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A Better Life

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‘I can do it. I know I can. End it all right now.’

Hermione followed behind the long strides of Voldemort with Bellatrix at her side. They were making their way off the veranda and out to a large open field that had been trimmed down and free of all plant life besides the well manicured lawn.

‘Just two words and I can end the wars before they even have a chance to begin.’

She couldn’t deny that the thoughts were tempting. It would all just be so easy. Voldemort remained ahead of them and unaware of the danger lurking at his back. Her wand hung loosely in a grip while her thoughts ran double-time.

A small part of her was ready for this. Had promised herself that if some crazy situation like this ever came up she’d be the first to strike. Ruthless and efficient she was ready. The rest of her was roiling with indecision. She wasn’t sure if now was the time to take his life. Certainly not while lacking so much information about his current power structure and definitely not with so many other variables unaccounted for. She knew the location of one Horcrux and could get to it fairly simply through the Room of Requirement. But she was aware that at least three more existed, and she had no idea where they were currently hidden. And so long as they remained intact he would return, in one form or another. She couldn’t be one hundred percent certain that a quick death now would result in any less of a bloody future than they one she’d already lived through.

The small fact that the act of actually killing wasn’t what she was hung up on was a slightly bothersome realization. He deserved a painful death and so much more for all the horror that he’d caused throughout his twin reigns of terror but even that fact wasn’t the main part what made her comfortable with the act. She understood that the half of her that didn’t agree with violence as an answer to conflict, physical or otherwise, was a hypocrite.

A well-placed bombarda could kill someone just as easily as a killing curse and Merlin knew how many of those she’d thrown by the war’s end. She’d almost certainly killed before even if it was unintentional. Any part of her that hung onto the pure visage of a merciful Gryffindor that refrained from forcing death upon another was fighting a battle that was already lost. A decision to run arithmantic lines as soon as she could to determine the impact of killing him this early was the only thing that quieted the turmoil in her mind.

As they reached the edge of the wide open field Voldemort stopped short and clasped his long spindly fingers behind his back before turning about to face them. Even in the warm evening sunlight he glowed with unnatural paleness while his milky skin shined bright as alabaster against the contrast of his cloak.

“I assume you know at least the basics of proper dueling Madam Grenier?”

She couldn’t wipe the smile off her face fast enough when Voldemort referred to her as Madam Grenier. There was something just so satisfying about lying right to the smug bastards face that she couldn’t turn it off easily. A lower part of her personality found it was hard to deny the thrill of being addressed in such an aristocratic manner after so many years of being seen as a lower class citizen by most of wizarding society. Luckily he appeared to take her smile as anticipation of what was to come rather than what it really was.

“Yes, my Lord. I know the basics well enough.”

“Good.”

It didn’t come as a very surprising test to her. Setting her against Bellatrix to see how she’d stack up was probably one of the few reasons he’d acquiesced and allowed her to attend. She reasoned that If the war was set to begin in earnest in the next two years he must be in the middle of gathering forces. If he was impressed he’d probably move onto active recruiting if he could figure out where she stood on blood purity. She found his method simple, if blunt.

When he sent a nod in their direction they left his side and diverged to head towards opposite ends of the small clearing. Voldemort raised his wand to his throat and began to thunder out the rules of their duel.

“Stun and disarm only. I don’t want to have to heal either of you when you’re finished. The bout ends with the first hit. Begin.”

As the last of his words faded into the open air the witches saluted with their wands before bowing deeply towards each other. As they raised back up their dance began.

Bellatrix rushed forward to push Hermione back with a lightning fast series of feints. Each lasted just long enough to begin feeling out where Hermione’s defenses began. Pacing left steadily before throwing herself bodily to the right and down to the ground she sent out a wordless stupefy. Hermione’s reaction was immediate as she threw herself forward to dodge the bolt, throwing a protego around herself that ricocheted the off kilter spell. As it shot off into the distance away from them she pressed herself forward into the dark witch’s space.

Strafe left, expelliarmus. Block. Strafe right, stupefy. Block. Close the distance, stupefy. Block. Rinse and repeat. Her body hummed as she flowed back against Bellatrix, driven by instinct honed in war. As Bellatrix continued backing and strafing in tandem with her she pressed the final gap and upped her assault. When she was finally close enough that Bellatrix might falter her protection she sent a stupefy low and leading in the direction that the witch was strafing.

