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A Better Life

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The raucous sound - oddly tuned, a high-pitched keening whine - seemed to erupt forth from somewhere directly behind Hermione’s body.

It was the first clue that something had gone terribly wrong. 

The next in the long list of confirmations came as a sudden and eerily intense sensation of being pulled, not from behind where one might have expected during Portkey travel, or in front of herself as one might have anticipated during the jolt of Apparition. No, this force pulled through her body. There was merely one second of calm before Hermione felt the intensely curious sensation of a fishing line strung through her back, past her spine and inside of her ribcage as it latched deep into her navel.

In a way, it was Apparition. Normal except that this was on an entirely different order of magnitude.

The final and surely most damning confirmation that Hell had been unleashed, that things were going unstoppably wrong was the flood of tangy syrup that slid backwards down her nose and throat, its heady feel nearly choking Hermione as she stood there. The taste and smell were all too horrid - all too familiar - and yet still the flood increased. Warm liquid splashed through her sinuses and dribbled down her lips.

It choked her. Stole away her breath until a sharp cough rattled from her lungs with all the sound of wet that bleeding like this entailed. The Time-Turner was knocked loose from her grip by the sheer strength of her cough, a brilliant swirl of metal and glass that spun through the air before it arced down towards the ground on the chain that Hermione had wrapped tightly around her neck not half an hour before. Through the onset of initial pain she was able to observe - in a rather detached manner, almost as if she were watching some Muggle documentary and not her own reality - individual droplets of violently exhaled blood hanging still within the air, or not so much still as stationary, vibrating where they were in a fine mist of bright, red crystals.

‘Oh fucking Merlin,’ she thought, blinking her way through each oncoming second. ‘What in the hell have I done?’

The droplets of blood continued to hang in place, holding themselves up by the sheer force of magic. But then Hermione watched as each pulled apart, disintegrating until the whole lot of them had vanished from right before her very eyes, almost as if they’d not ever existed to begin with. The walls and scenery - once steady and comforting - began to blur, spinning and spinning with all the fervour of a fainting spell. That spin became a smear, a swatch of dark and swirling colour that ate at shadows, furniture, light itself. Soon there was nothing but a horrid kaleidoscope of blooming red all around her. 

A sound that started softly - gently, nothing but a whisper against her mind - was now edging closer to her active notice, piercing her ears and mind until she belatedly realized exactly what it was. Harsh echoes - terrified, lost and forlorn - of her own screaming, throat torn raw with the effort.

Her lungs burned with the exertion as every muscle - every little stretch of ligament and gristle - cramped and released in rolling waves of near-limitless pain. Her thoughts had sped forward until the pace of them was blinding, ideas and phrasing and information all passing before her without a second to latch onto meaning or comprehension. It ran and ran until finally, eventually, it slowed to a glacial crawl.

Tipped back, tipped again, fell between each extreme again and again and again-

Until it stopped.

The nauseating limbo ceased its momentum, silence reigning all around her.

Gone was the warmth of the room she’d been standing in. Gone was the softness of its colours or her comprehension. The office itself looked much the same as before but the decorations and accomplishments that she had come to know like the back of her hand had vanished. The portraits and their inhabitants were different, the edges of everything just a little bit newer. Gone was the smiling visage of her mentor, Minerva, the only constant presence in Hermione’s little farce of a life. She was the only thing that had remained stable since the War had ended and she was gone. Gone too was the warm scent of vanilla and cinnamon that the Headmistress had come to be fond of these past few months, and gone was the roaring fire that Hermione knew she had lit just a few minutes prior. She’d stoked that inferno with her magic and it was cold.

Drip.

Drip.

Drip.

There was still a languid flow of blood streaming down her face but all the horrid nausea and pain that had accompanied it seemed to have abated for the moment. Hermione’s vision was fine, and she proved that to herself by focusing it down to a laser point.

Became confused, focused it again. She simply couldn’t trust what she was seeing.

