix kicking and screaming and with a giant wasp who was seemingly quite worried about his friend now starting to harass him. Still, Hermione worried that the toad might start hopping at any moment: she had to act fast.

After a rush towards the toad, she knelt down into the muck next to Bellatrix, wrapped an arm around her waist and pressed her wand underneath the toad's mouth. "Baubillious!" shouted Hermione, causing a jet of white sparks to spew forth from her wand, shocking the toad. A tremor went through the creature's body and the creature quickly opened its mouth to release Bellatrix and caused the two girls to land into a heap in the muck. After that, the toad hopped back into the swamp, making itself scarce while the wasp chased him a bit for good measure.

"Ugh!" Bellatrix muttered, now drenched in wet muck while her arm was covered in slime. "I really need a shower now."

"Same!" Hermione grimaced as she felt the cold wetness penetrating her clothes.

Bellatrix swore under her breath as she searched the shallow waters for a bit. "Dammit! I lost my wand like a dim-witted first year witchling would have."

"Accio Trix' wand," Hermione said. There was a splash of water as Bellatrix' curved wand came flying out of the shallow water and into Hermione's hand.

"Thanks," Bellatrix muttered, even more embarrassed now. "Let's see about camp."


After their encounter with the toad, the two witches spent some time looking for a decent spot to set up the tent. Eventually, they found a rocky plateau near the edge of the island which was just large enough to pitch the tent, but not for a campfire. They'd have to eat cold food straight from the tin today as Hermione was unwilling to light the stove inside their only shelter.

Perhaps that was for the best, since it quickly became apparent just how tired she was. Hermione went into the shower first while Bellatrix scourgified their clothes and picked out some tins to eat. That spam was really nice, so she picked up two of those can along with a can of peaches. When Hermione was done in the shower, only being in for a few minutes to save water, it was Bellatrix' turn.

The curly-haired witch closed her eyes as the warm water poured down on her body, and she just felt the filth wash off her. Her head felt a little light as she enjoyed the moment.

"You know," said Bellatrix while soaping herself up. "We're a little closer to the edge of this floating island than I'd like. I hope you don't sleepwalk. Hell, I hope I don't sleepwalk."

There was a playful edge to Hermione's reply coming from the tent's common area. "We'll just have to zip up the sleeping bag a little higher."

"Hah," said Bellatrix while washing the soap off her skin. "We'll be very close."

"And this is a complaint?" sounded from the other side of the tent.

Now feeling much cleaner and relaxed, Bellatrix wrapped a towel around her body and stepped out of the shower. On the table were the cans, one can of spam opened and partially consumed by Hermione while she was in the shower. Bellatrix was about to open her own can, when she heard Hermione behind her.

"Trix," sounded from Hermione. Her name was spoken with a hushed tone, belying amorous intent. When she turned her head, Bellatrix laid her eyes on Hermione, now lying in the sleeping bag. Bare shoulders sticking out from sleeping bag indicated that she wasn't wearing her pyjamas... or anything else. The smile on her face was playful, inviting and endlessly alluring.

Alluring? That was an understatement. Lying there on her side partially covered by the sleeping bag, wavy brown hair cascading over her form, Hermione reminded Bellatrix of the sirens of old. Not to mention that seeing her like that had quite an effect on the curly-haired witch.

Truth be told, Hermione was everything Bellatrix wanted in a woman: she was an intelligent, challenging foil with an air of mystery about her. How could she not be? Hermione was from the future, after all. And aside from that not-so-minor detail, she could think of nobody else with the wits or drive to actually manage to share this adventure of a lifetime with her. That she was also beautiful was simply the icing on the cake.

Sure, she'd be lying if she didn't still have the pure-blood beliefs she was raised with nagging in the back of her mind about how Hermione's lack of blood purity made her imperfect and inferior.

Well... nobody was perfect, least of all Bellatrix herself. And inferior? To call Hermione inferior would be in insult to the practice of magic itself. No, she was past this. Considering what the two of them had shared the previous night and would very soon share again, she was very much past this.

The only thing between them was a time-difference of thirty years. Though Bellatrix had a thing for older women... Hermione was two years older than herself, after all... a thirty year gap in the wrong direction did give her pause. And then there was the matter that, even though she claimed otherwise, Bellatrix both feared and desired to know her own future. Bellatrix wasn't stupid: she realized there was more to Hermione wanting her to join her in 1998 other than simple love and desire. No, she knew something. And it likely meant nothing good for her. In a vacuum, that would reason enough to join her in 1998. But she wasn't in a vacuum. She had family and loved ones to worry about. Merlin, why did this have to be so difficult?

Perhaps she couldn't question it too much. Perhaps she should enjoy the moment for as long as it would last. Perhaps she should simply jump into the sleeping bag with Hermione and give her a right royal seeing to.

Yes. That last bit sounded pretty good right now and would likely cancel out any other thoughts for a time at least.

"You know," said Bellatrix. "I think I'll skip dinner tonight in favour of a big breakfast."

"You sure?" Hermione said, suddenly concerned. "I'll be happy to wait."

"Oh," Bellatrix smirked. "I'd rather have something else to snack on."

A slight blush crossed Hermione's features, but her confident smile betrayed the fact that she was very pleased. Hermione patted the empty side of the sleeping bag invitingly, to which Bellatrix responded by simply dropping her towel to the ground. She found the admiring looks from Hermione quite gratifying as she strode towards her and dove into the sleeping bag and into Hermione's waiting arms.

Hermione's eager giggles were like music. Their bodies pressed together, their lips touched and Bellatrix steered her towards the depths of pleasure with profound eagerness.


Hermione lay panting in their sleeping bag, arms wrapped firmly around Bellatrix's bare waist as they lay on their sides and gazing in each other's eyes. She simply couldn't resist another kiss, something Bellatrix was only too quickly to indulge her in. Hermione smiled when Trix's hand slid through her hair. "My," spoke Bellatrix with a throaty voice. "You've certainly become more daring since last night."

"I'm a quick study," Hermione allowed a smirk of her own, something the curly-haired witch seemed to appreciate.

"Really?" Bellatrix chuckled. "It seems to me like you were... self-taught."

"Trix!" Hermione scowled, barely able to conceal her blush. Ever since Bellatrix had found out that she had had, well, been enjoying the pleasure of her own company while having lewd thoughts about her, she had started to tease her with this little fact. Still, the curly-haired witch let out a hearty laugh.

"If it makes you feel any better," Bellatrix winked. "You're not the only one..."

Somehow, that was oddly gratifying to know. "Honestly?" said Hermione. "I'm surprised. I'm not really a pretty girl. Or outgoing. Or even interesting in any way."

"Stop it," Bellatrix pressed. "Either you're just fishing for compliments or you're having self-esteem issues. You're all of those three things and very clever. It takes a lot to catch my attention."

Hermione smiled in spite of herself and lost herself in their embrace for a moment, closing her eyes and opening them again just in time to see Bellatrix lean in for another brush of lips. "Hm," said Hermione. "I have lot of issues, self-esteem among them."

"You're not the only one with issues," laughed Bellatrix. "Oh, dear, if my father could see the two of us together, naked and recovering from the most heavenly of lovemaking in our family tent, he'd... he'd probably kill you, come to think of it. Hm, that rather puts a damper on the funny joke I was trying to make."

"He'd kill me?" Hermione sighed. "Because I'm muggle-born?"

That made her sad, really.

"No... Mostly he'd probably kill you because you 'defiled and debauched' his eldest daughter at the eve of her perfect pure-blood wedding," Bellatrix giggled for a moment. "Come on, you know how fathers are."

"But you're not a virgin!"

"Do you really think he'd care about such details?"

"Fine, fine..."

"Well, how would your father deal with catching us naked after a naughty sleeping bag session?" Bellatrix asked.

The very thought alone made Hermione blanch. Oh no, her dad definitely wouldn't be happy. "Hm, well, if you were a boy, he might kill you. Just like your dad might kill me. But since you're a girl, I think that might very much confuse him. I have no doubt that he'd like you, though, after he gets over the initial shock of his little girl, well, being involved with a girl."

"Oh?" Bellatrix asked, seemingly intrigued.

"Like you, my dad enjoys stories of the macabre. You two will have a lot to talk about," Hermione chuckled. "Perhaps even too much. I just bet he would try to introduce you to all the things he loves. And honestly, I think he'd love you."

"Hm," chuckled Bellatrix, again stroking her hair. "I think I would like to meet him."

"Well," Hermione said. "There's one way to..."

Bellatrix let out a groan and gave her a dangerous look. "Don't ruin the mood by mentioning 1998 again."

Hermione gave her a half-smile. "Right, sorry I brought it up," she started. "It's just that... I've always made sacrifices for others in my life, but this time? This time I want to be selfish. I want you all for myself, regardless of the consequences. Regardless of what anyone thinks. I want you more than anything and I am willing to go through extraordinary lengths to claim you for myself."

"My, my, my," smirked Bellatrix. "How very... Slytherin... of you. Honestly, I think you'd do well in Slytherin, Hermie."

Hermione let her hand slide over Bellatrix's side, over her stomach and found perch on one of her breasts. Slowly and playfully kneading, she was delighted to hear Bellatrix's breath quicken. "You make me feel like myself again," Hermione spoke softly and sincerely. "I want that feeling to continue. I... need that feeling to continue."

"It's okay to be selfish," replied Bellatrix. "We wouldn't be here if we weren't. Now, scoot over."

Hermione gave her a questioning look when her young lover was pushing Hermione to lay on her side, facing away from her. The reason why became clear when she wrapped her arms around her. "You get to be the little spoon tonight, Hermie."

"Trix..." whispered Hermione, right before she slipped into the most comfortable night of sleep she had had in months.

Chapter Text

Hermione was still in a state of abject bliss, lying on her back with a sleepy Bellatrix draped over her. Above her, she could still see the gloomy darkness through the canvas skylight. She could stay like this forever as far as was concerned. Unfortunately, it was not to last much longer.

"Hm," greeted Hermione as Bellatrix stirred. "Hi..."

Bellatrix' eyes fluttered open, smile widening while shifting in a position which was a little more comfortable for the both of them. "Hi yourself," Bellatrix whispered softly, fixing her gaze on hers while supporting her head with her elbow. Dark curls cascaded haphazardly downward as Bellatrix seemed to have a rather bad case of bed-head.

Or, more likely, a bad case of 'being grabbed by someone losing control of herself during moments of ultimate pleasure'-head. Delicious memories came flowing back and Hermione leaned in for a kiss. Chaste at first, but Bellatrix would have nothing of it. She lay her hand on the back of Hermione's head and kept it in place while she deepened their kiss. Tongues met again and again and Hermione swooned under her touch.

"Sleep in," Hermione muttered in between kisses. "Hold each other a little longer. Hm, what time is it?"

Bellatrix chuckled, pointing her eyes upward for a moment. "Does it even matter if we can't tell?"

"I guess not," said Hermione, but just as she leaned in for yet another kiss, an angry growl sounded from Bellatrix' stomach. "But I had dinner yesterday. You didn't."

Bellatrix smirked. "Don't really know why I'm hungry. I did plenty of eating yesterday."

The moment she heard the words come from Bellatrix's mouth, Hermione rolled her eyes and let out a groan at the horrible pun.

"Well, you weren't complaining last night," Bellatrix winked. "You weren't exactly coherent enough to complain. Or even for words. You've never been pleasured like that before, now have you?"

Hermione closed her eyes. She didn't blush. Not anymore. Not after having experienced that, not after having lain naked in her lover's arms, not after telling Bellatrix that she loved her. "How about we break camp and have a hearty breakfast. We still have plenty exploring to do. But, Trix, it might not have looked like it, but I have paid attention. And tonight it'll be my turn to make you writhe."

"Oooh," Bellatrix grinned. "Something to look forward to. Right then, my fair brown-haired maiden. Let us go forth."

The next ten minutes were used getting dressed and ready for the day, breaking up camp and then using the small plateau to set up the muggle cooking stove. Hermione went all out to make a good and hearty English breakfast, even though her options were limited due to only having tins at her disposal. Still, she was fully prepared to make fried sausages, baked beans, fruit juice and had managed to whip together a passable batch of chocolate pudding from milk and cocoa powder. Everything they would need to get energy for a trip deeper into the marshlands.

As they sat on an outcropping of rock, Bellatrix was sharing a bit of her dessert with their wasp friend whom was eagerly lapping whatever bit of chocolate pudding pushed his way. "I think we should give you a name," said Bellatrix while she patted the wasp between the wings. "We can't just keep calling you wasp. How about... Bartholomew?"

"Hm," said Hermione. "He doesn't strike me as a Bart."

"What would you name him, then?" asked Bellatrix.

Hermione thought for a moment. "Well, he's a wasp, so. 'Hate'. 'Resentment'. 'Fury'. 'Rage'."

Bellatrix made a face. "Stop with the anti-wasp bias, Hermione. I'm serious."

"Fine," Hermione sighed. "Are you seriously going to keep him?"

"I never had a pet," said Bellatrix. "Wanted one, of course. A dog or a cat. But never had one, not even as a familiar. Dad didn't want animals in the house. Oh, we had the menagerie and the aviary, of course, but that's just not the same. Nothing to pet or cuddle."

"And you want to pet or cuddle a wasp?" Hermione raised an eyebrow.

As if to prove a point, Bellatrix took hold of the wasp, dipping him a little while tickling the underside of his thorax. The wasp flexed his wings in merry buzzing along with some affectionate play-biting in appreciation of this act. It left no doubt in Hermione's mind that the wasp had effectively been adopted and would be going home with Bellatrix… and there was likely nothing which could change her mind in this regard.

"I know!" Bellatrix' face brightened up as if a proverbial light bulb had turned on above her head. "Zipper! Your name will be Zipper!"

"Zipper?" asked Hermione.

Bellatrix nodded. "Yeah, it's brilliant if I do say so myself!" she said. "Because he figured out how to use the zipper and, well, he's fast and agile, so he zips around. Do you like it?"

The wasp looked up, buzzing his wings once.

"I think he approves," Hermione snorted. "I guess you'll bring Zipper home with you, then?"

"Well, Lestrange will probably balk at sharing his home with a giant wasp, but he will have to learn to live with disappointment," Bellatrix smirked. "I might be slated to become his wife, but that doesn't mean I'm going to make life easy for him. Not one bit."

"I'm curious, though," replied Hermione. "How long have you known him?"

"Quite a long time," said Bellatrix. "All pure-bloods of prominent families know each other, and it doesn't get more prominent than the Blacks or the Lestranges. Prestigious pure-blood families often hold soirees and balls at each other's mansions. It's mostly an excuse for adults to dress up their children and get completely pissed at the buffet. Lestrange and I first met at one of those soirees when we were both very young."

"Ah, so you were childhood friends?"

Bellatrix snorted at that. "Hardly," said Bellatrix. "We're expected to form alliances, exact our influence and cultivate our ambitions from our earliest years onward. Even when we're toddlers."

"That sounds… awful," said Hermione.

"It really is not," Bellatrix said. "It prepares us for a career as a successful Slytherin. It starts simple, really. We're taught to compete over something as simple as the toys in the playpen. I remember maman putting me in with the rest of the kids and told me it was a game to gather as much toys as I could before the end of the evening. So, to gather the toys, you form alliances, prepare for the eventual betrayal and make plans to get your hands on every teddy bear, doll and crayon. Legitimate means, like bets and trades are of course options. But then you cheat, you lie, you backstab and, well, if push comes to shove, wooden cars are perfect to bash someone over the head with. There were plenty of times where I had gathered up all the toys in the pen."

"Whoa," Hermione blinked. "That sounds... horrendous."

"Gathering toys is one thing, keeping them is another. That was one of the first lessons I learned," Bellatrix chuckled. "You now have your hands all the toys. You sit in one corner and you realize you're fully surrounded by thieves, backstabbers, sycophants and liars who want to take your toys from you when the 'game' still has an hour on the clock. And you spend the rest of the hour nervously fending off hungry sharks."

"Trix," Hermione blinked. "We're still talking about toddlers here, right?"

"Of course," Bellatrix winked. "Trust me, Hermie, if you think a four year old can be anything less of a thief, backstabber, sycophant or a liar than a forty year old, you're sadly mistaken. Keeping your wealth is more stressful and difficult than gathering it. So the next lesson is that, in the future, you form alliances with other children and gather the toys together. It's easier to guard wealth between two people than just on your own, and there is a vested interest there."

"That sounds so awful!" Hermione said. "Why can't kids just be kids?"

"Oh, no, it's not awful at all," Bellatrix said. "I've learned a lot from those early days. Don't you see, it's not about the toys but the lessons learned can be applied to anything. Wealth, power, money and even less tangible things such as plots and ambitions."

"Yeah," Hermione snorted. "Small wonder pure-bloods are so messed up in the head."

That statement seemed to rather irk Bellatrix. "Oh?" she challenged, crossing her arms. "Well, what did they teach you, then?"

"To share. When I was a pre-schooler, I was taught that if you have something, and others don't, you share. And then someone might share with you when you don't have something. Sharing is caring."

"Pfft," Bellatrix rolled her eyes. "Yeah, if you're a loser."

"Come on," Hermione narrowed her eyes. "You must have shared with someone."

"Of course!" Bellatrix smirked. "With people I care about. With people that matter. I'd share with my sisters. I'd share with you. I'd share with perhaps a select few others more. But the list stops there and, trust me, it's very short! Point being, you don't give up what you have just gained for any old reason. People have to earn your trust."

"And you trust very few people," Hermione replied.

"Oh, trust and loyalty are values I hold in high regard," Bellatrix replied with a serious tone. "But it's never something I'd ever give someone casually or throw at someone randomly. They are precious gifts you don't share with just anyone," she said, raising her hand to Hermione's cheek. The curly-haired witch smile while gently caressing her cheek with her fingertips.

At that moment, Hermione realized that she, in fact, had been given Bellatrix's full trust and loyalty. A great and precious gift. Perhaps the most precious gift Bellatrix could ever give her.


With breakfast done, the two witches decided on a plan to further explore the marshlands: they would follow the compass and travel inland for as they could with the equipment and dress they had and then return to their previous entry point. This, of course, wouldn't allow them to explore the entirely of this floating island, but at least they would be able to see a good cross-section of it.

The first hour went more than fine and they passed more herds of marshwalkers along the way. Again they also came across a giant toad: though there was no way of knowing if it was the same one they had encountered yesterday, Bellatrix kept a respectful distance while at the same time approaching close enough to snap a few pictures.

After that, the terrain was becoming more difficult to traverse: patches of wetlands became larger and larger and while there were still plenty of hillocks of dry land to pass over, these became far and fewer in between. It became clear that if they were to go deeper inland, they would need to use some sort of boat. Of course, they had brought none.

Large mushrooms the size of cedar trees dotted the landscape, dwarfing them while giving the entire marsh an alien vibe. Their wasp friend, now named Zipper, followed them, buzzing along lazily and at some points seemed to be wondering why his non-flying friends were so slow to follow.

Especially Bellatrix slid off a hillock with her foot and into the cold grimy water quite often and it was decided that they would head back to the edge of the island, but would head into a slightly different direction. It was on the way back that they came across a crag of rocks which looked to be rather out of place in these otherwise flat marshlands. Naturally, the two explorers decided to make a slight detour to investigate.

Curiously enough, the rocks seemed to glow dimly blue in the endless gloom of this dark marsh. They only found out why when they were finally close enough.

"Oh, wow," Bellatrix smiled.

"Is that..." Hermione put a finger to her lips. "Some sort of mycelium growth?"

"Looks like it," said Bellatrix. "Considering all the fungi we saw earlier, this isn't surprising."

Indeed, a thin layer of glowing growth covered the majority of the rocks in endless patterns of hyphae. It pulsated with magic, sending a tingly feeling along Hermione's spine. Such were the wonders of this place.

"Hold on," said Bellatrix. "Let me take a few photographs before we take samples."

Hermione did just that, waiting a few moments until Bellatrix was done before taking a plastic container to carefully scoop a few bits of growth into. However, the moment she came into contact with the growth something odd happened.

Hermione was... somewhere else? Something else? Flying? She passed the first floating island with great speed, flying over herds of borses and the arid grasslands. She felt... alone... hungry. She had come to this island through the passage, but hadn't been able to go back after encountering the Great Eater in the forest. She was terrified of the Great Eater. All those who lived in these lands were. She didn't dare to go back, but the lands weren't kind on her. There was so little for her to eat and she was always hungry. Then, she saw strange creatures. They were like the marshstriders, but only with two walkers. Like the things in the Foglands, but not aggressive. They were strange, but they were nice. One had a brown top and one had a black top. Maybe they had some food for her? Maybe they would enjoy company?

Hermione felt a pang of pain in her head and, when she looked up, she saw that the wasp had been sitting on the rock with the growth and had taken flight. Hermione regarded it as it hovered. "That was you, wasn't it?" she whispered. The wasp didn't seem to understand.

She glanced over Bellatrix to see her taking a sample. The girl seemed lost in thought as she was scraping some of the growth in a sample container and Hermione quickly pressed her hand against the growth.

Hermione was in the garden. Running. Playing. Giggling. Her two sisters were chasing her, also giggling. A small woman with curly hair she had never seen before, but instantly recognized as Bellatrix' mother, looked up from her book while sat at a garden table. It had been a good summer and she would start Hogwarts soon. She would miss her sisters terribly, but she looked forward to all the things she would learn, all the magic she would do and all the greatness she would achieve. Slytherin. She would be in Slytherin. And if that floppy old hat would try to put her somewhere else, she would make it put her Slytherin. She had already packed her favourite dragon plushie along with her best clothes. She was going to make sure nobody would ever forget her name as the most powerful witch in Slytherin ever!

Hermione withdrew from the growth again, the memory which wasn't hers still fresh in her mind. Bellatrix was done taking her sample now, but it was obvious that the mycelium growth had some sort of capacity to transfer memories from one creature to another. It was so real too. Feelings, smells, even the warmth of the sun on her skin. It was like she had experienced it herself. The second person to touch the growth would experience memories and thoughts of the first. The stalks Hermione stood at seemed to be the receiver while the outlying grows were the probes.

A thought crossed her mind. What is she could somehow prime Bellatrix with some memories of her own? Nothing bad, just a few impressions of the encounters she had had with her future version? Hermione could then transfer some knowledge of the future, yet maintain plausible deniability. It would give her and Bellatrix something to discuss. It was an opportunity to plant a seed of doubt within Bellatrix.

Oh, it was duplicitous as all hell and Hermione would be the first to admit to that. But it was something she simply couldn't pass up. First, Hermione searched her mind for some memories she could use. She thought of the things she knew of the future Bellatrix, how much the woman had frightened her and how deranged Bellatrix had become. She held on to those memories, and then called over.

"Trix?" Hermione asked. "Could you maybe take another sample? The growth seems a bit thicker over here."

"Sure!" Bellatrix responded and took another sample container from her pack. Hermione waited until Bellatrix had reached the central point while she stood at the ready at one of the probes. Hermione waited anxiously for an unsuspecting Bellatrix to open the container and start scraping a little of the growth into it. It was then that Hermione pounced.

Hermione felt a sharp pain in her head, causing her to hiss slightly. Something… something was wrong. She tried to move her hand but it was as if her body wasn't cooperating with her. A wave of ugly red glow moved through the growth until it touched Bellatrix' hand. At first nothing seemed to happen. Then things went very wrong indeed.

The sample container fell to the ground. From here, Hermione could see that Bellatrix' hands were trembling. Hermione swallowed hard and rushed over. By now, Bellatrix was shaking, looking up at her with wide, teary eyes. "Trix?" Hermione asked carefully.

Two hands lashed out and grabbed her by the forearm. "I didn't do that!" Bellatrix sobbed. "I DIDN'T DO THAT! I DIDN'T DO THAT! I'D NEVER DO THAT!"

'Oh god.'

Bellatrix sank to her knees and a desperate Hermione, unsure of what to do, knelt beside her as the curly-haired witch rolled herself into a ball and started bawling. "I DIDN'T HURT YOU! I DIDN'T HURT YOU! THAT WASN'T ME!" she sobbed.

Hermione felt all the blood drain from her face as she realized what likely had happened: rather than receiving a few subtle memories and feelings, she had unwittingly inflicted the entirety of her crippling trauma onto an unsuspecting Bellatrix... and she wasn't taking it well.

"Trix!" Hermione yelled, trying to calm her. "Trix, I'm so sorry!"

Shaking and shivering now, Bellatrix clenched her teeth as she turned white as a sheet. To Hermione's horror, she started scratching her own face. "FOURTEEN YEARS! FOURTEENYEARSFOURTEENYEARSFOURTEENYEARS!"

Oh god, it was even worse than Hermione had imagined. Trix had seen everything Hermione had known about her future self. Her trial, her torturing the Longbottoms, her imprisonment, her slow descent into madness. All of it.

Quickly, Hermione grabbed hold of Bellatrix' wrists in a futile attempt to get her to stop scratching her face: if this kept up, Hermione worried she might even scratch her own eyes out. Immediately, Bellatrix started struggle and only stopped when Hermione held on to her and pressed her to her chest. Even so, Bellatrix had this unnerving thousand yard stare on her face. Being held had a bit of a calming effect on her, but it didn't last.

"THAT'S NOT ME! THAT'S NOT ME! THAT'S NOT ME!" Bellatrix cried out, wailing in despair and denial. Tears started running over Hermione's face now too as her heart constricted with guilt and pain. How could she have done this to someone who trusted her? Someone she professed to love? At that moment, Hermione was completely and utterly disgusted with herself. Bellatrix, confronted with the sheer truth, was having a complete mental breakdown and Hermione had to find a way to make it right.

Bellatrix, that proud and beautiful girl she had come love, had been reduced to a complete blubbering mess with bloody streaks on her face. There was only one way to fix this. Hermione drew her wand, put a strong focus on the last few minutes, and pressed it against the side of Bellatrix's head. "Obliviate..." she muttered and felt the magic flow through her body.

Instantly, Bellatrix relaxed and started breathing normally again. Another quick spell healed the self-inflicted wounds.

"Ooh," Bellatrix groaned, grasping her forehead. "What happened?"

"Trix?" Hermione asked. "Are you alright?"

"Wha... the last thing I remember was... wait, why am I crying?" Bellatrix muttered while Hermione helped her up.

"You were taking a sample," started Hermione. "The growth puffed some spores in your face. I cleaned you off, but some got in your eyes."

"Hm," Bellatrix said as Hermione helped her up. "I guess we should keep our distance, then."

Hermione smiled: Bellatrix wasn't any worse for wear and her obliviate had done the trick of erasing only the last two minutes of memories. It was, thankfully, as if nothing had ever happened. Still, she cursed herself for not being able to control herself: she should have known better than to use an unknown magical organism for something as subtle and important as convincing Trix to avoid her dire future. She'd have to find another way to convince her. Hermione took Bellatrix in a fierce hug and quickly brushed her lips.

"What was that for?" spoke Bellatrix with a raised eyebrow. "Not that I'm complaining, mind you."

"Come on," said Hermione, steering her away from the rock containing the large growth to avoid a repeat. "Let's get the hell out of here."

"Yeah," smiled Bellatrix as she turned to face towards new unknown lands. "Let's see what's out there. Come along, Zipper!"

The wasp, now getting used to the name Zipper, came buzzing along merrily as the two witches went on their merry way.

Unfortunately, on their merry way lay plenty of nasty, icky swamp. It became evident than they wouldn't be able to explore the totality of this particular floating island and even though that was a disappointment to the both of them, their cold wet feet in their soggy boots meant they were less ambivalent about cutting their losses. The would head back towards the outer ring of the island having explored covered some twenty percent of the island. It would have to do. Perhaps they would have more luck in the next biome.

Still, there were plenty of things to do and see before leaving. More benign mushrooms and plants were photographed, catalogued and sampled and they were lucky enough to be able to get real close to a couple of the three-legged marshwalkers.

Progress through the wetlands was slow, arduous and cold, so it was almost a blessed relief when they come across a large patch of dry land. An island amid the muck, covered with grass and nestled amid the tree-like giant mushroom growths. A perfect opportunity for a bit of a rest. The place seemed pleasant enough and relatively idyllic considering it was sheltered from the rest of the marsh and how fireflies were dancing around the grove.

"Oh, my," said Bellatrix while drying her leather boots with a spell of warming. "Look. A fairy ring."

Indeed. A ring of small mushrooms with about a five meter diameter was sat smack-dab in the middle of this patch of dry land. The more she approached, the more she noticed the grove was peaceful and bereft of any and all of the sounds from the marsh: not a croak, not a howl of the wind, not a cry from a faraway creature. Just peace.

It was then that one of the fireflies zipped past her. For a moment, she thought her eyes were deceiving her. But when looking again, she could see that the patterns of their flight were not random, but far more deliberate. The fireflies clustered together and started moving towards her as one, hovering near her while they observed.

"Trix," Hermione whispered. "Are you seeing this?"

"Yeah," Bellatrix whispered back as to not scare the creatures.

Tiny little women, about the size of Hermione's thumb, were fluttering about with butterfly wings and regarded the two girls with curiosity. Clad in clothing made from leaves and blades of grass, they were as diverse with skin and hair colour as the human race was. They seemed rather giggly and curious creatures.

"Fairies," Hermione whispered. "I went through a big fairy-phase when I was a little girl. I had figurines, posters... still have them, in fact. I begged my mum to buy me a porcelain Tinkerbell figure for Christmas. Hell, I dressed up as Tinkerbell for Halloween when I was eleven. I was so disappointed when I learned the fairies didn't exist after I discovered being a witch. Not as I imagined them, at least. I mean, dragons, unicorns, hippogryphs, vampires, werewolves and countless other things were... so why not fairies? And now... here they are."

Somehow, just knowing that these lovely, playful creatures from her childhood dreams existed, truly existed, made her heart swell with joy. Tears started welling up as the tiny creatures playfully circled around her.

"I really should take a picture," Bellatrix said sheepishly, feeling rather torn. Of course, she was torn... she wanted to catalogue the fairies, but it pretty much a certainty that the bright flash from the camera would scare them off. In the end, she decided to let Hermione have this one.

Bellatrix gave her the warmest smile and stepped forward, crossing into the ring of mushrooms. "Hermie," she said, extending her hand. "You know that you're supposed to dance when you step inside a fairy ring, right?"

