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A Better Life

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Hermione lay awake and in a panic long before the sun had a chance to rise up and over the hills that surrounded Hogwarts. Her eyes burned with a lack of sleep that was born from nightmares. The air around her was still and quiet while her heartbeat thudded painfully, blood pounding like a drum in her ears.

The night had run long and her thoughts with it. Nothing had helped to quell her racing mind. Anxiety, worry, doubt; all rolling over and over at a pace she couldn’t keep up with. It all cascaded into loops that drew her further into her despair. She could hardly remember a time when she’d felt this off before.

The night that she’d spent worrying over their robbery of Gringotts might have been the closest. But even then she’d had Harry and Ron to buoy her spirits and calm her racing thoughts. Being a know-it-all who was nearly obsessed with perfection had been a curse as much as it was a gift. And now, left alone with her thoughts, she was overthinking every little thing that she could latch onto. The lull before the Final Battle might have been a close third. But even with death and despair very literally knocking at the door she’d been kept from running herself down. She’d made peace with the fact that at some point she could die. She’d made peace with the fact that she might go down, surrounded by friends as much as family. She’d known she would do whatever it took to keep her friends alive.

She had none of that now. Fear had engulfed her. A visceral fear and anxiety that had sprung up due to the time that it took place in. Not a single soul here truly knew her. No one was her friend. Not Minerva, not Dumbledore, not any single person. Minerva certainly had stepped up to provide some form of warm assurance and comfort but it wasn’t the true warmth of friendship. It was care that came from pity. Pity that arose from knowing that her future self had a hand in Hermione’s misery. Hermione couldn’t stand it, coddling and pity had never been her friends.

And Dumbledore was assuredly not a friend in this timeline. His scheming and maneuvering, for the greater good, was a constant threat. This was the man who had a child raised in an abusive home so that he would soften and latch to the first souls who showed him comfort. The man who pushed aside a proper investigation into who revealed the Potter’s so that it would serve a prophecy.

And she certainly had no friends around her. At least a third of the student body would gladly murder her if they knew the things she’d done, had yet to do. They only saw Emelia, the mask she was inhabiting.

She’d had a beautiful cover drawn up for her, a story so water tight even she could hardly see the cracks that built up the facade. Birth dates, travel dates, family members and friends. Reasons beyond reproach for why she’d left Canada behind. A fake family that was dust on the wind so that no one could look into her. She’d spent so much time studying it and pounding it into her mind that she could almost recite it better than her own actual history.

But now her story would be put to the test. It wouldn’t just be lone shopkeepers or goblins who cared more for paperwork than words. She would be tested by a full contingent of students, all curious as to who this latecomer was. Any one of them could ask a frivolous question that would unravel her whole lie.

When she came back to herself she realized she was close to hyperventilating. Her mind stilled as she fought to drag up some of that Gryffindor pride and courage that must have been somewhere in her chest. Her body moved before she realized she’d wanted to do so. Duvet thrown up from her body and to the side as she turned and dropped her legs off the bed. Soft and warm carpeting scratched at her toes and the soles of her feet, while the chill of the air wrapped around her bare legs. She rubbed morosely at the itch in her tired eyes while the other hand ran through her short hair. It was still something to get used to, sleeping with no errant puffs of hair against her cheek or falling uncomfortably into her eyes. It was a weight off of her that she hadn’t even thought about.

Standing silently she flicked her wrist to encourage the fire across the room to throw off more heat. Grabbing a towel and clean clothing she made up her mind to refresh in the lonesome Prefect’s bath before classes started. She hoped that the warmth and relaxation would loosen her body and mind before she had to directly face anyone.

Her feet padded silently out into the hallways while her ears remained open for a sign of any other early risers. If she was lucky then no one else would be awake yet, leaving her free to sneak in and out with no one to bother her.

The common-room remained as silent as ever but had been strewn with evidence of the other student's arrival. During the Feast last night she had remained by herself at the end of the Slytherin table, picking at food until the earliest opportunity to leave had presented itself. No one had bothered with her, much to her gratitude. Now though, now she would need to interact with others. Even if only at meal times and during classes. A ball of dread fell into her stomach and she hurried her walk in response.

The canvas bag on her shoulder swung lightly as she made her way out of the entrance-way and into the main hallways of the dungeons. The bathroom wasn’t too far off, but she’d still been as quiet and observant as she could.

When she finally arrived she stripped down quickly and set about preparing herself for the day to come. The warm water and succulent smells of soaps and conditioners were a balm to her fractured courage.

---oo---

All too soon though her time was up.

With a heavy sigh she pulled herself from the grasp of the warm water and stood to stretch any remaining kinks from her body. She only began to redress when she was certain her body was limber and no chance of cramping remained in her muscles.

