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A Better Life

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The raucous sound - oddly tuned, a high-pitched keening whine - seemed to erupt forth from somewhere directly behind Hermione’s body.

It was the first clue that something had gone terribly wrong. 

The next in the long list of confirmations came as a sudden and eerily intense sensation of being pulled, not from behind where one might have expected during Portkey travel, or in front of herself as one might have anticipated during the jolt of Apparition. No, this force pulled through her body. There was merely one second of calm before Hermione felt the intensely curious sensation of a fishing line strung through her back, past her spine and inside of her ribcage as it latched deep into her navel.

In a way, it was Apparition. Normal except that this was on an entirely different order of magnitude.

The final and surely most damning confirmation that Hell had been unleashed, that things were going unstoppably wrong was the flood of tangy syrup that slid backwards down her nose and throat, its heady feel nearly choking Hermione as she stood there. The taste and smell were all too horrid - all too familiar - and yet still the flood increased. Warm liquid splashed through her sinuses and dribbled down her lips.

It choked her. Stole away her breath until a sharp cough rattled from her lungs with all the sound of wet that bleeding like this entailed. The Time-Turner was knocked loose from her grip by the sheer strength of her cough, a brilliant swirl of metal and glass that spun through the air before it arced down towards the ground on the chain that Hermione had wrapped tightly around her neck not half an hour before. Through the onset of initial pain she was able to observe - in a rather detached manner, almost as if she were watching some Muggle documentary and not her own reality - individual droplets of violently exhaled blood hanging still within the air, or not so much still as stationary, vibrating where they were in a fine mist of bright, red crystals.

‘Oh fucking Merlin,’ she thought, blinking her way through each oncoming second. ‘What in the hell have I done?’

The droplets of blood continued to hang in place, holding themselves up by the sheer force of magic. But then Hermione watched as each pulled apart, disintegrating until the whole lot of them had vanished from right before her very eyes, almost as if they’d not ever existed to begin with. The walls and scenery - once steady and comforting - began to blur, spinning and spinning with all the fervour of a fainting spell. That spin became a smear, a swatch of dark and swirling colour that ate at shadows, furniture, light itself. Soon there was nothing but a horrid kaleidoscope of blooming red all around her. 

A sound that started softly - gently, nothing but a whisper against her mind - was now edging closer to her active notice, piercing her ears and mind until she belatedly realized exactly what it was. Harsh echoes - terrified, lost and forlorn - of her own screaming, throat torn raw with the effort.

Her lungs burned with the exertion as every muscle - every little stretch of ligament and gristle - cramped and released in rolling waves of near-limitless pain. Her thoughts had sped forward until the pace of them was blinding, ideas and phrasing and information all passing before her without a second to latch onto meaning or comprehension. It ran and ran until finally, eventually, it slowed to a glacial crawl.

Tipped back, tipped again, fell between each extreme again and again and again-

Until it stopped.

The nauseating limbo ceased its momentum, silence reigning all around her.

Gone was the warmth of the room she’d been standing in. Gone was the softness of its colours or her comprehension. The office itself looked much the same as before but the decorations and accomplishments that she had come to know like the back of her hand had vanished. The portraits and their inhabitants were different, the edges of everything just a little bit newer. Gone was the smiling visage of her mentor, Minerva, the only constant presence in Hermione’s little farce of a life. She was the only thing that had remained stable since the War had ended and she was gone. Gone too was the warm scent of vanilla and cinnamon that the Headmistress had come to be fond of these past few months, and gone was the roaring fire that Hermione knew she had lit just a few minutes prior. She’d stoked that inferno with her magic and it was cold.

Drip.

Drip.

Drip.

There was still a languid flow of blood streaming down her face but all the horrid nausea and pain that had accompanied it seemed to have abated for the moment. Hermione’s vision was fine, and she proved that to herself by focusing it down to a laser point.

Became confused, focused it again. She simply couldn’t trust what she was seeing.

Her mentor - for that was all she could reason the woman as, for who else could hold those piercing eyes and style of dress that had always defined Minerva - was still seated behind her deck. But her look was all wrong. She was twisted into some amalgamation of abject horror - which Hermione decidedly did not like - and abrupt surprise - which Hermione could rationalize as their little experiment working - that managed to bring forth a strained and unhappy giggle from somewhere in Hermione’s throat.

The laughter died out quite suddenly when she realized that Minerva looked younger.

The bright eyes that were normally hidden behind long lashes and crystal eyewear were opened now, the circles she’d remembered kept still behind a rectangle of metal and glass that looked so very different to what Hermione remembered from that morning. Laughlines were banished along with the crow’s feet that had defined her so much as she’d aged into regality. Every single hair on Minerva’s head was bright and unified in its colour, a brilliant and striking red that not even the Weasley’s were capable of. It was all just so horridly unexpected that Hermione found herself at a loss. 

Was Minerva even staring - with ever-widening eyes, unblinking and face a mask of terror - at her, or something like a Bogart? Was she staring at a Ghost?

Hermione giggled again, ‘Have I died? Am I dead?’

Madness ran as Hermione spun herself through the implication. Was that all this was? If she managed to look down at her body would she see only grey, an opaque silhouette of where a firm body had once stood? Would she forever be clad with these horridly itchy robes for the remainder of her afterlife?

Hermione Granger, the Brightest Witch of Her Age and one-third of the Golden Trio. Hermione Granger, brought low by a foul - and very unsanctioned - experiment. Hermione Granger, shorn apart and reduced to a floating book, interactive if not interesting.

When finally the need to determine the state of her mortality overrode the shock at Minerva’s appearance, Hermione glanced down quickly at her body and hands. Her breath hitched up in her throat at the relief that came when it appeared she was as alive and fleshed out as any appropriately living person should be.

Unfortunately the movement also managed to push to the fore a great deal of pain in her neck and shoulders, and the nausea that had retreated momentarily was suddenly roaring back to life deep within the pit of her stomach. All at once a litany of pains made themselves noticed, overstrung emotions snapping back into Hermione’s current reality. A single, pained squeak managed to escape from her throat as the shaky knees just barely holding her up managed to fail and buckle. The only saving grace to her fall was the rapid descent into unconsciousness, a mild and soothing relief that fell upon her before Hermione’s body could officially greet the floor.

---

Minerva stared, and stared, and continued to stare, long and without pause, while deep within the furthest recesses of her mind a thought came out, unbidden.

‘My tea’s gone cold by now.’

It was - rather oddly, but perhaps not unexpectedly - the only thing running through her mind as it raced back and forth in a persistent loop of remembrance.

---

She had only just sat down to once again begin the task of preparing the student syllabuses for her incoming First Year students. The Transfiguration lessons they were expected to cover were easy and she hadn’t made as many changes as she’d thought, not due to a lack of improvement in the craft but rather a lack of improvement in her methods. There was simply little more she could teach them when they arrived, not until they had enough of a solid base to work from. 

But her plans of going through it all were dashed. 

Stacks of neatly wrapped and bound parchment were sitting atop the left-hand side of her desk, while an ever-growing pile of finished work was rising off to her right. There were more students than expected this year, a population boom the likes of which they hadn’t seen in years. That alone would make the coming year a bit more of a challenge but it was one that Minerva felt she could handle. She wouldn’t exactly be the Transfiguration Head if she couldn’t, and Dumbledore knew that. It would have been a little easier to complete if she let the House Elves work alongside her, and they could do it all much more efficiently as well. 

But that felt wrong.

It was just better in her mind to do it all herself, add a little personal flair with each sheet. Not that most - or really any - of her students would notice that. They’d look at it once and then shove it somewhere in their trunks to be forgotten until they realized they missed a test or a term paper. Still, it was the thought that counted in instances like this and it was a welcome form of grounding that Minerva took to with relish. A little bit of repetitive stress relief as exercised through the precise and controlled movement of her quill.

A cup of tea - recently poured and still quite hot to the touch - sat off to her left, hovering right above a saucer as she intermittently sipped and placed it back. The stacks of parchments were moving along at a rather steady pace and she was humming - an old tune she’d learned as a young girl, now remembered and voiced by only her - with every motion. It was a steady rhythm, easygoing and secure.

But then an obnoxious ‘Crack!’ interrupted her momentum just as her mind had reached that wonderful little place where she could work or learn, or do close to anything at all while being so far detached she might as well have been asleep.

Minerva huffed and registered the sound as the telltale note of a wild - and quite restless, the air that had passed over her from that had nearly upset a stack of parchment - Apparition, likely just a House Elf attempting to bring her something after sampling the cooking sherry. It wasn’t too much of an unusual occasion during the summer months as they all had lives to lead and Minerva was well aware that the Elves wanted to spend their time having some fun when none of the students were around. 

Yet when she looked up from her desk to confirm the suspicion her eyes stilled and stretched open with shock. The laboured breathing coming from her chest wasn’t panicked yet, but it was close. The sudden sweat against her robes was cold despite the summer heat and the pit her heart fell into was deep.

A young girl - or a woman to be more precise, but Minerva had a hard time seeing anyone less than thirty as “Grown-up” - was standing in the centre of her office, stock-still and not a metre away. But what shocked Minerva more than her sudden appearance was the blood - bright and shining red from the light streaming in through the window - haemorrhaging down her face. The constant river fell down to the carpet with a dull, dripping sound. It dribbled down her robes, down into the carpet, exhales of red mist with every breath the stranger took. 

The stranger was shaking where she stood and Minerva noticed ruddy brown hair that had been pulled into a haphazard and frizzled ponytail, only a few free ringlets to frame her face. Scared eyes of umber and gold were shivering, the whites all reddened from either crying or trauma. Minerva glanced down at the woman’s chest, noticed a golden-red bauble hanging from her neck on a chain, and then she cried out with alarm.

That chain was red with heat, glowing fiercely against the girl’s chest even as steam and smoke wafted upwards from the metal links. Minerva could notice now the sickening scent of burned flesh, and bile rose up in her throat.

The stranger’s head dipped low, hands came up, and for a queer moment Minerva had the distinct feeling that the girl was checking on whether or not she was still alive. Red drops continued their cascading waterfall down to the floor, puddle growing further as she shook, shivered once before leaning drunkenly from side to side.

The stranger emitted a pained squeak, and then collapsed noisily into a heap atop the floor.

It took only a second or so to pass after the woman fell down onto the floor before Minerva’s training kicked in, whether she knew the girl or not she needed help. Tired muscles flaring, a checklist rolling through her head. Up she jumped from her seat, snapping fingers and leading House Elves to Apparate within. She was checking the woman’s pulse when Poppy arrived, Albus following closely on her heels and eyes a maddened fright when he saw the red all spread around her floor.

---

Now it was near an hour later and still she was with Albus and Poppy. Both of them held whispered discussions on what to do next, how to handle it and trading theories on just who the stranger was. Poppy had mercifully cordoned off an entire section of the infirmary to allow them some privacy from the other members of staff who were on campus and the elves had cleaned up every dot of blood from her floor. Albus poured himself into attending the stranger’s side, Poppy passing off information and spells to keep her from exsanguination once it became clear a simple Blood Replenishment wouldn’t be enough. 

Minerva could hardly keep any awareness of them in mind though. The frightening ordeal had left her drained, mentally exhausted with fright and adrenaline. Now there was nothing that she could do and all she could even think about was that poor cup of tea, surely gone cold by now.

---

Raucous thoughts and pain-addled confusion were all that met Hermione as she slowly, incrementally, began to stir within the confines of what appeared to be an infirmary bed. Whatever it was that assaulted her had left a far more lasting pain than even the harsh and stinging burn of Bellatrix Lestrange’s worst Cruciatus. The pain that she found herself lingering in, riding high and low in a way that felt timed to her breath, was proper Hell compared to the blissful emptiness that a proper Crucio would have left her in. At least that spell managed to be brief. This was everlasting. 

Skin and muscles on her neck were burning fiercely and locked tight, solidified into a single unmoving position by what felt - at the outset - like a veritable mountain of gauze and bandages. Whenever she attempted to arch her back and relieve the spike of pressure driving upwards between her shoulder blades there was only a sharpened groan of pain and realization that she could not move. The shortness of her range of motion reminded her that at least the rest of her body existed, even if it was also pulsing with a throb of pain.

Muscles were screaming in protest and bile was splashing against the back of her throat as nausea began to take hold.

‘Oh yes,’ Hermione mused, dark and hardly lucid. ‘I’ll take a Crucio over this, anytime, anywhere.’

She was stuck with the odd sensation of having been splinched far, far beyond the point of saving but stuck back together anyway as some terrible exercise in futility. Everything hurt, and that pulsing incongruity let her know it would hurt for some time still.

It seemed, however, that her groaning and moaning had attracted some form of attention. Elsewhere in the room she became aware of hushed voices muttering lowly beneath their breath. The sharpened tap of heels on marble let her know that someone was approaching, even though her eyes refused to open. A phial was pushed sharply against her lips and without a chance to ask any questions Hermione simply swallowed the liquid down.

Within a few scant seconds, the potion took effect, mind and body comfortably numbed back into a state of deep and dreamless sleep.

---

When the next instance of wakefulness met Hermione it was considerably less painful than before. 

The whole of her body was still angry and sore, muscles tense with pressure and neck quite hot beneath her skin but there was no immediate distress or pain that could nag and consume her attention. She spent a few minutes taking stock of her body as she attempted to shift forward and sit up, a tall figure rapidly approaching her side to wrap warm hands around Hermione’s shoulders. The person kept still, held her firmly in place while Hermione groaned in discomfort at their efforts.

“Miss, you’ve just been quite grievously injured.” the figure said, their voice a soothing Scottish lilt. “I’m afraid I’ve a need to ask you to remain still, don’t make any attempts to move just yet.”

Hermione - recognizing that voice anywhere, any time, any place - nodded as much as her sore neck would allow, “Yes, Headmistress.” 

She complied with Minerva’s request and relaxed, fell back into the softness of the mattress as the witch guided her back down. Fierce light, bright and sterile, met her eyes when she attempted to open them. She squinted, blinked, attempted to remove the grains of sand in the corner of her eye without moving a hand to do so. It took some moments but the discomfort eventually cleared, vision opening up to reveal - as she’d correctly guessed - the infirmary.

Minerva was sitting at her side and slowly retracted her grip when it became clear that Hermione was stable, “Miss, do you happen to know where you are?”

“Yes,” Hermione said, somewhat confused by Minerva’s formal tone. She turned and felt what blood there was in her face begin to drain at the sight of her Professor’s frightfully young face, “I’m- I’m at the Hogwarts Infirmary…”

‘Oh no.’

Minerva smiled, thin-lipped and haunted, “Yes dear, you are. Now, can you tell me what your name is?”

‘No, oh Gods no, no, no.’

Hermione’s heart leapt within her chest, each beat-beat-beat harsher than the previous. She could feel herself begin to hyperventilate, felt panic crash against the inside of her mind.

Minerva’s look turned frightful, “Miss…?”

Hermione blanched as her mind began to race, ‘Tell them who I am? How far back have I travelled!?’

She swallowed dryly, “My name is… I’m Hermione.” With effort Hermione pushed herself backwards until she could recline against the pillows, body protesting all the while. “I’m Hermione Granger. What, um, well… What year is it, Professor?”

That frightened look on Minerva’s face turned positively horrified, “Nineteen Sixty Eight. Ms. Granger,” she asked, eyes narrowing as she came to the realization herself. “Could you tell me why you needed to know that, Ms. Granger?”

What blood there was drained rapidly from Hermione’s face and the bile she’d bitten back was now coming to the fore. The realization was Hell. The realization was being Lost. The realization was being Alone.

“Sixty-eight? That’s…” 

The words never finished. Her body - heart and mind and soul aching - fell down into unconsciousness as the worried Professor looked on.

---

The next time that Hermione awoke there was a crowd around her bed, all of them quiet but each of them looking fierce, a serious intensity coming from every pair of eyes.

Minerva was still by her side but she had been joined by a distinctly younger-looking Albus Dumbledore - and if that didn’t have her heart racing in some form of joy she’d be lying - and Poppy Pomfrey rounding out the group. Seeing the old man’s face after so long felt akin to finding the ghost of a loved one; startling in the levity it brought her but melancholic nonetheless. The flowing beard that she remembered was cut short and followed the curving of his chin, a curious glint of light twinkling within his eyes. His skin was warm, alive and real in so many ways that the half-formed memories of her youth had failed to capture.

“Hello, Ms. Granger,” he began, voice tender and robust. “My name is Albus Dumbledore. I am the Headmaster of this wonderful institution you’re now convalescing in.” He flashed her a warm smile, obviously waiting to see if she had any sort of reaction to that news.

She didn’t. Seeing him in the flesh was enough of a shock to her system that she could do no more than stare up at him and hope she wouldn’t cry.

He nodded to himself, “Now, Madam Pomfrey has assured me many times over that you are, as they say, out of the woods. That isn’t, however, to say that you’re fine. I would like to ask that you indulge me in answering a few questions. If you don’t feel up to it that’s fine, and we’ll reconvene tomorrow morning.”

Hermione froze. Every muscle stilled and breath caught in her throat, any reaction filtered through the knowledge that she was not supposed to be here. She really had managed to ride that blasted Time-Turner thirty-one years into the past. Gooseflesh prickled along her arms, discomfort fully settling in. Hermione tried to steel herself against it. She knew that it wouldn’t help her situation at all if she let fear rule her thoughts or decisions.

She was here, now, and there was no denying that simple fact.

“Of course, Headmaster.” A miniature smile pulled at the edges of her lips as she brought strength to her voice, the lack of pain from speaking a simple boon to her fragile mood. Pomfrey must have done an excellent job at attending to her, healing whatever she had been subjected to. She’d thank the Medi-Witch for that, she swore it.

Professor Dumbledore smiled at her in turn, “Good, good. Now then, Ms. Granger, it was Professor McGonagall here who found you. Five days ago, shortly before three in the afternoon, you Apparated into her office. She also says that beyond the obvious distress of your body you seemed generally confused. Do you recall how that came to be?”

Hermione recounted what she felt she could, propped herself up and gave them all the best idea of what had occurred. Neither Albus nor Minerva tried to pry at her explanation too hard, nor did they explicitly ask for details about their future. Mostly it seemed they wanted to know about the Time-Turner that she’d been wearing, now removed and its imprint evident upon her skin.

Albus reached behind himself and levitated the mangled ruins of the device while Hermione finished up her tale. The sight of the poor device - one of a kind, brand new and alone in the world - managed to wrench a tear from her, the inquisitorial little girl still hurting for its loss. It was practically unrecognizable; gold and glass had melted together into some horrid amalgam, twisted and vaguely oval-shaped. The chain that held it to her neck was no longer simple links, each band of metal having melted and hardened into a long thread of fused metal.

The device had been so unique, salvaged from somewhere and assembled via a joint venture between a group of Unspeakables and Hogwarts greatest Professors. Now it was simply a wreck, warped and destroyed beyond any sense of repair.

When she finished inspecting the ruined device Pomfy launched herself into an overly gentle description of the state that Hermione had been brought to her in. Whether she was being well-meaning or not, Hermione found herself perturbed by Pomfrey’s softening of the truth. She could feel the annoyance bubbling under her emotions as the seconds ticked by, face giving way to a rather rare occurrence.

Unabashed anger. Narrow eyes.

‘I’m not a child,’ she thought, breath coming harsh and deep. ‘I’ve lived through a war, I’ve dealt with more than this.’

It took her some prodding but eventually Hermione managed to get the Medi-Witch to admit her full report. 

She’d been convulsing upon arrival, haemorrhaging from a myriad of broken vessels in her nose and burned horribly along her neck, so much so that the combined efforts of Pomfrey and Dumbledore had been unable to heal it effectively. Broken muscles all along her shoulders, what looked disastrously like an aneurysm in her brain. Comatose and with a pulse so low they’d thought on multiple occasions that Hermione had simply died.

She hadn’t. Or hadn’t yet, she supposed.

Each of them had debated on the merits of sending her to St. Mungo’s and each had arrived at a similar conclusion; rather than take the chance in risking Apparition - which could have killed her - or flight - which could have also killed her - or Floo - which they decided would assuredly have killed her - it would be best instead that she be treated here, in the Infirmary, and any necessary physicians brought over to Hogwarts. They could keep her still and stable, watch her easily and ensure that any developments in her situation were monitored.

It made sense, even if Hermione found it disquieting that no one else from the Ministry or St. Mungo’s was in attendance.

The situation was eventually evened out. Explained as much as she could do so, passed onto her as much as they could manage. Pomfrey forced her guests to leave her once it became clear the inquisition had been draining and it was with complete exhaustion that Hermione leaned back into her bed and stared up at the white panelling of the ceiling.

Pomfrey was kind enough to call up a House Elf for some lunch, even with Hermione’s protestations that she wasn’t hungry. The woman had only scolded her though, before providing a light porridge and warm tea along with some slices of fruit all placed atop a floating tray for Hermione to consume at her leisure. The older - although younger, Hermione still couldn’t help but feel the woman was ageless - woman bid her well and left for her own food, a simple bell remaining behind for Hermione to ring whenever she needed something. Heels disappeared into the distance and Hermione stared, eyes forlorn, at the food by her side.

She could only recall one single instance of unexpected - and unauthorized, though that was only made apparent in later investigations - time travel that even remotely mirrored her own experience.

The curious case of one Eloise Mintumble.

The witch had - somehow - managed to find herself sent back almost five-hundred years into the past. The rescue attempt of said witch had relied on someone in the present being aware of where she’d gone to, someone who could reference the date itself. Her collection had been of utmost importance to the Unspeakables but upon her retrieval, the woman had aged from her mid-thirties to over five-hundred in the space of a single day.

It was a gruesome way to die and not one that Hermione felt particularly keen on trying out.

Instead of eating she stewed, her mind swirling with questions that her incapacitated state failed to answer. Would she rapidly age, die off as dust if she were brought back to the present? She didn’t think so. Thirty-one years was a lot but that would put her in middle age, not well past the point of life. But would the shock still kill her? If she came this close to death going backwards, then what would going forward do to her? And was she even in her own past, or had she been shunted off to some entirely new dimension?

All questions, no answers. The constant anxiety brought with it a fierce headache, and it was with reservations that Hermione resolved to quit the subject, for now at least. She could only rely upon the help of Albus and Minerva before trying to do anything else.

If she hadn’t already popped out of existence, erased from time itself, then another day wouldn’t hurt.

---

High up in the castle, well behind the closed doors of the Headmaster’s office, a harried conversation was taking place. 

Minerva and Albus both sat before a warm and crackling fire - despite the warmth of summer a chill had invaded the castle over the past few days, and Minerva found herself thankful for Albus’s predisposition to keep fires lit no matter the time of year - as the events of the past few days were discussed. Neither one had wanted to be the first to speak but eventually Minerva had gone first, every second since the girl had arrived was reviewed and dissected until there was only what they had just learned left to talk about.

“Do you believe her, Albus?” she asked, hand reaching out to grasp the handle on a cup of warm tea.

The old wizard declined to answer her straight away, instead flicking his wrist to send his own cup back towards his oversized desk. Finger steepled in his lap, face drawn down and a frown turning down his lips.

“I find myself pained to admit that I believe her story, regardless of how fantastical it sounds. I had no sense that she was attempting to play us for fools. That trip nearly destroyed her, it was only thanks to your quick action and Poppy’s skills that she’s alive. A deception worth that risk seems quite unlikely.”