Hermione smiled back and took her hand. Bellatrix and Hermione moved together, fingers interlocked and chest pressed against chest as they started to waltz to imaginary music. The peaceful silence was soon filled with the sounds of their clothes rustling and their giggles mounting. Wilder and wilder their dance became with the fairies now joining in with the fun as they buzzed around them, in some cases pairing off to mimic their moves.

Wilder and wilder they moved, until once foolhardy dance move caused the both of them to tumble onto the ground where they continued laughing. The two witches turned their heads to look at each other, their giggles slowly winding down. "Hermie?" whispered Bellatrix. "I'm so happy to be able to share this trip with you."

"Trix," Hermione smiled. "You mean everything to me."

Seeing Bellatrix blush was an absolutely rarity, but now was one of those times. As if to recover from the embarrassment, the curly-haired witch quickly took her in an embrace and kissed her. Gentle. Loving. Passionately.

Above them, the fairies looked on in curiosity, while the wasp landed a few feet away and wondered what all the fuss was about.


Once having said their goodbyes to the fairies, they found themselves out of the swamp relatively quickly. This unexpected boon allowed Bellatrix and Hermione to find a good place to set up the tent. At the point where they had emerged from, it was only a short hike along the edge of the floating island until they found a suitable spot where they could set up a proper camp including a campfire and the stove to make their dinner.

However, beyond the literal edge of the world was a quite magnificent sight. A sight which had both witches take out their omniculars and gawk their eyes out. Beyond the rim, some below and some at the same height, were several more floating islands. Hermione had been correct in her assumption that every island was a different biome, by the look of things.

"What about that one?" Bellatrix pointed out an island which was excessively large, perhaps one of the largest of the lot and easily six times bigger than the initial grasslands island they had entered. The island itself was nothing more than a ring or rock surrounding a huge pool of water. It looked to be an ocean or lake biome.

"See those dark shadows?" Hermione said. "I mean, if we can clearly see those from this distance..."

"... imagine how huge the creatures making them must be!" Bellatrix gasped and grinned.

"Promise me we'll turn back if the wildlife crossing takes us there," Hermione asked.

Bellatrix shrugged. "We're not exactly equipped for underwater exploration. Shame. Also, being eaten by a giant fish is probably not a good way to end our expedition."

"That island over there," Hermione pointed out. The reflection of the non-existent sun off the snow and ice almost blinded her. "That looks like an arctic biome."

"Brrrr," Bellatrix replied with a clicking of the tongue. "Yeah, we're turning back too if we end up there. We're dressed for warm climates. Look over there, though." Bellatrix pointed to an island which looked to be collection of giant insect hives. "I wonder if Zipper came from there."

The wasp was still lazily flying back and forth between the tent, the girls and the stew brewing at the muggle camping stove, not really giving them much of an answer but at least keeping an eye on the food to make sure it wouldn't burn.

"That's a strange one," Hermione pointed out an island which was almost completely covered in a dense grayish fog. "I wonder what sort of biome that is."

"I'm curious too," said Bellatrix. "Seems like it could be bothersome to navigate, though."

"I see more in the distance," said Hermione, trying to peer further but finding it harder to make out any details. "I think that's a desert biome. Or maybe a dry canyon. I think the one over there is a Taiga one, but... hard to tell."

"One... Five... Nine... Twelve... I count fifteen in total," said Bellatrix. "You were right. This place strikes me as some sort of menagerie."

"Or a preserve," said Hermione.

"Not sure," said Bellatrix. "It's the arrangement of things, really. Take these marshlands, for example. They just strike me as someone's fish tank."

"Well," replied Hermione. "Nobody's actually come after us with a net."

"Yet," Bellatrix chuckled.

Merlin, only Bellatrix could be excited about potentially being chased by powerful and giant zookeepers. "How about we eat something, hm?" asked Hermione. "I think our dinner is about ready."

"How can you tell from here?"

"Because our hungry wasp friend is already waiting patiently next to the pot waiting to be fed bits of stew and chocolate pudding," Hermione said. "He's got a better nose for food than we have."

The girls went back to the camp and found their food indeed to be ready to eat. After pouring the stew on three plates, one being put down on the ground for a hungry and eager wasp to lap up. Bellatrix popped a piece of meat in her mouth and chewed. "Today has been a good day. I still want to take a few more panoramic shots of those islands and then we can retire to our tent."

Hermione smiled. Now came the evening ritual of cataloguing the samples, transcribing their adventures of the day in their travel journal and logging the many photographs Bellatrix had made into the album. "I can't wait to see the shots," said Hermione.

"I've already taken a peek at one or two," said Bellatrix. "Despite the lack of proper light, the flash was more than adequate, thankfully. Also, Hermie... haven't you forgotten something?"

"Oh?"

"You promised you'd make me writhe," Bellatrix smirked with a wink.

"Hah," Hermione chuckled. "Cataloguing first. Play-time after."

"Tease," Bellatrix raised her chin imperiously. "It'd better be worth the wait!"


As it turned out, Bellatrix never had to wait long. Though the journal work had all been done, the photographs still lay scattered on the table next to the unarchived sample containers. They had been left to wait for archiving until tomorrow, as the sleeping bag had become ever more alluring.

Certainly Bellatrix did not regret this decision, certainly not while lying on her back while in the midst of exquisite pleasure. The curly-haired witch drew in breath through her teeth while exhaling deep moans. With Hermione's silky soft hair tickling her thighs, Bellatrix was intimately away of every single tongue-lashing giving to her. Merlin, the girl was a quick study... it was only yesterday when Bellatrix had pleasured Hermione with her mouth... and to think it had been Hermione's first time to receive a tongue-lashing.

Bellatrix let out a grunt when she arched her back yet again, one hand cupping and kneading her own breast and another one reaching down to grab a handful of brown hair whenever Hermione was within reach.

And then there was the way Hermione's hands slid over her thighs.

Merlin... Merlin, above. So was so close to the edge now... she felt her stomach muscles starting to tighten while her exhales became sharp and short. Scant moments later, Bellatrix threw her head back and let out a brief wail. Moments later, she lay panting in recovery, waiting for her sight to return as her skin was drenched in sweat.

She felt a rustle next to her and, after turning her head, smiled at Hermione who was now lying next to her. The girl was now far more comfortable with her own nakedness and Bellatrix took a moment to steal an eyeful.

Hermione raised an eyebrow and gave her a playful smack against the shoulder.

Bellatrix chuckled. "You were just between my legs and you smack me for having my eyes lingering at your tits?"

"Hm, a witch has her pride," Hermione said, a twinkle appearing in her eyes. "I hope you feel better after... this afternoon."

"I don't even remember what happened," shrugged Bellatrix.

"Even so," smiled Hermione as the two girls lay on their sides and shared a brief kiss. They snuggled up and pressed their bodies together, enjoying their closeness.

"I love you," Bellatrix whispered. "I've never felt this way for anyone before. I know I'm only seventeen, but I know love when I feel it. Merlin, Bellatrix Black in love with a muggle-born. Don't tell my aunt Walburga or she'll blast my name right off that sodding tapestry of hers."

"Does that bother you?" Hermione asked, her hand now sliding over Bellatrix' side.

The curly-haired witch thought a moment. "A little. Family is important to me. But... my sisters and I have an unbreakable bond. Whatever happens, I'm certain that they won't turn their backs on me. I wouldn't on them. My mum wouldn't, I'm sure of that. My oncle Achille wouldn't either. That's all the family I care about."

"Not your father?"

Hermione had her there. It was honestly hard to tell how her father would react. Though he wasn't as hostile towards muggle-borns as most of her family, he did believe that muggle-borns belonged with their own kind. Her father loved her, of course, but this? Of all the family, she was most likely to lose him over this. And it stung her more than she wanted to admit. "Father will be... a hard nut to crack," she said. She remembered her father's confession to her regarding never having broken contact with her uncle Alphard. She'd like to think father wouldn't give up on her, but… she still wasn't certain.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..."

"Don't apologize," smiled Bellatrix. "It's not your fault my family is messed up. Tell you one thing, though..."

"What?"

"I would love to see the look on Rodolphus' stupid fucking face," Bellatrix laughed. "This is Hermione Granger, a mudblood witch who's better than you at everything. Smart, witty, beautiful and can probably tie a knot with her tongue."

Hermione giggled despite the awful mental image. "Well, Cormac. I'd like to introduce you to Bellatrix Black. She's a witch of singular talent, curious, playful and stunningly beautiful. Also, she's more of a man than you'll ever be."

Bellatrix blinked. "Oh-ho-ho! A man, am I?" Bellatrix grinned. "I'll do more than just snog you under the mistletoe, Hermie."

"Oh," Hermione grinned. "And what would that be? I believe I require a demonstration."

Bellatrix grinned and, after a brief moment of laying her hand on Hermione's cheek, she slid it down, over her neck, her breasts, her stomach... finding Hermione's center, Bellatrix enjoyed to see Hermione's smile morphing into a lustful gaze as she closed her eyes with every gentle rub. And when her fingers entered her, hearing her sharp intakes of breath as pleasure was already starting to mount.

Her lips met hers and Bellatrix kissed Hermione hungrily while pleasuring her. In Slytherin, everything was a contest down to the smallest thing imaginable. Being Slytherin wasn't only about being ambitious, it was about being better than everyone else at everything. One day, perhaps, she and Hermione would be sharing a bed to make love on equal footing, sharing mutual pleasure in fully equal measure. Today was not that day, however, and she was determined to show Hermione what she could do to the point of making her head explode.

Some time later, Bellatrix lay on her side with a smug grin plastered all over her face, her mission well and truly accomplished. Hermione lay behind her, clutching her arms around her waist while her shallow breathing indicated just how utterly spent she was. Still, her girl managed a few kisses on her shoulder and neck before burying her head in her curly hair again.

Bellatrix closed her eyes: these were the good days. The good days worth remembering.

She was about to close her eyes to seek sleep when she heard some buzzing come closer. Zipper landed on top of the sleeping bag and looked at the both of them curiously for a moment. Then, the wasp crawled through the opening. Next thing Bellatrix knew was that Zipper was pushing his head between her arms, forcing a hug and then settling in. The shifting chitin and wings tickled her for a moment, causing her to giggle for a bit.

"What?" sounded a tired Hermione behind her, just before another kiss landed on her shoulder. "I felt something."

"Zipper wants cuddles."

"What?" sounded a now slightly annoyed voice as Hermione body shifted. "Hey, that's my spot!"

"Hermie, you're clearly laying behind me," replied Bellatrix.

"Anywhere around you is my spot!" Hermione huffed, moving her arm to lamely swat at the wasp to try to shoo him away. Instead, Zipper caught the arm around the wrist with his mandibles and rolled around in Bellatrix' arms, forcing Hermione into a threeway hug by keeping her arm in place.

"See?" Bellatrix chuckled tiredly. "He wants cuddles."

"Ugh, fine…" Hermione sighed, apparently too tired to protest further.

Mission accomplished indeed.

Chapter Text

After enjoying breakfast and breaking up camp, it took a surprising amount to time to actually find the next magical wildlife crossing. They kept to the rocky edge of the island and, after walking for a few hours, felt as if they had circled around. Finally they found one, however, nestled away in between a gathering of giant mushrooms in such a way that it was almost completely hidden from sight. Hermione had to admit that she would have completely missed it if Bellatrix hadn't felt it when drawing near. Indeed, pure-bloods weren't inherently better at casting or mastering magic, but it seemed that at least Bellatrix was far more attuned to magic than she was.

"Well, about time," smiled Bellatrix while regarding the shimmering portal. "I'm about ready to leave this soggy wet swamp behind."

"Unless we find a more inhospitable place," Hermione grimaced. "Remember, if we end up in the arctic or ocean biome, we head right back to where we came from. Just a few pictures, nothing more."

"Yes, yes," Bellatrix rolled her eyes.

"I mean it, Trix," Hermione narrowed her eyes.

"Fine, fine," Bellatrix sighed. "Miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime."

"It'll be the last opportunity of our very short lifetimes if we freeze to death or get eaten by a giant sea monster," said Hermione. "There's nothing wrong with prudence."

"Shall we just step through and see where it leads before we get gloomy about it?" Bellatrix smirked.

They did just that. The usual sensation of magical transportation overcame Hermione and she was soon deposited on a whole new floating island. After spending a long time in a state of near permanent evening gloom, it took a while for her eyes to adjust to the relative brightness. But when she could see again, Hermione paused.

Though this floating island was definitely brighter than the marshland one, it had a rather distinct lack of colour. The sky above was one of dark grey and looked as if it was permanently just about to rain. Ahead of them was a thick fog, bordering on the edge of white and grey, while the ground and whatever flora ahead were on different aspect of a grey-scale definition. For a moment, Hermione thought there was something wrong with her eyes, feeling as if she was looking at some sort of old-style black and white film. However, when she raised her hands and saw the colour of her beige skin and the brown colours of her jacket's sleeves, she quickly concluded that it was the world itself and not her eyes.

"Ah, it's the fog one," Bellatrix was stood next to her, adjusting her camera to take a few shots of their surroundings. "We should probably not venture too deeply into this one."

"Whatever happened to 'opportunity of a lifetime'?" Hermione asked.

"That was when I was thinking of the Arctic or Ocean," Bellatrix pursed her lips. "This one is worse. Far worse."

Indeed, this particular biome looked to be far from pleasant. The fog make looking too far ahead quite impossible as everything beyond ten meters away blended and disappeared into a thick, grey foggy soup. What they did see, however, was a completely dead and colourless world which might at one point have been a forest. Dead trees were sticking out of the ground haphazardly likes knives sticking out of someone's back. Hermione paused again: what an odd way to describe something. How did her mind just come up that?

"Why do you say that?" asked Hermione. "Why is it worse?"

"Don't you feel it? The wrongness of this place?" Bellatrix muttered. "Lack of colour, the fact that Zipper is exceedingly agitated, the poor visibility? You know how when you're engrossed in a scary story you're reading, and you see the protagonist about to do something completely bloody stupid? Then you start screaming that they're bloody idiots and should get out there immediately because they're about to FUCKING DIE?! Yeah… that's us now!"

Indeed, this biome seemed less than savoury. And judging by the way the wasp was nervously buzzing around, he was indeed agitated. Hermione... grimaced. "It's... it's hard to think," Hermione started rubbing her temples when she stepped back and almost fell over. After having steaded herself, she saw that she had almost tripped over a ripped-off limb belonging to one of the beaked-horses. The rest of the borse was lying in a heap a few meters away, sporting massive claw-like gashes all over its poor body.

"Oh, god," Hermione folded her hands over her mouth as she regarded the poor thing, lying in a pool of blood. Oddly enough, the blood was a dark shade of red, almost black in some spots. On the whole, it looked darker than it should be.

Bellatrix stood next to her, grimacing. "Look at it!" she hissed. "Nothing of the corpse seems eaten. It was killed purely because it was here... or for the fun of it."

Hermione's breath caught her throat as she caught movement from the corner of her eye. She twisted herself around, peering into the fog. Until one of the needle-like trees... moved towards them. Her lip trembled as she raised her finger. "B-b-b-b-b..." she couldn't keep her hands from shaking.

Bellatrix spun around and swore loudly. The creature came into the sight. It was long, thin and lanky with a skin as thick as an elephant's hide resembling the bark of a tree. It had long, gangly limbs ending in three-fingered claws. It was moving towards them with an unnatural, janky gait. Worst of all, the creatures had no discernible facial features and simply resembled a walking tree trunk with claws. Yet, it was certainly apparent that they knew exactly where Hermione and Bellatrix were by the were approaching.

They?

Oh god, there were two... three!

Hermione was frozen in fear and turned to run back towards the wildlife crossing, only to be yanked back by the arm by Bellatrix. "Stop, you idiot!" Bellatrix shrieked in her ear. "Look, there's another one!"

Indeed, a fourth one had appeared and was effectively blocking their escape route. By now the creatures were close enough to see just how tall they were: at least seven foot tall and, judging by the length of their limbs, they were nearly close enough to attack. God, looking at what they did to the poor borse, one swipe could potentially take her head clean off her body!

"Trix! We have to run! We have to flee! We have too..."

"Move!" Bellatrix yelled. "MOVE!"

The curly-haired witch grabbed the girl by the arm and dragged her in the only clear direction they could run to: deeper into the fog. Hermione cried and yelped when branches whipped across her face and body as they ran as fast as they could muster. The fog became thicker and thicker to a point it was getting dangerous to run. More than once, Hermione bumped her shoulder into a tree trunk or a sharp piece of rock.

And the screams, the screams of the creatures giving chase. Unnatural, guttural bellows, almost siren-like. It cut into her very soul, making her break out in cold sweat. She felt her hands tremble as Bellatrix held her by the arm and pulled her forwards... if it wasn't for Bellatrix, Hermione would have surrendered to her fear already.

"OVER HERE!" Bellatrix yelled and yanked her to one side, dragging her into a cave. Seeing the dark maw in the rock before her filled Hermione with even more fear. She started to drag her heels until Bellatrix swore and practically threw her into the cave. Hermione tripped and fell onto her stomach, having the wind knocked out of her while her relatively heavy pack kept her prone. Behind her Bellatrix jumped through and, judging from the sound of frenzied buzzing, their wasp friend had managed to keep up with them.

Bellatrix drew her wand and yelled a few arcane words. A barrier was erected covering the entire mouth of the cave. And not a moment too soon, because the lanky tree-creatures pounced upon the magical shield with vigour. All four of them started wailing upon the shield with powerful swipes. Again and again, they struck the magic barrier and its colour started to change from clear blue to angry red. Bellatrix snarled and raised her wand, trying to push more of her magical energy into the shield in a desperate attempt to keep it up.

"Hermione!" Bellatrix shouted, grunting as she flicked her wand to shift magical energy to the areas of the shield where she figured the creatures would hit it the hardest. "HERMIONE!"

Hermione, meanwhile, lay in a fetal position and covered her ears with her hands when the creatures' unnatural cries echoed through the cave. "STOP IT! STOP IT!" Hermione shouted. "PLEASE, MAKE IT STOP!"

"Hermie!" Bellatrix all but snarled. "STOP BEING SO FUCKING USELESS AND HELP ME!"

"I can't! I CAN'T!"

"WE ARE GOING TO DIE!" Bellatrix shrieked while fighting a losing battle keeping a thin barrier of magic up. "I refuse to die here because you are an inept coward!"

Miraculously, Hermione managed to steel herself enough to lend her strength to Bellatrix. In trembling hands, she pointed her wand towards the barrier and let her magical energy flow into it. Bellatrix, now able to focus purely on mitigating the impacts on the shields rather than doing both upkeep and mitigation at the same time, could thwart the creatures' attempts to break the shield much more easily.

A few more swipes followed, but when they noticed they weren't making any headway, the creatures started to lose interest. First one turned away. Then the second one. And then the other two sauntered off into the fog beyond the mouth of the cave. It was over.

For now, at least.

Bellatrix let out a sigh and let her pack slide off her back. She plopped down next to Hermione and leaned her back against the cold stone of the cave.

Silence.

Eerie, oppressing silence.

Funny. That scared Hermione even more. She felt her lip tremble a little more as she tried to listen for anything which might be deeper into the cave.

"Well," Bellatrix muttered. "This is a piece of piss."

"What... what were those things?!" Hermione shuddered.

"How the fuck should I know?!" Bellatrix yelled at her while fishing the compass from her pocket and opening it up. "Fuck, shit, fuck! Compass isn't working. Probably iron in these rocks. There's no way to tell where were came from and where we need to go."

"W-wait?!" Hermione took in a few deep breaths. "Are you saying... we... we're lost?!"

"Well, we're certainly not found!" Bellatrix snarled. "Fuck me, I never had a chance to place a conch near our entry point. I have no idea where we came from or what direction we need to go in! And good luck finding it through that misty soup out there."

"Trix," she grabbed her girlfriend by the sleeve. "We need to leave! We can't stay here!"

"Not yet," said Bellatrix. "Those things are still too near. It's safer to wait a bit."

Hermione shook her head. "No. No. What if... what if something lives deeper in this cave? What... what if... that is ever worse than..."

A sharp pain shot through the side of her face and Hermione fell to the ground. It took her a bit to realize that Bellatrix had just rather violently backhanded her. "Oh, stop your simpering already and grow a bloody spine!" Bellatrix snarled, looking down upon her with furious gaze. "SNAP OUT OF IT BEFORE I BASH YOUR HEAD IN WITH A ROCK!"

Hermione burst into tears, cowering in fear while rolling herself into a ball. "W-why?" she cried softly. "Why?!"

Apparently realizing what she had just done, Bellatrix' expression changed to one of shock and shame. Immediately, she sank to her knees and helped Hermione to sit up. The young witch looked upon her with wide open brown eyes before allowing herself to be embraced. Hermione returned the embrace. "I'm so sorry," Bellatrix whispered in her ear. "It's… it's this place. It's doing something to us."

Hermione nodded. "I'm so scared. My heart is pounding in my chest, but... but I feel I shouldn't be. Everything makes me jump, but... I don't know why."

Bellatrix released her and they sat next to each other. "I'm... so angry. At everything. I... this isn't normal, Hermie. I..."

For the first time, Hermione noticed something: the colour had been draining from Bellatrix. It was subtle at first, but now that she had some more time to look closely, she could see that the colour of her skin had turned far more porcelain and her hair had turned far more black. She held up her own hand and saw that her beige-tan skin now had an ashen-grey quality to it.

Yes, this biome was doing something to them and it was not to their benefit.

"I... I love you.." Bellatrix started to whisper. "I love you..."

Hermione realized that this wasn't a profession of love, but rather Bellatrix reminding herself that she loved her to try to contain and control her anger. "I love you too... I love you..." Hermione whispered back. It did help her keep her fear under control somewhat. She shouldn't fear Trix... they only had each other to rely upon right now. They couldn't let this place split them apart. Not now.

The wasp sought comfort as well, and Hermione gave it in the form of a cuddle. She gently took the wasp in her arms and clutched it to her chest as if it was a puppy or a kitten. Oddly enough, it gave her the same amount of comfort and the wasp was grateful for the affection: apparently the warp now named Zipper was feeling the same effect this biome was having on them. Together, the three of them sat huddled together in the cave for a time which seemed to be agonizingly long.

If she had been fully rational, Hermione would have known that waiting for a while before attempting to leave the cave would give them a better chance as the creatures would have had likely moved away further. But Hermione was not fully rational in the moment. In fact, she was as far away from fully rational as she had ever been. The first ten minutes were somewhat bearable. The next ten minutes were increasingly difficult. The ten minutes after that were starting to get agonizing.

Fear was only mounting. She was not calming down and her heart never stopped pounding in her chest. In fact, the way this was going she greatly worried that her heart would give out. Great… as if she needed to have yet more things to fear.

The two of them sat in the cave in silence, but it was obvious that Bellatrix was similarly having problems. The curly-haired witch fought to keep her breathing under control and most of the time said nothing… but Hermione could easily tell that she was struggling from the way she kept clenching her jaw and narrowing her eyes.

Every so often, Bellatrix did lose control. It was then that Hermione could see wild, wide-open eyes staring at her with burning, seething hatred. Expressions the older Bellatrix showed often and which looked distinctively out of place on her younger self. Hermione couldn't help but cower whenever Bellatrix was on the verge of losing control, fearing that she might fly off the handle and attack her at any moment.

But she never did. Bellatrix did whatever she had to do to keep the storm at bay. Hermione often hear her counting out loud. A surprise came when Bellatrix actually started to sing to herself.

"Brille, brille petite étoile

Dans la nuit qui se dévoile

Tout là-haut au firmament

Tu scintilles comme un diamant

Brille, brille petite étoile

Veille sur ceux qui dorment en bas"

A lullaby. Hermione recognized 'Twinkle, twinkle little star' by the melody: likely Bellatrix' mother had sung it to her when she'd been a little girl. But what startled her the most was just how strained her voice sounded. It was clear that Bellatrix was fighting a losing battle… and that frightened Hermione even more.

Hermione held up her hand and let out a croak: her skin had lost all its colour now. Once beige-tan skin had turned into light grey. In contrast, Bella's skin was stark white while her eyes shone a dangerous black. She was glad Hermione had no access to a mirror right now, because she feared seeing her own countenance would give her a terrible fright… just like about everything right now could give her a terrible fright.

"We have to get out of here," Hermione whimpered. "We have to keep moving. We have to go. WE HAVE TO GO!"

"Shut… up…" Bellatrix snarled angrily at her, though still straining herself to hold back. "I don't want to hear the sound of your stupid, cowardly voice…"

"But…"

"SHUT! UP!"

It took all the willpower Hermione had to keep herself from running out of the cave and into the fog in a blind panic. The only thing stopping her was the thought that going out alone out there in the state she was in would likely lead to her death and, per extension, that of Bellatrix. In a way, despite the states they were in, they kept each other somewhat grounded.

The wasp wasn't doing any better. Sprawled on the ground as he was, Zipper looked completely legless, depressed and lacking of any and all energy.

Bellatrix took a few deep breaths. "You're right," she hissed. "We can't stay here..."

"We need to get back to the crossing..."

"Any crossing would do," Bellatrix replied through strained voice. "We have no idea what direction we came from."

"Compass?"

"That only helps WHEN YOU KNOW WHAT DIRECTION YOU CAME FROM IN THE FIRST PLACE!" Bellatrix snarled at the cowering Hermione, but managed to calm herself somewhat. "Which we don't."

"So... so what's the plan?"

"Follow the compass needle," muttered Bellatrix. "Go in a straight line. We move swiftly and quietly. We'll hit the edge eventually. From there, we start looking for a wildlife crossing to another island. Any other island."

"B-but... if we want to go back, we'll have to pass through this island again!"

"Then we move forward and hope we can find our way back to the island we started from," said Bellatrix.

Hermione nodded. The thought of going out there terrified her to no end, but it was their only option. She grimly squared her jaw and strapped her pack to her back. Her hands were trembling as she stared at the shimmering shield... all the protection between her and the monsters in the fog.

Behind her, Bellatrix scooped up the wasp and, perhaps a bit more roughly than she should have, stuffed him in her pack which she then strapped to her back. Bellatrix took her wand out and took a few deep breaths. The wasp poked his head from Bellatrix' pack to see what was going on... even so, the wasp looked about as well as Hermione felt.

"Ready?" Bellatrix asked.

"No," Hermione whimpered.

"Well, GET READY!" Bellatrix hissed, causing Hermione to cringe. "We are going!"

A shudder went through Hermione's body when the shield shimmered and then faded, allowing tendrils of fog to penetrate the interior of the cave once more. Hermione closed her eyes and whimpered while a frustrated Bellatrix held out the compass in one hand and grabbed Hermione by the arm with the other. Eyes still closed, Hermione found herself being roughly yanked forward into the fog and into the dead forest beyond.

Hermione had never felt this scared before in her entire life. When she dared to open her eyes, she jumped at shadows everywhere... every tree was a monster, every rock an obstruction, every wisp of fog a place for certain death to hide. She couldn't concentrate, she couldn't focus. In the distance, she could hear the unnatural cries of the monsters and, though far ahead, could only imagine how fast they could travel towards her to tear her living flesh to pieces.

Bellatrix, thankfully, was more determined. Her anger gave her the focus Hermione lacked and, though she feared it greatly, refused to leave her behind all alone. Hermione had no sense how long they had travelled, how far they had come or even in what direction they were headed: she whipped her head around at every little noise, movement or shadow while Bellatrix dragged her along.

Suddenly, Hermione found herself yanked sharply to one side and pushed into the surrounding dead underbrush. Trix kept her firmly in place. Though Hermione had been hypersensitive to her surroundings, Bellatrix had managed to spot an approaching monster long before she had. It lumbered into sight from the fog and stood mere meters away. It simply... stood there... twitching: its long clawlike limbs swaying the breeze as it scanned its surroundings with non-existent eyes.

Incredibly, it had not noticed them and Hermione soon realized why: by now, the colour had been completely drained from all of them in such a way that they perfectly blended within the grey soup which were their surroundings. Though acutely aware that this biome had drained more from them than just colour, it was a bit of a relief to know that it did make them harder to find to the denizens of this hellscape.

"I'm not dying here because of your pathetic mewing..." was softly whispered spitefully in her ear. It almost made Hermione sob.

There was movement in the shadows. Something else was coming. Something big... and fast. Hermione gasped when that something exploded out of the fog and approached the monster from behind. The lanky creature let out an even more unnerving guttural cry as it was skewered by a massive horn and was roughly shaken about it.

The black unicorn!

How?!

Hermione tensed up in agonized fear as, judging from the markings both old and new on the hulking creature's body, it was the same one they had encountered earlier. How did it survive its fall?!

The black unicorn shook his head wildly to inflict more damage and finally threw its dying prey on the ground. The lanky monster cried out before a massive maw filled with jagged teeth silenced it forever.

Hermione felt a hand clamp over her mouth, fingers digging into her cheeks "Make even one sound," a soft whisper sounded through clenched teeth. "And I swear I'll fucking kill you and feed your corpse to that thing!"

Being utterly terrified was a boon in this case: she was too afraid to even move. Tears started streaming over her cheeks while Hermione bit her own lip to the point of drawing blood. The black unicorn tore into the flesh of the body, ripping the lanky monster to pieces with minimal effort.

This up close, she got a good look at the beast: huge and muscular, twice, maybe three times the size or a regular horse. Its blood red mane whipped around at it shook its head. Blue glowing eyes without pupils and those teeth. Way too many teeth. Shaped liked daggers.

'Please go away,' she mentally commanded as she felt about ready to piss herself. 'Please go away. Just go away...'

The creature, having had its fill of flesh, slowly trotted off into the fog, leaving only carrion behind. As it left sight, all both girls could hear was a distorted whinny in the distance. It took a while before Bellatrix even considered releasing the grip her mouth.

"Don't scream," she whispered angrily. "Promise me you won't fucking scream or I swear..."

Hermione felt hot tears run over her cheeks as she nodded. She didn't scream when she was released, though it was too close too call for a moment. After making sure that the creature was truly gone, Bellatrix dragged Hermione to her feet. "Come on," she hissed. "We have to move!"

That was a bit louder than Hermione would have liked. "What is that thing doing here? How did it even survive?"

"How the hell should I know that!?" Bellatrix snapped back. "But... it's a recent arrival. It had all its colour. His mane was fully red still. Judging how fast the colour drained from us, he can't have been here very long."

"Is it... stalking us?!" Hermione gulped, the thought alone made her absolutely terrified to the point of fainting.

