Rose Granger-Weasley burst out of the hearth in a swirl of ash and green flame, and hit the kitchen tile at top speed. She slid across the floor, slinging her bag into a corner as she went, and skidded into a chair at the table.
“You’re late,” Bellatrix said flatly.
“I know, Trixie. I’m sorry,” Rose gasped, taking a quick gulp of juice before picking up one serving bowl after another and dumping food onto her plate. The last bowl she picked up was empty. “Oi! Where did all the garlic bread go!”
“If you’re not fast you’re last!” her brother cackled.
“Shut up, troll,” Rosie shot back, jabbing him in the ribs with a bony elbow, only to recoil with a cry of outrage when her brown eyes zeroed in on not one, not two, but three slices of Trixie’s cheesy, delicious homemade garlic bread on his plate. “Three! You have three! Mum tell him to give me one!”
“Get lost!” Hugo hissed, curling his arms around his plate like a dragon protecting its hoard. “It’s not my fault if — ow!”
“Stop it,” Hermione warned, fixing them both with a glare that could’ve stripped metal. “The pair of you.”
Rose whined, “But he has three slices, Mum!”
“Well, you're late," Hermione said. "Why should we save you food when you don't even have the decency to Floo?”
Rose gawped at her mother, then turned to Bellatrix with wide, pleading eyes. “Trixie—“
Bellatrix didn’t even look up from her dinner when she said, “No.”
Rose knew by her tone that there was no point in arguing with her, so she flopped back in her chair and crossed her arms. “I said I was sorry. I didn’t mean to be late,” she wailed. “I’ll call next time, I promise. But Jenna was showing me her dress for her grandparent’s party and, oh my god, it’s gorgeous. It’s baby blue, with all these little sequins and ruffles around the sleeves, and I just had to try it on.”
“I’m sure you did,” Hermione said. “But was it worth your garlic bread?”
Rose pursed her lips in deep thought for a moment as her two great loves collided - her love of Bellatrix’s cooking and her love of fashion. "Yeah, I guess so,” she finally said. “It was a really pretty dress. Anyway, Jenna says she’s allowed to invite just one friend to the party, and she says it's me. So can I have a new dress? A really nice one. Pretty please?"
“Your wardrobe is practically bursting with really nice dresses, Rosie,” Hermione said. “Some of them you haven’t even worn yet.”
“But Mum! It’s a really important party - it’s Jenna’s grandparent’s Diamond Anniversary. That means they’ve been married for sixty years! And I’m the only friend Jenna gets to invite, so I have to look really pretty.”
“You mean you want a better dress than Jenna?” Hugo scoffed.
Rose glared at him. “No! I just want to look really nice. Mum and Trixie never do anything this exciting.” She sulked into her juice a little, then an idea struck her. “Oh! Hey, Mum! Why don’t you and Trixie have a party for your next wedding anniversary?”
Bellatrix choked on a mouthful of lasagna.
“I don’t think so, darling,” her mum said evasively as she helpfully patted Bellatrix’s back.
“Why not?” Rose frowned. “I could help you plan it all. I know exactly how it should go because Jenna told me everything about —“
“I really don’t think I’d have the time to —“
Rose rolled her eyes. “Merlin’s beard, Mum! I just said I’d help you.”
“Yeah!” Hugo agreed. “I could help too. Rosie can decorate, and I’ll deal with the food. We could have sandwiches and those little sausages on sticks.” He smiled excitedly down at his plate. “And garlic bread. We’ll need heaps of that.”
“Why are you so obsessed with garlic bread?” Rose scowled.
Hugo gawped at her as if she’d grown another head. “Why are you not obsessed with garlic bread?” he shot back.
Hermione glanced at Bellatrix for help, but the dark witch was still struggling for breath through her coughing fit, and Hermione pushed a glass of water into her hand before turning back to her children with a strained smile.
“It’s just not a good idea, darlings,” Hermione said, an air of finality to her tone as she went back to her dinner.
“But why?” Rose asked.
Hermione dropped her head into her palm, gave Bellatrix a pleading sideways glance through her fingers. But the dark witch hadn’t fully composed herself yet, and Hermione watched in dismay as she quickly excused herself from the table to refill her glass with more water from the tap.
“Yeah, why not?” Hugo wanted to know, his bottom lip sticking out in a petulant pout. “Don’t you want garlic bread?”
“Because…” Hermione took a breath, massaging her temples. “Because Trixie and I don’t have an anniversary.”
Hugo scoffed. “Don’t be silly, Mum. Everyone has a wedding anniversary.”
“They don’t if they’re not married,” Hermione sighed.
"But…but you are married," Rose said quietly, her voice small. “Aren’t you?”
Hermione shook her head gently. "No, darling, we’re not."
Rose blinked, mouth agape. “But…why?”
"Because some things are just private, Rosie.”
Rose tried to protest, “But —“
“But nothing,” Bellatrix cut in hoarsely, thumping her chest with her fist as she returned to the table. “This discussion is over. Now, eat your dinner.”
Rose hung her head to stare at her lasagna. It was probably cold by now, but she’d lost her appetite anyway. Dinner was finished in silence after that, and no one brought up the wedding issue again, except Bellatrix and Hermione kept looking at each other all serious and raising eyebrows like they were reading each other’s minds. That was always annoying, but right now it only made Rose feel like there was something very, very wrong, so she retreated to her bedroom the second she was excused from the table.
“I think there’s something wrong with Rosie,” Hermione announced when Bellatrix joined her in the bedroom that night.
“What you on about, woman?” Bellatrix asked, leaving a trail of clothes in her wake as she stripped off on her way to the bathroom.
Hermione swung her legs off the bed and stomped after her. “At dinner,” she snapped. “Did you see her face when I told her we weren’t married? Merlin, she looked traumatised.”
Bellatrix waved the comment aside. “You’re overreacting.”
“Am I?” Hermione countered. “Do you think she’s embarrassed?”
“Why on earth would she be embarrassed?”
“Because we’re not married!”
Bellatrix rolled her eyes. “Oh, don’t be ridiculous.”
“I’m not being ridiculous! I know when something is wrong with my — with our — child!”
Bellatrix glanced at Hermione with an amused half-smile. “You’re such a worryguts,” she tutted, but there was affection in her tone.
Hermione bristled, and said, “I most certainly am not.”
Bellatrix smile curved into a smirk. “Perhaps overprotective mother is more fitting then?”
Hermione glared at Bellatrix as she kicked the rest of her clothes away and tested the shower, stepping inside only when the water had reached her preferred temperature - somewhere between Fiendfyre and the core of the sun.
“I need more shampoo,” she called over the door.
“There’s plenty in there,” Hermione told her.
“It’s nearly empty,” Bellatrix insisted, sliding the shower door open a crack and throwing a bottle of Herbal Essences at her.
Hermione snatched the bottle off the floor and huffed. She probably could’ve washed her hair for the next week with what was left, but she opened the cupboard under the sink and pulled out a new bottle anyway, dropping it carelessly over the door.
“Oh, I’m sorry, love,” Hermione said innocently. “Did I hurt you?”
She didn’t need to see Bellatrix to know that the dark witch was probably scowling in delightful irritation. They didn’t speak after that, and she let Bellatrix shower in silence as the bathroom filled with steam while she pondered over the events of the evening. After what felt like an age, the shower finally shut off, leaving Hermione to wonder briefly if there was any hot water left for her.
When Bellatrix stepped out in all her wet glory, Hermione slung a fluffy grey towel at her without comment, smiling despite her irritation as she drank in every delicious inch of the dark witch, especially the way her generous breasts bounced up and down as she vigorously shook her hair. Her smile dropped with the towel when Bellatrix tossed it onto the floor, completely missing the laundry basket as she sauntered naked into their bedroom.
“Honestly,” Hermione muttered, shaking her head as she silently summoned all of Bellatrix’s discarded clothes and slam dunked them into the basket.
She heard a drawer open, the rustle of fabric, and a quietly murmured drying spell before Bellatrix reappeared in the bathroom door wearing a baggy t-shirt that hung off one shoulder. Her hair was tied back, frizzy as it always tended to be when she dried it with magic instead of the hair dryer, and she smelled like lemon and tea tree oil.
Hermione licked her lips.
She looked so beautiful, and Hermione wanted nothing more at that moment than to drag her into bed. Then Bellatrix opened her mouth and the urge to ravish her left her as quickly as it had appeared.
“Are you sleeping in the bathroom tonight or…”
Hermione pursed her lips. “No,” she huffed, and flicked off the bathroom light before crawling into bed.
Bellatrix slid in beside her, and asked, “Aren’t you going to shower?”
“No,” Hermione said again, wondering for the thousandth time since they’d gotten…together…how it was possible for one woman to be so fucking infuriating. Bellatrix merely shrugged and reached into her bedside drawer, digging around for a few moments until she pulled out a box of Ginger Newts.
Hermione’s eyes widened.
“Seriously?” she scowled. “You know how I feel about eating in bed.”
Bellatrix turned to her with a smirk and wiggled her eyebrows. “I thought you quite liked eating in bed?”
Hermione’s face streaked with colour. “I’m talking about the biscuits, Bellatrix!”
“So am I,” the dark witch said innocently, smirk curving into a grin as she bit the head off a Newt.
“You’re — oh my god — you’re getting crumbs everywhere!”
“Simmer down,” Bellatrix laughed. “I won’t leave any evidence.”
Hermione warned, “You better not.”
