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A Better Life

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The evening of the first Saturday of October found Hermione seated alone on the bank of the Black Lake. The first true hints of winter winds drifted out across the lake. Seated upon a large craggy outcropping Hermione drifted her bare feet back and forth through the cold water. Whatever warmth the stone she was sat upon had absorbed throughout the sunny day had disappeared by the time she’d arrived. As she sat still a deep cold began to seep up through her body, sending her muscles to shiver.

It amazed her somewhat, how different the world was before Voldemort’s first rise. Even in the microcosm of Hogwarts she could see the difference all over. Six and Seventh year students had a late curfew at 11pm and were otherwise allowed to wander the castle grounds and Hogsmeade freely. Third years and up could visit Hogsmeade whenever necessary, so long as they returned by the dinner hour. Children didn't walk the corridors in fear of the other houses and professors didn't talk of Dark Lords in hushed tones and frightened whispers. Grindelwald was but a distant memory of an unpleasant time and Voldemort had yet to declare his intent to control the wizarding world.

Everything else felt constant. Fashions were different but of a similar enough variety that she could recognize their eventual forms. Buildings and shops were helmed by many of the same proprietors as in her own time. Witches and Wizards lived longer than Muggles and for the majority she’d interacted with since arriving it appeared that those she didn’t recognize were those who had died in the war. Magical creatures and half-breeds were still treated disdainfully and muggleborn students were still entering a world that seemed ambivalent to their talents, if not downright hostile. On the whole it all felt stale . She knew how advanced the muggle world had gotten in a thirty year time span and it seemed the wizarding world had only moved five.

And so she sat, alone, next to an expansive forest filled with creatures that would rather see her dead rather than offer her safe passage, and a lake so deep it held countless lost mysteries. And a squid. One mustn’t forget the squid. She passed her time on thought exercises, working through the issues of the wizarding world that stemmed from the stagnation between here and her past. If she was stuck here she would at least be in a position to make changes. She could only hope it would one day be enough.

The days passing between Bellatrix first teaching her parseltongue and now had been well spent, all things considered. She’d had no more news from Mr. Bode, and he had yet to respond to any of the multitude of letters she’d sent him. A part of her couldn’t help but wonder if their correspondence was being intercepted, but she’d only be able to prove or disprove it at their next meeting. And until Dumbledore let her know about it she’d no idea when that might be.

She was on more than generous terms with the Black trio, Narcissa especially after their impromptu talk in the common-room. The little witch would come to her for help on her assignments or just simple small talk and Hermione had found herself enjoying their meetings. The witch was fast becoming the sister she'd never had. Narcissa was smart beyond her years but sought to keep it well hidden. Instead of being a know-it-all she kept her intelligence in the background, exceeding in her school work but never flouting her successes or pitching in to hound other students into improving themselves. That it served to reduce others expectations of her seemed to be a likely reason for her behavior. The girl was cunning, even at twelve. Every now and then, during evenings, she would catch Malfoy (she couldn’t yet bring herself to call or think of him as the Lucius she knew) sitting with her on a couch or propped against a wall or alcove to a window as they talked in hushed whispers or passed books and notes back and forth. She hadn't gotten much of an impression from him yet other than he was studious, quiet, and nearly ever present. The boy would appear out of the woodwork whenever more than two people congregated.

Andy remained friendly but sought out the company of other houses more often than not and seemed to limit herself to only Hermione and her sisters as Slytherin company. Hermione had caught her and the boy she assumed to be Ted Tonks a handful of times hidden throughout corridors and behind bookcases in the library. Each time she’d merely passed by, wanting to leave the couple alone. She wasn’t sure when that situation would shatter the trio’s familial bonds and was in no mood to hasten it.

Her time spent with Bellatrix was proving to be her favorite. On the evenings that Bellatrix was free from her tutoring sessions the duo would spend hours together in the Room of Requirement, working through legilimency and occlumency until they grew bored or tired of the mental strain. In between moments they would talk of their interests and wishes for the future, Bella pointedly refraining from mentioning her impending marriage, and Hermione abstaining from talking about her past. After that they would spend time mastering parseltongue, speaking only in those ethereal hisses and reading up on what little literature about the language existed. It was thrilling to finally have a friend in someone with the same intellectual voraciousness that she valued in herself.