"Do I look like a unicorn-whisperer to you?!" Bellatrix hissed and checked her compass. "It went over there to the south, we are headed north and I'm perfectly fine with that."

A more hurried run through the fog followed, with Bellatrix still dragging an increasingly whimpering and sobbing Hermione along for what seemed to be an endless run through the fog. Branches whipped against her body and she almost tripped over rocks more than once, but despite the odds she finally found her footing. Her heart was still pounding in her throat, more from fear than from running, when they finally emerged from the fog: the edge of the island came up a bit more quickly than expected and it was by the breadth of a hair that the two of them didn't topple off to fall into the void. Sure, the black unicorn might have survived it somehow, but that didn't mean the two witches were eager to experiment.

Hermione for one, was happy to see some semblance of light again and regarded the other floating islands with longing: safety was so close and yet so far away. They now had to traverse the rocky ring around the floating island in search for another wildlife crossing. Unfortunately, now that they were out of the fog they stood out more despite colour still not returning to their skin or clothes. Hermione could already hear the cries of monsters nearby.

"ENOUGH!" Bellatrix suddenly shrieked. "YOU WANT A PIECE OF ME?! DO YOU?! COME AND GET ME, YOU GORMLESS TWATS! I'LL TEAR YOU LIMB FROM USELESS LIMB!"

Oh god. It happened. Bellatrix had lost control and just... snapped. She stood there, wand at the ready, preparing for a fight to the death. It was now up to Hermione to help Bellatrix survive. With trembling hand, she grabbed the Bellatrix' pack and started pulling her backwards along the rocky island ring, desperately looking for another shimmering portal.

One monster appeared. And yet another. Bellatrix let out a snarl and sent the first fire-balls hurtling towards it: she wasn't playing around either, but was going for the kill. One fire-ball exploded against a monster's chest, turning the lanky creature into a living torch. It shrieked and shrieked at it ran and promptly fell into the void. A bolt of lightning hit the other one, sending it flying. Bolts of power shot forth in all directions as more and more of the creatures appeared.

"I'LL KILL YOU! I'LL KILL ALL OF YOU!" Bellatrix shrieked at the top of her lungs. "Suffer! SUFFER!"

Hermione was becoming increasingly desperate as all this shouting and noise was doing was attracting more monsters. Though Bellatrix knew plenty of destructive spells, Hermione was intimately aware that she had bitten off more than she could chew: the creatures had sheer numbers on their side, after all.

Finally, she saw it. A shimmering portal. Her heart jumped with elation as their release from this hell was near. Judging from her surroundings, it certainly wasn't the one they had emerged from, but at this point she wasn't complaining.

"TRIX!" Hermione shouted. "We have to go!"

"NOT UNTIL I TEACH THESE WANKERS THAT MESSING WITH A PURE-BLOOD WITCH ENDS WITH BROKEN LIMBS!" Bellatrix shot back, with a tone and volume that would rival her possible future self.

God. She wasn't coming. Hermione's have to drag her through.

With terror in her throat, she would do just that. "COME ON!" Hermione shouted, tears now running over her cheeks against as she yanked Bellatrix back and threw her startled girlfriend into the wildlife crossing. One of the creatures took a swipe at her, and Hermione could barely make it to the crossing in time to avoid it.

The sensation of magical travel overcame her and, a few moments later, she was roughly deposited into warm sand. The brightness of the sun above was overwhelming and blinding, but utterly welcome. Her unnatural fear melted away almost instantly and her heart-rate finally slowed down. Tired. Hermione was so completely and crushingly tired as she lay face down in the sand, her pack weighing down upon her. Next to her, Bellatrix was in a similar state, panting heavily.

"Hermie?" she asked with a tired voice.

"Here, Trix," Hermione sighed.

Bellatrix said nothing, but let out a relieved sigh. Hermione noticed that colour was returning to their skin. They'd made it. They'd escaped.

That dream was roughly shattered when one of the lanky, treelike monsters came lumbering through the gate. Hermione didn't have the energy to even move, but the moment the creature met the light of the sun, it exploded into flame and burned to ash before her very eyes. She closed her eyes: they were safe now.

So tired.

So very tired.

They were here, on a lovely sandy beach with the calming sounds of the ocean waves beyond.

With her last bit of energy, she reached out her arm to grab Bellatrix' hand. Trix replied in kind, their fingers brushing and interlocking before sleep became too powerful to fight.

Chapter Text

Hermione stirred, still lying in the warm sand which was surprisingly comfortable. She was lying in the shade, it seems and there was something soft underneath her cheek. Her pack seemed to be gone and there were pleasant smells of freshly cooked food wafting all around her.

"Hi there, sleepy head," sounded the pleasant voice of Bellatrix. It took a few moments for Hermione to register where she was. Her eyes opened and she found herself lying in the shade of the pitched tent next to her. The sky above her mimicked a noon sun while Bellatrix sat at the camping stove cooking a meal.

"Hmmm," Hermione groaned. "What time is it?"

"Just past noon," replied Bellatrix. "I woke up about an hour ago. Left you sleeping, set camp but put a pillow under your cheek. You didn't even notice."

Hermione sat up and let out a yawn before taking in her surroundings... which were utterly breathtaking. The two witches were camping on the beach of a pristine and beautiful atoll environment with the green of a mountainous jungle island behind them and the stark blue ocean ahead… though she supposed said 'ocean' was technically speaking a lake. The island snaked around like a ring along a sinkhole filled with almost clear blue salt water. Most impressive yet were all the floating islands: all of them surrounding them on all sides, floating slightly above.

"This is the center island," said Bellatrix after following Hermione's gaze. "You can get a good sense of the cosmology of this place too. And, so far, no monsters or mind-altering fog. Things are looking up."

The wasp was doing much better too, teleporting around from the roof of the tent, to the cooking stove, to the beach ever so often. Zipper was certainly paying at lot of attention to the food. That wasp, it seems, was always hungry.

"Hm, smells nice," said Hermione as she regarded the pot on the stove: beef stew. "And you still managed to avoid blowing us both up with that propane tank."

Bellatrix chuckled. "Don't underestimate me, Hermie," said the curly-haired witch. "I'm not just a pretty face, you know? Here."

Bellatrix held out a wooden ladle with a bit of cooked beef on it. Hermione took a bite and chewed. "It's good."

"Oh, of course it is," she said. Bellatrix seemed a bit distant, however, and her bravado melted like snow in the sun in an instant.

"What's wrong?" asked Hermione.

The curly-haired witch cast her eyes down a bit. "Back there... in the fog. There were parts of me which were screaming at me to kill you. Or to leave you behind as a distraction so I could escape. I..." Bellatrix muttered and Hermione could see the shame in her eyes.

"But you didn't," Hermione whispered.

"But..."

"You didn't," Hermione repeated, reaching out to caress Bellatrix' cheek. The curly-haired witch offered a brief smile before looking away. "Besides, I wasn't exactly a model of courage back there."

By now, Bellatrix had poured the stew into two bowls and served it to them both, along with a cup of tea. Of course, a hot meal and a hot drink in this climate might be a bit counterproductive, but national pride won out: they were Brits, after all. Together they ate inside the coolness of the tent and spent some time documenting their experiences. It was mostly contained to log entries, as there had not been many photographs or samples from the fog biome to catalogue other than a few scrapes and pictures from the corpse of the one creature which followed them. But they had wanted to preserve at least something of their experiences.

They emerged from the tent barely an hour later. Looking at their surroundings, Bellatrix took out her omniculars for a peek. "How about get some more exploring done?" asked Bellatrix. "We're both well rested and it'd be a shame to waste a full day."

"Heh," Hermione chuckled. "This might look like a paradise, but who knows? We might come across a flock of rabid piranha-poodles."

"Always the optimist," Bellatrix winked.

From their location on this floating island, they got a good sense of its layout. The atoll they were standing on was ring-shaped, wrapped around a large center sinkhole. The best way it could be described was an atoll without an ocean around it, as where the ocean would normally be was instead the edge of the world leading off into the void. The inner ocean gave it a sense of calm, however and the place seemed to be teeming with life.

Benign life, for a change.

Their wasp friend followed them along, having recovered as well. In fact, they encountered more giant wasps, as well as a flock of borses trotting along the shade of the judge. Several cat-like creatures were lazying about underneath the palm trees... or what looked to be palm trees, at least, seeing the shade of green was inordinately bright and the sheer amount of coconuts they bore was staggering. The island was also home to a large variety of colourful birds... birds which emanated a magical glow as they traversed the island, changing colour to match their surroundings much like chameleons. Hermione made sure to gather a few shedded feathers as samples.

Hermione could only close her eyes and enjoy the feeling of the sun and the breeze on her skin: this place was absolute paradise.

For one, Bellatrix was enthusiastically taking photographs again while Hermione was getting more samples of the local flora. Of particular interest were a group of flowers which resembled orchids, but were seemingly leaning into the breeze to always catch as much light as possible. By now, she had gathered so many different kinds of seed pods that she could fill a whole greenhouse with and she honestly couldn't wait to try to grow some of them.

The plan was to make a walk along the inner ring of the atoll to get a good feel of the lay of the land, pitch the tent again on the beach and, after a good's night rest, head inland to explore the jungle. It was about five in the afternoon when both witches came across a familiar sight.

"There's another one!" said Bellatrix as they encountered yet another shimmering wildlife crossing. "That's seven so far."

"Hm," said Hermione after she watched Bellatrix place a conch-beacon near it. "I'm willing to bet that you can get to every single biome from this central island. It certainly explains why there's so many different species of animal walking around here."

The wasp teleported with a crack and was sat on Bellatrix' head, which he usually did whenever he seemed to be getting tired or hungry. At least Trix didn't seem to mind. "Let's finish exploring this island first before we head to another one."

"Perhaps we should try to find one which leads back to the grasslands biome first," suggested Hermione. "So we won't have to pass through that fog biome again on the way back."

Bellatrix made a face. "You sound like you want to go back home."

"I don't," said Hermione quickly. "Not yet, anyway. But it's always good to have a plan. I mean, do you really want to go through that hell a second time?"

"I suppose not," said Bellatrix, looking less than convinced. "I wonder what makes this island so special, though. Or maybe it's just because it's the center one that all the other islands connect to it?"

"Hm," replied Hermione as they stood at the edge of the jungle. "We haven't even scratched the surface. I feel we could spend years here in the Fae Realm before we'll get a complete picture."

Bellatrix grinned at her. "That means... we'll have to return plenty of times." There was an eager glint in her eye when she spoke those words. Eager for more adventure, more exploration, more freedom. With her. Hermione would be greatly lying if she said that sounded unappealing.

"Hopefully better prepared," said Hermione. "We prepared for savanna land safaris, not for arctics, desert or mind-altering foglands. Hell, we're still dressed too warmly for the humidity of this island. I don't know about you, but I'm sweating like a pig. This is not a climate for an Englishwoman."

It was then that Zipper took off and rushed to the treeline, causing both girls to turn their heads. There, sat on piece of driftwood, were three more giant wasps. Hermione looked in fascination as Zipper approached the three wasps, sat down on the driftwood and twitched his antennae. The four wasps started to move in unison, dancing around each other for a moment before turning their heads towards each other, twitching their antennae in unison.

"What are they doing?" asked Bellatrix.

"Communicating, I think," replied Hermione.

All four wasps turned their heads and hopped to face in the direction of the two girls.

"I think Zip just pointed us out," chuckled Bellatrix.

With a crackle, the four wasps teleported right in front of the girls, causing Hermione to start. Though Bellatrix was amused and giggly, Hermione felt rather uncomfortable having four giant wasps circling them. Thankfully, they was not aggressive, but rather as curious and friendly as Zipper was. They seemed to be studying them, and so Hermione made a point to study them in return. Hermione noticed that these seemed to be steady patterns in the way they hovered, the way their antennae twitched and… were they clicking their mandibles together? The wasps seemed to have a very sophisticated method of communication, perhaps even a language. The wasps were more intelligent than Hermione had given them credit for.

Looking closer at the wasps themselves, Hermione noticed that there seemed to be a variation of colour and patterns on their chitinous hides. Of note were smears of luminescent pollen in other places than their legs and it didn't seem haphazardly applied by randomly scrubbing against a large flower. It fact, it seemed to be more deliberate. Was this… decoration? A form of self-expression, maybe?

Bellatrix was taking some pictures. The flash confused the wasps momentarily before they took interest. After taking more pictures, Bellatrix decided to reward the wasps for their time with some food. The curly-haired witch took out yet another one of their largest chocolate bars and undid the wrapper. The smell did immediately catch the attention of the wasps. After reaching into her pack, she took out a jar of jam and started smearing the contents over the chocolate bar with a knife.

"Will you please stop feeding all our good stuff to wasps?" Hermione raised an eyebrow. Bellatrix made a face and ignored her as she held out the yummy treat to the curious wasps. Naturally, all four wasps feasted enthusiastically from the jam-covered chocolate. When their meal was finished, the four wasps seemed to communicate some more. Both girls looked on in fascination as the four wasps teleported up into the trees and moved towards one of the coconut-like fruits. They started chewing at the stalk with their mandibles and, in total unison, held on to the heavy fruit before it could fall to the ground. The four wasps moved like synchronised swimmers as they flew into the air with their heavy prize, moving it to hover above a large rock on the breach. The coconut was dropped and neatly split in two when it hit the rock at just the right angle.

Bellatrix had been taking pictures the whole time, and was just as surprised as Hermione was when the wasps teleported behind them and started to nudge them towards the fallen coconut. The inside of the coconut was not white as expected, but glowing blue. Hermione carefully picked up one half, as did Bellatrix.

"Remember to take some samples. I'm not sure…" Hermione started to say, but Bellatrix had already scooped up the blue glowing coco with her finger and popped it into her mouth.

"It's good," said Bellatrix.

"What are you doing?!" hissed Hermione. "You don't know if that's poisonous or not!"

"It isn't," said Bellatrix. "It feels right."

Hermione was about to retort when she realized that, once again, Bellatrix was simply far better attuned to magic than she herself was and Hermione did, in fact, sensed the magic emanating from the juicy fruit. Perhaps the wasps were trying to repay them for the tasty treat.

"Come on, eat it," Bellatrix smirked. "Don't be rude."

"Rude to wasps?" Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Perish the thought."

The wasps were looked at her expectantly. Carefully, she took a small scoop of the coco and put it in her mouth. Not only did it taste really good, but the magic did have an instant effect. All her senses were seemingly doubled in strength. She could see better, she could hear better. She felt the caress of the breeze as it passed gently over her skin and through her hair. The buzzing of the insects became louder and more intrinsic.

"Whoa," Hermione blinked as her vision become starkly eagle-eyed in such a way that she needed to adjust herself for a bit.

"Yeah," giggled Bellatrix, her Mancunian voice sounding incredibly melodic to her ears.

"We really, really need to bring some of those nuts with us," said Hermione. "If we can grow these back home…"

"Way ahead of you," smiled Bellatrix as she strode over to a few fallen nuts which were seemingly already sprouting. Though she struggled a bit to fit them, Bellatrix managed to gather five of them in their largest sample container.

By now the wasps were pleased that their gift had been appreciated. There was a bit more dance in the air before the three other wasps took their leave to apparently forage some more food along the shoreline, leaving Zipper with the two girls.

"Amazing feeling. Intense," said Hermione. "Only now, I feel even warmer."

Bellatrix perked up a moment, gazing towards the jungle. "Hear that rumbling in the distance?" she spoke. "Thanks to that coco, I now do. And I think that might be a solution to our problem."

Hermione gave her a questioning look, to which Bellatrix smirked and grabbed her by the wrist to pull her into the jungle. It didn't take long for Hermione to let out a relieved sigh as the thick, lush jungle was mercifully much cooler and shaded than the beach they had come from. As the trees stood close together, the underbrush was relatively sparse underneath the thick canopy. More colourful birds had chosen their sanctuary here and Zipper flew in right behind the two witches, but soon buzzing up to go snack on a ripe piece of fruit hanging from one of the trees.

A still grinning Bellatrix kept pulling Hermione forward as the roar was getting louder and louder, a roar Hermione soon recognized as falling water. The source of which became clear soon enough: a large, pristine clear pool of water at the base of a ten meter high cliff which sported a tiered waterfall while, at the base of the pool, several smaller streams led further into the jungle. The canopy was partially broken above, allowing the sun to shine down upon parts of the water. It looked to be deep enough for a really nice swim.

"I was hoping we'd find this," giggled Bellatrix, finally letting go of Hermione's wrist. While Hermione was still contemplating just how beautiful this partially shaded pool was, Bellatrix had already dropped her pack on the ground and was unbuttoning her top. Honestly, it was quite bewildering just how adept Bellatrix was at taking off her clothes, as scant half a minute later, Bellatrix stood on a rock wearing only her silver necklace. Again, Hermione could only admire her sculpted body, long curly hair cascading over her back.

With a whoop, Bellatrix rushed forward and dove into the pool with a resounding splash. She remained under water for a moment, gliding underneath the surface of the water like a dolphin. And when she emerged, she burst from the surface of the water, throwing her hair back as if she was a siren of old.

"Come on in!" Bellatrix beckoned over a with a smile. "The water is nice!"

Hermione swallowed hard, but soon steeled herself. She'd been in this position once before and wasn't going to miss out on having fun skinny-dipping in an idyllic forest pool for a second time. This time, she wasn't a nervous virgin anymore and could hold her own against the amorous Bellatrix. This time, there wasn't a damn monster to interrupt their fun. This time, Hermione started to undress as swiftly as she could and, now unabashedly naked, dove into the pool after Bellatrix.

Oh, it felt so good. The fresh water on her skin was just the right temperature and after hours of traipsing around a rather hot beach, it was just what she needed to cool herself. The magic from the coconut made it feel even more soothing. Her head popped up from the surface and found a smiling Bellatrix swimming towards her.

"See?" Bellatrix smirked. "I always have the best ideas, don't I?"

"Arrogant..."

"Oh, pish-posh, you love it!"

The two girls swam towards each. The water was deep enough for them to swim in, but shallow enough for Hermione to feel her toes touching the silty bottom of the pool. They were still facing each other when Hermione suddenly lunged forward and wrapped her arms around Bellatrix. The two girls giggled and had a bit of a light struggled before they pressed their bodies together and lips were crushed to lips. Hermione swooned when Bellatrix kissed her with a tremendous hunger, feeling her soft tongue circling around hers playfully. The young witch swooned and tilted her head slightly, allowing Bellatrix to deepen their kiss even further. Pleasant sensations which were doubled by the power of the magic coconut.

She felt the brush of butterfly wings in the pit of her stomach. Here, in this pool, being kissed by the girl she loved, Hermione felt completely and utterly content. She felt soft hands sliding over her skin, coming to rest on her shoulders... until she suddenly and unceremoniously found herself being dunked into the water.

A startled Hermione resurfaced, coughing up a bit of water which had found its way into her lungs by Bellatrix' nasty prank. She narrowed her eyes and looked around where her girlfriend had swam off to since. Naturally, this meant war and Bellatrix had to be punished!

Bellatrix had found her way over to the tiered waterfall, and stood underneath it. The plunge of roaring water poured over her, causing the curly-haired witch to laugh in merriment. Hermione showed a wicked grin and swam towards it. The water was much shallower here, only coming just above their knees. Perfect.

Hermione approached Bellatrix from behind, joining her underneath the waterfall. Immediately, she felt the water cascade upon her, threatening to push her down under its weight. "Hush!" she yelled over the roar of the water. "You're mean and I have to punish you!"

"Oh?"

Hermione snaked one arm over her waist, hand rising to cup one of Trix' lovely breasts. The other hand lingered on her thigh.

"You've been very mean to suddenly dunk me," said Hermione. "And now you must face the consequences."

Apparently, that was more alluring to Trix than Hermione would have liked it to be, judging from the laugh. Already, she felt Bellatrix' nipple hardening against her palm. Hermione gently started nippling on her earlobe. Her hand slid up, two fingers gently rubbing between Bellatrix' legs before plunging into hotness.

The gasp and the shudder came instantly, with Bellatrix letting out a series of moans with every crook of her fingers. Oh, Hermione was a relative newcomer to the world of physical pleasures, but she was a quick study and learned by doing. The past few days, Bellatrix had only been to happy to teach her or let her use her for practice. Hermione would be the first to admit that she was just starting out, but judging by the way Bellatrix' body responded to her ministrations, she was getting the hang of it. Of course, she probably had a little help from the coconut.

"You're so wet..." Hermione whispered.

"Duh," replied Bellatrix, managing to smirk in between sighs.

"Oh, be quiet!"

Quiet was something Bellatrix wasn't going to be. With water cascading down upon the both of them, sighs turned into moans as Hermione treated her to gentle, rhythmic strokes while kneading her lovely, impossibly soft breast with her other hand. Bellatrix craned her neck back, laying her head on Hermione's shoulder. The young witch took the opportunity to gently trail kisses over her cheek while continuing to pleasure her as best she could.

Moans turned into mews... something which she learned happened to Bellatrix when she was close to going over the edge. Hermione slowed somewhat to give her love some more time to enjoy the moment until finally a shudder went through the curly-haired witch's entire body as she finally died her little death.

Hermione was sure to catch her as Bellatrix was going weak in the knees and having her girlfriend hit her head on the rocks would surely be a poor end to a fun experience. Hermione guided her from under the waterfall and let her slide into the pool where Bellatrix floated for a moment with closed eyes and a rather satisfied grin.

This only lasted a moment, though. Quickly, Bellatrix rolled around in the water, satisfied grin turned into a cheeky one as she raised her hand and wagged a finger at her, her alluring eyes giving her a look of 'come hither'. It made Hermione smile as she left the waterfall and entered the pool again where the two girls first embraced for a loving kiss.

Again their tongues met and again Hermione was overcome with the gentle softness of Bellatrix' exploration and the wonderful feeling of her body pressing against hers. When Bellatrix broke the kiss, she gently whispered in Hermione's ear. "I know just what to do with you, you filthy little witch," husked Bellatrix, licking Hermione's ear for good measure.

Hermione found herself pushed backwards into the waterfall, gently lifted up to be sat on a rock. She was underneath the waterfall again, but this part of the waterfall was much wilder: the water fell over her with more roaring intensity. With the water up to the underside of her ribs, Bellatrix pressed her body against hers after parting her legs for easier access, nipping at her skin on a steady trajectory downward. Hermione groaned when her curly-haired girlfriend stopped at her breasts and gently rolled the tip of her tongue over an erect nipple … and was disappointed when Bellatrix stopped to continue her path downward.

She could hear Bellatrix whisper the words to a bubble-head charm just before submerging herself. Hermione arched her back and let out a strangled exclamation when receiving the first lash of the tongue.

With fingers digging into the skin of her legs to keep her in place, Hermione was subject to a relentless onslaught. Through the distortion of the clear water, Hermione could see exactly what Bellatrix was doing... a mass of curly-hair wafting through the water between her legs like black seaweed dancing in the currents. She threw her head back, into the path of the fierce falling water and grit her teeth. Hands searched for something to grab and found it in the curly black hair.

This did serve as a stark reminder that Hermione still had so much to learn. Bellatrix' tongue traced irregular patterns and mixed speeds, making it hard to prepare for the onslaught of pleasure. And when she felt two fingers enter her as well to work in unison with that merciless tongue, she was well and truly lost.

Hermione panted, trying to delay the moment by doing calculus in her head... anything to distract her... anything to delay what she knew was coming.

It was a fruitless effort.

Waves and waves of pleasure crashed upon her shores. An exclamation of such a volume escaped from her lungs that near them flocks of birds fled from the trees. Her entire body went limp and her body slid into the water, carried by the currents of the wild waterfall. Bellatrix was there to catch her, however, holding her in her arms until her motor control returned.

Hermione smiled at her. A loving smile, she imagined.

"Hm," Bellatrix joked. "Teachers always told me I had a filthy mouth."

"Keep it that way," Hermione managed to say before both girls giggled.


After their rather amorous stint in the waterfall pool, both witches laid out towels on the beach to simply lazy about. Perfectly positioned in the shade of some overhead palm trees, Hermione was content to let her bare wet skin dry while feeling the warm air above her and the warm sand below her. Normally, she would never ever do this, but considering the only other human here was her equally naked girlfriend lying mere inches away from her, she no real problem with this level of decadence. The coconut was still doing its job, though the effect was very slowly diminishing.

"Who would have thought months ago," Bellatrix spoke softly. "That I'd be lying naked on a beach on a tropical atoll in what's possibly another dimension right next to my muggle-born lover after a naughty romp under a waterfall."

That made Hermione laugh. She looked up to watch the rays of sunlight breaching through the palm canopy above. "I'd have to say that the past few months have been completely unreal."

"I've always wondered," said Bellatrix. "I mean, we pure-bloods talk a lot of shit about muggle-borns, I freely admit that. But I wonder if the muggle-borns talk shit about us."

"Hm," Hermione closed her eyes and suppressed a giggle. "Well, you know, I'd like to say I've kept the moral high ground and refuse to play that stupid game of prejudice Olympics."

"But?" Bellatrix asked.

"You bunch of chinless, inbred, stuck-up, infuriating, smug, snobbish, arrogant, condescending, pretentious, vain, inconsiderate, self-centered, patronising, pompous, dishonest, Machiavellian, resentful, overemotional, lazy, narrow-minded belligerents are just too bloody annoying to keep quiet about it!" Hermione exclaimed, turning her head to see an incredulous Bellatrix staring back her her. But when she cracked a smile, the curly-haired witch simply had to giggle.

"We're not that bad... are we?"

"Oh, you have no idea."

"I suppose a lot of the things we say about muggle-borns aren't too flattering," Bellatrix muttered.

"Judging by the things pure-bloods say to our face," said Hermione. "I shudder to think what you say behind our back."

"Pretty much the same, I'd wager," said Bellatrix with a shrug of the shoulders. "Generally speaking, you're lazy thieves riding the coat-tails of the real wizards who had to do all the hard work and endure all the hardships. Or you whore yourselves into a proper wizards' bed to legitimize your own bloodline by ruining another. Not willing to work a day in their lives, just take government hand-outs and attend school for free which we fund through our tax money."

"Heh," Hermione snorted. "That sounds a lot like the things my grandparents used to say about foreigners."

Bellatrix thought for a moment. "Funny you mentioned foreigners. Part of me is foreign blood. Pure foreign blood, but foreign blood nonetheless. If you look at my family, you can clearly see the difference in attitudes towards muggle-borns between the family on my mother's side and my father's side."

"Oh?" Hermione replied.

"Hm," Bellatrix nodded. "On my father's side, the true Blacks, that's where you find all the hardliners. Those who actively despise anything muggle or muggle-born. All for purification of the wizarding race. On my mother's side, things were quite different. They are more... uhm, how to say this right? Subtle? I mean, my oncle Achille really doesn't like it, even when we're just joking around, but he's really only focused on his artwork to bother with society on the whole. Even so, my father's side of the family considers him a bad influence on us. And mum, well, she's mostly just thinks that muggle-borns should be helped to prevent them from becoming beggars, cut-purses and thieves on the street."

Hermione chuckled for a moment. "No offense, Trix, but from what you've told me about your mum, she rather strikes me as being a classic example of a champagne socialist. Someone who might mean well, but actually lacks a lot of understanding about how the people outside of her circle actually live their lives and what their motivations might be."

"You're probably right," laughed Bellatrix. "Still, when you compare attitudes towards blood purity in different countries, you'll find that the UK has the most hardliners. It's generally a bit toned down in most continental countries. And it's completely non-existent in the Americas... which is why uncle Orion has forbidden the three of us to ever go there."

"Sounds like an excellent reason to visit," Hermione said.

"Hah, you decadent rebel," Bellatrix winked. "Still, I wonder why blood purity idealism is strongest in the UK. If pure-bloods are superior, surely they are superior everywhere, no?"

"Hm," said Hermione. "Perhaps it's just less subtle here. Even if people don't talk about it as much doesn't mean the idea isn't there."

"True, I suppose."

"Trix?"

"Hm?"

"Do you still believe in pure-blood superiority?"

Bellatrix remained quiet for a time. "I don't know," said Bellatrix. "So far I've seen one example of brilliance. But one example doesn't necessarily prove or disprove anything."

"I suppose that's fair," said Hermione. "Still not very nice, but fair."

"I'm not in this life to be nice."

Hermione looked at her for a moment. "Stop acting so tough. You don't have to prove anything to me. I know you have a soft side. You should let it out more."

Bellatrix grumbled. "After almost seven years of Slytherin and growing up in my family, it's something I've learned to switch off."

"I'd like to think that after all our chats and adventures, you've become a bit more open with your vulnerabilities."

She heard Bellatrix shift slightly. The talk was obviously making Bellatrix uncomfortable. "Only to very few people," she finally spoke, her voice almost a whisper. "Hermie, you... you don't have to prove anything to me either."

Hermione turned her head towards Bellatrix. Her curly-haired girlfriend had a bit of an awkward look to her expression. She merely smiled warmly. Perhaps it was time to strike when the iron was hot.

"Do you trust me enough to come back to 1998 with me?"

Bellatrix closed her eyes and sighed through her nose. She sat up and looked away from Hermione. "Not this again… Look, what we share together is wonderful, don't get me wrong? And I realize that you know certain things. But what you're asking me is just too much!"

She stood up now, her pale sculpted body accented by the shadows underneath the trees. "Family is important to me! You expect me to leave my sisters behind?! I'm not afraid of a laughable charlatan with a circus tent!"

Perhaps it was the power of the coconut making her bolder. Perhaps she was just desperate after days of agonizing over it, but Hermione closed her eyes and took the plunge. Hermione rose from her own towel, desperation creeping into her voice. It was now or never, and before she knew it, she blurted it what had been on her mind for days. "Trix!" she heard her own voice cracking as she felt her own breath quicken. "If you go back to 1968, you will have no future!"

Silence.

Dead silence.

All that could be heard was the calm ocean, the breeze rustling through the leaves and both their laboured breathing. Slowly, ever so slowly, Bellatrix turned around to face her… with tears in her eyes. She was absolutely seething. "YOU PROMISED ME!" shrieked Bellatrix with an intensity which made Hermione wince. "You promised me you wouldn't tell me anything about my future! YOU PROMISED!"