Bellatrix scoffed a laugh, spraying crumbs all over the duvet. “I thought when I moved in with you we’d compromised on certain matters?”
“Well this is not a matter on which we compromised on,” Hermione replied sternly. “I’m not willing to sleep or — or have sex with you when there’s crumbly remains of Newt all over the sheets.”
“What about non-crumbly foods?” Bellatrix asked. “If I recall you actually quite enjoyed the whipped cream.”
Ever since the whipped cream incident – good Godric, just thinking about the whipped cream incident did the most extraordinary things to her. Licking whipped cream off Bellatrix. Bellatrix licking whipped cream off her. She hadn’t been able to look at a trifle without blushing for weeks, never mind a cream doughnut. She shouldn’t have been looking at them at all, of course, because, you know, dieting.
“I don’t want to talk about the whipped cream,” Hermione ground out. “You’re being so unreasonable right now.”
Bellatrix giggled and patted Hermione’s head. “I know. It’s very entertaining.”
“Whatever,” Hermione’s mimicked.
Bellatrix just rolled her eyes at Hermione’s awful babyish tone and reached over for the book lying face down on her bedside table. Hermione cringed a little, if she’d told Bellatrix once she’d told her a thousand bloody times that leaving books like that ruined the spine. Nonetheless, she was pleased to see that Bellatrix was more than two-thirds of the way through Little House on the Prairie.
The Little House books had been a favourite of hers growing up. She hoped Bellatrix would continue with the series when she was finished, wondered what she’d say when she made it to These Happy Golden Years and found out that Laura Ingalls wore a black dress when she finally married Almanzo.
That part had always bothered her when she was a little girl, because why would anyone want to wear a black dress on their wedding day? It wasn’t until she was older when she realised that, for Laura and Almanzo, it wasn’t about the dress or the ceremony or the big church wedding, it was about the words that were spoken and the promises that they made to each other.
Bellatrix would get a kick out of that for sure, wearing a black wedding dress was something she’d most definitely do. She wasn’t going to tell her about Laura’s dress though. After all, she wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.
The thought seemed to strike a chord deep within her though, and thinking back to the conversations at dinner, she couldn’t help but ask, “Have you ever thought about it?”
Bellatrix didn’t look up from her book and, mouth full of Newt, mumbled, “About what?”
The dark witch stiffened but continued to read, only Hermione knew she wasn’t really reading because her eyes weren’t moving. Her dark brows were drawn in a frown as she chewed slowly, and for a long moment Hermione waited with bated breath, wondering what Bellatrix would say or if she’d even acknowledge her at all.
Eventually, Bellatrix swallowed, and murmured, “No.”
Hermione felt her heart clench in her chest. “No?” she asked.
“No,” Bellatrix repeated, louder this time.
“Oh.” Hermione looked away. “Right, okay.”
“Not for a long time,” Bellatrix added. Then she laughed as if she’d remembered something very funny, but it was a hollow sound. “At one time I was about ready to piss down both legs to get married, but now…”
Hopefully, Hermione asked, “Yes?”
“Now it’s…” Bellatrix snapped her book shut and shook her head. “Weddings are overrated.”
“Is that honestly what you think?”
“Weddings are nothing more than fraudulent displays of conspicuous consumption. The expense is ludicrous.”
“Says the woman with millions in her vault,” Hermione huffed.
“So what if I do? It’s a load of nonsense just to sign a piece of paper.” She turned to look at Hermione full on. “Who’s to say you can’t spend the rest of your life with someone just because you’re not married?”
Hermione bit her lip. “But hasn’t your…outlook on the situation changed?” she asked carefully, almost awkwardly, in a way she rarely was. Similar to a time not so very long ago when she’d asked Bellatrix if she was ‘sticking around’ after Rose and Hugo had asked her if they could keep Trixie forever.
“Why would it?” the dark witch asked.
“I just…” Hermione started, then thought better of it. “Never mind.”
“No, no,” Bellatrix shook her head. “What were you going to say?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Hermione insisted. “Really.”
“Spit it out, would you?”
Her tone was harsh, but her eyes were soft. So soft they seemed to strip something inside Hermione, crumbling whatever defences she’d hastily built until they seemed to dissolve completely under the intensity of the older witch’s dark gaze.
“I — I just thought…” Hermione trailed off, fiddled with her hands in her lap.
Well, she didn’t know what she’d thought exactly. All she knew was that she hadn’t sat down to dinner tonight adequately prepared to discuss the complexities of her relationship with Bellatrix, especially with her children. She’d long ago accepted that they were permanent. Bellatrix had come back - the height of declaration for her. To expect anything as traditional (or public) as vows was pushing it. And now she wished she hadn’t brought it up again, but the conversation during dinner had made her feel…perhaps off wasn’t the right word, but she was feeling some kind of way, and she didn’t like it.
She didn’t like it at all.
Bellatrix had clearly noticed, but Hermione wasn’t the best at addressing her feelings. Sometimes she’d rather keep things bottled up for the fear that she might be too direct. Her big mouth had been the reason it hadn’t worked out with her husband after all - but even though Ronald had apologised on numerous occasions over the years for that petty jibe, she still couldn’t help but think it was true. Although by now she should’ve known better than to feel scared with this woman, because after everything they’d been through together, there simply couldn’t be any sort of misunderstanding between them.
They were made to fit. Through their best and their worst. Like a lock and a key, they’d been perfect since the very beginning. Even if it had taken them both a while to truly see it. Six years of their lives, and they’d shared everything they could possibly share. Body, mind, soul. Future and past. Even Rose and Hugo. As long as time existed, Hermione knew they were meant to be together.
But tonight’s conversation made her wonder if Bellatrix felt the same way.
A soft touch on her hand made her jump, and she turned back to Bellatrix.
“You’re brooding, my love,” the dark witch said softly. “Will you tell me what’s wrong, or do I need to wait one or two more sighs before I can ask again?”
Hermione smiled a little, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “We’ve been together a long time, Bella,” she said quietly. “Six years, give or take a few months when you were…” She laughed, but even to her own ears it sounded strained. “When you were confused.”
“I was never confused,” Bellatrix replied, sounding mildly defensive. “I did what I thought was best at the time.”
Hermione smiled sadly. “I know, love. All I’m saying is that we’ve been together for a while and…“ She looked at Bellatrix head on. “Have you really never thought about it? About us, about our — our future?”
Bellatrix cocked a brow. “Are you asking? Asking me, I mean.”
“I guess that depends on if you’ll say yes or not,” Hermione told her, her voice barely a whisper.
Bellatrix hummed, then set her book and her biscuits aside, dropped a kiss onto Hermione’s shoulder, and the subject rested.
“Sleep well, darling.”
Sighing, Hermione mumbled a goodnight and settled down to sleep. There was no point in arguing with her, she knew Bellatrix too well by now as to expect an answer. It was obvious from the dark witch’s reaction that the subject had made her feel uncomfortable, so she let the conversation lie.
But as Bellatrix rolled over and promptly started snoring, Hermione struggled to switch off.
Didn’t Bellatrix want to get married? Or was she happy just existing in this limbo state of commitment? And even though Hermione believed it was a permanent limbo, this certainly wasn’t how she’d envisioned her life when she was younger. She’d always imagined that one day she would find the man of her dreams and get married in a perfect ceremony, wearing the most beautiful dress imaginable, then her and her new husband would toast to their future, sharing their joy with family and friends.
Then she reminded herself that she didn’t need to imagine, because three years after the War she’d lived out that fantasy in its entirety - with Ronald. It had been one of the happiest days of her life, second only to the birth of her children.
It had all went to shit rather quickly, of course.
When they married it just so happened they were also married to their work. She’d never seen Ronald so focused before, so driven, but then he quit the Auror programme seemingly on a whim and started helping George at the shop. Hermione stayed out of it. If Ronald was happy, then she was happy.
Only she wasn’t really happy.
She had to work longer and harder to make up for Ronald’s substantial drop in earnings, which meant more time in the office and less time with her young family. Maybe that’s where they went wrong. Maybe they shouldn't have split their lives in the middle, should’ve invested a bit more into one another and their children, should’ve tried harder. But Hermione kept quiet and kept working, kept coming home late, kept missing all of her children’s important milestones.
Their love was supposed to last forever.
For better or for worse.
Only they’d lost sight of that somewhere in between hectic work schedules and two children, and only when the cracks between them were too large did they realise they were there at all…
Hermione shook her head, trying to dislodge her thoughts, trying to remove the very idea from her mind. Over the years she’d found that it was best not to dwell on such things lest she wanted to wind herself up into a tizzy. She was happy again, and had been for a long time now. So why did she suddenly feel so…lost.
She sighed, watching Bellatrix sleep. Sometimes she couldn’t quite believe that she’d chosen this woman.
But had there really ever been a choice?
She’d heard that Bellatrix had been acquitted after the War, but had never once saw her until one day not long after the divorce had been finalised when three-year-old Hugo had managed to slip away in Diagon during an early morning shopping trip. Out of her mind with worry, Hermione had half-dragged little Rose behind her as she’d frantically searched the alley for her son, until she’d finally spotted him pushing through the Saturday morning throng, his face sticky and stained blue from the Sugar Quill he was sucking on, and his little hand wrapped around the finger of the woman he was happily dragging along behind him.
“Mummy,” he’d announced. “This is my new friend, Trixie.”
And from that moment, the moment she’d noticed Bellatrix, really noticed her, she’d been helpless to resist the attraction she’d felt for her - even as the dark witch had sneered at her and warned her to keep her offspring on a tighter leash.
