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A Better Life

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Jan’ 6, 1969

The first day of their last term was surprisingly mild, all things considered. Not that Hermione had been expecting much else, there was no war and no pending adventures that could rope her into an early grave. Still though, for something so monumental that she’d hardly believed it would ever arrive, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel was… Refreshing.

Bella was far more wound up that Hermione, unfortunately. Terrifying nightmares and anxiety riddled worries had left her a mess when she awoke, turning into Hermione’s side and burrowing for safety and warmth she didn’t feel. It left her morning in shambles, and she couldn’t help but see danger wherever she looked. Luckily no one went after her sisters or fiancée, though tension still wracked her interactions with the other Slytherin students. Rodolphus’ angry eyes met her own whenever they found themselves near one another, and she could swear there were eyes on her even when he wasn’t around. His cronies, most likely, though she couldn’t shake the worry that it was something else she hadn’t been paying attention to. 

The Prewett Trio were glaring daggers at them from across the Great Hall as breakfast commenced and throughout the day she would catch a flash of red disappearing down a hall or through a doorway at the most random moments. She was sure that they would likely be the least of her worries as though they might hate her and Hermione, they weren’t the level of Dark that Rodolphus and his gang had been falling into. Pranks and half-baked hexes were more their style than the outright bodily harm that Rod’s gang promised them in whispered tones as they passed one another going to classes.

The only real hiccup throughout the day was a rather ridiculous D.A.D.A. class where Mayweather nearly sat himself ablaze while he attempted, unsuccessfully, to control a Pyre Pixie. The little creature found his efforts amusing and had delighted in spinning about the classroom to set their papers and hair on fire, all while the elderly Professor ran behind it with a wand constantly putting out the nascent flames.

It was an amusing end to a rather stressful day, but still did nothing to distract her from the looming dangers.

---

Hermione leaned into Bella’s side, holding onto her arm as they walked, “How about we have some fun before we get to business?” 

The duo were clad in a muffling charm, hiding them both from any unprotected ears and making their ascent to the seventh floor far easier than it should have been. Bella turned towards her with a brow raised in question and responded with the quick press of a kiss to Hermione’s cheek. It was enough of an answer for the young witch, who squeezed the hand in her grasp in a show of reassurance.

“What do you suggest?” Bella asked with a voice husky and warm amid the still invading chill of the castle.

“Well, we know where a Horcrux is. We know that Voldemort doesn’t feel anything when they’re destroyed, and right now he thinks this one is so irretrievably hidden that it’ll never be found in a million years.” She came to a stop on the landing to the seventh floor, pulling Bellatrix to stand before her and grasped at her free hand. “Let’s kill it.” The hint of fire and mirth swirling in Bella’s eyes was answer enough, both witches setting off at a faster pace towards the Room of Requirement.

They reached the hallway, Bella hanging back as Hermione strode across three times to summon the room into existence. One minute the wall was blank, the next, the door had materialized into the wall.

They wandered forward, walking between tall piles of junk and oddities that the Castle had eaten up over the centuries, with Hermione leading them both straight towards the Diadem like a Horcrux seeking missile. It sat stuffed up on top of a wardrobe and glittered in the odd, ever present light of the room. Silver bands wrapped around themselves as they held up diamonds and other jewels, looking all the world like a normal object. She could feel the darkness radiating off of it though as they came closer, and in the back of her hearing she was able to pick up the faintest whispers of parseltongue.

Agath wrapped herself securely against Bella’s neck, the tip of her tail playing with the edges of Black curls while Hermione busied herself with finding a chair to stand on to reach the Diadem. When her fingers curled around it the odd bond between the two flared up, and she could have sworn she felt the curse embedded in Hermione’s arm react.

It wasn’t painful. It was closer to a warning, a deep throbbing feeling throughout Bella’s body as the curse noticed Hermione approaching or handling something that was extremely dangerous. It filled her with anxiety and spun up her nerves until her body was shivering despite the warmth of the room.

“Come on, let’s be done with it.”

Hermione turned around to throw her a confused look before hopping off the chair with the Diadem securely in her grasp.

“So, I suggest we use Fiendfyre. We don’t have any Basilisk fangs so this is the next best.”

“I thought you’d never ask,” Bella replied, throwing up a brave face for Hermione’s sake.