Hermione stepped forward, grabbing Bellatrix by the shoulders. "I KNOW WHAT I PROMISED!" Hermione shouted back. "I'm sorry! But I'm desperate! And I'm selfish! Because I love you! That dark wizard you so lightly refer to as a 'charlatan with a circus tent'. He… he will…"

Bellatrix expression was one of turmoil, absolutely torn between anger, sadness and terror. She started pacing back and forth. "I... I can't... I... That charlatan is full of shit! I know that! You know that! He… He can't… He can't be… My... sisters! I... I have to go back! If he's really that dangerous, I need to protect my family! My sisters! "

"Trix," Hermione whispered, eyes red with tears while shaking her head slowly. "If you go back to 1968, your sisters… They… They will suffer for it."

Hermione had to be careful: Bellatrix' reaction to learning the full extent of her future madness had broken her mentally. Hermione would not mention specifics, or even think of them in case Bellatrix was trying to read her mind. But by mentioning just the hurt done to her much beloved sisters even in the vaguest possible way, meant she had struck proverbial gold. It was cruel, yes, but it had to done.

Of course, denial and anger came first. "No! NO!" Bellatrix shrieked in her face after taking angry strides towards her. "It's not true! That's impossible! We are the Black sisters! WE HAVE AN UNBREAKABLE BOND!"

Hermione merely looked at her sadly. "I'm so sorry, Trix."

For a moment, Bellatrix looked at her with wide, searching eyes as if she was hoping to find lies in Hermione's expression. Apparently, she found none when there was a distinct look of disbelief and resignation as the reality of the situation started to sink in. Hermione was upon her quickly as Bellatrix sobbed and sank to her knees. The young witch knelt besides her and held her, quite relieved that Bellatrix didn't push her away: she had, in her opinion, every right to.

"I don't know what will happen to you if you come with me to 1998. The future will be yours to make," said Hermione. "But I do know what will happen to you if return to 1968... and it's not going to be pretty."

"Don't tell me anything more," Bellatrix whimpered. "I don't want to know. I don't even want to think about it. Nothing more than you've already told me."

"I promise," said Hermione, closing her eyes. "And I'll keep it this time. Just remember... whatever happens in 1998, you'll have me. If you still want that, of course."

Bellatrix looked up, a half-smile one her tear-streaked face. "W-why would I not want that?" Bellatrix replied softly. "I... I just need some time to wrap my head around all this."

"I understand," said Hermione as Bellatrix stood up and looked in the distance, apparently lost in thought.

Bellatrix sniffed, shaking her head. "I should have known, really," sighed Bellatrix. "You were always so vague. So evasive. If there were good things in my future, you wouldn't have been. At least… at least we could use the Fae Mirror to travel back and forth, right?"

Hermione bit her lip. "It… It will stop working."

"What?!" When?!"

"March next year."

"How do you know…" Bellatrix demanded, before closing her eyes. "Someone from the past told you it will. Of course."

"Your uncle Achille did," Hermione confirmed. "And when the Fae Mirror stops working while you're at the wrong side of it, your fate will be sealed."

For a moment, it seemed as Bellatrix was about to say something when an odd look came over her. She took a few steps forward and peered in the distance, squinting her eyes a bit.

"What is it?" Hermione asked, but Hermione ignored her and kept peering. Hermione tried to follow her gaze to see what she was looking at. And then, she saw it: on the other side of the atoll, across the great water filled sinkhole, a black dot stood out in the distance. It was stood on the beach, having emerged from the jungle. Immediately, Hermione got a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.

"See that?" Bellatrix asked.

"Yeah," Hermione added. "I see it too."

Hermione looked over to her pack to grab the omniculars and aimed them at the black dot, hoping against hope that she was wrong.

She was not.

A hulking muscular beast, a fiery red mane and a large bloodied horn filled her vision as the black unicorn simply... stood there, looking in their direction. Then, it simply turned around and sauntered off back into the jungle, completely out of sight.

"Do you think it spotted us?" Hermione asked, her voice in a quiet hush despite the creature being so far away it obviously wouldn't be able to hear them.

Her face grim, Bellatrix kept scanning the jungle rim. "I'm absolutely sure it did," she responded. "Those six eyes aren't there for nothing."

By the time Hermione put down her omniculars, Bellatrix was already putting on her clothes hastily. "Come on," Bellatrix said. "We've got to keep moving."

"So much for some quiet time on the beach," Hermione sighed and started to gather her own clothes.

Bellatrix snorted. "You call what just happened quiet time? I shudder to think what you'd call tumultuous then!"

Chapter Text

Ronald Weasley stepped inside the Three Broomsticks. By now it was some almost eleven o'clock and most of the inn's usual bustle had died down. Rosmerta was still at the bar, as per usual, and was tending to the few quiet patrons who had yet to go home or up to their rooms.

"Ah, good evening mister Weasley," greeted Rosmerta. "I'd offer a pint, but we're close to time. Making a late night call?"

"Yeah, I suppose so," said Ron as he took a stool near the bar. "Investigating rumours of sightings up North. Didn't lead to anything."

"Escaped Death Eater?" she asked while cleaning glasses.

"Rodolphus Lestrange," said Ron. "One of the last ones still on the loose. Rotter is about as slippery as an oiled-up eel in a pool of green soap."

"Thank you for that lovely mental image," said Rosmerta. "He can't keep running, though. You'll catch him one day."

Ron nodded in thanks. "I know it's late, but I'm hoping to see Hermione. How's she doing?"

"Hermione?" asked Rosmerta. "Why, she's been a model guest of the most part. Room's paid up for the month, she makes no fuss or noise and on the rare occasions I do catch her, she's always up for a bit of friendly chatter. She does keep irregular hours, I've noticed, so I've given her the key to the front door so she can come and go as she pleases and I know she can be trusted the lock the door behind her. Very responsible young woman."

"Irregular hours?" Ron frowned. "She goes out at night?"

"Quite often, yes," said Rosmerta. "For a research project, she says. Likes keeping busy, that one."

It did sound like Hermione to want to keep her mind occupied. However, that didn't explain why Hermione hadn't been returning any of his owls. Granted, Hermione could be obsessive at the best of times, but considering she had no school work to focus on, he would think she'd have plenty of time to respond. This did not sit well with him at all.

"When did you last see her?" asked Ron.

Rosmerta thought a moment. "About... four days ago. Or was it five? Yes, I think it was five."

"Five days?!" Ron blinked.

"Oh, I know she's been in," said Rosmerta. "She has had dinner brought up to her room on a serving tray which she always left in perfect condition afterwards. Like I said, a model guest. Why don't you go up to her room? She's likely there if you want to pay a visit. She usually doesn't go out until much later."

"I believe I will do that," said Ron, standing up and headed towards the stairs.

Hermione's room was in the nicer part of the inn, just above the common room at the end of the hall. He took note of the 'do not disturb'-sign hung from a hook on the door to her room. Judging from the dust on the top, it had been a permanent fixture for weeks on end.

He knocked. No answer. He knocked again, more urgently.

No answer.

As Ron wasn't here in any official capacity, he couldn't ask Rosmerta to open the door for him. Not that that would stop him, of course. His auror training had given him means to enter a room discreetly, after all. After flick of the wand, the lock opened with a satisfying 'snick'.

"Hermione," he spoke to the door. "I'm coming in. Hope you're decent!"

He grabbed hold of the doorknob and gently pushed it as he stepped inside. The moment he did, his jaw dropped to the floor. Hermione, of course, was nowhere in sight, but it was the state of the room which troubled him: stacks of books and papers were strewn about the room in a meticulously organized fashion and the walls were completely covered with notes, papers and even the occasional photographs. Red ribbons connected most of the notes, but even so, whatever subject matter Hermione was researching, he had to admit it was way over his head. He saw schematics of what looked to be magical vortices, but he had never really paid attention in Theory of Magic. There were some bits of folklore here and there, some fragments of rituals and a few newspaper clippings from... 1968?

"What the bloody hell happened in 1968?" Ron whispered to himself. "What is this?!"

Ron cursed to himself when he saw the name 'Bellatrix' in some notes. It was obvious that Hermione had never completely recovered from her experience at Malfoy Manor and from the war in general. In a way, none of them had. He had his own nightmares quite often. But all this was starting to worry him more and more.

The next batch of papers made his blood run cold: his nan was a Black. Cedrella Black had turned her back on her family and was subsequently disowned when she married his grandfather on her father's side. His nan had always ever been kind, but she had made sure to make her family well aware how to recognize the dark arts and to warn them to stay away from it. Among the worst of the dark arts were blood rites. Blood magic drained the life-force of the caster or leeched a victim to give a caster amazing amounts of power, but the cost could be great.

Though blood rites were banned by the Ministry, he knew that many of the pure-blood families knew how to perform them as part of their 'birth right' and often did so in secret.

"Blimey," he muttered. "What have you gotten yourself into, Hermione?"

Ron steeled himself: someone like Hermione would be well aware of the dangers and dark sides of blood magic and he couldn't bring himself to think that the friend he knew would actually perform a blood rite willingly.

Someone had to be making her do this.

And he was determined to find out who so he could drop-kick him or her straight to Azkaban. Still, he'd need to be careful and leave the entire room as undisturbed as possible. If Hermione got clued in that someone had been in her room, she might end up doing something drastic or even flee and that was not what he wanted right now.

Still, he needed clues and he found it after another search through the notes on the wall: it was a map of magical lay-lines running through the Forbidden Forest and he was just willing to bet that it was significant. There was a central point where all the lay-lines intersected and the flow of magic was at its strongest. Of course, it did helped that Hermione had circled the point of intersection with a red marker.

He took out a notebook and made a copy of the map as good as he could. Afterwards, he locked the door and hurried back downstairs.

"Is she not in?" asked Rosmerta. "Curious. I didn't see her leave today."

"You said five days ago was the last time you saw her?" asked Ron. "Did something appear off? Might she have been nervous? Or acting queer in any way? Any detail might help."

Rosmerta put her fingers to her lips. "Well, no," she said, squinting her eyes as she thought.

"Anything might be of use, even if it seems small."

"She seemed to be preparing for some kind of trip," Rosmerta snapped her fingers. "It was one of those rare days when she was having her dinner in the common room and when I brought her her fish 'n chips, she was so concentrated on the list she was working on that I actually startled her. I couldn't help but notice that she was writing down all manner of different tinned food items. But that was all I saw."

That made Ron's blood run cold: was Hermione going to flee the wizarding world? What on Earth would she be needing supplies for? And how could this be related to the blood ritual she had been working on? So many questions.

"Right," said Ron. "Keep Hermione's room under lock and key. No one goes in! If you see Hermione, try to keep her from leaving the inn and discretely send me an owl as quickly as possible."

"What is this about?" asked Rosmerta, concern etched on her face. "Is Hermione is trouble?"

"I hope to Merlin she's not," Ron muttered before taking his leave. Stood in front of the Three Broomsticks, he examined the map he had drawn. It was the only clue he had so far of Hermione's location. More was undoubtedly buried in the myriad of notes and drawings on the walls of her room, but he didn't have the time or the knowledge to sort through all of that. No, that place in the forest would be her best option.

If he even managed to bloody find it, of course.


Once again, Andromeda found herself in the middle of the woods, in the dead of night in the depths of winter. But this time, she was not alone. A rather petulant muttering sounded next to her as she had convinced Cissy to come along with her tonight. Her little sister was hugging herself and had clattering teeth despite the thick fur coat she wore. She had been desperate to have Cissy join her tonight, but after all the trouble she had getting her out of bed and with her she slowing them down during their trip through the woods, Andromeda wondered if it had been a good idea.

In fact, they had already lost sight of Bella and if they didn't get to the glen quickly, they could possibly miss vital clues.

Thankfully, when they arrived, they found Bellatrix waiting by the pool in the middle of the glen. They stopped short at a fallen tree and could see Bellatrix pacing back and forth, apparently waiting for the pool to become active.

"There she is," said Cissy, making Andie wince at the loudness of her voice. But when Cissy stood up and leaned over the tree to get a better look, she quickly yanked on her cloak to pull her back down.

"Watch it!" Andie hissed. "You want to get caught? I swear, you're about as stealthy as a mountain troll!"

Cissy huffed and made a face. "Well, if you're going to be rude about it... why am I here anyway?"

"Because Bella's been acting strangely as of late," said Andie. "She's been going out at night into the woods for weeks now and it's probably been on a daily basis. How she even manages with so little sleep, I'll never know. And she's meeting someone here."

"Really?" Cissy thought for a moment. "I don't see anyone else."

Andie checked her pocket watch. "Just a few seconds more."

She heard a gasp besides her when a powerful magical blue glow bathed the glen. From a distance, they could see Bellatrix kneeling besides the pool. "Whoa," Cissy finally exclaimed. "What is that?"

"I don't know," said Andie. "But whomever Bellatrix is talking to, she's inside that thing."

"Inside?" Cissy frowned. "That... doesn't sound good. What if it's some kind of siren or kelpie?"

"Doubtful," said Andie. "Sirens or kelpies wouldn't have strung along Bella for months. They would have struck at the first opportunity."

Cissy scoffed. "This is Bella we're talking about. She's no fool and there's nobody quite as suspicious as she is. She won't fall for any old charlatan's tricks."

"That's what worries me. Listen to Bella's voice," Andie said and gave Cissy a magical bronze horn. Once put at her ear and aimed at the conversation Bella was having, she would hear it as if she was stood right next to them.

Cissy listened to the conversation and as soon as her eyes grew wide, Andie know that Cissy had realized what she had already concluded. "Andie. Bella. She's... she's in love."

Andie nodded grimly.

"If Bella's in love with you, you can make her do anything!" Cissy exclaimed, almost a bit too loudly again. "Remember when Evelyn challenged her to jump a bridge into the water even though it was way too high and..."

"... she jumped down anyway without a second thought even though she knew better and broke both her legs," Andie said. Even though Evelyn was appropriately horrified that Bella had actually done it, the older Slytherin had never apologized for it. And even after her recovery, Bellatrix refused to see reason. Truth be told, the thing Bellatrix and Evelyn had was the very epitome of a toxic relationship where either girl used each other. Andromeda knew that. Cissy knew that. But Bella always refused to see reason.

"You see my dilemma," spoke Andromeda. "What do you make of this Hermione?"

Cissy listened for a little while, and her eyes narrowed a bit. "That's just it, I can't tell anything about her. She sounds perfectly normal, nothing out of the ordinary. And that worries me."

"Me too," said Andie. And that was the point, really. All three of them were in Slytherin and all three were trained to both see and find hidden meanings behind everything and anything. This girl in the pool had to be up to no good.

"Wait..." Cissy hissed suddenly. "It's... subtle. But it's there. It's in her tone, her hesitation, her... choice of words. She's hiding something."

"Noticed that too, hm?" Andie chuckled. "Yeah, Bella doesn't."

"She's in love," Cissy repeated, switching out her horn for a pair of omniculars. "That critical part of her brain is shut down now and... oh, Merlin's sake, what is she wearing?! And that pack. Is... it that our tent?!"

Curious herself now, Andie picked up her own pair of omniculars and took a peek. Indeed, Bella seemed anything but dressed for the cold weather. Underneath her long coat, she wore a cotton... safari outfit? Was that a pith helmet sat on the root next to her? The pack to her side definitely looked like one that housed the family tent. "Is it," said Andie. "Bella had Sebastian deliver her some things from the manor last weekend and she's been acting really mysterious about it."

"Looks like they're getting ready for the blood-rite," said Cissy. Both she and Andie looked and listened as she and the mysterious Hermione inside the pool started their chanting after taking out their daggers and running it across the palm of their hands. Or, at least, Andie presumed that Hermione was doing the same.

"Not a chant I recognize," said Cissy, dead serious now. "Though the pattern of the intonation suggests opening a gateway."

"Yeah, I got that too," said Andie. A few moments later, Bellatrix disappeared in a flash of light.

"That happened before?"

"Yes," said Andie. "I've been looking into who the other person could be, but I've found no record of Hogwarts students or Hogsmeade inhabitants named 'Hermione'. I've been using father's connections to search through Ministry records, but they haven't turned up anything yet. Somehow, I doubt we'll find something. Still, Bellatrix should reappear very soon."

So they waited.

And waited.

"How soon?" Cissy asked after a few minutes had passed.

Andie, now very worried, stepped out from her hiding spot. "Something is wrong."


Inland, the jungle had become noticeably thicker and the ground noticeably more uneven and rocky. Thankfully, the air was cool, though with the non-existent sun apparently setting and with the thick canopy above, it was darker than it should be. They would have to find a place to set camp soon.

And that was a problem. It was obvious that they were being stalked by a massive apex predator out to eat their flesh. As thick as this jungle was, it was difficult to see far ahead. And she had seen just how stealthy the black unicorn could be, especially for a creature that size. Hermione glanced around nervously every so often, looking for odd movements in the underbrush or stopping to listen for odd sounds in the distance. So far, the jungle was quiet.

Too quiet.

Aside from the occasional insect chirp or the tweet of a bird in the distance, all that could be heard were their own footsteps or the breeze through the treetops.

Another worry was that Bellatrix hadn't said a word to her ever since they had left the beach. Where Bellatrix had always been surprisingly chatty during their travels, she was now quiet and contemplative. Where Bellatrix was always snapping pictures, her camera now hung unused from her neck by its strap.

Granted, there wasn't much to take pictures of here, but it still worried Hermione: had she nipped their relationship in the bud? Well, she had come here to set out to save Bellatrix. Preferably, she would have liked to have saved Trix and have a relationship with her, but if she had to sacrifice their relationship to be able to take her with her to 1998, that was how it would have to be. Still, romantic feelings weren't just gone... perhaps... perhaps it could be salvaged...

Hermione hoped beyond hope, but felt a sting in her heart regardless.

God, she was such an abject failure. Everything she touched withered and died. Useless, pathetic, pitiable. Here was a girl who unmistakingly loved her to bits and yet Hermione had found a way to bugger it up. She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths. Not even here, in a different reality, could she escape these feelings, these thoughts. There was no hope. No way out.

Then, as if Bellatrix had been listening to her thoughts, the curly-haired witch turned her head to smile at her. A smile filled with warmth and... dare she think it? Love? Then, Bellatrix turned her head again and continued walking in silence.

A great relief washed over Hermione: they were still okay. They were still in love. But, she supposed, it was simply a lot to take in for her. She let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. That meant the only immediate concern was about being suddenly rushed, pierced and torn to ribbons by the stealthy black unicorn.

So there was that.

By now, there'd been a steady upward slope they had been following. This floating island was shaped much like an uneven bowl: the sea water in the middle, the beach as a ring around it and, in turn, a jungle around the beach with hilly mountain-like terrain on one side. And it seemed as if they had found the mountains. Traversing this bit of the floating island would turn into a bit of a scramble soon.

"Hermie?" sounded the voice of Bellatrix, first words spoken since the beach. Its appearance was so sudden that it almost startled Hermione.

"Hm?" asked Hermione, trying to keep the immense dread building up in the pit of her stomach from spilling out. She was so certain that the next words out of Bellatrix' mouth would be to reject her.

"We should probably look for a good place to set up the tent," said Bellatrix. "I'm thinking a ridge or, if we get lucky, a cave. We can set up a magical shield at the mouth of the cave, like we did back on the foggy island. Or on a ridge, we can at least cloak the tent with an invisibility spell."

"Or both," said Hermione, looking around her nervously. Again, relieved by the lack of rejection and increasingly worried about being eaten alive.

"You're really worried, aren't you?"

"And you're not?!"

"Sure," said Bellatrix. "But I know we're smarter than it. And we've defeated it once before."

"Because we got lucky!"

"Nonsense," Bellatrix smirked. "Skill! And willpower."

"You're more optimistic than I am," said Hermione. "Where did our wasp friend go?"

On cue, the wasp now named Zipper came flying back from ahead, apparently having found a path the two girls could follow. The wasp hovered and turned in circles towards the path, urging them forward.

"Hermie," said Bellatrix while stepped towards the pointed out path. "We're alright. Really."

"But..."

Before Hermione could get another word in, Bellatrix simply turned around, grabbed her hands and gently kissed her on the lips. "Hermie. Just how long have you been sitting on that secret? How long have you been wanting to warn me about what was to be my future?"

Hermione lowered her gaze briefly. "Almost from the moment we met," said Hermione, softly.

Bellatrix let go of her hands. "That's the thing," said Bellatrix. "I've been thinking back to a lot of our conversations. You kept your promise until today, but you've also been subtly trying to warn me. A lot of the things we talked about during our nights at the Fae Mirror are making so much sense now."

Hermione could only nod. Bellatrix gave her another smile, raising her hand to lay it on her cheek.

"And that... that... that is why I will go with you. To 1998," said Bellatrix, while Hermione stiffened. Was she really hearing this? However, Bellatrix' eyes grew watery until tears ran over her cheeks. "I'm going to have to leave a lot of things... people... behind. There... there are those who I'll want to say goodbye to. My oncle Achille, though I think he will understand. Perhaps maman, though it would likely be better to just leave her and father a letter. But... Andie and Cissy... I'll have to explain to them... need to explain to them... why... why I won't be there for them in the coming years..."

A sob came and Hermione could see that Bellatrix was close to breaking down. She stepped forward, wrapped her arms around her and hugged her tightly. "I'm sorry," Hermione whispered. "I'm so sorry."

"I want a future..." Bellatrix sniffed. "And... one for my sisters. A good one. Even if that means I'm not in it..."

"There'll time for goodbyes," said Hermione. "And, if it's any consolation, both of them are still alive in 1998. I don't mind spilling the beans on that."

"So, I'll still have them," smiled Bellatrix. "And, I'll have you. Sounds like... a good deal, no?"

Hermione realized that she was still trying to convince herself and only needed to give a little push.

"You'll always have me," Hermione smiled back, right before kissing her on the lips.

After she broke the kiss, she found Bellatrix had lain a gentle hand on her cheek. "I'd better," Bellatrix told her with a smirk.

Hermione felt like a great weight had fallen off her shoulders. After months of trying to save her from a dire fate, an ugly future, she had finally done it. Where first she had set out to keep an unexpected friend from walking down a path leading to self-destruction, Hermione had now convinced Bellatrix to avoid the path altogether. Better yet, Trix would be in her future too now. There would be a future which the two of them would forge... together.

Hermione felt happier than she had ever been since the end of war. And before. The mere idea of having Trix in her life, with her, building something with her. So many possibilities.

"Trix," Hermione whispered. "You… you make me feel my life is worth living again."

For a moment, the curly-haired witch seemed shocked and at a loss for words. An incredulous stare soon morphed into a cheeky and somewhat sultry grin. "Well," said Bellatrix. "I suppose we should start looking for a secure place to set up camp. No point in all of this if we both get eaten by a murder-unicorn."

"It would at that," said Hermione as she pushed herself forward through the heavy underbrush. By now, there's been a steady upwards slope. Hopefully, they would be able to find a better spot on the high ground, where they could be above the treeline to have a good vantage point while they hid their tent with magic.

After all, especially after what just happened, Hermione was very much in the mood to make love again. Preferably undisturbed by murder-unicorns, as Trix had put it.

The overgrowth appeared to be clearing up after a more steeper climb, though the surface of the rocky hills were still very much covered with vines. So much so, that Hermione almost missed it. But when she saw it, she paused after stopping dead in her tracks. Hermione simply stared in disbelief. Bellatrix first gave her a questioning look, until she followed her gaze and let out a gasp. "Hermie. Tell me you see that."

"I see it," Hermione swallowed hard.

Though it was almost completely obscured by encroaching vines, Hermione could still make out an obviously carved out stone stairway.

Chapter Text

A stairway.

An honest to goodness stairway, hewn out of the rock and apparently wide and winding up the tallest hill of this floating island. Obviously not a natural phenomenon. But what could this mean? After Bellatrix and Hermione cleared the vines with some carefully placed magical fires, they could see that the staircase went down to the beach.

"Hah, if only we'd have found this sooner," laughed Bellatrix. "It'd saved us a lot of traipsing through the jungle."

"We're obviously not the first ones here," said Hermione.

"We've talked about how this entire place might be an artificial construct," said Bellatrix. "Maybe it was built by ancient wizards? So much of the oldest magic has been lost in the Hyperborean cataclysm. Still, it's strange that this is the only sign of habitation."

"That we haven't seen any other buildings doesn't mean they aren't there," said Hermione. "It just means we haven't found them."

"Good point," replied Bellatrix. "Judging from the state of the stairway, wherever it leads must not have been in use for a very long time. But I'm willing to bet we might find a good place to set up camp."

"I agree," said Hermione. Both girls followed the staircase up as it would along the mountain, clearing vines and overgrowth as they went. Even Zipper helped in his own way, flying ahead and snipping at vines with his mandibles. The staircase, as they expected, led them to the top of the highest hill. Behind them lay a magnificent view of the atoll and the jungle as well as the other floating islands high in the sky. The non-existent sun was setting and day would turn to night soon.

The top of the mountain had a most unusual shape, and they soon saw why: a domed structure was built on top of it, its shape reminding Hermione of an observatory she had once visited with her parents when she'd been much younger. It was so overgrown that both girls would have completely missed it from a lower vantage point.

The staircase led them to a large open and doorless entryway. A lobby, perhaps? Nature had done its best to reclaim this place, as the building had been pierced by roots, vines and branches. Entering this place felt like entering St. Paul's Cathedral: a high ceiling, imposing columns and tall arches. Yet there was something about the way this building was shaped that made it seem so very alien. The shapes, the contours. It felt... organic. As if the building had been grown or shaped, rather than, well, built.

To their side were the remains of what seemed to be some sort of lobby and ahead of them was a large central staircase winding both up to a large loft-like floor and apparently lower down into the mountain. Time had taken its toll however, as part of the building had collapsed, letting in the light of the setting sun and blocking off the way down with debris.

Bellatrix stopped to examine the fallen stone, branches and grit. "I can see through the rubble," said Bellatrix. "There's more down there."

The collapsed stairway leading down seemed to go deeper into the complex, but any access had been completely cut off. "I think we can get through," said Bellatrix with a grin.

"I don't know," said Hermione. "That whole stairwell looks dangerously unstable."

Bellatrix thought a moment. "I think a well-placed bombarda might clear it. Or perhaps disintegrating a few of the heavier boulders."

"Are you daft?!" Hermione exclaimed. "That might bring it down completely. Look how precarious those cracks in the ceiling over there look? You might bring down the entire complex on top of our heads!"

"We can't just leave it!" Bellatrix returned. "From the look of things, there's many more floors below our feet. The entire mountain might be hewn out, just like the Ministry of Magic back home! Who knows what we can find down there?"

"Our tombs if we're unlucky!" Hermione pressed. "Say we manage to clear this obviously unstable stairway and we go down. Then, while we're down there, it collapses again, but much more severely this time. We'll be stuck there and, since nobody knows where we are and we are the only humans in this place, we will die down there when our food and water runs out. This'll take more than just the two of us. We'll need an experienced excavation crew with specialized equipment. The ceiling and the hallways need to be braced. Not only here but also on the levels below. Who knows what state the lower levels are in?"

Bellatrix closed her eyes. "FINE!" she exclaimed, accepting the argument but still being immensely frustrated about it.

"Chin up," replied Hermione. "There's still plenty to see. Besides, shouldn't you be taking pictures?"

Bellatrix blinked and gave her a look as if to say 'how could I have forgotten that?!'. Immediately, the camera was out and flashes illuminated the darkening building when the curly-haired witch started to take picture after picture after picture. "Hold on," she said, excusing herself. "I want to take a few outside shots too while I still have the light. Be back in a tick."

As Bellatrix raced outside, it left Hermione to contemplate the implications of what they had found. Who built this? What was it for? How long has it been abandoned? Why had it been abandoned? With its cathedral-like appearance and prominent location, naturally her first thought was that it could be a temple of a place of worship. That also caused her to chide herself, because that was exactly what every first year anthropology student would say. Her train of thought was interrupted by bright flashes from outside: apparently there wasn't enough light after all. Not much of a problem in itself, but from the top of this hill they would be extremely visible from a long distance. To a point that it might alert the murder-unicorn to their location.

Thankfully, Bellatrix found herself inside not long after, taking a few more photographs on her way through the lobby. In fact, one of the flashes alerted her to something on the wall in between the two staircases. The young witch stepped forward, whispering a quick lumos before holding her wand closer. Bellatrix did the same and together they stared at what looked to be rather impressive and colourful mosaic mural. It depicted this very floating island, with the atoll in the distance as numerous figures stood on the mountainside looking at the numerous floating islands in the distance. Though it was more of an artist's rendition, both could clearly see that even though the figures seemed human, they most definitely were not. They were tall and almost unnaturally lithe with long hair. In their faces were high cheekbones, almond shaped eyes and… delicately pointed ears.

"Elves…" Hermione whispered.

"Elves?!" Bellatrix gave an incredulous look before letting out a laugh. "Elves are pathetic, insipid creatures who can't even operate properly when not given an order! How could they have built something on this scale?"

Bellatrix' blatant racism made Hermione bristle for a moment, but though it was a crude statement, it was also hard to deny the truth behind it.

"I'm not thinking about house-elves. I'm thinking more along the lines of… King Oberon's court," said Hermione, her eyes floating over to a banner with writing on the mosaic. It was a runic script, curved and elegant like the architecture around them. What was frustrating about them it that she could almost recognize them, but it felt as if knowledge of whatever alphabet she was looking at simply escaped her.

"Infuriating," said Hermione. "I don't recognize them, but I feel like I should."

Next to her, Bellatrix nodded. "I agree. There's a lot of similarities with old runic iconography just… a lot more intricate and complex."

They decided to leave the mosaic for what it was and, for now, the only way to go was up. The staircase on the left going up lead only one story up to an absolutely massive plateau at the top of the building. If this building hadn't left an impression before, it certainly did now. Above the plateau was an enormous glass... no... crystal dome. And though it was partially overgrown with vines, this was a place from where every single floating island could be clearly seen above. The dome was cracked and pierced in several places by the weight of the intrusive foliage, but the chamber was almost completely intact otherwise.

Fifteen round metal pads lined the edges of the domes, all of them of equal distance away from a large round dais, on top of it was a round raised structure, about waist-high. At first, Hermione thought it was some sort of decoration. A fountain, perhaps. The more she stared at it, the more she questioned that.

"Whoa," sounded next to her, a hush of awe.

"Took the words right out of my mouth," said Hermione.

"Well," said Bellatrix, grinning at her while removing her pack and setting it down next to the staircase. "I know where we're setting up camp tonight. Imagine how this will look once the sun fully sets and the stars come out."