Minerva sipped, and then asked, “Did you happen to get a look? Inside, I mean.”

Albus sighed, leaned back into his chair. A second passed before he spoke, tone low and soft despite the fact that they were alone. “No, regrettably I did not. She has walls up that I’ve never encountered before. It will take time to see inside, if I can even manage it. It would appear that either the art of Occlumency has been revolutionized in her future, or she is quite determined that no one should see inside of her. Ever. Whatever happened to her before this trip has left her on guard.”

“Interesting.” Minerva leaned back into her own chair and turned her gaze towards the bright-red Phoenix resting on its perch above the fireplace. “Do you think it wise that she remain here then? I’m sure the Ministry could hold her, if necessary.”

“Yes,” Albus replied, quick and rather biting. “Both you and I know that any chance of her being returned to the proper timeline is, well, quite unlikely. If we’re lucky and she adjusts, perhaps she’ll be willing to help us with issues here, instead. The future has already changed with her arrival. It might be possible that we can convince her to change it for the better. Nevertheless, we will look for a method of returning her back home.”

---

A soft but rapid knocking against the oaken door - old and taken from a prior Black Manor that had burned sometimes in the last two hundred or so years - was the only warning that Bellatrix. A hastily whispered ‘Nox’ snapped shut the light brimming from her wand as she closed the pitted leather-bound tome that she’d been obsessing over for the past few weeks of break. The doorknob to her room turned and pushed the gap wide just as she managed to levitate it back beneath her bed. She silenced herself, leaned back further into the mound of pillows resting against her headboard and turned - feigning sleep, feigning being so tired she could barely even see - as her youngest sister entered the room.

“Cissa,” Bellatrix hissed, her voice a hushed but worried whisper. “What’ve I told you about coming over here at night?”

Bellatrix had attempted to instil her voice with the steel of her father’s words but obviously it hadn’t worked. Narcissa was still padding over to her bedside, bare feet slapping against the hardwood. When she reached the side the younger girl hoisted herself up and onto the exceptionally high mattress, nudging Bellatrix over as she did so.

Cissa sighed, dramatic as ever, “I know, I know!” Her little form burrowed beneath the cover, small hands looping over to thread her arm around Bellatrix’s, “I had another nightmare about Mother.”

A second passed while Bellatrix collected herself, gazing towards the faintly burning embers of her fireplace. She sighed - just as dramatic and practised as Cissa’s - and gently held Narcissa’s hand, pulling her tight as wracking shivers overtook the small girl.

“Why didn’t you go to Andi?”

“Because Andi says it doesn’t matter! She says Mother deserved what she got.” Narcissa looked up at her from the darkness with her face in as much a mask of disgust as she could manage, “Hearing her say that doesn’t make me feel any better.”

“Andi doesn’t even know why Mother was sent away. No one does. Look,” Bellatrix ran her thumb against Narcissa’s palm, soothing and gentle as she could be. “I’ll talk to Andi about it, alright? You can stay here tonight if you want, but you’ll have to be quiet.”

Only a muffled confirmation floated from Narcissa, the fire stoked to warmth with just the littlest bit of magic. It was cold this far north no matter the time of year, and Bellatrix found herself settling back into a deep sleep, her dreams filled with memories of better times.

Chapter Text

Rays of warm light filtered in through the far window of the infirmary. Hermione, safely ensconced within layers of white blankets and soft feather pillows, slowly awoke. The first few seconds were the worst. Her mind threw her back to infirmary visits with Harry and Ron, and a window of time where she looked side to side for any signs of her friends left a deep pang of loss within her chest.

Madam Pomfrey was seated quietly behind her desk while a quill stood on its own, tall feather waving back and forth. Hermione seized control of her muscles from the grasp of sleep and sat up before stretching to release the kinks plaguing her body. Tension bled through her movements but no pain rose up to meet her. Once she’d satisfied herself that she wouldn’t fall apart at the barest movement she swung her body to the side and exited the bed. The cold from the tiles below her feet bled through the thin socks she was wearing and up her heels. The bright white hospital gown reached down to the floor and dragged slowly across the tiles as she tentatively approached Pomfrey’s large desk.

“Ma’am?” Her voice was still hoarse from the screams that had been wrenched from her during her impromptu time travel.

Pomfrey startled at her words, clearly surprised to see her out of the bed so soon, and nearly spilled ink all over her paperwork. The warm smile that the matronly woman shot her once her work was safe was filled with sincerity.

“Ah yes Ms. Granger! It’s so good to see you up and about.”

“Thank you, Ma’am,” Hermione looked down at the length of her body, “I was wondering if I could go clean up?”

A simple cleaning spell might have done the job just as well but Hermione was craving a moment of time to thoroughly scrub and inspect herself beyond the prying eyes of anyone else. She wanted to see herself with no filters and ensure it was still her that had gone back in time.

“Of course dearie, I’ll escort you to one of the Prefect’s bathrooms. I’m sure with the lack of students no one will mind.”

Pomfrey stood up from her desk and set the items on it to a proper order with a flick of her wand before walking around it and heading off towards the doors to the infirmary. Hermione wrapped her arms around herself and followed the medi-witch silently.

The walk was quiet and Hermione contented herself to try and catch as many differences between the castle she knew and this new-old version. The stone walls and floor looked the same, if a little less worn down, and most passageways they passed by were familiar to her. Some ghosts lingered about the hallways and were respectful enough to resist questioning her appearance or why she was there off term. Portraits and statues still lined the hallways and while they appeared to be in different locations she could mostly recognize them all. Beyond that, it was Hogwarts as she remembered it. Less lively without the telling voices of students and professors wandering the hallways but still comforting in its familiarity.

When they finally arrived at the infirmary Pomfrey opened the door for her and let her know she’d remain nearby until the witch was ready to return. Hermione thanked her for her help before entering and promptly leaning back against a wall in exhaustion. The walk had been short, no more than five minutes, but still her body was burned out from the exertion. Her trip had worn her far more than she’d realized. A full length mirror was inset against a far wall and Hermione disrobed before walking up to it and inspecting her reflection.

She’d been gifted with a new scar to add to her collection. Standing out in parallel line across her chest a bright red burn mark followed up to catch at her collarbone and continue in a loop around her neck. The flesh was a river of angry red and white blotches, raised from the skin, and interspersed evenly with indents where the chain of the Time Turner had set against her skin and melted. Both Pomfrey and Minerva, ‘And likely Albus too,’ she thought, had done the best they could to heal the mess but it seemed the magical nature of the injury had provided complications. She could hope that it would fade evenly with time but the magnitude of the injury cast doubts on that. It seemed high collared shirts tight necklines would be her best friend until she was comfortable revealing it.

Her eyes traveled down her chest to the faint remnants of the scar that Dolohov had inflicted on her during her fifth year. It was a faint thing, blotches of discolored skin that easily faded into her naturally tan skin color at the edges. Her eyes drifted to her left forearm and to the scar etched upon it that would never fade with time. The best healers they had been able to scrounge up after the Final Battle had all come to the same conclusion. The wound was cursed and would forever mar her skin. It no longer bled but the angry red lines in childish script looked as new as if she’d been carved into only yesterday. Pomfrey and the others had undoubtedly seen it while attempting to heal her but had refrained from bringing attention to it. For that she was grateful.

Turning away from the mirror to face the nearly swimming pool sized bath she snapped her fingers and directed a flow of magic to begin filling the tub with warm and scented water. Bubbles flowed out to film over the surface of the water until mountains of them coalesced around the tiled edges.

Gingerly she set a toe into the water to check the temperature and once it felt right she hurriedly entered. With each step warmth rolled about her skin to massage the muscles beneath. Stress and anxiety burned away as she made her way to a corner of the bath and sat down upon a submerged ledge. She let the events of the past week roll over her as she leaned backwards and sank until her chin was submerged in the water.

Thoughts of the friends she was leaving behind in the future passed quickly through her mindscape, and she hoped they’d attempt to collect her as soon as possible. The Final Battle had left Hogwarts woefully in need of repair and while many of the students and her friends left to begin their lives or reconnect with surviving family members, she had remained behind to help with reconstruction.

She’s had no family to return to and moving into the home they had once occupied felt empty in a way she couldn’t place. It might have been her home but it wasn’t truly hers with her parents still missing in Australia. She’d wanted to find them as soon as possible, return their memories as soon as possible. She hadn’t though. She’d focused on centering herself first while she placated the part of her that missed her mother and father by telling it they were safe and happy where they were. A few weeks of ‘me’ time wouldn’t hurt them. But weeks had turned into months, had turned into a full year. Before she knew it, Hogwarts was mostly reconstructed and she’d been thrown back in time. Any chance at resolving her familial issues had been ripped from her.

‘I’m sorry.’

As her breath hitched and tears burned her eyes she let the emotions run their course, staring down into the water as her tears dropped down to join it.

---oo---

When her fingers and toes had shriveled and pruned, and tears had dried to salted red streaks down her cheeks, Hermione resigned herself to leaving the warmth and security of the water. Her body responded sluggishly as she pulled herself towards the lip of the bath, rinsing her hair and skin from the remaining soap and bubbles. Her feet were chilled instantly when she stepped up onto the cool tiles and a shiver ran down her spine.

She worked in silence after parking herself in front of the mirror again, brushing out curls and tangles while wandlessly drying her hair. Frizz was tamped down into smooth ringlets and tangled knots were pulled apart.

The long bulk of her hair had slowly been growing until it reached the small of her back only a few short weeks ago. Waves and curls of soft hazel brown bounced back against her skin as she twisted and turned to see her reflection. A red spot of irritation grew in her chest as she looked to her locks and filled her with something she couldn’t quite place.

During her time on the run and during the efforts of rebuilding the school she’d cared little for her personal appearance except keeping herself boringly clean and average. When Ron and Harry had run off to dive into Auror training she’d let herself fall back into the bushy hair first year she’d once been, hiding herself behind hair and remaining frustratingly, painfully, average. She’d neither sought attention nor given it unless driven to do so, usually at the firm end of Minerva’s patience whenever they’d needed to meet with persons of wealth or connection that’d stepped up to finance the reconstruction efforts.

At some point during her soak the house elves had removed the white gown she’d been wearing and replaced it with a fresh pair of clothing. A nondescript charcoal colored skit and white long sleeved blouse awaited her along with a pair of simple black flats. She noted absently that the blouse would cover all the scars littering her body when buttoned up. A small part of her spared a kind thought for whomever had picked it out for her. A school issued robe that lacked a house emblem was the last of the items.

After dressing she glanced at herself one last time in the mirror, again sparking that irritation that she couldn’t pinpoint, before leaving the room. Pomfrey appeared to have disappeared at some point and seemed to have been replaced by Albus. He stood slightly off to the side while engaged in a rather animated discussion with a large portrait of an individual that she didn’t recognize. Albus turned to face her when the individual in the portrait pointed a finger and focused his gaze towards her.

“Ah, Ms. Granger. How good to finally see you up and about. I’ll have to let Poppy know that once again, she’s performed a miracle.” He said, while striding over to her and clasping a hand about her shoulder. “I was wondering if you’d be so kind as to accompany me to my office, I believe there are some things we’ve to discuss.”

He peered down his half-moon glasses at Hermione and one corner of his mouth upturned in a small smile, almost as if he expected her to decline.

“That would be fine Headmaster. Please, lead the way.”

“Good, good.” He turned away from her and without removing his hand began to walk down the hallway, Hermione in tow. “I take it you haven’t eaten yet?”

The mention of eating brought a low growl to Hermione’s stomach as it awakened in irritation. Beyond a light meal yesterday she’d not eaten since and found herself famished.

“That’d be the correct assumption Headmaster.”

He tilted his head and smiled down at her as he guided them to a small staircase. A minute or two of climbing upwards led them to arrive upon a landing where a gargoyle sat vigilantly on a large stone pedestal across from them. Her mind momentarily retraced their steps when the short path they’d taken didn’t add up to what she’d remembered.

‘I guess some things are different after all…’

“Once we’ve settled in I’ll call the elves to bring up some brunch.”

Hermione only nodded silently as they ascended the winding staircases past the gargoyles that led to his office.

---oo---

Minerva’s once bright and promising morning was decidedly turning out to be anything but that.

Between multiple Floo calls to as many Unspeakables at the Ministry as she could handle, and all the riddles that they spoke in, she was getting nowhere fast. A hard etched scowl and broken quills were fast becoming her new state of existence.

Her day had started before the sun rose to meet the castle and hours later she was still only halfway finished with the first half of the parchment Albus had handed her the prior night. Contact after contact had either been unavailable, obtuse, or simply unknowing enough to help her. A few elves had been brought in from the kitchen to assist her as much as possible, but they were all still working towards being threadbare at this rate. It wasn’t helpful that after they’d finally gotten some words out of Ms. Granger she’d become filled with guilt and shame at her future incarnation. At herself. It may not have been her specifically that had sent Ms. Granger tumbling backwards on her journey but it had been some version of her. To say she felt responsible for fixing it was an understatement.

And so her day had continued, call after call, frustrated non-answer after non-answer. It took the combined force of ten elves chattering nonstop and descending with shamed faces to get her to acquiesce to their commands and leave the rest of the contacts to them. Left with nothing to do when they took over she instead left the office and meandered herself aimlessly until she’d reached Albus’s office.

The gargoyle protecting the entrance was quickly moved out of her path with a hastily muttered ‘ Sherbert Lemon’, and all that was left was to climb. Only steps from the doors she could smell fresh scones and the tart hint of fruits. Knocking twice she opened the door without awaiting a response and strode up to his desk.

The usual detritus of knickknacks and inscrutable inventions had been cleared away. Instead, it was now piled high with as many samplings of varied food as the elves could fit. Fresh fruits, plates of light sandwiches and toast, links of sausage and bacon sat in repeating circles and enough variations that it looked like a miniaturized feast. Albus had transfigured the chairs that usually sat opposite to his own into an extension of the desk with mid height stools for seating at the edge. Albus’s warm eyes were hardened with a mysterious glint as they flickered up in greeting. Ms. Granger twisted around in her seat to see who had entered.

“Ah, thank you for joining us Minerva. I was just about to send an elf to fetch you. I hope the elves helping you didn’t have to prod too hard for you get moving,” his eyes suddenly switched and filled with some hidden joviality as he spoke.

“I should have assumed it was you pulling their strings. Though,” she smiled down at them both, “I will say I’m happy I took them up on the offer. This all smells delicious.”

“And it tastes even better dear Minerva.”

Leaning down she pulled the stool to Ms. Granger’s, Hermione’s, right side and began to pile fruits onto a plate while Albus maneuvered a pitcher into filling a goblet for her.

“I was just telling Ms. Granger here that you’d begun to search out a solution to her little problem this morning,” at this Hermione raised her head, smiled at Minerva, and quietly broke into the conversation to thoroughly thank her.

Conversation lulled and the trio ate their fill before Albus banished the remainder of the dishes back to the kitchens with a loud snap of his fingers. When they’d disappeared he waved his wand in a thoroughly overdone flourish and transfigured the desk and stools back to their proper form.

“Hermione and I were going to go over a plan for housing her here as a student while we work out a solution to her problem.”

Minerva turned and smiled warmly at Hermione as she began her side of the information.

“I’ve passed through six years when I’m from, and cleared O.W.L.’s in all but Divination and Muggle Studies. My seventh year was,” she tilted her head as she looked for the right words, “Interrupted before I could begin, to put it lightly.”

Minerva couldn’t help but notice the slight wince as she spoke, turning inwards on herself and physically closing up. She had a strong guess that whatever had interrupted her studies had been inconvenient at best, highly unpleasant at worst.

“I’d be willing to take exams to show competency in those subjects, if you’d prefer to have more than my word on it.” Hermione trailed off at the end as she waited for either of the professors to continue the conversation.

---oo---

The afternoon slowly passed by as they worked towards stable plans to insert Hermione into her seventh year. A schedule was hashed out for her to take base competency tests for whichever subjects she requested in preparation for final courses and N.E.W.T.’s. Both Minerva and Albus were in agreement with the plan amidst the acceptance that Minerva, even a future version of herself, wouldn’t let just anyone take care of a highly dangerous and experimental magical artifact.

The final topic for the afternoon was one that weighed heavily on Hermione. Determining which of the four Houses she was going to join. A scroll had been provided by a harried house elf that listed each and every student that would be enrolled next year as well as the House affiliation for the second years and up. Hermione could mostly fill in the blanks for any first years with names that she recognized.

Line by line she’d read and notated next to names for over an hour before they were able to come to any form of agreement. In deference to protecting the future they set out to find her a house with as few people as she’d have direct contact with in her own timeline. Unfortunately, that led to a disquieting notion taking residence in her head. When they finally finished her soured musing was confirmed.

‘Slytherin. I’ll be a damned Slytherin!’

Not that that in and of itself was a bad thing, she knew the House’s traits and though not as virtuous or studious as Gryffindor or Ravenclaw, it was still enough to bring a heated flush to her skin. Moving into the House that considered itself the opposite to her original was somewhat unsettling. But there was nothing to be done.

Mapped out connections littered the parchment she grasped tightly and both Albus and Minerva had concurred with her findings. Gryffindor was automatically out, it held too many family members of those she knew intimately in her own time, followed closely by Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. Following her reasons for choosing a specific House, Slytherin was the only one left. A few of the names sparked her attention but none were specific cases where she thought it would impact the future. Three did stand out however and she merely resigned herself to focusing on classwork and ignoring them as much as possible.

“Slytherin has produced many notable and reputable Witches and Wizards, Hermione. I’m sure you’ll find a place to fit in alongside them.” Albus assured her and tried to lighten the mood, while the Sorting Hat sitting to their side on a bookshelf chuckled quietly to itself. When it settled down she threw it a look and pondered on exactly how much that Hat could know.

By the time she was finally ready to call it quits for the night she was set in her plan and ready to follow through. Taking tests, joining a new House, and being reassured by both Minerva and Albus that they were sparing no expense in searching for her way home had lifted her spirits somewhat over their dismal outlook that morning.

Dumbledore made it a point to note that next time they’d meet they would need to discuss possible back stories and aliases before they ran out of time and the school year began. As she nodded in agreement Fawkes hopped off his perch to allow her to scratch among the feathers under his neck. Bidding the large bird goodbye, as well as the professors, she left through the doorway and began the trek back towards the infirmary. The solitude and quietude was almost enough to convince her that things were back to normal. That tomorrow she’d work with Minerva on updating the school charter, review reconstruction efforts, maybe even send off an owl to Harry and Ron. That she hadn’t been flung off into another time all alone.

Tears hung vigil in the corner of her eyes as she returned to the infirmary and Madam Pomfrey’s insistence that she run through diagnostic spells to check for disturbances cause by her activity.

When it was finished she fell into a fitful and heavy sleep amidst nightmares of times long past but still yet to come.

---oo---

A growl of frustration built up and rumbled low in Bellatrix’s throat as she attempted to corner Andy between shelves of books and old parchments. It had taken over an hour before Cygnus had released them to wander Knockturn and Diagon on their own before she’d finally found a moment to corner Andy and chastise her treatment of Narcissa the night before.

Her hand curled atop Andy’s shoulder and her nails lightly bit into the fabric of her robes while she turned her younger sister around to box her in against a shelving unit.

“Please for the love of Morrigan tell me Why you told Cissa that Mother deserved it?” Her voice was low and feral in an attempt to keep anyone from overhearing her. Andy shrank backwards under the intense gaze before she straightened herself and returned the glare directly.

“Because she did! And I know you’re both aware of it but neither one of you are willing to say it!”

Andy’s raised voice broke the level of an angry whisper and the head of the shopkeeper swiveled around to pin them with a suspicious stare. Bella nodded in the direction of the unwanted scrutiny before releasing Andy’s shoulder and backing away. She crossed her arms across her chest and puffed at a string of curls that threatened to hide her vision before speaking again with strength shoring up her voice.

“That doesn’t mean you need to be so callus to her about it, she’s only twelve! She doesn’t understand what happened yet.”

“But she should,” Andy countered, “And no amount of skirting the issue will fix it. What mother, Druella, did was wrong and I’ll be damned before I roll over and ignore it!”

Andy pushed herself past Bellatrix with a bout of strength that her sister hadn’t thought her capable of and left the store. Minutes passed as Bellatrix shifted side to side on her feet, curls waving back and forth as emotions ate her up inside. She could feel herself being torn between anger and sadness. She’d already lost her mother and the sinking feeling in her stomach warned her that she could lose her sister as well.

Chapter Text

The following two days of Hermione’s existence were dreadfully boring at best and massively frustrating at worst.

Madam Pomfrey had spent almost the entirety of two days performing as many final healing spells as she could, from scar softeners to teeth cleaning, She was subjected to nearly hundreds of textbooks worth of ‘checkups’. And in the end nothing could affect the scar now draped along her neck nor the one written in her arm. The faint markings still on her chest from Dolohov did manage to finally fade into the surrounding skin tone, though a cursory inspection with her fingers still revealed raised and textured skin.

By the time the sun began its descent behind the castle Hermione was sick from the numerous potions she’d been told to drink and had to pointedly refuse a secondary potion for the nausea.

House elves had been piling old tomes and fading manuscripts in sections along the floor as Pomfrey sped through them all and the air still rang with a near continuous Pop as they Apparated and Disapparated. Pomfrey only gave up on continuing to try when a house elf collapsed underneath a stack of books almost as tall as Hermione and the witch herself scuttled back on a bed to refuse any more treatment.

It took some time but eventually she approved Hermione’s release with the assurance that she’d stop by whenever any form of phantom twinges or pain reared their head.

A false smile graced Hermione’s face as she hurriedly made her exit from the room and out into the hallway beyond. The only things she gained from the two days were a healthy respect for the ingenuity of Pomfrey and an everlasting taste of mint in her mouth. And so she brusquely walked from the infirmary and off to the library, head filled with the knowledge that Pomfrey could heal her all she wanted and still not get to the root of her issues.

A parchment was clutched within her fingers outlining the subjects that Minerva had approved her for a standardized test in. The last thing on her mind was study but with nothing better to occupy her time she planned on acing every test. To that end she scoured the library itself and prepared in any manner that she could.

Finally entering the library had filled her with intense nostalgia when she realized the room itself had hardly changed in thirty years. Allowing herself to get lost in between pages and shelves was a reprieve she was looking forward to. The shelves were arranged as they were in her own time and it seemed most texts were the same, barring any new work that had yet to come out or revised copies. Her body automatically found its way to a shelf at waist height below a large open window that crisp air flowed through.

She deftly pulled a dog-eared copy of The Art of Transfiguration, Vol Iv, and opened to a chapter she’d left off on only a few weeks ago. Though it lacked the hand written notes and highlights that she’d left in her own copy it still brought a tender smile to her face and filled her with a sense of belonging.

The library was left free for her to wander in silence with minimal supervision by the few house elves that maintained the library being her only companions. Madam Pince had yet to grow up and become the Librarian and the area was instead lorded over by a sharply dressed woman with thin features and penetrating gaze that left Hermione feeling as if she’d scoured herself with a scrub pad. If the library was a kingdom, then this Librarian was the Queen, and she brokered no nonsense when it came to her charge. The name plate silently floating up above a desk identified her as Madam Mazur and though they’d yet to speak two words to one another Hermione was content to leave it that way. A single glare she’d received when she’d sneezed above the volume of a whisper had the woman staring daggers into her back. If the Librarian had stared any harder Hermione would’ve been afraid that she’d erupt in flames.