It flew over Bellatrix’s head, making it obvious that the witch had been waiting for Hermione to close up and fall into a routine. She ducked under the incoming spell to slide forward onto her knees and dip beneath the arc of Hermione’s outstretched arm. A hasty and wordless protego was the only thing to save her from the hit.

At that their bout turned. Bellatrix would hop and lunge forward with every spell she cast until it forced Hermione into a tight circle as she fled the incoming spells. Hermione’s movements were by the book; short, quick, devoid of any wasted momentum or energy. Meanwhile Bellatrix had apparently thrown the book out entirely. She’d hop back and forth on her feet as she reached out to her sides in an effort to catch her opponent off guard. Hermione was continually pressed into circling as she lost what little ground she’d made up in her initial defense.

Within minutes her breath rattled her chest in ragged and pained gasps while her shoulder and bicep began to burn with the exertion of blocking against Bellatrix’s ferocity. Any pretense she’d had of mounting a solid defense were thrown off as tried to maintain at least two arm lengths from the incoming fury. As their bout dragged on it took her nearly ending up pressed against the witch to notice the sound she was making. It had almost reached a crescendo before she realized with a grimace of fear what it was.

Bellatrix was laughing.

---oo---

She couldn’t help it. Within only a minute of their duel she’d decided it was some of the most fun she’d had in ages. The speed that Emelia fought back against her was delightful. Her guard was second to none. Even despite her consistent attacks and forward momentum she knew she wasn’t really gaining ground in this. Her body thrummed with energy and harsh inhale was intoxicating.

The laughing was a natural consequence. Any time she found herself in a position where she could truly show off what she knew, the laughing would start. That it seemed to unnerve opponents was a beneficial, if secondary, concern. Emelia’s defense was practiced and straight from what classic duelists were taught. Maintain distance, keep your silhouette small to make targeting harder. Protect yourself above all else and wear the opponent down until an opening presented itself.

Bella knew she would lose this in the long game. Her only active counter was to push through it full steam ahead and force a crack in her defense. She forced her body to work harder as she threw herself from side to side in a random fashion, dipping low and skinning her knees in attempts to flank Emelia before popping to her feet and launching forward into an assault.

Sweat slid down her face and burned her eyes while her hair knotted and clung to her burning neck. She knew she looked insane. A madwoman with a single intent. She’d seen herself reflected in a pensive whenever Lord Voldemort would have her review her movements and training. In the end the thought of how she looked just fed into her laughter. Harsh giggles turned into full-blown bellows as she descended into her role. Her mother would be so displeased to see her darling firstborn lower herself to such unladylike actions. Her body held no sense of regal posture and she portrayed no soft femininity when she fought. Her clothes would be ruined during training and her skin would bear the brunt of cuts, scrapes, and bruises. She’d pay good money to see the look on Druella’s face if she could see her now.

As their bout continued she could feel the reserved energy beginning to fade from the high exertion. She’d only be able to sustain one final assault.

WIth all the force she could muster she threw herself forward and directly at Emelia until she was close enough to see her terror filled eyes. With her wand practically touching Emelia’s chest she let out a furious roar as the unblocked stupefy released from her wand.

‘I win-’

With all the grace of a swatted bludger she flew back and to the side of Emelia as her own spell was redirected straight back into her chest. Her solar plexus crumpled and all the air was forced from her lungs in a single breath. Darkness followed after.

---oo---

As their bout had continued and Bella’s cackles had grown louder Hermione had begun to feel her already short breath grow shallower still. With a pained inhale she realized that Bella’s eyes mirrored Lestrange’s. Wide and nearly black they pierced at her with a maddening intensity. Her grin was reduced to a monstrous snarl that stretched tightly against her face.

Hermione could rationalize that this was Bellatrix, her Bella, as much as she’d like and still only see the face of a murderess staring back at her. She knew this was the woman who’d shared a peaceful and intimate moment with her at the lakeside yet the image was being overpowered by the fear of her memories. She could only continue to see more of her . Her torturer. Her foil. The broken and insane caricature of the woman she’d once been. And it was terrifying beyond belief. Her wand felt clammy in her grip and the scar on her arm had begun to burn with the intensity of Bellatrix’s assault.