"Undoubtedly breathtaking," said Hermione. "What do you make of this room, Trix?"

"Hm," though Bellatrix. "Some kind of observatory, perhaps? You can see all of the Fae Realm from here."

Hermione and Bellatrix stepped forward, Bellatrix of course rather busily snapping pictures. What Hermione thought was a fountain at first seemed to be a large round stone table. Zipper's buzzing actually caused bit of an echo until he landed on top of the table and sat still for a moment. That is, until Hermione and Bellatrix came so close to the table that... it sprang to life.

The startled wasp took off in a hurry and rushed back to fly next to Bellatrix, eyeing the table warily. Meanwhile, both witches stared in awe as they were now looking at a blue-tinted holographic projection of the Fae Realm, a large mapping of all the fifteen floating islands.

Hermione approached, being able to make out more of those same elegant runes as they had seen on the mosaic below. Almost instinctively, she moved her hand to touch one of the islands. Immediately, the image shifted, zooming in on it. The floating island in question was the grasslands biome, the one they had used to enter the Fae Realm. Zoomed in, it was a holographic depiction in incredibly realistic detail. She could see the savannas and the forest, with both sections of the island being clearly labelled with different sets of runes. Another wave of her hands and it zoomed in further, showing a herd of borses grazing.

"Oh my god," whispered Hermione. "I think this is real-time."

"What is this thing?" said Bellatrix, waving her hand through the hologram, causing the image to go back to the apparent starting screen.

"Not just an observatory," Hermione concluded. "A control center! This is some sort of computer. But... I don't see any sort of technological parts or any power source. Yet it has remained active when abandoned for god knows how long."

Bellatrix leaned forward, placing her hands on the stone table. "It's magical. Deeply magical. I can feel it in my bones."

"I guess technology and magic don't have to be so divorced from each other as we previously thought," replied Hermione. Zipper, in the meantime, had calmed down somewhat and landed on the table again.

"What's that?" said Bellatrix, pointing at a section of the map which had several red dots and flashing red runes near it. "Isn't that the plateau we came to when we entered this realm?"

"It is," said Hermione. "Flashing red light usually is a bad thing. Like an alert. Or a warning."

"Or a breach," suggested Bellatrix. "Maybe we weren't supposed to get into the Realm that way."

Yes. Yes, that made sense. Hermione tried a few movements and found that, with a wave of her hand in a certain direction, she could zoom out to take a look at the entire Fae Realm. Apparently, there were similar red dots on almost every island. That would make sense, as Fae Mirrors had been popping up semi-regularly over the centuries. If they were caused by some sort of malfunction, it made sense so many warning lights were on.

"It makes sense. The point where we entered the Fae Realm. It was at the edge of an island, just like all the wildlife crossings. Somehow… these wildlife crossings must have been making contact with our world somehow," said Hermione. "I'm… not sure it's supposed to do that. It must be a malfunction of some kind. It explains why Fae Mirror sightings are so rare and are inherently unstable. I can't imagine how long this place might have existed. Complex systems break down over time. And this looks to be very complex."

Hermione decided to navigate to the central island which they were one. Though still considered one of the biomes, she could see there were a few more options to choose from. She picked one at random and the projection changed. A holographic depiction of a hippogryph appeared, next to the helix of what looked to be a DNA strand and a large textbox filled with runes. Above the text box was another smaller box depicting its island biome with runes she recognized from the previous projection. Names of the biomes, perhaps?

Of course, Bellatrix was diligently taking photographs of every single projection and after a few complaints from her, Hermione swiped through the database a little slower.

She continued to swipe through this database of magical creatures, apparently denizens of the biomes. She came across magical creatures familiar and strange and new. She stopped when the projection showed to be a giant monstrous fish somewhat resembling a coelacanth. If coelacanths would be large enough to swallow small whales whole, that is. "Aren't you happy we never ended up in that ocean biome?" Hermione chuckled.

"Are you kidding?" Bellatrix laughed. "This only makes me want to see that thing up close even more!"

Hermione rolled her eyes and kept swiping.

"Hey, Zipper! That's you!"

Zipper seemed to be more intent to playing around with some rock he had found to pay attention to the projection. But, indeed, it appeared that this species of wasp found its home on the insect hive biome. Though calling it a hive biome was selling it short: from the hologram it more resembled an elaborate city, with artistically crafted tall organic spires. Parts of this 'cities' were clearly dedicated sections and it seemed that, aside from foraging, the wasp society seemed to be growing their own food to a degree in an agricultural section. The wasps were generally more intelligent and capable than Hermione had given them credit for.

The next projection was eerily familiar as well. "Our friend the murder-unicorn," Bellatrix crossed her arms. Not surprisingly, red runes flashed and most of the text in the box was tinted blood red as well. Whoever created this place had recognized the creature's danger, alright.

What came up next gave her pause, however. Above her, almost life-sized, now stood the clear projection of a man and a woman. The description, while illegible, seemed quite a bit longer than the one other creatures had and it raised an interesting question. As with all the other creatures in the database, there were parts of the DNA helix which were highlighted yellow. But what could this mean?

Highlighted points of interest, perhaps?

Or... edits?

It was a bit overwhelming to think about it. Still, there was no way to tell without being able to read the runes. 'Any sufficient advanced techonology is indistinguishable from magic', was the quote that went through her mind right now. Arthur C. Clarke. Her father would be proud of her. Still, the sentiment stood.

Hermione navigated to another projection. Immediately, a path of energy lit up on the floor, leading to all the fifteen pads in the corner. A soft hum filled the room as, above all the pads, a shimmering portal appeared. Large enough for a person to step through, she could see glimpses of the different biomes through the shimmering haze. "Well," smiled Hermione. "A stable transport hub. That should make it a lot easier to get around."

"I'll say," said Bellatrix, putting her hand to her chin. "What does the other option do?"

"Only one way to find out," smiled Hermione and waved her hand over it. Instantly, there was another shimmer as all fifteen portals shifted. A more complex looking projection appeared showing dozens of different options. More interestingly, the portals all showed new locations. One was instantly recognizable as the Forbidden Forest. It was still night-time, in fact, which wasn't surprising. Other portals showed other locations. "Fae Mirrors," said Hermione. "The pads connect to Fae Mirrors. Or maybe opens them proper."

"Whoa," said Bellatrix as she stepped to investigate. "Fifteen pads. Fifteen Fae Mirrors. Fifteen islands. More multitudes of three. What was this place for? Were these gateways meant to ensnare creatures into this Realm or... bring them to ours? They do work both ways."

"This does seem like a preserve. Or perhaps a research facility. Or... breeding grounds? All three?" said Hermione. "No way to tell until we manage to translate some of these runes."

"Thank about it," grinned Bellatrix, taking hold of Hermione's hands. "If we control the Fae Mirrors, we can set up a permanent gateway between this place and both our time-lines! We... we could be together and I wouldn't have to give up my sisters! Maybe I could even bring my sisters with me to 1998!"

Hermione couldn't help but smile at Bellatrix' enthusiasm, but she had to stay grounded. "Not to rain on your parade, but this looks to be very complex. We'd have to either find a way to translate those runes or go through a lot of trial and error to make that happen."

"Maybe there's a key to that somewhere deeper into the complex," said Bellatrix. "But we do have a stable portal until March, right? We could use that set up a real expedition! Think about it, Hermie. We could change the world with the things we've found here. I... I have to take a few pictures."

Truth be told, she had rarely seen Bellatrix being this... bouncy, though she certainly didn't fault her for it. While Bellatrix sauntered over to the portals near the dome, Hermione started to fiddle with the console a bit more, trying to make sense of the settings on this projection. A few moments later, she was roused from her thoughts by the clank of a stone hitting stone. Near her, Zipper was still fiddling with the stone he had found. At first, she thought it was a simple stone in between his mandibles, but the moment it caught the light, it seemed to be glinting.

"What have you got there, Zipper?" asked Hermione.

The wasp sauntered over and offered his prize, which looked to be a smooth and almost transparent crystal about the size of a fingertip. She held it out and noticed it was about the same size of a slot near the edge of the stone table. Curious, she place it in the slot and found it to be fitting perfectly. A second, smaller projection appeared and, a few moments later, a bar started running. After it was finished, the crystal was ejected from the slot and Hermione held it up to the dome.

Blue light shifting to purple was running through the crystal in mesmerising patterns. She appeared to have charged something. Or perhaps downloaded something. The contents of the database or perhaps logs? Though it was doubtful that humanity would ever develop any sort of technology able to read said crystal during her lifetime, she felt it was better to have it than not. Hermione pocketed the gem and resumed fiddling with the console.

"Oh, wow, this one leads to somewhere underwater!" yelled Bellatrix from the other side of the room, her voice echoing loudly. She rather enthusiastically started to take a few more photographs.

Hermione looked up for a moment to smile before digging back into her task of trying to understand the Fae Mirror control panel. As far as she could determine, the portals here were the same as in the islands, but the ones open which were giving off red warning lights were 'wild' portals of a sort. Some kind of system error, which would explain why they were so unstable. Just as she was fiddling with some controls, a new warning light popped up. But this one was in the screen she was working with and corresponded with their entry point, the portal leading back to the Forbidden Forest in their time-line.

"Trix!" Hermione called. "I'm going to check something out for a bit."

"Sure!" Bellatrix yelled back while Zipper took flight.

Hermione made her way over the to the pad and, at first glance, nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. When she stepped onto the pad for a closer investigation, however, time around her seemed to freeze. The young witch spun around, only to see Zipper frozen in mid flight. Same with the harsh flash of Bellatrix' camera.

Since the portal could connect to different time-periods, Hermione surmised that this must be some sort of temporal airlock.

However, she didn't have much time to contemplate this further, as a familiar voice sounded from the other side of the portal. "Mademoiselle Granger?" sounded from the distance. The distortion made it difficult to make out who the voice belonged to, until she peered at the portal in question. Beyond it, she could see familiar sight of the Forbidden Forest at night. Standing over the pool, taking a swig from a bottle of cognac, was Achille Rosier.

"Mister Rosier?" Hermione said, turning her head to call for Bellatrix until Achille put his finger to his lips.

"Non," he shook his head. "Let 'er keep 'er innocence."

"What are you doing?" she asked as she watched the more than slightly tipsy man sway a little above the pool.

"I apologize for lying to you," said Achille. "I actually am a good researcher, if I say so myself. I did pay attention to papa's travails. I simply enjoy painting far more. I withheld things from you. Still, I am impressed you figured it out so quickly, mademoiselle Granger. You are indeed a clever witch. If you and Bella 'ad 'ad more time, you would 'ave likely figured out a way to break the time-loop on your own, I am sure of it. It is simply a risk I cannot take."

He produced two vials of red liquid from his waist-coat and held them up for Hermione to see. "Blood of the past. Blood of the present."

Hermione blinked. "Our blood... How did you get it?" she said before catching herself. "Bellatrix's body. And you drew mine during my visit."

"That slight 'eadache you felt when leaving my atelier," he gave an apologetic smile. "My assistant. I apologize for the deception. Blood of the past..." he said, pouring Bellatrix's blood into the pool. "Blood of the present..." he said, pouring Hermione's. The portal itself coloured deep red as the blood spread through the water. "And, it requires a third ingredient," he said after producing a butcher's knife. "Blood of the living..."

Hermione swallowed hard as she realized what Rosier was about to do. "Wait!" she hissed. "Don't do that! You don't have to! I've already convinced Trix to come with me to 1998! You'll be able to see her again soon! Please don't!"

"Pardon, miss Granger," Achille shook his head. "But the time-loop will only be broken if there is never a way back. You and Bella, hm? I take it you two 'ave kissed?"

Hermione slowly nodded.

"Ah, To 'ear that your love has born fruit gives me hope. You 'ave kissed and... perhaps even more?"

Instantly, Hermione felt her cheeks starting to burn. Achille didn't need more of a hint than that. She smiled warmly. "Ah, my niece was always passionate, mademoiselle Granger. She 'ad much love to give, but no one to give it to."

"All the more reason you don't need to do what... what you're about to do!" Hermione repeated desperately.

Achille chuckled. "You misunderstand, mademoiselle Granger. All of this. All experienced. It 'as already 'appened'. In the past, in the present. But it's not enough. The Fae Mirror will still fail in April. And despite everything, my niece will still be at the wrong side when that 'appens. The Fae Realm exists out of time, you see? The time-lines are already drifting apart, stretching and stretching like a rubber band. I am just going to snap it while both of you exist outside of either."

Hermione shook her head. "Don't do this…"

"I will," Achille chuckled. "Things will be better."

"You don't know that!" Hermione hissed.

"They can't get any worse for my family, non?" said Achille, Hermione not having a retort for that one. She could only watch nervously as Achille held the knife.

"You worry about Bellatrix' innocence," Hermione narrowed her eyes. "But what about my innocence? I've lost far too much of that already! You have no right to take more from me!"

"For what you are about to witness, I am truly sorry," Achille spoke softly. "Promise me to take good care of my niece, mademoiselle Granger. She is far more fragile than she might seem. She needs love more than anything."

Seeing there was nothing she could do to convince him, Hermione simply sighed and nodded briefly. "I promise..." she whispered.

Achille gave her a final nod before raising the knife to his throat. Hermione squeezed her eyes shut, turning her head away. But even though she could not see it, she could hear the knife slice through his neck and blood splattering forth. She could hear the sound of a body falling over and the splash of water from landing in the pool.

Her heart pounded in her chest. Hermione didn't want to look, but, moreover, she didn't want Bella to see. It was obvious her girlfriend loved her uncle very much and to see him face down bleeding out in the pool wouldn't do wonders for her sanity.

Though she was still frozen in time, she realized that Achille had done... something... upsetting to the magics of the Fae Realm. She never had an inkling of an idea of just how bad until she actually stepped off the pad.

Hermione was almost thrown to the floor as the ground shook beneath her feet. A deep rumbling came from very core of the island. A surprised Bellatrix did fall to the floor while the sky above turned an angry, deep blood red colour. Zipper buzzed around in a panic while the projection from the stone table changed… red spots appeared on the holographic maps at the edges of all the islands, along with more messages in red. A few seconds later, the projection turned into a single red rune... obviously a serious warning or some sort of fatal error. The island itself was apparently shifting and at this sudden shift Hermione did find herself on her back and on the ground.

"Hermie!" Bellatrix shouted. "WHAT'S HAPPENING?!"

Hermione's eyes grew wide when above her, she saw two of the floating islands moving right towards each other. They were going to collide. And the dome was right below them.

"WE NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE!" Hermione said, scrambling to her feet. "COME! TO THE PORTAL!"

The portals were shimmering in and out of existence. The whole system had become unstable now.

"MY PACK!" Bellatrix rushed to the edge of the staircase, where she had parked her backpack. As Hermione looked, she just saw it falling over and sliding down the staircase.

Another tremor and Hermione fell to her knees. Bellatrix had managed to keep standing and rushed to the staircase. Hermione grunted and rushed to her side, pulling on her arm when she finally reached her. "LEAVE IT!" Hermione shouted.

"IT HAS ALL OUR SAMPLE! OUR PHOTOGRAPHS! OUR LOG! OUR FAMILY TENT!" Bellatrix yelled, turning her face to her with desperation etched on her face. She jerked her arm loose and jumped onto the stairs going down.

"TRIX!" Hermione yelled just as Bellatrix pulled out her wand.

"ACCIO BACKPACK!" Bellatrix cast her spell with desperation on her voice, only to smile broadly when her pack came flying up. Just as she grabbed the strap, there was another tremor which shook the entire island. Bellatrix let out a yelp as she lost her footing and was about to topple down the stairs. With reflexes she didn't know she possessed, Hermione lunged forward, making a grab for Bellatrix' arm while holding onto the railing.

Thankfully, Bellatrix was a slight girl who wasn't very heavy, nor was her pack. Otherwise, Hermione would have only succeeded in getting the both of them tumbling down the stairs and potentially breaking their necks. As it stood, Hermione was able to hoist her back to somewhat solid ground.

"Thanks," smiled Bellatrix while throwing her pack on her back and securing it.

Above them, the two islands collided with a resounding rumble. Both girls looked up and were horrified to see the two islands grinding into each other, sending a waves of debris about to rain down upon the central island.

"Let's go!" Hermione yelled at Bellatrix and, still holding her wrist, started to pull her back to the portal. This time, Bellatrix did not pull away. The two of them rushed back towards the pad where the portal to the Forbidden Forest was located. The moment their feet touched the pad, time froze and they had a moment to breathe.

"Oh, Merlin," Bellatrix chuckled despite herself. "Well, I did promise you an adventure, didn't I?"

"I honestly wasn't expecting this," said Hermione.

"Why did this happen? What went wrong?" Bellatrix asked.

Hermione thought for a moment. The truth simply wasn't an option here, despite the fact that it had been an ultimate act of love from a beloved family member, telling Bellatrix that her uncle had given his life to secure her future would at the very least greatly sadden Bellatrix. "I don't know," she lied instead. "I could have activated the wrong option on the projection, but who knows..."

Bellatrix offered a smile. "You don't know if you did. And even if you did, how could you have known?"

That was more kindness from Bellatrix than Hermione felt she deserved after lying to her face.

"Oh no," Bellatrix suddenly froze. "Where's Zipper? Have you seen him?"

Indeed, the giant wasp was not in the temporal airlock with them. The curly-haired witch frantically started to look around into the chamber. "We have to go back for him!" Bellatrix demanded.

"Trix," Hermione spoke softly. "Look above."

Above them, a large piece of debris had just crashed through the crystal dome. The huge rock, along with a hail of crystal splinters hung frozen in time just above their pad. It had a mesmerising quality as the shards caught the light of the red sky, making it seem as if they were about be showered with crystallised blood. "If we go out there, we'll be crushed within seconds," Hermione said softly.

Bellatrix closed her eyes and sighed. "You're right, of course. But... dammit..."

"I'm sorry, Trix," said Hermione. "It's... it's time to go."

At that moment, something moved within Bellatrix' pack. Two antennae peeped out first, followed by a head. Apparently, Zipper had taken refuge inside the pack like he had before in the fog biome. Bellatrix didn't waste any time and clutched the wasp to her chest. The wasp seemed to be quite happy to be hugged and treated Bellatrix to some play-bites, but not nearly as happy as Bellatrix seemed to be.

Hermione figured she'd better get used to having that wasp around. Zipper was coming with them, like it or not.

Bellatrix' expression turned pained as she looked up at the colliding islands, now frozen in time. "Merlin… all those poor animals…"

"There's nothing we can do for them," said Hermione. "Only way is forward."

Bellatrix took one last look at the Fae Realm, before suddenly kissing Hermione on the lips. Together, with a wasp in tow, they stepped through the portal.


"Still, Bellatrix should reappear very soon," said Andie as she and Cissy were still at their perch behind the fallen log. Bellatrix had just disappeared after performing the blood ritual, but if the earlier experience was any indication, she should reappear soon.

So they waited.

And waited.

"How soon?" Cissy asked after a minute had passed.

Andie, now very worried, stepped out of her hiding spot. "Something is wrong."

With Cissy in tow, Andie carefully approached the pool. Of course, with her luck, Bellatrix would pop back into being right as they arrived. No doubt their elder sister would be quite pissed to find the two of them there. She could already imagine the insinuations thrown at her and Cissy in her head. But she quickly pushed those away: She and Cissy should be angry at Bellatrix, after all. It was Bella who'd been keeping secrets from them, after all. It was Bella whom had been performing blood-rites with a total stranger. It was Bella going Merlin-knows-what inside some sort of dubious magic pool!

Yes, when Bella returned, Andie was poised to give her a piece of her mind. She shouldn't worry her sisters so, after all.

Just as they were approaching the pool, the ground started to shake. A burst of power shot outward and Andie felt the magical tremor shred through her, knocking both her and Cissy off her feet. Every inch of her body hurt when she opened her eyes and found herself unable to move. Ahead, from the pool, now rose a column of blood-red energy high into the sky. It surged for about ten seconds and then faded away as quickly as it had come.

"Oh, Merlin," Cissy groaned. "Is... is this what the cruciatus curse feels like?"

"I hope not," Andie grit her teeth.

"The pool! Bella!" Cissy yelled.

Both sisters ignored their pain and rushed forward. Where once, in the middle of this grove, had been a petrified dead tree with a pool between its roots, now only left a pile of dirt where it had once stood. There were absolutely no sign of there ever having been a tree or a pool.

"No," Andie yelled, feeling tears sting in her eyes. "Bella!"

Andie dove to the dirt and started digging with her hands. Deep in her heart, she knew it was futile. Deep in her heart, she knew what had just happened had closed whatever portal Bellatrix had stepped through. But maybe, just maybe, they could hit water and the pool would bubble up from the ground again.

"Bella!" Cissy screamed in denial as she started to dig alongside Andie. "Bella, come back!"

What happened next was a little hazy, but at some point she and Andie simply held each other, crying in the night as it started to sink in that their sister... their beloved elder sister... was gone.


Ronald Weasley had been walking through the forest for hours now. Truth be told, he was never much of a navigator. Even though he had a map, the Forbidden Forest was thick and dark and lacking proper landmarks. Finding place where the magical lay-lines intersected was easier said than done. He had left Hogsmeade around eleven in the evening and by now it was probably the witching hour. The snow didn't make traversing the forest any easier either.

Still, he wouldn't give up. Hermione needed him and, even though his navigational skills were rather naff, he still had his inborn Weasley tenacity. A breakthrough had come when he had come across a passing centaur whom actually deemed to speak to him and, wonders above, was actually willing to give him proper directions.

He was well and truly on track now and actually felt the flow of magic underneath his feet. Heh, who knew that being a pure-blood was good for something after all?

"Merlin's saggy ballsack, hallelujah," Ron whispered to himself. Her drew his wand and approached the glen: he had no idea what to expect, after all, nor did he know if the person whom had tricked Hermione into performing blood-rites was still somewhere around. So far, the glen seemed quiet enough.

He hid behind a tree and scanned the glen. A spell revealed one only source of magic and that was the pool. For now, he felt secure enough to investigate the pool.

Ron froze.

A body.

There was a body floating in the water.

Fear gripped him by the throat. "No," he hissed. "Hermione?"

Throwing all caution to the wind, Ron rushed toward the pool. "HERMIONE!"

Before he could get close, a magical burst shot from the pool. The moment the shockwave hit him, he was knocked clear off his feet. For a moment, he felt a pain akin to being splinced. Ron lay on the ground and needed a moment to recover. A column of angry red energy shot into the sky with tremendous speed. The moment it dissipated, Ron groaned while getting to his feet. He blinked when he regarded what was left: the glen was almost completely destroyed. The pool, the tree and the body had been completely vapourised, while all around him trees had fallen or had been partially disintegrated. The snow was gone, as if the burst of energy had destroyed it along with a great portion of the topsoil. In truth, Ron felt lucky to be alive.

"Hermione?" he asked.

There was no answer.

There would never be an answer.


The moment Bellatrix and Hermione landed on the soil of the forest, the chill of the winter air hit them quite harshly after having enjoyed the tropical climate of the island atoll. Hermione found herself hugging her body as her exhales produced a wispy plume. Bellatrix was in a similar state: unfortunately, their coats were in the tent which was in their pack.

Though they had had quite the adventure, it was just good to be home. No more worries about floating islands, paralyzing flowers, mind-altering fogs or murder-unicorns. The wasp seemed a bit surprised at the cold, but seemed to be curiously buzzing around the glen.

It left a question, though.

But that question would have to wait. Certainly because Bellatrix and Hermione were suddenly hoisted up in the air and violently thrown across the glen by a wave of magical energy. They landed with a thud, far too hard for Hermione's liking. With the wind thoroughly knocked out of her, she let out a groan. Just as she was recovering, another burst of magical energy shot upwards into the sky. She heard Bellatrix screaming, for she was far more sensitive to changes in magical energy around her. The energy was close, it was wild and it produced a searing heat.

And then, it was over.

Bellatrix lay panting as Hermione turned to her side. "Trix," she asked. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," Bellatrix said, suddenly grunting and grabbing her left arm. "No..." she corrected.

Hermione looked to the place where the glen used to be and where now simply was a perfectly round sinkhole. The young witch felt her body ache as she stood up and peeked over the edge. The soil had been turned into glass by the searing heat of the magical discharge, all leading into a pit of which she could not see the bottom of. "Well," Hermione sighed. "We're not going back through the portal."

"At least we saved all our evidence," Bellatrix grimaced again while Zipper landed next to her on the ground. The curly-haired witch patted his head before grunting in pain again.

Hermione helped her up, to which Bellatrix was grateful. "Careful," hissed Bellatrix. "That arm feels broken. I think I heard it snap when I hit the ground."

"We need to get you to the infirmary," said Hermione. "We could probably floo to Hogwarts from the Hog's Head."

"So how do we explain the giant new hole in the forest?" Bellatrix chuckled.

"That's not the question I'm too worried about," said Hermione.

"What question is?" Bellatrix asked.

"When are we?"

Chapter Text

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.

Wait.

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.

MurderedinsanemurderedinsanemurderedinsaneMURDEREDINSANEMURDEREDINSANEMURDEREDINSANE...

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.

"Hermie!"

"MISS GRANGER!"

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.

…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?"

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.

Chapter Text

Bellatrix and Hermione never did get around to spending the night together in that nice guest room with the big single bed. Instead, they spent the night sleeping in each other's arms on a small hospital cot. Not exactly comfy, but the company had made up for it. On the whole, Hermione had slept like a baby.

In fact, her awakening was quite rude as she heard the crackling of a radio in the distance. Hermione groaned and wiped the sand out of her eyes. She quickly noticed she was alone in the cot and that the sun was rising. Bellatrix, as per usual, was up and about. Fiddling with said radio, apparently.

"Good morning, sleepy head," Bellatrix greeted, without looking up while fiddling with the knob on the radio. "I was looking for some morning music but then I came across a bloke ranting and it sounded hilarious."

"Oh?" Hermione asked.

"Just a moment, trying to find it again… Ah, got it!" proclaimed Bellatrix as she had found the station. Immediately, Hermione chuckled when she heard the strange mixture of slightly accented Russian and rather thick Liverpudlian.

"I see you have discovered InfoWizards," smirked Hermione. "That is your old friend Antonin Dolohov. He is a bit of a crackpot conspiracy nut and that's putting it mildly. Hates the government no matter who runs it, but when Voldemort took over, he was the only one brave... or mad... enough willing to continue speaking out against the Ministry and their policies. Became a bit of a voice of the resistance during the war. No Death Eater was ever able to find him. And believe me, they tried. My friends and I used to love listening to him when we were on the run."

"That's Antonin?" Bellatrix frowned. "He's come long way since his days of student radio, it seems. Good for him."

"Not student radio now," Hermione chuckled. "You know, I met him once, I think. At Tottenham Court Road I..."

A familiar sting started to take shape in Hermione head and she immediately pushed the thought away. "No, that's not right. I must be mistaken."

The two witches continued chatting over the rants, until the voice of Dolohov clearly spoke the name 'Bellatrix Black'. The two witches felt silent, shared a look and quickly turned up the volume.

"... several sightings from independent sources at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. Now, I know what you all must be thinking: Antonin, there's been Bellatrix Black sightings going on for thirty-three years and it never amounted to anything. Folks, those were all single sightings or photographs of a random curly-haired girl taken from a long distance. But the sheer amount of witnesses here is staggering. It's the real deal, folks."

"Looks like we've been spotted," Bellatrix crossed her arms.

"Tavern full of people getting ready for a pub quiz. I'm not surprised," Hermione replied.

"Our source within Hogwarts has independently verified that were are indeed dealing with both Bellatrix Black and Hermione Granger. Let that sink in for a moment. Bellatrix Black, who disappeared exactly thirty-three years ago and Hermione Granger, who disappeared exactly three years ago, turn up in the same place on the same day. That is no coincidence, folks."

"He's right, you know," Bellatrix laughed.

"Doesn't it strike you as odd that these girls happen to turn up together just as the pressure on the Ministry keeps heating up? Very curious timing indeed. Does the Ministry think we're blind? Do they think we won't realize it was them who made those girls disappear in the first place?! Merlin knows what those poor girls have been through! And, get this, according to the witnesses and our source within Hogwarts, Bellatrix Black has not aged a day. Not a single day! What has the Ministry been up to!"

"Should we tell him about the murder-unicorn?" Bellatrix laughed.

"He'd probably say it works for the Ministry," Hermione shrugged.

"Meanwhile, the Ministry wheels just keep turning and the same drones keep working the machine. A DARK LORD TAKES OVER AND IT'S BACK TO BUSINESS AS USUAL. A DARK LORD IS DEPOSED AND IT'S BACK TO BUSINESS AS USUAL! DOESN'T THAT STRIKE YOU AS ODD?! DOESN'T THAT STRIKE YOU AS INSIDIOUS?! IT DOESN'T MATTER WHO IT'S FOR, IT DOESN'T MATTER HOW MANY LIVES GET DESTROYED, AS LONG AS IT SERVES THE GLOBALIST CAUSE! We're dealing with a foul cabal who is using children to fight their wars for them! That should tell you enough! Rrragh! IT MAKES ME ANGRY!"

"Hah, he's certainly lively," snorted Bellatrix.

"And then some," Hermione replied. "He's not wrong either. After the war, Kingsley Shacklebolt tried to implement reform but he's being stonewalled at every turn. Hell, he might not even been Minister anymore for all I know. Nothing is happening and it was all back to business as usual for them. Just like Dolohov says."

"Don't let them walk all over you, people. Don't let them fool you. This doesn't change anything. How long has the Ministry been holding on to these girls? What have they done to them? I am as curious as you are, my friends, to the truth behind a thirty year old mystery, but don't let this distract you from what's going on and what they're doing. Even if you disagree with what the Grangers are doing, you have to feel the pain of parents losing their child. Even if you don't agree with the Grangers as wizards, feel their pain as parents! I've said it many times and I will say it again loudly and proudly: JUSTICE… FOR… HERMIONE!"

Bellatrix rubbed her chin. "Huh. Justice for Hermione?"

"I wonder what that's all about," said Hermione, her stomach now growling. "Maybe we should ask for breakfast? After that we can set about to contact our families."

"Sounds like a plan. Hm, need to find Zipper first," Bellatrix muttered. "He flew off into the corridor, but he never goes far."