Bellatrix was a broad reader and sought knowledge at every turn. Though her intentions with the information she learned were geared towards advancing or protecting herself above all else Hermione still found herself impressed. Bellatrix had no desire to learn anything just for knowledge's sake, but sought instead to amass a sense of power and autonomy. Over the past few weeks Hermione had gotten the distinct sense that Bellatrix felt she lacked any form of it. She railed against pure blooded marriage rituals and marital submissiveness while on the next sentence speaking of muggleborns and half-bloods as if they were an different species. She would cry out against the injustices of witches discoveries and female authored spells being attributed to husbands or male relatives and in the next breath say that magical creatures held no worth in society. The distilled anger of blood supremacy was clearly visible within Bellatrix, but she’d yet to take on the truly ardent fanaticism that Voldemort inspired.  It was the one thing Hermione held onto and wanted to change. If her sister could escape that toxic mindset, so too could Bellatrix.

She’d managed a few glimpses into Bellatrix’s mind throughout their training with legilimency and what she’d seen had horrified her. Beyond the brutal physicality that Cygnus delt his children, she’d also seen how Bellatrix had been indoctrinated into a belief of pure-blood supremacy since childhood. The young woman was hounded on all sides by her parents and older relatives with no real respite. She could tell though that Bellatrix was hiding particular memories as much as she could, and Hermione had respectfully left those alone no matter how much her rather inquisitive nature implored her to uncover them. She’d consider herself quite the hypocrite if she forced through Bella’s comparatively few blocks while she herself hid everything that had happened prior to the beginning of August, and multiple pieces throughout that time.

Rodolphus had backed off and in a strange twist Rabastan had sought her out for specific help in potions and transfiguration. The boy was in his Fifth year and looked wildly different from his brother. Where Rodolphus was tall and muscular, Rabastan was short and wiry. His tanned skin and sleek muscles attested to an athleticism that his brother lacked. He was soft-spoken and somewhat kind-hearted so long as matters of his brother were not the concerning topic. Where he was though, Rabastan would work himself into a fervor to champion his brother. It left Hermione slightly disconcerted at the viciousness he displayed in his support, but she was grateful enough that she didn’t have to worry about both the Lestrange brothers at once.

Molly and her twin brothers were another matter entirely. Once they’d realized she’d made up in some form with Bellatrix they’d resumed watching from afar while giving her stubborn and angry looks. Molly took great pains to force herself into shouldering roughly against Hermione whenever they passed in the halls. The twins were more respectful, though no less annoying. The few pranks that they played on her felt likely be attributed to the duo. Where Molly was direct and physical her brothers were devious and patient. Whether it was the association, or perceived reversal on her stance with Bellatrix, she wasn’t sure. So long as they left her mostly alone and refrained from truly harming either her or the Black trio she would keep their fragile peace. She'd already received worse torment from the Slytherin students in her time and was unwilling to repeat it here.

The past week she’d spent with Bellatrix had been focused on working around the limitations of their occlumency. She knew from experience that though she could keep her blocks up indefinitely while awake or asleep, they would crumble as soon as she was unconscious. She remained worried at not knowing exactly what Dumbledore had gleaned from her mind and was determined to never let herself be that vulnerable again.

Once she’d let Bellatrix know that their protections could fall they had set to work on how to counter it. Their most promising theory so far relied on the use of permanent rune marks etched onto their bodies that would act to keep the magic fueled during any bouts of unconsciousness. Bellatrix's proficiency with runework found them ways to that kept the protection up without concentration while still allowing them the ability to drop the blocks on command. Hermione was loath to get what was effectively a tattoo but when Bellatrix had pointed out that any other options could be removed from their persons or shut off without their permission she’d been won over. Now it was only a matter of designing the final runes and determining a method for applying them.