Between studying Hermione took time to wander about the grounds and hallways while avoiding any professors she’d not met yet. The trips back and forth were a chance to memorize the pathways leading to and from the Slytherin common-room and her newly acquired single dorm. Though normally preserved for the Slytherin Prefects, she’d been given leeway and been allowed to use it due to the only female Slytherin Prefect declining the offer. No one else had stepped in and Slughorn had offered her the room. The man was a near copy to his older self in most regards though he was slightly more outgoing in this time. She supposed that two wars and constantly being hounded by Voldemort to join him had worn down his amicable nature over thirty years. His only real eccentricity was walking around with an enchanted quill and parchment following behind him, constantly writing down potions notes that he thought of.

It was weird, and different, but for being thirty years off her time it was pleasant enough. Beggars couldn’t be choosers.

---oo---

Both Dumbledore and Minerva had been an infrequent sight as the days passed by. She knew they were busy with both the start of term arriving soon and the new distractions caused by her arrival but it still left her feeling empty with their absence. Meals were small affairs that she managed to take with relative silence in the Great Hall. The long tables that separated the individual houses were empty of students but still filled in with food whenever she sat down. The few professors that kept off hours and meal times would generally give her a passing glance and then leave her alone as they sat at the staff table.

Hermione was ushered off to Minerva’s office after a similarly silent breakfast on a Tuesday morning by a small elf with a squeaky voice. Her day of testing had arrived and the meager breakfast of toast and fruit she’d stoically eaten wasn’t enough to settle the few last minute testing nerves that roiled her stomach.

“Hello Ms. Granger,” Minerva said as she smiled kindly from her desk when Hermione entered the room. “I have ten tests for you today. Please feel free to work through them at your pace, use as much time as you need.” She stood from her seat to lean over the desk and pass a rather thick packet of brown parchment over to Hermione. As Hermione grabbed the papers Minerva used her free hand to snap a simple onyx black quill and filled inkpot into existence on the small desk that Hermione was to use.

“As you’ve yet to decide upon an alias, please forgo filling in the header, just leave it blank for now. We’ll fill it in tomorrow before they’re reviewed. If you find yourself needing a break at any time, please let me know and I’ll escort you from the room until you’re ready to return.”

“Thank you Professor,” Hermione gratefully replied as she looked up to the younger version of her mentor. Minerva had greatly surprised her at how much she resembled, in looks and manner, her older self. If anything, she was her older Professor. Just more youthful and spritely.

Hermione allowed herself to be absorbed into the testing as candles marking the hours burned down. Minutes flew off into hours and by the time she’d finished all ten it had become quite apparent to her how much more prepared for these tests she was than someone from this actual timeline. Either Minerva was low-balling her with the tests, ‘As if,’ or the pureblood notion that Hogwarts standards had decreased over time was objectively wrong.

She was fairly sure it was the latter.

When five marks had passed on the candle marking the hour she stood wearily from the desk and stretched out her back and remaining muscles. Being in a hospital cot for an extended time had clearly been bad for her desk posture. When she was sure she wouldn’t fall to pieces she grabbed the stiff packet and dropped it off on Minerva’s desk. With that accomplished she turned quickly on her heel and left the classroom. Standing outside in the corridor she looked up and down its length before deciding to avoid returning to her new quarters or the Great Hall. Some free time spent alone and active was calling to her after five hours cooped up writing.

The natural beauty that surrounded the castle was as timeless as ever and the distinct lack of any students milling about was a welcome balm. She could wander aimlessly while anticipating that at any moment she’d come across Harry or Ron to whisk her off to another adventure.

Soft winds tousled her curls as she made her way from the castle walls to the edge of the Forbidden Forest in the thrall of her memories. After a few minutes spent peering into its depths her direction changed and she found herself headed towards the shore of the Black Lake. The air was still warm with the remnants of summer as wispy clouds moved by startlingly fast high up in the sky. Reaching the edge where water began to lap against the shores she removed her shoes and socks before tossing them behind her. Stepping forward she allowed her toes and heels to sink down into the warm sand as water gently lapped over her toes and against her ankles.

These rare moments truly felt like she was in her own world. In her own respective timeline. That there was a loving family waiting for her back home and a gaggle of acquired friends waiting to hang out with her. That war had never descended upon them to steal their innocence away and tear the scales off their eyes. That she was at peace, unmarred and unbroken. Only in the deepest recess of her mind did she dare dwell on how far from the truth that all was. None of her friends were here. None were even alive yet. Her family wouldn’t know she was their daughter and she wasn’t even sure if her parents knew each other yet. If anything she was just another kid like them, just barely of age, youthful and without a care in the world. Her scars would never fade.

No one was standing by her side in awe of the battle that had torn apart their lives and no one was waiting with a shoulder to lean on. To cry on. Much the same as it’d been after the actual battle. No one paid her much attention after their side had been declared victorious, only seeing in her an able body that could help rebuild.

She was just Hermione. The girl that tagged along. Not the prophetic Chosen One, and not even his Stalwart Best Friend.

‘You’re nothing. They weren’t with you then, they aren’t with you now. Nothing’s changed.’

Her body slowly collapsed downwards until she had her knees pressing into her chest with her arms wrapped tightly around them. Silent tears picked up a steady pace down her cheeks and her breathing became labored. Harry and Ronald had chosen to leave her without so much as a backwards glance or a ‘Thank you’.

She knew Auror training was hard and extensive and that they had their own demons to overcome but not even a single owl from them had arrived in all the time between the final battle and her misadventure with time. She was left with nothing but radio silence and memories she couldn’t share. She knew she wasn’t alone, Ginny and Luna had both stayed to take their seventh year and Neville had started apprenticing under Professor Sprout. But they weren’t part of the Trio. They hadn’t been on the hunt for Horcrux’s, they hadn’t been captured and broken down within Malfoy Manor.

Everyone was an arm's length away from the trials the Trio had endured. No one could concretely understand why she woke screaming almost every night and clutched her arm with a death grip and neither could they understand the ephemeral visage, that maniacal grin, that inspired it. Alone and deep within her thoughts the voice that sounded suspiciously like the dead was cackling in all its full glory.

‘You have nothing left to go back to Muddie, nothing and no one.’

A warm gust of wind traveled out and across the lake carrying the sound of her turmoil and sobs as she broke.

---oo---

"Acid Pops."

The stone gargoyle sentinel guarding the spiraling staircase up to Dumbledore’s office slowly moved out of her way with a grinding sound of stone against stone. Hermione strode confidently up the steps while she ruffled the paperwork in her hands. When she reached the top she knocked against the door and walked inside at Albus’s warmly voiced welcome with Minerva following her closely behind.

“Ms. Granger, Minerva. How good to see you both,” Albus said. He looked up at them with a grandfatherly smile warming his face. “I believe we have some matters to settle now that you’ve finished the placement exams.”

Hermione walked forwards to take a seat in the plush chair to the left of Albus’s desk and wrapped her arms around herself.

“Yes sir. I’ve put some thought into an alias but I’m still rather stumped on a back story,” she worriedly glanced up at her two professors, “I think I’d like to go by Emelia. It was my grandmother’s name. However, I’ve not been able to decide on a surname.”

Albus gave her a pointed look before he steepled his fingers on the desk and turning to eye Fawkes.

“Grenier would suffice, should you like.” He spoke with a strong tone and glanced back and forth between Fawkes and Hermione. “The Grenier name is traced back to a now extinct pureblood lineage from Canada.” He stopped and appeared to wait for Hermione to interject. When she didn’t he continued again. “It will be easier to claim that you’ve come from abroad and lived elsewhere rather than having lived here your whole life. It will allow you an adequate with few questions.”

Hermione steadied herself before mulling it over and replying. Claiming that she was descended from a pureblood line would confer numerous advantages in traditionalist UK Wizarding society as well as fit her snugly in with Slytherin. The less her classmates questioned her about being there, the better. Unfortunately, it would be the antithesis to who she’d been back in her own timeline. Having to act the part of a haughty pureblood would be as much of her cover as the name itself. But if she mastered it, then no one would have cause to question her whatsoever.

“Emelia Grenier. I’ll take it,” she punctuated her acceptance with a slight smile.

“Well then, that settles that.” Albus leaned back and smiled to both Hermione and Minerva. “With that out of the way, Minerva here will escort you through Diagon Alley tomorrow to stock up on school supplies and other materials.”

Minerva visibly perked at the chance to get away from the castle, even if only for a little bit of time. The lead into the new school year was stressful and she relished the distraction.

“Sir,” Hermione interjected, “I didn’t exactly have any time to bring galleons with me. I can’t actually pay for anything.” She turned her head and eyes up in confusion.

“Not to worry dear. Are you aware of the special allowance to the school for Unique Needs and Circumstances?”

Hermione could only shake her head. She knew there was a stipend available for muggleborn students to take up when they first received their letters of admission, but reading beyond that and diving into the school charter and operation policies had been dry reading, even for her.

“Well,” he leaned forward with a glint in his eyes and conspiratorial whisper, “Each year the Ministry gives us an allowance based upon their tax revenue that we may spend on students with, shall we say, special needs. We are allowed to spend it as we see fit, within limits of course, and at the end of the year we keep half of what wasn’t spent while the remainder goes into paying for a part of the next year’s allowance. As of right now we’ve only had three students with which to spend this allowance on within the past six years. What we’ve saved over this time had risen to a not insubstantial amount. It will be donated to you and placed within a Gringotts account in your name. When we can get an approved inheritance test to pass you for a Grenier, you may merge the two accounts and keep the value.”

Hermione’s eyes widened considerably as she sat forward in alarm.

“Sir, I couldn’t possibly-”

“Ms. Grenier, quite frankly, you can and you will. It was through the actions of a Hogwarts employee that you’ve found yourself wounded both physically and chronologically. I cannot in good conscience find a better method of restitution than this. At least until such a time as we can return you to your own, well,” he chuckled, “Time.”

When he was finished speaking her leaned back fully into his chair as his lips turned up into a wide grin. Hermione couldn’t tell if the emotion behind it was sincere or if it was the grin of a cat that’d caught a particularly tasty canary.

“Sir, this is, well, this is a lot. To say the least. And thank you, truly. All you’ve already done for me and now this, I don’t know how to explain how thankful I am for your help in all this. But I feel that I have to ask, is there any, um,” she sat back and looked off into the fireplace while her face burned with sheepishness, “Is there any sort of catch to this?”

The old man chuckled airily before replying.

“No no, Merlin’s blue beard, no. No catch or anything else of the sort.” He spread his hands and fingers apart and looked down his glasses at her. “Well, there would be, if you were younger. I’d have liked to place the sum into a trust until you were of age, but from what you’ve told us and Pomfrey’s examination, you’re already of age. I trust you won’t spend it all at once, at least wait until you merge with the Grenier accounts. Gringotts will be your first stop tomorrow, and if you’ll both excuse me, I have some calls to make with the Ministry regarding you legally existing.”

He stood from his desk and spread an arm out towards the door as their obvious dismissal.

“Please enjoy the rest of the evening Ms. Grenier, Minerva.”

Hermione and Minerva descended from the office in silence and hashed a time to meet up in the morning when they reached the bottom. As they went their separate ways the voice in the back of her mind spoke up again, and for once she could agree with it.

‘Nothing in life is free. He wants something.’

---oo---

Bellatrix’s heart and soul felt like they were being eaten up alive.

Cygnus had descended from his study and deigned to eat a dinner with them before announcing he would be taking Andromeda and herself back to Diagon tomorrow to meet with some business associate. Normally it wouldn’t have unnerved her in this manner, but the tone of his voice as he spoke of his associate was needling her beyond belief.

Cygnus met weekly with other purebloods or captains of Wizarding industry but rarely were any of his three daughters invited along. And she was quite sure that if Cygnus had his way she’d be permanently locked inside Black Manor until she was married and popping out little pureblood runts.

She’d already been informed earlier in the week of her impending engagement to Rodolphus Lestrange. The west wing was unrecognizable by the time her rage had dissipated to safe levels. Being used as a broodmare to garner status and a dowry infuriated her to no end. Seeing red was becoming a constant filter in her life. Ever since his announcement she’d been on the edge of falling into bouts of anger.

Meeting another so called man of importance was infuriating. She’d already had enough of them telling her how to act, how to talk, what to say and do when in the presence of her betters.

Subservience was unbecoming of her and the shackles that her sex expected her to wear burned on her skin. Alone in her room red sparks dripped hungrily from the tip of her wand.

Chapter Text

Hermione’s abrupt arrival in the past had been hellish for her dreams.

Each night was a toss up for whether it would be nightmares or sleep paralysis. Nightmares where she traveled back and found herself suddenly aged beyond all recognition. Nightmares where her friends and families aged to dust around while she could do nothing but stare. The worst dreams, which coincidentally were the most likely to lead to a bout of sleep paralysis, were of being alone in the Manor.

Lying on her back with an oppressively heavy weight draped across her abdomen. Limbs stuck to the floor and unable to move. An angry voice screaming repetitive questions at her in a tone as obviously filled with fear as it was with anger. Where a face that once was beautiful was now marred by pain and neglect, mouth filled with sharp and rotting teeth while cold, black eyes stared down at her with malice. A red grin painted with something other than lipstick.

Those dreams were scented with pine. Ashes. Iron. The sharp tang of fear laden sweat.

In the dreams she never stopped carving just her arm. MUDBLOOD was just the beginning. And each time, without fail, she would awaken into a locked body with her arms and legs pinned down. With her standing above her.

Eventually her body was always returned to her but each time the freedom was accompanied by screams and the remnants of maniacal laughter booming through her head.

This morning had been no different. She’d been forced far too early from sleep, long before the sun even moved the grace the horizon. Her small chamber was lit from the window in a pale bioluminescent green. Sharp edges and hard corners stuck out from every visible angle through the shadow. The only sound was her shallow breathing and blood pumping through her veins.

‘It wasn’t real. She’s dead. It wasn’t real…’

She knew that if she repeated the mantra enough that she could almost believe it to be true.

Bellatrix Lestrange was dead but her ghost lived on in Hermione’s nightmares.

Her body involuntarily forced her to take large gulping breaths of air when she first awoke. Her muscles and head pounded as if she’d been running kilometers. The minutes ticked onward until she was finally able to calm her mind enough to consciously control her breathing.

Swinging her legs off the side of the bed she stood in a huff and planted her palms flat against the cold stone wall that lined her room. Gooseflesh pricked out in a wave against her skin while a deep shiver ran up her spine. Her feet were securely planted while she leaned her weight forward, worried she might fall if given the chance.

It was cold in these quarters. She’d never truly noticed before how cold the dungeons could get, mainly only having to exist down these corridors and rooms for classwork and the odd errand for Minerva. The Slytherin common-room, hallways, and dormitories all radiated an aloof form and grace that was as off-putting as the temperature. For a shy girl grown up in the comforts of the middle class it had been as off-putting and foreign as it could get. Even the Gryffindor living quarters, despite the Victorian styling and poshness, hadn’t been so… oppressive.

Her personal quarters were practically no different. Bare stone walls made a ring around the room with only the door, large fireplace, and a single floor to ceiling window that looked out deep into the Black Lake to break up the monotony. A large green rug occupied most of the floor space, spread out as it was just past the initial step into the room and then pushing back to lay neatly alongside the bed and off to the sides. The side opposite the fireplace was devoted to a rather ornate looking wardrobe and attached vanity and chair, topped with a large floating mirror that looked to be honestly silver backed. A large queen sized four-poster bed with black and green drapes took up the center of the room. It was beautiful, she’d admit, if you were going for a drab and rather gothic look. Dark mahogany wood that fit neatly into the shadows made up the majority of the frame while inlaid silver glyphs sparkled in the firelight. The duvet and sheets were soft black silk while the large feather down pillows were decked in Slytherin Green to complete the look.

Still, it was far, far better than the pristine and glaringly white infirmary beds or the faux hospitality of a muggle hotel. And she did kind of like it. Not that anyone else ever needed to know that.

When she felt in enough control of her body to leave the spot against the wall she turned to the vanity and grabbed the cloak that was deposited into a heap on top of it. It was warm but thin and she’d needed to cast a small warming charm to bring it to a tolerable temperature.

Leaving her room behind she padded silently out into the corridor and headed towards the common-room. No one had yet to arrive for the start of the semester and the eerie silence was disturbing. With a flick of her wand she brought the large fireplace in the center of the common-room to life before sitting down onto a rather large padded leather sofa. Bringing her legs onto the couch she pressed her knees against her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs tightly in an effort to relax.

Today was the appointed date for her trip off to Diagon with Minerva. She was relishing the escape from the castle but at the same time dreading it as well. Crowds and throngs of people had never been her idea of a perfect outing regardless of who accompanied her. When she’d been with Harry or Ronald she’d let them take the lead, staying firmly to the side or behind them as they wandered. She preferred to only leave the safety of her close friends when she dove off to explore a book or curio shop. The knowledge that Minerva was to accompany her should have been comforting but instead was foreboding. It was Minerva, nearly the same, but different.

The witch wasn’t the mentor she had come to know and respect no matter how similarly they looked. She hadn’t been the head of her house for six years. She wasn’t privy to the countless escapades and adventures that the she’d been through. She hadn’t fought side by side with her against what felt like overwhelming odds.

She was simply a stranger wearing a familiar face and speaking with a nostalgic voice.

The warmth from the fire slowly rolled out and enveloped Hermione until it was more than she could stand. Her breathing and mind had settled minutes before and she wasted no time in leaving the dungeons to clean up in the nearest Prefect’s bathroom.

Although common knowledge would have lead her up a floor to where the Prefect’s bath was, she instead headed around a twisting corridor on the dungeons floor and towards a rather hidden room. Prefect’s before her, and when she’d been one herself, had all spoken of hidden rooms that would need specific passwords to allow entrance. Knowledge of these rooms was a closely guarded secret that seemed to pass from friend to friend over the years, rather than be found out naturally.

She’d recently gotten used to the bath on this floor with its door hidden from prying eyes behind a group of statues and a horrendous painting of some nightmare abomination being slain. Slughorn, in one of his rather rare moments of personability, had let her know if it’s location and password. The man was as aloof and unreadable as ever but seemed a generally affable fellow. If a bit short-sighted and for more focused on what prospective students could do for him, rather than what he could do for them.

The bath that he’d revealed to her was not only closer than the standard room but also much more cozy and likely to be hidden from the students who would arrive shortly.

When she reached the room proper the cold tiles beneath her feet brought a shiver to her spine before the warm and humid air had its intended effect. Warm mist swirled around even without the taps being opened and a window looking out into the lake was fogged over from condensation. Sconces lined each wall to provide light and a cubby hole beneath each of them allowed her ample room to drop her things.

When she’d stripped and readied herself she stood in front of a single floor to ceiling mirror and took stock of herself.

The days of rest had done wonders for both her complexion and the scar wrapped around her neck. Her cheeks were full and no bags lined the underside of her eyes. Her skin was naturally tan and even the long period spent inside the castle had been enough to dull it. Her brown eyes were still sharp as glass and harbored no secrets as she stared herself down. Her hair though…

Her curls were floundering and knotted from sweating in fear in the middle of the night, brown locks that twisted up and over in an ungainly heap and frizzed out maddeningly near the ends. Bushy haired had been a moniker that she’d never managed to rid herself of. Potions, creams, even spells weren’t enough to tame the birds nest that was her ungainly mane.

Pulling a curl taut between her fingers she inspected the length of it and pondered on a solution. She could leave it long and try to deal with it as best she could but that didn’t sit right with her. Every time she looked into the mirror it was like seeing a ghost staring back out. Someone who wore her features but was not herself. Feelings of stagnation and hollowness washed over her.

This Hermione had died, long before she was sent back in time. She’d died pinned to the ground while the last bits of innocence were carved out of her arm. She’d only lived a half-life at best since then.

Screwing up her inner Gryffindor she took a steadying breath and waved her wand tip near the base of the strands. The movement released an audible Snip into the silent room. Cold brown eyes followed the lock of hair as it drifted down to the ground.

This was a new world for her, and she a new person in it. Snip.

Her only option was to throw herself into this life until such a time as she could return to her own. Snip.

She would embody her new persona with all the courage and cunning of a Gryffindor turned Slytherin. Snip.

She was Hermione Granger. Snip.

She was Emelia Grenier. Snip.

Snip.

Snip.

Snip.

---oo---

Minerva was startled form her morning cup of tea when her new charge finally wandered into the Great Hall. Soft footsteps had led her to raise her eyes towards the entrance and the sight that greeted her caused an inhalation of warm tea that she’d thought would kill her.

Gone were the long locks and curls that had graced Hermione’s head and in its place was only a reminder. Close shorn on the sides and back, longer on the top in short looping curls, the hairstyle was so striking and divorced from the visage she’d seen yesterday that she could help but stare.

As the seconds turned to minutes her astonishment at the changer in the girl was slowly replaced with a begrudging respect. The witch held herself well, chest thrust out and chin held high. The perfect embodiment of a pureblood witch who knew she was better than everyone else. If the change in hairstyle allowed her some measure of control and helped her into her new role, all the better.

When she could breathe again and had finished her breakfast she made her way down from the staff table and sat next to Hermione. Conversation was quick and to the point, going over their shared itinerary for the day and hashing out a time to meet up at her office before eight.

After taking her leave of the young witch she headed back to her office and set about gathering the necessary documents for Gringotts and a list of necessary seventh year school items. Albus had been kind enough to hand deliver it all the night before after he’d finished his litany of meetings and had sat with her for an hour of pleasant conversation. His eyes had held a sparkle throughout their talk that was only punctuated by his reminded that what they were doing was both in Hermione’s best interest as well as for the betterment of Wizarding society as a whole. The whole comment had read as slightly off-putting when he spoke with an unusual amount of conviction, but she’d chalked it up to his rather paranoid interest in special cases and worry about some unspecified darkness gathering at their borders. Exactly what the darkness was or why it had him worried was never a topic he’d discuss, but it was an often enough epithet to not be unsurprising.

When eight o’clock finally rolled around a soft knocking had started at her door as Hermione announced her presence. They spent the next few minutes signing so many forms that Minerva was worried that Hermione’s fingers might fall off. When they finally were set she grabbed a handful of green Floo powder and ushered her charge to the fireplace, heading off with a roar into the cavernous halls of Gringotts.

A small goblin with an angry sneer was there to meet them as soon as they stepped out. Without bothering for their full titles he turned and led them into a marble and gold monstrosity of an office. High ceiling, alabaster walls and floors, gold and silver engravings in glyphs that only a goblin could read. It was a monument to excess and riches.

With the signing of a few more documents and a rather tense review period where he announced he would have to confirm her papers with the Canadian branch, he passed Hermione a slip with her estimated total inheritance as well as the merger value from the fund that Albus had gifted her. The witch beside Minerva gave an audible gasp when she saw the full total and could hardly squeak out a thank you as they were ushered out and into the streets of Diagon Alley.

“They have a dragon,” Hermione spoke up unexpectedly as they headed down the cobblestone street.