Hermione shook her head. "He's just as much as a fish out of water as we are right now. Let him explore his new surroundings for a bit. We'll be joining him soon."

Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "I'll have more exploring to do than you," she chuckled.

"Oh, trust me," Hermione snorted. "A lot can happen in a year. Let alone three."

The first order business was to take a shower in the adjacent bathroom before they would change into the fresh set of clothes left for them. Naturally, they decided to share. When the hot water bore down upon them both, Hermione closed her eyes and let her troubles wash away from her for a little bit, simply enjoying the hot water and the pleasant company.

Pleasant company which was rather lovingly soaping up her back right now. When she was done, Hermione turned around to face a grinning Bellatrix and repaid the favour by soaping up her chest. The two witches kissed merrily underneath the jet of warm water, pressing their bodies together. Bellatrix absolutely wanted to take it further, but Hermione decided against it as they were taking enough risks right now in a public bathroom... even though the school was practically empty.

As if the feeling of soft breasts underneath her hands wasn't enough temptation, Bellatrix whispering "Tease" in her ear sent such a shudder through her entire body that Hermione almost changed her mind.

Once they emerged from the shower, they shared a towel and Hermione took a look at the set clothes. School uniforms, of course, one Gryffindor, one Slytherin.

Hm, if McGonagall was trying subtly message the two of them that they would both be welcomed back among the student body, she had succeeded. Behind her, Bellatrix dried her hair by taking a wand to it and using a spell to suck all the moisture out of her curly mane by twirling the tip of her wand. It collected in a globule of gathered water which she flicked into the sink, leaving her hair ready for brushing.

Bellatrix looked quite striking in her Slytherin uniform, though she purposefully left the neck unbuttoned and her necktie loose. "They remembered my size," said Bellatrix. "Still, I'm not sure how I feel about wearing this uniform after all the things we've done together."

Hermione nodded. "I know what you mean. Seems... mundane, doesn't it?"

"Took the words right out of my mouth," Hermione replied.

"I love you, Hermione," spoke Bellatrix. "It's pretty much the only certainty I have right now. And I'm not giving you up for anything."

"Same. It's jarring enough to miss three years, let alone thirty-three," sighed Hermione. "But, this is at least one thing I know I have. I love you too, Bellatrix, whatever comes our way next."

The two witches shared an embrace and another kiss. The curly-haired witch still held on to each other, Bellatrix gave her a smirk.

"What?" Hermione asked warily.

"You might have denied me in the shower, but, trust me, you'd better hope that nice big bed in our room is sturdy, because we're absolutely going to do our best to completely break it tonight."

Hermione laughed, but admitted to herself she was looking forward to it. She was just adjusting her necktie when there was a knock on the door. "Excuse me?" sounded from the other side. "Is someone there?"

Bellatrix had just thrown the robe over her shoulders without pushing her arms through the sleeves, using it very much as a casual cloak. "Just us!" she called out. A few moments later, a girl in her early twenties, red haired and freckled, entered the room. Susan Bones, a former classmate, stood in front of them, clad in a mediwitch uniform. Curious. Hermione clearly remembered Susan Bones not returning to Hogwarts after the war and yet… here she was. The familiar sting shot through the back of her head, causing her to wince. What was she thinking? Of course Susan had returned to Hogwarts. Though they were never particularly close, they were on friendly terms and chatted every so often. Last time they spoke, Susan had mentioned seeking an apprenticeship with madame Pomfrey. Considering she was still around after graduation, that was indeed the path she had taken.

The now slightly older girl reached forth to grab both of Hermione's hands, squeezing slightly. "Hermione. I was sure we'd never see you again."

Almost automatically, Hermione raised her head and spoke. "How's Lavender?" she asked, not really aware why she was asking.

Susan seemed a bit deflated and led both girls into another room of the hospital wing, which was darkened and smelled of fresh flowers. There, on the bed, lay Lavender Brown, eyes closed and seemingly catatonic. A series of deep gashes, claw marks, ran over her face and down her body, covered up by her sleeping garment but undoubtedly there.

"Whoa," Bellatrix crossed her arms. "What happened to her?"

"Saving my life happened to her," spoke Susan with her usual touch of guilt.

"I remember," said Hermione. "I was there, on the ramparts. We were losing ground to Voldemort's forces, magic was raining down upon us, explosions everywhere. The three of us were separated from our group and were making our way to the gatehouse to try to find some shelter."

"Unfortunately," Susan spoke with some bitterness, a faraway look on her face. "It was already occupied."

Bellatrix looked on with grim curiosity as Hermione closed her eyes and sank into a chair next to the comatose Lavender. "Fenrir Greyback, one of Voldemort's footsoldiers, was already there. He advanced upon us, chuckling. Saying… saying that our mistake had given him three tasty treats. He went for Susan first."

"Because I froze…" Susan whispered softly, her voice laden with guilt.

"It all happened so fast," said Hermione, closing her eyes. "Lavender and I rushed forward to try to raise a barrier… but Greyback was faster. I didn't even see the strike happen. Only thing I knew was that Lavender was airborne and flew over the railing. I never heard her land in the courtyard. By the time I got the barrier up, there were mere inches between me and him. He started wailing on the shield like a crazed animal."

Bellatrix frowned in concern while Susan broke in. "We thought we were done for. Turns out that Death Eaters don't really worry that much about friendly fire."

"A fireball exploded right above the gatehouse," said Hermione, getting a faraway look in her eyes. "We were protected by the shield. He was not. With all that fur, he lit up like a torch in the night. A screaming, howling torch. God, that smell. I'll never forget that smell. He jumped over the parapet, trying to reach the lake I think."

"Never made it," spat Susan. "Broke all his limbs on impact and burned to a cinder. Good riddance to bad rubbish, I'd say."

Hermione's hands started to tremble. Slight at first. But the increasing tremor in her hands soon spread upward through her arms until her entire body started to tremble. She was in that moment again. To a point where she could hear the deafening explosions all around her, the screams. She felt the shockwave of the blasts crash upon her. She could feel the cold of the rain and wind on her skin, oddly enough mixing with the searing heat from the fireball. The smell of burning fur and charring flesh. God, that smell. She would never forget that smell until the end of her days. Susan crying and clutching onto her as they looked over the railing and saw Lavender's motionless body so far below. Lightning… no, magic… hitting the ground near them. Shelter. They had to find shelter.

More than that, there was fear. Deep-seated, crippling terror. Lestrange. Lestrange was on the battlefield here, somewhere. She couldn't bear the thought of facing him again. She would crumble, she knew she would. Hermione was not brave. She was not a hero. She was a little girl about to piss her pants.

Two arms surrounded her from behind. Soft lips on her cheek, near her ear. Bellatrix whispering that it would be alright. Hermione would like to believe that lie, even for a little moment.

Susan offered her a glass of cold water while her tremors started to subside, while Bellatrix still clutched onto her. "Well," spoke Hermione in between sips of soothing liquid. "Haven't had one of those in a while."

Making light of it didn't seem to help much.

"I'm sorry you had to go through that," said Bellatrix. "Both of you."

"Three of us," said Susan mournfully. "I should have died that day, with the rest of my family. I'm the only Bones left alive. Lav is all the family I have left. She's the reason why I'm here. The healers say there's nothing physically wrong with her and that she'll wake up when she wants too. Until then, I'll wait and take care of her."

Meanwhile, Hermione lay a hand on Bellatrix' and squeezed slightly. "I'm fine, Trix."

"You really are not," replied Bellatrix.

Trix could be perceptive at times, that much was true.

Susan chuckled. "We haven't even discussed the real elephant in the room," said Susan, eyeing Bellatrix, "I can't believe it's really you. It's not often when meet a legend."

Bellatrix shifted a little. "I've heard myself mentioned on the radio just now."

"Oh, you have no idea," chuckled Susan. "As for you, Hermione, I just want you to know I don't believe any of it. Just so you know. There are many others on your side too."

That was a rather confusion statement, but she soon connected it to the rather cryptic statements made about her on the radio. Granted, it was InfoWizards and their broadcasts were cooky at the best of times, but still it raised many questions. "What do you mean by that?" asked Hermione.

"Merlin, I wouldn't know where to start," Susan blew out some air through pursed lips. "And it's not my place, really. McGonagall will tell you."

Hermione was about to press the issue when the door flew open. Three startled girls soon saw a house-elf having burst into the room looking as if he had been running all the way. "HEY!" Bellatrix crossed her arms. "Don't you little idiots know how to knock?! We could have been naked in here!"

Hermione made a face, but waited for the elf to catch his breath. "B-begging your pardon, gentle-witches, but Head Mistress McGonagall requests your immediate presence in her office."

Immediately, Bellatrix threw up her arms. "Oh, what have we done now?! We've just woken up! How could we already be in trouble?!"

"Maybe Zipper stung someone?"

"They probably deserved it, then," Bellatrix sighed. "Best get this shit over with."

"Wait!" Susan blurted out. "There's something you should know before you go, Hermione. It's Cormac McLaggen. He's, well, still at the school…"

Hermione blinked. "Still? He was already held back a year in 1998 and if it's now 2001… How is that even possible?!"

Susan sighed. "Special course assignments," she said. "Anything to make him pass. His family is big in the Ministry and they're keen on saving face. Can't have the prodigal son flunk out of Hogwarts. Officially, he's a teacher's apprentice. Unofficially, he's been in his Seventh year for four terms."

Hermione's jaw was about to hit the ground. "McGonagall went along with this?"

Susan shrugged. "Path of least resistance. It's less of a hassle to keep him around as free labour than to fight a losing battle with Ministry officials."

Bellatrix smirked at her. "If he becomes a pain, I shall deal with him. Now, shall we get underway?"

The two girls said their goodbyes to Susan and made their way to McGonagall's office, the light of day now pouring in through the many windows of the castle. They went up several spiral staircases and ended up standing in the doorway of the office. Bellatrix, ahead of Hermione, suddenly froze like a statue and it didn't take long for Hermione to see why.

Visitors had come. Two women, one man. They stood opposite to an irate McGonagall.

One of the was Malfoy. Of course. Of course that dunderhead was here. Why shouldn't he be? Malfoy was someone she had been glad to leave behind in her past after the Battle of Hogwarts, but the blonde prat seemed to be determined to haunt her.

Then there was Narcissa Malfoy, dressed in her finery. Green dress and a bonnet which cost more money than her parents could earn in a whole year.

Most striking, however, was Andromeda. There was a stark resemblance to the older Bellatrix: same jawline, same dark eyes, though her hair was straighter and dark brown. Clad in a black velvet and satin dress with golden embroideries... literal golden embroideries... as well as several silver protective runes worked into the fabric. It looked to be even more expensive than the already considerably expensive dress Narcissa was wearing. Andromeda looked positively regal, and a far cry from the simple house-witch she had known in... the other time-line.

Hermione hissed, already feeling the onset of stings in head head. Best to not question it. Especially since, judging from her expression and her stance, Andromeda seemed to be on the warpath.

"Why do I have to find out my sister has returned through a radio show?!" Andromeda spoke. "Why was I not informed the moment she arrived?!"

Her voice was powerful. Her presence domineering. She faced off with McGonagall, who refused to be intimidated, but this was a battle of wills between two very powerful women used to getting their way. And, much to Hermione's surprise, in this war of attrition, McGonagall was on the losing side.

"Madame Black, as I've already explained to you, they arrived late in the day and both girls were injured. I..."

"INJURED?!" Andromeda shouted with such force and determination that it made Hermione jump. "All the more reason to inform me post-haste! I will remind you that this school receives considerable donations from House Black! While I ask for nothing in return, a simple courtesy is the least you could do! Do not give me reason to re-evaluate the expenditures of my House!"

"I will not stand here and be threatened in my own school!" McGonagall seethed. "Look, I appreciate that you are upset, but this is a most unusual situation..."

"And she is with the girl whose parents are suing the Ministry?" Andromeda crossed her arms. "What other details are you hiding from us?"

"Whose parents… are suing the Ministry?" Hermione whispered to Bellatrix as the two shared a look. Apparently, however, Bellatrix was too preoccupied with her sisters, smiling with slightly watery eyes. Hermione's words attracted the attention of Narcissa, who looked in their direction and then turned her head back to the conversation with McGonagall... only to snap her head back to them so fast that Hermione worried the Malfoy matriarch might have broken it. "Andie..." Narcissa whispered.

Andromeda ignored her and kept arguing.

"ANDIE!" Narcissa called. Andromeda turned around to see what was going on and simply... stared.

For a moment there, the entire room was silent as all eyes were on the eldest Black sister. Finally, it was Andromeda who broke the silence. "Bella?" she asked, her voice a disbelieving whisper. Not waiting for an answer, she rushed forward and scooped Bellatrix into a fierce hug. "BELLA!" she shouted, tears already flowing.

Narcissa wouldn't be left behind and quickly joined in. Soon Bellatrix was engulfed in a tight, weepy and joyous family hug in which not a single eye was left dry.

While McGonagall was smiling, Hermione and Malfoy simply stood there awkwardly watching the three sisters' moment.

"Granger," greeted Malfoy with a snarl.

"Malfoy," spat Hermione with narrowed eyes.

In a way, the rivalry between Draco and Hermione had never quite ended. Though Draco had shown his true colours eventually, that didn't negate years of bullying and mistreatment. Though she could very easily forgive Bellatrix for crimes against her she would now never commit, the things Draco did to her very must existed and very much happened. She turned her head slightly to again see the heart-warming and tearful reunion of three sisters who loved each other very much. That made her smile, at least.

"Well," Draco pursed his lips, of course having to ruin the moment which his mere presence. "You are only too eager to legitimize yourself, hm? Attaching yourself to a Great Wizarding house and through my long-lost aunt, even. Well, you do aim high."

He sounded even more smug than usual. Odd.

"You're talking out of your arse again, Malfoy," Hermione narrowed her eyes. "But then again, what's new?"

"What else would you call this?" Draco shook his head. "Back for scant a few hours and already making a power grab. You're far more Slytherin than I gave you credit for. And where were you, even?"

"It's a long story," said Hermione. "As for me and Trix, we are two people in love, swine. A rain not likely to rain on your ferret-faced parade."

Draco faked a yawn. "Oh, try something original for a change. Also, you'd be surprised," chuckled Draco, showing off what looked to be an engagement ring. He took note of her surprised look, and then studied her for a moment. "You…" he started, as if he had come to a sudden revelation. "You really have no idea what's been going on, haven't you?"

Hermione glared at him for a moment, but then looked away. "I'm sure you're going to tell me," she crossed her arms.

"Oh, hell no!" laughed Draco. "I'll just let you flop about like a fish for a little while longer. It's going to be hilarious to watch!"

Hermione made a face. Meanwhile, the three Black sisters were finally released each other from the three-way bear hug, though still holding on to each other at arm's length. "Look at you," spoke Narcissa Malfoy. "Bella, you haven't aged a day!"

"You... you two are older than I am..." Bellatrix bit her lip. "Does that make me the baby sister now?"

"I'm sure we'll work something out," smiled Andromeda Black.

"And who is this?" Bellatrix asked, glancing in Draco's direction. Hermione sighed: of course she wouldn't know him.

Narcissa, still having her arms clamped tight around Bellatrix' waist, rather proudly presented her son to her. Though she was shooting glares at Draco the whole time while he was introducing himself, Hermione was quick to see just how close the three Black sisters were. Trix had been quite right when she told Hermione that the three of them had an unbreakable bond and it had certainly persisted through the time-skip. Bellatrix looked so comfortable and content at her sisters' closeness. And to think that, at one time, Bellatrix would pressure her youngest sister into supporting Voldemort and banish her younger sister out of her life.

That never happened here, and Hermione was happy for it. And with her headaches once again on the rise, she was happy to simply be in the now.

"You two know each other?" Bellatrix asked, causing Hermione to snap out of her haze.

"Oh," Hermione narrowed her eyes. "You could say that."

"Granger and I have a history," Draco smirked. "But Granger, honestly, you keep doing this to yourself, you know? I'm not the one jumping into bed with my aunt."

"MALFOY!"

"Draco, please," Andromeda demanded with a stern glare.

"I concur," added McGonagall. "Please keep this civil, mister Malfoy."

Bellatrix, for her part, seemed to be enjoying the show. "Oh," she chuckled. "I like this one."

"You would..."

"I have a nephew that's older than I am," Bellatrix put a finger to her lips. "That'll take some getting used to."

Andromeda turned her attention back to her sisters. "An older niece as well. Nymphadora would have been here... if she could be bothered to get out of bed this early in the morning."

Nymphadora was alive? This caused Hermione to blink, before wincing again when sharp pain shot through her skull. Well, of course, Nymphadora was alive? Why wouldn't she be? The image of the plucky auror shot through her mind, only to be replaced with… she honestly didn't know what. Why was she so happy about a girl being alive whom she had never met? This was all becoming rather odd.

By now, it was starting to dawn onto her that it was mostly thinking of events which happened in the old now no longer existing time line which was giving her the headaches. The whole having lived two lives with contradictory memories was getting more and more confusing, but the pain did give her enough of incentive to try to stop thinking about it too much.

Another thing was that Andromeda would simply not stop glaring at her. It didn't take a genius to figure out that Andromeda didn't trust her, nor did she care much for her. And she truly wondered why.

Bellatrix, however, did not seem to notice this and merrily smiled at her two now older younger sisters, one of which still holding on to her. "Wait. She's not up yet? But it's almost ten in the morning," frowned Bellatrix.

That made Draco laugh. "Oh, that is definitely too early for Cousin Dora. Try again in at least two hours."

"Andie," started Narcissa. "I know we've talked about Nymphadora before, but this…"

"You raise Draco your way. I raise Nymphadora my way," Andie retorted.

"Fine," responded her sister. Hermione could practically hear Narcissa rolling her eyes.

Andromeda sighed through her nose. "She will join us when she's good and ready, but we will be at Catterborough Woodhouse by then. Bella, you have a lot of catching up to do and you should be with your family. McGonagall," she turned to the Head Master. "As school is over for the rest of the year, you will release Bella to us. We will take her home this instant."

That was a demand, pure and simple. Though Andromeda had spoken calmly, her intent was clear: she had taken a decision and would bear no contradiction nor brook any insolence. Though it looked as if McGonagall would protest for the sake of it, she simply squared her jaw and gave her a brief nod.

"Wait!" Bellatrix exclaimed. "Hermione is coming with us!"

"No, she is not!" Andromeda returned, a bit too quickly for Hermione's liking. "Besides, miss Granger has been missing for three years herself. I'm quite certain her parents wouldn't appreciate us stealing her away from them."

Her parents. Oh god, her parents. Andromeda was right: she'd been missing for years and this once again pressed home the thought that they must have been worried besides themselves. Though she was loathe to be separated from Bellatrix, Andromeda had a point there. Both their families had suffered a loss and both of them had to deal with that separately. Hermione was about to say something when a familiar sound was on the edge of her hearing.

By now, Hermione was quite used to having Zipper around and she didn't even flinch when he came buzzing into the office at his usual high flight speed. It quickly became clear that others still had the normal reaction to the fact of a wasp the size of a house cat casually flying into the room.

Narcissa let out a shriek and jumped back, instantly having her wand in hand. Andromeda visibly paled and while she didn't draw her wand, her hand hovered over the holster on her belt. Draco, in the meantime, was his cowardly pathetic self and jumped behind a chair. McGonagall, merely let out a sigh of exasperation.

"AH! WHAT THE DEVIL IS THAT?!" Narcissa screamed.

Zipper, uncaring for all the commotion, merely buzzed around the room, exploring. He hovered in front of a large glass jar, admiring his own reflection, before he dug his head into a flowerpot.

"KILL IT! KILL IT!" Narcissa yelled.

"Don't be such a baby, Cissy!" Bellatrix rolled her eyes and walked towards the flowerpot to fetch Zipper. The curly-haired witch swiftly plucked the wasp out of the air and clutched him to her chest. The wasp was quite happy for the attention and treated Bellatrix to a bit of play-biting.

It was Andromeda who laughed first. She simply stepped forward and pointed her wand at the giant insect. A whispered spell later and Zipper was quietly snoozing in Bellatrix' arms. "You may stop screaming your head off now, Cissy. And Draco, do stop cowering."

"Not funny, Andie," Narcissa huffed, while Draco popped his head out from behind the side of the chair.

"Enough nonsense," said Andromeda, once again taking charge. "Bella, it is time for you... for you to come home. You are thirty-three years late for dinner."

Bellatrix nodded. "Could I have a moment with Hermie?" she asked.

Andromeda sighed and then glared at Hermione for a moment. "Fine. If you must. But make it quick."

With a sleeping wasp in her arms, she motioned for Hermione to follow her. Hermione did so, suffering through Andromeda's glare on the way out. Once they were into the hallway, closed the door behind her.

"Well, I guess we won't be breaking the bed tonight," spoke Bellatrix, a pouty expression on her face.

"It's fine," Hermione smiled. "I can wait."

"You might. I can't," Bellatrix pouted still.

"Our poor families, Trix," Hermione said. "It's only been one year for me, but now that I have also disappeared for years, I'm only now starting to realize just what I've been asking you to do."

"Hey, it's fine," Bellatrix said, raising a hand to lay on Hermione's cheek. It felt good, especially when she softly rubbed her cheekbone with her thumb. "I'll got an idea. Take Zipper for a moment."

After accepting the sleeping wasp, Bellatrix rushed off into the corridor. A few minutes later, she came back carrying two handmirrors. They looked to be simple twin mirrors, with a wooden handle and a glass mirrored surface the size of a cantaloupe. "Hah, I was right. The storage closet was still in its usual place."

"Two-way mirrors?" asked Hermione.

"Yep," Bellatrix grinned. "Just touch the glass and we can talk to each other."

"Hm, just like old times," Hermione laughed when Bellatrix took Zipper and let the sleeping wasp gently slip into a rucksack.

"We'll see each other again soon," Bellatrix said, sliding towards her and laying her hands on Hermione's hips. "Very soon if I have something to say about it."

Hermione smiled and leaned in for a kiss. Their lips touched. It was gentle at first, a mere brushing of lips. Their kiss and their embrace intensified quickly enough, as Hermione parted Bellatrix' lips with her tongue and started an intense exploration of her girlfriend's mouth.

Her girlfriend.

Hermione took solace in the fact that she had achieved all the goals she had set out to do and had gotten even more than she would have hoped. Once, Bellatrix had been a young, troubled girl Hermione had wanted to save from herself. Someone whom had become an actual friend and now undeniably her girlfriend.

They loved each other and Hermione could see herself building a future with her. Such strange turns life could take.

She was still kissing her when Hermione noticed bright flashes, even behind closed eyelids. Odd. It usually took a greater measure of intimacy for her to see stars. And what were those odd sounds? Both girls opened their eyes, broke their kiss and smiled at each other. Only to notice they were not alone.

Both girls turned their heads and were again blinded by the flash... of several cameras. Two photographers and one familiar looking witch: blonde hair set in elaborate curls, jewelled spectacles studded with rhinestones, rather opulent green dress.

"Rita Skeeter!" Hermione exclaimed.

"Skeeter?" Bellatrix blinked. "The student newspaper editor?"

Before any of the girls could protest, Rita Skeeter started firing off her questions. "Where have the both of you been? Why did you turn up together? How long have the two of you been involved? How did you meet? Why haven't you aged a day? Have you been in contact with your families? Do you know how much has been published about you both? Have you returned because of your court-case, miss Granger? Were you ever even missing? Miss Granger, do you think latching yourself onto a famous pure-blood witch will win you public approval? Now that you are content to have toyed with the affections of famous wizards, have you decided to move on to witches? Miss Black, are you aware that Little Miss Perfect Granger is a known harlot who has used people for her own gain? Miss Black, will you give me an exclusive interview?"

Bellatrix blinked, looking much like a deer in the headlights. Hermione suspected she looked much the same.

A bolt of force passed in between the two girls and exploded outward, throwing the nosey reporter and her two photographers clear across the hallway. Its source was Andromeda, looking much like a force of nature with the runes on her dress growing a bright blue while her wand was raised. "SKEETER!" she shouted. "Step away from my sister, you gormless bottom-feeder!"

McGonagall was swiftly behind her. While Andromeda pulled on Bellatrix, McGonagall pulled on Hermione. "How did you even get in here?" McGonagall demanded. She was, of course, not given an answer.

The girls held on to each other's hands, until their fingers slipped from each other. "Talk to you tonight, Hermie!" Bellatrix managed to yell right before Andromeda spirited her away. McGonagall did the same with Hermione. Just as the young witch was being dragged to the safety of the Head Master's office, she heard the screeching voice of Skeeter calling after her.

"Miss Granger? MISS GRANGER?!" she shouted after her. "THE WIZARDING WORLD HAS QUESTIONS!"

Chapter Text

Catterborough Woodhouse, Bellatrix' ancestral home, was much like she remembered it. In fact, it was exactly like the remembered it. Things didn't tend to change much in the wizarding world and the only apparent difference her ancestral home showed outwardly were some newly placed ivy vines. This didn't change when she stepped inside of the foyer where fulls heads of servant staff were waiting to greet her. Sebastian, the family butler, was there, looking aged rather gracefully. Mrs Miggins, the rotund family chef with her warm smile who much liked to sample her own cooking was still there, grayer, of course. Three maids, all of them new faces, were obviously three sisters in their early twenties. Then there was Mr. Graves, their head gardener who would never take off his flat cap for any reason. No house-elves. Seemed as if Manchester Blacks' hiring practices hadn't changed either.

"Miss Bellatrix," spoke Sebastian. "On behalf of all of us, may I say we are so delighted to have you return to Catterborough Woodhouse."

"Thank you," Bellatrix nodded. Truth be told, there was plenty of worries for her right now. Though it was wonderful to know that both her sisters were alive and well, she wondered if this would also be the case for her parents and her other family? What about oncle? What about her annoying cousins? Andie had been frustratingly tight-lipped during the trip home. And then there was the matter of being ripped from Hermione's grasp: when would she see her again?

Thankfully, she had the affection of her sisters: Cissy hadn't been able to let go of her during the carriage ride to the manor. She still had Cissy's arm hooked through hers.

"Bella," said Andromeda. Wordlessly, Sebastian moved to take their coats. "Father is waiting for us in the main parlour."

Bellatrix nodded: so, at least father was alive. This is, what would this mean for her? Sure, she loved her father, but this is the same man whom had wanted to flog her off to Lestrange. If he planned to do that again now that she had returned...

Her happy mood at returning to her beloved childhood home mixed with said anxiety and slowly she felt herself walking stiffly through the corridors of her home, an awkward silence forming between her and them. Her sisters seemed to catch on to what Bellatrix was thinking. It was Cissy who turned to her first. "You'll find that a lot of things have changed in your absence."

Bellatrix snapped her head towards her and gave her a brief nod and smile. The silence remained until they reached the parlour. Again, the parlour looked almost exactly the same as she had remembered it: high ceiling, cozy divans surrounding an ancient table with a marble surface while non-enchanted paintings of prominent Black ancestors lined the wall.

What had changed, however, was father.

Merlin above, she had never seen her father this... frail.

Cygnus Black was a far cry from the powerful, larger-than-life wizard he had been in his earlier days. He had never been a man with bulk, but today he seemed much thinner than was healthy. His had the beginnings of a beard, looking as if he didn't bother to shave every day, which would have been unheard of thirty years ago. It gave him a bit of an unkempt look. The moment he saw her, however, there was a light in his eyes. He struggled to get up out of his favourite chair, leaning on a cane.

A cane. Her father had a cursed wound on his leg from the war, which caused him to have a permanent limp. If he needed a cane, the situation seemed to have worsened for him. Still, Bellatrix rushed to him and welcomed his embrace, being careful not to knock him to the ground.

Merlin, even his most heart-felt embrace felt so… weak.

"Oh, my precious girl," Cygnus Black stammered in a shaky voice. "I... I didn't want to believe it when I first heard..."

Sebastian helped her father sit down safely again, while she and her sisters each took a seat at the divan. She couldn't help but notice that Andie sat down at the head of the table, demanding a position of prestige, much like her father had in the past.

Her father chuckled, apparently having seen Bellatrix' change of expression. "Andromeda is now the head of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black and has fulfilled that role superbly for the last fifteen years after I could no longer muster the strength and will to do so. With ours being the only extant Black family line left in Britain, a great burden rests on her shoulders. One she has managed beyond expectations."

"Thank you, father," said Andie. "I had plenty of help, though. And we are not the only Blacks left in the world. The Montana Blacks would have word with you."

"Modesty still is your biggest shortcoming, my dear," laughed Cygnus. A weak, rasping laugh.

The only extant... that would mean. Her cousins Sirius and Regulus, as well as aunt Walburga and uncle Orion... were no longer around. Truth be told, she didn't really have much love for the two annoying lads, but she'd never wanted them dead. It also meant they died young. It was then that Bellatrix noticed a rather prominent absence; one which did frighten her to the core. "Maman," Bellatrix asked, unable to keep the fright out of her voice. "Where is maman? She isn't... She can't be..."

The room was suddenly getting smaller and suffocating. Maman… Maman couldn't be dead… but if she was still alive, why wasn't here shere? And where was oncle? Would he be dead too?

Cissy patted her hand. "Maman is... very much alive," she spoke, in Bellatrix' instant relief. "But she is... fragile."

"Indeed," said Andie. "We've been shielding her from the news. Thank Merlin she wasn't listening to the wireless. We'll need to... ease your return into her. Oncle is looking after her right now."

Relief. Instant relief. But it raised more questions than it gave answers.

Noticing the questioning look, Cygnus motioned to Sebastian to fetch something. While the butler left the room, he bent forward. "My dear, when you disappeared over thirty-three years ago, you made a lasting impression on the wizarding world. You are the daughter of a great house, wizarding royalty in all but name. Your disappearance made waves. Naturally, we contacted the school and the Ministry when you went missing."

"We saw you in the forest," said Andie. "You're not as subtle as you think, Bella. Cissy and I watched you at the strange magic pool when you disappeared."

"But nobody believed us," said Cissy, not being able to mask a brief glare at her frail father. "We were two young girls so lost in grief and fear for our missing sister that we fled into our own fantasies. Or, that's what the DMLE officers kept telling us."

Cygnus nodded. "For what it's worth, you have been vindicated," said Cygnus. "At the time, though, it was not something we considered. We simply couldn't corroborate the story. Still, the fact remained that you had gone missing. For weeks the Forbidden Forest was turned upside down by the largest search-party in the history of the wizarding world. Your story was broadly painted in headlines all over the wizarding press. People came from other countries to help search for the 'poor missing girl'."

