Bellatrix Black grunted as she kicked against a small rock as hard as she could. It shot forward, skidding over the uneven ground of the Forbidden Forest, ticking as it collided against other rocks. Finally, it came to a halt right in front of her feet and she kicked it again for good measure, gleefully imagining it to be Rodolphus Lestrange's bloody, stupid, severed head.
The rock shot forward again, this time landing in the underbrush and no longer in the frustrated Bellatrix's path.
Rodolphus had been particularly insufferable ever since her betrothal to her had been agreed upon by both their families. Oh, the papers loved it, of course: it was all over the society pages. Of course, she herself hadn't had any say in this whatsoever. Bellatrix let out another frustrated shriek, looking for something to kick and finally taking it all out on a fallen log.
It wasn't fair.
She'd been offered an auror apprentice-ship after her graduation! She'd aced all her NEWTS to this date, to a point that even McGonagall had named her the Brightest Witch of her Age! She developed her own spells! She was the Slytherin team star chaser! Yet bitterness overcame her in light of the fact that all of those great achievements would mean absolutely nothing: Rodolphus had made it clear that he expected her to stay at home and pop out plenty of pretty pure-blood kiddies on a regular basis.
It made her angry. So very angry. Of course she understood her duty to pure-blood society and wizardkind: there needed to be pure-blood offspring and as a girl, she was expected to birth the next generation of pure-bloods. Fine.
But this was 1968! It was perfectly possible to have a family and a career. Many witches already did so. This was a modern time, after all.
Unfortunately, her father agreed with Rodolphus: pure-blood procreation above everything else, he had said. Though it had pained him to have to disappoint his eldest daughter, the future of wizard-kind was more important than her happiness. Yes. Bellatrix was still bitter about it and would likely feel that way for the rest of her life.
Bellatrix let out another cry of frustration and gave the log a few more savage kicks, grunting with every impact. A sharp pain shot through her foot as her toe hit the log at an unfortunate angle.
Great, now her foot hurt. Could this day get any worse?
Bellatrix closed her eyes and let out a few deep sighs, forcing herself to calm down. She took in the silence of the Forbidden Forest in the dead of night, and found the place soothing. Certainly, she'd been told it was dangerous and off-limits, but that had never stopped her before. She knew all the ways to get in and out of Hogwarts undetected and did so often... stopping by the Hog's Head for some old-fashioned underage drinking or simply enjoying a few moments of freedom by taking a walk through the Forbidden Forest to enjoy a moment of solitude.
Solitude without the burden of expectations or politics. Just being on her own.
She stopped and sighed: sometimes she wished she could just talk to someone. She had allies and toadies, but no friends. No real friends at least. Nobody to confide in. No shoulder to cry on. There were Andie and Cissy, of course, but they wouldn't understand. They couldn't understand what fate was looming above their heads too.
So Bellatrix lost herself in her hobby: stories of the macabre, the frightening and the disgusting. Another thing she couldn't share with her sisters, since Andie had no taste for it and Cissy was one big scaredy cat who jumped at her own shadow.
Horror. Horror was a clown at your back door at midnight: the wrong thing at the wrong place at the wrong time. And here, surrounded by the darkness of the Forbidden Forest, she found a good atmosphere to read lovely short frightening tales... and write them.
Oh, she couldn't compare with the great authors of the macabre, even she was grounded enough for that, but she did get the feeling she was getting better at writing and spinning words to paper. Besides, it was very therapeutic.
She found a nice spot to sit down and produced a scroll and quill. Hm, what to write today? What violent and successful death would the male protagonist of the story, a gormless-bloke-who-was-in-no-way-a-representation-of-Rodolphus-Lestrange-no-really-how-could-anything-think-that?-It's-absolutely-not-true-whatsoever-and-anyone-who'd-suggest-so-is-a-rotten-liar, suffer through today? Hm, perhaps a wendigo? Or a skinwalker? Skinwalkers were always good. Or perhaps a cat-and-mouse-game with a vampire or just a good old simple gory cave bear mauling.
Wouldn't it be funny if a cave bear would maul Rodolphus' todger off so father would have to find another marriage candidate for her? She briefly wondered if it would be possible to rent a cave bear from somewhere. A really big one with big claws.