Hermione set the item down on the ground in front of them, the curse laying off of Bella as it left her fingers. Willing the magic contained by her runes she brought it up, dredged off the top layer of magic that clung to her soul, until the runemark was glowing hot and bright. She released her other glamours, stark red marks contrasting with her pale skin, and willed the fire into life. 

Her arm burned first, eliciting a sharp hiss of pain and a clenching of her free hand as she willed the spell back under control. Slowly a visible flame emerged around her hand and wrist, shrouded the skin behind a green flame that crackled and popped as it fed on the oxygen in the air. It wrapped up and up her arm until it nearly covered her elbow before she was able to grab control fully with her other rune, forcing the fire to coalesce and condense into a bright snake of flame.

It grew again, dropping off her arm and leaving her hand wreathed in flame, before taking the full shape of a large python, bits and pieces breaking off into smaller animals. Scorpions, ants, little lions and fish that could float, all manner of beast and creature sparked off the large serpent as it advanced on her target. The pieces that fell off slowly blew down into embers that sparked and popped before disappearing entirely, all the magic being redirected towards maintaining the fire in a single shape. The serpent hissed, crackling and spitting flame, until it lay face towards the diadem.

“Well? Can you do it?” Hermione asked her with eyes lit up in wonder. Bella only nodded and grunted, the strain of maintaining the flames near exhausting. She drove it onward, hand spread out and palm towards the diadem, directing the Fiendfyre to her bidding.

With a lunge the green fire snake jumped forward, shrouding the silver and ratcheting up the intensity of its light as it fed on metal and mineral. 

Pop

POP

CRACK!

The diadem split apart, stones cracked and metal warped, releasing a cloud of black smoke and wind that rose up and up and up until it neared the top of the room. All at once they were both assaulted by the loudest scream they had ever heard; Hermione dropping to her knees and placing palms against her ears in an effort to seek protection while Bella could do no more than drop to one knee and keep an eye on the fire snake. It was still devouring the item, molten silver disappearing as it fed the magic, and as soon as the last molten red drop disappeared beneath the wavering green flame, she shut off the magic.

Her hand clenched, snake disappearing, black cloud above them evaporating as the echo of a scream continued on about the massive room. She fell to her knees with exhaustion and nearly puked out her dinner, stomach roiling with pain and nausea from the ordeal.

“Bella- Bella!” Hermione was at her side in an instant, wand roving around Bella’s head and torso, soft spells peeling away from the wand and pressing against her pallid and clammy skin. It took time, during which she stayed on her knees and attempted to calm her breath, before any sense of normalcy returned.

She turned her head towards Hermione’s, eyes linking up, before grabbing her palm and painfully squeezing down, “Not fun!”

---

Jan’ 9, 1969

The first lesson of the year with Voldemort was as grueling as Hermione had been dreading. 

They’d started out with drills, moving up and down from standing to laying flat against the ground, dodging spellfire as Voldemort oversaw and pointed out when they slowed down. From there they’d moved onto verbal quizzing about the Great Houses, who controlled what seats in the Wizengamot, who stood for what legislation. Each incorrect answer earned them a slicing hex to the thigh, each correct one a blast of euphoria from a spell Voldemort had devised. 

After that portion of their afternoon was finished Bella and Hermione both conjured up changing booths and dressed down for the more practical portion of their education. Bella came out first, dressed in a black undershirt and a spare black sweatpants, Hermione in much the same though she wrapped her forearms in black gauze. 

Voldemort stood to the side within a patch of ground that held no snow, his wand tapping out a rhythm against his forearm as he watched them move.

Hermione dropped herself down to a knee, skidding across snow and frozen grass. Her palm gripped the wand in her hand with a harsh bite, knuckles turning white as she raised her arm to return fire.

“Stop!”, the loud voice of Voldemort boomed out through the clearing, his voice stilling their movements and rooting both witches to the ground. “You’d be dead yet again, Ms. Grenier. Bellatrix has you pushed backwards, why did you feint left?”

“I wasn’t thinking-”

“No, of course not. That much was evident Ms. Grenier. It’s also the third left feint in a row. And each time you’ve dipped down before countering. What’s wrong with that?”

“It’s predictable, my Lord.”

“Correct,” he quieted his voice before turning towards Bella, “Ms. Black, please rectify the situation.”

As the words left his mouth Hermione stilled herself where she was knelt and evened out her breathing. Even if it didn’t last, she knew this was going to hurt.

“Crucio!” 

