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A Better Life

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Bellatrix’s eyes were blindingly painful by the time she realized she’d been staring at the spot Hermione had disappeared from for gods knew how long. Dry, itchy tears were leaking down the corners of her eyes and she felt as if she’d frozen into stone. She burned. 

One moment her lover - fiancée, savior - was sitting there on the edge of the bed as she wove sweet reassurances with her tongue. In the next she was gone.

Evaporated.

Disappeared.

Returned.

And Bellatrix was alone. Painfully and utterly alone. 

The bottom dropped out from her stomach and her heartbeat spiked rapidly while she sat there in stunned disbelief and confusion, her palms sweating and body tingling as adrenaline flushed through her blood at a blinding speed. Her breath began to quicken in her chest until she was sucking in short bursts of air to near the point of hyperventilation. She was on the verge of a panic attack and had very little idea of exactly how to work herself down from it.

‘Gods dammit,’ she fought to control herself by gripping the duvet beneath her pulses time to settled breathing, ‘Fucking stop, breathe, breathe. She’ll return, she has the Turner, she’ll come back. She has to...’

She just needed to wait.

Wait, and control her breathing. Her heartbeat. Her nerves. Her fears.

That was all. Just… Wait.

… Bellatrix was horrid at waiting.

Patience had never once been her strong suit and years of being at the top of her class, of her family, of the school, had dulled what little sensibilities she held towards patience. Especially where it concerned something that she wanted. Craved. Loved.

But here she was, waiting, with absolutely no way to hurry the process along or fix it. No way to bring her love back. 

‘She said she wouldn’t use it,’ Bellatrix second guessed her memory, ‘She didn’t on purpose, right?’

Hermione had made it quite clear with her words and soft affection that she hadn’t planned on using the unsettling device. That it was something she’d leave behind. Hadn’t she? Maybe she had just… Fallen off. Yes, that was it! Hermione had just fallen off. But she hadn’t been able to see what she was doing with her hands, right? Bellatrix didn’t know.

Couldn’t know.

But... Couldn’t she?

::Agath!:: Bellatrix leaped up from the bed as she hissed out to the pile of embers hiding the Ashwinder, her knees scrabbling on the cold floor as she moved closer to the snake. ::Agath, did you see what happened to Hermione?::

The pile shifted, two reddened eyes poking up from a drift of ash and soot, ::Lady Bella, Lady Em’ touch shiny string, the thin false snake, then flash!::

Agath shifted herself out of the pile to slither up and over Bellatrix’s clenched fist, winding herself around and around her arm and shoulder while her thin tongue flicked in and out with confusion and alarm. The young snake peered up at Bellatrix’s dark eyes with curiosity and concern written in her scaly face as she waited on Bellatrix’s response.

Nothing came.

The quietude in her head lasted no more than a minute, maybe two. It was interrupted by a foreign sound meeting her ears, loud and heavy and unlike anything she remembered. At least, it wasn’t something she remembered making herself.

Sobbing.

Great, heaving, pitiful sobs. Her body becoming wracked with emotion as her mind split itself on whether she’d been lied to or Hermione’s disappearance was a simple mistake, a misunderstanding. Maybe she had been sent away against her will?

‘What if she doesn’t come back-

‘How long am I supposed to wait-

What if she planned this?

‘Calm down…’

“No,” her resolve steeled on a minute switch, Hermione wouldn’t plan this, wouldn’t hurt her like this. Not on purpose. She’d been inside Hermione’s head, she’d seen her memories and felt her emotions. They’d bled for one another, would die for one another. Agath… Agath had to be right. The snakes words were simple, emotions broad but understandable. Hermione hadn’t done this as part of some plan.

But there was only one way she could find out for sure.

With a huff of air she swiped at her eyes until the tears were dried and her cheeks no longer wet, mind set on an action and her course determined. She stood and reached around the floor and dresser for clothing at a blistering pace lest she fall back into a stupor of melancholy and sadness. A robe, undergarments, a pair of Hermione’s transfigured sweatpants and an overly large black shirt. The items still smelled of sweet pine and the mildew of a library, strong and sharp as it swirled about her head. With a last glance in the vanity mirror she swiped her mass of curls into a ponytail, wand gripped tightly between her teeth and set out.

---

When Bellatrix left the room she was moving at a fair clip, all things considered, her feet pounding heavily against the ground while magic crackled and wreathed itself around her in a jettison of short blue arcs. When she passed through the common-room a small vase sitting upon a table a few body lengths away shattered itself into thin shards of metal and glass, startling a young first year sitting who had been sitting in a corner to read against the firelight. 

He knew what was best for him though, and let witch move about without a single word.

