The Three Broomsticks is packed, and Hermione hopes the large crowd will provide her with a little bit of anonymity. That's one thing she lacks, these days. Facelessness. Blending in.
She wants it back.
Luckily, no one's noticed her thus far — or if they have, they haven't mentioned it.
She takes a sip of firewhiskey, and relishes the burn as it trails down her throat.
Nice work, Granger. She takes a careful look around the pub, searching for any lingering eyes, any indication that someone has registered the presence of The Golden Girl in their immediate vicinity, but no one seems to give a shit. The patrons elbow her for a spot at the bar, and even the barmaid is looking at her like she's an inconvenience rather than a celebrity, taking an unreasonable amount of time with all of her drinks.
Hermione sees this as a victory.
She's tipsy, now, and can't stop herself from doing a tiny, celebratory dance in her barstool. A wiggle of her hips, a bump of her fist in the air, a self-satisfied smirk.
She knocks into the man next to her by accident, and when all she gets is a vaguely dirty look, she can't help but wiggle more.
Because tonight, she's just a girl at the Three Broomsicks, wiggling in her chair like an idiot, bumping into people, and making them mad instead of starstruck.
She can't believe she's managed this once again. This outing. Can't believe no one's recognized her this time, or any of the others.
She's impressed with herself, really, and with her newfound skills of deception. She encountered three professors on her path from the Common Room down to the secret passage tonight, and none of them batted an eye when she politely insisted she was performing her Head Girl duties, the excuse rolling frighteningly easy off her tongue.
So simple. So second-nature to her now, to lie.
Every time she does this, every time she succeeds, a tiny thrill runs through her.
Always followed by a twinge of guilt.
The feelings war with each other and that war makes her feel a little bit alive.
When did she become this person, she wonders? Sneaking about, coming into Hogsmeade to… to what? To lose herself? To find herself? To drink until the swirl of dread she's been feeling so acutely lately disappears? To drink until she feels it more?
Or maybe it's to forget. To not be reminded of the battles, the death, the loss, the destruction weaved into the very foundation of Hogwarts, now. To just exist, with none of that looming over her. For just a moment. Just a night.
She's not sure exactly why. But on Fridays, without fail, she does this. She sneaks out of Hogwarts, changes out of her uniform in the tunnel on the way to Honeydukes, grabs a seat at the bar, and sits alone.
It's become routine.
Sometimes she talks, if someone manages to hold her attention. Most people don't, so most nights she doesn't.
It's fine. It's nice. She's content just sitting here, staring into her glass and thinking absolutely zero thoughts about anything except for how delicious firewhiskey is. Head empty. Head empty. Head empty. Heart on fire and torn into thousands of pointy, painful pieces, slowly tearing her apart from the inside out —
"Did it hurt?" A voice purrs from somewhere behind her, barely discernible above the din.
This isn't new. She fends off countless leering, rot-brained drunkards on the regular, ones that only see her as "breathing" and "female" and take that as a sign to shoot their shot. Men, women. She's learned that being an absolute cow isn't a feat exclusive to any gender.
"When I fell from Heaven?" She doesn't bother turning around. "What a cheap line, you must have something better than that." She takes another sip of firewhiskey.
"No," the woman hums into her ear, placing well-manicured hands on the bar on either side of her, trapping her there, and suddenly Hermione feels dizzy, "when you grossly overstepped your authority as Head Girl to sneak out of Hogwarts after hours and come drink in town."
Hermione knows that voice, those hands, that heady smell of incense and pine.
She shivers, and turns around.
Head full head full head full.
"Miss Granger. Fancy meeting you here, hmmm?"
Merlin's asshole on a fucking popsicle-stick.
"Sorry, Professor Black," Hermione wrings her hands and glances around the corridor nervously. "I was just heading to the library to get some studying done. I know it's after curfew, but Madam Pince usually lets me in after my rounds as long as I lock up afterwards."
Professor Black eyes her. She's skeptical, Hermione can tell.
"But if you would like me to go back to Gryffindor Tower I understand. I know I don't have special privileges. I only wanted to get a bit ahead — "
"It's fine." Professor Black waves her hand dismissively. "If anyone else sees you, though, I never said that," she grins, and it's forced, but Hermione's belly still does a flip at the sight.
"Of course. Thank you, B…" Professor Black's eyes flash at the near slip-up, and Hermione feels the air thicken around them. "Professor. I appreciate it."
Professor Black looks at her for a long, hard moment, and Hermione's throat goes dry.
"Right," the dark witch finally says, looking anywhere but at Hermione, now. She nods curtly. "Off you go, then."