Her scarred arm began to burn as she pulled her white undershirt over her head. It started as a tingle in the writing, light at first, before morphing into an actual pulsing pain. Clenching her teeth and hissing lightly against the pain she brought her palm to the scar and began to massage the skin and muscle beneath it. Only when footfalls rang outside the entrance to the bath did she realize her position.

The pain in her arm increased as the sound of walking grew closer. Soon enough she was down on one knee when the pain reached a crescendo. It was like being carved into all over again.

Slowly backing herself into a corner Hermione alternated between staring at the ugly writing and keeping an eye on the door. Silent whispers for the person to move on without entering were the only sound in the room besides her pained breaths. A mumbling sound came from the door as the footsteps faltered. Her heart leaped into her chest and lodged while her chest froze. When it felt like she’d pass out from lack of oxygen the footsteps started again, this time heading down the opposite direction.

In time with the echoing footsteps the pain in her arm began to lessen. Only when the sound disappeared completely did the warmth and anger in her forearm abate.

Releasing her breath in great rush she bowed over her body, arms wrapping around her knees as she fought to regain her breathing pattern. Her mind swirled at what had happened, thoughts chasing themselves until a hypothesis began to form in her mind.

‘... Bellatrix?’

---oo---

After the incident in the bathroom Hermione had slowly pieced herself back together and finished dressing. The walk from the bathroom had been tense; pulse hammering steadily, eyes swiveling about, fears creeping in on every thought.

She’d made it back safely though. A few of her Housemates had given her strange looks when she barged in, but she paid them no mind. When she entered her lone room she slammed the door shut behind herself and leaned back into the door while her arms and hands were splayed out to the sides. She rationally knew nothing was going to happen but the irrational part of her was just about thrown into a full panic attack. When the seconds turned into minutes her hammering heart and short breaths began to abate. When she’d returned to mastering her emotions she returned to dressing herself and preparing to head out for the day.

The scars across her neck and arm were hidden and shrouded behind her school uniform. The robe more than made up for the coverage that was lost with her hair now being so short, but still the fact that they were there was a bother. As was the likelihood that she would need to roll up her sleeves or remove her robe at some point during the day. She wasn’t sure what would happen if anyone caught sight of the slur and wasn’t in the mood to hurry up and find out.

The wand on her desk was quickly grabbed up as she weaved glamours all over her neck and left arm. The magic that sustained the glamour was small and nearly insignificant to the point where she shouldn’t need to check up on it until the next morning. It brought a measure of peace to her mind that she hadn’t truly thought she’d needed. It would also suffice until she found a way to remove or heal the scars entirely.

With her mind set and satchel packed for the start of term, she left the small dorm room behind and headed towards the common-room. Her feet sounded off loudly against the stone floor while only being slightly muffled from the sounds of talking coming in from the room at the end of the hallway. The closer she came to the entrance to the common-room the more a mild tingling sensation began to build up underneath the glamour on her arm. While it wasn’t painful yet, it also wasn’t exactly unnoticeable. It just was .

Her mind played at the strings of information being presented to her, curious as to the exact properties regarding the curse that seemed to bind her to Bellatrix. Her feet stilled right before she entered the room as she fought to compose herself. It would do her no good to have another panic attack right in the middle of other students. With a hesitant lurch she stepped into the room and slowly walked through.

Bellatrix sat upon one of the large couches that took up a great deal of room on the floor space. The tingling sensation in Hermione’s arm increased but didn’t come with any actual pain. Taking the risk, she stepped further into the room and aimed to walk right past Bellatrix on her way to the entrance-way.

A young girl with a mixture of brown and blonde hair was sitting next to Bellatrix, a book in her lap and an eager smile on her face. It seemed that the dark witch was fully absorbed with the witch sitting at her side and paid no immediate attention as Hermione approached to pass them. When she came up alongside witch she looked down at the same moment that Bellatrix looked up at her.

Brown eyes near the color of pitch stared back at her, no hint of recognition or hatred at all. Whether Bellatrix had forgiven the interaction they’d only recently had, or she’d just forgotten her, Hermione couldn’t tell. Neither spoke as she passed them by only to resume looking straight ahead again when she passed the couch. The scar hadn’t started to hurt once.

Her mind filled with questions as she walked outside the entrance-way and into the halls beyond. The tingling feeling had passed completely once she was away from the common-room, though she didn’t know exactly how far that really was. It had obviously been Bellatrix outside of the bathroom that had set the scar on her arm into a blazing fury. She was stumped however when it came to knowing why the interaction just now hadn’t brought her anything more than a feeling of not being alone.

The tingling had been noticeable to be sure but hadn’t gone anywhere else. She knew that puzzling out why the earlier passing brought pain but not this one would be a likely arduous process and determined that a trip to the library was in order as soon as she could spare the time or patience.