“I beg your pardon?” Minerva could only muster a quizzical look and wonder if she’d misheard her.

“It’s a security measure. They have an albino dragon deep beneath the main concourse. It’s dreadful really, they’ve got it guarding a few of the older pureblood vaults. Or, well,” she looked down sheepishly as if realizing the topic of their conversation for the first time, “They will have it. I’m not sure exactly it had been down there….” Her words trailed off into silence as she seemed to come back to herself.

“Ms. Grenier-”

“Emelia, Professor. We’re off school grounds and I need to get used to the name. If you wouldn’t mind, that is.”

“Of course not dear,” Minerva smiled at her charge. “Emelia, I believe our first stop should be robes and assorted clothing. Twilfitt and Tattings, I believe, should suffice.”

With that they set off.

In and out of shops they wandered, their lonely assemblage growing by the store. Boxes and bags filled with robes and quills, books and myriad other items floated along behind them. Each package was enchanted to follow their every move as they meandered their way through the streets. Noontime had brought about the end to their shopping and a quick stop with an elven delivery service had sent all of Hermione’s new belongings back to her room.

When the pair found themselves with extra time they took a meal in the Gilded Peacock. As Hermione entered into the establishment she couldn’t compare it in any way except to say it was the exact opposite of the Leaky Cauldron. Whereas the Cauldron was a shabby and dim establishment that served all manner of wizards, witches, and half-breed folk, the Peacock was the picture of refined elegance.

Cold marble walls and arches built the main structure while beautiful hardwood tables that were trimmed with gold inlay dotted the interior. Floating trays of hors d’oeuvres passed down the aisles in looping routes, magically refilling themselves every time an item was plucked from them.

The hostess of the establishment wouldn’t have looked out of place heading down a runway and after they were taken to their seats a waiter that matched her in every way arrived to take their orders. Hermione couldn’t help the way her eyes lingered on the retreating form of their hostess nor the tinge to her cheeks as the waiter smiled down at them and winked before he left.

The were both such pictures of pureblood grace and beauty that she couldn’t help but wonder if she’d died and gone to heaven.

And the food was pretty good too.

---oo---

Hermione ran her fingers through her short hair as they left the Peacock, glancing back over her shoulder only once to cast a lingering look at the hostess behind them. She was entranced by the possible perks that being a pureblood could allow her. She was sure that if she’d come in looking disheveled or anything less than the image of aristocracy she’d have been sent packing with scornful words and angry looks. As far as she could recall it was the first time she’d ever been impressed and pleased with pureblood society. A sentiment that quickly fled once it crashed back into her how selective that society was.

“Ma’am,” Hermione asked quietly as they exited, “Do you mind if I spend some time wandering a few other shops? There are a few other items I’d like to check for, as well as try to acclimate somewhat.”

Minerva’s lips pursed as she considered the request.

“So long as you keep yourself out of danger and don’t dally for too long, I think that should be fine Emelia. I have some business to attend to as well. We might as well make the best of our time.”

After promising to meet back up in front of Gringotts within two hours the witches casted each other a nod and a wave before heading off in separate directions.

Hermione made the most of her time by wandering in and out of different shops and stalls while trying to observe as many differences as she could. Most places were the same, just newer looking and stocked with what she could recognize as outdated products from her own time. Some, however, were new to her entirely and she couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to have them run out of business by the time she’d first entered Diagon.

Her wandering eventually led her to the doors of Ollivanders establishment, just as grimy and run down looking as ever. As she stepped through the door a light tinkling above her sent her mind back to the first time she’d crossed that threshold. Searching for her wand at her parent’s side had been an adventure almost too good to be true. And now she was back, relatively speaking.

As the sound of footsteps started up behind the counter a smile graced her face and her spirits rose.

Ollivander looked much the same. He was still the old and wizened man she’d known but his hair was a fairly dark shade of gray, not yet turned white, and he held himself with a strength she’d never seen before. His eyes were still warm and his smile generous as he caught sight of her standing quietly.

“Hella young Madam, how can I be of service to you on such a fine day as this?” He placed his palms down securely on the counter as he greeted her.

“I’m just looking sir,” she said, temporarily forgetting her place within the timeline. “I’ve already got a wand, and no need to fix it.”

“Ah, yes, yes, well, let me see if I can guess it then, if you wouldn’t mind indulging an old man? Such a radiant young lass must have a radiant wand as well, eh?” His face turned up into a wide grin as he finished speaking and began to walk around the counter to join her out front.

“Let me see here…” He looked her up and down while stroking his chin, eyes moving quickly in his appraisal. “Hmm… A phoenix feather? No, I think not. Maybe if you’d come in yesterday though… Dragon heartstring would suit you better I suppose, but how to house it. Elm? No, no,” he moved to her side and fished a string tape measure from one of his many pockets before wrapping it around the length of her forearm. “Walnut? Maybe, but likely far too harsh.”

Hermione’s head swiveled to follow the old man as he made more random measurements in the air and mumbled cheerily under his breath. A small rattling sound reached the edges of her hearing but she paid it no mind as he continued his guesses.

“Vinewood! Ah, now that would make for a strong wand. All that energy, all that potential. A need to be used, to fulfill a greater purpose.” He stopped his continuous pacing and fished a monocle out before setting it up against his eye as he viewed her. “They say that dragon heartstring is tied to the dark, but in reality it’s quite gray. Strong, no matter how you use it. It’s able to ride the line or follow its master, or mistress, to one side or another. I believe that would suit you perfectly. But for length, however, I must admit that I’m stumped. If i had to hazard a guess, maybe twelve and three quarters.”

He stepped backwards and clasped his hands in front of himself.

“How close was I?”

Hermione couldn’t help the soft laugh that threatened to escape her throat. He was just as amiable and eccentric as she remembered him.

“Got it all but length sir. Ten and three quarters actually-”

Before she could finish her sentence the rattling sound that had previously been low in her ears all but took over the room. Both of their eyes went up in surprise as a small wooden box shot explosively from the back shelving and smashed bodily into the front windowpane. Though the glass remained unbroken it had landed with a tremendous bang that startled a few passersby on the street and left a ringing in Hermione’s ears.

Ollivander and Hermione both cautiously approached the box as it lay on the ground, still rattling and twitching somewhat as it lay. Ollivander reached it first and brought it up to view, ever so slowly sliding the protective lid off the box.

Hermione tried with all her might to hold onto the gasp of surprise that shot out of her throat. Ollivander still noticed regardless.

Laying safely in the box amid satin colored red, was her wand.

Ten and three quarters. Vinewood. A single dragon heartstring running through the center.

It was here .

She’d had no idea of how older her wand was or when exactly Ollivander had first created it. And now she was staring back at it while the exact duplicate was humming patiently while remaining in its holster, securely stuck against her forearm. It took all the willpower she could muster to pull her eyes away from the wand and stammer out an apology to Ollivander while she backed her way slowly to the door. When she felt her back press up against the handle she twisted and left before he could so much as ask her what had happened.

---oo---

Bellatrix stumbled out into the light and bustle of the street with her mind wrapped up in turmoil. Her mind paid no attention to where her feet were leading her. The bright red imprint of a hand on her cheek was only just beginning to hurt and warm while the leftover dregs of adrenaline faded from her body.

Her day had started out amicably enough. Cygnus had been unusually quiet during breakfast and had no so much as looked at her or Andy while they were there. His only words to them after they had finished was a command to dress appropriately and meet him within the hour for their trip.

By the time the hour had been up they were all prepped and ready to take the Floo to Diagon. Andy was wearing a straight black dress with matching earrings and flats while Bella was in one of the monstrous corset and dress combinations that Druella had gotten her for Christmas last year.

Standing neatly at the front of the procession Bellatrix had gone first into the fire, followed closely by Andy and Cygnus. When her father had arrived beside her he’d promptly led them both out and through the twisting streets of Diagon until they reached the rather seedy area of Knockturn Alley, heading straight towards Borgin & Burkes. The shopkeeper paid them no mind as he escorted their father deeper into the recesses of the store and leaving them to manage themselves next to the entrance.

After only a few moments their father had returned with a second man in tow.

Bellatrix privately lauded herself on her innate ability to read someone before she ever spoke a word to them. The man following her father was gangly, thin and pale and taller than even her Uncle Alphard. His hair was slicked back and the color of shadows while beady bloodshot eyes peered out beneath a heavy brow. He radiated anger and animosity in equal measure through his aristocratic filter. Bellatrix’s immediate response to him was a feeling of disgust and fear. The man practically radiated dark magics and energy, almost as if it was a comfortable cloak that he wore. When he looked down into her eyes she felt a heavy pang in the center of her head before the feeling abruptly fled, leaving her hollowed out and confused.

Cygnus declined to introduce them as he pushed past his daughters and headed out into the alley before turning right. Bellatrix and Andy kept up the pace behind the two men as they came upon a tall and dusky building that reached up towards the sky.

‘Kramer’s Krafts & Oddities’ was painted on an old and peeling sign above the entrance that Cygnus ushered them all through. The group silently ascended an old and decrepit flight of stairs until they came upon an empty floor. Cygnus led them into a small moldy office room with a desk and four chairs that smelled suspiciously of cat piss and dragon blood.

Cygnus waited for the mysterious man to take his seat before sitting down to his right and looking pointedly at his daughters. Polite silence filled the room as Bellatrix and Andy pulled out their seats and joined the table.

“Girls,” Cygnus began after clearing his throat, “This is Lord Voldemort. He is a patron to pureblood High Society in Britain and abroad. He has been kind enough to ask for a meeting with you both regarding the possibility of tutoring you.”

Bellatrix let the thought roll around in her head.

‘Why?’

She had excelled at her classes during the last year and was poised to do so again. She had no job prospects lined up and was already well aware that she was to be sold off to the Lestrange family. No matter how she looked at it she couldn’t discover a reason for her to be tutored.

“I can see you have questions,” the pale man suddenly spoke up. His voice scratched against Bellatrix’s ears in a quiet and haunting manner, extending the final ‘S’ in the manner of a snake hiss. It was reminiscent of parseltongue and the teacher she’d learned it from during her third year but in a far more menacing fashion.

“There is change coming to our world, a change that will roll over us all. Pureblood society is beset on all sides by those who would wish to tear us down. Mudbloods and half-breeds permeate and worm their way through our culture under the urging of our own Ministry. Our traditions, hallowed and reverent as they are, are being struck down as barbaric or archaic. A relic of a past time is what they call it. If our society does not push back against these invaders than I can see no way forward for us to survive. So. Here we are. I am seeking those with talent among the Sacred Twenty-Eight, to train and instruct in advanced magics and society. Only through working together will we forestall and turn aside these barbarous invaders.

Bellatrix physically blanched when he finished. What was he talking about? Mudbloods weren’t something to associate herself with, surely, but she’d never once felt threatened by them in any manner. The same applied with half-bloods and half-breeds. The warm voice of Andy beside her spoke up before she could question him.

“No.” Andy’s jaw was set and her eyes were filled with a fierce darkness that was every bit as intimidating and cold as their mother.

“Young lady, that is no-” Cygnus never go the chance to finish. Within half a second of hims speaking Andromeda had thrown back her seat in her haste to leave and began to bolt for the door. The resounding slam that echoed about the small room was deafening.

As Bellatrix pushed back on her own chair to leave and chase down Andy a violent BANG exploded onto the table. Cygnus was half standing and half sitting with his fist curled up and still vibrating against the table.

“SIT DOWN!” His face was red and livid, purple splotches taking over his cheeks as his pulse raced. Bellatrix swallowed tightly and sat back down upon her chair. No matter how the rest of the meeting went she knew Andromeda was in for something fierce when Cygnus returned home.

“You will listen to what Lord Voldemort has to say and you will leave this table only when we are finished. Do I make myself clear!?”

“Yes sir,” Bellatrix cast her eyes downwards and willed her heat to stop beating so fast. When she’d calmed down slightly she looked up into the eyes of the man who’d just ruined her day and prepared herself to listen.

---oo---

The red and angry imprint on her cheek was her father’s method of reminder that she should keep her mouth shut when her betters were speaking. After Lord Voldemort had said his piece she had numbly agreed while her mind was a thousand miles away. When her stunned trance had ended she’d looked up into her father’s eyes and demanded that he call off her impending engagement.

Voldemort was already almost out of the room, but he turned back to eye them both. Bellatrix had tried to reason that if she was to fight in a war that she would have no time to raise children or be a complacent housewife. Cygnus had then decided that was an insult to his family name and was infuriated that a daughter would want anything other than to fulfill her duties. His slap was a painful reminder that she’d always be placed lower than any men in her life.

Voldemort’s eyes had turned up in barely hidden mirth and a sizeable smile had cracked his thin lips before he turned and left the room. Bellatrix herself had followed out shortly after while her mind was in a daze. The last words from her father had been to demand that she find her sister and return home immediately.

‘I hate this. I hate HIM.’

She could feel the warm haze of anger beginning to swirl around her and the darkness within her was begging for a release. She wanted something to force her aggression out onto. Something to control and punish and inflame. She was tired of being the lowest on the totem pole.

The moment she was looking for presented itself quite handily without her even looking for it. As she passed by Ollivanders shop a witch with short brunette hair had stumbled out into the street and directly into her path. Both witches had collided painfully and fallen down into a heap. Bellatrix had leapt up as fast as she could while drawing her wand at the same time.

“What where you’re walking you bloody idiot!” She leveled her wand at the stunned witch who still sat unmoving on the ground. Red sparks began to shower out from the tip of Bellatrix’s wand and the words for a strong hex formed on her lips.

Before she got the chance to fire it off a pair of warm hands wrapped around her wand hand and began to drag it downwards. She spared a moment to stare at whoever had interrupted her and found herself locking eyes with Andromeda.

“Don’t you dare,” Andy’s eyes were chips of black ice. Bellatrix took in a great heaving breath and stepped backwards as Andy continued to hold onto her hand. She took one last look at the witch sitting on the ground with brown eyes blown wide in shock.

“Stay out of my way.” Her words dripped malice at the poor witch in a heap at her feet and in one fluid movement she turned and disapparated from the scene. Andromeda followed on her heels shortly afterwards.

While Hermione caught her breath and reigned in her shock as best as she could her feet began to move and wander off in the direction of Gringotts. Her only running thought was a wish to safely return to the castle and her safe little room so she could hide away from the events of the day.

She could swear that in the back of her mind a voice was cackling madly with glee.

Chapter Text

Apparition pulled like a hook through her navel, squeezed and bent in unnatural directions until her body righted itself with a sickening POP!

As she stepped from Minerva’s side the nauseous feeling faded to be replaced with labored breathing and splayed hands on her knees as she fought to keep herself righted. A small house elf stood off to the side waiting for her settle down before announcing that he’d been ordered to drag them off to meet with Albus. With a weary sigh she collected her scattered thoughts and allowed the elf to whisk them off via apparition.

“Oh Gods…” Hermione’s world shook back and forth when she arrived in the Headmaster’s office. House elf apparition might have been different from the normal form but to her tired body it was too much of the same. In a manner of sympathy Minerva placed a hand gently on Hermione’s back and waited for her composure to settle before taking a seat in front of Albus’s desk.

“Headmaster,” Hermione shook her head in lieu of a more formal greeting as she sank down heavily into the padded chair to Minerva’s right. Her eyes roved his face in a questioning manner as the old man simply smiled back, seemingly oblivious to her earlier distress.

“Ms. Grenier. I hope your earlier tumble wasn’t enough to cause you any harm,” his eyes shone with some form of hidden amusement as he set aside a crystal tumbler and steepled his fingers on top of the desk. “How was your trip? I trust everything was in order at Gringotts?”

“Yes sir, everything was fine.” Her voice was level and tame but inside she burned with questions.

‘How did he know I fell? And why address it so coyly?’

“Good, good. I’d say that that was to be expected but the goblins can be so fickle when dealing with newcomers. But, I didn’t ask you here just to inquire about that.”

Hermione shot a look at her mentor when he finished speaking. Minerva was tight-lipped, looking down at her hands in her lap and seemed to be avoiding looking at either one of them. Whatever the cause was for this meeting she at least seemed to have some foreknowledge about it. A long and rumbled sigh from Albus brought her back to his presence in the room as a frown twisted his features.

“It is... Unfortunate, but I believe that I have no choice but to address this directly. I hope that it won’t add to your distress but skirting the issue will do no one any justice.”

Hermione’s eyes widened at his admission as her mind went to the unexpected encounter with Bellatrix Lestrange. She couldn’t help but wonder if Minerva had witnessed the confrontation and had gone ahead to let him know. She’d not seen anyone else looking at them in particular but she couldn’t put it out of mind entirely. With a man like him, who played chess with people’s lives, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that he had her under surveillance even when his right hand was with her. But even that made no sense, why would he bother bringing that up if Bellatrix had no idea who she even was?

Albus had been waiting while she looked at Minerva and coughed gently to bring her attention back on himself.

“After successive talks with, shall we say, knowledgeable, sources regarding the topic of Time Magic, we’ve come to a tentative conclusion regarding your current predicament.”

Hermione’s eyes widened as she leaned forward slightly, ears hanging on his weary old voice.

‘This isn’t good. Is it?’

“While it’s only been a few days we’ve still gone through a very large amount of theory and prior practical applications of Time Magic, Time Turners specifically.” He hesitated to continue as his mouth opened and closed like a drowning fish. It was one of the first times she’d ever seen him at a loss for words.

“Ms. Grenier, Hermione, what I’m trying to say is-”

‘No, this is not good at all.’

“-We don’t have a way to send you back. Not yet at least, though please don’t lose hope. We will continue to look-”

‘Oh Muddy. You’re stuck,’ the voice in the back of her mind spoke up. ‘You’re fucked.’

She could swear there was something funny about this, why else would someone be laughing? Cackling even? She hoped they’d let her in on whatever this joke was. It certainly wasn’t funny to her.

“-and I will be the first to let you know as soon as we find something. Please take this to mean your, hmm, vacation, will be extended slightly.”

‘Extended. Vacation. Oh. Lovely.’

Somewhere far away she was still aware that Albus hadn’t stopped talking. He’d apparently not seen her eyes dip down and shrink as she folded inwards. His voice droned on and one about not losing hope and maybe there was an answer or something of the sort that could help her. It all went in one ear and out Hermione’s other. Her vision had begun sharply tunneling, and she couldn’t help but squeak indignantly when she realized she hadn’t noticed it was happening.

She had a sudden and strange taste of ashes in her mouth before her body capitulated to the shock the day had brought and she pitched forward, limbs loose and mind receding.

‘I can’t go home.’

Her nose was only millimeters from crashing into the floor when Minerva finally caught her.

---oo---

Unconsciousness raced forward into wakefulness in a rush. Deep lungfuls of air forced their way into her chest as she shot up from lying prone on her bed. Her eyes flicked from wall to wall as her mind tried to reorient herself in the haze of it all.

‘Green, cold, my room?’

Bits and pieces came back to her as her mind reorientated. When she could think without feeling her head was full of cotton she collapsed backwards into the soft pillows.

‘At least it’s not the infirmary…’

Truth be told she was ecstatic at finding herself in her own room. She’d practically lived inside that infirmary during her first six years and had had enough of it to last lifetimes over. Her eyes stilled their constant roaming and feeling of loneliness dug into her chest as she realized that no one else was here to greet her return from unconsciousness. At least that was, until she realized with a mildly perturbed feeling that Albus had tucked himself away into the corner to her right. Hidden in the angles and lack of firelight she’d first thought him just a shadow until he moved slightly.

The chair he sat in was more akin to a throne than a simple easy chair, or even the wooden boards that made up her own furniture. His eyes twinkled in the darkness, ‘Is that normal?’ , before he sat forward with an odd sort of smile on his face.

“It’s good to see you awake Ms. Grenier. You wouldn’t believe the fright that you gave Minerva. I thought for sure she was about to burst into hysterics.” He chuckled airily at whatever he found funny in her mentors distress. “I only just managed to calm her down and even then it only worked after I swore to keep watch until you awoke.”

He tilted his head to the side and that eerie smile seemed to grow as distant firelight illuminated him. Hermione took the pause in his speech to truly look at him.

He looked kindly enough, even with the odd form his grin had taken. No malice peeked out from his eyes and he wasn’t shaking in either tiredness nor rage. Even though he was thirty years younger than the old man she’d known before, he still wore the obvious signs of aging. Wrinkled skin, sunken eyes. Even the gray wisps of his beard seemed exhausted just by existing. His exhaustion was a cloak, one worn long and well adapted.

“I do however have an ulterior motive for being here, which I’m sure you’ve suspected.”

She honestly had. As soon as the feeling of being prey washed over her upon noticing him sitting there, she’d been wondering exactly why it was him that had pushed to stay with her. Surely Minerva could do just as fine a job. A faint feeling of itchiness and the sensation that someone had cradled her head was slowly building. When she brought her mind inwards she could feel the telltale signs that someone had either been in or that something had leaked out. Where once there was a flat wall was now a wall with what had at some point been a door.

Her chest tightened as she realized what had happened.

I don’t mean to pry Emelia-”

“Hermione,” she interrupted. The beginnings of warm embers were stirring up to flow through her chest. “For one more day at least. Headmaster Dumbledore, I don’t appreciate being read like that. At least not without explicit permission.”

When she finished she brought her eyes back to his as he looked down upon her and for a second she could swear she saw them harden in displeasure. It was like looking at angry animal before it was covered up almost immediately with grandfatherly concern.

“Of course Hermione,” his voice seemed to have aged years in the span it took him to begin talking again, “My apologies. You are such a unique case, one I’ve never had the pleasure of studying. My interest in your situation overcame my restraint. You’ve been so closed off since you arrived, even when you first got here. My mind outpaced my conscience.” He leaned back in his chair and stared distantly to the green tinted window.

While Hermione waited on him to continue speaking she began to finger and worry the looping scar lashed across her neck with scratching and irritating strokes.

Seemingly satisfied that he’d swept his intrusion under the rug he began to speak again.

“We’ve tried all we can for now. With the lack of anything or anyone from your own future reaching back for you, along with the woefully inadequate information we have on the specific Time Turner that you used, well, we’re in quite the predicament.”

“So what do you suggest Headmaster?” She stared off into the space above her door and the ceiling, refusing to let herself fall apart as she had back in his office.

“You live your life.”

Her eyes snapped back to his own. Whatever she’d imagined him saying, something to lift her spirits surely, it hadn’t been that.

“Live your new life. Embody Emelia Grenier. We won’t give up on searching for a way to send you back but you shouldn’t put your life on hold while waiting on an answer that may never come.”

Her skin prickled with anger as the fingers on her scar began to drive her nails down painfully into the skin.

‘I want to live my life, MY life! It’s just thirty bloody fucking years in the future!!’

“What… What about,” her jaw set painfully into a grimace as she stared into his eyes, “Wouldn’t that…” She took a breath to recenter herself before her anger could infect her voice. “You know. Wouldn’t that interfere with the future? Don’t I risk erasing myself? Or my friends? Family?”

‘I can’t wait to see how he spins this…’

“If I’m to be honest with you… The fact that you’re still here seems to disprove you ever doing anything that would remove yourself from the timeline. Whether accidentally or not. Some of those we’ve contacted on your behalf are tirelessly looking into that question specifically. The short of it is that we’re not sure if your case is special.” He spat the last word out as if it was something distasteful sticking to his tongue. “If it is different, you are different, you’ll be safe. And to be honest there’s a lot of good you could do here. For more people than just yourself.”