The children had been oblivious to the tension between the two adults as they slung whispered insults back and forth for several minutes. Five-year-old Rose, who’d been a little more reserved than her brother back then, had hidden behind Hermione’s cloak, daring the occasional curious peek at the dark witch. Whereas Hugo incessantly tugged at Bellatrix’s arm the whole way through their heated exchange until she’d crouched down in front of him with a surprisingly patient, “What is it, Puddin’?”
“We’re going to the zoo,” Hugo informed her.
Bellatrix smiled brightly. “Are you now?”
Hermione rose a brow and stared at Hugo. This was news to her. “Yes, are we?”
“You said we could go to the zoo,” Hugo accused.
“Yes, sometime,” Hermione tried to reason. “But not today. I have errands to run.”
Bellatrix snorted as Hugo began to fuss, and she turned to go. “I’ll leave you to it, Mrs Weasley...”
Hermione snapped, “It’s Miss Granger actually!”
“Ah, yes,” Bellatrix sneered, then her voice dropped to a whisper so the children wouldn’t hear. “The divorce…”
She trailed off, allowing the statement to hang in the air, a big black stain of accusation.
“Yes,” Hermione replied without shame.
Bellatrix hummed, lips pursed in a thin line. She looked unimpressed, probably because she didn’t quite get the reaction she was expecting, but Hermione stood her ground.
“Please, Mummy,” Hugo implored. “Please can we go to the zoo? Trixie can fly us there on her Firebolt.”
“No,” Hermione replied quickly. “Now, say goodbye to —“
“But whyyyyyy?” Hugo whined.
“Because I don’t have a Firebolt,” Bellatrix told him. “And even if I did, I’d have to make three trips. We couldn’t all fit on at once, could we, Puddin’?”
“I s’pose…” Hugo sulked.
Then Bellatrix winked at him and ruffled his red curls. “But I have a car.”
“See, Mummy!” Hugo cried elatedly. “Trixie can drive us!”
“No, she can’t,” Hermione insisted, and reached for Hugo’s hand, pulling him towards her.
Bellatrix pouted, tugged Hugo back against her side. “Why can’t I?”
“Because,” Hermione ground out, feeling more frazzled by the second. “I’m sure you have better things to do on a Saturday than drive us to the zoo.”
Bellatrix lifted her shoulder in a lazy half-shrug. “Nothing that can’t wait.”
“I don’t know what you’re playing at,” Hermione warned in a hushed tone. “But —“
“Oh, please, Mummy! Please, please, please!” Hugo begged, then he started tugging at Bellatrix’s hand again. Honestly, it was a wonder he hadn’t pulled her whole damn arm out of its socket. But she just stood there as Hugo clutched at her. “What’s your favouritest animal, Trixie?”
“Giraffes,” she said, the faintest hint of challenge in her dark eyes as her gaze lingered on Hermione for a moment longer than was strictly polite.
Rose, who’d been quiet until then, gasped at the mention of giraffes, and stepped around her mother to stare up at Bellatrix, although she was still clinging to her leg, using her as a human shield from the dark stranger who’d rescued her brother.
“Giraffes are my favourite too!” she informed Bellatrix. “Will there really be giraffes at the zoo?”
“I hope so,” Bellatrix smiled, a genuine smile that showed all her straight pearly white teeth, a smile that had yet to be aimed at Hermione. “And lions, and tigers, and bears too.”
“Oh, my,” Hermione deadpanned.
“Let’s go, Trixie.” Hugo tugged at her hand. “I wanna see the tigers.”
“I’m sure Madame Bla — ah — Trixie has better things to do than follow us around the zoo,” Hermione tried again.
Bellatrix smirked. “Like I said, nothing that can’t wait.”
Then two pairs of wide, pleading eyes looked up at her - Rose’s brown like hers, Hugo’s blue like Ronald’s - and Hermione knew she had to do this. She had to let them have their way, because she knew the last several months had been horrible for them. The constant bickering with their father, the upset, the tears and the tantrums, the shunting backwards and forwards between houses every other weekend.
A day looking at animals was the very least she could do for her children - even if it meant Bellatrix bloody Black had to join them.
Hermione smiled softly to herself as the memory faded.
They laughed about it now.
They laughed at how ridiculously petty they’d both been that day, and they laughed at the squeak of outrage Hermione had made when Bellatrix had bundled the children into a silver Mercedes abandoned on double yellow lines near Charing Cross Station.
They laughed because Hermione had never in a million years believed that Bellatrix had been telling the truth about owning a car - or that she could drive one for that matter - and they laughed because Bellatrix had hurriedly snatched the parking ticket off the windshield and stuffed it into the glove compartment along with about fifty crumpled others.
They laughed because the children had talked nonstop during the thirty-minute drive, and they laughed because the front seat was silent, Hermione trying not to slump into a sulk at having to spend the day with Bellatrix.
They laughed because Hermione had forbidden fizzy drinks and sweet treats when they’d finally reached the zoo, and they laughed because Bellatrix completely ignored her and bought the children ice cream and candy floss anyway.
They laughed because the children were so high on sugar that they’d practically bounced from enclosure to enclosure, completely oblivious to the atmosphere between their accompanying adults.
They’d spent most of the day like that. Rose and Hugo dictating the order in which they saw the animals, Bellatrix and her taking every opportunity to snipe at each other in hushed tones. In the car back home, the children, who had yet to come down from their sugar rush and wanted to cram as much excitement into their day as possible, had suggested a picnic in the park.
“How about we save the picnic for another time, darlings?” Hermione replied tiredly. “We can have a mini one when we get home.”
At home, she could rid herself of the woman next to her.
“Oh, okay,” Rose replied, disappointment in her voice.
Immediately, Hugo asked, “Can Trixie come?”
“If she wants to,” Hermione sighed, knowing she would. Knowing it would be too much to hope for Bellatrix to just slink away. And when she darted a quick sidelong glance at the dark witch, saw the smirk curling at the edges of her smug mouth, Hermione knew she was going to draw this out as long as possible.
“Do you want to come to our picnic at home?” Rose asked hopefully.
Bellatrix’s dark eyes flicked to the rearview mirror, and her face once again lit up with a genuine smile. “That would be lovely, thank you, Rosie,” she said.
Hermione groaned inwardly.
When they finally reached home, Hermione busied herself in the kitchen making sandwiches while Bellatrix and the children sat around the dining room table playing. Hugo got Bellatrix to inspect his collection of toy dinosaurs while Rose shyly paraded around in various princess gowns from her dress up box. Next, Hugo dragged out some paper and his red plastic bucket of pens and pencils, and they drew pictures of the animals they’d seen at the zoo.
In the depth of their playing, the picnic was forgotten. Hermione left a tray of sandwiches and fruit, and a jug of orange cordial beside them on the table, and flopped onto the sofa with a book. Every so often she’d glance up, see the three of them: Bellatrix, a grown woman, bent forwards, coloured pen in hand, concentrating on her drawing; Rose and Hugo, her two tiny treasures, concentrating just as hard on their works of art.
Bellatrix was taking this seriously. She’d thrown herself into playing with her children with the same intensity she would devise a plot to take over the world. Had she been anyone else, her interest would’ve been endearing to Hermione, but because it was her, Hermione decided it was nice that Rose and Hugo had someone their own mental age to play with.
The second the clock struck eight Hermione snapped her book shut and abruptly stood. “All right, bedtime, darlings.”
“Do we have to?” Rose whined, before letting out a huge yawn.
“Yes,” Hermione said simply, then she turned to Bellatrix. “You’ll have to go. Now.”
“Fine,” Bellatrix said, sounding just as petulant as Rose as she put down her orange pen with a pout.
“Will you come back tomorrow?” Rose asked, rubbing at her tired eyes with her fist.
“If I’m allowed to,” Bellatrix replied.
Three sets of eyes shifted to Hermione, and she pursed her lips.
“Time’s ticking on,” she said, tapping her watch while neatly sidestepping the issue. “Teeth, pyjamas, and bed. Let’s go.”
“You hafta ask mummy if you can come back tomorrow, Trixie,” Hugo informed Bellatrix.
“Is it all right if I come back tomorrow?” Bellatrix asked, pinning Hermione with her intense dark eyes.
“If you’ve really got nothing better to do,” Hermione muttered, not prepared for the tantrums that would ensue if she were to outright say no.
“Nothing that can’t wait,” Bellatrix confirmed.
At the time it had been one of the very worst days of her life, but thinking back on it now, it had really been the start of something truly special. Her children had fun that day, probably the first bit of fun they’d had since their father left - because of Bellatrix. They’d taken to her almost instantly, and from that moment on they’d decided they wanted to keep her around.
Love at first sight.
That’s the only way Hermione could think to describe it. She remembered thinking that maybe there was some good in the dark witch, that somewhere beneath her arrogance and her snobbery there might’ve been a decent person. One that she could warm to. Because if her children liked her, then maybe she could too.
The seeds had been planted that day, had been watered when Bellatrix had accompanied them home for dinner, and had started sprouting roots in the days and weeks that followed, green shoots pushing through the earth, the feeling between the four of them growing and growing, eventually blossoming into an orchid of love and respect.
The children adored Bellatrix. Hugo had worshipped her from the very start, but Rose had taken a little more time to fully warm up to her. In the end they’d developed an intense bond. When Ronald had left, it had been hard on all of them. Rose especially. She’d closed herself off at such an early age that Hermione was terrified in case she never fully opened up again. But when Bellatrix arrived on the scene, Hermione started to see her little girl again. She was glad that Rose had someone to connect with, even if it wasn’t herself.