The pain overtook Hermione’s body as the word left Bella’s mouth, body doubling over and crackling with pain. In a half second her composure broke, body reduced to flailing in pain and a hoarse scream rushing up her throat. The curse wound its way beneath muscle and flesh until she feared her body would tear apart at the strain. Her muscles cramped as if electrified while her nerves burned and set everything alight.

Just as quickly as it had set in, the curse ended. Pain fled and in its place she found herself basking in a horrid sort of numbness. Everything fled, all thought, all feeling, and for a few glorious seconds she was nothing as she fought to regain her breath and recollect the scattered portions of her mind.

“Begin,” Voldemort’s smooth tone came from Hermione’s left, her body having rolled around in her pain. She rolled automatically, fighting through the numbness, just barely managing to avoid Bella’s well aimed spell.

Their training had been like this for weeks now. Meet, go over an assortment of topics including current events and Dark theory, new hexes and curses, and then spar for an hour or two, all while Voldemort looked over them with a carrot and stick method. He clearly favored the stick.

It gave her ample opportunity to study the oddly binding curse-mark between them, in particular the portion of it that seemed intent on providing kickback if one of them harmed the other. It was only with careful control and an open mind that accepted the pain about to flow through her that she was able to keep it from redirecting a portion of the spell back towards Bella. Her mastery of whatever switch controlled that was driven by a desire to ensure Voldemort never found out about their connection, never wondered why when one was harmed the other was as well.

She’d luckily been able to hide it so far and the pain that accompanied these sessions was worth its weight in the knowledge, both dark and gray, that he imparted on them.

And so, jaw clenched, she bore the pain and forced herself through the session, screams caught up in her chest and thought far, far from home.

---

Jan’ 20, 1969

As Hermione opened the door to her single and began to step across the threshold her eyes locked on to a winding group of magenta lines, only visible due to the green flame at her back. 

Bellatrix had been advancing with her control of Fiendfyre and as a green wreath of flame coalesced into a snake. It was beautiful, deadly, and in this case, it saved Hermione’s legs. As the light burst forth it unshrouded the hidden glyphs and lines of the ward placed against the corridor floor. She had opened the door and just begun to step across the threshold when Bella’s practice behind her stilled her leg, mere centimeters above the complicated wardline.

It was a cross-cross pattern, smaller repetitive runes etched into the spaces between the lines and it throbbed and pulsed with unreleased energy. Hermione stood back from the door, fuming at the attempt on her health, breath caught up in her throat as she studied it further.

“We’re being target now,” she blandly stated to the witch still blissfully unaware behind her.

“Oh? What’s he done this time?”

“Wardline. Looks like it’d cut off my foot if I stepped within it. It’s dark enough for Rod, but too intricate. Probably one of his underlings.”

Bellatrix dispelled the Fiendfyre by closing her left palm, the flame snake disappearing in a puff of smoke. She stoked the fireplace as she walked to the door, bringing it up from a mass of glowing embers into a roaring inferno.

“Well then, I think it’s time for some revenge.”

---

Feb’ 6, 1969

The bathroom on the second floor of the castle, generally known as Myrtle’s Bathroom among the students, was a complete and utter mess. From the looks of things it appeared even the elves had decided to abandon it to its inhabitant, ignoring their rather ingrained need in favor of drier spaces. Hermione’s feet crunched against broken porcelain and shattered tile while grout that had been dug out ages ago powdered into dust where she trod. Eventually the floor lilted down until it was covered by a thin sheen of water that reflected meager light until it danced and glittered with metal and false chrome.

It was only the second time that Hermione had stepped foot in this room and here and now it was in far more disrepair than the last. A hand reached out from beside her to steady her gait as she stumbled over blocks and bits, slippery water loosening the friction between the elements. She searched with a purpose, pushing open each stall door as she made her way in a circle around the taps that stood the middle ground.

“Myrtle,” she asked, as rusted hinges fought back and groaned at their use.

“Y-Yes?” The weepy tone floated out from the last stall in the row, quiet and hesitant as though Hermione would bite.

“Myrtle, I’m sorry to bother you but I’d like to ask a favor.”

The sad face of the young ghost poked out from beneath her stall, body hidden somewhere in the depths of the floor.

“Who are you? W-What do you want?” She punctuated her question with a hiccup, glasses falling unsteadily down her ethereal nose. The poor girl had been killed, not accidentally, and no one had ever come to ask her what really happened. It beggared belief that the school board had been so close-minded to let this happen and Hermione had a hunch that they weren’t aware of the full scope of Myrtle’s demise. She could only assume that if they had, then there’d have been a much larger investigation into the events surrounding that year. Whether it was the result of deliberate incompetence or the extraordinarily broken system that Dumbledore maintained was a question best left for later.