Her mentor - for that was all she could reason the woman as, for who else could hold those piercing eyes and style of dress that had always defined Minerva - was still seated behind her deck. But her look was all wrong. She was twisted into some amalgamation of abject horror - which Hermione decidedly did not like - and abrupt surprise - which Hermione could rationalize as their little experiment working - that managed to bring forth a strained and unhappy giggle from somewhere in Hermione’s throat.

The laughter died out quite suddenly when she realized that Minerva looked younger.

The bright eyes that were normally hidden behind long lashes and crystal eyewear were opened now, the circles she’d remembered kept still behind a rectangle of metal and glass that looked so very different to what Hermione remembered from that morning. Laughlines were banished along with the crow’s feet that had defined her so much as she’d aged into regality. Every single hair on Minerva’s head was bright and unified in its colour, a brilliant and striking red that not even the Weasley’s were capable of. It was all just so horridly unexpected that Hermione found herself at a loss. 

Was Minerva even staring - with ever-widening eyes, unblinking and face a mask of terror - at her, or something like a Bogart? Was she staring at a Ghost?

Hermione giggled again, ‘Have I died? Am I dead?’

Madness ran as Hermione spun herself through the implication. Was that all this was? If she managed to look down at her body would she see only grey, an opaque silhouette of where a firm body had once stood? Would she forever be clad with these horridly itchy robes for the remainder of her afterlife?

Hermione Granger, the Brightest Witch of Her Age and one-third of the Golden Trio. Hermione Granger, brought low by a foul - and very unsanctioned - experiment. Hermione Granger, shorn apart and reduced to a floating book, interactive if not interesting.

When finally the need to determine the state of her mortality overrode the shock at Minerva’s appearance, Hermione glanced down quickly at her body and hands. Her breath hitched up in her throat at the relief that came when it appeared she was as alive and fleshed out as any appropriately living person should be.

Unfortunately the movement also managed to push to the fore a great deal of pain in her neck and shoulders, and the nausea that had retreated momentarily was suddenly roaring back to life deep within the pit of her stomach. All at once a litany of pains made themselves noticed, overstrung emotions snapping back into Hermione’s current reality. A single, pained squeak managed to escape from her throat as the shaky knees just barely holding her up managed to fail and buckle. The only saving grace to her fall was the rapid descent into unconsciousness, a mild and soothing relief that fell upon her before Hermione’s body could officially greet the floor.

---

Minerva stared, and stared, and continued to stare, long and without pause, while deep within the furthest recesses of her mind a thought came out, unbidden.

‘My tea’s gone cold by now.’

It was - rather oddly, but perhaps not unexpectedly - the only thing running through her mind as it raced back and forth in a persistent loop of remembrance.

---

She had only just sat down to once again begin the task of preparing the student syllabuses for her incoming First Year students. The Transfiguration lessons they were expected to cover were easy and she hadn’t made as many changes as she’d thought, not due to a lack of improvement in the craft but rather a lack of improvement in her methods. There was simply little more she could teach them when they arrived, not until they had enough of a solid base to work from. 

But her plans of going through it all were dashed. 

Stacks of neatly wrapped and bound parchment were sitting atop the left-hand side of her desk, while an ever-growing pile of finished work was rising off to her right. There were more students than expected this year, a population boom the likes of which they hadn’t seen in years. That alone would make the coming year a bit more of a challenge but it was one that Minerva felt she could handle. She wouldn’t exactly be the Transfiguration Head if she couldn’t, and Dumbledore knew that. It would have been a little easier to complete if she let the House Elves work alongside her, and they could do it all much more efficiently as well. 

But that felt wrong.

It was just better in her mind to do it all herself, add a little personal flair with each sheet. Not that most - or really any - of her students would notice that. They’d look at it once and then shove it somewhere in their trunks to be forgotten until they realized they missed a test or a term paper. Still, it was the thought that counted in instances like this and it was a welcome form of grounding that Minerva took to with relish. A little bit of repetitive stress relief as exercised through the precise and controlled movement of her quill.