Her eyes narrowed down and anger flared through her again. The voice in her mind was practically giddy and breathless as it spat out There is the catch. Didn’t take him long…’

“Forgive my bluntness sir,” she leveled the most withering stare she was capable of, “But are you trying to recruit me?”

Dumbledore sighed deeply and fidgeted in his seat before replying.

“You are here. Right here, right now. In the right spot in history to do some honest good,” he steeled her with a piercing gaze all ice and strength. It only reminded her of a predator looking at dying prey. “You have the chance to influence a lot of people. People like Ms. Black. Someone thirty years from now may be spared the pain of your scars.”

‘He saw!’

Her face drained of color and her knuckles did the same as her fingers gripped the bedspread beneath her in a death grip. One of the absolute last memories she’d ever wanted anyone seeing, the one that had prompted her to begin Occlumency training to begin with, had been viewed so carelessly that the doddering fool now thought her could use it against her.

‘Against me!’

The realization infuriated and scared her in equal measure.

“If you won’t mind Headmaster,” she spoke, voice hoarse and clipped, “I’ve had a very long day and I’d very much like some privacy.” The last word was practically dripping with venom as she remained in her clenched position, heat flowing through her body in unbound measure.

With a nod and a sigh he stood from his spot and twirled a finger. The chair beneath him disappeared into nothingness as he headed towards the door to the room. Hermione could barely hear herself think with her mind so torn on anger sharpened thoughts. The pain from his attempted guilt trip and despair at the knowledge of being stuck in this time was an ache she wanted to peel out from her heart.

‘Oh Muddy…’

As Dumbledore reached the door he grasped the knob and turned around to look at her again. He seemed to pause, wondering whether it was worth it to speak again, before looking down at his slippered feet and simply wishing her a pleasant night.

The door clicked shut behind him and Hermione counted to fifty. When she was sure he was far enough away she practically leaped up from her position on the bed and began to cast layered and complex silencing charms all over the room. With the door bolted and secure she took aim with her wand and unleashed the full weight of the hurt locked inside her chest.

A flurry of spells tore at the room in a rising crescendo timed to the frustration leaking from her heart.

---oo---

One of the few spots within Black Manor that Bellatrix could securely hide away from Cygnus with any surety in the matter was the rookery.

The large attic was unfinished, bare boards and slats lacking any form of insulation. Old trunks and broken furniture littered the room as much as bird droppings and dead animal carcasses. With the ferocity of the horde of ravens that had infested the room it was no wonder why the house elves simply let the place be and warded the smells and rot from encroaching into the Manor.

Once, when she was very little, this attic had been intended to house the Black Family owls. Now the owls were gone and the space had become Bellatrix’s sanctuary. Sawdust and straw littered the far end where the open bay windows lay uncovered. Birds roosted on every available surface, piling into huddled masses during winter and squawking and pecking during summer months.

The owls had eventually had a single shed built further out on the grounds that elves serviced, bring in mail and ensuring the owls were kept comfortable until their flight back out. Bellatrix was quite pleased that the black masses had taken the room, affording her two comforts in one.

Cycnus hated the incessant clawing and caws that entering the room would bring him and did his best to avoid the room at any and all costs. Bellatrix instead found their company pleasant, taking time from her day to wander among them and see to their needs, little as they were.

Over the years they had come to view her presence comfortably enough that they would bring her shiny trinkets and other bright things whenever she visited. The birds were cunning little thieves and she’d built a loyalty to them that couldn’t be faulted. Spending time to get to know each and every individual had taken hard effort on her part but was rewarded by their acceptance of her. She was even starting to amass a small fortune in silver buttons and lost sickles.

Each and every bird that roosted in the attic was given equal care and attention with the exception of one bird. The undeniable queen of the roost was Harmonia. She was both the largest raven that Bellatrix had ever seen as well as the smartest one she’d ever known. A familiarity had grown between the two until she was her unofficial familiar and mail carrier and silent friend. Well, silent except for the loud cawing.

The raven would dance upon her shoulder and tussle her curls with its beak while she spoke softly to it or played with its midnight black feathers. Harmonia was a silent companion as she spoke of her worries or troubles, and she’d spent many hours regaling the bird with tales of her physical and mental health whenever they were together.

She would describe the aches and pains of being the eldest Black. From living through Cygnus and Druella’s cruelty to painting a picture with words of her new baby cousins smiling face. The comfort she placed in the bird might have seemed odd to her if she hadn’t started trusting it so early in life.

At Hogwarts Harmonia would arrive long before she had even left for the Express. She would arrive to school to find the bird had cleared a corner of the owlery as her roost while staying to take care of any of her mail.

Bellatrix was keenly aware that Harmonia did not belong to her, not in the way that someone would own an owl. They kept to each other by choice. The raven was free and Bellatrix envied her for it. If the raven chose to leave she would be broken-hearted but not upset. The little relationship of theirs was unique, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

That night Bellatrix was far too absorbed into her time with Harmonia to notice the entrance of her sister into the room. When the witch snuck up behind her to poke her back with a sharp fingernail she nearly shrieked.

“Bloody Merlin!” She whirled around and brought her wand level to the intruders face at the same time. When her mind recognized it was only Andy she lowered the wand and rushed forward to embrace her younger sister in a bone-crushing hug.

“Okay, okay,” Andromeda pulled and pushed herself out of Bellatrix’s tight grip, “I can’t breathe when you do that.”

She stepped backwards and dropped her arms as her eyes slid over her sister to check for any sign of injury. When none made themselves readily apparent she brushed her wand lengthwise across the young witch and banished the multiple glamours.

Dark purple and yellow splotches blossomed onto her sister’s face and arms as she stepped backwards from her.

“Merlin I swear I’ll kill him,” Bellatrix said through clenched teeth as rage and hate boiled up inside her.

“No you won’t Bella. I won’t have you follow mother out to Azkaban. I can handle this,” Andy pulled her wand out and reapplied the glamours. “I convinced him I don’t need a personal tutor, so that’s what counts. You should do the same…”

“I can’t,” she replied, stepping backwards and turning towards the beam that Harmonia was perched on. “If it gets me out of marrying that walking pig Rodolphus I’ll take all the lessons I can.”

“It won’t and you know it.” Andy refused to give any ground, her eyes following Bellatrix’s nervous posture. “Just refuse. We’ll be at school tomorrow, he can’t get us there.”

With a practiced movement Bella turned towards her sister and poked a finger angrily into her sister’s chest. “I said I can’t, now drop it.”

When Andromeda shrank backwards from her sister she dropped her finger and bit back a frustrated sigh at her actions. Andy sighed to herself before walking forward to join her sister next to Harmonia and began running her fingers lightly down the bird’s neck feathers.

Andy reached down into a small pocket of her dress to remove a miniature box and enlarged it with a quick wave of her wand. When she was finished the box had enlarged to sit comfortably on her hand. Deep cherry and black walnut comprised the item while silver engraving in the shape of the Black Family crest sat inset upon the lid.

“These are for you Bella. I went shopping after I left that meeting,” she held the box out for her sister to take. “I figured you could use it more than me.”

Bella looked at her quizzically before accepting the box and lifting the lid. Reaching inside she pulled out two vials, one filled with dried leaves and the other holding preserved cocoons.

“You think I won’t get it right on the first try?” Bellatrix asked while throwing her sister a happy and lopsided grin.

“Well, ya never know.” Andy smiled back at the obvious giddiness that Bellatrix projected before throwing an arm around her sister in a light hug. “You’ll need to get the other ingredient, I couldn’t figure out a way to keep it fresh. But it’s all you’ll need.”

After hugging back at Andromeda she shrank the box back down before throwing a last look at Harmonia and heading back for the door.

The raven gave one last look as the witches left the room before flying out the window at a breakneck speed.

---oo---

The morning after the outing to Diagon Alley left Hermione feeling strangely at ease. It seemed that the unleashing of her rage and frustration the night before had helped her come to terms with the situation. The abstract terror that she’d experienced while staring up at Bellatrix Lestrange’s face had faded into memory beneath the background anxiety of the prospect of the coming months. Even still, she couldn’t help but focus on the peculiarity of meeting here there.

Against her better judgment she released a long sigh and admitted that it was more than just the anxiety and terror that her mind was coming back to. This new version of the witch was beautiful. Even with her features having been twisted into a scowl of hate and tears hanging unshed in her eyes, she’d still been entrancing. Having experienced the woman she was to become she was a hard fact for Hermione to reconcile. Knowing they were one and the same just didn’t seem to want to click for her. The anger and the hate was the same but the witch had lacked the maniacal grin. Her body wasn’t worn down by years of constant malnutrition and neglect. Her hair wasn’t yet wispy and dry from constant exposure to the elements.

Thick black ringlets of hair had cascaded down the young witches shoulders and Hermione had found it beautiful. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of her reaction.

Resolving to deal with the matter at a later date she lazily dressed and headed out into the new morning.

Chapter Text

Hermione lay awake and in a panic long before the sun had a chance to rise up and over the hills that surrounded Hogwarts. Her eyes burned with a lack of sleep that was born from nightmares. The air around her was still and quiet while her heartbeat thudded painfully, blood pounding like a drum in her ears.

The night had run long and her thoughts with it. Nothing had helped to quell her racing mind. Anxiety, worry, doubt; all rolling over and over at a pace she couldn’t keep up with. It all cascaded into loops that drew her further into her despair. She could hardly remember a time when she’d felt this off before.

The night that she’d spent worrying over their robbery of Gringotts might have been the closest. But even then she’d had Harry and Ron to buoy her spirits and calm her racing thoughts. Being a know-it-all who was nearly obsessed with perfection had been a curse as much as it was a gift. And now, left alone with her thoughts, she was overthinking every little thing that she could latch onto. The lull before the Final Battle might have been a close third. But even with death and despair very literally knocking at the door she’d been kept from running herself down. She’d made peace with the fact that at some point she could die. She’d made peace with the fact that she might go down, surrounded by friends as much as family. She’d known she would do whatever it took to keep her friends alive.

She had none of that now. Fear had engulfed her. A visceral fear and anxiety that had sprung up due to the time that it took place in. Not a single soul here truly knew her. No one was her friend. Not Minerva, not Dumbledore, not any single person. Minerva certainly had stepped up to provide some form of warm assurance and comfort but it wasn’t the true warmth of friendship. It was care that came from pity. Pity that arose from knowing that her future self had a hand in Hermione’s misery. Hermione couldn’t stand it, coddling and pity had never been her friends.

And Dumbledore was assuredly not a friend in this timeline. His scheming and maneuvering, for the greater good, was a constant threat. This was the man who had a child raised in an abusive home so that he would soften and latch to the first souls who showed him comfort. The man who pushed aside a proper investigation into who revealed the Potter’s so that it would serve a prophecy.

And she certainly had no friends around her. At least a third of the student body would gladly murder her if they knew the things she’d done, had yet to do. They only saw Emelia, the mask she was inhabiting.

She’d had a beautiful cover drawn up for her, a story so water tight even she could hardly see the cracks that built up the facade. Birth dates, travel dates, family members and friends. Reasons beyond reproach for why she’d left Canada behind. A fake family that was dust on the wind so that no one could look into her. She’d spent so much time studying it and pounding it into her mind that she could almost recite it better than her own actual history.

But now her story would be put to the test. It wouldn’t just be lone shopkeepers or goblins who cared more for paperwork than words. She would be tested by a full contingent of students, all curious as to who this latecomer was. Any one of them could ask a frivolous question that would unravel her whole lie.

When she came back to herself she realized she was close to hyperventilating. Her mind stilled as she fought to drag up some of that Gryffindor pride and courage that must have been somewhere in her chest. Her body moved before she realized she’d wanted to do so. Duvet thrown up from her body and to the side as she turned and dropped her legs off the bed. Soft and warm carpeting scratched at her toes and the soles of her feet, while the chill of the air wrapped around her bare legs. She rubbed morosely at the itch in her tired eyes while the other hand ran through her short hair. It was still something to get used to, sleeping with no errant puffs of hair against her cheek or falling uncomfortably into her eyes. It was a weight off of her that she hadn’t even thought about.

Standing silently she flicked her wrist to encourage the fire across the room to throw off more heat. Grabbing a towel and clean clothing she made up her mind to refresh in the lonesome Prefect’s bath before classes started. She hoped that the warmth and relaxation would loosen her body and mind before she had to directly face anyone.

Her feet padded silently out into the hallways while her ears remained open for a sign of any other early risers. If she was lucky then no one else would be awake yet, leaving her free to sneak in and out with no one to bother her.

The common-room remained as silent as ever but had been strewn with evidence of the other student's arrival. During the Feast last night she had remained by herself at the end of the Slytherin table, picking at food until the earliest opportunity to leave had presented itself. No one had bothered with her, much to her gratitude. Now though, now she would need to interact with others. Even if only at meal times and during classes. A ball of dread fell into her stomach and she hurried her walk in response.

The canvas bag on her shoulder swung lightly as she made her way out of the entrance-way and into the main hallways of the dungeons. The bathroom wasn’t too far off, but she’d still been as quiet and observant as she could.

When she finally arrived she stripped down quickly and set about preparing herself for the day to come. The warm water and succulent smells of soaps and conditioners were a balm to her fractured courage.

---oo---

All too soon though her time was up.

With a heavy sigh she pulled herself from the grasp of the warm water and stood to stretch any remaining kinks from her body. She only began to redress when she was certain her body was limber and no chance of cramping remained in her muscles.

Her scarred arm began to burn as she pulled her white undershirt over her head. It started as a tingle in the writing, light at first, before morphing into an actual pulsing pain. Clenching her teeth and hissing lightly against the pain she brought her palm to the scar and began to massage the skin and muscle beneath it. Only when footfalls rang outside the entrance to the bath did she realize her position.

The pain in her arm increased as the sound of walking grew closer. Soon enough she was down on one knee when the pain reached a crescendo. It was like being carved into all over again.

Slowly backing herself into a corner Hermione alternated between staring at the ugly writing and keeping an eye on the door. Silent whispers for the person to move on without entering were the only sound in the room besides her pained breaths. A mumbling sound came from the door as the footsteps faltered. Her heart leaped into her chest and lodged while her chest froze. When it felt like she’d pass out from lack of oxygen the footsteps started again, this time heading down the opposite direction.

In time with the echoing footsteps the pain in her arm began to lessen. Only when the sound disappeared completely did the warmth and anger in her forearm abate.

Releasing her breath in great rush she bowed over her body, arms wrapping around her knees as she fought to regain her breathing pattern. Her mind swirled at what had happened, thoughts chasing themselves until a hypothesis began to form in her mind.

‘... Bellatrix?’

---oo---

After the incident in the bathroom Hermione had slowly pieced herself back together and finished dressing. The walk from the bathroom had been tense; pulse hammering steadily, eyes swiveling about, fears creeping in on every thought.

She’d made it back safely though. A few of her Housemates had given her strange looks when she barged in, but she paid them no mind. When she entered her lone room she slammed the door shut behind herself and leaned back into the door while her arms and hands were splayed out to the sides. She rationally knew nothing was going to happen but the irrational part of her was just about thrown into a full panic attack. When the seconds turned into minutes her hammering heart and short breaths began to abate. When she’d returned to mastering her emotions she returned to dressing herself and preparing to head out for the day.

The scars across her neck and arm were hidden and shrouded behind her school uniform. The robe more than made up for the coverage that was lost with her hair now being so short, but still the fact that they were there was a bother. As was the likelihood that she would need to roll up her sleeves or remove her robe at some point during the day. She wasn’t sure what would happen if anyone caught sight of the slur and wasn’t in the mood to hurry up and find out.

The wand on her desk was quickly grabbed up as she weaved glamours all over her neck and left arm. The magic that sustained the glamour was small and nearly insignificant to the point where she shouldn’t need to check up on it until the next morning. It brought a measure of peace to her mind that she hadn’t truly thought she’d needed. It would also suffice until she found a way to remove or heal the scars entirely.

With her mind set and satchel packed for the start of term, she left the small dorm room behind and headed towards the common-room. Her feet sounded off loudly against the stone floor while only being slightly muffled from the sounds of talking coming in from the room at the end of the hallway. The closer she came to the entrance to the common-room the more a mild tingling sensation began to build up underneath the glamour on her arm. While it wasn’t painful yet, it also wasn’t exactly unnoticeable. It just was .

Her mind played at the strings of information being presented to her, curious as to the exact properties regarding the curse that seemed to bind her to Bellatrix. Her feet stilled right before she entered the room as she fought to compose herself. It would do her no good to have another panic attack right in the middle of other students. With a hesitant lurch she stepped into the room and slowly walked through.

Bellatrix sat upon one of the large couches that took up a great deal of room on the floor space. The tingling sensation in Hermione’s arm increased but didn’t come with any actual pain. Taking the risk, she stepped further into the room and aimed to walk right past Bellatrix on her way to the entrance-way.

A young girl with a mixture of brown and blonde hair was sitting next to Bellatrix, a book in her lap and an eager smile on her face. It seemed that the dark witch was fully absorbed with the witch sitting at her side and paid no immediate attention as Hermione approached to pass them. When she came up alongside witch she looked down at the same moment that Bellatrix looked up at her.

Brown eyes near the color of pitch stared back at her, no hint of recognition or hatred at all. Whether Bellatrix had forgiven the interaction they’d only recently had, or she’d just forgotten her, Hermione couldn’t tell. Neither spoke as she passed them by only to resume looking straight ahead again when she passed the couch. The scar hadn’t started to hurt once.

Her mind filled with questions as she walked outside the entrance-way and into the halls beyond. The tingling feeling had passed completely once she was away from the common-room, though she didn’t know exactly how far that really was. It had obviously been Bellatrix outside of the bathroom that had set the scar on her arm into a blazing fury. She was stumped however when it came to knowing why the interaction just now hadn’t brought her anything more than a feeling of not being alone.

The tingling had been noticeable to be sure but hadn’t gone anywhere else. She knew that puzzling out why the earlier passing brought pain but not this one would be a likely arduous process and determined that a trip to the library was in order as soon as she could spare the time or patience.

---oo---

Students of all Houses kept out of Hermione’s path as she made her way up multiple staircases and under heavy archways on her path to the Great Hall. A few of the Slytherin’s surrounding her would mutter a quiet ‘Hello,’ or a wave, while the other Houses seemed content to pretend that she didn’t even exist.

Bits and pieces of conversations traveled gently to her ears as she walked past throngs of students with happy smiles and conspiratorially hushed voices. It appeared that rumors about the mystery transfer student were already in full swing. Her lack of interaction the night before and the odd circumstances surrounding her already having been living at the castle seemed to have become a wild tale.

She knew the power that words and rumors could hold over the masses but was unable to decide on any course of action. Harry’s insistence that he wasn’t the Heir of Slytherin had fallen on deaf ears. His pleading tone as he shouted down that he hadn’t entered himself into the Tri-Wizard Cup went unheeded. She could try to dispel them with her falsified history but she knew that that might just increase or warp the rumors further if she went with fervent denial.

Truth be told she was loath to even try, these things had a life of their own as soon as the first person opened their mouth and the time and energy that she’d need to expend working on buttoning it all up would be better served elsewhere.

‘Let them gossip, better lies than the truth.’

So long as the rumors kept people away from her, she would let them talk in peace.

The murmur and clatter of silverware and plates grew louder the closer she came to the Great Hall. Voices floated out, happy and joyous at the prospect of being with friends again while a vocal few railed against the classes they had yet to even start.

The volume dropped considerably as she walked into the Hall, heads swiveling to catch a glimpse of the mysterious witch with such a hush-hush past. The attention was nerve wracking but when she sat down at the far end of the Slytherin table it blocked out the questioning looks. After a solid minute where she played her breakfast and went about pouring juice into a goblet the voices and clatter of a normal morning picked back up again. It seemed the students were satisfied that she wasn’t going to attack or act in a ‘weird’ manner and had decided it was best to resume their breakfast. The sound of voices and clatter of the hungry masses soon picked up again while Hermione lost herself in her task.

It was nostalgic to a degree. Well, only so long as she ignored the odd placement of the table and the bright Slytherin green that that seemed to trim each of her classmates. She’d last sat comfortably at a House table in her sixth year. When the War was over and Hogwarts had just started to rebuild, the Great Hall had been reduced to one long table. So many had left it behind in the aftermath and so few had shown up to rebuild that even a single long table had felt far too empty whenever she sat down for a meal.

Hermione was startled out of her introspection when a student sat down next to her and began piling her plate high with toast and eggs, hands moving with practiced efficiency as the mound of food in front of her increased. Glancing towards the witch Hermione’s head started to pound alarm bells until the more rational side of her mind took over.

‘The scar doesn’t hurt. She’s not Bellatrix.’

A shiver crawled down her spine regardless of the mental assurances that said she wasn’t in any danger. The young witch seated next to her was a near carbon copy of Bellatrix Lestrange, albeit far younger. The major difference that set them apart was the color of her hair. Long brown curls fell in waves and ringlets over her shoulders and down her back. Pale skin that lacked blemishes or adornments were capped with warm cheeks that gave her looks a bit of life and the good-natured grin she wore was disarming and honest.

‘Andy?’ she thought to herself. She’d only met Mrs. Tonks once, and had almost had a panic attack at the sight of her. The witch had been Lestrange’s near twin, the only discernible difference she’d been able to point out at the time was the brown hair, slightly shorter and thinner build, and warmth behind her gestures.

It was a haunting feeling to meet the younger version of that woman, knowing what she did.

Hermione forced her thumping heart to relax and stilled her complexion when the young witch turned to her and began to speak. She belatedly realized it had been Andromeda who had saved her from being hexed by Bellatrix when she was knocked down outside of Ollivander’s shop.

“Hi,” the young witch spoke up with a pleasant air, “I'm Andromeda. You the new transfer from Canada?”

Hermione turned on the bench and faced the witch before replying, a piece of buttered toast going slack in her hands.

“Yes, Emelia Grenier,” Hermione dropped the toast and offered her hand for a shake, “Pleased to meet you Andromeda.”

Andromeda returned to her plate after their pleasantries were exchanged, piling up food onto a fork and struggling to down it all in one gulp. Seeing the rather uncouth action had Hermione internally giggling as she compared the woman she remembered with the new version at her side.

“You can call me Andy if you’d like. Usually people only call me Andromeda if I’m in trouble,” she tilted her head and shot Hermione a wry grin, “You might not have recognized me but I wanted to apologize for the way we met, in Diagon. I know it’s not my place to apologize for her but Bella likely won’t admit she was in the wrong. She is sorry though, just not used to expressing it. We’d both been having a shite day. Not sayin’ it as an excuse or anything but I wanted you to know she didn’t go at you for anything you’d done. Bella would have gone on to hex someone else if she hadn’t run into you.”

A mirthless laugh went off in Hermione’s head at the thought of Bellatrix Lestrange ever being sorry for anything. It was just such an absurd pronouncement that she nearly lost her composure and actually laughed out loud. When the amusement petered out she centered herself and slumped her shoulders, looking towards Andromeda before replying.

“It’s alright Andy, I understand. We’ve all been there, had those kinds of days. Just so you know though, I’ll probably try to avoid your sister. She struck me as being… intense.”