The two of them had become so close over the years that they even had inside jokes with each other. Rose, sitting on Bellatrix’s shoulders or in her lap, whispering secrets to each other that made them both giggle. It had annoyed her at first, but Hermione had learned early on that her daughter had a very strange sense of humour that she herself didn’t always understand, so it was a miracle that Bellatrix did.
Rose was too big to sit on Bellatrix’s lap now, but they still shared their little secrets. Sometimes their hysterics would make Hugo pout, her little boy never quite getting the joke, but Bellatrix would just laugh all the more and pull him in for a hug to make him feel better. It always worked, and seeing Bellatrix smiling so brightly with her children wrapped around her always made Hermione’s heart swell to the point of bursting. What mattered to her above anything else was her children’s happiness, and she would always be endlessly thankful that Bellatrix was able to give that to them.
Bellatrix loved them so much,
She loved Hermione too, and told her every day, yet even after all these years it was still hard for her friends to understand the dynamics of their relationship.
She supposed she couldn’t really blame them.
There were no flowers on Valentine's Day, rarely a card on her birthday, no little gifts ‘just because’. Early on she’d let her feelings get hurt by Bellatrix’s careless disregard for such things, but she’d come to realise that she was looking for the dark witch’s appreciation in the wrong things. Purchased trifles were meaningless to a Pureblooded witch who’d wanted for nothing all her privileged life, merely cheap substitutes for action, and Bellatrix, above all else, was a woman of action.
So Hermione had learned to look for Bellatrix’s affection in other ways - the heat in her eyes that meant she wanted her now, the wandering caresses that told Hermione that Bellatrix never tired of discovering her body, the long evenings she spent helping Hugo with his homework, the silly fights she’d pick when she wanted Hermione’s attention, the moist-eyed ‘thank you’ she’d murmured when Hermione had surprised her with a lopsided birthday cake that Rose had helped her decorate.
And even though there were things she lived without that would probably appall other wives, Hermione knew exactly what she’d won with Bellatrix. A partner to help raise her children, a lover to keep her satisfied, a foil for her anger, a woman who loved her beyond measure.
And Gods, did Hermione love her too.
She loved her more than she’d ever loved anyone before.
So why had her dark beauty looked like she’d rather pass a kidney stone than discuss marriage?
The niggling question wouldn't leave her alone until she had her answer - Rodolphus Lestrange.
His name was a taboo in their household. Hermione had been warned never to speak of him. Not that she had any reason to talk about Bellatrix’s late husband anyway. He was dead and gone, and had been for years.
But the scars he’d left on Bellatrix’s heart still lingered.
As far as she was aware, there hadn’t been a proposal, and what had been arranged as a good marriage by their parents had turned out to be a long and unhappy one. Bellatrix had grown accustomed to her husband's lack of diligence and the freedom that his lax manner had given her; the emptiness of her married life in all things.
So Hermione didn’t particularly blame Bellatrix for being skittish about marriage. Hermione remembered the one and only time Bellatrix had spoken about Rodolphus, she’d had one too many glasses of red wine after the children had went to bed, and she’d told Hermione how, for years, she’d always thought that she’d had some sort of anxiety disorder, until he’d died, and she’d realised her agitation was solely caused by her husband.
Was it possible her first marriage had traumatised her so much that she was reluctant to commit fully again?
But even though she had everything she could ever want, she couldn’t help but think it would be nice to get married again. She didn’t particularly care about the dress or the ceremony or big church wedding.
But it would be nice to be Mrs Hermione…whatever.
Frustrated, she groaned into her pillow and closed her eyes, determined to sleep and find some solace from her troubled thoughts.
”What’s the matter, Trixie?” Rose asked.
“It’s nothing, darling,” Bellatrix replied, avoiding her eyes.
“Mum always says that when there’s something wrong,” Rose admonished.
“Okay. Okay, there is…something,” Bellatrix admitted softly. Rose’s heart stopped; she didn’t like the sound of this. “I have to — I have to go away.”
“Go away where?” Rose asked. “Are you going on a trip? Can we come with you?”
Bellatrix shook her head. “Rose,” she struggled to say, choking on her name. She tried again, clearing her throat. “Rosie, please listen.”
Rose sniffed piteously and tilted her head to look up at Bellatrix, brown eyes impossibly wide. “Where are you going?”
“Rosie, darling, sweetheart…”
“Trixie?” Rose implored, feeling panic rising in her chest.
Bellatrix gave her a wobbly smile. “I’m sorry, Rosie. I —“
Rose asked, “When are you coming back?”
Anguish flew across Bellatrix’s face as she reached out, tucking a strand of red hair behind Rose’s ear. “I’m not coming back, darling. I wish I could stay but I can’t. I’m sorry.”
Rose’s face fell even further into misery. “Don’t you love us anymore?”
“Of course I do,” Bellatrix replied. “I love you and your brother very, very much.”
“I don’t want you to go,” Rose said, her voice without hope.
“I don’t want to go either,” Bellatrix whispered. “But I have to.”
The corners of Rose’s mouth turned down and she fiddled with her fingers in her lap. She was trying really, really hard not to cry.
“Okay, darling,” Bellatrix eventually said. “I have to leave. I have to go now.”
“And you’re really never coming back?” Rose asked.
“No. But I’ll always be here, all right?” Bellatrix placed her palm against Rose’s chest. “No matter where I go, with or without you, I’m always right here.”
Rose placed her own tiny palm on top of Bellatrix’s hand, catching Bellatrix’s fingers against her chest. “P-p-promise?” she stuttered out.
“I promise. And you know I always keep my promises.”
Rose nodded meekly. “I still don’t want you to go,” she muttered stubbornly.
“I don’t want to go either. But it’s for the best, all right, darling? You’ll see me again. Someday, I’ll come back.”
“Okay,” Rose said sadly, not believing a word of it.
Bellatrix closed her eyes as she hugged her. Rose clutched at her, wrapping her arms as far around Bellatrix’s torso as she could get, secretly hoping that she would stay if she held onto her tightly enough. But when Bellatrix finally untangled herself, Rose could see that her eyes were glistening. She kissed Rose on the forehead and forced a smile.
“Bye, Rosie. Rose. Bye. I love you.”
“Bye, Trixie,” Rose whispered.
And then she was gone.
Trixie was gone.
And the feeling that had began as a small nugget of pain in her chest started to expand, growing bigger and bigger until it was a huge choking ball of agony.
She was gone.
She’d left them.
Just like daddy had left them.
Only this felt so much worse.
She saw daddy at weekends, but she was never going to see Trixie again.
Never going to hold her hand. Or share ice cream. Or go to the park. Or plait each other’s hair. Or just sit with her and watch cartoons.
Her body lurched as the first wave of tears came spilling forth, pain coursing through her body in painful waves, until she was weeping freely. Hermione was leaning against the wall, face in her hand, shoulders shaking, and Rose knew she was crying too. Ron walked up to her and placed a hand on her arm, but Hermione shrugged him off.
“I’ll never forgive you for this, Ronald Weasley,” Hermione whispered viciously.
“It’s for the best,” he said, his voice hard.
Rose barely heard the exchange, too busy trying to process the overwhelming grief rippling through her. “Trixie,” she sobbed quietly, then louder, “Trixie!”
It was a scream, an exclamation of fear, and she choked another sob as big fat tears rolled down his cheeks. Ron was at her side in an instant.
“That enough, Rosie,” Ron said firmly.
“I — I want Trixie!” Rose sobbed. “I w-want her to c-come back!”
“She’s not coming back.”
“YOU’RE A LIAR!” Rose suddenly shouted, and Ron recoiled at the volume of her voice. She scrambled out from under the covers and leapt off the bed. “You’re a liar, Daddy. Tell her to come back. Tell Trixie to come back!”
“I’m so sorry, darling,” Hermione said quietly.
“I want Trixie!” Rose screamed. “I want Trixie!”
Hermione sunk into a chair like a slowly deflating balloon as Rose stood in the middle of the floor, her pyjamas hanging off her thin body, flinging her arms up and down and stamping her feet, screaming.
“Rosie,” Ron warned sternly. “Rosie, stop it.”
But Rose didn’t hear him. She just kept screaming and she couldn’t stop.
“I WANT TRIXIE, I WANT TRIXIE, I WANT TRIXIE!”
Ron slipped his arms around her even though she fought him, hitting out with her tiny fists, each of them connecting with his body but not enough to hurt.
“I WANT TRIXIE, I WANT TRIXIE, I WANT TRIXIE!”
She bucked and twisted, as wild and vicious as a cornered animal, but Ron held onto her.
“LET ME GO!" she seethed, chopping at his hands. "LET ME GO! LET ME GO!”
“You’re better off without her, Rosie,” Ron tried, gritting his teeth against her onslaught. “You’ll thank me one day. You’ll — ow — she’s bad for you. She’s bad for all of you.”
“I don't want to speak to you ever again!"
Rose thrashed some more, still screaming, but Ron continued to hold onto her until her rage subsided, and she went limp in his arms. Her head flopped back onto his chest, finally exhausted from crying and yelling and begging for Bellatrix.
“You’ve still got me,” Ron said, his face red and sour with guilt as he held her close, gently patting her back.
“Don’t want you,” Rose whispered in a tiny, hoarse voice. “Want Trixie.”
“You have no idea what you’ve done, Ronald,” Hermione said venomously.