A cup of tea - recently poured and still quite hot to the touch - sat off to her left, hovering right above a saucer as she intermittently sipped and placed it back. The stacks of parchments were moving along at a rather steady pace and she was humming - an old tune she’d learned as a young girl, now remembered and voiced by only her - with every motion. It was a steady rhythm, easygoing and secure.

But then an obnoxious ‘Crack!’ interrupted her momentum just as her mind had reached that wonderful little place where she could work or learn, or do close to anything at all while being so far detached she might as well have been asleep.

Minerva huffed and registered the sound as the telltale note of a wild - and quite restless, the air that had passed over her from that had nearly upset a stack of parchment - Apparition, likely just a House Elf attempting to bring her something after sampling the cooking sherry. It wasn’t too much of an unusual occasion during the summer months as they all had lives to lead and Minerva was well aware that the Elves wanted to spend their time having some fun when none of the students were around. 

Yet when she looked up from her desk to confirm the suspicion her eyes stilled and stretched open with shock. The laboured breathing coming from her chest wasn’t panicked yet, but it was close. The sudden sweat against her robes was cold despite the summer heat and the pit her heart fell into was deep.

A young girl - or a woman to be more precise, but Minerva had a hard time seeing anyone less than thirty as “Grown-up” - was standing in the centre of her office, stock-still and not a metre away. But what shocked Minerva more than her sudden appearance was the blood - bright and shining red from the light streaming in through the window - haemorrhaging down her face. The constant river fell down to the carpet with a dull, dripping sound. It dribbled down her robes, down into the carpet, exhales of red mist with every breath the stranger took. 

The stranger was shaking where she stood and Minerva noticed ruddy brown hair that had been pulled into a haphazard and frizzled ponytail, only a few free ringlets to frame her face. Scared eyes of umber and gold were shivering, the whites all reddened from either crying or trauma. Minerva glanced down at the woman’s chest, noticed a golden-red bauble hanging from her neck on a chain, and then she cried out with alarm.

That chain was red with heat, glowing fiercely against the girl’s chest even as steam and smoke wafted upwards from the metal links. Minerva could notice now the sickening scent of burned flesh, and bile rose up in her throat.

The stranger’s head dipped low, hands came up, and for a queer moment Minerva had the distinct feeling that the girl was checking on whether or not she was still alive. Red drops continued their cascading waterfall down to the floor, puddle growing further as she shook, shivered once before leaning drunkenly from side to side.

The stranger emitted a pained squeak, and then collapsed noisily into a heap atop the floor.

It took only a second or so to pass after the woman fell down onto the floor before Minerva’s training kicked in, whether she knew the girl or not she needed help. Tired muscles flaring, a checklist rolling through her head. Up she jumped from her seat, snapping fingers and leading House Elves to Apparate within. She was checking the woman’s pulse when Poppy arrived, Albus following closely on her heels and eyes a maddened fright when he saw the red all spread around her floor.

---

Now it was near an hour later and still she was with Albus and Poppy. Both of them held whispered discussions on what to do next, how to handle it and trading theories on just who the stranger was. Poppy had mercifully cordoned off an entire section of the infirmary to allow them some privacy from the other members of staff who were on campus and the elves had cleaned up every dot of blood from her floor. Albus poured himself into attending the stranger’s side, Poppy passing off information and spells to keep her from exsanguination once it became clear a simple Blood Replenishment wouldn’t be enough. 

Minerva could hardly keep any awareness of them in mind though. The frightening ordeal had left her drained, mentally exhausted with fright and adrenaline. Now there was nothing that she could do and all she could even think about was that poor cup of tea, surely gone cold by now.

