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A Better Life

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Being summoned to the Headmaster’s office wasn’t unusual. She’d been summoned there enough times in her original timeline and being thrust back had only warranted even more visits. If she was charitable with herself she’d even say she was quite used to it by now. Secret meetings. Worried tones. The damned gargoyle. Those gentle eyes that held just the hint of something more.

But this time was different. No owl, no summons through a professor. Just a house elf, popping into existence on a Tuesday morning after her first lesson, and popping out without so much as a word and Hermione flung along for the ride. Whatever necessitated the urgent transport was unknown.

“Ah, Ms. Grenier. Apologies for the rush, but we had no time to waste,” Dumbledore spoke from behind his desk. As her eyes adjusted to the shift in light she took the room in. It would be gracious to call disorderly. A more fitting but rude description would have been a mess. Stacks of parchments littered his desk and all other available seating. Scrolls stacked in rough pyramids were bookended by tomes and half-gone candles. A flurry of candy wrapping papers littered the tiny undersized wastebasket he kept on the floor, spilling out into an ungainly pile.

The man himself looked remarkably well suited to the chaos. Bushy beard and hair a mess of tangles and split ends. Eyes ringed and pouchy with an obvious lack of sleep. Even his voice had been off. It carried the weight someone who hadn’t slept properly in weeks, quiet and cracking at every word.

“Hello Headmaster. You wanted to see me?” she ventured.

“Yes, yes. I hope you haven’t forgotten our last talk. In the interim I’ve continued looking for avenues to replace you to your timeline,” he said as he pushed up from his desk, arms clearly shaking from the effort to stand. “I would truly like to apologize for the rush but my contact here only has limited time for us.”

When he finished he pointed an upturned hand towards the far wall of bookshelves. Before her eyes a disillusionment charm was removed and a person took shape.

He was… Unremarkable, she finally decided on. Only a few inches taller than her and built in a way that suggested almost nothing. His face was young, maybe only a few years older than her, and lightly tanned, skin smooth and unblemished. No mustache, short cropped brown hair, brown eyes. If anything his dress was the only discrepancy that one could pinpoint as standing out. He filled out a mute gray muggle business suit with a black tie and polished black shoes.

“Ms. Granger,” he spoke, his voice calm and smooth, “I’m Broderick Bode, Unspeakable for the Department of Mysteries.”

“Mr. Bode,” Dumbledore broke in, “Has been assisting us since you first arrived. And you needn’t worry, the Ministry at large is unaware of the services he’s rendering us. We’ve made an Unbreakable Vow to not discuss the particulars of your case with anyone not in this room. He’s been immensely helpful.”

That’s comforting. I guess.’ Knowing she wouldn’t be poked and prodded like a common lab rat by the Ministry was reassuring. It was still rather worrisome with not knowing his reason for showing up here however.

“I suppose you have questions, but I need you to understand you’ll get few, if any, answers. I’m on a time limit right now, so I’m not sure I can get to them today. If you have any afterwards, feel free to write letters, Dumbledore has a secure way of contacting me.”

“Alright,” she replied before moving a stack of parchments from a chair with a flick of her wrist and sitting down.

“Now, Ms. Granger, you have to understand that your case is… special. You’re not like Eloise. The device that sent her back was wholly different from the one that sent you here.”

Wow. Such an incredible epiphany,’ the angry little voice whispered out from the back of her mind.

“We can replicate sending someone back but the journey would kill them. When Eloise was sent back it was only her extensive training that allowed her to live. You surviving however seems to have been a fluke provided by your version of the device. We’ve placed secure time-capsules with information regarding your case within the Department. They’re all time locked to the date you traveled from. No one can open them regardless of magical ability or physical force applied. However, no one has come back for you.”

Way to rub that in, yeah?’

“We can assume a few options here. One, no one from your own time period can travel back to safely retrieve you. Two, you’re being purposefully left here. It could be that the negatives of a retrieval would outweigh saving you. Given what we know about what occurred when Eloise was returned to her timeline, well, they may believe it safer to leave you. Third, they cannot retrieve you because the question we’re all presupposing is wrong. What if it’s not a question of when you traveled to, but where. We’ve been going about this assuming that your version of the time turner kept you on the same timeline. What if it branched? What if your arrival caused a split?”

She had to admit it was a shocking implication. That there was literally no hope of ever returning to her friends, her family. She’d thought she’d resigned herself when Dumbledore first told her of the trouble of returning her. But from a third party it held more weight. That it was an Unspeakable was even worse.