A strangled gasp tore from Rose’s throat, and she woke with a start, sitting bolt upright in bed, “Trixie!” echoing in her ears as the fading memory teased at the edges of her unconsciousness.
She clutched tightly at the quilt with trembling hands, brown eyes flitting around as her chest heaved with uneven breaths. She shook her head, tried to find her bearings as panic completely seized her racing mind. It wasn’t until her eyes adjusted to the dark and familiar shapes came into focus that she realised where she was - in her bedroom, with Hugo next door, and Trixie and her mum down the hall, safe and sound.
She inhaled deeply, tried to calm her thundering heart, and exhaled a long, wavering breath. Slowly, she released her death grip on her duvet, hands still shaking, and wrapped her arms around herself.
“You’re okay…it’s okay,” she whispered to herself, though her voice quivered. “You’re okay…everything’s fine…”
It was a feeble attempt at consoling herself, but she found that she felt better when she tried to fill the defeating silence around her, even with her own voice.
“You’re okay…it was just a nightmare,” she told herself. “Trixie’s here…everyone’s here…everything’s fine.”
Except everything wasn’t fine.
The nightmare that had woken her was less bad dream and more flashback. Everything she’d dreamt had really happened to her, and that’s what made it difficult to separate reality from fiction. But the memory was still crystal clear in Rose’s mind. She could still smell the perfume Bellatrix had been wearing that day; light, citrusy, and floral. But instead of calming her, the familiar scent was making her blood run cold with fear.
Thoughts still racing, Rose dug her fingernails into her arms, scratching herself hard enough to make herself bleed, but she was so numb physically from her own terror she barely registered the sting of pain.
“Stop thinking about it…stop thinking about it…”
Of course, it was impossible to stop thinking about it once she’d started. The scenes from her nightmare, scenes she’d lived through, had been seared into the back of her mind for the last six years, and their impact never diminished. Even when Rose wasn’t thinking about that day, even when her mind was sufficiently distracted by the Quaffle in her hands or the novel in her lap, something always forced her to glance back in time, and suddenly, she was that same little girl watching Bellatrix abandon her, over and over and over again.
She’d never understood her dreams, never understood why she was still haunted by that particular memory, but after the conversation at the dinner last night, she had a pretty good idea about what had triggered her suffocating anxiety.
They weren’t married.
Bellatrix and her mum weren’t married, and the thought made Rose feel…weird, like something bad was going to happen, and yet, another small part of her told her she was being irrational and needed to calm down. But right now, all she could think about was Bellatrix - Trixie - the best person in the world, and her leaving again.
The very worst thing Rose could imagine.
Rose had never even thought to ask if they were married or not. Sure they acted like an old married couple, but in all the years that Bellatrix had been a part of their family, it had never once occurred to her that Bellatrix and her mum hadn’t actually tied the knot despite Rose recognising them both as her mothers.
And while she knew that not all adults decided to get married, it didn’t sit right with her that Bellatrix and her mum hadn’t. Because what was the point of life if you didn’t? Every adult she knew was married. Her dad was married to their stepmum. Uncle Harry was married to Aunt Ginny. Uncle Bill was married to Aunt Fleur. Her grandparents were married. All her friends’ parents were married.
It made her wonder...
If Bellatrix and her mum weren’t married, did that mean that they didn’t love each other as much as they said they did? Did they know they weren’t going to be together forever, so they didn’t bother going through with it?
When Bellatrix had left before, everyone had been upset; dad was shouting again, mum was sad, Hugo was crying a lot. It was a horrible time. But then Bellatrix came back, and her mum had asked her if she would be ‘sticking around’ this time.
And she had stuck around.
She’d stuck around for six years.
But maybe that’s why Bellatrix didn’t want to get married, because she knew that one day she wouldn’t want to stick around anymore…
At precisely 10am the next day, the doorbell rang.
Rose didn’t need to go downstairs to know who it was.
With divorced parents, Rose’s biweekly routine was one that saw her spend her time in two houses. Every second Saturday, her father would arrive and Side-Along her and Hugo to his house in Devon where they would spend the weekend with him and their stepmum, Lavender. On Monday morning, their father would Side-Along them to school in time for Breakfast Club before leaving for work, and when the bell rang at 3:15, Trixie would be there to pick them up in her old Mercedes, often stopping for after school ice cream (which their mother didn’t know about), before driving them back to the home they shared in London.
Usually, Rose loved her weekends with her dad. He always had something exciting planned for them. They went camping in the summer and spent rainy days with her grandparents at the Burrow, and with Quidditch season right around the corner, she was looking forwards to spending some quality time with her equally Quidditch daft cousins at the matches her Aunt Ginny always invited them to.
But she didn’t feel much like having company today.
She didn’t feel much like anything.
She just felt numb.
Numb and exhausted, and she couldn’t even entertain the notion of leaving her bed after such a troublesome sleep. So when Hermione came up to her bedroom to see what was taking her so long, Rose did the first thing she could think of and feigned a cough, she even fake blew her nose into a handkerchief for added effect.
Rose sensed that her mum wasn’t at all convinced by her excuse to stay home, and her dad sounded less than thrilled when Hermione went back downstairs to tell him that Rose wouldn’t be joining him and Hugo for the weekend, but after Bellatrix hissed something she couldn’t quite decipher, the front door was promptly slammed shut. Rose was minimally relieved the exchange hadn’t escalated into an argument, her parents were always cordial with one another, but sometimes her father struggled to keep a civil tongue in his head when Bellatrix was present - hence the reason he didn’t come in the house anymore and preferred to collect them at the front door - but it still did nothing to lessen the guilt she felt for jilting her father. She hoped he wouldn’t be too upset.
But knowing her dad, she knew he would be.
Hermione wandered in and out of her bedroom several times throughout the day, sometimes to offer her soup and biscuits and other tasty treats that Rose regretfully declined in order to keep up the pretence of being ill, sometimes to offer her medicine, but mostly to incessantly fuss over her. She didn’t much mind her mum’s mother henning when she was actually sick, but after having her pillows plumped for the fourth or fifth time it became too much, and when her mother next swooped in, wrapping her arm around her shoulders and hitting her with a series of carefully crafted inquiries as to what might be 'bothering her' or 'on her mind’, Rose knew she wasn’t fooling anyone with her bogus cold.
Bellatrix, at least, had stopped pushing for her company after only a few attempts to entice her downstairs.
She was good like that.
From a young age, Rose had always preferred to go to Bellatrix for advice or support, even though she had a sneaky suspicion that doing so sometimes hurt her mum’s feelings. She never meant any ill intent by it, but for Rose, Bellatrix just seemed to understand her better. More specifically, Rose appreciated not having to divulge every single detail about what was troubling her to Bellatrix. Whereas her mum nagged and nagged until they eventually butted heads.
Bellatrix was the very best sort of person.
She’d burst into their lives at a time when they hadn’t even realised that they’d needed her most. She’d always been so vibrant, so spirited, and so funny. They’d all found her absolutely amazing - even her mum, who’d pretended not to like her very much at first. Bellatrix had loved them fiercely, so big and so loud, and she’d changed all their lives forever. Rose had always been thankful for Bellatrix and the unbelievably bright light she’d brought into her family’s life, and for all that she’d given them.
So it was upsetting for Rose, to imagine having to be away from her. Bellatrix had always been such a constant in her life, her teacher, her paragon, her protector, her…her bonus mum. And she didn’t dare think about what would happen to them if Bellatrix decided to leave again.
But the mere thought of exposing her fears to Bellatrix now entirely unsettled her, yet she knew the dark witch was the only one who could help her.
Shaking her head, she tried to dislodge the tumultuous thoughts racing through her head, and reached for her iPod, selecting a playlist with some quiet, acoustic type music that would hopefully calm her frazzled nerves. Intent on just zoning out for a bit and forgetting the whole thing, she flopped back against her pillow and closed her eyes. But after only a few minutes, the fear and the doubt began to creep back in, tearing into her mind like a predator.
She grabbed her phone.
Can you come up here for a sec??
Then she though for a moment, and quickly added.
Just you though.
Less than a minute later, the creak of stairs met her ears, followed by the thwip, thwip of flip-flops marching down the hall. A quite knock came next, and Rose sucked in a shaky breath as the door was pushed open without waiting for an answer.
“What’s wrong, Rosie?”
“I don’t know,” Rose answered quietly. “I just…”
“Just what, love?” Bellatrix asked slowly, closing the door and perching on the end of the bed. “What’s going on with you, hm?”
Bellatrix laughed softly. “You know, Mum always says that when—“
“When there’s something wrong,” Rose finished, sighing. “I know, I know.”
“So tell me what’s bothering you. Why’re you avoiding us?”
“I’m not avoiding anyone,” Rose insisted, pursing her lips.
“Really?” Bellatrix cocked her head, studying Rose’s tight-lipped expression. “Well, it sure feels that way. You’ve been hiding in your room all day.”
“I haven’t been hiding,” Rose protested. “I have a cold.”
“Sure you do,” Bellatrix said, rolling her eyes. “You would’ve been more convincing if you’d eaten one of your uncle’s silly Puking Pastille things.”
“My throats killing me,” Rose insisted, smothering a hacking couch behind her fist. “And I have a fever.”
“We ordered pizza.”
Rose’s hand dropped as her mouth went slack. “You…you guys had pizza? But you never order in.”
“Ah, well,” Bellatrix said, wagging a playful finger. “We only order in when you and your brother go to your father’s.” She leaned in, a devilish smirk on her face as she whispered, “That way we don’t have to share.”