She’ll cut me again she’ll cut me again she’ll cut me again-’

Bella thrust her body forward for a final shot, dipping beneath Hermione and bypassing her guard.

Her dagger she’ll use the dagger please no please no no no no-’

CRACK!

She could feel the impact of the spell as it slammed into her chest and rebounded back towards Bellatrix. Her thoughts broke at the same moment that Bella fell bodily onto the ground. The force of the impact had pushed her back and to her knees as the terror disappeared.

She held herself up by a single open palm and trembled with the exertion of not falling forward onto her face. The pain that had sat so deeply below her scarred arm had vanished into the dull throbbing warmth she’d come to crave whenever Bella was near. Scrambling forward she fell to the side of the downed witch and placed her wand tip at Bella’s chest before muttering a soft ‘Enervate’ to revive her.

As she waited for Bella to come around form her stupor she felt sharp nails and cold fingers attempt to access her mind. Her walls held, and she shot Voldemort a short glare before realizing exactly who she was dealing with. Letting him know she was displeased at his attempts to gain access was probably not the best choice. Ignoring him for the moment she sat back on her haunches and gently rubbed at her scar while the witch below her began to stir.

“You alright Bella?” She offered her hand out to the still recovering witch, pulling her to her feet once she’d come around completely.

“Yeah, nice hit,” Bella replied in a wheeze, “Didn’t even see your shield come up.” Hermione’s heart warmed at the sincere smile that graced Bella’s lips.

The sound of heavy steps alerted them to Voldemort’s approach.

“Well done Madam Grenier,” his nasal tone reached them first. “But you’ll need work. Your defense was solid but in a real duel you won’t have the pleasure of retreating forever. Your offense needs work as well, far too regimented for any real application. We’ll work on it though. I’m sure Bellatrix could help.”

His phrasing brought Hermione’s brain to a standstill as she went over his statement.

“My Lord…?”

“How would you like to join Bellatrix as my pupil? I’ve been on the lookout for talented witches and wizards to pass my knowledge onto. I only have a few under my tutelage at the moment but you’d be a welcome addition.”

---oo---

When the left the manor later that evening Hermione’s head was swirling with half formed ideas and schemes. Voldemort had extended his tutelage and the prestige that his name held among pureblood circles with no request for reciprocation or favor on her part. It wasn’t hard for her to see why the Bellatrix of her time had become so deeply enamored with him. Not only was he a perfect orator, his natural charisma was an extremely strong draw. The man could talk a broomstick into working for him.

She was however deeply unnerved by the attention that Bellatrix gave to him. The way her eyes had followed every single one of his movements was disconcerting. She knew she’d need to do something soon to stop that before he became her permanent obsession. Her only immediately viable method was to tell her the truth and allow her into her mind. It also would sidestep the guilt she felt at hiding all of who she was from her new friend. Hiding all that had happened to her was beginning to become a grating prospect.

No one had been there for her in her time, no one was here for her in this one either. If anything it might help the nightmares and yawning chasm that opened whenever she lied to Bellatrix. The terror she’d felt near the end of their duel was only more proof she wasn’t handling the pressure well.

As they left the grounds of the manor she held weakly onto Bella’s arm and allowed the witch to apparate them back to the front gates of Hogwarts. The moon hung by a sliver in between lazily drifting cloud formations. The wind blew up from behind them and a chill pressed through her clothes and ran up her spine. Her body leaned over automatically into Bella in an attempt to gather warmth.

Her thoughts turned back towards telling Bella the truth. Guilt flowed up her throat and she despaired that it felt like now or never. Risk incurring the wrath and possible abandonment of her friend or wait in a vain hope that Bella’s anger wouldn’t be even worse at being lied to for even longer.

If it goes bad I could always obliviate her…’

Even as the thought crept into her mind she shunned it. She’d never be able to follow through on removing any moments from Bella. The witch didn’t deserve to be lied to and she definitely didn’t deserve to have her memories stolen, regardless of her reaction to the news.

“Bella,” her breath hitched as she said the witch’s name, “Would you mind coming by my room before you head off to sleep? There’s some… things, I’d like to tell you.”