She's just put her quill to the paper to proclaim that 'it was a dark and stormy night' when something caught her eye in the distance. Truth be told, she ended up a bit deeper in the Forbidden Forest than she was used, so she didn't know the terrain all that well here. She spotted an odd glow in the distance, bright and blue.
Curious. That kind of glow could only be produced by the fields of glowcaps which were located in this part of the forest, but she had just passed the largest one she knew of at least. This warranted further investigation.
Carefully, she pushed herself through the underbrush and found herself standing in a small clearing. In the center of a clearing stood what seemed to be a large and gnarly dead and petrified tree with massive roots. Located in the space between two of the largest roots was a small pool of blue glowing water.
Being a pure-blood witch, she could feel the sheer power tingling in the air. That pool she was looking at was radiating pure concentrated magic from its still waters. The entire forest had seemingly gone silent around her. Bellatrix closed her eyes and enjoyed the feeling of the powerful waves of magic passing through her body.
Bellatrix was very much aware that this setup was starting to look a lot like one of the scenarios of one of her favourite horror stories... which usually never ended well. Still, curiously overcame any sense of self-preservation. The magic here: it was so strong that it simply pulled her towards it.
Carefully, she took a look into the pool. At first glance, it seemed like a normal small and still pond, but when she took a closer look something was off.
The pool was smooth as a mirror even though there was a slight breeze on the air. But the reflection of the forest around her was different: in the surface of the pool, she could see a fallen tree, snapped in half by what looked to be a lightning strike. When she looked behind her, she could see the same tree standing proud and fierce. She could spot more differences, but one thing was so glaring yet so subtle that she didn't notice at first: she couldn't see her own reflection.
She held out her hand above the pool and... nothing. Just as she was contemplating picking up a stone and dropping it into the water to see what would happen, she heard someone approach. It was the tell-tale sounds of twigs snapping underneath feet. Instinctively, she turned to look but saw no one. Until she realized that the sounds were coming not from the forest, but from the pool itself.
Hermione Granger held on to her basket as she made her way through the Forbidden Forest. It had taken some time for her to get the permission needed to exit the castle at night so she could look for the glowcaps she needed for an experiment in potioneering she'd been working on, but so far she found the pickings slim. This forced her to go a bit deeper into the forest than she was comfortable with.
She had no idea why Filch was being so difficult, really. She had fought in a war, after all. If she should stand up to Voldemort and his ilk, there was little in the Forbidden Forest which could be a threat to her.
Since glowcaps, a magical mushroom, only came out at night, she'd have to traverse the darkness of the forest. Still, she found the quiet to be soothing.
And it wasn't as if she got much sleep these days anyway.
When the dust settled and the war ended, she was left to deal with the consequences. What she hadn't expected, however, was to deal with the trauma and nightmares. Honestly, she'd been doing fine until she actually had the time and luxury to stop and think about all the bad things which had happened to her the past few years. All the lies, the violence, the war, the pain. She wondered how Harry was dealing with it all.
Adamant to finish her education, she had returned to Hogwarts to do her seventh year. Unfortunately, she was one of the only ones from her year to do so. Harry and Ron went straight to the auror corps, most of her friends either elected not to return at all or simply skipped a year to make sense of what had happened in her life. Luna, for example, had decided to take a year off Hogwarts to travel Europe with her father. So had many others.
She broke up with Ron, of course, so that was a thing. Honestly, they were never a good fit and she didn't know which one of them had been more relieved when they finally decided to break it off. Hermione wouldn't be welcome at the Weasley household for a bit until things would cool down, but at least she and Ron were still good friends.
Still, this left her without her friends to talk to. And to stave off her own trauma and nightmares, she threw herself one her academic pursuits with gusto. If she could only keep busy enough, she could push all her worries and fears to the background where they belonged. Focus on her work meant less focus on her... her...
… her soul-crushing loneliness.
Hermione stopped in her tracks, feeling involuntary tears well up again. She had mood-swings like this more and more often. The tears came and she let them flow, her body shaking. She didn't even quite know just why she was crying, even.
Hermione wiped her tears away with her sleeve. Perhaps her mum had been right: perhaps she should see a therapist. Therapy and mental healthcare had seen a bit of a surge in the wizarding world after the end of the second wizarding war, to a point where Hogwarts was considering putting a therapist on staff. Perhaps she should talk to McGonagall about finding a good therapist who was in the know about the wizarding world.