Rose’s eyes popped. “You — you’re right gits, did you know that? I don’t believe this.”
Bellatrix kept smiling, but her voice was laced with concern when she said, “You haven’t eaten a thing all day.”
“I am kind of hungry,” Rose confessed, and, as if on cue, her stomach gave an almighty rumble.
Looking pleased, Bellatrix said, “I was hoping you’d say that.”
She pulled her wand from its hiding place amongst the messy bun she favoured on weekends and reached into the pocket of her loose joggers, withdrawing something small into her palm. Upon resizing it with a nonverbal Engorgio, Rose’s lips stretched into a broad grin, and she scooted back against the headboard, snatching the pizza box greedily from Bellatrix’s hand.
“Thanks, Trixie,” Rose said appreciatively, immediately taking a huge bite of pizza without any coaxing.
“Don’t tell your brother, I’ll never hear the end of it.”
“As if,” Rose scoffed around a mouthful of cheese and pepperoni.
Bellatrix watched as she practically inhaled her dinner, relieved that she hadn’t completely lost her appetite. Still, it wasn’t like Rose to miss meals, and her dark brows drew together as she gave the young girl a cursory once over.
“So…” Bellatrix reclined casually on the bed, leaning on her elbow as Rose continued to devour her pizza. “Care to share what’s on your mind, love?”
“I…” Rose paused to swallow, suddenly appearing a touch paler than before. “It doesn’t matter. It’s silly.”
Bellatrix’s lips curved into a smirk. That sounded eerily similar to someone else she loved who didn’t enjoy discussing her emotions. Rose looked and acted more and more like her mother every day, from her doe-like brown eyes to the way she poked her tongue out just a little when she was thinking too hard, it was little surprise she sounded just like Hermione.
"Try me," she encouraged gently, reaching out to tuck a few strawberry blonde curls behind Rose's ear.
Rose pushed the pizza box away and began to fiddle with the cord of her earphones in her lap. She looked like she was trying to figure out how to open up, or maybe where to begin, and Bellatrix couldn’t help but frown a little, because Rose had never had a problem talking to her.
“Rosie, whatever it is, you know you can tell me, right?”
Rose bit her lip. “I know,” she muttered, but she didn’t sound too convincing. Then she looked down into her lap at her fidgeting hands. “Promise you won’t get mad?”
Bellatrix’s eyebrows shot up. “Why on earth would I get mad?”
“I just…” Rose continued to anxiously fiddle with her earphones, chewing her lip as she looked to be gathering courage to speak. Bellatrix desperately wanted to hold her hands still and encourage her, but something about the girl’s demeanour told her that Rose needed to get through this by herself. After an excruciating few moments, Rose finally looked at her, an unknown emotion brimming in her eyes.
“Why aren’t you and Mum married?” she finally asked.
Bellatrix closed her eyes.
Not this again.
“Rose,” she sighed.
“It’s just, ever since our conversation last night…” Rose looked down again, clenching and unclenching her hands into fists. “I — I’ve tried not to let it bother me, but — it’s just…”
Rose trailed off, and that’s when the dam broke, a single tear trickling down her pale cheek. Bellatrix’s heart ached. After six years of raising her, it didn’t matter how many times she’d seen her cry, it didn’t stop Bellatrix from wanting to take away all the things that hurt her. Children had never been on the agenda, but Rose and Hugo had given Bellatrix another purpose, a new lease of life. They’d been the reason she’d made it official with Hermione, too. And whether they knew it or not, they’d done so much for her. So it pained her to see Rose like this because of them .
Is our little family too odd for her?
Have we not done enough?
Are we not enough?
“It’s just — I mean, you love each other, right? You and Mum?” Rose asked after a long silence, and Bellatrix realised that she’d yet to answer. “I — I just need to know if — are you leaving, Trixie?”
Bellatrix blinked, her mouth falling open. The weight of Rose’s words felt like a bludger to the gut, momentarily winding her as she was taken back to that five-year-old, asking why she was leaving and if she was ever coming back. However, Rose was no longer that five-year-old. She was now a clever, thoughtful eleven-year-old seeking the truth, and she was so ready for it, even if Bellatrix wasn’t.
“Please say that you — I don’t want you to leave again, Trixie. Please, please don’t leave. I don’t — you can’t — not again.”
Bellatrix noted her use of again, and she couldn’t help but feel guilty.
So, so, guilty.
A fresh wave of tears cascaded down Rose’s cheeks, and that’s when Bellatrix finally understood what was happening.
Rose was afraid.
She was terrified that the little family they’d built over the years was going to disappear right before her very eyes. Hermione was right to be concerned last night, and Bellatrix felt like an absolute fool for not taking her fears more seriously. And even though Rose had been very young when her father had left, Bellatrix had come and gone so quickly afterwards, and it was obvious the ordeal had left a deep-seated trauma in her heart for a very long time.
Rose had been through so much at such a young age, and Bellatrix had been naive to think that she’d overcome it so quickly. Wordlessly, Bellatrix reached for the sobbing child and pulled her into a warm hug. Rose clung to her, reminiscent of the way she used to whenever she’d awoken in the middle of the night with a nightmare.
“Your mother and I have loved each other for a very long time,” Bellatrix started, dropping a kiss into Rose’s hair. “And just because we’re not married doesn’t mean that’s ever going to change.”
But that only made Rose sob harder.
“Rose,” Bellatrix softly said, and gently tipped the sobbing girl’s face towards her. “Rosie, look at me.”
Rose gazed up at her from beneath flaxen lashes, a whole world of hurt swirling in her eyes.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Bellatrix reassured her. “Is that honestly what you think? That I’d just wake up one morning and decide to leave?”
“You did before,” Rose rasped.
Bellatrix flinched, like she’d been slapped in the face.
“Things were different then,” she muttered, smoothing a few red curls away from Rose’s face.
“How were they different?” Rose demanded, voice thick with tears. “How — why did you leave? You’ve never told me why.”
“Because…” Bellatrix said quietly, watching the flurry of emotions pass over Rose’s face. “Because some people weren’t…happy.”
“Some people,” Rose echoed. “You mean Dad?”
Bellatrix’s lips thinned, and she nodded stiffly. “Yes. And…others.”
Do you want a list? Bellatrix thought bitterly.
Bellatrix dragged a hand down her face in exasperation. “Why, why, why. So many why’s. Is that your favourite word?”
“Bloody hell, Trixie! Just answer my questions, would you?” Rose said, a distinct edge to her tone.
“Oi!” Bellatrix narrowed her eyes reproachfully, pointing a finger at her in warning. “Don’t get fresh.”
Rose hung her head, suitably chastised. “Sorry,” she hiccuped. “I just want to understand. This has been bothering me for a really long time.”
Bellatrix pinched her brow and sighed. “I get it, Rosie. I really do. I understand why you — why you’d feel like —“ She shook her head, hated the way her voice wavered with each word. Where was that Black self-assuredness she’d always prided himself on? “Look, I did some…things, all right? During the War. Things I’m not proud of. Things that a lot of people still haven’t forgiven me for, and—“
Rose’s watery eyes widened. “Are you, like, a serial killer or something?”
Bellatrix huffed a laugh, but couldn’t meet Rose’s eyes.
If only she knew.
“No,” she said. “No, no. But there was bad blood between us, your mother and I, and — look, I fell in love, all right? I met you mother, and I fell in love. I fell in love with you, and Hugo, and —“
Rose pulled a face and, despite herself, Bellatrix couldn’t help but chuckle at her thoroughly disgusted and uncomfortable expression.
“When people found out about — no, listen.” She leaned into Rose and wrapped her arm around her shoulder, pulling her close. “When people found out about us…I was terrified. Not of them, but — the three of you were honestly the best thing that had happened to me in…in a long, long time, but you’d already been through so much. I didn’t want to cock it all up.”
Rose gazed up at her with wide eyes, and whispered, “Is that why you left?”
Slowly, Bellatrix nodded. “People thought you’d all be better off without me. After a while…I believed them.”
“But we weren’t,” Rose said. “We missed you so much. We were all miserable.”
“I know, love,” Bellatrix said softly. “I missed you too.”
“And that’s why you came back?” Rose asked.
Bellatrix nodded. “That’s why I came back.”
“So…” Rose ducked her head, began to fiddle with her earphones again. “You’re not leaving again?”
“Look at me, Rosie,” Bellatrix said, gently crooking her finger under Rose’s chin and tipping her face towards her. “I’ve known you since you were just a little girl. I’ve been here for six birthdays, and six Christmases. I was here for your first day at school. I was here when you lost your first tooth, and I was here when you learned to ride your bike. I was here when you broke your arm falling out of that tree I told you not to climb. I’ll be here when you start Hogwarts in a few months, and I’ll still be here when you come home for the holidays. I’m your…“ Bellatrix felt her throat tighten. “I’m your mum, all right? I’m not going anywhere.”
Hearing it directly from her seemed to rid the burden from Rose’s shoulders, and the tears that came after that were only tears of overwhelming relief. And Bellatrix realised that it wasn’t the fact that her and Hermione weren’t married that bothered Rose, but the uncertainty of their little patchwork family. To Rose, marriage was the promise of stability and permanence. It was the promise to stay together.
Bellatrix knew better, of course.
From the time she was old enough to understand, it had been drummed into her that she was to marry Rodolphus Lestrange – a splendid match for the Black family, or so her mother kept telling her.