"As the weeks dragged on," said Andromeda. "There were more and more speculations. Theories. Some outlandish, some more reasonable."

"One newspaper claimed that you had been kidnapped by goblins to become their king's trophy wife," chuckled Cissy. "Ludicrous, of course, but it caused a bit of racial tensions for a while."

"As time passed," said Andromeda. "It was obvious to all of us that you weren't returning. Not anytime soon, at least."

"More crackpot theories emerged," said Narcissa. "But three prevailing theories remained. First, you made an elaborate escape plan to flee from your arranged marriage and covered all your tracks expertly. Which does sound like something you might do."

Bellatrix put her fingers to her lips. "It does. And I did consider it."

"Second, closely related to the first," said Narcissa. "Is the theory that you ran off with a secret lover to start a new life elsewhere."

"Hah, actually rather close to the truth, that one," Bellatrix said.

Andromeda pursed her lips. "The emergence of that theory might have been my fault. You mentioned a girl by the name of Hermione and I had been looking into her. I was young at the time and didn't cover my tracks properly. Though I did manage to keep the name to myself, my actions were noticed by the press and they ran with that angle. I have since learned from that mistake."

"The third," said her father. "became the most prevalent and likely one, especially after it was revealed that Headmaster Dumbledore had recruited you to spy on the Dark Lord. The theory goes that Rodolphus Lestrange found out about your activities, murdered you and buried you in an unmarked grave in the Forbidden Forest."

Andromeda nodded. "When the first wizarding war started and more and more atrocities came to light, that theory became more and more likely. Though Lestrange was eventually captured, he has always denied your murder."

"As murderers tend to," said Cygnus. "That man is not innocent by any means, but with your return, it is proved that he was never responsible for your death. Up until today, I never believed him. I believed that the eldest of my three fierce daughters had her life snuffed out and her remains tossed into a shallow grave."

Tears were in his eyes now. "Part of me expects to start awake in bed in a few moments, and all of this a dream. To say I was incensed at your apparent murder is an understatement. I cut off all ties with the Lestrange family and... though I never openly supported the Dark Lord, I did support him financially. I withdrew my funds and my support, much to his chagrin."

That made Bellatrix laugh. "Seriously?! You funded a charlatan with a circus tent?"

"Hah," Andie snorted. "Father's money likely paid for that circus tent."

"He sent representatives, of course," Cygnus snorted. "Tried to mend the situation. Claimed Lestrange never committed the murder. Claimed they searched the Forbidden Forest as well. Claimed they tried to find you, without success. Then came the pleas to keep fighting for a pure wizarding world. When that didn't work, came the threats. I, naturally, showed them the door and told the Dark Lord that if he wanted to see the biggest threat to wizarding kind, he would only have to look in the mirror."

A silence fell over the gathered family and, at first, Bellatrix felt the awkwardness as all three of her family members here seemed lost in their own thoughts. There was more to this story in the years that followed her disappearance, but all of them seemed reluctant to talk about it. Cissy seemed particularly agitated.

"A father should never have to bury his children," Cygnus spoke with a crack in his voice. "It put things in... perspective."

"You'll find a lot of things have changed for and in our family," Andie chuckled. "Like I told you in the carriage."

"Though I thoroughly believed you to be dead," said Cygnus. "Your sisters and your mother never gave up hope. Never stopped hoping."

It was then that Sebastian returned with what looked to be a gramophone player. Her father gave the butler a nod and he put a vinyl record. Andromeda took her hand while Cissy sat closer to her, which made Bellatrix wonder what was going to be played. It was soon revealed to be a radio recording. Her father reached over to squeeze her hand. "Bellatrix," he started. "What you are about to hear will likely shock and sadden you. But it is not meant to make you feel guilt. It is to make you understand the fragile state your poor maman is in and just how careful we're going to have to be."

"Bellatrix," sounded the tearful voice of her mother through the copper horn of the device. "Please, chouchou. If you are hearing this, know that your family misses you. Your sisters miss you. Please, Bellatrix. We won't uphold the marriage contract with the Lestranges. I promise you this, chouchou. You will be free to do with your life as you please. There's no reason for you to keep running away from your family. S'il te plait, come home!"

It took a few moments for Bellatrix to realize just what she was hearing, but when she did she found herself trembling. What she had heard was the terrified and shaky voice of a grieving, desperate mother.

"Maman never really got over it," said Cissy. "None of us did, I suppose. She never stopped searching until she became unable to. She... blamed herself and father for pushing you into an arranged marriage that ended up with you either running away or murdered. There were times when we had to collect maman from the Forbidden Forest in the dead of night, walking around holding a lantern and crying out your name."

"Now you see why we have to ease maman into your return," Andie said. "Oncle Achille is with her now, preparing her for it. With any luck you'll see her tomorrow."

The mental image of her poor mother roaming the dangerous forest forlorn and alone in the dead of night became too much to bear. Though the room she was in was exceedingly large, the walls still felt as if they were rushing in on her as the full weight of realization what her absence had done to her family crushed down upon her. Her hands started to shake and her breathing increased sharply. Apparently her sisters had anticipated this and shuffled closer to her.

"Hey," Andie let a hand run over her back. "None of that. It was never your fault."

"I'm so sorry," sniffed Bellatrix. "I... I didn't want for any of this to happen. To just... leave without an explanation. I... wanted to come back. I wanted to explain. I... when Hermione told me what would happen to me, I..."

"Ah, yes," Andie replied, her voice growing much colder. "Her."

Bellatrix gave her a questioning look.

"I am not convinced of her good intentions," said Andie, with a cold, harsh stare though not aimed at her. "Not in the slightest!"

"Andie," Cissy hissed. "Not now!"

"My three girls together again," said Cygnus. "Fiery and full of life. As it should be. You'll be happy to know I cancelled Andromeda and Narcissa's arranged marriages, though our Cissy married her intended anyway. By choice, of course."

"Yeah," Bellatrix frowned. "I met my nephew and I heard I have a niece. What was her name? Nymphadora? Who is your husband?"

"Ted Tonks," replied Andromeda. "You haven't met him yet, because he is visiting family in Wales. I sent out an owl and he'll be returning shortly."

"Tonks," said Bellatrix, thinking it over. "That's not a pure-blood wizarding name I recognize."

"That's because he isn't a pure-blood wizard," chuckled Cygnus. "Our Andromeda dropped this bombshell on us when she came of age and spoke of her intent to marry Ted Tonks when she'd turn twenty."

Bellatrix frowned. "No disowning?"

Cygnus shook his head. "No. Your mother threatened to leave me if I exiled her, but there was no need for it. I was not in the mood to lose another daughter. And I'm glad that I didn't, for now I have two wonderful grandchildren to dote over. Nymphadora is quite delightful."

"One of the reasons why she's as lazy as a sloth," Narcissa rolled her eyes. "For Merlin's sake, it's two in the afternoon and she still isn't up?! I worry about that girl..."

Andromeda narrowed her eyes. "Cissy…"

"Fine!" Narcissa held up her hand.

Bellatrix chuckled. "Sounds like not having me in your lives made it better from the way you tell it," she said. She had meant it to be a joke, but her sisters certainly weren't laughing.

"Don't say that!" Andie huffed. "You don't know that. Nobody can know that! Wonder why? Because you skipped thirty-three years! Nothing else could have happened, because you simply weren't there for it to happen!. How can anything your Hermione whispered in your ear be true when she herself can't know because she was the one who caused you to skip those years in the first place?!"

Bellatrix frowned and rubbed her chin. "Is... is that how time-travel even works?"

"I believe Hermione is using you for her own devices and I urge you…"

"Andie!" Cissy hissed again. "NOT NOW!"

This caused Andie to grumble, but Bellatrix definitely took note of this reaction. Yes, Andie mistrusted Hermione. That much was obvious.

"Girls, girls, please," spoke Cygnus. "I, for one, would like to hear Bella's side of the story. Bella, what happened to you? Where have you been the past thirty-three years?"

Ah, now it was her turn. While tea and biscuits were being served by Sebastian, Bellatrix sat up straight to tell her grand tale. And tell she did. She started with finding a magic pool in the middle of the forest in the dead of night, meeting Hermione and learning she was a girl from the future. She talked about their chats, their hopes, their dreams. How they slowly developed feelings for each other. How, together, they had find a way to breach the surface of the pool and meet up in a realm far beyond anything imagined. She described the adventures they had had, the dangers they had endured and the love they had found. The story ended after they arrived in this year, in 2001.

Apparently, she had spoke with some adoration for Hermione and it didn't pass unnoticed that Andromeda was getting increasingly agitated whenever the brown-haired witch was mentioned.

"Well," said her father after taking in the story. "I would very much like to meet this Hermione."

"So would I..." spoke Andromeda, almost under her breath with a tone that was almost a snarl.

"It's a shame that I left all the journals and samples with Hermione, but I do have plenty of photographs," said Bellatrix. "And I do have some other proof, at least," she added, reaching for her pack.

Instantly, Cissy froze up and shifted a little away from her. She reached into her pack and lifted out Zipper. The wasp has been sleeping and rather drowsily flapped his wings. However, the moment he realized there was sugar to be had, he buzzed over to the tea service and started lazily snacking on lumps of sugar.

"I take it that is the giant wasp from your story?" asked her father, studying the wasp intently as it ate.

"He's a friend," said Bellatrix. "And he'll be staying with me."

Bellatrix adopted a tone which strongly suggested this was non-negotiable. Meanwhile, Cissy was starting to fan herself with her hands.

"Pfft, don't be such a baby," Bellatrix pouted.

Cygnus checked the clock. "Ah, it is already five o'clock," said her father. "Your incredible tale has enthralled us for hours, Bella. I assume you might like to rest and wash up before dinner. We have left your old room exactly as it was. We can talk more over dinner, as a family."

"In concur," said Andromeda. "The Black sisters are together again and this cause for celebration. Feast and champagne it is. That should please Draco and Nymphadora. Will Lucius come over as well, Cissy?"

"I'll make sure he does," said Cissy. "Though it feels wrong to leave maman out of the celebration."

"We'll just have to do it again tomorrow evening," Andie chuckled. "Sebastian, would you kindly escort Bellatrix to her room?"

That caused Bellatrix to frown and cross her arms. "Andie, I've lived here for seventeen years. I think I remember where my room is!" she pouted.

Andie chuckled at that. "I'm certain you do, Bella, but it is for maman's sake. She sometimes wanders the mansion aimlessly and we don't want to risk maman seeing you before we're prepared. When you arrive at the East wing, we ask that you stay there for the moment. Please. For maman's sake."

Bellatrix nodded. She was feeling quite tired and enjoying her own bed sounded rather good. She got up from her seat and joined Sebastian at the door with Zipper lazily buzzing along behind her. It was then that she realized that she was the only one who had gotten up from her divan. After turning around, she could see that none of the others have left their seats nor were intending to.

"This way, miss Bellatrix," said Sebastian as he closed the double sliding doors behind her. It was obvious that her family wanted to speak. And, it was also obvious that those words were not intended for her to hear. Almost instinctively, she stepped towards the double doors and was about to lay her ear on the wood when Sebastian scraped his throat.

"Ah," she smirked. "I don't suppose I could order you to let me drop some eaves?"

Sebastian gave her a brief smile. "I'm quite afraid that mistress Andromeda's orders, as Head of the Household, quite supersede yours by a not insignificant margin."

"Fair enough," Bellatrix sighed. The two of them walked through the corridors and talked a little about current events. Bellatrix had, after all, missed thirty-three years of history. On the walk to the East wing, Sebastian filled her in on a couple of things and promised to bring her some current history books and newspapers for her to read after dinner. And so, Bellatrix was left to her own devices while Zipper started to explore the room and found perch on the ceiling.

Her old room was almost exactly the same. It was as if she had stepped right into a time-capsule and she found it quite welcoming to find such a familiar sight. She let out a sigh and let herself fall onto the bed, among the army of plushies still gathered around her pillow. It was still bouncy and soft. Odd how a bed could feel so much like home. She rolled to her back and looked around the room: all her posters were still there and Eleanor Snowbell was still prominently displayed over her fireplace. She took out her wand, aimed at the fireplace and soon a cozy crackling fire lit up the room with pleasant warmth.

Now, if only she could have Hermione lain out on the bed with her, that would have been perfect.

Two things occurred to her. One was just how much she missed Hermione: they hadn't been apart from each other in weeks and certainly not since they had started to explore their feelings. Now that it was quiet and she had time to think, Hermione's absence was palpable.

And then there was the matter of her family. In particularly, maman. After hearing about just how fragile her mental state was, she was getting more and more worried about tomorrow. Worse yet, she felt responsible for said mental state and felt her heart constrict with guilt. Merlin, the sound of her maman's voice on the the recording. The desperation. The sadness. The fear. It was heart-rending.

She looked at her pack and fished out the handmirror. She almost contacted Hermione to talk to her, but decided against it: she was probably still with her parents and those were likely as overjoyed to have her back like her own family. They'd talk again later that evening, certainly.

Bellatrix realized she was still wearing the school uniform she'd been given, so she hopped out of bed and headed to the closet. Delighted to see that all her clothes were still there, she picked out a nice black sequin with matching cloak. After twirling around and making it swish for a bit, she felt much better. She went to the other side of her closet to pick out something nice from her considerable collection of hats.

Curious, however, were the sounds coming from the edge of hearing. Soon enough, she discovered they weren't sounds at all, but rather vibrations. In fact, all her hats seemed to be vibrating in their cubbies. It seemed as if someone was using a silencing charm, but the sounds were still so loud that the vibrations weren't blocked anymore. Bellatrix decided that she should investigate. She got off the bed and exited to the common room, feeling the vibrations and trying to trace it back to its source. She passed through the common room… the old sofas where she and her sisters had spent so much time chatting and gossipping in the past were still there, much to her delight. After following the vibrations for a bit, they seemed to be coming from Andie's old room.

Curious as she was, she threw caution into the wind and simply opened the door.

Instantly, her ears were assaulted by the sounds of muggle music and the word 'THUNDERSTRUCK!' was etched in her mind through battered eardrums. Andie's old room was a far cry from the soft pastel clad girl's room: now, the walls were painted a fierce red and dark black while posters of men and women clad in leather and wielding guitars adorned every wall. Above the chronically unmade bed, where once hung the sisters' hidden poster of the Beatles, now hung a large black poster sporting only the letters 'AC-DC'.

Muggle music playing in the house without a riot breaking out? Things really had changed for House Black.

Another thing was that the room was filled with a rather odd smelling smoke. It made Bellatrix cough loudly and wave around her. Producer of said smoke was sat in a beanbag near the window. It was a girl, older than her, clad in the same leather and jeans much like her muggle musicians were. What stood out most was her hair, shoulder length and five different seemingly shifting colours while barely covering ears which were filled with far too many silver rings through the entire upper helix to count quickly. There was an oddly shaped cigarette in her mouth, one she took out of her mouth before puffing more smoke into the air. The girl noticed her, scrunched up her face in a stare and then pointed in her general direction. "I know you from somewhere…" she muttered.

"WHAT?!" Bellatrix yelled, almost tripping over something on this impossibly cluttered floor.

The girl turned down the radio. Just a little.

"I know you from somewhere," the girl repeated.

"Who are you and what are you doing in my sister's room?!" Bellatrix demanded.

"Sister?" the girl frowned, but then her eyes lit up before laughing merrily. "Ah, you're my runaway older younger aunt! My mum told me you were coming. Nymphadora Black. Pleased to meet you."

"Nymphadora?" asked Bellatrix. "That's an usual name."

Nymphadora's hair turned a single colour, that of blood red, as she glowered. "Hey! I'm proud of my name! I'll make you a deal: you don't make fun of it, and you will leave this room without squinting. I'm normally very mellow, as long as you don't make fun of my name!"

Bellatrix crossed her arms. "I'd like to see you try! And I never said your name was bad. Come on, you are talking to someone named 'Bellatrix'. I know all about usual names and bastards making fun of those."

Nymphadora chuckled. "I like you," she replied. "Come. Share a spliff with me."

The curly-haired witch warily strolled over to Nymphadora, waving away some smoke around her with her hand while suppressing a cough. "So has mum been lording over you already?" Nymphadora asked.

"She's certainly... assertive," said Bellatrix. "Much more assertive than I remember."

Nymphadora handed her a lit cigarette. Of course, Bellatrix had tried a cigarette a few times, back at Hogwarts. So she took it in her fingers and took a puff... only to immediately cough up a lung. As she hacked up more and more, Nymphadora chuckled.

"Okay, this is definitely not tobacco," Bellatrix grimaced, sighing through her nose while squeezing her eyes shut.

"Hah, you just came in from the 60s," smirked Nymphadora. "I thought you more experienced than this. Then again, this is my own personal mix and it might be a bit... advanced. Next time, I'll make you a nice mix with some beginner strains. It'll help you relax. And trust me, you're gonna need it. The entire wizarding world is about fall over itself and right on top of you. So many people will want to know your story, auntie. You've had more 'sightings' than Elvis Presley."

"Don't remind me," said Bellatrix. "I'm more worried about maman. The rest of the world can get stuffed."

Nymphadora took another puff of smoke and laughed. "Yeah, I can respect that. And nan... yeah. I worry about her too. She turned your room into somewhat of a museum, you know?"

"Did she?" Bellatrix asked. "Does she... go there sometimes?"

"Quite a lot," Nymphadora sighed. "Hear her crying sometimes. Go in to hug her. Calls me Bellatrix. I never bother to correct her. She cries. I try to keep my eyes dry. Doesn't always work. She knows I'm not you when she gets like that, I think. But I'm happy to play along."

Bellatrix closed her eyes and sighed. "Fuck," she muttered.

"Yeah," she replied, taking another puff. "I sometimes do go in there to randomly shift objects around. Drives the maids crazy."

The grin on her face said it all. Bellatrix handed her back the spliff, which Nymphadora took and swiftly puffed on. More smoke was produced. "Today is surreal."

"Quite," replied Bellatrix. "I've become the aunt of two people who are older than me."

Nymphadora laughed. "My long lost aunt returning to from the dead is one thing. But to find out she's also fucking the girl whose parents are suing the ministry? That makes it mind-blowing."

Bellatrix pursed her lips, waving more smoke away. "What is up with that, anyway?"

"Hm, long story," said Nymphadora and pointed to a small mini-fridge near the bed. "Tell you after dinner. When we have our bellies full and we have room for cold beer and... special brownies."

"Chocolate brownies?" Bellatrix asked eagerly. Some alcohol mixed with some sweet treats sounded very nice right about now.

Nymphadora gave her an odd look. "Sure, whatever floats your boat."

At that moment, Zipper came flying in through the still opened door. The moment the giant wasp hit the smoke, he started flying around in circles. Circles which became ever more erratic, until the wasp angrily started to chase his own stinger. The circles became more frantic, accompanied by angry buzzing until he finally lost control and crash-landed onto Nymphadora's unmade bed and promptly fell asleep.

"Hah!" Nymphadora laughed before taking another puff. "Cool bug."

Yes, so far, Nymphadora was already endlessly more agreeable than Sirius. Again, it made her wonder just what had happened to him. Some gossip with her niece would keep her busy until dinner, at least.

Chapter Text

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."

"Oh?"

"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."

"A bit?"

"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.

Chapter Text

Almost nothing had changed in the Catterborough Woodhouse dining room: it was still grand, like every room in the mansion, with marble floors, its own massive fireplace and a long oaken table centered in the middle, while a wall-tall set of windows offered a view of the large garden beyond. The only real difference was that oncle Achille had refreshed the paintings.

Andie had certainly spared no expense to celebrate her return: Bellatrix was confronted with a table set for a four-course meal. The finest of meals. Aged Dragon Carpaccio, one of her favourites, had been served on her plate, ready to be eaten while Sebastian had poured the entire family glasses of expensive champagne.

Seating arrangements were as she would have expected. Andie was seated at the head of the table, as befitting for the head of the household. Nymphadora and her husband Ted were sat on either side. Herself and Cissy sat on the right of her, next to Ted, while Draco and Lucius sat opposite to them. Her father was sat at the opposite end of the table as sign of respect towards the old head of the household. That left two seats conspicuously empty: that of maman and oncle Achille. Though Bellatrix understood why, she felt it was unfortunately they were not at the table with them to share this family moment.

Cissy's old boyfriend, Lucius Malfoy had certainly grown up. From his expression, Bellatrix judged that he really didn't want to be here right now. Ever so often, he'd glare at Ted Tonks which, in turn, earned him a stern look from Andie, to a point where Bellatrix actually saw Lucius cringe a few times.

Ted Tonks. Now he was a cypher. Of all of those present, he was certainly the most... under dressed. It was as if the gardener had decided to join the manor family at the table. Still, Ted was a jovial, fair-haired and big-bellied man. From the glances Andie often gave her, it seemed that she loved him very much.

"Uncle Alphard not coming?" asked Nymphadora, to which Cygnus shook his head.

"Can't get a hold of him," said Cygnus. "He and Morag were spending some time away in the wilderness. I'm sure they'll come to meet Bellatrix as soon as they can."

"Well, as long as we're talking seating arrangements," laughed Draco after taking his first bite. "Should we be setting a chair for Granger? Guessing she'll be part of this gathering before long."

Next to him, Nymphadora let out a laugh. "What? Jealous?"

Draco blinked. "Certainly not!"

"I think you're jealous," Dora winked at Bellatrix. It was her cue to jump in.

Bellatrix narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms in a mocking fashion. "Serious talk. Are you my competition? Because if you are, I'm not holding back. And I fight dirty!"

A shudder went through Draco as he actually seemed horrified by the thought. "Just for your information, I find Granger to be completely repulsive!"

"Why?" Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "What's wrong with her?"

"I'll write you list!" Draco retorted. "You're welcome to her, auntie!"

Lucius let out a sigh. "Yes, we do have to be grateful for small mercies, now don't we?"

Thankfully, Nymphadora was keeping Draco busy with some small talk. Apparently, the two cousins were surprisingly fond of each other despite their differences, with Draco starting to push back against Dora's teasing. Next to her Ted, smiled at her. "Well, Dromeda told me so much about you," spoke Ted with a mellow and pleasant voice. "After she's been waiting for your return for over thirty-three years, here you are. I'm happy for you both. I imagine it's all a bit strange, isn't it?"

Bellatrix nodded. "Doesn't feel that way, yet. I wonder if it still has to sink in."

"Well, you take your time," he said. "I've heard you two have had amazing adventures."

Well, Ted hadn't need to have said that twice. Bellatrix was off in a second, recounting her tale of their encounter with the murder-unicorn in the strange forest with animated gestures. Apparently, she told the story well because everyone, even those whom had heard the story before, was hanging from her lips.

Dinner progressed without so much as a hitch. The food was delicious, the company was fine, but after a long day, Bellatrix preferred to retreated to the privacy of her own room. Draco and Dora went out to the yard and even though Nymphadora invited her to smoke a spliff with them, one coughing fit was enough for one day and she politely declined.

After a long hug with Cissy and the promise to talk more soon, Bellatrix found herself back in the privacy of her own room. It was in that moment she felt just how tired she was.

By now, it was dark out and, with a flick of her wand, she magically drew the curtains and lit the fireplace before kicking off her boots plopping onto her bed among her army of plushie toys. Zipper, whom had been confined to Bellatrix' room was sat on the ceiling peering intently at a spider located in the corner of the room. Though the wasp was infinitely larger than the much smaller house spider, Zipper didn't trust it one bit and glared at it from a distance.

Sebastian had been true to his word and had left the paper and a few books for her on her nightstand. With interest, she grabbed the paper first and unfolded it.

Bellatrix quickly came to the conclusion that The Daily Cauldron was still the same rag it had been in the sixties. She was immediately annoyed when she saw the front page and found a moving photograph or her and Hermione mid kiss, then breaking the kiss and turning around to stare at the camera with a surprised look on their faces. 'BELLATRIX BLACK, HERMIONE GRANGER MYSTERIOUS RETURN SHOCKER!', read the headline. In fact, a large portion today's edition was dedicated to her. 'The disappearance of Bellatrix Black: thirty-three year mystery about to be solved?' read the headline of another article. 'Hermione Granger returns; implications for the Justice For Hermione case?' was a third. Most of it was wild speculation at this point, though one sentence at the end of the article caught her eye. 'The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black has declined to comment on the developing situation, referring to an imminent press release instead'.

When she opened the paper, she was met with a big spread. One page was dedicated to her entirely: 'Who is Bellatrix Black?' read the headline, accompanied by some childhood and school photographs. Her biography painted the image of a brilliant student, eldest child of a prominent and wealthy ancient pure-blood family, a genius prodigy with a bright future ahead of her which had been cut short by her sudden disappearance. It was accompanied by a list of common theories about said disappearance. Her supposed murder by Lestrange was mentioned, as was her running away. It also amused her that 'abduction by aliens' was one of the top theories. Funny that Father and Andie had not mentioned that particular one.

'Who is Hermione Granger?' on the other page, however, was another story altogether. Calling it a smear job wouldn't even begin to describe it. Hermione was described as a Machiavellian social climber, who used her smarts, her looks and her body to further herself in life at the cost of others. Everything about her was being called into question: from her academic achievements to her role in the war. Even the pictures in the article where the most unflattering ones they could have possibly found. The more she read, the more furious Bellatrix became. Until she could do nothing else but crumple up the paper and hurl it straight into the roaring fireplace where it swiftly burned to cinders.

She lay on her back and stared at the bed's canopy for a while, trying to calm herself. How dare those pieces of piss journos smear her girlfriend like that?!

Perhaps reading about recent history would make her feel better. Once she had gotten through the first chapters of a book about the First and Second UK wizarding wars, she swiftly concluded that she might have severely underestimated that charlatan with a circus tent. After reading a profile on this 'Lord Voldemort', she started to see why shouldn't have dismissed him as a clown so easily. He was, in fact, a magically talented charismatic master-mind with a penchant for cruelty. He had founded a group called the 'Death Eaters'.

That made Bellatrix snort: what a stupid fucking name that was.

So these 'Death Eaters' were the war-mongers, it seemed. Eleven years of terror attacks, assassinations, street warfare… Not to mention all the events leading up to it. There'd been rumblings in 1968, but the social unrest really heated up towards 1970. Circus-tent Voldemort exploited that unrest expertly and the historian presented evidence that almost all great pure-blood houses supported him either openly or secretly. It only made her more proud of her own family for withdrawing support after her supposed murder. Eventually, the war ended with Voldemort's demise at the hands of a baby of all things and the Death Eaters collapsed. Most were given life-sentences in Azkaban.

"Dodged a killing curse there, ey Zipper?" Bellatrix muttered while leafing through the book. Meanwhile, hearing his name attracted his attention away from the spider. Zipper had stopped buzzing around and landed on the bed, curling up against her. Bellatrix reached down to scratch him underneath the thorax, causing him to twitch his wings a little in merriment. He rubbed his head against Bellatrix' side a little before she wrapped part of the blanket over him.

With her wasp friend nestled next to her, she continued reading.

The Second War was the one in which Hermione had fought. It was a lot shorter, it seemed, but it startled her with just the sheer consummate ease with which Voldemort circus-tent had taken over the Ministry and just how quickly it was business as usual. One prominent member of the neo-Death Eaters described was none other than Rodolphus Lestrange, the man who would be her husband. Lestrange had become Voldemort circus-tent's most loyal and dedicated servant, doing everything he asked of him. He tortured, killed and fought in his name as a complete psychotic madman. Bellatrix snorted; she'd known Rodolphus to be a weak-minded toady, but she never would expected him to fall this far.

"Pathetic, hm, Zipper?" said Bellatrix.

The drowsy wasp merely buzzed his wings a little.

"I'd never serve another. Not ever!" Bellatrix pursed her lips.

A knock on the door sounded and a familiar voice called out to her. "Cherie?" sounded from the other side of the door. "May I come in?"

"Oncle! Come in!" Bellatrix grinned and was about to jump off the bed when the door opened. In stepped her oncle Achille; though he eyed slightly older, he had kept much of his youthful appearance. There was a spring in his step and a smile on his face when he approached. He sat on the side of the bed and embraced her tightly.

"Ah, you don't know 'ow good it is to see you again, cherie," he greeted, still holding her. "I would 'ave come to see you sooner, but Andromeda asked me to keep your maman occupied for the time being. Pained me to know you were 'ere and I could not come to see you."

Truth be told, Bellatrix was almost afraid to ask. "How is maman?"

Achille released her, looking her in the eye while giving her a sad smile. "Not well," he said softly. "But seeing you again will do 'er a world of good, non?"

"I… I didn't mean for her to…"

"Sshh, I know, cherie, I know," he replied, and noticed Zipper for the first time. The giant wasp now seemed to be quite asleep, curled up against Bellatrix' leg. "Oh, and who is your little friend? Did you pick 'im up in the Fae Realm, hm?"

"Did Andie tell you?" Bellatrix asked.

"Did she not tell you?" Achille chuckled. "Your sisters and I were quite aware where you were all this time, cherie. Even if they did not share that particular bit of information with you. The Fae Mirrors? The Fae Realm? Oh, we knew all about it. Took us years to figure it all out, mind you. And we scoured the Earth for anything known about them."

"Oncle?" Bellatrix frowned. "I should have realized that the moment Andie said she had witnessed me disappearing at the Fae Mirror and never returning."

"Full disclosure, cherie," said Achille. "It was I who gave mademoiselle Granger all the research we had gathered on Fae Mirrors. Against Andromeda's express wishes, mind you. Mademoiselle Granger did most of the work, but I just gave 'er a push in the right direction. It doesn't make both your accomplishments any less groundbreaking, cherie. But we knew we were on the clock and couldn't risk it."

"But if you had that knowledge, why would Andromeda be against sharing it?" Bellatrix asked.

Achille thought a moment, as if he was about to say something, but then changed his mind to rephrase it. "Andromeda can be somewhat… paranoid. All we knew for certain was that mademoiselle Granger played a role in your disappearance and nothing else. We knew this because you mentioned 'er in the past. But what we didn't know was 'er motivation. So Andromeda 'ad 'er watched since the day she was born. Unfortunately, 'er motivation never became clearer other than 'er being someone kind of 'eart who wanted to 'elp a girl who was likely murdered in the past. Andromeda, as usual, wasn't convinced. In 'er view, there was a theory was that you were murdered, but that theory only existed because you disappeared. A disappearance Hermione caused."