"Right. Goodnight, Professor." Hermione doesn't look back. Not when her cheeks are bright red and her feet are threatening to fall out from under her.
Fuck. Okay. SO.
Caught sneaking out of school, by the very Professor she lied to only an hour ago.
This is… not ideal.
Hermione doesn't get in trouble, she doesn't do bad things, she doesn't do anything wrong, ever! (And if she does, well, she certainly does not get caught).
"I — I didn't mean to — " she stammers. "I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have — "
"Save it." Professor Black holds up a hand. "I feel the same way about excuses as I feel about how slow the service is in this damn place. Do you mind, darling?" And without waiting for permission, she takes Hermione's drink and downs it.
"Don't gape," Professor Black scowls when Hermione's jaw drops. "It's unbecoming."
Hermione snaps her mouth shut. This is going all sorts of ways she didn't expect, and as her brain tries to process it all, she finds that she can't tear her eyes away from her Professor's mouth and the way her tongue darts out to lick a drop of firewhiskey from the corner of her lip.
One second. Two seconds. Five, maybe.
Hermione's still transfixed. And Professor Black has that look on her face, the one that says I know your secret, the one that's terrifying in class when she catches a student with a self-spelling quill, but so much more potent, so much more devastating here, now, when those clear roles are gone and the divide is not so pronounced.
Hermione's eyes flicker back-and-forth, from lips to eyes to lips to eyes to lips… to eyes.
As black as their namesake.
Hermione knows all too well the power they hold over her.
She looks away. Finally.
"That was my drink," she mumbles and pouts, and Professor Black barks a laugh at that. Hermione turns back to her and narrows her eyes. "It's not funny. What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same question, you cheeky little thing."
Hermione ignores the fire that ignites within her and bites her lip in worry. "Am I in trouble?"
A lethal smirk. Professor Black's eyes sharpen in a way Hermione knows means nothing good for her.
"Depends," the woman coos. "Would you like to be?" She chuckles deep and sultry like, and leans in to whisper in Hermione's ear, her breath tickling Hermione's neck and her hair brushing against Hermione's collarbone. "Is that why you've been acting out lately? Trying to secure detention with me?"
You know what? Fuck it. Hermione’s had some booze, and she feels brave, and confident, and she’s tired of backing down. Professor Black wants to play dirty? Fine. Hermione will give as good as she gets.
"You're bold tonight, Bellatrix." She whispers right back, and lets the words ghost the pale ear that's oh so close to her lips.
"Oh?” Professor Black hums, and Hermione can hear her wicked smile. “Says the girl breaking the rules." She inches closer.
"Do you have names for all of your multiple personalities?"
The dark witch stiffens. But Hermione keeps her there, grabbing her shoulders and making her listen for once.
"The one in class — what's her name? The one with ice for blood, who's not satisfied with anything I do?"
Professor Black pulls back, a sour expression maligning her features.
"Granger, I don't know what you're on about — "
"And the one in the hallway? Who clearly had something to say but was too scared to say it?"
"Scared?" The woman scoffs, affronted, but Hermione barrels on.
"And who's here now?" She stabs a finger into Professor Black's chest, unconcerned with consequences, now, since she's already been caught. "The you that's so forward, what's her deal? Where has she been? Why did she decide to show up all of the sudden, and what the hell does she want?"
Professor Black doesn't have a response to that, it seems, beyond a perturbed furrow of her brow and a twitch of her wand hand.
"That's what I thought," Hermione glares, putting everything she has behind it.
The dark witch's nostrils flare and her eyes grow flinty. She bites the inside of her cheek. "You're no fun."
Hermione snorts and turns back to the bar. "Either take me to McGonagall or stop interrupting my evening."
The barmaid trudges over in her direction, a miserable scowl on her face, and Hermione is about to wave her down when she feels Professor Black press against her back and lean over her shoulder.
"Two more, please," the dark witch requests, and Hermione's eyes widen at that.
"Ruining your night means ruining my own," Professor Black supplies, throwing her an unreadable sideways glance. "I'm not supposed to be off-grounds, either. You are of age. And you certainly have a lot to drink about. I would do the same if I were you."
"Is that why you're here?"
The barmaid sets the drinks down with a sloppy thunk, and liquid splashes out onto the bar. Professor Black throws down a few galleons and picks up the whiskeys, handing one to Hermione and forcibly clanging their glasses together in salute.
"None of your business," she smirks over the rim of her glass, and then she throws back the firewhiskey in one gulp.
Hermione sighs, and before she can think the better of it, she does the same.
"Good girl." Professor Black pats her on the head. Hermione rolls her eyes, but doesn't put up a fight anymore. The dark witch grabs Hermione's empty glass and sets it down on the bar next to her own.