She had a purpose to fulfill today and justice for Myrtle it certainly was not.

“Myrtle, we’re going to be opening up a small door in the bathroom here. We were wondering if you’d be so kind as to watch it while we go in. Just keep anyone from coming down after us, that’s all.” Bella squeezed her hand again as the ghost wiped her eyes and peered up at them from the odd angle.

It took some finagling as in addition to being emotionally unstable from being ignored for almost twenty years, Myrtle was still a child in mind. But soft words and a kind shoulder managed to work wonders. From Hermione, of course.

Bellatrix remained safely behind the short haired witch, with her arms crossed over and wand bobbing up and down at uneven intervals as she fixed or redirected the carnage splayed across the room. Her reluctance to help the young ghost had morphed itself into a willingness to at least clean portions of the space, for a reason that Hermione couldn’t exactly determine.

Eventually they managed to get the girl to agree to be their sentry and set about opening the passage.

Silver filigree in the pattern of a snake wound down and away from the taps after a hissed ::Open,:: sliding down and down until it had pulled apart marble and metal to reveal the steep shaft leading towards the Chamber proper. A second word, ::Stairs,:: that had been hinted at in writing Hermione had found during the cleanup after the Last Battle, morphed the wet tunnel into a serviceable, if still steep, staircase.

The witches set out with Bellatrix in the lead and her wand held level in front of herself while her other hand wrapped protectively around Hermione’s own. A warm and white Lumos was their only light source as step after step they descended deeper into the castle. The air surrounding them chilled as they made their way further in while at the same time it grew drier and stale. It was an odd combination considering the closeness to the dungeons and the Black Lake and Hermione could only wonder at where the passageway drew its atmosphere from. Dry and cracked concrete eventually gave way to natural stone and granite as the passageway leveled out and to morph from Slytherin’s addition into the natural hollow it had once been.

Minutes passed by in silence as the duo continued before they found themselves walking into a more open passageway that was nearly double the size of the tunnels used for the Underground in London. Stalactites and stalagmites dotted both the floor and ceiling, the soft dripping of water ringing in their ears as mineralized water plopped down onto them in a never ending cycle. She hadn’t had the mind nor the time to admire the space the last time she’d been down here, and so she took a moment to take in the natural beauty of the space surrounding her.

The wall glittered and shone as Bella turned and twisted while leading them onward, light dancing off from her wand to repeat endlessly back at them in a sheen of light and pattern. Bella released Hermione’s hand and waited for her to come shoulder to shoulder before taking off yet again, side by side.

“So. We get ourselves in, talk to it, and either get it to leave or we kill it. Preferably the first but likely the second. You have the token?”

Hermione pulled out a rather lifelike porcelain replica of a rooster from the depths of one of her pockets, bouncing the item up and down in her palm.

“Yep. We transfig it, get it crowing. Should kill it dead.”

“Should being the operative word here. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that. As cool as it’ll be to get to talk to a millennium old Basilisk, I don’t fancy having to take it on with my eyes closed.”

They pressed onward until reaching a vault like door with six serpents carved into its face. A quick word of parseltongue and it opened before them, swinging out on its hinge and admitting them entrance. The corridor began to widen away again while the walls and ceiling pulled back. Water lapped at the sides of the cobblestone walkway until they were essentially pressing forward on a bridge suspended just above the waterline. On either side of them large statues of snakes, mouths open and fangs poised to strike, began to rise from the water, staring at them both with a menacing gaze that threw chills down Hermione’s spine.

And then, they were there.

A visage of Salazar Slytherin was cut directly into the rock, large and imposing to any would be trespassers. He stared down at them with a mixture of derision and amusement that struck Hermione for its likeness to Professor Snape’s constant expression of exasperation. The Basilisk however, was nowhere in sight.

“Well?” Bella whispered worriedly in Hermione’s ear, her breath puffing hot against her cheek and warming the skin beneath.

“Now we look for a snake. Can’t be too hard to find, it’s bloody massive.”

They both set out in search of the creature, eyes halfway shut as they peered around corners and behind statues. Five minutes, twenty, nearly an hour had passed by the time a hurried clacking of heels against stone roused Hermione from her search.