He must have noticed the dejected look on her because for once his neutral face was overwritten by sorrow conveyed through a minute frown. It was the most emotion he’d shown since she’d arrived.

“Now, like Albus and I have said, we can’t send you back to your time. But we can work on the problem by assuming case three. We’ll work to send you back to your where.

At that he headed towards the fireplace and turned back to them before reaching for some Floo powder.

“That’s all I can give you for now Ms. Granger. I’ll be in touch again as soon as I can.”

“Thank you,” she replied in a quiet voice while silent tears fell down her face.

After he left the room Fawkes flew down from his perch above the fireplace and landed on the arm of the chair she was in. Seeming to detect her distress he set about gently nudging his head onto her fingers and vocalizing lowly.

Dumbledore leaned back against the edge of his desk and clasped his hands together, the hint of a smirk turning up his lips.

---oo---

The remainder of Hermione’s Tuesday fared similarly. A test in Arithmancy she suddenly felt unprepared for, unkind words spoken quietly but with intent for her to hear them from a table of Gryffindors in a particularly droll History of Magic lecture and murderous glances from Rodolphus throughout the halls.

She had to give it to him. The sheer amount of hatred lacing his body language was impressive. Any sight of him was liable to give her shivers, and he hadn’t even spoken a word.

It all culminated to leaving her feeling restless and emotionally off balance. End of the schoolday couldn’t come soon enough, and once they were released from their last lecture she was first out the door and headed straight for the dungeons. She’d gone there with the intent of locking herself away in her dorm and pretending the outside world didn’t exist. It could screw off for all she cared. Fate, however, wasn’t feeling generous that afternoon.

“Em’!”

A young voice pulled her from her inattention as soon as she walked into the common room. Glancing against the far wall she caught sight of Narcissa tucked into a leather armchair, holding her wand in her lap and idly rolling it around her fingers. Wondering what the young witch wanted with her she headed over once their eyes met.

“Hey Narcissa,” she slung her bag off her shoulder to drop it at her feet and sat in the adjacent chair. “What’s up?”

The little girl was unusually emotive. Their general interactions so far had been so-so, with Narcissa either remaining aloof and distant or precocious and energetic when her sisters were around. Today she was sat up with her blonde hair pinned back, school uniforms ruffled and loose. Her eyes flitted back and forth nervously and she was wearing tiny black earrings in the shape of some corvid or another that moved and flapped its wings intermittently. It was probably the most expressive look she’d ever seen her wearing.

“I was wondering if you’d help me with something?”

Me? Help her? What universe is this? Oh, wait. Probably not the right one.’

Never once had she thought she’d willingly help a Death Eater or an accomplice to one. That they had yet to become those people was irrelevant. And yet here she sat. Ready to say yes.

“Sure. What can I do for you,” she leaned back and waited.

Narcissa took a deep breath and looked around to make sure they weren’t observed before throwing up a small silencing charm to keep prying ears away.

“So… You know about, like… Okay, so it’s, well, my question is,” she began, while Hermione tilted her head and squinted her eyes.

“Doyouknowabouthowtodealwithboysandlikewhentheylikeyou?” She spat out in a rush, Hermione’s eyes widening in surprise at the little she understood from the flustered twelve year old.

“Okay… So I caught part of that Narcissa. Can you slow down and ask again?”

“Do you know how to deal with boys? When they’re trying to court you? Stuff like that?”

What.’

That stopped her thoughts dead. Why in the world was Narcissa asking her of all people?

“Narcissa, first, can I ask why you’re coming to me instead of your sisters?”

The young girl looked away and trained her eyes on a spot on the floor in front of her while increasing the rate that she twirled the wand in her fingers.

“Because they are my sisters. I know, or at least I think I know, what they’d say. And they both haven’t dated here.”

I guess Andy hasn’t let them in on Ted yet.’

“And Bella’s already taken. I don’t feel like it would be good to ask them. But they consider you a good friend, and you’re a neutral third party. I don’t have many friends I can talk to about this stuff. Everyone walks on glass around me. Andy is overprotective of anyone that wants to get close and Bella just scares them all away.”

Hermione could see the thread of logic the young witch was on. It didn’t distract her from her statement that Andromeda and Bellatrix considered her a friend, but she shoved that to the back of her mind for later.

Do I know how to deal with that?’