"Come along. You don't want anyone else to see you.”
And the next thing Hermione knows, she's being pulled through the crowd, out the door, and onto the moonlit streets of Hogsmeade.
Professor Black’s grip is vice-like. And unnecessary, as they’ve already made it out the door and there’s no crowd to navigate, anymore. But she seems to revel in dragging Hermione along and over the cobblestones, and Hermione has to pretend she doesn’t enjoy the slight sting of sharp black nails digging into her arm.
“You can let go now, I’m not going to run.”
“But you thought about it,” Professor Black teases. Hermione hates how smug she is.
But she’s right.
“I did, yes.”
“Mmm,” she hums, glancing at her sideways. “And what made you decide not to?”
“You’re faster than me.”
A warm chuckle vibrates from the older woman’s chest, and it radiates down her arms and through her fingers, and Hermione feels it flutter through their point of contact, feels it dancing over her shirt and into the skin beneath it, feels the lilt of it burrow under her flesh and torpedo straight into her heart.
She hates it. (She doesn’t).
Or maybe what she hates is how she aches for the woman’s approval. How she yearns for those words or something like them to be said to her and meant — without the sarcasm or the walls Black has put up between them. You’re smart. Good Job. Nice work. Anything. Anything.
She hates even more what that means — how really, it has nothing to do with anything academic and everything to do with being seen. Being known. Being recognized for her strengths and being valued for them, by someone she herself values — by someone she herself…
No, she won’t say the word again. Won’t think it. Not when it started this whole mess.
She’s feeling that last whiskey, now.
“I hate you.”
The hand twitches, digging in harder for a millisecond, before releasing Hermione’s arm and dropping away.
Hermione misses it as much as she’s relieved it’s gone.
“Do you really?”
A quiet query. Professor Black has stopped walking, is two paces behind her now, looking at her from where she stands in the moonlight, bathed in the glow like a deity, a goddess of the night, Nyx emerging from the mists at the dawn of creation. Skin like marble, eyes like Night, lips like home. Standing there, so real, yet such a breathtaking impossibility, like a medieval relief sculpted from the star-lit sky.
“I really, really do. I think you’re miserable.”
I love you.
They’re both true. Hermione hates that, too, and hates the way that unholy word burns behind her eyes.
She hates a lot, these days. She hates the power Professor Black’s indifference holds over her. She hates how every time class ends, she stays just a second too long, trying to catch the woman’s eyes, hoping beyond all hope for her to flick her wrist and shut the door and pull her close and say I remember. I remember what we did, and what we said. I remember what we went through together.
She hates that, instead, all she gets is apathy. Coarse words and well aimed derision. Disapproval and scathing comments.
Hermione hates that she’s weak, pathetic, and incapable of moving on. She hates that she’s a little, stupid girl, pining after something that can’t be. She hates that she’s conflated desperation for feeling. She hate’s that it’s been so long and she can’t move on. She hates that Professor Black managed to do that long ago.
She hates that she’ll never be able to.
Professor Black’s eyes flash, and she sets her jaw before tearing her gaze away from Hermione's and looking out onto the small lake that sits at the outskirts of the village.
Hermione sighs, and takes a step toward her.
“All that talk about me running, but you’re the one doing it now.”
“Hmm?” Black wonders, idly. She turns and starts when she notices how close Hermione’s gotten.
“You run from me,” Hermione says, grateful for her slight height advantage and the fragile illusion of confidence it gives her. “Even when you’re standing right in front of me, you’re gone. I’m already at the place I run to. But where do you go?”
Black narrows her eyes, sidestepping the question.
“So that’s what you’re doing here?” She leans in and tucks a stray hair behind Hermione’s ear, letting a long nail slide along her cheekbone. “Running?”
“Perhaps.” Hermione feels bold, toys with laces at the front of the woman’s corset. “Can you teach me?”
“Teach you what?” Black breathes.
“How to run without going anywhere.”
The dark witch raises an eyebrow.
“I want to learn,” Hermione continues. She hooks her finger under the laces and tugs Professor Black closer, until they’re breathing the same air. “It’ll save me the trouble of sneaking out, and you the trouble of coming after me, yeah?”
“But it’s no trouble at all,” and that mouth threatens to pull into a grin.
Hermione knows that if she leans in and captures those lips in hers, now, she won’t be pushed away. It’s something in the air, in the way the woman’s face is flushed, the way her eyelids flutter.
“For you, maybe.”
But knowledge is not always meant to be acted upon, and Hermione knows that, too. It’s meant to be thought about. Analyzed. Considered. And occasionally, acted in direct opposition to.