The sounds of her walk were a constant echo in her ears as she made her way up the long flights of steps towards her destination. Every turn of a staircase led her closer towards her destination almost as if the Castle itself was ensuring her travel ran smoothly. No ghosts, no caretaker, no students or professors to stand in her way or impede her progress. The air around her was cold and drafty from the last vestiges of winters grasp, but as she forced her way up the floors of Hogwarts she could feel the air immediately around her body begin to warm and dry as her frantically coiling magic pulsed and rippled in time to her fragile emotional state.

The few portraits still awake were watching her passage in a hushed silence while they peered down at her with curious, if not obviously concerned, glances. Each and every one of them noted the look of disaster pulled tight over her features but seemed somewhat content to let it play out, no teachers or custodians there to intervene. 

Agath had taken to roosting around her neck like a rope of living, burning flesh that was hissing all about in confusion and borrowed anger. Bellatrix attempted to settle the snake only once, coming away from that effort with an angry hiss and a nipped finger that she’d needed to suck into her mouth to soothe. The young Ashwinder could feel the magic swirling around Bellatrix and seemed to have been made inconsolable by the depths of her emotions.

Feet pounded out against the final staircase while Bellatrix mentally prepared herself for the upcoming interaction. Either she’d be fighting or getting answers, and she had a feeling that whatever happened it wouldn’t be pretty.

“Black!” A voice called out from her right, just before she could wake the stone gargoyle.

“Rabastan.” Bellatrix looked up and down at lanky boy with suspicion evident in her eyes as he stumbled up to her side in a huff. When he stopped he bent down over his knees to wheeze and huff from what seemed to be quite the sudden interest in calisthenics. Right now he was between herself and her target, she knew she could take him out in a heartbeat, no matter the acquaintanceship that had existed between them before his father’s demise. Not that she wanted that outcome. “What do you want? I’m kind of busy at the moment.” Agath hissed at him as if to echo that statement.

“Look, I, R-Rod’s planning something and I know why he’s angry but my father was the one in the wrong, you were only defending yourself and your sisters and Emelia was just doing the same,” Rabastan inched closer with clear trepidation on his face, “Look I just wanted to tell you that he’s been planning something with Goyle and Parkinson, I don’t-”

“He’s already done something.” Bellatrix leaned back on her feet just enough to lower his guard while still leaving her free to spring forward, or back, should the situation call for it. “He had Goyle try to kill Emelia this morning.”

“Oh fucking Merlin,” Rabastan’s eyes widened in shock, “Bellatrix you have to believe me, I had nothing to do with that-”

“Then why didn’t you come to us sooner?” Bellatrix moved forward into her space while her voice dropped into a growl, “Why didn’t you try to put a stop to it? She could have been killed for Morgana’s sake, didn’t that mean anything to you?”

“I didn’t know what to do!” Rabastan, tall and lanky Rab who’d always seemed too self-assured, now looked like he would break apart at the faintest breeze. “My father is dead and Rod’s all I have, b-but I’m here,” he stepped backwards from her advance before pressing his palms tight to his eyes, “But that attack isn't all, he’s got something planned with your sisters, that’s why I’m here right now. When Goyle came back he said something about ‘killing that little bitch’. I don’t know exactly what he meant, but he’s doing it tonight.”

Bellatrix felt the breath in her chest freeze upon his words, eyes darkening and mind stilling as she ran through what he’d said.

“Where, when, and so help me if they’ve got a single upturned hair on their heads I’ll pull out your entrails and make you fucking choke on them, you bloody coward. Now, speak!!”

“Soon, you’ll need to hurry,” Rabastan turned away before heading down the stairwell she’d only just come up. Bellatrix turned to look behind herself at the sleeping gargoyle, giving it one last glare before she sped off after Rabastan, her feet pounding in the empty spaces as she ran.

---

Bile was threatening to spill from Bellatrix’s tight throat by the time the duo reached the common-room. Throughout their speedy trip she couldn’t shake the feeling of something gone terribly wrong, an inky darkness pounding heavy through her veins. Rabastan was back to sweating bullets, his hair flopping around and sticking to his neck and cheeks while short breaths labored up from overtaxed lungs. Agath had been hissing in displeasure during Bellatrix’s intense bursts of speed, and Bellatrix’s quick stops and sudden turns certainly hadn’t done the temperamental little reptile any favors.

When she burst into the girls section of the dormitory the doors remained closed until Bellatrix began banging on Andromeda’s door. With each pound against the door the other girls on the floor were either waking from a light sleep or peering into the hall as their night was interrupted. Bellatrix didn’t care what those watching her thought, she only wanted to ensure her sisters were all right. When extended banging against Andy’s door failed to reveal her sister she sprinted off down the hall towards the second years' hall, repeating the process on Narcissa’s door and getting the same result.

Her sisters weren’t here.