The witch at her side shot her an inquisitive look before nodding her head in acknowledgement. The remainder of their walk back to the school was silent as each witch was lost in their own heads.

After they checked in with Professor Slughorn to announce their arrival both witches went their separate ways. Bella off to the shared dormitories and Hermione off to her single.

After dropping off her cloak she grabbed a small canvas bag filled with a towel and night clothes before heading off the lonely Prefects bathroom. As she arrived she began flicking her wrist and fingers to get the taps opened up and filling the room with warm water, ensconcing the room in pine scented humidity from one of the scented taps she’d chosen.

She’d decided that a long relaxing bath was just what she needed and the immediate relaxation she felt at dipping beneath the surface was proof of being right. Her sore and strained muscles warmed up and began to unknot themselves. A few minutes into her soak and she could feel the scar begin to tingle and warm as Bella made her way towards the room. She threw a look at the door and wondered if Bella would continue on to wait at her room or enter.

The sight and sound of the door slowly creaking inwards was her answer. As Bella began to move into the room Hermione slinked to a far corner of the bath and submerged herself further into the water until she was only visible from the top of her chin upwards. Bella’s feet padded on the wet tiles until she saw Hermione.

“You said to meet you in your room but… I really really needed a soak. Hope you don’t mind?” She shot Hermione a cheeky grin did her best to look diminutive and innocent.

Of course I mind, this was a private place!’

“Not at all.”

‘She shouldn’t even know the password- Wait, what did I say?!’

The words had escaped her lips before her mind had even caught up to them. The thought of rescinding the offer after agreeing so quickly felt so rude to her that it stilled her lips and mind entirely. She turned to face the far wall so as to give Bella the privacy to undress and tried, and failed, to still the sharp and shallow breaths that had suddenly come upon her. After what felt to her like a minute or two the sound of gently displaced water reached her ears and slowly moving waves began to lap against her skin. Turning her head she caught the slightest hint of twin peaks capped with dark tanned skin before Bella fully submerged. The blush that immediately raced up her neck and face burned as a small squeak of surprise left her lips.

Bella uttered a short staccato laugh at Hermione’s shade of pink.

“See something you like Em’?” The witch laid on a feral grin and bit her lip, giggling gently at Hermione’s continued reddening.

Hermione couldn’t help the unspoken and unbidden ‘Yes’ that drifted through her thoughts. When Hermione didn’t reply Bella smirked and laughed again before ducking under the water completely before emerging quickly and throwing her long black hair behind herself in a cascade of water. The smile she threw Hermione’s way before half swimming and half walking towards her drove a knife directly into Hermione’s heart.

‘Now or never.’

“Bella I haven’t been entirely truthful with you.”

The witch in question lolled her head to the side and sank lower into the water to peer up at Hermione.

“Bout’ what?”

“About…” Hermione’s heart clenched painfully as she fought to steady herself. “About who I am. You need to listen to this but Bella, please, you cannot tell anyone about this. Not Andy, not Cissa, no one. It’ll sound crazy but please listen and trust that I’m telling you the truth.”

Bella sat up in the water before muttering a soft “Okay” and locking eyes with her.

Hermione calmed her breathing and began.

“My name isn’t Emelia Grenier, it’s Hermione Granger. I wasn’t born in Canada. I was born here, in the UK. I’m from the year 1998. I traveled back in time by accident. And I’m a muggleborn.”

It all came out in a rush more reminiscent of a single long word than the eloquent explanation she’d imagined. When she was done speaking Bellatrix continued staring at her with wide eyes, silence filling the void between them.

When the lack of response continued for almost a minute Hermione finally broke it.

“Bellatrix?”

The silence continued.

“Bella?” Hermione raised her voice and pinned the witch with a stare. “Say something damn it!”

Bella finally reacted by lowering herself into the water until only her eyes and the top of her head were left above the surface.

“Bellatrix Black. I am not joking or pulling your leg or anything like that. Please. Say something. Curse me, scream, anything!”

As she finished speaking Bella stood to her full height in the bath while muttering lowly beneath her breath and moved to close the distance between them.

SLAP

Bella’s hand moved faster than Hermione could focus on before painfully biting into her cheek. The force sent her stumbling backwards until her shoulders and back painfully dug into the lip of the bath. She brought her palm to her face and rubbed at the stinging cheek as she attempted to get her bearings back.