She couldn't go on like this. That was for sure. Hermione closed her eyes and remembered her breathing exercises.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Glowcaps. Focus on the glowcaps. Forget the rest.
Hermione thus forced herself to focus and search for more mushrooms, pushing anything else aside like she always did. When she spotted a bright blue glow in the distance, she felt elated for a moment, thinking she had hit the jackpot. She rushed forward and pushed through the underbrush... only to be surprised not to see a single glowcap in the clearing. Disappointed, but still curious, she noticed she had arrived in a clearing where a large petrified tree stood in the middle and nestled between its root was a blue glowing pool which was still as a graveyard.
The magic in the air was… astounding. Though she had not grown up around magic like some others, the amount of energy in the air was nothing short of overwhelming. The tips of her fingers started to tingle from the power. Hell, magical currents like this would probably have her hair stand on end from static discharge.
Hermione approached carefully, twigs snapping underneath her feet. She put down her basket on one of the larger roots to peer into the pond.
Immediately, she was given the fright of her life: in that pool she saw a face she had seen in every single one of her nightmares. Bellatrix Lestrange: the woman whom had tortured and tried to murder her. The very representation of everything what was wrong in this world. A woman whom she known was dead and, to her shame, had been happy to see die, was now looking back at her with those dark eyes of hers.
Hermione let out a brief cry, taking a step backwards only to trip over a branch and full straight on her bum. She quickly scrambled away from the pool, pressing her back against the tree and being too afraid to move for a moment.
"I saw you," sounded from the pool.
This couldn't be. This wasn't happening. It can't be her!
Her heart was pounding in her chest like a jackhammer and had started to hyperventilate. Hermione fought to keep her breathing under control, but fear had taken over. She remembered her breathing exercises.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Unfortunately, breathing exercises where utterly useless when one was panting like a dog.
"I can still hear you," sounded her voice. "I know you're there."
This was not happening. This could not be happening. She was dead. Bellatrix Lestrange was dead!
"Come out," sounded the voice, rather friendly even. Hah. Friendly?
Hermione remained silent for as much as she could while hyperventilating. God, she felt like she was going to faint.
"I promise I won't bite."
By now, Hermione had calmed down slightly, but enough to actually listen to the voice. The voice was unmistakably Bellatrix, but she sounded… younger. Livelier. There was a touch of Mancunian dialect on her voice, even. It sounded nothing like the screeching voice of her nightmares.
"Are you going to keep hiding all night?" sounded the voice, now with a touch of irritation. "I promise you I'm dead sound, on my honour as the eldest daughter of the House of Black."
Hearing that was enough for Hermione. In that moment, she was back on the cold floor of Malfoy Manor, a cruel hand pushing her head to the stone while a cruel taunting voice alternated between hissing whispers and ear-piercing shrieks. Hermione hissed and grasped her fore-arm: she still suffered from the cursed wound carved in her skin and stress often caused it to reopen. Right now, the jumper underneath her coat was sticking to her skin because of the blood.
This was a nightmare. A horrid nightmare. Hermione steeled herself and prepared to make a run for the treeline.
"Talk with me," sounded from the pool. "Please?"
That gave Hermione pause, even against her better judgment. That sounded… sad. Pleading, even.
Though her heart still pounded in her chest, Hermione turned her head to the pool. From her vantage point, she could only see the glowing surface. This pool. This place. That voice. All these things shouldn't be here and yet they were.
Curiosity started to override fear somewhat. Hermione decided she would at least investigate this mystery, but keep a healthy distance for now. She steeled herself and faced her fears
The young witch took a few breaths and slowly turned to face the pool again. Nervous as she was, she fought to keep herself under control. The face in the pool was undoubtedly Bellatrix Lestrange, but now that she was getting a better look, she was different. Her cheeks were fuller, her curly dark hair was more voluminous, definitely more well-kept and lacked any sense of grey. She had thicker eyebrows and no bags under her heavy-lidded eyes. She still had her strong jaw and those intense dark eyes of hers. This was Bellatrix, but... younger. If she'd have to hazard a guess, she was around her own age, perhaps a little younger even. What struck her were two things: one, what an astonishingly beautiful young woman Bellatrix was and two, how that smile on her face looked warm, inviting and so utterly alien to her.
"Hi there. Finally decided to show yourself, hm?" spoke Bellatrix. She sounded friendly enough, but that only made Hermione even more wary.