Across the lake a mournful howl rose up from deep within the forest. Shaken from her inner reverie she cast a simple warming charm to dispel the chills racing up and down her spine. If she closed her eyes and cocked her head to really listen in she could almost hear the pain accompanying the howl.

Bellatrix was late, again. That was twice now that she'd been held back from her 'tutoring'. And it had been her idea in the first place to meet outside in the cold, away from prying eyes. Now it seemed she would have to return inside and hope her scar would alert her to the witch’s arrival. Shaking her head and scoffing Hermione turned her face up towards the sky. A brilliant full moon would peak intermittently out from behind cloud cover while stars twinkled like jewels against the inky sky.

The distant crack of apparition caught her attention as the wind shifted down from Hogwarts and towards her secluded spot.

About time.’

As she waited for the witch to join her she scanned the far side of the lake and the top of the hill that hid the entrance to Hogwarts from her eyes. Against the dark blue-black ink of the sky she watched as something raced up from the ground. The silhouette blocked out the stars behind it and churned about itself before rocketing off towards her as a stream of black smoke was left in its wake.

Her eyes widened as fear overtook her. She’d recognize that modified form of apparition anywhere. A Death Eater was headed towards her at a frightening pace.


There weren’t supposed to be open hostilities for another two years. Voldemort hadn't even crowned himself a Dark Lord yet. She knew that. It was one of the few things she was readying herself for in this new world. But how did they find her? She was a nothing, a nobody here. She ran her fingers through her short hair and willed her body into movement. Standing up on the rock she dropped her wand into her hand from its holster and assumed a dueling stance.

She never even got the chance to fight back.

As she stood shivering her body locked up again and the scar on her arm screamed out in pain and heat. Her wand dropped loosely from her fingers as her now freed hand shot out to grasp her forearm. In the time it took her to drop her wand and grab her arm the black swirling mass of a Death Eater had reached her. Billowing around her body the smoke churned and whipped at her like a concentrated cyclone. No light penetrated the darkness surrounding her, but she could still catch glimpses of pale skin and wide eyes amidst the turmoil.

A sharp laugh started up all around her as she was forced to brace her stance. The sound continued rising into a crescendo until it devolved into a mad cackle. The pain in her arm bloomed again as air was sucked from her lungs and a pale hand shot out from the swirling mass to grab at her arms and clothes. As the last bit of air left her lungs the mist evaporated, leaving behind a pale figure in skirts and lace. The hair was still unkempt. The corset still laced tightly.

The mad face of Bellatrix Lestrange peered back at her, mouth twisted in a wild grin filled with rotten teeth. Her eyes were bloodshot and desperate with madness.

“What else did you take,” the hoarse voice of the madwoman leaked out. “What else did you take!? ANSWER ME! CRUCIO!!

At the spells' utterance Hermione’s body gave in to the pain of the curse. Falling forward her knees took the brunt of the fall as her balance inverted and her ears popped, Lestrange still cackling madly all around her.


“Em’? Emelia!”

A sharp voice tinged in fear pierced the darkness covering her mind.

As feeling returned to her body she shot forward off her back, into a seated position, shivering and taking enormous gulps of air. The young face of Lestrange, ‘Bella it’s just Bella’ , shot away from her in shock. She reached over and clasped her scarred forearm, waiting for the intense pain to build again. After a few seconds of waiting and controlling her breathing she realized no pain was coming. Her arm was emitting the warmth she’d come to associate with Bella. Deep pulses of soothing heat shot from the scar into the surrounding tissue and pulsed in time with her heartbeat.

Bellatrix seemed to have regained her courage and was slowly crawling towards her on her hands and knees, eyes glued to Hermione’s forearm and a hand raised out in a calming gesture.

“Emelia, Em', you okay?” Bellatrix reached her and placed her hand over Hermione’s own in a tender gesture. As the wind ate up her words Hermione realized how scared Bellatrix sounded.

“I’m fine,” she gaped out in response, “I’m fine. Just… Just a nightmare. I’m okay now.”

You’re not good at all Muddy, not one bit…’

Hermione grit her teeth and willed the angry stowaway in her mind to disappear.

The eyes of the witch in front of her betrayed that the witch didn’t fully believe her, but she seemed unready to push the matter.