“Found it, found it. It’s absolutely fucking huge, massive even. It’s sleeping though, we got lucky.”

Bella led Hermione backwards the  way they had come in before stopping next to two large statues that were lower in the water than the others surrounding them. She pointed off between the two, finger wavering as she panted excitedly.

There, like a crocodile waiting in ambush, were the two nostrils of a truly massive serpent. Ripples broke and scattered across the water as it breathed and Hermione could just make out the ridges above a pair of closed eyes further down in the water. The creature was obviously deeply asleep, resting peacefully near the surface while the rest of its body remained far out of sight. 

Agath, having until this point remained tightly wound and hidden in the folds of Bella’s cloak, poked her tiny head out and leaned forward. Her tongue darted up and down and in and out as she smelled and tested the presence of its much larger brethren.

::Pretty Lady,:: Agath hissed out.

That short and quiet hiss was all it took. Immediately, the large and slumbering beast snorted out air in a huff that sprayed both witches down with water and forced them to back up and drip upon the stone walkway. They both immediately closed their eyes, not wanting to tempt fate and risk ending up petrified or dead whenever the beast fully awoke.

The sound of sloshing water alerted them to its movement as the hulking serpent pushed its way out from the depths of the water and moved forward to heave itself bodily onto the stone bridge. Large scales rasped against stonework as it moved to coil around the two witches.

::Who are you?:: it hissed out in a voice that sounded of tumbling rocks and ancient earth. It wasn’t exactly unpleasant, but the loudness of it nearly hurt Hermione’s eardrums.

::We are the Heirs to Slytherin,:: Bella started off with, ::We have come to speak with you,:: Hermione finished.

The serpent remained silent as it continued twisting and coiling about itself and the duo before Hermione could feel the press of sharp stone like scales against her side. It was slowly closing around them, tightening and restricting movement, until Bellatrix pressed her back against Hermione sucked in her breath. The serpent was silent throughout, the room even more so, and it unnerved Hermione far more than she’d believed possible. Agath however seemed quite unafraid of the serpent, as she flitted about between Hermione and Bella, turning and slithering to follow the head.  Hermione’s hand reached into her robes as much as she could until she had a firm grip of the rooster, praying she wouldn’t need it but planning on how to do so regardless.

::What is your name?:: Bella asked it in a hiss that quavered with adrenaline and fear.

The tip of a snout bumped up against Hermione’s cheek, colder and more massive than she’d imagined, tongue flickering out gently to inspect her as she remained still and unmoving.

::Master has called me many names, many things, but I prefer Euryale. Who are you, young Heirs, young speakers?::

Hermione let out a puff of breath she hadn’t been aware she was withholding when the serpent, Euryale, referred to them both as Heirs. Her body relaxed into a slump that remained propped up by the massive coils and Bellatrix, now relaxed as well, at her back.

::I am Hermione, this is Bellatrix. The young one with us is Agathodaemon,:: she replied to Euryale’s question in a hurried hiss, her body thrumming with adrenaline and delight at having their plan work.

::Euryale,:: Bellatrix began, ::Could you close your eyes? So we could see you?::

Scale scraped loudly against stone as the serpent moved around them to prop its head up in front of Bellatrix until cold and fetid breath brushed up against her face.

::But then I could not see you, little Heir. I shall refrain however from affecting you. Open.::

Bella opened her eyes, hesitating for just a second at the fear that she’d be locked into place, before peering up at the massive and looming head of Euryale.

The Basilisk was strangely beautiful in its own way, terrifying and amazing to behold. She reached out a hand to press against the brown and mottled scales that covered Euryale’s snout, her fingers catching on the stone like surface. Euryale wasn’t cold, wasn’t warm either, but a rather neutral temperature that was pleasant beneath her fingers. Hermione swiveled around between the coils and Bellatrix until her front was pressed against Bella’s back. She eyes the enormous length of the serpent, staring in wonder as it wrapped up around them twice before disappearing back into the depths at the side of the bridge.

::Euryale,:: Hermione said, ::We’d like to take you away from here. Bring you somewhere better, where you could live and thrive. Somewhere with better conditions than these.:: Hermione’s voice was soft in the darkness of the room, and she placed her chin atop Bella’s shoulder as she finished speaking, waiting on Euryale to respond.

::Why?:: Euryale questioned.

Hermione smiled up at the creature, pouring as much charm and wonder into her voice as she could in the hope that the serpent would believe her, ::Because, this is no place for something so majestic as you.::