‘She hits harder than Andy. Noted.’

“That’s for being a lying snake.” Bella’s harsh voice brought her back to reality. Closing her eyes she sank back into the water and began to palm the mildly stinging scar upon her arm.

“I’m sorry-”

“Why do you do that?” Bellatrix interrupted her. When Hermione looked at her questioningly the witch simply pointed a trimmed nail at her left arm.

“The rubbing thing. You do it whenever I’m around, and Andy’s caught you doing it too. Why?”

Hermione took a moment to ready herself before pulling her arm out from the water. Placing her pointer and middle finger against the hidden ‘M’ she prepared to let the glamour fall. She hadn’t even noticed that the action of soothing it had become second nature. It had simply become a comforting action to work the heat from it into her muscle whenever Bella was nearby and in a good mood.

“Here,” she released the glamour by drawing her fingertips down the length of it, each letter appearing after they passed it over. When it was fully uncovered she held her arm out towards Bella to allow her to read it. A sharp gasp from the other witch penetrated the silence between them.

“So you really are a mudblood.”

Hermione could feel a small angry flame begin to burn in her chest at hearing the word out loud.

“Muggleborn, yes. And I was being truthful about the rest. I really did travel back in time.”

“What about the scar on your neck?” Bella poked the scar with a sharp finger before running her nail up the curve of it.

“I got it after being sent back here. I was using a time turner and it freaked out. Melted completely, chain and all.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Hermione’s voice stilled in her throat before her mind went inwards. After a short silence she answered.

“Because I was afraid. I didn’t know anyone here and didn’t know if anything I said would have an impact on my future, especially if I said it around anyone I’d eventually know. And as you pointed out again, yes, I’m muggleborn. Second class. Acceptance is hardly good in my time, I can only imagine how shit it is outside of Hogwarts in this time. Not to mention the version of you that I knew was a hardline-”

“Version? This version of me?! You knew me in the future?”

Oh gods. No going back now.’

“I knew a version of you, yes. Bellatrix Lestrange. She was insane, a hard line blood purist who did more than bully a few students in a boarding school. I didn’t know if you would be like her or not. Now that I’ve gotten to know you I know you’re not the same.”

Hermione’s scar began throbbing back and forth between painful and soothing as Bella’s state of emotion rocked back and forth. After a few seconds of the indecisive pain the scar suddenly burned on her skin. Hissing back her surprise and pain Hermione cradled it to her chest and winced away from Bella.

At the sudden movement Bella’s eyes widened and she began to slowly walk over to her, shoving islands of bubbles and foam out of her way. When she was standing directly in front of Hermione she reached a hand out and pulled the arm away from her chest before rotating it and viewing the scrawl under the light. The pain flew out from Hermione’s arm in an instant.

“So. Hermione. We’re not dropping the subject of you knowing me in your future past thing. But,” she leaned closer and traced the jagged script with a sharp finger, “Who did this to you? Why does it hurt you like that?”

“You did.”

Bella’s finger stilled as she shot Hermione a look of surprise.

“A different version of you anyways. Lestrange. That’s what I call her. Believe me when I say that any prejudices you hold against muggleborn or half-blood’s now pales in comparison to her. She’s cranked to eleven, all the time.” Hermione felt rather than heard her voice drop to a near whisper as she continued. “She carved that into my arm with a cursed blade. She tortured me.”

“And that’s why you were afraid?”

“When we first met in Diagon alley it was only because you bowled me over and were ready to hex me into next week. All I saw at that moment was Lestrange. Over the past few weeks though I’ve gotten to know you. Bellatrix Black. You’re not her,” Hermione withdrew her arm from Bella’s hold. “Not yet anyways.”

Bella’s eyes turned towards the water as she crossed an arm over her body in an imitation of shrinking in on herself.

“Cygnus and my mother beat blood purity into us since we were born. I won’t say some of it didn’t stick in us but I’m not a torturer. I'm not my parents. I wouldn’t do that to you.”

“I know you’re not. You’ve been… well you’ve been a right prick to the few muggleborn students here but it’s nothing compared to Lestrange, or some of the gits I knew from my time. They’d rather kill me than touch me.”