They’d married for wealth, for breeding, and social position, but not for love. She’d tried to love him, had convinced herself that it was her duty to do so. But it hadn’t taken her long to discover that he was a complete bastard of the highest order, and Bellatrix found out first hand just how quickly love could turn into hatred. Leaving was out of the question, of course. She would’ve faced disgrace and humiliation if she had, and the scandal probably would’ve sent her mother to an early grave.
Under the burden of her expectations, Bellatrix had found herself trapped. What Rodolphus thought of it all, she never knew. He kept so many things to himself.
But when she looked at Hermione now, she was so sure that love did exist. Because nothing but love could’ve kept together two people who had no business being with one another after everything that had happened between them.
“But marriage isn’t everything, Rosie,” Bellatrix went on, closing her eyes, anticipating the taste of bile that was sure to come with her next words. “When I was married —“
Rose stared at her, surprised. “I didn’t know you were married.”
“It’s honestly none of your business to know,” Bellatrix said stiffly. “He was an arse, and it didn’t work out. But I need you to know…” She took a deep breath. “They were old-fashioned, my parents. When I was your age, a lot was expected of Pureblooded young ladies. It was an arranged marriage. I thought that maybe we could love each other. I thought I could love him. He wasn’t awful. He was…good to me, at first.”
Rose’s eyes widened, and she tentatively asked, “And then he…wasn’t good to you?”
Bellatrix didn’t answer her.
“I wanted to leave but — Rosie, you must understand, things were very different fifty years ago. Look, do you want to know what it was really like? I woke up, he was there. I fell asleep, he was there. I ate dinner, he was there. I know that sounds like a good thing, but it wasn’t. In the end I couldn’t stand him. He probably couldn’t stand me either to be fair, but it was my — my duty to be with him. I had no choice, but every day I felt more trapped and more guilty. You’re mother and father —“
Rose’s shoulders hunched, like she was afraid of what Bellatrix was going to say next.
“You’re mother and father loved each other. From the time they were children they loved each other very much. But love doesn’t always last forever. Relationships need to be nurtured and cared for, or, like everything else, they wither away and die.”
“Why are you telling me all this?” Rose asked quietly, her voice so faint that Bellatrix had to strain to hear her.
“Because it’s important that you know that being married doesn’t always guarantee that two people will be together forever,” Bellatrix told her gently. “Marriage is just a piece of paper, Rosie. It takes trust and loyalty and respect to truly make a relationship last. Sometimes love isn’t enough. Do you understand?”
“I…understand,” Rose mumbled.
Bellatrix pressed her lips sweetly to Rose’s tear stained face, compacting as much motherly love and affection as she possibly could give her in a single kiss. But the uncertainty Rose showed her when she finally looked up only crushed Bellatrix further. She remembered that awful, gut-wrenching look: it had once belonged to Hermione, when Bellatrix had walked out on them.
“I just…” Rose went on. “I really did think you were going to leave again. I was so scared — and now I just feel…”
“Yes?” Bellatrix’s gently prodded.
“Stupid,” Rose said sheepishly, tugging at her bottom lip with her teeth. “I just feel stupid.”
Bellatrix shook her head. “You’re not stupid,” she tsked.
Rose just nodded, but the troubled crease between her brows didn't match her bow of agreement.
“Listen to me,” Bellatrix said, and gathered Rose’s face between her palms, wiping at a few stray tears with her thumbs. “I’m so proud of you, did you know that?”
Rose didn’t look convinced, her honeyed gaze skeptically searching Bellatrix's face, seeking any truth to the contrary to what she was saying, so Bellatrix tugged their faces closer to one another.
“I am,” she said. “You’ve carried this unnecessary burden for far too long, darling. I’m your mum, and I’ll always be your mum. Married or not, I love you, and that’s what really matters.”
Rose finally reared back and took a moment to wipe her nose on her sleeve. Her face was red and splotchy, and so unlike her normally composed self that it tugged at Bellatrix's heartstrings a little.
Gods, she’d gone soft.
But only for them, she reminded herself.
Only for them.
“Please don’t tell mum about this,” Rose sniffled.
Bellatrix firmly shook her head. “I won’t.”
“I promise, Rosie.”
Rose didn't respond, but she did smile a little, because Bellatrix always kept her promises.
“You don’t need to thank me, darling,” Bellatrix murmured, reaching for Rose’s hand. “You’re my daughter. I’ll always be here for you.” She squeezed Rose’s fingers. “Look, why don’t you get some sleep, hm? You look exhausted.”
Rose glanced at the time on her iPod. “It’s only six o’clock,” she frowned.
“Yes, but why don’t you grab forty winks then later we can cuddle on the couch and put on your Netflix thing?” Bellatrix suggested. “You can pick what we watch.”
Rose beamed at the offer. “Really?”
Bellatrix held up a hand. “Within reason, of course.”
“Yes!” Rose fist pumped the air and all but dived under her duvet.
“I’ll wake you in an hour, all right?” Bellatrix pressed a kiss to her forehead and tucked her in, much like she used to do when Rose was little. “Night-night.”
Bellatrix reached for the bedside lamp, ready to plunge them into darkness.
“I think it would be really cool if you and mum did get married though,” Rose whispered, and Bellatrix’s hand stilled on the lamp switch. “Do you think you ever will?”
“Maybe,” Bellatrix whispered. “We’ll just need to wait and see if she asks me.”
Rose yawned. “Why don’t you ask her?
Bellatrix offered Rose a near playful smile and switched off the lamp.
“Don’t be daft.”
Hermione glanced over her shoulder when Bellatrix entered the kitchen, brow knitted with poorly concealed worry. “She ok?”
“She’s fine, love,” Bellatrix replied, smiling as she sidled up behind Hermione and rested her chin on her shoulder. “We just had a little chat is all. Girl to girl.”
“About?” Hermione asked, returning to the pile of breakfast dishes they’d abandoned in the sink that morning.
Bellatrix pressed a kiss against the side of her neck. “Never you mind.”
“Honestly,” Hermione muttered, pursing her lips as she set the plate she’d been scrubbing aside and reached for another.
“You don’t need to know everything about everything, my love,” Bellatrix chuckled.
“Fine, keep your secrets,” Hermione huffed, though there was gentle amusement in her voice. She snatched a dish towel off the counter and threw it over her shoulder into Bellatrix’s face. “Here, make yourself useful.”
Bellatrix snorted as she stepped back and started drying, picking up a glass they’d once stolen from a pub they used to frequent at weekends when the children were with their father.
“You’ve missed some bubbles,” Hermione noted with a smirk, nodding at the soap suds that still slid down the glass as Bellatrix put it down on the counter.
“Oh, hush.” Bellatrix made a face and flicked the towel across Hermione’s backside. “You should know by now I can’t dry a dish to save my life.”
Hermione grinned and pushed at Bellatrix’s shoulder with a soapy hand. “You can’t cook anything more complex than beans on toast either.”
“And garlic bread,” Bellatrix pointed out.
Hermione rolled her eyes. “It’s a wonder you survived for so long on your own.”
“How do you think I got on a first name basis with the bloke who answers the phone at Shanghai Oriental?” Bellatrix countered.
“Mm,” Hermione hummed. “Speaking of which, we haven’t had Chinese in a while. Shall we order in next time the children are with Ronald?”
“We should order in now,” Bellatrix grinned. “I’ve got a sudden craving for sesame prawn toast.”
“You just had pizza not even an hour ago,” Hermione chastised, shaking her head. “All those calories will go straight to your waistline, you know?”
“All the more for you to hold onto when you’re riding me at a gallop, darling.”
Both woman laughed.
They fell into a companionable silence after that, one that they both appreciated and respected, sluicing water and clattering dishes the only sound that filled the air. They had a mutual understanding that neither had to fill with meaningless talk, although Bellatrix still did at times. It was a stark contrast to the echoing silences that used to permeate the walls of her home before she knew Bellatrix, painful and awkward and full of things unsaid.
The ghosts of theirs pasts didn’t haunt them as often as they once did. Thoughts of war and divorce and ex-husbands were all kept at bay with cups of tea, slow kisses, and two rambunctious children. But when they did rear their ugly heads, there was always a soft place to fall. They were okay with one another. Their deepest and darkest secrets, the ones hidden so perfectly from the rest of the world, lay in the open for them to see, and neither of them flinched.
Because for each other, they were both enough.
Now, Hermione couldn’t remember what it was like to not wake up to lazy morning kisses and wandering hands, could barely recall what it was like not to sit around the breakfast table as a family of four, didn’t even think about the dread she once felt, wondering what fights Ronald would decide to pick that day. All she thought about now was how an unlikely but fateful friendship with Bellatrix Black had blossomed into a loyal bond between two people needing solace and peace in their lives. It was a love like no other - one that both women knew was the truest love they had and ever would experience. A love like theirs was once in a lifetime, and Hermione felt it so deeply in her chest she never wanted to go back to life before.
They had the type of relationship she still tried to explain to her friends and curious inquisitors - and her therapist, whom Bellatrix still couldn’t understand why she still had regular sessions with. It was amazing what they’d somehow found in each other. Two lost and lonely souls who’d once been like loose threads, flailing in the wind with nothing to bind them to this life. Their purposes stripped away through years of hurt, but now, they found themselves bound together through a kind of matrimony, one that had saved them both from the ghosts that had run wild through their heads for decades.
“Hand me that spoon,” Bellatrix said. “Hermione. Herm — woman, the spoon.”