"Uhm... hello?" Hermione returned softly.
"You're not in this clearing with me," Bellatrix stated matter-of-factly.
"I... I don't think so, no," Hermione said, looking around. Then, she noticed. "The reflection in the water. It's... it's different."
"I know!" replied the young Bellatrix. "Do you feel the magic coming from the pool? It's well good, isn't it?!"
Hermione nodded. She had, in fact, noticed. "It's... it's making the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end."
"I've never seen or felt anything like this before," said Bellatrix. "You?"
"No," Hermione shook her head. "I can honestly say that I haven't."
Bellatrix frowned for a moment. "Oh, how rude of me. I have yet to introduce myself! Bellatrix Black, of the Most Noble and Ancient House of Black. Pleased to meet you."
Well, at least this iteration of Bellatrix was polite, if a little prideful… and enthusiastic.
"Hermione Granger." Hermione returned, almost automatically. "Of, well, the Completely Unimportant and Nondescript House of Granger."
That made the girl in the pool laugh. "I've never heard of your family, but then again I don't pay much attention of high society gatherings. That's more my maman's cup of tea. And Cissy's, I suppose," Bellatrix responded.
Hermione didn't bother to correct her, not sure how the younger Bellatrix would react. So far, she seemed surprisingly friendly enough. "What are you doing out here in the dead of night?"
Bellatrix smirked and crossed her arms. "I could ask the same about you."
"I was out here looking for glowcaps. Nothing more, nothing less," said Hermione, immediately on the defensive.
"Glowcaps?" Bellatrix replied. "Oh, you're quite close. They tend to grow in darker groves. You should find a big field of them about fifty yards in that direction." Indeed, Hermione followed her gaze to the direction Bellatrix was pointing out and already saw the bluish glow in the distance. "As for what I'm doing out at night? Well... I was just... I wanted to get away from it all for a bit. Not to think about anything and just enjoy some quiet."
"I think I understand that," Hermione gave the girl a half-smile.
"And then I found this pool. And you," said Bellatrix. "Wait, I have an idea."
From her vantage-point, Hermione could see that Bellatrix saw lowering her arm into the pool. Her hand slipped into the water ever so slowly. "Hermione?" she asked. "Is my hand coming out of the pool on your end?"
"No," replied Hermione. "And really, is it wise to stick your hand in an obviously strong magical pool while you have no idea what it actually does or what it is?"
Bellatrix shrugged. "Who can tell?" she said. "Come on, stick your hand in the pool. See if you can feel my fingers in the water."
"What?!" Hermione blinked. "No! That could be dangerous!"
"Oh come on," Bellatrix made a face. "Yellow chicken. Stick your hand in there."
Hermione shook her head. "This goes against every guideline about safe magical experimentation, as is described in Professor Penrose's guidebook on..."
Bellatrix sighed through her nose. "Right. Yellow chicken it is, then."
The young witch bristled: she would not be made fun of, certainly not by the likes of Bellatrix Lestrange... or Black... or whatever. "Fine!" she sighed and carefully let her hand slip in the pool. So far, the only thing she could feel was water and nothing else. She felt around and the shallow pool.
"Anything?" Bellatrix asked.
"Just roots and mud," replied Hermione. "You?"
"Same," said Bellatrix. "I guess the magic is just on the pool's surface. We are in the same place, that's for certain. But things are different. Take that tree for example. The fallen one behind you? That tree is upright behind me. This is amazing. Both here and yet we're both not."
Hermione nodded. Indeed, this was amazing. And had the person on the other side of the pool had been anyone else than Bellatrix Black, she would have been endlessly more excited. Still, this Bellatrix seemed so... so innocent and wide-eyed, lacking any of the fanatical zeal or the madness her older self had shown.
Or perhaps she was simply hiding it well.
Something was happening, however. The light around the pool was faded slightly and the image in the pool was shimmered.
"Hermione?" asked Bellatrix. "What's happening?"
The image was fading further and further until the girl in the pool was becoming harder to see and to hear. In a way, that was a blessed relief, as part of her was happy to see the girl fade away. However, before she faded fully, there was a single question. It was asked with a soft and almost wistful tone, in a way that made Hermione more curious than afraid.
"Hermione?" Bellatrix asked softly. "W-will you be back tomorrow night?"