---

Raucous thoughts and pain-addled confusion were all that met Hermione as she slowly, incrementally, began to stir within the confines of what appeared to be an infirmary bed. Whatever it was that assaulted her had left a far more lasting pain than even the harsh and stinging burn of Bellatrix Lestrange’s worst Cruciatus. The pain that she found herself lingering in, riding high and low in a way that felt timed to her breath, was proper Hell compared to the blissful emptiness that a proper Crucio would have left her in. At least that spell managed to be brief. This was everlasting. 

Skin and muscles on her neck were burning fiercely and locked tight, solidified into a single unmoving position by what felt - at the outset - like a veritable mountain of gauze and bandages. Whenever she attempted to arch her back and relieve the spike of pressure driving upwards between her shoulder blades there was only a sharpened groan of pain and realization that she could not move. The shortness of her range of motion reminded her that at least the rest of her body existed, even if it was also pulsing with a throb of pain.

Muscles were screaming in protest and bile was splashing against the back of her throat as nausea began to take hold.

‘Oh yes,’ Hermione mused, dark and hardly lucid. ‘I’ll take a Crucio over this, anytime, anywhere.’

She was stuck with the odd sensation of having been splinched far, far beyond the point of saving but stuck back together anyway as some terrible exercise in futility. Everything hurt, and that pulsing incongruity let her know it would hurt for some time still.

It seemed, however, that her groaning and moaning had attracted some form of attention. Elsewhere in the room she became aware of hushed voices muttering lowly beneath their breath. The sharpened tap of heels on marble let her know that someone was approaching, even though her eyes refused to open. A phial was pushed sharply against her lips and without a chance to ask any questions Hermione simply swallowed the liquid down.

Within a few scant seconds, the potion took effect, mind and body comfortably numbed back into a state of deep and dreamless sleep.

---

When the next instance of wakefulness met Hermione it was considerably less painful than before. 

The whole of her body was still angry and sore, muscles tense with pressure and neck quite hot beneath her skin but there was no immediate distress or pain that could nag and consume her attention. She spent a few minutes taking stock of her body as she attempted to shift forward and sit up, a tall figure rapidly approaching her side to wrap warm hands around Hermione’s shoulders. The person kept still, held her firmly in place while Hermione groaned in discomfort at their efforts.

“Miss, you’ve just been quite grievously injured.” the figure said, their voice a soothing Scottish lilt. “I’m afraid I’ve a need to ask you to remain still, don’t make any attempts to move just yet.”

Hermione - recognizing that voice anywhere, any time, any place - nodded as much as her sore neck would allow, “Yes, Headmistress.” 

She complied with Minerva’s request and relaxed, fell back into the softness of the mattress as the witch guided her back down. Fierce light, bright and sterile, met her eyes when she attempted to open them. She squinted, blinked, attempted to remove the grains of sand in the corner of her eye without moving a hand to do so. It took some moments but the discomfort eventually cleared, vision opening up to reveal - as she’d correctly guessed - the infirmary.

Minerva was sitting at her side and slowly retracted her grip when it became clear that Hermione was stable, “Miss, do you happen to know where you are?”

“Yes,” Hermione said, somewhat confused by Minerva’s formal tone. She turned and felt what blood there was in her face begin to drain at the sight of her Professor’s frightfully young face, “I’m- I’m at the Hogwarts Infirmary…”

‘Oh no.’

Minerva smiled, thin-lipped and haunted, “Yes dear, you are. Now, can you tell me what your name is?”

‘No, oh Gods no, no, no.’

Hermione’s heart leapt within her chest, each beat-beat-beat harsher than the previous. She could feel herself begin to hyperventilate, felt panic crash against the inside of her mind.

Minerva’s look turned frightful, “Miss…?”

Hermione blanched as her mind began to race, ‘Tell them who I am? How far back have I travelled!?’

She swallowed dryly, “My name is… I’m Hermione.” With effort Hermione pushed herself backwards until she could recline against the pillows, body protesting all the while. “I’m Hermione Granger. What, um, well… What year is it, Professor?”