So, Hermione taps the woman’s nose and ruins the moment, eliciting a sharp, affronted exhale. She turns and makes for the lake.
She wants to turn around, wants to see if the woman feels anything, if it’s in her face, in her eyes, in her shoulders.
But she can’t.
She’s scared there will be nothing there.
“You brought more to drink, I’m sure?” She calls over her shoulder, not looking back.
Professor Black grumbles behind her, but Hermione hears her following close behind.
Hermione sits down in the grass — not at all gracefully — just shy of the shoreline. Professor Black ambles up beside her a moment later. She pulls a flask from her pocket and Hermione watches her take a swig.
“Don’t drink it all,” the dark witch says before passing it to her.
Hermione takes it, and then their eyes meet again, and their fingers brush, and fuck.
Suddenly it’s like a year hasn’t passed.
Suddenly it’s then.
Hermione stares at Bellatrix. Bellatrix stares right back.
The fire outside of camp burns hot, but not as hot as the place where their fingers touch. Bellatrix’s hand grips the bottle of firewhiskey and Hermione's hand covers hers, and there they sit, just… staring. Not moving, barely breathing.
Hermione slowly, carefully, plucks the bottle out of Bellatrix’s hand and sets it down on the ground by their feet.
Then she laces their fingers together, and Bellatrix doesn’t protest or pull away, but she does glance down to… stare again, this time at their hands.
She only looks back up when Hermione quietly asks, “Are we going to die tomorrow?”
Hermione squeezes her hand tighter. Bellatrix squeezes back. And then they —
— pull apart, quickly, looking anywhere but each other.
Hermione grabs the flask and takes a sip, and Professor Black flops down next to her, limbs askew, arms behind her, leaning back.
They both stare; but up, this time. At the stars.
Neither of them say a word.
It's still Hannah's birthday, and it will be until I finish this fic.
Also: Please check out my new podcast, Fluff and Fervor, where I read Bellamione fanfic! First episode is out now. Listen here:
"How have you been?"
Hermione snorts. "You see me nearly every day."
"Yes, well. There's only so much I can glean from seeing a whisper of the girl I know."
"You haven't known me for a while, now."
Black sighs but doesn't push it. She gazes up at the stars, runs her fingers through the soft grass beneath her palms. She grabs at it, tugging until it rips at the roots, over and over until there's a trail of bare dirt patches on either side of her.
Hermione isn't surprised when the rumors start.
Professor Black is a pureblood, after all. She is heir to The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black. She has ties to the Death Eaters even if she never took the mark, and was only kept out of Azkaban after the first war by bribery or technicality — probably both.
Everything adds up. The pieces fit, there's no denying that.
Still, Hermione doesn't know how to feel.
Professor Black isn't nice, per se. In fact, she's very much the opposite. But she's always been a wonderful teacher.
Her unpleasantness is actually rather egalitarian — she's mean to everyone. She doesn't have favorites, doesn't hold Slytherins or purebloods in higher regard than anyone else — at least, not in the context of school or learning. The personal beliefs of one Bellatrix Black are another hotly debated matter entirely. As Professor Black, though, her disappointment rains steadily, evenly, upon every student that passes through her classroom.
Hermione respects that.
Hermione has spent years working to be an exception to that rule by overachieving, reading ahead, finding any and every way to stand out and to be the best.
(Which she is. All of her other professors have accepted as much.)
But Professor Black has always been a challenge.
Professor Black knows how to find a person's weaknesses, knows how to exploit them and use them to her advantage. She's found several of Hermione's, perhaps more of Hermione's than anyone else's, and she isn't afraid to point them out and make her an example of what not to do in front of the entire class.
The thing is, she's never wrong.
Hermione has a habit of winding up for a spell, of projecting and indicating her next move — not always with her body, but with the minute twitches in her face and eyes or the way her breathing changes.
Sometimes, Hermione thinks, perhaps foolishly, that she's figured the woman out. She thinks that maybe she hates Hermione the least, because she criticizes her the most. She thinks she might respect her back, that as annoyed as she gets on the surface by Hermione's occasional hubris and know-it-all tendencies, as much as she nit-picks and demands better of her without a hint of warmth or sympathy, it may be because she sees Hermione's potential and wants her to succeed.
Either that, or she hates her just as much as she hates everyone else. Maybe more. Hermione doesn't know.
What Hermione does know is that of all the professors she's ever had, Professor Black is the best.
A pity, then, that she may be one of them.
Things are getting bleak.
The Dark Lord has returned. The grim and undeniable writing on the wall grows brighter everyday: There will be another war soon, this one far worse than the last.