A sheepish look crossed over Andromeda’s features as she shook her head before looking her in the eyes and grinning.

“Believe me Emelia, you don’t even know the half of it. Intense is the understatement of the century when it comes to Bella. That said,” her grin faltered, “She isn’t too bad, once you get to know her. Oh, and if you want, since you’re new and all, come find me after classes. I’ll show you around a bit. Lots of hidden places and shortcuts running around through everything. I’ve been here six years, well starting on six technically, and I still don’t know em’ all.”

“I’d like that very much,” Hermione replied, her voice and smile filled with genuine emotion. “Thanks.”

Breakfast continued to drag on wards as the two witches sat in companionable silence. When it became clear to Hermione that she needed to leave now or risk missing the first Charms class of the term, she pushed her plates and silverware back before rising up from the bench and smiling warmly down at Andromeda.

A comfortable wave and promises to meet up again were their last interaction before she headed off and out of the Great Hall.

---oo---

Hermione’s day continued to be far more successful than she’d imagined all the way up through the end of Charms and History of Magic. She’d been able to take advantage of the free periods between her classes to hole herself away in a corner of the library. A wall of books and shelves had shielded her off from the scrutiny of most students. Madam Mazur had simply given her a look as she wandered off and the few students that had already taken up residence didn’t even react to her presence. It had only been the first day of classes but already she was feeling swamped with the amount of work. It was clear she’d need to work and study diligently to finish the meager amount of homework that she’d already been given. It was enough to bring a smile to her face.

Transfiguration was her last block for the Monday afternoon. She was determined to come out on top of her classes and best her peers.

The room was empty and quiet when she finally arrived. Minerva seemed more surprised at her early arrival than anything else. The older woman smiled back at her as she took a seat in the middle of the room. Her mind was caught up in her thoughts as she set out a fresh quill and parchment, awaiting the arrival of the other students.

The rest of the class trickled in mere minutes later, filling up the empty desks around her. The stern faced Professor glared down students as they continued to trickle in, late comers and stragglers getting soft but disappointed chuffs and warnings that the behavior wouldn’t be tolerated past today.

When what appeared to be the last straggler entered into the room Minerva stood to begin roll call. With each ‘Here!’, the quill floating alongside her parchment. Hermione hesitated just a second longer than she wished she had once her new name was called out. An internal panic rippled out from her chest once she realized she’d been called and though the rest of the class roll continued normally from there she was startled nonetheless.

Midway through the remainder of the roll call her scar began to tingle. The telltale sensation grew as apprehension washed over her. She’d been so lost in her own head that she hadn’t even heard Bellatrix’s name being called out by Minerva. She eyed the door behind her and hoped against measure that the feeling would fade quickly.

Luck, however, seemed to have it out for her. The classroom door opened with a squeak on rusty hinges as the dark haired witch sauntered in. She wore a self-assured expression as if daring anyone to comment on her tardiness.

Hermione closed her eyes and rubbed lightly at the scar on her arm as it continued to alert her to the witch’s presence. When she opened her eyes she realized that Bellatrix had made her way to the only empty seat.

Next to her.

‘Oh Merlin, no.’

“How good of your to join us for class today Ms. Black,” McGonagall’s voice brokered no amusement at the witch’s tardiness and Hermione felt a stab of pain lance through her scar as the witch seemed to take offense to the Professor’s statement. “One would think that after six years of living and learning within these halls that you’d have memorized the locations of classrooms. After all, mine hasn’t switched in nearly twenty years. Ten points from Slytherin. Do not make this a habit.”

A groan of discontentment rolled through the half of the classroom that was occupied by the Slytherin students as McGonagall made her proclamation. The other half, Gryffindor, pumped their first lamely at the first hit of the year. Hermione would have normally been pleased at the infraction being addressed but had slightly bigger issues to contend with now.

The scar had settled into a constant heat and mild burning sensation that would pulse stronger in time with her heartbeat. And the cause of the pain was sitting right next to her. She could only hope that as the rest of the class continued onward that the pain would lessen as Bellatrix’s mood improved.

The witch, for her part, had simply muttered a retort under her breath and brought out the few supplies she needed for the class.

‘Well,’ Hermione thought wryly, ‘At least this can’t get any worse.’

Chapter Text

By the end of the week Hermione could proudly proclaim that it indeed could get worse. 

So much worse. 

---oo--- 

That first Transfiguration lesson had proven a few things to Hermione. Sitting at the forefront was the knowledge that the label of ‘ Smartest Witch of her Age’ was unequivocally not an exaggeration. Order members in her time might have used the phrase to be condescending but it was accurate to a T. They weren’t exaggerations and Bellatrix seemed to revel in proving it. 

McGonagall would ask a question of the class and two hands were assured to rise as fast as humanly possible. They were evenly matched in terms of theory and both sought to outdo the other when it came to answering correctly. As the class had worn on it seemed apparent that the remainder of the students were willing to leave any and all questions up to them. A few Ravenclaw students would also attempt to answer but were never quite as fast or accurate as the duo. 

While McGonagall continued to drone on ad nauseam about proper wrist movement during wordless transfiguration Hermione would lean back into her chair and try to surreptitiously catch a glimpse of the dark haired witch. When she had finally got a clear enough view it was apparent that Bellatrix was doing much the same. She wore a small wry grin that looked to be part amusement and part surprise at how much Hermione knew. Her own face was lit up with a similar smirk. While the lesson continued a giddiness had begun to slowly infect Hermione as she came to the realization that Bellatrix, in this class at least, was her equal. 

Between the two of them they had managed to win 30 points for Slytherin by the time the practical application portion of the lesson was to begin. Though the effort wasn’t for the House she was familiar with it gave Hermione a sense of accomplishment to put her knowledge to work and have it recognized among her peers. The effort to outdo each other mounted as the class continued. By the end of the lesson they were silently racing one another to transfigure a wooden block into a rather fancifully colored wind chime with no words and minimal wand movement. 

They’d practically flown through the lesson and by the time McGonagall had released them the pain in Hermione’s scar had faded into the back of her mind. It was still present but no longer a focus of attention. As their class had filed out neither Bellatrix nor Hermione spoke of the obvious academic rivalry that seemed to have grown in just one class. As Bellatrix left with a group of seventh year Slytherin’s heading for the courtyard Hermione stared off after her and leaned back against the ancient stone walls flanking the hallway. A soft hand on her shoulder pulled her free from her thoughts. Glancing to her right she noticed Andromeda standing next to her with a hand out, a quizzical expression written on her face. 

“Hey Em’.” Hermione was struck by how quickly Andromeda had come to nickname her and offer some small measure of support.

“If you’re done for the day, want me to show you around now?” 

Reminded of the promised ‘tour’, Hermione smiled and nodded in return. 

“Sure. Just let me just drop off my bag, then we’ll head out.” 

Shoulder to shoulder they headed down to the Dungeons. 

---oo--- 

The rest of the school week had consisted of Hermione excelling at her courses, walking the castle grounds after classes had finished with Andromeda, and trying to beat out Bellatrix whenever they had class together. They’d both settled into a routine where they would sit at the same table and work to beat each other at some arbitrary notion of ‘excellence’ in class. 

The dark witch seemed to acknowledge that they were on an even playing field in the theoretical portions of their classwork. To counter it she actively sought to work out problems, potions, new spells and other classwork at a pace that almost managed to leave Hermione choking on her dust. The unintentional gap that the war created in Hermione’s schooling was beginning to show. By the time she knew the answer to a question Bellatrix had already had her arm raised. To her teachers and classmates it would seem she had just as much of an edge as Bellatrix; but she knew she was lagging behind even if it was almost imperceptible to others.   

The smirks she received when Bellatrix was chosen to answer and not her were particularly grating. It wasn’t a mean smirk. It wasn’t ugly. Hermione wasn’t truly convinced that Bellatrix could even look anything other than radiantly smug. She could admit Bellatrix was pretty. She could admit she was beautiful, even. But her heart and head protested at thinking on that subject any further than skin deep. The angry voice in her head thought otherwise. 

You like how pretty she is…’ 

Hermione had been trying as hard as she could to keep that little voice quiet. But it wasn't working. 

The only edge up on Bellatrix that she had was in Arithmancy and even that was a hard won battle. If it hadn’t been her favorite subject she was sure she’d be behind instead. As the week progressed the scar on her arm became a constant source of sensation. After the second class together the pain had begun to fade into the background of her consciousness. It was just as warm and angry as before but rather than being distracting it was now mundane and easy to ignore, whereas before it had been a constant draw to her attention. 

As Friday came she was no longer hiding herself behind stacks of parchment and books in the library or spending the evenings holed up in her dorm room. She opted to instead join Andromeda in the common room to go work on her own homework and help Andromeda when asked. The young witch was bright but having trouble in multiple courses. Rather than filling her with annoyance as it had when Harry or Ron had asked for help, helping Andromeda was a welcome time sink. The witch waited with bated breath as Hermione would explain a concept or spell that she’d been stuck on. The open gratitude for helping was warming and the chance to repay Andromeda for taking the time to walk with her in the evening before dinner was welcomed. Though they were usually never the only ones present it seemed majority of students worked elsewhere. 

After walking the castle with Andromeda they would retire in the common room to work through classwork while waiting to leave for dinner and return to their books and work the moment they returned. Bellatrix seemed to be avoiding her when outside of classrooms and they hadn’t yet been together in the common room. Narcissa would occasionally break off from her young friend group and take time to sit with her sister and Hermione, absorbing their words with quiet contemplation and occasional questions. Hermione had decided early on that these moments were a good time to get to know Narcissa. 

The youngest Black sister was a welcome deviation from the older version Hermione had come to know all too well. Whereas Narcissa Malfoy constantly reeked of superiority and put off an air of hostility and veiled contempt, Cissa Black was as open and warm as any other twelve year old. Sometimes their conversations would leech over to the subject of blood-purity and the status of muggleborns and half-bloods. At the casual dropping of mudblood in conversation Hermione would be instantly reminded that the young girl was the daughter of an incredibly discriminatory pureblood house. 

Those moments would always coincide with Hermione distancing herself as she remembered exactly who Narcissa and Bellatrix would grow into. Andy and Cissa would quietly share a look with one another as Hermione retreated into her shell and move the topic of conversation elsewhere. Both witches seemed acutely attuned to the emotions of those around them and sought to keep things warm at best and neutral at worst. They might not have known the cause of Hermione’s distress but both wanted to lessen it whenever possible. 

It was during one of these introspective moments that Bellatrix found them all sitting on the warm leather couch in the common room. Narcissa occupied the far right corner of the couch and was sitting with her feet tucked beneath her and a Potions textbook open on her lap. Andromeda was propped up in the middle with a stack of parchments she’d been shuffling through and revising with Hermione’s help. Hermione herself sat staring off into the fireplace after getting lost in her own memories. Unnoticed the scar began to pulse with heat. The telltale warning sign that Bellatrix was near was only a blip in her mindscape as she lost herself in thought and reflection. Eventually the pain was at full strength and still Hermione was tuning out the world. 

“Grenier.” 

Andromeda’s eyes flitted between Hermione and her older sister.

“Grenier.” 

Bellatrix walked closer as Hermione remained lost and oblivious to the outside world. 

“Grenier!” Bellatrix finally shouted alarmingly close to Hermione’s ear. 

Shite,’ Hermione startled at the noise and jumped backwards in surprise, ‘That’s me. ’ 

“Yeah, yeah, sorry. What do you want Bellatrix?” Hermione shook her head and turned to stare the witch in the eyes. Bellatrix took a step back and crossed her arms around her front, shifting back onto her right foot. 

“I was going to ask you for help on the Arithmancy essay but if you’re so dense as to not notice your own name, I’m not so sure about asking you now.” 

The look of disdain etched into Bellatrix’s features could have withered stone. Hermione took a second to collect her scattered thoughts before responding to the insult. 

“If you’re so behind that you need help on that little thing, I’m not sure anyone can help you, LeStrange.” 

An intake of breath to her right was her only warning. 

Wait…’ 

The reaction was immediate. 

Did I just call her…’ 

Bella’s eyes widened in a mixture of fear and anger while her face settled into a mask of rage. 

Fuck.’ 

“How dare you,” Bellatrix spat as her words dripped icy venom. Hermione’s scar burst forth in burning pain as a low growling sound began to emanate from Bellatrix. The air surrounding them took on a sudden cloying heat as a crystal goblet on a shelf near them shattered into thousands of shards. No one moved at the sudden spray of glass, too caught up in Bellatrix’s reaction. 

“I, I didn’t mean-” Hermione tried to stutter out an apology but before she could Bellatrix had turned heel and stormed off out the entrance to the common room. Mouth gaping like a fish Hermione turned towards Narcissa and Andromeda who were looking at her with a mixture of pity and confusion. Andromeda was the first to break the ongoing tension.

“Um, Em’. How’d you know about Rodolphus? I mean, they aren’t even engaged yet…?”

Cissa shared a look with Andy before standing up from the couch and heading out to follow Bellatrix. 

“I, I… I heard a rumor floating around from some of the boys. I didn’t mean to bring it up, I didn’t know she’d react like that.” 

Andy leaned back and shook her head slightly before looking back to Hermione. 

“Stupid git.” Hermione winced at her words and turned to stare at her hands in her lap. 

“Oh, no no, not you Emelia. Rodolphus. Bellatrix hates Rodolphus, and I doubt she thought it’d get out this soon. She’s only marrying because it was arranged.” 

Hermione relaxed at Andromeda’s words and tried to uncurl the shame that had wrapped around her stomach. She’d known the couple wasn’t particularly close in her timeline but wasn’t aware that Bellatrix had hated her intended. 

“If she doesn’t like him,” Hermione began, “Why doesn’t she just call it off? Marry someone she actually likes?” 

Andy physically scoffed at Hermione’s suggestion and wore a sad grin on her face. 

“Because, she’d be disowned. And maybe end up dead somewhere no one’d find…”

Hermione blanched at that. 

‘That’s horrible.” 

“Yeah,” Andy nodded, “Tell me about it.” 

---oo--- 

After the unintended exchange Hermione’s days went down like a hippogriff plummeting from the sky. Bellatrix never outwardly said anything to Hermione but the disdain she now held for her was evident in her actions. The pair no longer sat near one another as Bellatrix opted to stay as far away as she physically could during lectures. She would find herself tripping in hallways while snickering laughter could be heard around corners. Inkpots would randomly spill onto her work. Her standard quills had been switched out for disappearing ink quills three times. At random intervals during the night loud blaring sirens would throw her from sleep while guilty footsteps ran away from her door. Water would leak and form a puddle in front of her dormitory door every morning. Her scar had been hurting more intensely all week, and she’d been unable to put it out of her mind. The prefect bathroom she’d taken too was almost constantly occupied by a certain witch who set her scar blazing. Stinging jinx’s would hit her whenever she seemed alone and the vast majority of Slytherin students were suddenly ignoring her. 

She wouldn’t have minded that last one as the likes of LeStrange brothers and their attending cronies never interested her, but now Narcissa was attempting to avoid her completely. The only person left in the dungeons who seemed to still have her back was Andromeda and even that friendship was increasingly strained as Bellatrix bore down and Hermione withdrew. 

It came to a head the Thursday after the incident with Bellatrix. Irritated and sleep deprived Hermione had sat in her chair only to find a sticking jinx applied to the seat. After muttering the counter-jinx and fuming for a few seconds she looked back and caught a glare from Bellatrix. Her History of Magic block for that day was devoted to a test, and she could hardly pay attention. 

Halfway through the period she’d felt the eyes of Bellatrix boring into her back as the pain in her arm spiked up a notch. When she stood up from her desk to turn in her parchment she could hear the scraping of another chair in the back of the classroom. Hurried footsteps followed up behind her and as they moved to pass Hermione looked to her left. 

Bellatrix was glaring her down with her eyes as black as night. It was a visceral change. Her eyes no longer held the hint of warm brown tones but were instead deep and black, filled with visible anger churning beneath the surface. As Bellatrix stepped to pass her she brought up her crooked wand unexpectedly and touched the parchment clutched within Hermione’s fingers. Hermione’s mouth opened in shock as it suddenly burst into flame and crumbled as she let go. 

“Ah!” Hermione screamed in alarm and stepped to the side as the entire class turned to look. Bellatrix continued walking on, her head turned slightly to glare down Hermione as she walked away with a savage grin on her face. It was the last straw. 

Screw this.’ 

As Bellatrix turned her head towards the front of the class Hermione drew her wand from its holster. She understood abstractly that there would be repercussions for this action but couldn’t seem to find it within herself to care. That tiny little angry voice had come into its own and was egging her on at a screaming volume in an effort to drown out her conscience. A rising gasp from the classmates around her alerted Bellatrix that danger was coming and she started to turn back around. 

Stupefy !” Hermione let out the spell as fast as she could, hoping to catch Bellatrix before she could notice the wand in her hand. 

It worked. Bellatrix dropped into a crouch and turned towards Hermione while throwing out a Protego , but it came too late. Hermione’s spell found its mark as Bellatrix bowled over backwards. At the same moment the scar on her arm flared up in pain so intense she was forced to double over and fall to her knees, wand dropping to the ground as she cried out in pain. 

All around her her classmates were tearing up from their desks in confusion and shock at the duel while Professor Binns looked on with a bored expression filled his ethereal face. Tears began clouding Hermione’s vision as the intensity of the pain notched up again. After what felt like hours she felt her world closing in as her vision tunneled. Her last waking thought rattled around her brain. 

Merlin, I am so fucked.’ 

---oo--- 

“What are we going to do about this Albus?” Minerva’s questioning gaze sought out Albus as he peered at the parchment laying on his desk. 

“No need to worry Minerva. What they did can be rectified through internal punishment. Horace will have them in detention for a week, and we’ll all move on from this incident.” 

She walked up in front of his desk and lay her palms flat atop the table, a scowl breaking through her features. 

“Are you sure, Albus?” She needed to know. The troubling lack of surprise when he’d been told of the incident was honestly worrisome. 

He looked up at her through his glasses and sighed deeply. As the seconds ticked onward he leaned backwards in his chair and clasped his hands together while resting them on top of the desk. 

“Of course I am Minerva. It’s all for the greater good.” 

Chapter Text

The harsh white light of the infirmary blinded Hermione as she finally awoke from her impromptu sleeping session. Her body had been laid out and stretched beneath a thin and coarsely woven white sheet, same as when she had first awoken in the past. Her head and neck were supported by the lump of down that the school chose to call a pillow and a steady ache from the odd angle was straining in pain as she moved about. Her body shifted and a loud groan escaped her chest before she could help herself, right arm throwing out at unbending the stuff joint as she threw the offending sheet off of her body.

Someone had changed her out of her school uniform and into the standard white hospital gown at some point while she’d been unconscious and the thought of someone openly seeing her scars was sending her heartbeat into a frenzy. The length of her body from her toes to her head were burning as if a fire had been lit beneath her skin, cooled only by the thin sheen of sweat that clung to her body. The nearly paper thin gown that she was wearing was plastered directly to her skin as sweat ran through, every harsh outline and soft curve visible to the eye. She couldn’t tell if the shudders wracking her body were from pain and heat or revulsion at the state of herself.

The worst feeling by far though was the pain lancing throughout her scarred arm. It was bone deep and stifling, both a heat and an itch that commanded she scratch and dig and remove the offending flesh. The dull pressure on the forearm was foreign though and as loathe as she was to even look at it she still pushed herself further up the bed to figure out exactly what was going on with it.

Pure, white gauze was wrapped tightly around the arm and held on by either magic or spellotape, she couldn’t see the edge of the wrap enough to tell, and ran the full length of her arm from the wrist to the crook of her elbow. As comforting as it was to her that someone, Pomfrey most likely, had thought to bandage that particular issue right up, it did nothing to hide the shock and fair bit of horror at seeing exactly why they had done so.

Crimson, bright and strong, definitely not mud, had stained the portion of gauze directly above her scar. It was still colorful enough that she could tell it had only finished bleeding recently, the gauze not the rusty color of blood left to settle. The flesh beneath the gauze was still ringing out in pain and hurt as if the words had only just been etched into her.

Releasing her gaze she dropped her body back down and forced herself to still as she sank back into the mercifully soft bed beneath her. She wasn’t sure what she’d do if even that had some unwelcome edge to it, though screaming in rage and frustration was what came to mind.

All told her mind and body felt like she’d been trampled by several centaurs and lit up with Fiendfyre for good measure. The distant acknowledgement that she would be the one held accountable for attacking another student was also weighing heavily upon her mind, the final unwelcome addition to everything that she was going through.

‘Two weeks. I didn’t even last two bloody weeks!’

The agitated sound of Hermione shuffling on the bed finally caught the attention of Madam Pomfrey, who to this point, had still been ensconced in her work at her desk. Hermione’s attention was brought to her approach as the medi-witch’s heels echoed off the floor, her head swiveling to view her as much as the pain in her neck would allow.

‘Circe’s tits, that smarts.’

The movement also brought into view the lined up forms of her Professors sitting silently against the far wall. Slughorn was sleeping in a high backed chair with his head lolling off to the side and a thin line of drool shining in the harsh lighting. Minerva was off and to the side of Slughorn, embroiled in what looked to be quite the heated discussion with Albus.

In one swift movement Pomfrey reached down into her robes and brought out a small phial as she came to a stop beside Hermione’s prone form while her other arm shot out to rest the back of her hand against Hermione’s forehead. Hermione’s eyes tracked the phial as Pomfrey held it out for her, seafoam green swirling around the tube while specks of silver intermittently appeared and disappeared.

“Emelia, it’s good to see you awake. Here,” she uncorked the phial after removing her other hand from Hermione’s forehead and brought the rim of the glass to her lips. “Take this, it will help the residual pain and unpleasantness. I’m sorry about the temperature but it’s a side effect of the treatment we were using to stabilize you.”

Hermione sat up further in the bed before taking hold of the phial and tilting it back to down the potion in one go. The taste of honey and something smokey coated the inside of her mouth as a tingle started up as the liquid traveled down her throat. Almost immediately the sensation of cold menthol shot through her body, filling her up and caressing every muscle and nerve ending. She could feel the tension in her muscles release, the crick in her neck evaporating, and the scar on her arm losing much of its near paralyzing potency.

“Ms. Grenier,” Albus approached her swiftly, his robes sashaying back and forth in his hurry, with Minerva following directly on his heels. Slughorn was, however, still asleep and had begun to snore softly in his chair.

“It’s so good to see you doing better dear,” Minerva spoke up as she silently accio’d a chair to Hermione’s bedside and sat down. “You wouldn’t believe the scare you gave us with that little stunt against Ms. Black.”

The color in Hermione’s cheeks drained out as bile rose up the back of her throat, the enormity of exactly what she’d done finally crashing down onto her.

“Bellatrix!, Is Bellatrix alright?” Hermione pushed herself forwards and into a sitting position as Pomfrey moved an arm across her chest and back to steady her. “I didn’t hurt her to badly, did I?”

Albus shook his head and turned around to eye the still sleeping form of Slughorn.

“Ms. Black is fine my dear. You simply sent her a well aimed stupefy. She was released from Poppy’s care quite some time ago. But, as you’ve brought it up, would you mind enlightening us as to exactly what happened, and why? Ms. Black has been quite terribly tight-lipped about the whole incident.”