Sure there had been Ron and Viktor, and a handful of guys and girls she’d ‘studied’ with throughout her six years at Hogwarts, but really deal with them? Viktor had swooped in, a vision of strength and perfectly chiseled masculinity. She’d mainly let herself be swept up by his presence, refusing to fight it and instead just following the alluring uniqueness of it all. And it had been a short term involvement. Something to wet a growing appetite. By the time they were done she was able to recognize that it was the novelty of the situation more than the individual she’d been attracted to.

The few other students she’d been with were explorations of herself and her appetite. A sampling to feel out what and who she found attractive. The knowledge she had gleaned off those encounters had been invaluable once she’d come to terms with how she skewed towards women but it hadn’t led to emotional realizations on how to deal with love. And that was all she’d been for them as well, exploratory missions and self-satisfaction.

Ron was.... Complicated. A relationship forged under seven years of constant adrenaline and death defying adventures. There had never been any real ‘courting’, just the forced bonding of being in the Trio. As soon as the constant fear that she wouldn’t wake up in the morning had worn off she’d realized it for what it was. Temporary comfort in what she’d come to think of as a temporary world. It’d fallen apart as soon as the last body was buried and the kiss wore off her lips.

“Well, do you like them back?”

“Yes, Lucius is perfect-” She halted when she realized she’d said his name out loud, eyes widening in fright as her voice dropped to a whisper. “Don’t tell Bella or Andy, please Em’, please don’t. They’ll push him away-”

Hermione held up her hand to still the worried witch.

“I won’t say anything.”

She chose Lucius? I thought it was arranged?’

“I really, really like him. He’s smart and funny and handsome and his hair is beautiful. Our kids would be blonde goddesses.”

Well, she wasn’t wrong about hair color…’

“Woah, hold up on the ‘kids’ part for now.”

Narcissa threw her a twelve year old’s version of a scathing glance.

“I know about sex , I’m not a little kid anymore.”

“Didn’t mean it like that Cissa,” Hermione replied while trying to placate the witch. “Just that you don’t need to worry about that now. If you like him, and he likes you, just… See where it goes. I don’t have much experience with actual courting myself. Never really got around to it back home.”

Narcissa relaxed back into her seat and stilled the wand in her fingers.

“So your advice is just see what happens?”

“Yes,” Hermione stood from the armchair and lifted her bag back up off the floor. “You’re both young. Just see where it goes and enjoy it. And you should really think about bringing it up to one of your sisters. Andy at least, I’m sure if you explained your side of it to her she’d be fine with it.”

“Alright,” the young with replied and smiled up at Hermione. “Thanks Em’.”

“Not a problem Cissa, I’ll see you later.”

With that Hermione set off towards her room, wondering at the oddities of her new life.

---oo---

Knock Knock Knock

Hermione shifted on her bed.

Knock Knock Knock

“Go away,” she mumbled into her pillow.

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

“Open up Em’! Before I have to tear down the door!”

Gods, Bellatrix was loud. Enough to wake the dead. But the threat did serve its purpose. Rather than lose her door Hermione slipped off the top covers of her bed and shuffled to the door.

KNOCK-

Before Bellatrix could complete bashing down the door she opened it, allowing the dark haired witch to fall forward into the room with her momentum. Throwing her hand out she deftly caught the falling witch and held her still until she could get her feet back under herself. Once she’d been righted she giggled under her breath at the sight of the flustered witch and headed back towards her bed. Plopping down she resumed her position on the bed and waited to see if Bellatrix would tell her what she was here for.

Instead of the answer she expected a weight settled onto the opposite side of the bed instead. Turning to look behind herself she caught Bellatrix’s gaze and frowned at her sudden quietude.

“What do you want Bellatrix?”

The witch sat back against the headboard and draped her feet off the bed before replying.

“Well, we did make an agreement yesterday. What better time to start?”

Agreement? Oh. Right.’

“Well, how do you propose we begin? We can start Occlumency training, but you’ll need to read up on it when we’re not training. It’s not something to learn overnight.”

“Watch me.” Bellatrix smirked as a response.

“Well… we’ll see. We can start that though. What about your end of the bargain?”

Bellatrix lowered her head until her wild curls draped down and hid her face from view.

“Give me two weeks. Takes a bit of time to brew the potion and I have to get the ingredients. But once I have it we can start.”

Nodding in acceptance Hermione stood up from her bed and started pulling books from the pile on the vanity.

“Alright, let’s get started.”