Hermione blinked, handed Bellatrix the spoon she was holding with a sheepish smile. “Sorry, daydreaming.”
“Hm,” Bellatrix hummed, narrowing her eyes. “I’ll let you off as long as it was about me.”
Hermione smiled coyly. “As a matter of fact, yes. You were wearing that naughty nightdress I like.”
“The little black one with the lace?”
“Yes,” Hermione nodded, feigning a dreamy expression. “You’re sexy in La Perla.”
Bellatrix smirked. “I’ve still got it then?”
“Yes,” Hermione smirked back. Pushing seventy, she was a little greyer than she used to be, but with her Pureblood genes, Bellatrix didn’t look a day over fifty. “Most definitely.”
“You sure, love? I’m not as young as I used to be.” Bellatrix swiped a hand down the side of her face. “And look at all these wrinkles.”
“Even when you’re old and grey I’ll still find you sexy,” Hermione laughed, shaking her head at Bellatrix’s playful theatrics.
“I’m old and grey now,” Bellatrix chuckled wistfully. “But it’s nice to know you plan on keeping me around for a while longer.”
“I plan on keeping you around forever,” Hermione told her, wiping a soapy hand on her jeans before reaching up to cup Bellatrix’s cheek. “You’re not going anywhere, you daft mare.” Then she leaned in, lips brushing against Bellatrix’s in a feather light caress. “I love you.”
Abruptly, Bellatrix looked away. Hermione frowned, hand dropping back down to her side. The dark witch’s eyes had clouded over with an emotion Hermione couldn’t quite place, making her wonder if she’d somehow spoken out of turn.
After a moment that felt like eternity in the space of three heartbeats, Hermione gently said, “Bella?”
Bellatrix was quiet a moment longer, almost as if she was working her way up to looking at Hermione again, and when she did, her words came out in a soft murmur.
“Ask me again.”
Hermione blinked and hastily turned back to the sink. “What?”
“Hermione…” Bellatrix said.
Bellatrix took a step towards her, pressing her breast flush against Hermione’s back, and kissed her neck. “Was there something you were going to ask me last night?” she whispered.
Hermione shivered, but despite the blush creeping up her neck, she tried to remain aloof, and set the fork she’d been washing aside, reached for another. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Really?” Bellatrix chuckled. She pressed her lips to the sensitive spot behind Hermione’s ear. “You weren’t going to ask me anything? Something about a wedding, perhaps?”
Hermione dropped the fork into the sink with a clatter and a splash, and spun in Bellatrix’s arms. The dark witch was smiling now, a smug little smirk that made Hermione want to slap her.
Or kiss her.
Either would’ve been fine.
“Maybe I was,” she said. “But I don’t think I will now, considering what an insufferable cow you’re being.”
“Hm,” Bellatrix hummed, leaning in to brush the softest of kisses against Hermione’s lips. “What about now? Have I helped you change your mind?”
Heart hammering, Hermione pretended to think about it and tapped her lip with her middle finger. “I don’t know. Maybe you should give me another one of those, I think I need more persuasion.”
So Bellatrix kissed her again, and again, letting her lips linger a little longer each time until Hermione couldn’t keep up her façade and began to giggle. She kissed Bellatrix back between smiles and soft whispers of admiration, and brought a hand up to weave her fingers through Bellatrix’s silky curls.
When they finally parted, they just stood there, holding one another, foreheads gently pressed together, the last rays of sunlight shrouding everything in pink and gold. It was a hushed moment, one that existed only for them, and one that neither appeared keen to stray from any time soon if they could help it.
“Have I convinced you now?” Bellatrix eventually murmured.
Hermione’s hummed. “Yes, I believe so.”
“Then ask me.”
Hermione rolled her eyes, sorely tempted to draw out the charade because she knew it would wind Bellatrix up something terrible. But then she noticed the soft, hopeful glimmer in her eyes, and that’s when it finally hit her.
Bellatrix wasn’t skittish about marriage at all. She didn’t care about the dress or the ceremony, she didn’t even care about the big church wedding.
She just wanted to be asked.
In all her sixty-six years, no one - not even her bloody husband - had ever asked her.
“Bellatrix Black,” Hermione said, and sucked in a breath. “Will you marry me?”
Bellatrix exhaled slowly, looking relieved. “Thought you’d never bloody ask,” Bellatrix grinned.
Hermione slapped her arm. “Is that a yes?”
“Of course it’s a yes, silly woman. C’mere.”
Eyes wet with unexpected tears, Hermione leaned in to kiss Bellatrix again. It was a kiss full of hope and trust. A kiss full of love. And while a messy kitchen with dirty dishes piled in the sink probably wasn’t a typical place to get engaged, the way Bellatrix kissed her, fingers lacing with hers as she pulled her as close as possible, Hermione had a feeling that it didn’t really matter. Who cared if everything looked a bit of a dump? Who cared if they were wearing their oldest, comfiest clothes? Wasn’t that the norm when you raised children together?
“But wait,” she said, smiling despite her tears. “Are you sure about this?”
Bellatrix’s dark brows drew together in a frown. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“It’s just…” Hermione quickly mopped at her eyes with her sleeve. “Last night, you said weddings were overrated.”
“I did,” Bellatrix murmured, and leaned in to press another brief but warm kiss on Hermione’s lips. “I once said that I never wanted children either, and now I have two. What’s your point?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Hermione said, going for nonchalance. “It’s just…we’ve been together for six years, Bella. Soon it’ll be seven. And then…more.”
“That’s usually how time works, love.”
Hermione glared at her. “It’s just — I didn’t think you — after Rodolphus —“ Hermione covered her face with her hands, realising her mistake too late. “Oh, Gods. I’m so sorry —“
“It’s all right,” Bellatrix said, stifling a small smile. She reached for Hermione’s hands, pulling gently. “I think I was just sick in my mouth a little bit, but it’s all right.”
“I’m so sorry,” Hermione said again. “I didn’t mean to —“
“Hermione, it’s fine,” Bellatrix laughed, a little breathlessly. “Honestly.”
“I just thought…” Hermione shrugged, though her heart was pounding. “That it wasn’t something you wanted.”
“That was before you,” Bellatrix murmured. “It’s what you want, isn’t it?”
“How do you know it’s what I want?”
“Oh, please,” Bellatrix scoffed. “Hermione, as much as I try to ignore everything you say, some things do filter through. It wasn't hard to figure out why you were so pouty last night.”
Hermione bit her lip. “I just want you to be sure.”
Bellatrix rolled her eyes. “Gods, woman. It’s almost like you don’t want to marry me. Are you sure?”
“Of course I am. I’d love nothing more.”
“Well stop whinging and bloody kiss me,” Bellatrix grinned.
Hermione leaned in to kiss Bellatrix, slowly, letting her breath linger on Bellatrix’s warm lips. When Bellatrix kissed her back, Hermione relaxed completely, wondering how she got so lucky to fall in love with this absolutely perfect woman.
Bellatrix Black wanted to marry her.
The thought only made Hermione deepen their kiss. Bellatrix made a soft sound as their hands began to wander, and then she groaned when Hermione’s hands slid under her tank top, fingernails raking over her stomach with purpose. Hermione smiled into the kiss.
“What’re you smiling about?” Bellatrix murmured against Hermione’s lips.
“I just love you, that’s all. I love you so much.”
Bellatrix grazed her thumb along Hermione’s cheekbone. “I love you too.”
“I guess I should get you a ring,” Hermione said. “Something beautiful.”
Bellatrix shook her head, to Hermione’s surprise. “I already have you. Sod the ring.”
“But it’s tradition,” Hermione argued.
“Fuck tradition,” Bellatrix laughed. “We’ve basically been married for six years anyway. We’re just making it official.” She leaned in, pressed another kiss to Hermione’s lips, and purred, “Wifey.”
Hermione’s hand drifted over Bellatrix’s arse, squeezing gently. “I like the sound of that. Although, I’m not changing my name. Not professionally, at least.”
“Fair enough,” Bellatrix nodded. “As long as I get to call you Mrs Black in bed.” She pulled a face. “I’ll just have to try and not think about my mother every time I say it.”
Hermione shook her head, but she was smiling, albeit sadly. “You know, my friends probably won’t come to the wedding. They’re still a little iffy about…well, about us.”
“Good,” Bellatrix’s sneered. “I don’t like them anyway.”
Hermione started, “Bella—“
“We’ll elope. Get it over and done with.”
“It doesn’t have to be a big thing. We’ll go somewhere nice. Just you and me.”
Hopefully, Hermione asked, “And the kids?”
“Kids?” Bellatrix echoed, voice laced with amusement. “I thought we were raising children, not baby goats.”
Hermione choked a laugh. “Oh, hush. You know what I mean.”
“And it’s not happening in a bloody church,” Bellatrix went on. “I’d probably burst into flames the minute I set foot through the door anyway.”
“Whatever you want, love,” Hermione smiled. She didn’t care where it happened, she just didn’t want to live in limbo anymore. She wanted promises. She wanted to be Mrs Hermione…whatever.
“And I absolutely refuse to wear ivory, or cream, or anything else even vaguely resembling white. I’m sixty-six years old, the jig is up.”
“Black,” Hermione said, head absolutely spinning with all the words Bellatrix had just thrown at her.
Bellatrix paused. “What?”
“You should wear black,” Hermione told her, grinning from ear to ear.
“Black,” Bellatrix agreed.
Just like Laura Ingalls, Hermione wanted to say.
But she held her tongue.
After all, she wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.