Dark eyes peered back at Hermione before Bella backed up against the far edge of the bath and leaned back into the water, only her face visible amidst the bubbles.

“Don’t get me wrong. I’m still pissed as hell at you. You lied to my face and I don’t forgive easy. But you also risked telling me all that. And been nice to my sisters and I. And… forget it. I don’t really know what to think right now.”

The witch turned her back on Hermione and grasped the lip of the bath before hauling herself up and out. Hermione’s face reddened again and she turned away from the naked witch. When all sounds from the other side ceased she turned back. Bella stood near the entrance, wrapped up in a large black bathrobe as she waved her wand about her hair in an effort to dry it.

“Can we go back to your room to talk about this? I don’t feel like sitting here anymore.”

“Sure.”

---oo---

The young witches finally returned to Hermione’s room before the first strike of midnight. Hermione threw her clothing into a pile near the foot of her bed and climbed on top of the covers, wrapping herself in a bathrobe and leaning back against the headboard. To her surprise Bella followed her onto the bed, laying back heavily into the pile of pillows behind her and leaning into Hermione’s side. Neither witch was eager to be the first to break the silence. Hermione traced the contours of her multiple scars while Bellatrix ran meshed her fingers together and settled them upon her lap.

Before the silence could become unbearable Bella spoke up.

“So. You traveled back through time.”

“Yes,” Hermione sighed, “Thirty years of it.”

“Is that why you’re so good at occlumency? Hiding all that future knowledge?”

“Only part of it. Mostly I honed it so no one could see in without me letting them. It’ll be easier to show you though.

Hermione reached across and took hold of Bella’s left hand. When the witch allowed her to move it she brought the index finger to her temple and whispered quietly.

“Use legilimency. It’ll be easier to show you.”

Bella complied without a single hesitation.

The sensation of Bella entering her thoughts and memories was… Exhilarating. She slipped in easily with no untoward force or pain. She’d kept so many fears and memories locked away, bottled up in service to her friends and family. She forced her mind back and ran Bella through it all, from that first day at the train station to the moment she’d arrived in 1968.

Directing Bellatrix through her mind brought back all the things she’d kept buried within herself. The experience of being trapped in another body from the polyjuice incident, the experience of being literally trapped within herself when the Basilisk had petrified her. The terror of Lupin turning into an unrestrained beast, the horror and revulsion when Ronald’s ‘pet’ was revealed as Wormtail. The horror and exhilaration of the fight within the Department of Mysteries. The pain of leaving her family behind.

Throughout it all she kept herself calm and kept a constant pace. Her mind slipped up when she returned to her captivity within Malfoy Manor. Her scar began to burn and her body began to tremble. Bella’s only comment was a murmured ‘Cissa’ at the realization that her younger sister had stood over and left her to be tortured.

Eventually the memories ended. Bellatrix was caught up to Hermione’s present. The speed with which she’d been forced to view the memories left her dazed and exhausted beyond measure. Bella’s fingers grasped Hermione’s scarred arm and she lightly traced over the word. A quick ‘Tempus’ from Hermione revealed it was almost three AM. She groaned at the realization that she had classes in less than five hours. And a meeting with Dumbledore. Bellatrix collapsed against Hermione and proceeded to bury her head between the witch’s body and the soft pillows beneath her. When she pulled her head back her eyes were squeezed shut and a grimace sat on her face.

“I believe you Em’. Hermione. Whatever.”

“This needs to stay between us Bella. No one else can know. And we can’t let on to Dumbledore or McGonagall  that I showed you all that.”

Bella laughed in her direction before throwing an arm over her face in exhaustion.

“I won’t let anyone in on your secret.” As she finished speaking she buried herself deeper into the bed and sprawled out onto her side. “Mind if I say here tonight?”

Hermione couldn’t help the brief flutter in her heart nor the surge of calming heat washing over her body.

“Sure.” Flicking her wrist she blew the few candles dotting her room into pillars of gently waving smoke and slid down the bed until she was comfortable.

“Doesn’t get you off the hook. All that stuff you showed me. You’re still a lying snake.”

“That’s fine Bella. Goodnight.”

Bella’s voice quieted to a whisper as she began drifting off.

“Goodnight Hermione.”