A bottomless pit of dread opened up in Bellatrix’s stomach to swallow her whole. Blue magic sparkled and cracked against her skin in shifting arcs drawn to her emotions, sending Rabastan to step backwards and the few girls staring at them back into their rooms. Everyone knew not to mess with Bellatrix Black, and her current display was certainly a striking reminder.

Bellatrix bounced on her heel into a sprint back towards Hermione’s room, her feet skidding out across the floor and over carpets as she swung her way around tight corners and through thin doorways. When she was back, and confirmed that Hermione hadn’t returned yet, she pulled Rabastan into the room before shutting the door and pushing him back up to it, fists on his shirt and weight pressing down hard enough to hurt.

“Where did they take them,” she growled out, uncaring of the stray sparks jumping between her fingers and his skin.

“They’ve been faffing about in the woods behind the Quidditch pitch, if I was betting on it then I’d say that’s where they’ve been taken,” Rabastan spoke as fast as he could, eyes glued to Bellatrix’s hand as she reached for her wand, red sparks dripping from it like molten metal.

“Pray that they’re unharmed Rab, if they’re not then I’ll make do on my earlier threat.”

“What are you going to do?” He gulped, Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat.

“Anything I need to.”

With a final glare into his eyes she pulled him away from the door before throwing it open. She stretched out towards the bed, letting Agath shimmy her way down onto the soft covers with a hiss of displeasure at being left behind.

::When Hermione gets back, tell her that I’m heading to the patch of woods next to the Quidditch pitch. Tell her she’ll need to hurry, okay?::

Agath curled in on herself, forming a ball of tight muscle and flickering tongue, before poking her head up from beneath the coil and nodding assent to Bellatrix’s request. With that sorted Bellatrix pierced Rabastan with a glare one last time before sprinting out the door.

She sped on past the common-room and out the statue entrance with her feet flying in her haste to reach the nearest window. When she finally came upon one she threw it open with a flick of her wand before shaking herself out in preparation. One minute she was standing there, long cloak and black clothing, next she was a swirl of feathers in the air.

‘I wonder where it all goes,’ she thought, mind latching for a second on the oddity of her clothing and wand disappearing. With a short hop she was on the lip of the window, and in the next she was hopping out unsteadily into the darkened night.

Before suddenly falling straight down.

‘Flap, flap dammit!’

A rush of air sped through her arms - wings -, until eventually she could feel herself rising up from the steep dive she’d entered off the sloping side of the Castle. She leveled out, wind rushing by her, until she was darting off into the moonless night.

Bellatrix turned to soar into a headwind coming off the lakeside grounds of the Castle, her mind boggled and bombarded as she peered around from her new vantage point. She’d been above and around the Castle before, brooms were fairly easy to come by even if she didn’t own one herself, but being so much smaller threw all of her previous perspectives out the window. Up ahead and to the right she could see the top of the Quidditch pitch, long wooden poles poking up like the skeleton of some dead Titan. The imagery of death didn’t help her vivid imagination as she focused herself back onto the task at hand.

Her heartbeat began to soar the closer she came to the pitch and she angled herself down through the goals to reach the other side, eyes scanning from side to side where the official end of campus grounds began. There was a long strip of beaten down grass and thin snow behind the curve of the pitch, nearly a hundred meters wide, that quickly bled off into the canopy of the Forbidden Forest. A thin trail split off from the bulk of trampled ground before turning at an angle to lead deep into the forest. She knew it was a location frequented by the Herbology department for plant gathering and classes, and also traveled well by Hagrid as he performed his duties as groundskeeper.

But Bellatrix had never volunteered to pick flowers, or whatever the Herbology department got into, and so she was left in the dark as to where that trail exactly led. Whether this led to Rodolphus or not, it was all she had to go on.

She swooped down low, letting the air carry her towards the ground, before entering into the forest only a few feet off the forest floor. With minute twitches to her wings she was able to wind her way through branches, around trees, and over the few obstacles that plant growth presented.

The deeper she flew into the forest the more a feeling began to grow that she wasn’t quite alone. Perturbed, since no one should be following her or know that she was an animagus, Bellatrix set down on a large branch for a quick roost. When she was settled she let her eyes drift through the forest to let her night vision lend her an edge, all while the feeling of being followed and watched grew on her with every second.

All at once an explosion of feathers and wind dashed through the top of the tree she was in to land onto the branch at her side, a flurry of surprised squawks bursting from her throat at the intrusion. Her talons gripped the wood beneath her with fierce pressure as she gaped at the bird that had landed to her right. It was massive, larger than her, and twisting its head side to side while it looked her up and down. When the bird made no move to attack or leave she kept her ground and looked closer at the new arrival. Something about the bird was familiar, either its size or the way it-

‘Harmonia!’