That frightened look on Minerva’s face turned positively horrified, “Nineteen Sixty Eight. Ms. Granger,” she asked, eyes narrowing as she came to the realization herself. “Could you tell me why you needed to know that, Ms. Granger?”

What blood there was drained rapidly from Hermione’s face and the bile she’d bitten back was now coming to the fore. The realization was Hell. The realization was being Lost. The realization was being Alone.

“Sixty-eight? That’s…” 

The words never finished. Her body - heart and mind and soul aching - fell down into unconsciousness as the worried Professor looked on.

---

The next time that Hermione awoke there was a crowd around her bed, all of them quiet but each of them looking fierce, a serious intensity coming from every pair of eyes.

Minerva was still by her side but she had been joined by a distinctly younger-looking Albus Dumbledore - and if that didn’t have her heart racing in some form of joy she’d be lying - and Poppy Pomfrey rounding out the group. Seeing the old man’s face after so long felt akin to finding the ghost of a loved one; startling in the levity it brought her but melancholic nonetheless. The flowing beard that she remembered was cut short and followed the curving of his chin, a curious glint of light twinkling within his eyes. His skin was warm, alive and real in so many ways that the half-formed memories of her youth had failed to capture.

“Hello, Ms. Granger,” he began, voice tender and robust. “My name is Albus Dumbledore. I am the Headmaster of this wonderful institution you’re now convalescing in.” He flashed her a warm smile, obviously waiting to see if she had any sort of reaction to that news.

She didn’t. Seeing him in the flesh was enough of a shock to her system that she could do no more than stare up at him and hope she wouldn’t cry.

He nodded to himself, “Now, Madam Pomfrey has assured me many times over that you are, as they say, out of the woods. That isn’t, however, to say that you’re fine. I would like to ask that you indulge me in answering a few questions. If you don’t feel up to it that’s fine, and we’ll reconvene tomorrow morning.”

Hermione froze. Every muscle stilled and breath caught in her throat, any reaction filtered through the knowledge that she was not supposed to be here. She really had managed to ride that blasted Time-Turner thirty-one years into the past. Gooseflesh prickled along her arms, discomfort fully settling in. Hermione tried to steel herself against it. She knew that it wouldn’t help her situation at all if she let fear rule her thoughts or decisions.

She was here, now, and there was no denying that simple fact.

“Of course, Headmaster.” A miniature smile pulled at the edges of her lips as she brought strength to her voice, the lack of pain from speaking a simple boon to her fragile mood. Pomfrey must have done an excellent job at attending to her, healing whatever she had been subjected to. She’d thank the Medi-Witch for that, she swore it.

Professor Dumbledore smiled at her in turn, “Good, good. Now then, Ms. Granger, it was Professor McGonagall here who found you. Five days ago, shortly before three in the afternoon, you Apparated into her office. She also says that beyond the obvious distress of your body you seemed generally confused. Do you recall how that came to be?”

Hermione recounted what she felt she could, propped herself up and gave them all the best idea of what had occurred. Neither Albus nor Minerva tried to pry at her explanation too hard, nor did they explicitly ask for details about their future. Mostly it seemed they wanted to know about the Time-Turner that she’d been wearing, now removed and its imprint evident upon her skin.

Albus reached behind himself and levitated the mangled ruins of the device while Hermione finished up her tale. The sight of the poor device - one of a kind, brand new and alone in the world - managed to wrench a tear from her, the inquisitorial little girl still hurting for its loss. It was practically unrecognizable; gold and glass had melted together into some horrid amalgam, twisted and vaguely oval-shaped. The chain that held it to her neck was no longer simple links, each band of metal having melted and hardened into a long thread of fused metal.

The device had been so unique, salvaged from somewhere and assembled via a joint venture between a group of Unspeakables and Hogwarts greatest Professors. Now it was simply a wreck, warped and destroyed beyond any sense of repair.