Hermione stilled her movement and leaned forward to prop herself up with her elbows on her knees. A sheepish look was all she could muster as she eyed the sleeping form of Slughorn to keep her eyes as far from the worried stare of Pomfrey as she could.

“It, um…” Hermione looked up to Albus and looked him in the eyes before nodding slightly to snoring lump of a professor, “It might better if we had this conversation in private, Headmaster.”

“Oh,” He turned to look behind himself, “Don’t worry about Horace my dear. I’ve slipped him a sleeping draught. We won’t be disturbed, he’ll have a good night’s rest, and I’ll inform him tomorrow of any relevant information.”

Hermione could have sworn his eyes twinkled in delight as he revealed he’d dosed her Head of House. As she conceded his point she still nervously eyed Pomfrey before turning her eyes back towards Albus. Pomfrey got the hint though, and politely left the group before anyone else spoke up.

“Okay,” she turned towards Minerva, “I accidentally referred to Bellatrix as ‘Lestrange’, last Friday. The whole week prior we’d been sort of trying to outdo one another during classes and with our assigned work. She wanted help on a paper but insulted me even as she asked. I shot back, but I used her last name. Future last name. I think she assumed that I was mocking her. She hates Rodolphus and I wasn’t aware of that. Or that no one else was supposed to know that they were set to be engaged. Since then, well, she’s up and rallied most of the other Slytherin’s into agitating against me and tried to turn our shared classes into her own personal brand of hell.”

“Emelia dear,” Minerva interjected, “If this was going on, why didn’t you come to Horace or one of us when this began?”

“I didn’t think-”

“You must understand Ms. Grenier, this was absolutely not the way to handle this situation. It was in no way appropriate.”

‘How was I supposed to handle it then?!’

“I know that, Professor. But-”

“And did you take the time to even try explaining your miswording to Bellatrix?”

‘Let me finish!’

“I tried to, Professor. And I spoke to Andromeda-”

“Why does Andromeda know about this incident? How did you explain your apparent knowledge about her engagement with Rodolphus?

“She knows because I-”

“Ms. Grenier, you simply could have had-”

‘Enough!!’

The bedspread pooled around Hermione’s waist ruffled under the force of Hermione’s inner anger coming unleashed. She could taste ozone and iron as her frustration finally boiled over and the dam inside her broke.

“I didn’t know what to do! I tried to explain it to her,” ragged breaths shook Hermione as her face and neck flushed red, the volume of her voice suddenly hard to control. “I didn’t know how to handle it at the time, I don’t know how to handle any of this! I just finished living through a war to having to live right before another! I’M STUCK HERE!! I have no friends, I have no family, I have no idea when or even if I’m ever going to be able to go home. This past week has been hell and it’s all because I insulted her on accident!”

When she finally ran out of breath and finished her tirade the room had begun to spin before her eyes.

‘I’m hyperventilating,’ she realized abstractly, unsure if it was really herself that she was feeling. The muscles al throughout her body were shaking with exertion and distantly she could feel the scar on her forearm pulsing again, brought back to life with heat and pain and venom. Minerva’s face was openly shocked, her mouth hanging agape and an embarrassed flush in her cheeks. Albus for his part seemed to have turned away some time ago and appeared to be doing his level best to not look down at her. She wasn’t sure why but his refusal to meet her gaze was bringing life back into her residual rage. Her lungs burned as she fought to regain control of her breathing.

“I’m sorry for the way I acted,” she grit out, teeth clamped so hard she could practically hear her parents scolding from all the way in the future. “I didn’t mean, or want, to hurt Bellatrix. I had even thought we might be able to get along together with no issues. I tried, I did, it’s just that this is all so…” Hermione trailed off as wet hot tears began to well up and over the lip of her eyes to run down over her face. She pulled herself inwards and curled in on herself, arms wrapped tightly over her knees as she let heavy sobs shake their way through her body.

In a flash Minerva hid her distraught look and shuffled over to Hermione’s bedside to comfort the distraught witch, murmuring soothing words and rubbing a warm spot into Hermione’s back with her hand. Albus took his eyes off the pair to give Poppy an emphatic look before nodding his head. At his wordless request Poppy strode over from her desk with another phial clutched tightly between her fingers. When she arrived she took ahold of Hermione’s left hand and gently pried it off of her knee before slipping the phial into her grasp. After she was sure that her charge wouldn’t drop or let go of the phial she let her know it was a calming draught before helping to guide it up to her lips to tip over and down her throat.

---oo---

It took nearly a half an hour for Hermione to finally calm down enough and open back up to continuing the conversation. Minerva had sat down at some point, content to stew in her shame and allow Albus the chance to steer the conversation from there on out.

“Emelia, we’ve spoken to Bellatrix. While she’s been reticent to talk about the incident when you stupified her, she has instead admitted to burning your parchment and generally conspiring to spoil the week for you. She’s also asked us to apologize on her behalf for the rude behavior that she engaged in. She would have admitted that herself, but felt you would prefer it better if she wasn’t present. Undoubtedly she will make that up to you the next time she sees you but for now please rest assured that she bears you no ill will. She, of course, will be punished for the transgressions she’s admitted to. Unfortunately I must now also look to administer punishment for your own. I understand the stresses that you’ve been laboring under-”

‘No you don’t,’ Hermione thought darkly as she awaited his sentencing.

“-But regardless, rules are rules. You will have an afternoon of detention that will be doled out as Horace and I see fit. In this particular instance we have both come to an agreement that both Ms. Black and yourself will accompany our Gameskeeper, Mr. Rubeus Hagrid, in his duties on the coming Monday afternoon. You will both report to him immediately following the end of your classes that day.”

‘Hagrid? And Bellatrix? Well. My death will be interesting at least.’

“I understand, Headmaster. I’ll report to him right away on Monday.”

“Good, good. Now, onto the real reason for my inclusion in this incident as well as the real reason for your visit to the infirmary today.”

“I believe I can help explain at least a part of that, if you wouldn’t mind, Albus.” Pomfrey stood from her desk and walked over to Hermione’s left side. Leaning down she gently grabbed ahold of Hermione’s arm and began to unwrap the bandages tightly bound around it.

“Over the afternoon, while you were unconscious, I managed to sidle some information out of Professor Mayweather. In particular, the information was about cursed wounds. After comparing it with the limited information that we’ve been able to note, well, we have a theory.”

The scar was still such an ugly sight that Hermione couldn’t bring herself to stare at it for any length of time. The rawness of the wound gave it the appearance that it had only just been inflicted and Hermione could swear that it felt like that too.

“Before now we’ve been operating under the assumption that the wound was cursed, but we couldn’t tell the extent of it. We knew that it wouldn’t heal with potions, time, or magic. Have you been having any pains in it before this afternoon?”

Hermione looked down at her lap bashfully before responding.

“Yes. It would start to hurt whenever I was near Bellatrix. It lessened though as the first week of classes went on. It only started to hurt again after she was angry at me. And it hurt more, this time, if that makes sense.”

“It would appear that the curse is tied directly with Bellatrix, even if it’s only reacting to a version of her younger self. In that manner, it might be soul tied. It would also appear that it’s connected directly with her mood state and whether you’re attempting to harm her. From what we’ve gathered it would appear that the moment you knocked her with the stupefy it sent a delayed reaction out and knocked you out as well. Almost like a punishment for the action. You knocked her out, it knocked you out.

“However, that’s really the extent of our knowledge. We won’t know more unless we take the time to actively test,” Minerva short the inquisitive medi-witch a glare that could peel paint, “Which we won’t attempt for fairly obvious reasons. Whether Bellatrix herself could remove the curse is also something that we’re not sure about.”

“Great,” Hermione spoke up in a cheerfully sarcastic tone, “Just one more reason to not get on her bad side.”

---oo---

Hermione was only allowed to leave the infirmary and make her way back off to the common-room after a final check in with the medi-witch and a rather sleepy conversation with Professor Slughorn. Her path back to the dungeons had been mostly deserted and only a few Prefects had been hanging out in any of the hallways. Most seemed in more than a hurry to disappear as quickly as she found them, wanting clearly to avoid her as much as they could.

Weariness clung all around Hermione like a warm and heavy cloak as every movement and step felt heavier than normal. All she wanted to do was to curl herself up into an undisturbed ball of limbs and sadness and sleep for days. Eventually she found herself before the statue that guarded the common-room and blearily gave it the password while her mind remained elsewhere.

Halfway to the hall that would lead to the girls' dormitory section a loud cough that sounded muffled by a hand caught her attention. Her eyes shot off into the darkness of the common-room as she took in whoever was waiting around.

Sitting deeply into a leather couch that was pressed right up against the far wall were Andromeda and Narcissa, an open tome sandwiched between them. Two pairs of eyes looked up and spotted Hermione as her body came to an automatic halt. She could feel her heart freezing solid in her chest as Andromeda’s eyes bore down into her own. She had wanted to talk with Andy at a more neutral time but seeming to have lucked into the two witches and no one else was more than enough of an invitation for Hermione. Turning on her heel she strode over to the seated pair who still had their eyes glued to her and their mouths shut.

Before she could even begin talking, Andromeda was up and out from her seat on the cough and was striding towards her with long and sharp paces that seemed counter to the rather short stature of the witch. Her eyes were unreadable dark pools that brought a shiver to Hermione’s spine.

“Andromeda-”

CRACK!

Andromeda had moved herself so quickly that Hermione hadn’t even seen her arm begin to move before the flat of Andy’s palm connected with her cheek. Her head was turned violently at the impact and pain flushed up immediately to take residence in her cheek.

“If you ever dare to attack or hurt my sister again, I will personally bury the little pieces of your body that remain. Is that understood?”

Shame flushed Hermione’s face and neck until the remaining cheek and hollow of her throat were the same color as the still stinging cheek. Her breath hitched as her mind came to terms with the fact that Andy, Andy of all people, had slapped her.

“Andromeda, I-”

“I asked. If you. UNDERSTOOD!” Andy’s voice was so loud that Hermione couldn’t help but wonder why there wasn’t a gaggle of students alerted to their altercation and swarming the common-room.

Hermione could do naught but stare into the pitch black orbs that reminded her so much of Bellatrix and tried to calm her breathing down enough to talk without stuttering or passing out.

“Y-Yes Andy. I understand. And for what it’s worth I’m sorry for attacking her like that.” Hermione inhaled deeply to settle the remaining tremors running through her body.

“Good.”

Before Hermione could reply or make any sense of what exactly had transpired, Andromeda rushed forward through the space between them and wrapped Hermione into a bone crushing hug.

“I’m sorry that Bella forced you into doing that. I just needed you to know that she’s my sister and I love her dearly. I know you’re sorry about what happened. It doesn’t change anything, you’re still our friend. And I’m sure that Bella is sorry too, even though you’ll have a hell of a time wringing that admission from her. She’s been under a ton of pressure lately and she took it all out on you. Doesn’t excuse her behavior, like, at all, but it wasn’t just a case of her not liking you.”

When Andromeda finally released her from the hug and air began flooding Hermione’s tightly wound chest, Narcissa silently walked up towards them. Narcissa finally caught Hermione’s eye after glancing worriedly between both witches and began to speak.

“Is it true that you managed to hit her before she even blocked?”

A frown tilted Hermione’s face at the oddness of the question. “Um… Yes?”

“Well,” Narcissa gave her the most piercing gaze that a twelve year old could, “That’s pretty cool. No one’s beat Bella in a duel yet, even when fighting underhanded.”

The young witch flashed Hermione an oddly warm smile before turning around and walking out towards to dormitories, leaving Hermione standing confusedly in her wake.

“So then,” Andy spoke up in a chipper tone, “That’s Cissa for you. I’ll let you go now. You probably won’t see Bella for a little while yet, she’s in a mood. Night Em’!”

Andy practically skipped past Hermione and left to the dorms after she finished speaking, leaving a confused and exhausted Hermione to parse her thoughts and attempt some sort of recovery.

---oo---

Numbness was setting in all over Bella’s body. Coming out from a Cruciatus curse had always left her nerve endings empty and unfocused in the minutes after application. It was a bit like have every muscle in her body fall asleep, except spread across every single nerve and blanketing her.

When she had been finally allowed out of the castle to attend her private ‘Tutoring Lesson’ on Friday, she’d been expecting some harsh words. Cygnus and Lord Voldemort had supplied those in spades. She’d even been expecting some form of a physical punishment. A slap maybe, or if Cygnus was feeling particularly nasty that day, a punch to her gut and a swift kick to her ribs.

What had ended up awaiting her was worse. Cygnus had waited, hidden among the background of the manor, while her new tutor took it upon himself to admonish her lack of ability.

“To think,” he said in a snarled whisper that was raspy with rage, “That such a promising young witch would be bested by the last scion of an extinct House. I mean really, you must admit that it’s a disgrace.”

The disappointed tone riding up beneath his words was like a knife dug into her skin. He was supposed to be her ticket out from becoming a subservient house-witch to a man with more testicles than brain cells, even if Cygnus was loath to admit it. Voldemort wanted her, Her, and she’d failed a simple request. Do not lose.

The sting of the first crucio was an unexpected pain but entirely out of the spectrum of her experiences. It lashed at her body like knives tearing into flesh and pulling the muscle and gristle off her bones. Her body had cramped and she’d almost missed his soft but angered words when he released the curse.

“We will have to correct this deficiency. Get up, we’ll cover something simple, something even you can handle. Dueling agility. Up!”

And they had. Voldemort slung piercing hexes and stinging jinxes at a rate almost faster than her eyes could keep up with. Her chest burned with exertion as she fought for breath and the dizzying pace that she was forced to dodge at took a toll on her generally enormous stamina pool. She scraped her body raw against cold stone as she flung her body every which way in an effort to avoid him.

Whenever she was caught somewhere she knew she couldn’t dodge, she instead threw up simple Protego wards, taking the brunt of the attack in her arms and legs as she pushed against the incoming force.

Finally, a hex flew past her defenses and smashed its way into the meat of her thigh and sending her sprawling forward as the leg was blasted out from under her. Her nose collided painfully and stars washed out beneath her eyelids. She could taste blood sliding down her throat and her tongue burned painfully where she’d nearly bitten it off.

She wasn’t even able to get to her hands and knees before a roaring “Crucio!” reached her ears. The pain was again immediate, lasting several seconds before being relinquished.

“Get up. Reset, we go again.”

On trembling limbs she pushed herself up and squared her stance when she reached her feet. And then he was on her again.

---oo---

And so they had sparred. Bellatrix pushing her body to its utter limits in an effort to dodge and protect herself. Every failure had meant suffering an increasingly long-lasting Cruciatus. It was more than enough of an incentive for her to try her absolute hardest. By the time she’d been allowed to apparate back to the gates of Hogwarts, she’d been a trembling mess.

Muscles were strained and unwieldy even if she couldn’t directly feel the pain settling in, numbness still blanketing most of her body. The walk back to the common-room had been fraught with moments when she was sure that she would just give in and collapse.

When she’d finally arrived back safely into her own bed she’d thrown herself forward without removing any of her blood and sweat stained clothing, preferring instead to curl into a ball and retreat into her mind as she waited for the pain to set in and overcome her.

For what felt like the first time in ages, tears accompanied her as she drifted off to a fitful and terrified sleep.

Chapter Text

Bellatrix began her Sunday in what she could best sum up as a ‘gray’ mood. She wasn’t happy, she wasn’t angry, she was just… Floating on a sea of flat emotion. Ever since she returned from her tutoring on Thursday she’d had almost no enthusiasm. It was a mood that her sisters didn’t miss. Narcissa could tell something was bothering her older sister but not pinpoint a cause. Andromeda however knew something was up, and the approximate reason for why. Knowing her sister could tell led Bellatrix towards attempting something of a chipper attitude and even went out of her way to terrorize some Gryffindor first years as a way of throwing Andromeda off.

The result was mediocre at best. If anything Andromeda was more agitated at her forced attitude than her lack of one at all. She’d always been able to sense and work around her moods more than Narcissa. Narcissa was liable to get frustrated at her sister and wander off until she calmed down, whereas Andromeda would glue herself to her sisters side. Generally it led to her stepping in before Bellatrix could blow her top at someone who didn’t deserve it, though now it was just making her feel smothered.

Throughout breakfast in the Great Hall Andromeda had been no more than a few feet away and had taken it upon herself to guard her sister, fending off the Lestrange brothers and other Slytherin’s who seemed to want her attention.

Bellatrix could feel her mood souring further when Emelia never showed up for breakfast. She’d been looking forward to conversing with the witch and explaining her actions. Maybe even apologize if she felt generous enough. But no one had seen her except in classes on Friday. She hadn’t shown up for meals and had seemed to disappear as soon as they were released. Saturday had droned on the same, no sight and no word. Bellatrix felt loathe to lower herself to knocking on the girl's door to get her attention but at this rate it didn’t seem like she would have a choice.

---oo---

While her sister was engrossed in a hushed discussion a boy from Ravenclaw, Bellatrix took her leave. Pushing her cold plate of eggs and toast away from herself she left the Hall and headed up one of the main staircases. Her mood had soured enough to the point where she felt like blowing off steam and the only safe location to do so in the castle was the Come and Go Room. Ever since she’d been made aware of its existence in her fifth year she’d used it as a safe haven for venting frustrations or spending time studying without the incessant distractions of other students. Even her sisters were unaware of its location and had learned that she would only be found when she wanted to be.

Her time with the room had aided her when studying for exams and OWL's, giving her a large open space work. It would pull up a near copy of the library whenever she needed time and space to leave, well-built laboratories for potions experiments containing beautiful brand-new equipment, and practice targets for when spellwork was on her mind. It had even come in handy whenever she was feeling worn down or numb to her existence by offering her a replica of the Forbidden Forest to exhaust and recuperate in.

She understood most of the logistics of the room. The seventh year who showed it to her made explicit mention that she’d need to be specific when requesting space. However over time it had been made apparent that whatever entity or consciousness controlled the room had become somewhat familiar to her. Now it seemed all she needed was a vague notion of what she needed it for and it would furnish out the rest. It had come in handy more often than not, and she hoped it would serve that purpose today. She wasn’t sure if anyone could find the room when she was inside of it but it had kept Andromeda and Narcissa away from her enough that she felt safe going to it now. If anything they would admonish her later when she reappeared. A worry for later.

After what felt like ages she reached the seventh floor. As she rounded a corner to the hallway she wanted her feet fell flat and her body stood rigid. There in front her was the door to the room, already standing stock still against the wall. It was… Unusual to put it mildly. As far as she was aware the presence of the door meant someone else was already inside. But who? Her feet carried her forward slowly until she stood right before the tall oaken door. Turning her head to the side she placed her ear against it and focused her hearing. Nothing. No sounds whatsoever to indicate it was in use. Regardless of who the occupant was the room hadn’t thought it necessary enough to close the entrance.

Placing a palm flat against the doorknob she wrapped her fingers around it and gently twisted. The knob turned easily in her grip and the door swung upon on silent hinges. Looking back to check she was alone Bellatrix opened it fully and strode quietly into the room, pulling the door shut behind her. When it closed with an audible click she winced and held her breath. When no sound met her ears she walked forward into the eerily lit space.

It was… Huge. Her eyes opened wide in wonder at the vastness of it all. Space stretched out in almost every direction. She was awed at the massive extension charm that must have allowed it to spawn a room this massive. All up and around her were piles and piles of curios and junk. Dressers, vanities, mirror and bookshelves. Piles and piles of books, jewelry, paper, chandeliers and chairs. Even a bed frame or two peaked out from the bottom of the walls of junk. A thin pathway existed between it all that led further into the space while twisting out of sight a few feet beyond her.

Stepping forward she observed the area for signs of whoever had conjured this version of the room. For minutes she continued silently with no noise except her own breathing to accompany her. Slowly however she could pick something up in the distance. It was far away and it only seemed to come to her if she held her head just right. Drawing her wand from the hidden sheathe against her forearm she continued cautiously.

Eventually the path led to a ‘Y’ shaped fork, and she chose this spot to wait and see if she could pinpoint the far off sound. As she stood craning her neck back and forth and turning in circles a thin green item at the bottom of a pile of books caught her attention. It was thin but moving ever so slightly. Ignoring the far off sound and stepping forward slowly she kept her wand aimed at the item and steeled herself to use force on whatever it was. As she got close enough her breath caught in her throat.

"Jörmun!"

Memories flashed back as she recognized the item for what it was. Sitting only feet from her while curling itself around a stack of notebooks was a small toy fashioned in the shape of the Slytherin mascot, a green snake. It had been enchanted to move and act like a real one. Beady little eyes and a felt serpents tongue regarded her warily before it suddenly surged forward to wrap softly around her leg.

Heedless to the other occupant of the room she laughed loudly in open delight as the snake wound its way up to her proffered palm. She hadn’t seen the toy in the interim since she’d enchanted it to perform a prank on a Hufflepuff student. For five years she had been wondering about what had happened to it. The Hufflepuff in question never retaliated against her and eventually she had assumed the student had destroyed it in distress.

Pulling up the wriggling toy to wrap around her neck she froze as her ears acclimated to the new silence. The sound she’d heard in the distance was gone. Her reckless laughing had alerted the other occupant to her presence. She began to continue up the right side of the fork and brought her wand to bear, her footfalls the only sound echoing around her. Continuing on she came to a break in the path that opened into a large semicircle cleared of junk and detritus.

‘Emelia.'

Without realizing it she had found the subject of her poor mood. The girl was outfitted in muggle style clothes. She wore a large gray sweater swamping her by a size or two and a pair of tight-fitting muggle style jeans that were black as night. Black boots with a short heel completed her ensemble. She was sat upon a large high backed chair with her head in her hands while her fingers scratched patterns idly into her short hair. At the sound of Bellatrix’s footfalls entering the open space she looked up and brought her arm forward swiftly to brandish her wand.

"Bellatrix. Of course it’s you," Emelia spoke in a tight voice as she wiped away obvious tears from her eyes. "What do you want?"

This was... different, she finally decided on. She hadn't come here to cause any issues with Emelia and hadn’t expected to find the witch crying all alone. It unsettled her in a way she wasn't sure she was comfortable with.

"Didn't mean to interrupt," she finally settled on, "I didn't know anyone else knew about this place."

She walked towards her Housemate while Jörmun wiggled around her neck to peak out through her hair. The silence settled in as Emelia's eyes tracked Jörmun. When his fake tongue lifted back and forth in obvious interest a small smile came to her lips.

"Bellatrix, uh, what is... That ?"

The question broke Bellatrix out of her self-imposed silence as a warm grin rose up. Settling down onto the cold wooden floor next to Emelia’s feet she held out her arm towards the witch. Jörmun began to slide from her neck and across her shoulder to stretch over on to Emelia’s open palm.

"His name is Jörmun, for the World Serpent. I made him for a prank five years ago but lost him after it. Honestly never thought I'd find him again but he was just sliding around some books as I was walking up."

"Uh huh," Emelia replied, a light giggle starting up her as Jörmun flicked his soft felt tongue against her finger.

This is... Nice,’ she thought to herself. Her morning was no longer numb or dreary, regardless of the awkwardness still lurking between Emelia and herself.