"So Hermione's involvement became self-fulfilling," Bellatrix said. "In Andromeda's eyes, at least."

"She's convinced mademoiselle Granger 'ad an ulterior motive, but she doesn't know what it is. To say it 'as been driving 'er mad the past few months is an understatement," said Achille. "but I knew Fae Mirrors are notoriously unstable and while you and mademoiselle Granger were talking, it was only a matter of time before it would fail. If we ever wanted to see you again, I 'ad to take matters into my own 'and. Andromeda was furious…"

"But why?"

"I suspect she 'oped that if the Fae Mirrors closed, you would remain in your own time and everything would change," said Achille. "You would 'ave remained with your sisters, grew up with them, get to experience life with them. Andromeda thinks that would 'ave been better. I argued that there was no way of knowing if that life would be better than what you would be given. I argued that your connection to mademoiselle Granger was important to you. She would not 'ear of it."

"Hermione, she," Bellatrix muttered. "Told me things. Things that disturbed me."

Achille took her in another embrace, which Bellatrix allowed. He ruffled her curly hair for good measure. "I'm glad to know I've made the right decision. I'd rather 'ave the niece I knew long ago to be 'ere with us safe and sound than to take a risk with the vagaries of time and 'ope for the best. Andromeda… will take some convincing, though."

"What happened to her? Andie always used to be such a soft-heart."

"She ran 'ouse Black for over fifteen years and 'ad to learn how to navigate 'igh society politics, as well as a government coup," said Achille. "Don't take it personally. She doesn't trust many people. It is, 'ow you say, a pitfall of 'er position. But I 'ave a more important question, non? 'Ave you been keeping up with your writing?"

That made Bellatrix chuckle. She reached over to her bag and pulled out one of her journals, along with a photo-album of pictures taken of flora and fauna in the Fae Realm. "Not much in the way of stories, though I do have some ideas I want to work out. I've mostly been keeping our travel journal and photo catalogue," she said and spent some time showing her oncle all manner of pictures and told a few stories of her adventures.

"Hm, two things, cherie?"

"Yes?"

"First of all, I think you and mademoiselle Granger should be sending in applications for all your discoveries to the Linnaeus Qualification Board in Paris. You both deserve credit for your work."

Bellatrix nodded. "I'll discuss it with Hermione next time I speak with her."

"The other thing is," said Achille after getting up from the bed and slowly walking towards the door. "I'd say you've got more than enough material for a book, non?"

"A book," Bellatrix frowned, rubbing her chin. She... rather liked that idea.

"Good night, cherie," her oncle said. "Tomorrow, your maman will see you again. She is... fragile... remember that."

"Good night, oncle," said Bellatrix. Words about maman's mental state started to worry her more and more.

Bellatrix lay on her back for a moment, enjoying the softness of her bed. But sleep was not on her mind. Not yet.

Hermione.

She needed to speak with Hermione.

After fishing the mirror from her pack, she tapped the glass, hoping that Hermione would answer swiftly.


For minutes now, Bellatrix had found herself standing in front of a closed door. The door which led to her mother's parlour. With her oncle by her side, Bellatrix was reluctant to take the first step.

She'd been told her mother was 'fragile' and had, honestly, no idea what to expect. She turned her head to her oncle, who gave her an encouraging smile. "Cherie," he asked. "Are you ready?"

"No," Bellatrix replied honestly.

"Hm, I'll be 'ere for you. I will let you in and give you some privacy with your maman," said Achille. "I'll be right outside the door if you need me."

"Can't you stay?" she asked. For some reason, all her bravery had been sapped from her. For thirty-three years, she had been missing. And for thirty-three years, her mother had held out hope. For thirty-three years, she had mourned. The guilt she felt was starting to become unbearable.

Her oncle squeezed her shoulder for a moment. "She loves you, cherie. Remember that."

The curly-haired witch nodded and, together, they stepped through the door. Her mother's parlour wasn't so much a parlour as it was an series of connected rooms in the west wing which served as her mother's office, relaxation room and alchemy lab. Her mother was diligently writing in some sort of ledger behind a desk.

Circe... she looked... frail. Even frailer than her father. Her once thick dark brown hair had become stringy and streaked with large patches of silver. Though she was approaching seventy, she looked much older than she should. Lines in her face showed someone who was used to frowns rather than smiles. Her fingers were long and thin as she held a quill which she slid over the paper of the ledger.

"Dru?" asked Achille, the voice breaking the silence in such a way that it seemed invasive. "Look who I've brought with me."

Her mother looked up. "Ah," she smiled briefly before returning to her ledger.

That was not the reaction Bellatrix had been expecting. While contemplating this, Achille placed two hands on her shoulders. "Remember, I'll be right outside."

And then, Bellatrix was alone, unsure of what to do. Her mother had acknowledged her, but was now fully concentrated on her writing. The curly-haired witch looked around her and saw many framed moving pictures and paintings obviously made by Achille: all of them were of her and her sisters in better days. Together. Enjoying themselves as a family. Her mother wanted to immerse herself into these memories, that much was clear.

"Maman?" Bellatrix asked.

No answer.

Bellatrix took a few steps closer. Close enough to try to look over her shoulder to see what she was doing. Before she could, however, her mother spoke up.

"So nice of you to come visit me again, chouchou," her mother spoke. In her memory, her mother's voice had always been powerful and commanding. When Druella Black spoke, people were compelled to listen. In fact, she had been the only one to keep her father's feet firmly on the ground. But now? Her voice was as frail as the rest of her body. It was as if she had lost any form of zest.

Honestly, though, that wasn't exactly the reaction Bellatrix had been expecting. She stood there motionless for a moment, but when it became clear that her mother had gone back to her writing, she felt compelled to continue. "Maman?" asked Bellatrix. "What are you doing?"

"Chouchou," she smiled. "I've told you many times before, non? Working on my redemption."

"Redemption?" asked Bellatrix. "What do you mean?"

Again, her mother had her back turned to her. "The Bellatrix Foundation. Don't you remember? I've named it after you. In your 'onour. And, well, it keeps my mind occupied."

"What does this... Bellatrix Foundation do?" Bellatrix asked.

"It 'elps those faced with an arranged marriage with legal aid and interventions with their family," said maman, with no small measure of pride in her voice. "So that young wizards and witches don't have to go through what... what your papa and I forced you to go through... It's not exactly popular with many of the great 'ouses or even some 'alf-blood families. And it gives poor Minette no small measure of political 'eadaches. But it 'onours your memory and that is what matters."

Minette. Her pet name for Andie.

"Maman?" Bellatrix asked. "Why won't you look at me?"

Druella Black dipped her quill into the inkwell with a trembling hand to leave it there. "I... " she stammered. "I can't... it 'urts too much. Chouchou, I..."

Her mother swallowed hard, the occasional sob coming too. " I know you're not real," she said. "You're just a figment of my mind. A welcome figment, don't get me wrong, but I know you're not really 'ere with me."

"Maman..." Bellatrix tried.

"Bellatrix. My little Trixie. My chouchou. I know she's out there, somewhere. Cygnus thinks 'er… you dead, but 'e is wrong. A mother knows these things, you see? I know she's out there, somewhere. I know she's probably angry with us, but... I will never give up 'ope. I know that, one day, I will see 'er again. Until then I will continue this work. In 'er name. In 'er 'onour."

Bellatrix felt a tear roll over her cheek. "I'm proud of you, maman."

"That's kind of you to say," said her mother. "Even if you're just in my 'ead."

Bellatrix took a few deep breaths and, like her uncle had done for her earlier, she carefully placed her hands on her mother's shoulders. Immediately, her mother stiffed. She fell dead silent for a moment and before long a slight tremble went through her. Slowly, ever so slowly, she turned around.

Tear-filled eyes met hers. "C-chouchou?" she asked. Nay, pleaded. She didn't want her eyes to be deceiving her. Bellatrix gently guided her hand to lay it on her cheek.

A gasp. A look of disbelief.

Bellatrix nodded. "It's me, maman," she said. "And I'm not angry with you. Never."

"You're real..." her mother whispered before shooting forward and taking her into an embrace so fierce it startled Bellatrix. "You're real, you're real, you're real!"

Her mother was a mess of uncontrollable sobs. Bellatrix returned the fierce hug and couldn't keep her own eyes dry.

"Maman..." Bellatrix whispered while her mother's body shook from the emotions. For a moment, she worried her frail mother's heart would give out.

"Ma fille," her mother sobbed. "Ma précieuse enfant... La puissance du soleil t'as ramenée à moi!"

"Maman, je suis vraiment désolée," Bellatrix spoke through her own tears. "Je vous aime tellement. Je n'ai jamais voulu vous blesser ainsi."

"Où étais-tu?" asked her mother while burying a hand in a full head of messy black curls, just like she used to do when she was a little girl. It made her smile.

"C'est une histoire compliquée, maman," returned Bellatrix. "Il y avait cette fille. Je suis tombée amoureuse d'elle. Elle s'appelle Hermione. C'est grâce à elle que je suis ici maintenant."

"Rappelle-moi de la remercier. Pour la couvrir d'éloges et de richesses au-delà de son imagination," her mother spoke softly. "Pour lui faire savoir à quel point la famille Black est reconnaissante."

"Je ne pense pas qu'elle voudra des richesses. Mais elle me veut. Et je la veux," Bellatrix chuckled. "Je me demande si papa va l'approuver."

A glint came to her mother's eyes. "S'il ne le fait pas, je le ferai. Tout pour te rendre heureuse."

"J'ai hâte de la revoir," said Bellatrix.

And so, Bellatrix and her doting mother retreated to one of the sitting rooms where Bellatrix once again told her improbable tale of time-travel and exploration over tea and biscuits brought in by Sebastian. In French this time. Like both her sisters, Bellatrix was bilingual and spoke both English and French fluently. In contrast, her mother often had more trouble with English, especially whenever she was in an emotional state. Still, the story translated just fine. Her mother listened with baited breath when Bellatrix enthusiastically and animatedly told her all about licornes noire, guêpes géante, royaume étranger, îles flottantes and la piscine magique dans les bois.

Bellatrix had just finished her tale when her oncle stepped into the room, eyes lighting up when he saw his niece and his sister talking happily. "Bon apres-midi, you two," he greeted, taking a look at his sister. "Dru, you look positively radiant. You look twenty years younger."

"Je me sens vingt ans plus jeune," chuckled Druella as her uncle sat down. "Part of me still refuses to believe it."

"Believe it, maman," chuckled Bellatrix. "I'm not planning any more jaunts through time soon."

"Can you ever forgive us, sweet enfant?" asked Druella, taking her hand and squeezing it with renewed strength.

"Forgive?" Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "For what?"

"For putting you through a year of pain after promising you to Rodolphus Lestrange," said Druella. "Knowing what kind of thug he would eventually become."

Bellatrix shrugged. "It's all in the past, maman. Literally. As for Rodolphus, well, he always did manage to find a way to spin gold into straw, now didn't he?"

"Hah!" laughed oncle Achille before clapping her on the shoulder.

Bellatrix bit her lip for a moment. "Maman, there is... something you should know. Hermione, she... she isn't a pure-blood. She isn't a half-blood either."

Bellatrix carefully studied her mother's expression: though she had not been as much as a pure-blood fanatic as her father's side of the family had been, she had certainly had her pride and had gone along with it in the past. Her mother merely smiled. "If she has brought you back to us, none of that matters. Besides, we have Ted in our family and 'e is a good man, non? Minette is a good judge of character. She will have the final say as 'ead of the 'ouse."

"That's what worries me," Bellatrix pursed her lips. "She doesn't seem to like Hermione very much."

"Hm, Andromeda 'as been jumping at shadows ever since the war," said Achille. "Navigating a Death Eater controlled Ministry has taken a toll on her. She'll come around, Cherie. Just give it some time."

In that moment, her mother wrapped her arms around her waist and pulled her into an embrace. "Ribs, maman! Ribs! Mes côtes! Trop serré, maman!"

Bellatrix looked up to see her uncle smirking. "Maman is never going to let me out of sight again, is she?"

Achille merely chuckled while her mother still held on to her. "I do think you will 'ave to deal with a smother for quite some time, cherie."

The door opened and, looking over her mother's shoulder, could see that her father had entered the room. He turned to Achille and gave him a nod, which her oncle returned. That in itself was a small miracle. Back in the sixties, her father and oncle could barely stand to be in the same room together and yet here there were. Either they had resolved their differences or had talked it out enough to at least be cordial to each other.

Her loss had actually improved her family in many ways. Bellatrix didn't know what to think of that.

"Cygnus!" her mother admonished. "You knew this and 'aven't told me!"

"Apologies," said Cygnus while sitting down at the sofa next to Bellatrix and her mother. "But… you haven't been well lately and we wanted to avoid a shock."

"And this wasn't shocking?!" her mother narrowed her eyes, that power to her voice returning. "Achi, you knew this too, non?"

Her uncle nodded.

"I should be angry with you both," replied Druella. "But I am simply too 'appy to 'ave my chouchou back."

"This is nice, non," said Achille. "The entire family back together again."

Something was different about her oncle and her father. Back in the sixties, they'd always be at each other's throats. Every exchange was as passive-aggressive as it could be. Neither of them ever budged an inch, but now? That hate seemed to have passed and there was an unspoken air of respect between them. Shared misery could bring together, she supposed.

But now, it was her father who was trembling, taking his daughter's hand. "For years… for decades… I thought you were dead, Bella. For years I've blamed myself," said her father.

"I'm sorry," said Bellatrix. "I… I don't regret any things I've done. Meeting Hermione, exploring the Fae Realm. But I am sorry that I hurt you all in the process."

"Perhaps," said Achille. "It all worked out for the best, non?"

"Perhaps," said Cygnus. The two men shared one more nod before he left the room where Bellatrix and her parents could spend some time to be a family again. A moment which had been thirty-three years in the making.

Chapter Text

Hermione was getting increasingly worried, again looking out of the bay windows to see into the street. Still no sign of Trix.

Could she have gotten lost? Honestly, Hermione couldn't imagine how: Heathgate was just a single street and it was, conveniently, located just a few minutes away from a portkey transport hub in the middle of the Heath. Certainly Trix couldn't be that helpless in the muggle world, no?

Still, she was running late. It left her to pace back and forth through the living room. Her rather amused father, who was sat on the sofa, looked up from the book he was reading. "Chin up, puppet," he said. "She's only ten minutes late."

Hermione sighed. Perhaps dad was right. Perhaps she was worried over nothing. Perhaps... perhaps she should rush to the bay windows again to see if she was already making her way here. Alas, she was not.

The young witch let out a grunt and stomped over to the glass sliding door looking into their spacious backyard. She heard her mum over in the kitchen while she thought back to some playful memories of that backyard. Running around with the family dog, when they still had one. Playing badminton with her mum. Floating around in an inflatable pool in the summer. She actually discovered her magical nature right here in this backyard, after stubbing her toe against a big rock and then shooting it off into the sky by waving her hand at it in anger. How startling that that been.

McGonagall had come to visit the family home the very next day. Her life had taken such a strange turn after that.

The pleasant chime of the doorbell sounded through the house, causing Hermione's heart to skip a beat. She turned around and rushed towards the front door, barely hearing her father's well-meant 'go get her, Tiger!'. Hermione stopped after almost colliding with the front door, caught her breath and patted down her clothing to remove some unsightly creases. She opened the door and, to her delight, saw Bellatrix on the other side.

It was required of wizards and witches to adjust their clothing when going out into the muggle world and Bellatrix had done just that, having transfigured herself into an outfit conforming to the latest fashionable trends… of 1968. Bellatrix had donned a pair of very flared trousers with an astonishingly colourful floral pattern and combined it with a baggy and blindingly bright blouse. Finishing the image was a pair of oversized plastic sun-glasses. Bellatrix looked to be, dare Hermione say it, rather 'groovy'. Which made the completely black travelling cloak flung over her back and the traditional pointy, floppy witch-hat on her head utterly ill-fitting on an already completely and utterly ill-fitting outfit.

"Uhm," Hermione started after taking it all in.

"Sorry I'm a bit late," said Bellatrix. The two girls smiled and brushed lips briefly. "Maman wouldn't let me go until I'd allow her to put a trace on me. And my wand. And my clothing down to my underwear. She's probably looking in on us right now through the scrying bowl. Hello, maman! See? I arrived safe and sound," she said after waving at no one in particular.

Hermione raised an eyebrow at the positively psychedelic Bellatrix and tried to keep a neutral expression. "C-could you find it alright?"

"Yeah, it's only one street, but... I say, travelling through the muggle world is legitimately shit-your-pants scary," said Bellatrix. "Those muggles out there couldn't stop staring at me! It's like they could sense I'm a witch!"

"No," replied Hermione with a grin. "I can honestly say that's not why they were looking at you."

Bellatrix unsheathed her wand and tapped her clothes, transfiguring her psychedelic 1968 look into a black velvet dress underneath her cloak. It was an elaborate dress with a corset-like waist section and a widening billow from the hips down. Silver runes had been inlaid on strategic places of the fabric. Of course, the most striking feature was that, even though she showed no cleavage, there was a very nice, well, push-up effect going on.

Hermione had no idea she'd been staring until Bellatrix reached over with her hand to raise Hermione's lower jaw until her mouth was shut to the sound of an audible clack. The young witch immediately felt the heat rise to her cheeks. Bellatrix, for her part, seemed rather pleased with herself.

"Is there somewhere I can put my hat?" asked Bellatrix, with a tone that was a little too much filled with forced innocence. Indeed, Bellatrix was wearing her Sunday best. No doubt she wanted to make a good impression on her parents.

The curly-haired witch seemed playful and happy. Joyous, even. It was hard to imagine Bellatrix hadn't been much older than this when she'd become a member of the Death Eaters and been given her Dark Mark. Wait? What? What was she on about? Bellatrix had never been a Death Eater! Or... had she? Wait, she had. But...

Again, Hermione head felt as if it was about to explode. The pain in the back of her skull was more painful that the last time. Even so, Hermione managed to keep it hidden. She took Bellatrix' hat and hung it from the coat rack next to the door. Bellatrix then took out her bag and set it on the ground. Of course, she was staying the night so she figured Bellatrix had brought some supplies with her. Those hopes were dashed when she heard soft buzzing.

Hermione sighed heavily. "Don't tell me you've brought the wasp."

"I've brought the wasp," Bellatrix chuckled and released Zipper from the bag. The giant wasp immediately shot through the hallway to explore his surroundings, leaving no time for Hermione to warn her poor parents.

A shriek sounded from the kitchen, followed by the sound of something breaking after falling to the ground. A cry of 'Cor! Amazing!' came from the living room. Zipper came flying back into the hallway and lazily flew up the stairs to explore the first floor.

"Yeah, didn't want to leave him all alone at the mansion," Bellatrix shrugged.

The next step was to take her to the living room to introduce her to her parents. Though her mother was decidedly shaken up from coming face-to-face with a giant wasp... a giant wasp which was now sat on the ceiling having a staring content with a tiny spider in the corner. Her mother looked up every so often, eyeing Zipper suspiciously.

"Bellatrix Black," Trix introduced herself. "Eldest daughter of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black. Well... technically speaking, of course. Pleased to make your acquaintance."

Hermione had been a bit wary about Bellatrix coming to her home: the curly-haired witch could be blunt and insensitive at the best of times, but Bellatrix also knew how much her parents meant to her. She was being on her best behaviour while making the usual introductory small talk with her mother and father. It was almost odd to see her being this polite.

"Tell me, Bellatrix," asked her father, a twinkle in his eye. "Do you know what a 'hunting rifle' is?"

Bellatrix put her finger to her lips. "I think I've heard mention of it. It's a muggle chimney decoration, isn't it?"

Jack Granger turned to Hermione with a smirk. "Well played, Hermione. Well played."

Upon the questioning look Bellatrix gave them, her father turned to clarify. "For years I've had this running gag with Hermione that if she were to bring home some spotty twerp to introduce to us, I would be casually cleaning granddad's hunting rifle while he was doing so. Now, to turn that on its head, first of all, Hermione brings home a girl... which isn't really all that much of a surprise…"

"Dad..." Hermione sighed.

"And second, she brings home a girl who has no idea what a hunting rifle is," Jack Granger said. "I have been deftly outplayed."

"Ah, I see," Bellatrix replied. "But you need not worry. Hermione and I have already shared a bed on multiple occasions."

An awkward silence followed. Then, in complete unison, both her parents turned their heads to Hermione. Hermione, who was now red as a beet, bit her lip for a month before scraping her throat to speak with a tiny voice. "Uhm, Trix... you don't say that... that sort of thing to someone's parents..."

"You don't?" Bellatrix frowned. "Oh. Well, you see in pure-blood culture, it's good form to mention when two pure-bloods are already having sexual relations at the start of formalities. It is an indication that the future bond will be fruitful in terms of offspring and continuation of the family line."

While Hermione certainly understood the importance of continuation of bloodlines for a pure-blood household, that didn't make this situation any less awkward. No less the fact that Bellatrix simply didn't seem to understand that she had made a serious social faux-pas.

Emma Granger, eager for a change of subject, broke the silence with a smile and a nod. "Well, Bellatrix, what would you like to eat tonight?"

A choked snort breaking the silence came from her dad, doing his best not to laugh and failing at it.

"Dad!" Hermione narrowed her eyes before elbowing him.

"Dinner!" her mother corrected quickly. "What would you like to have for dinner tonight, Bellatrix? You are our guest, so it seems right for you to choose."

"Oh!" Bellatrix' eyes lit up. "Kebab roll!"

Emma Granger frowned. "Kebab roll?"

"This is the muggle world, right?" said Bellatrix. "When me and my sisters were growing up, only my younger sister Andie was brave enough to enter the muggle part of Manchester. My sisters and I always had to eat it in secret because father didn't want any muggle things in the house and Andie had to smuggle it in. It was oh-so-good! Could we have a kebab roll tonight? It's been ages!"

Emma Granger laughed. "Well, at least you're a cheap date, Bellatrix. And you'll be saving me a lot of time in the kitchen, so I'm not complaining."

The kebab rolls were swiftly ordered and delivered. The concept of delivery of fast food was a new one for Bellatrix and she undoubtedly filed it away as useful information for later. The curly-haired witched looked to be rather happy to sink her teeth in her kebab roll, a blissful look on her face when she chewed.

"So," asked her father. "I've been told about your incredible story. I can't imagine what it's like to have made a thirty-three year timeskip. How are you adjusting? Things must be so different."

"Hm," said Bellatrix after finishing her bite. "Well, truth be told, I don't feel all that much has changed other than people being older and, well, me having missed two wizarding wars. Other than that, wizarding society doesn't change all that much."

"The muggle world changes very fast," said Jack Granger. "Compared to thirty-three years ago, the world would be almost unrecognizable to a time traveller."

"I used to be told that muggles are dangerous and live in mud huts. Obviously not true, but you know how stereotyping goes," said Bellatrix. "The only thing that was a shock is to hear that both my young cousins died in the war."

Hermione nodded. "Sirius and Regulus."

"Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that," replied Emma.

"Aye," Bellatrix replied. "And with Uncle Orion and Aunt Walburga gone too, my branch of the family means we're the only Blacks left in the United Kingdom. That puts a great deal of pressure on us. At least there's the Montana Blacks left, so at least there's no direct danger of our family dying out, but it's still frightening."

"Montana Blacks?" said Hermione. "You've never mentioned that you have family in the States."

Bellatrix shrugged. "Not much to tell. I've never had much contact with them, though I would honestly like to. My great-grandfather Delphinus Black travelled to Montana in the late 1890s to study the shamanistic magics of the Blackfoot tribe... and yes, I am aware of the irony in that name. It's a story as old as the world: he fell in love with one of the native witches and, hey presto, separate branch of the Black family in Montana. They've been developing a lot of new magic for generations, marrying more western style spell-casting with tribal shamanistic magics. One of the things they're discovered, for example, is a way to apply permanent charms to themselves by the way of enchanted tattoos. The practice hasn't really caught on yet outside of the Blackfoot tribe. My father visited them on several occasions, in direct defiance of uncle Orion's orders."

"Oh?" Hermione asked. "What was wrong?"

"Nothing much," shrugged Bellatrix. "The Black family enjoyed good relations with out Montana cousins for ages until uncle Orion made a stink about it. Apparently, the Blackfeet don't keep proper genealogy records, so it couldn't be strictly confirmed that the girl my great-grandfather married was actually a pure-blood. My father argued that she had to have been because of the traditional shamanistic bloodlines, but that wasn't enough for uncle Orion. It was a big fight over nothing, but uncle Orion was head of the entire Black family at the time, not just our branch of it, so there was nothing he could do. From what I've heard, my sister has smoothed things over considerably the past ten years. So maybe we could visit them sometimes, Hermie."

Bellatrix took another bite from her kebab roll and swallowed. A few more bites later and it was gone, leaving Bellatrix to somewhat mournfully stare at her empty plate.

"Well, you certainly have an interesting family," said her father. "Is there something you like to do in your spare time? Such as a hobby or a way to pass the time."

"Hm," said Bellatrix. "I used to be really big on broom-flying, but more recently I've been enjoying the writing of short stories. Mostly scary and morbid horror stuff."

Oh, dear. Bellatrix shouldn't have said that: Hermione could see her father's eyes positively light up. "Oh, I'd love to read some of those! Do you have a favourite horror film?"

"Film?" Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "Horror layers? Layers of horror? Pardon me, but I don't think I understand the question."

"Dad," said Hermione. "Trix is a pure-blood witch. She's never seen a film in her life."

"Oh!" grinned her father. "Have I got a treat for you then, Bellatrix!"

Hermione felt a soft hand on her wrist. "Hermione, dear? Would you give me a hand with the dishes?" asked her mother.

Now, Hermione had known her mum long enough to know that that was code for 'let's talk in private'. Indeed, while her father dragged Bellatrix to the living room, Hermione helped her mother to gather the dishes from the table and followed into the kitchen.

"She's nice," said her mother while cleaning the dishes at the sink while Hermione sat at the kitchen table. "And very polite."

"Yes. Uncharacteristically so," replied Hermione.

"Maybe she just wants to make a good first impression," said her mother. "Aside from that single faux-pas... which she thought was actually stating something desirable in a partner. In her culture, at least."

"Believe me," Hermione said grimly. "I'll have a chat with her about that later."

"Don't be too harsh on her sweetie," said her mother, taking her hands after sitting down at the table.

"How have you been holding up, mum?" asked Hermione.

Her mother pursed her lips slightly. "Taking it day by day. The entire lawsuit thing has been taking its mental toll, but it has always been for a good cause. I've been... looking around for other places to live. Smaller. Cheaper."

"Mum," Hermione shook her head, tears stinging in her eyes. "This... this is our home!"

"Oh, sweetie," spoke Emma. "It's fine. We've always done well with the practice, our house is worth a lot of money and the mortgage has been fully paid off. If we sell it, even if we lose most of the money towards the legal fees, we'll still be fine."

"It's not that, it's..."

"Sssh," said her mother, putting her hand on her cheek. "We have you back now. That's all that matters."

Hermione and her mother chatted for a long time after that, leaving Bellatrix and her father to bond. Still, the living room had been quiet for a while and Hermione got up to see how they were doing. What she saw when she entered the living room was surprising and endearing: Bellatrix and her father were sat on the living room sofa. Zipper had gotten down from the ceiling and was apparently sleeping on her lap. Her father was grinning, while Bellatrix herself was wild-eyed and held her mouth open in joy as she was watching whatever was on the screen.

Hermione should have recognized the sounds and the voices. On the screen, John Carpenter's The Thing was playing out.

"Hermione!" Bellatrix exclaimed. "This is GREAT!"

Hermione took one look at the screen and immediately bowed out and prepared to rush back to the kitchen. "Oh god!" she hissed. "The kennel scene!"

Though her father had tried his utmost to get Hermione to watch the entire film with him on multiple occasions, Hermione never had the stomach to get past the kennel scene. Apparently, Bellatrix had no issues with this and, judging from her expression, she was craving for more.

That was apparently all dad wanted out of a daughter-in-law: the ability to sit through the entirety of John Carpenter's The Thing. And judging from Trix' expression, watching horror with her dad would become a regular occurrence.

Wonderful… Just wonderful…

Hermione swiftly retreated to the kitchen for the remainder of the film. Though she wasn't freed from it after the film was done. In the living room, Hermione had to endure Bellatrix and her father discussing the finer details of the film and possible infection time lines. She didn't miss the expression on her mother's face either which seemed to say 'oh god, not another one'.

At was around midnight when it was finally time for bed and her mother was showing Bellatrix the guestroom. Hermione spent some time brushing her teeth and offered one wistful look to the guestroom before retreating into her own room. Normally, she'd do some reading before bed, but she simply didn't feel like it today. Hermione lay down on the bed, pulled the duvet over herself and reached over to the lamp on her nightstand.

With the room now bathed in near-complete darkness, Hermione stared at the ceiling and reflected for a moment. Honestly, she was quite happy that Bellatrix was getting along so well with her parents. To her own surprise, Bellatrix had been nothing but polite and got along particularly well with her dad. The curly-haired witch really had changed.

Changed? Compared to what? If she... Instantly, another splitting headache reared its ugly head. Did she save Bellatrix from what she would become? Or did she save Bellatrix from being murdered by her fiancee? It was... it was getting hard to think with two conflicting truths fighting for dominance in her very mind. More questioned ran through her head, the most important one being what exactly had happened to her when the time-line changed? She had conflicting memories of having lived through the events of two time-lines which were, thankfully, similar enough that she could function without a permanent migraine, but trying to remember the old time-line couldn't be good for her mental health. Was this something that would pass or would she have to suffer through this her entire life? And then there were the philosophical ramifications: was she still one person, or was she two persons forced into the same body. Two personalities forcibly integrated, perhaps. Was the original Hermione being suppressed within her own mind, screaming to get out? Did the original time-line even still exist and was it going forward without her in it? Worst thing was that there was no certainties here as her case was pretty much unique.

Perhaps it was simply a good idea to go to sleep. She turned around to lay on her side and closed her eyes. Best to get some rest. The house was so quiet now that everyone had turned in. All she could hear was the sound of her own breath and the December wind blowing past her window.

At least she had her life-sized tiger plush with her, as well as her ratty old bear Pete. Hermione fished the tiger plush from the floor and cuddled up against its softness with Pet