When she finished inspecting the ruined device Pomfy launched herself into an overly gentle description of the state that Hermione had been brought to her in. Whether she was being well-meaning or not, Hermione found herself perturbed by Pomfrey’s softening of the truth. She could feel the annoyance bubbling under her emotions as the seconds ticked by, face giving way to a rather rare occurrence.

Unabashed anger. Narrow eyes.

‘I’m not a child,’ she thought, breath coming harsh and deep. ‘I’ve lived through a war, I’ve dealt with more than this.’

It took her some prodding but eventually Hermione managed to get the Medi-Witch to admit her full report. 

She’d been convulsing upon arrival, haemorrhaging from a myriad of broken vessels in her nose and burned horribly along her neck, so much so that the combined efforts of Pomfrey and Dumbledore had been unable to heal it effectively. Broken muscles all along her shoulders, what looked disastrously like an aneurysm in her brain. Comatose and with a pulse so low they’d thought on multiple occasions that Hermione had simply died.

She hadn’t. Or hadn’t yet, she supposed.

Each of them had debated on the merits of sending her to St. Mungo’s and each had arrived at a similar conclusion; rather than take the chance in risking Apparition - which could have killed her - or flight - which could have also killed her - or Floo - which they decided would assuredly have killed her - it would be best instead that she be treated here, in the Infirmary, and any necessary physicians brought over to Hogwarts. They could keep her still and stable, watch her easily and ensure that any developments in her situation were monitored.

It made sense, even if Hermione found it disquieting that no one else from the Ministry or St. Mungo’s was in attendance.

The situation was eventually evened out. Explained as much as she could do so, passed onto her as much as they could manage. Pomfrey forced her guests to leave her once it became clear the inquisition had been draining and it was with complete exhaustion that Hermione leaned back into her bed and stared up at the white panelling of the ceiling.

Pomfrey was kind enough to call up a House Elf for some lunch, even with Hermione’s protestations that she wasn’t hungry. The woman had only scolded her though, before providing a light porridge and warm tea along with some slices of fruit all placed atop a floating tray for Hermione to consume at her leisure. The older - although younger, Hermione still couldn’t help but feel the woman was ageless - woman bid her well and left for her own food, a simple bell remaining behind for Hermione to ring whenever she needed something. Heels disappeared into the distance and Hermione stared, eyes forlorn, at the food by her side.

She could only recall one single instance of unexpected - and unauthorized, though that was only made apparent in later investigations - time travel that even remotely mirrored her own experience.

The curious case of one Eloise Mintumble.

The witch had - somehow - managed to find herself sent back almost five-hundred years into the past. The rescue attempt of said witch had relied on someone in the present being aware of where she’d gone to, someone who could reference the date itself. Her collection had been of utmost importance to the Unspeakables but upon her retrieval, the woman had aged from her mid-thirties to over five-hundred in the space of a single day.

It was a gruesome way to die and not one that Hermione felt particularly keen on trying out.

Instead of eating she stewed, her mind swirling with questions that her incapacitated state failed to answer. Would she rapidly age, die off as dust if she were brought back to the present? She didn’t think so. Thirty-one years was a lot but that would put her in middle age, not well past the point of life. But would the shock still kill her? If she came this close to death going backwards, then what would going forward do to her? And was she even in her own past, or had she been shunted off to some entirely new dimension?

All questions, no answers. The constant anxiety brought with it a fierce headache, and it was with reservations that Hermione resolved to quit the subject, for now at least. She could only rely upon the help of Albus and Minerva before trying to do anything else.

If she hadn’t already popped out of existence, erased from time itself, then another day wouldn’t hurt.

---

High up in the castle, well behind the closed doors of the Headmaster’s office, a harried conversation was taking place. 

Minerva and Albus both sat before a warm and crackling fire - despite the warmth of summer a chill had invaded the castle over the past few days, and Minerva found herself thankful for Albus’s predisposition to keep fires lit no matter the time of year - as the events of the past few days were discussed. Neither one had wanted to be the first to speak but eventually Minerva had gone first, every second since the girl had arrived was reviewed and dissected until there was only what they had just learned left to talk about.