Bellatrix began crowing in delight and surprise, wings flapping unceremoniously while she shifted from foot to foot. The magnificent raven relaxed her posture once she understood that Bellatrix had recognized her, crowing and cawing in some form of bird-support. How she’d determined Bellatrix was here, as a raven, was a mystery she’d need to leave for another night. Harmonia bobbed her head up and down before squawking and taking off in flight, feathers batting Bellatrix in the beak as she passed. Without a single thought against it she dropped from the branch to follow, glad for the company and ready to confront Rod.

Swiftly the twin ravens threaded themselves between the branches and brambles of the forest until the path below their wings thinned down into a deer trail, before petering out entirely. The only evidence of human activity was the softly pressed grass and broken branches lying to the side. It was no true trail, it hadn’t been wandered nearly enough times to become part of the landscape, but it was something used more than once at least. Faintly in the distance she was able to make out a light, small and dim, but present nonetheless. 

Bellatrix bobbed low to scrape wingtips against the grass before shooting up and to her right, aiming to come around to the supposed clearing. Harmonia followed directly behind her with only the slightest sound of feathers ruffling to clue her in to her location. In a flash of movement she began to choke back her speed before alighting, with Harmonia hot on her tail, onto the rather thick branches of an old oak tree. Below her was an open space clear of any growth beyond grass, hooded overhead by the sloping canopy of willowy oak and pine that kept the snow and other elements at bay. It was circular, maybe slightly oblong to her eyes, and only just as large as Hermione’s room.

Down below her without any idea they were being watched were Rodolphus and his cronies, her sisters kneeling at their feet. Bellatrix’s little heart began to pump into overdrive when she saw the state both witches were in; each down on their knees with their ankles and wrists tied tightly together, a gag wrapped tightly around their heads. Neither looked to have been harmed but neither did they look untouched, one or both of them had evidently tried to fight before being taken captive. Andy’s curls were frizzed and pulled apart as if someone had tried to drag her by her hair while Cissa’s clothing looked disheveled and dirt smeared.

Standing directly behind Andromeda was Aldalus Crabbe while another she didn’t recognize stood behind Narcissa. Both boys had their wands out and pointed into the back of the girl’s skulls, hands shaking from the exertion of holding them there for who knew how long. Bellatrix hopped down to lower branches in an effort to overhear their conversation, their tones so low she could barely make anything out.

“What’s taking Parkinson so long? She shoulda been back by now.” Rodolphus turned around in a circle to glare at his two cronies, his face dark and unreadable in the minimal light coming off of his wand.

“She’ll be alright mate,” Aldalus replied in whispered tones, “Could be she got hexed for her trouble.”

“How hard is it to leave a note under a door and cause some noise? She’s a pitiful excuse for a witch if she can’t even do that right.”

“Maybe Black attacked her. Or it coulda been that keener she keeps as a pet.”

“That bitch won’t be any trouble,” Rodolphus bit out, “All she ever does it ride on Black’s coattails. When they get down here, do as I said an’ take out Black first. The dyke is mine, yah?”

“Just like you say, Rod.” The boy she didn’t know leaned back and stretched as he replied, a short yawn coming out soon after.

Up in her perch Bellatrix could feel her feathers bristling and puffing out in time with her mood, anger rising to cover her mind with a film. She dropped from the branch to circle back into the trees, approaching the spot behind them just a meter off the ground. Based on what Rod had said she had a small window to act before Parkinson joined them, if her luck turned sour it could be more than just her arriving. She was fairly confident she could handle the three wizards alone but anything further than that would be cutting it close due to the darkness of the forest. If she wasn’t careful her sisters were liable to pay for her efforts if anything went sideways. A scenario she desperately wanted to avoid.

The only things currently on her side were the element of surprise she held, if they believed she was still in the Castle, and her Animagus abilities. With a bit of luck she could get rid of all three before they even knew what hit them.

Harmonia joined by her side as she flew closer to the edge of the clearing, setting down on the grass between two tall trees right behind the group. She shifted, body swirling from black feather into black clothes, pulling her wand out at the same moment. Harmonia hopped up onto her shoulder, wings spread wide for balance and a distinctly predatory look to her tiny eyes. Beneath her feet she wove a tapestry of purple strands with her wand to deaden the sound she’d make moving forward, determined to remain hidden until the last second. 

One step, two, soon enough she was close enough to nearly reach out and touch Aldalus’s knees. The boy shifted from side to side as he fought to keep alert, his left hand clenching and unclenching while he waited. Between his legs sat Andromeda, back to Bellatrix, shivering and rocking back and forth. The bindings on her wrists and ankles shifted and rubbed, giving Bellatrix the thought that she was likely trying to loosen them enough to escape. Hopefully it would all be over before she could do so.

The rune on her right hand began to glow and throw off a faint red light into the preternatural darkness of the woods, faint, but visible nonetheless. 

‘Here goes….’