“Okay,” Bellatrix replied as she sat backwards, releasing her hand and bringing her legs to cross together underneath her. “You were mumbling up here, asleep. When I touched you, you started screaming bloody murder. Sounded like a fucking banshee.”

Hermione’s head tilted down and her eyes stayed put on the clasped forearm resting in her lap. Pulling in a shuddering breath she lifted her head and stared up at the sky.

“I’m fine Bella, it was just a nightmare. When did you get here?” She brought her gaze back down and stared at the witch with soft eyes.

“A few minutes ago, I got released late by my tutor. He had some questions for me to go over before leaving. Sorry about that. I thought I'd make it up to you though, if you'd like.”

Hermione peered at the witch inquisitively, “How so?”

As she finished her question Bellatrix simply looked up into the night sky and Hermione followed her gaze. Peering out behind clouds was the same moon she’d been looking at earlier, and in her dream. Full and shining it reflected its light back down on them in silver rays. Bellatrix dropped her gaze back down to Hermione while simultaneously reaching into a satchel sitting on the rock beside her. After a second or two she brought her hand back out. Clutched within it was a glass container with a metal lid. Inside the container were multiple thin green-brown leaves of a similar size. As Hermione’s eyes went from the container and back to Bellatrix, the witch in question smirked gently and cocked her head to the side.

“You in?”

The nightmare and time spent waiting on Bella to arrive passed out of the witch’s psyche. Her eyes squinted conspiratorially and she smirked back at Bellatrix.

We're really doing this. I'm really doing this.’

Pushing thoughts of any possible negative repercussions from her mind she steadied herself.

“Yes,” her voice was stern but dripping with anticipation. “But you still haven't told me what you want in return. You did say this was a trade after all.”

Bella’s grin widened further as Hermione agreed. She began to rock back and forth in her seated position, barely holding back the excitement racing through her body. Unclasping the container she pulled two leaves from it before closing and placing it back in her satchel.

She held the leaves out perpendicular to each other with her fingers and locked eyes with Hermione.

“I’ll let you know your half of the trade soon. But if you take this,” she waved the leaves back and forth, “You agree to it no matter what. Is that acceptable?”

Thoughts of what Bella could ask for ran through her mind at a breakneck pace before she finally stilled them all and focused on the present. She’d do what Bella asked for, it was worth this.


“Good!” Bellatrix sat up straight and placed her free hand onto her knee. “For now, I just want you to listen to me. Okay?”

Hermione nodded her acceptance to the terms, some of Bellatrix’s infectious energy leeching over into her own movements.

Bellatrix sat forward and shuffled closer to Hermione, leaving her seated position and resting on her knees, body leaning forward and supported by her free hand.

“Now, we can’t use magic to keep these in our mouths, so be careful, got it? I have some more leaves in case we screw up but I don’t have an unlimited supply. And Professor Bract is sure to notice if I steal from his stores.”

Her warning stated, she raised the leaves to her mouth and sat one underneath her tongue, closing and rolling her jaw to keep it secure. Once it was situated she moved forward slowly to sit on Hermione’s lap, drawing her legs up to straddle the short haired witch. Hermione let out an indignant little squeak at the surprise closeness while Bella trapped her legs together with her thighs and squeezed.

Hermione let her body lean backward, splaying her arms out behind herself to keep from falling. The dark haired witch in her lap brought her free hand up to Hermione’s face, fingers tucked up under her chin and thumb planted securely on her lips, rubbing the warm skin gently.

:Open. :

To Bellatrix’s own amusement Hermione opened her mouth immediately after the request and pinned her down with her eyes. Hermione’s heart was racing in time with a familiar warmth settling down into her abdomen. The scar on her arm throbbed soothingly along with her pulse. As she lifted her tongue Bella reached forward and placed the leaf securely against the bottom of her mouth, index finger pointedly tapping at the tip of her tongue before she withdrew her fingers.

:Good? : Bella hissed out, looking for any sign of discomfort in the witch beneath her.

Hermione’s only reply was a quick nod of her head and a lascivious grin.