---oo---

Students of all Houses kept out of Hermione’s path as she made her way up multiple staircases and under heavy archways on her path to the Great Hall. A few of the Slytherin’s surrounding her would mutter a quiet ‘Hello,’ or a wave, while the other Houses seemed content to pretend that she didn’t even exist.

Bits and pieces of conversations traveled gently to her ears as she walked past throngs of students with happy smiles and conspiratorially hushed voices. It appeared that rumors about the mystery transfer student were already in full swing. Her lack of interaction the night before and the odd circumstances surrounding her already having been living at the castle seemed to have become a wild tale.

She knew the power that words and rumors could hold over the masses but was unable to decide on any course of action. Harry’s insistence that he wasn’t the Heir of Slytherin had fallen on deaf ears. His pleading tone as he shouted down that he hadn’t entered himself into the Tri-Wizard Cup went unheeded. She could try to dispel them with her falsified history but she knew that that might just increase or warp the rumors further if she went with fervent denial.

Truth be told she was loath to even try, these things had a life of their own as soon as the first person opened their mouth and the time and energy that she’d need to expend working on buttoning it all up would be better served elsewhere.

‘Let them gossip, better lies than the truth.’

So long as the rumors kept people away from her, she would let them talk in peace.

The murmur and clatter of silverware and plates grew louder the closer she came to the Great Hall. Voices floated out, happy and joyous at the prospect of being with friends again while a vocal few railed against the classes they had yet to even start.

The volume dropped considerably as she walked into the Hall, heads swiveling to catch a glimpse of the mysterious witch with such a hush-hush past. The attention was nerve wracking but when she sat down at the far end of the Slytherin table it blocked out the questioning looks. After a solid minute where she played her breakfast and went about pouring juice into a goblet the voices and clatter of a normal morning picked back up again. It seemed the students were satisfied that she wasn’t going to attack or act in a ‘weird’ manner and had decided it was best to resume their breakfast. The sound of voices and clatter of the hungry masses soon picked up again while Hermione lost herself in her task.

It was nostalgic to a degree. Well, only so long as she ignored the odd placement of the table and the bright Slytherin green that that seemed to trim each of her classmates. She’d last sat comfortably at a House table in her sixth year. When the War was over and Hogwarts had just started to rebuild, the Great Hall had been reduced to one long table. So many had left it behind in the aftermath and so few had shown up to rebuild that even a single long table had felt far too empty whenever she sat down for a meal.

Hermione was startled out of her introspection when a student sat down next to her and began piling her plate high with toast and eggs, hands moving with practiced efficiency as the mound of food in front of her increased. Glancing towards the witch Hermione’s head started to pound alarm bells until the more rational side of her mind took over.

‘The scar doesn’t hurt. She’s not Bellatrix.’

A shiver crawled down her spine regardless of the mental assurances that said she wasn’t in any danger. The young witch seated next to her was a near carbon copy of Bellatrix Lestrange, albeit far younger. The major difference that set them apart was the color of her hair. Long brown curls fell in waves and ringlets over her shoulders and down her back. Pale skin that lacked blemishes or adornments were capped with warm cheeks that gave her looks a bit of life and the good-natured grin she wore was disarming and honest.

‘Andy?’ she thought to herself. She’d only met Mrs. Tonks once, and had almost had a panic attack at the sight of her. The witch had been Lestrange’s near twin, the only discernible difference she’d been able to point out at the time was the brown hair, slightly shorter and thinner build, and warmth behind her gestures.

It was a haunting feeling to meet the younger version of that woman, knowing what she did.

Hermione forced her thumping heart to relax and stilled her complexion when the young witch turned to her and began to speak. She belatedly realized it had been Andromeda who had saved her from being hexed by Bellatrix when she was knocked down outside of Ollivander’s shop.

“Hi,” the young witch spoke up with a pleasant air, “I'm Andromeda. You the new transfer from Canada?”

Hermione turned on the bench and faced the witch before replying, a piece of buttered toast going slack in her hands.

“Yes, Emelia Grenier,” Hermione dropped the toast and offered her hand for a shake, “Pleased to meet you Andromeda.”

Andromeda returned to her plate after their pleasantries were exchanged, piling up food onto a fork and struggling to down it all in one gulp. Seeing the rather uncouth action had Hermione internally giggling as she compared the woman she remembered with the new version at her side.

“You can call me Andy if you’d like. Usually people only call me Andromeda if I’m in trouble,” she tilted her head and shot Hermione a wry grin, “You might not have recognized me but I wanted to apologize for the way we met, in Diagon. I know it’s not my place to apologize for her but Bella likely won’t admit she was in the wrong. She is sorry though, just not used to expressing it. We’d both been having a shite day. Not sayin’ it as an excuse or anything but I wanted you to know she didn’t go at you for anything you’d done. Bella would have gone on to hex someone else if she hadn’t run into you.”