And people have begun to speculate. To question loyalties, to examine the past through a critical lens. No one is sure who to trust, anymore.
Change is coming, and Professor Black just might be their enemy.
"Are you feeling prepared for your NEWTS?" Professor Black asks after a spell of silence that is just left of companionable.
"Merlin," Hermione groans, "did you come all the way out here to ask me about school?"
"I want to know!"
Hermione lets out an agitated breath and turns to face the woman.
"I feel prepared in every subject except for Defense Against the Dark Arts. My professor makes me feel like a complete idiot every time I so much as flick my wrist wrong."
"A miscalculated wrist movement could be a matter of life and death," Professor Black snaps back. "Your professor has high expectations for you and wants you to be able to properly defend yourself."
"Then why doesn't my professor just say that?" Hermione's fists clench in anger at the same time as her heart clenches at the revelation. She thinks that it might be entirely deranged to cling to a crumb as microscopic as "I care if you live or die," but coming from this tight-lipped witch and her walled-in heart, it's something. And something is better than the endless nothings that have been slowly chipping away at her sanity.
"Your professor," Black admits softly (uncharacteristically so), "was never very good at communicating or acknowledging emotions in a healthy way."
It's the understatement of the fucking century. The millennium, even. The entire Holocene epoch.
Hermione is a millisecond away from unleashing every pent-up molecule of festering disdain she has within her in response, but a quiet, rational voice in her head points out that that may not be constructive.
Instead, she grabs the flask, takes a swig, and flops onto her back with a frustrated, purposefully dramatic and drawn-out sigh.
The moon is bright and full, and it's fitting, really, for them to be here together, bathed in the light but not quite out of the shadows that night affords them. She's not sure either of them could suffer this — all of this, this being everything and everything being them — in the light of day.
They can see each other, but only just so. There's still room to hide, even while the moonlight gently beckons them not to.
A delicate balance. Precarious, but there.
"How did you know where to find me?" Hermione asks, redirecting the conversation, her eyes roving the constellations in a path she's taken them on a hundred times before.
She sees her professor shrug in her peripheral vision before the woman lays back as well.
"You weren't in the library."
Hermione's head snaps to the side.
"You went looking for me?"
Professor Black turns to meet her eyes in surprise, and Hermione sees poorly hidden panic flit across her features.
"I — I was just — You dropped something!"
"I wasn't carrying anything." Hermione bites her lip in a vain attempt to stop the smug grin creeping onto her face.
This feels suspiciously like victory. She's caught her red-handed… doing what? Caring? Not quite, but something close to it.
"Shut up, Granger, or I'll give you detention." It's terse and threatening, but Professor Black's cheeks are red, and at the moment she looks about as threatening as a pomeranian.
"Oh, I dare you," Hermione drawls, calling her bluff and openly grinning now. She loves that she's managed to make Black squirm. "There's nothing you would enjoy less than having to be alone in a room with me." She rolls over onto her side to face the dark witch fully. "Much harder to run when it's just you and I."
Professor Black huffs and rolls over, too, so that they are face-to-face, only a handful of centimeters between them.
"I'm here now, aren't I?" She says, quietly. Her dark eyes search Hermione's, and Hermione isn't prepared to see the woman's mask fall away, all the bite, the fight, that playful, infuriating oscillation between flirtation and indifference that hides divine and breathtaking multitudes beneath it falling away in an instant.
She's here. She's here. Bellatrix is here.
"I'm with you, and I'm talking to you. We're alone and I'm not running." It's the first honest, unaffected, genuine thing she's said all night.
And Hermione is a bit overcome.
"When the full moon is out," Hermione whispers, cautiously, terrified of ruining this fragile, tentative connection they've finally cultivated after so long, "I look for Bellatrix."
She looks up. Finding the star is as instinctual to her as breathing.
The archer's shoulder, poised to attack.
Twinkling delicately in time, Hermione thinks, with her own heartbeat.
"But only then. Otherwise she's too bright and I can't stop looking, and all I think about is how she's so far away."
Bellatrix's hand is cool on her cheek, imploring her gently to come back to Earth, to Britain, to Hogsmeade, to the damp grass at the edge of a lake where they lay currently, to focus not on the vast expanse of everything that has and will most likely continue to keep them apart, but on what's in front of her here, now.
Hermione doesn't resist.
"I'm here," Bellatrix breathes, when they are facing each other again. Hermione feels the declaration run down her spine.
Bellatrix softly, slowly, brings their lips together.
Hermione is usually one to deal in words, but tonight she finds this to be the only answer that she needs.
This was supposed to be a short, smutty one-shot and they haven't even banged yet. Woops. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
(Happy Birthday, Hannah).