“Do you believe her, Albus?” she asked, hand reaching out to grasp the handle on a cup of warm tea.

The old wizard declined to answer her straight away, instead flicking his wrist to send his own cup back towards his oversized desk. Finger steepled in his lap, face drawn down and a frown turning down his lips.

“I find myself pained to admit that I believe her story, regardless of how fantastical it sounds. I had no sense that she was attempting to play us for fools. That trip nearly destroyed her, it was only thanks to your quick action and Poppy’s skills that she’s alive. A deception worth that risk seems quite unlikely.”

Minerva sipped, and then asked, “Did you happen to get a look? Inside, I mean.”

Albus sighed, leaned back into his chair. A second passed before he spoke, tone low and soft despite the fact that they were alone. “No, regrettably I did not. She has walls up that I’ve never encountered before. It will take time to see inside, if I can even manage it. It would appear that either the art of Occlumency has been revolutionized in her future, or she is quite determined that no one should see inside of her. Ever. Whatever happened to her before this trip has left her on guard.”

“Interesting.” Minerva leaned back into her own chair and turned her gaze towards the bright-red Phoenix resting on its perch above the fireplace. “Do you think it wise that she remain here then? I’m sure the Ministry could hold her, if necessary.”

“Yes,” Albus replied, quick and rather biting. “Both you and I know that any chance of her being returned to the proper timeline is, well, quite unlikely. If we’re lucky and she adjusts, perhaps she’ll be willing to help us with issues here, instead. The future has already changed with her arrival. It might be possible that we can convince her to change it for the better. Nevertheless, we will look for a method of returning her back home.”

---

A soft but rapid knocking against the oaken door - old and taken from a prior Black Manor that had burned sometimes in the last two hundred or so years - was the only warning that Bellatrix. A hastily whispered ‘Nox’ snapped shut the light brimming from her wand as she closed the pitted leather-bound tome that she’d been obsessing over for the past few weeks of break. The doorknob to her room turned and pushed the gap wide just as she managed to levitate it back beneath her bed. She silenced herself, leaned back further into the mound of pillows resting against her headboard and turned - feigning sleep, feigning being so tired she could barely even see - as her youngest sister entered the room.

“Cissa,” Bellatrix hissed, her voice a hushed but worried whisper. “What’ve I told you about coming over here at night?”

Bellatrix had attempted to instil her voice with the steel of her father’s words but obviously it hadn’t worked. Narcissa was still padding over to her bedside, bare feet slapping against the hardwood. When she reached the side the younger girl hoisted herself up and onto the exceptionally high mattress, nudging Bellatrix over as she did so.

Cissa sighed, dramatic as ever, “I know, I know!” Her little form burrowed beneath the cover, small hands looping over to thread her arm around Bellatrix’s, “I had another nightmare about Mother.”

A second passed while Bellatrix collected herself, gazing towards the faintly burning embers of her fireplace. She sighed - just as dramatic and practised as Cissa’s - and gently held Narcissa’s hand, pulling her tight as wracking shivers overtook the small girl.

“Why didn’t you go to Andi?”

“Because Andi says it doesn’t matter! She says Mother deserved what she got.” Narcissa looked up at her from the darkness with her face in as much a mask of disgust as she could manage, “Hearing her say that doesn’t make me feel any better.”

“Andi doesn’t even know why Mother was sent away. No one does. Look,” Bellatrix ran her thumb against Narcissa’s palm, soothing and gentle as she could be. “I’ll talk to Andi about it, alright? You can stay here tonight if you want, but you’ll have to be quiet.”

Only a muffled confirmation floated from Narcissa, the fire stoked to warmth with just the littlest bit of magic. It was cold this far north no matter the time of year, and Bellatrix found herself settling back into a deep sleep, her dreams filled with memories of better times.