A mirthless laugh went off in Hermione’s head at the thought of Bellatrix Lestrange ever being sorry for anything. It was just such an absurd pronouncement that she nearly lost her composure and actually laughed out loud. When the amusement petered out she centered herself and slumped her shoulders, looking towards Andromeda before replying.

“It’s alright Andy, I understand. We’ve all been there, had those kinds of days. Just so you know though, I’ll probably try to avoid your sister. She struck me as being… intense.”

A sheepish look crossed over Andromeda’s features as she shook her head before looking her in the eyes and grinning.

“Believe me Emelia, you don’t even know the half of it. Intense is the understatement of the century when it comes to Bella. That said,” her grin faltered, “She isn’t too bad, once you get to know her. Oh, and if you want, since you’re new and all, come find me after classes. I’ll show you around a bit. Lots of hidden places and shortcuts running around through everything. I’ve been here six years, well starting on six technically, and I still don’t know em’ all.”

“I’d like that very much,” Hermione replied, her voice and smile filled with genuine emotion. “Thanks.”

Breakfast continued to drag on wards as the two witches sat in companionable silence. When it became clear to Hermione that she needed to leave now or risk missing the first Charms class of the term, she pushed her plates and silverware back before rising up from the bench and smiling warmly down at Andromeda.

A comfortable wave and promises to meet up again were their last interaction before she headed off and out of the Great Hall.

---oo---

Hermione’s day continued to be far more successful than she’d imagined all the way up through the end of Charms and History of Magic. She’d been able to take advantage of the free periods between her classes to hole herself away in a corner of the library. A wall of books and shelves had shielded her off from the scrutiny of most students. Madam Mazur had simply given her a look as she wandered off and the few students that had already taken up residence didn’t even react to her presence. It had only been the first day of classes but already she was feeling swamped with the amount of work. It was clear she’d need to work and study diligently to finish the meager amount of homework that she’d already been given. It was enough to bring a smile to her face.

Transfiguration was her last block for the Monday afternoon. She was determined to come out on top of her classes and best her peers.

The room was empty and quiet when she finally arrived. Minerva seemed more surprised at her early arrival than anything else. The older woman smiled back at her as she took a seat in the middle of the room. Her mind was caught up in her thoughts as she set out a fresh quill and parchment, awaiting the arrival of the other students.

The rest of the class trickled in mere minutes later, filling up the empty desks around her. The stern faced Professor glared down students as they continued to trickle in, late comers and stragglers getting soft but disappointed chuffs and warnings that the behavior wouldn’t be tolerated past today.

When what appeared to be the last straggler entered into the room Minerva stood to begin roll call. With each ‘Here!’, the quill floating alongside her parchment. Hermione hesitated just a second longer than she wished she had once her new name was called out. An internal panic rippled out from her chest once she realized she’d been called and though the rest of the class roll continued normally from there she was startled nonetheless.

Midway through the remainder of the roll call her scar began to tingle. The telltale sensation grew as apprehension washed over her. She’d been so lost in her own head that she hadn’t even heard Bellatrix’s name being called out by Minerva. She eyed the door behind her and hoped against measure that the feeling would fade quickly.

Luck, however, seemed to have it out for her. The classroom door opened with a squeak on rusty hinges as the dark haired witch sauntered in. She wore a self-assured expression as if daring anyone to comment on her tardiness.

Hermione closed her eyes and rubbed lightly at the scar on her arm as it continued to alert her to the witch’s presence. When she opened her eyes she realized that Bellatrix had made her way to the only empty seat.

Next to her.

‘Oh Merlin, no.’

“How good of your to join us for class today Ms. Black,” McGonagall’s voice brokered no amusement at the witch’s tardiness and Hermione felt a stab of pain lance through her scar as the witch seemed to take offense to the Professor’s statement. “One would think that after six years of living and learning within these halls that you’d have memorized the locations of classrooms. After all, mine hasn’t switched in nearly twenty years. Ten points from Slytherin. Do not make this a habit.”

A groan of discontentment rolled through the half of the classroom that was occupied by the Slytherin students as McGonagall made her proclamation. The other half, Gryffindor, pumped their first lamely at the first hit of the year. Hermione would have normally been pleased at the infraction being addressed but had slightly bigger issues to contend with now.

The scar had settled into a constant heat and mild burning sensation that would pulse stronger in time with her heartbeat. And the cause of the pain was sitting right next to her. She could only hope that as the rest of the class continued onward that the pain would lessen as Bellatrix’s mood improved.

The witch, for her part, had simply muttered a retort under her breath and brought out the few supplies she needed for the class.

‘Well,’ Hermione thought wryly, ‘At least this can’t get any worse.’