"I'm sorry," Emelia spoke up suddenly. "About... About what I called you last week. I didn't say it to upset you. I didn’t even know it was a secret. But I shouldn’t have responded to you like that."

Bellatrix could feel her breath freeze.

‘She's... Sorry?’

Bellatrix almost couldn't remember the last time someone who wasn't one of her sisters had apologized to her in an honest manner. Whenever her peers apologized it was almost always at the end of a threat. And her immediate family never apologized. She had a strong suspicion that her parents were physically incapable of apologizing in any manner. They always had sought to instill in her and her sisters that to apologize was to allow weakness. And weakness was something that just couldn't be afforded for those of her station. You said what you meant and you meant what you said, damn the consequences.

She was pulled from being lost in her head when the short hair witch in front of her sat back in her chair and sighed.

"Oh, uh...," she brought a hand to rifle through the black locks of hair laying in front of her face. "Thank you. I forgive you. I took the whole thing out of proportion. I kind of have that issue sometimes. And I'm sorry for retaliating like that. It wasn't deserved. I treated you like a common mudblood. That was wrong of me." Bellatrix failed to see the slight wince as she finished as Emelia reached down to rub at her arm.

"Thank you for saying that Bellatrix. I appreciate it. And while we're on the subject of apologies, I'm also sorry for attacking you in class. That was just-"

"Awesome!" Bellatrix broke in, her face etched in amusement and excitement in equal measure.

"No one's beaten me yet except some dueling teachers. No one's ever been fast enough, whether I was looking at em’ or not. Where'd you learn to move so bloody quick?"

Emelia stretched out her arm to pass back Jörmun and looked off into the distant piles of random items.

"I was taught a few years ago. I Had to learn quick and It just kind of... Stuck."

"Well, that’s pretty cool. We should spar sometime," Bella stood up and brushed off her robes. What were you doing in here anyways? I've never been in this version of the room before. Plenty of other versions I’d needed but not this junk pile."

Emelia stood and stretched her body, gazing briefly around them before responding.

"I heard about the room from a friend before coming here. Heard about an item in it as well. Just wanted to see if I could find it. I got kind of… Emotional, when I couldn’t."

It only took Bellatrix a second to decide to help her rival.

"Well, what was it? I can help you look if you'd like. Certainly have an easier time exploring it all with two people at it, yeah?”

Emelie held herself rigid for a moment, crossing her arms and biting her lip before replying.

Unbidden a thought rushed through Bellatrix’s mind.

‘She's quite... Pretty.'

As the moment dragged on Bellatrix was about to wave the offer off and leave when Emelia finally replied.

"Sure. It's a tall mirror that arches at the top. The frame is made from bright gold. It should be as tall as us if not more. Trust me, you'll know it when you see it. There’s nothing else like it in here."

With the description given and a warmth flooding her cheeks, Bellatrix set off in search of the mysterious mirror. Jörmun coiled himself around her bicep and held on tightly as she raced around the available pathways. The room truly was a maze. Every so often she would need to double back when her current route would terminate in an insurmountable pile of junk. Once or twice she was sure she'd located the mirror only to find it was part of a vanity or cracked and broken. Nothing stood out in a way that said it was special .

---oo---

After wandering for what felt like forever but must have been only an hour or two at most she came across another dead end. When she went to turn around her eyes caught on a sliver of gold against the far wall. Halting her turn she walked forwards and approached the item side on. Looking on it side to side she realized it was mostly buried beneath a pile of moth-eaten robes that stood almost twice as tall as she was. Grasping the side of the object she held it steady while pulling out her wand and beginning to levitate the piles of robes into a far corner.

When the robes had finally been pulled away she placed her wand back into its holster and began to drag the item into the middle of the clearing. Once it was fully in place she let go and stepped around to what she assumed was it’s front. The sight of it all led her to know it was definitely what Emelia was looking for. It was just different from the rest of the junk in this place. A bright gold frame buttressed a flat perfect mirror that shone with the intensity only silver backing could give it.

As she viewed her reflection she came to a stop and gasped at the new sight in the mirror. Her reflection was being wrapped up in black and gray mist that only seemed to exist within the mirror space. It built up until she couldn’t even see herself reflected back before it slowly began to recede. When it had gone fully she was left staring at an oddly heartbreaking sight. The room was no longer reflected back along with her and instead it appeared she stood on a grassy field, flanked on both sides by two women. Slowly she came to realize it was her sisters that stood there. Taller and older it was still recognizably Andy and Cissa.

Cissa was taller and her hair was pinned up in regal elegance. She was dressed in a thin black dress and mourning veil. In contrast to the outfit she was smiling broadly. Andy was also taller, nearly a half foot more than Bellatrix. She was dressed in much the same as Narcissa. The only color to her was a bright gold ring hanging from a similarly colored chain around her neck. In the background of the trio were two gravestones hidden by their bodies so that she couldn't read the names engraved upon them. As she stared at the older versions of her sisters the mist swept back in and dissolved them both.

When it retreated again she was left staring back at herself in a floor length black dress and a black leather corset combination. She was wearing a ring on her left hand and if she squinted enough she could make out the Black family crest upon the face of it. In her other hand she held her wand with a white knuckled grip. A smaller ring that she guessed to be an engagement ring of some sort was sitting upon the floor by her feet. Behind her and to the right stood a man almost a foot taller than her, turned away from the mirror. His head was hanging in some emotion she couldn’t decipher while greasy black hair whipped back and forth from unfelt wind.

The more she looked the more she was sure that it was Rodolphus. Intrigued by the sight she walked forward and brought her fingertips to the mirror surface. She could see someone else standing in the distance behind them with a hood up but they remained far enough away that she couldn’t make out who it was. As she stared the gray mist swirled in again. It pulled the scene away and left the scene with her sisters behind. Mind racing and heart pounding Bellatrix stood entranced as the scene presented by the mirror switched back and forth.

After a few minutes where she began to feel lightheaded she caught herself and raised her wand in the air to wordlessly send out her patronus to find Emelia and lead her over. The small blue white crow flew from her wand tip and out over the walls of the aisle. While waiting she shifted from foot to foot while observing the mirror shift back and forth. The sound of shoes slapping against the floor finally alerted her to the arrival of Emelia.

---oo---

As Hermione rounded the corner she came upon Bellatrix shifting awkwardly. Bellatrix barely spared her a glance as she came to a stop beside her. The little crow patronus had led most of the way and the warmth of her scar had led the rest. Bellatrix still stood quietly entranced by the mirror and paid her no mind. It was as she'd last seen it, tall and imposing, arched at the head while twin golden spikes flanked the top. Even the engraving along the curving top was the same as the last time she'd found it. The mirror finish was clear and the gold surround it spotless and polished. She couldn’t help but wonder if Dumbledore had yet to ‘find’ the mirror back here or had placed it here himself.

"Bellatrix? What do you see?" That seemed to catch the witch from her stupor as she jerked to the side and threw a glance at Hermione.

"I see my sisters and I. And a pair of graves in the background. They're... Happy. Seeing this makes me happy. Em', what is this thing?" Bellatrix stepped backwards and turned with some reluctance to look at Hermione.

"The Mirror of Erised. It's enchanted to show you what your heart most desires, even if you don't know what that is before you see it. I'd heard it was here but wasn't really sure. Thank you for finding it Bella."

If Bellatrix was displeased by the nickname and tone of familiarity she didn't show it.

"So... What do you see Em'?"

Hermione watched as gray mist swaddled her mirrored form. As it withdrew it left behind Hermione standing in a patch of sunlight with her Father and Mother standing to her side, each with a warm smile upon their face.

"My family."

Bellatrix seemed appeased with that answer and took a few more steps backwards until she was at the far edge of the little dead-end they were ensconced in.

"What are you going to do with it?"

"Don't know," Hermione replied, "Hadn’t really thought I’d find it. I suppose I'll leave it. Let someone else find it in time. Maybe come back in a few months and see if its changed."

"Oh."

"Come on, we should get out of here. Slughorn will have our heads if no one can find us. And I'm starving. Want to grab lunch? Or I guess an early dinner at this point."

"Sure."

With that Hermione turned and led the dark haired witch down the path they'd arrived from. The silence as they walked was a strange comfort, as was the warm pain emanating from her scar. It had settled into a pulsing heat that beat in time with her heart. The only sounds were their feet upon the floor and the quiet sound of breathing.

"Hey Em," Bellatrix broke the quietude, "How'd you get that scar?"

Hermione's feet failed her and her body came to an graceless halt.

"What scar?" Her voice broke as she replied and her eyes widened painfully in shock.

"The one on your neck. It's peaking out your sweater. If you don't want to talk about it that's alright. I didn't mean to upset you."

Hermione's breath released in a rush as her heart slowed its breakneck pace.

She hasn't seen it, thank Merlin.

For now,’ the voice in the back of her head replied.

Beginning to walk again Hermione threw Bellatrix a soft look and shrugged her shoulders.

"I had a necklace on. I had an accident a few weeks ago. A piece of accidental magic heated it up until it burned me." Bellatrix gave her a sympathetic frown.

"Ouch."

"Yeah. But apparently I passed out, so I didn't even have to experience the worst of it. It's stiff sometimes and... Unsightly. But other than that it's just a mark."

Bellatrix nodded in affirmation as they continued the rest of the walk in silence. During the walk they took turns passing off Jörmun between them as the imitation snake wandered and explored. When they reached the entrance Hermione looked back towards the massive room scanned the piles of junk. Sitting far away but high enough to be seen upon a pile of old wooden chairs was a gleaming crown, a jewel among the detritus. Her heart panged in her chest and her breath quickened.

I'll deal with it later. I know where it is now.’

---oo---

Walking into the great hall with Emelia in tow was an interesting experience to say the least. Students of different houses gave them both a wide berth and questioning looks as they strode past while hushed whispers followed behind them. Whatever animosity the pair had shown towards one another was fueling the new speculation about why they were being seen together. For her part Emelia seemed to bare it well. Her head was held high and she spared nothing but disdainful gazes for those around them.

Bellatrix couldn't help but admire the regal manner in which she held herself. She didn't know much about the short haired witch's backstory and their shared time in the come and go room had left more questions than answers. Still she was more than content to wait and learn what she could. It didn’t help that the witch was beautiful. She wouldn't deny that. The close-cropped masculine hairstyle blended seamlessly into her facial features and choice of clothes in a way that brought a warm heat to Bellatrix's core.

As she shook her head loose of those thoughts they entered the Great Hall and picked a spot on a bench nearest the entryway. Their shared lunch was quiet and only interspersed every so often with vague personal small-talk and discussion over class work.

As they were preparing to leave the table Harmonia came swooping in above their heads while taking a swipe at a ragged looking owl before she landed.

Laughing quietly to herself at Harmonia's antics Bellatrix plucked the small scroll attached to her leg while Harmonia tapped at Emelia's fingers with her beak.

Her smile is beautiful ,’ thought Bellatrix as she worked to open the wax seal on the scroll, catching glimpses of Emelia as she fed strips of meat from her leftovers to Harmonia.

‘Your tutoring session has been moved to Sunday, 5pm. Your Head of House has been made aware of the time change. Do NOT be late.

-CBIII

Her heart dropped down into her stomach and she cursed lowly beneath her breath as she reread the scroll. Pocketing the parchment she stood from the table after scratching Harmonia on her neck and excused herself.

As she left she almost managed to convince herself that Emelia wasn’t wearing a crestfallen face at her departure.

Chapter Text

Almost immediately after Bellatrix had left two heavy bodies had sat down on her bench, flanking and bumping her shoulders. A redheaded girl as stockily built as a rugby player sat down with manufactured ease across from her at the same time.

"Um... Hello?" Hermione squinted at the interlopers before taking only a second to ponder out their identities. Gideon and Fabian Prewett, Ronald’s highly spoken of, and thoroughly deceased, uncles. Though which was which she couldn't tell.

"Hello Emelia," the twins started speaking in parallel.

"I'm Fabian-"

"I'm Gideon-"

‘That tells me nothing.’

Both had started off talking together, and she'd been staring at Molly when she’d arrived. It didn’t help that both had the same voice, filled with thinly veiled amusement and cheer.

"That's Molly, our lovely little Sister-"

"Not so lovely if you piss 'er off though,' eh?" The twin on the right finished for the left and Hermione leaned back slightly as she let her eyes unfocus. Molly just continued smiling gently as her gaze swung back and forth between the twins while they bantered.

"So we heard an interesting rumor Em'-"

"We can call you Em', yeah?"

"Sure-" she couldn't even finish a sentence before they began talking over her again.

"Well Em', ya see, we heard that-"

"You and a black snake got inna row-"

"During Tabby Cats class, and we was wonderin'-"

Oh bloody hell.’

"STOP," she finally managed to fit the word edgewise into their split conversation.

‘Merlin's arse, do they think with the same brain?’

Closing her eyes she took a deep breath in and steadied herself. She'd always thought dealing with Fred and George could be stressful but these two had them beat by an order of magnitude she hadn’t thought possible. Less than a full minute into a conversation with them and it felt like her brain was going to explode.

When she felt like she could continue conversing with them without the deep-seated desire to hex them into quietude she raised her eyelids and huffed.

"Alright. Molly,” she pointedly stared at the ginger witch, “Which one is which one. I haven’t caught a bit of what they’re on about.”

Molly smiled wide and deep at Hermione before moving to address her brothers.

“The one on your right is Fabian, left is Gideon. To distill what they’re on about, we heard you and Black got inna row a few days ago. You ask me, it’s about time.”

“Why?”

“Well, for one she’s a terrible person. Come end of next semester it’ll be seven years she had run of the roost, terrorizing muggleborns and anyone not Slytherin. She was a right terror, even as a first year. Ya’ ask me, the git needs a kick up the arse least once before she leaves.”

“That she does,” the twins echoed.

“Uh huh. Well,” Hermione got up from the long bench, “I have some work to finish up, so I’ll see you all around. Have a good day.”

As she left the Prewetts gave their goodbyes to Hermione’s turned back. She hadn’t intended to earn some form of notoriety from attacking Bellatrix. The weird offshoot that Bellatrix was somewhat impressed with her ability was startling enough even if it made her feel quite good about herself and her abilities. But now that other Houses were looking up to her action as a good thing it was starting to feel somewhat weird. She hadn’t gone at Bellatrix for interfering with the other Houses, just herself. The last thing she felt she needed was untoward praise for acting selfishly. She’d been wronged, gotten frustrated, and then done something about it. Lofty ideals of sticking up for the oppressed never entered the equation.

Lost in her own mind and surrounded by the echoes of her boots on the stone floor she never noticed the body planted like a tree in front of her. At least, not until she walked full tilt into it.

As her body collided and the force caused her to stumble she let out a quiet “Oof”, before reeling back and to the side to apologize.

“Sorry about that, didn’t-”

The words died on her lips as a large hand reached out and wrapped around her bicep before pulling her in close. The hand was like iron, strong and painful in all the ways that unjust captivity could produce. Startled at the sudden grip she looked up into the face of the individual and froze at seeing the malice behind his eyes.

“If you ever, and I mean ever, touch or attack Bellatrix again, you’ll lose your wand hand. You understand me?”

It didn’t take a genius to figure out who had interrupted her even if it was the first time she’d met him.

Rodolphus Lestrange was a tall, thin man. Lanky and muscular he stood almost a full head and a half taller than her. Bare fringes of stubble stood out on his face and his hair was a mop of greasy black stands haphazardly pushed in some semblance of direction. It was his eyes though that struck her the most. Such deep dark pools of inky blackness that she could hardly differentiate the pupil, they were filled with so much malice and hate that she was sure his gaze alone would light her on fire.

He shook her bicep roughly before repeating his question.

“I asked you a question, peasant. Or are you too dense to understand that.?”

Peasant? Really?’ Her brows furrowed as she digested his insult. ‘ Where the bloody hell’d that come from?’

Pulling her arm from his grip she swiftly stepped to the side and backed up to the edge of the hallway. She steeled him with a glare before turning to leave him behind and began heading towards the dungeons. When he didn’t move to call out to her she headed down the nearest staircase while trying to listen and discern if he was following her. It was only their first interaction, but she could already start to see the reasons why Bellatrix hated her soon to be betrothed.

---oo---

Hell.

That’s what she suspected. Any detention with Hagrid was bound to be hell. She’d heard enough stories from Harry and her other classmates to know he had a penchant for underestimating the danger of whatever task they would be assigned to. And Slughorn’s constant muttering that if it had been his decision they’d be copying lines, or preparing potions ingredients or something else similarly droll and monotonous wasn’t helping. But it hadn’t been up to him, as he was so keen on reminding them.

It all came together to appear that rather than come to an agreement on their punishments Dumbledore had instead strongly made Slughorn agree with his idea for punishment. The minute their Transfiguration class had ended McGonagall had shepherded them both to Slughorn’s office and left them to their fate without even a backward glance. From there he had hemmed and hawed until one of the resident ghosts floated through his ceiling with an urgent request from Hagrid that they arrive posthaste.

And now here she was, standing outside of his squat little cottage with the dark haired witch for company. Bellatrix had been an absolute terror since coming back from her tutoring session the day before and while she hadn’t gone after Hermione at all she had instead taken to tormenting younger students and grumbling under her breath at every available moment. Her eyes were ringed with lack of sleep and her hair was even more unkempt that usual. She distressingly reminded Hermione of the Bellatrix she would become rather than the kind and apologetic version who had helped her search the Room of Requirement the day before.

While Bellatrix continued grumbling lowly under her breath about ‘ Half-breeds’, Slughorn and Hagrid argued loudly inside the cottage over the definition of safe. For her part Hermione was a bundle of nerves imagining all the sorts of danger Hagrid could place them in.

Work on building relations with the pack of Centaurs living in the Forest? Not out of the picture. Finding Unicorns and hoping they weren’t impaled if they disliked them? Probable. Feeding a giant hive of Acromantula’s? Well within reason. Anything involving the forest or mystical beasts was a target for his hair-brained ideas of detention.

When Bellatrix let out a particularly loud slur against giant-kind Hermione elbowed the witch in her ribs.

“What?”

“Can you stop with the insults,” she asked quietly, “They’re getting tiresome.”

For a second it looked like Bellatrix would fight back against that. It wouldn’t be the first time and Hermione supposed it wouldn’t be the last. It passed however, and a reluctant frown filled her features.

“Sorry. Just… I’m really not enjoying spending an entire evening out here. Any idea what he’ll have us do?”

“Probably something-”

Not dangerous,” boomed Hagrid’s loud voice as he pushed his way out of the tiny door of the cottage. “Ello you two. Ya’ needn’t worry about danger, we’ll just be cleaning up after the D.A.D.A lesson from earlier.”

Hermione couldn’t help the smile that the sight of her old, young, friend brought out. He looked much the same, taller by far than any human and built in a way that suggested fat but really hid muscle. His beard was shorter and his hair closely cropped to his scalp, with no signs of gray to mar it yet. His eyes were kind and a jovial smile lit up his face.

Upon his shoulder sat a large coal-black cat with a single white patch of fur the size of a tennis ball on its chest. The eyes of the feline regarded the two witches with intense curiosity and a strong hint of dark intelligence. Seemingly having finished inspecting the two witches it hopped off his shoulder and trotted back into the cottage through the door that Slughorn was holding open.

“Ms. Black, good to see you again. And Ms. Grenier, pleasure to make your acquaintance.” He bowed slightly in their direction, as much his large bulk would let him.

“Pleasure to meet you too Hagrid,” Hermione replied as she stuck out her hand for a shake.

When the pleasantries were completed Slughorn bid them well and reminded Hagrid that they were to return to the castle before 10pm.

“Alright ladies, follow me please.”

---oo---

Hagrid had taken them on a winding route from his cottage to the far side of the forest nearest the quidditch pitch. Before they could see the area they could smell the smoke of burned wood wafting over the gentle breeze.

“Now, today you’ll be helpin’ me with something simple. Professor Mayweather went through methods of combatin’ Fiendfyre with the fifth years today and we’ll be locating any Ashwinders and their eggs that we can find.”

At the mention of the creature Hermione racked her brain for mention of them. Nothing came to light. Care of Magical Creatures had never been a course she’d been truly invested in, and the intervening years she’d spent away from it hadn’t helped.

“What are those?”

To her surprise it was Bellatrix who turned to inform her.

“They’re an all female species of snake. They form up from the ash of magical fires that’s been left to sit. They rise up, lay some eggs, and return to ash. The eggs are rare and used in all kinds of potions.”

Hermione couldn’t help but be impressed by her quick answer. Eventually she’d have to get over the fact that this version of Bellatrix was her equal, if not her better in certain subjects.

“Ms. Black is correct. Though generally only used in Dark potions, they have applications elsewhere that makes it worth saving em’. Since Mayweather’s just been piling on wood to demonstrate on we’ve let it all accumulate throughout the day. And the breeze hasn’t done much to  disperse it,” his booming voice rose in response.

Slowly they came upon fire blackened grass that led into a large open field similar in size to the quidditch pitch that was flanked by large stones that had been levitated into forming a perimeter wall. All throughout the space were piles of charcoal and ash in unrecognizable heaps. Three large wicker baskets sat sitting upon one another on the edge of the burned field. Hagrid walked up to them and handed one to each of the witches.

“Now, first things first. They bite but it’s non-venomous, so if you take a hit just run a quick heal on it and you’ll be fine,” he stopped to pointedly look at Bellatrix as the witch let the basket hang from one hand and leaned back to stare at the sky in an apparent show of boredom. “You’ll be ferreting em’ out if you see them. They hide to lay eggs and return to ash a bit after that. So you’ll be wantin’ to move em’ off if they’re still here and search for any eggs below a layer of ash or unburnt material. The eggs are hot so don’t burn yourself. Just hit em’ with a quick freeze and pick them up. If your basket gets filled just drop it off at the edge here and we’ll get you another.”

He clasped his hands together and grinned at the two of them.

“Any questions?”

“Nope!” Bellatrix was first to respond and immediately headed off into the ashes, wand out and eyes down.

“I think I’m good Hagrid, but if I think of any I’ll ask.”

“Right then,” he looked off to follow the path Bellatrix was taking, “Good luck!”

With that she was off. It was relaxing work to say the least. And so much less dangerous than she’d been dreading. She’d poke around with a foot or move burnt wooden logs out of the way and gently shoo off the little snakes before reciting an instant freeze spell and picking up the eggs. After all the time spent dealing with serpents in her original timeline she’d initially thought she’d have an aversion to even these but had instead found them to be quite… cute. Little beady red eyes sat into an oval head on a thin, small body. They almost looked albino if not for the reddish brown stripes down their back at even intervals.

They didn’t hiss or bite back at her and most only took a small nudge before leaving their clutch. It did leave her feeling somewhat sad though as she watched them slither a few feet before falling apart back into ash.

---oo---

After nearly two hours of combing through the field and as many full baskets she came upon a problem.

A particularly obstinate ashwinder was wedged underneath the charcoal remains of a wooden plank and a partially melted rock. Every time she attempted to nudge it out it would hiss fervently and back further into its little hiding place. Not wanting to damage the snake she’d refrained from lifting the pile of charcoal or moving the rock that was shielding it. She didn’t want to harm it if it was wedged in there tightly.

Eventually though she was sighing in frustration and anger. Nothing would get her to budge, and she’d bitten at her shoe enough to leave heavily noticeable marks. Just as her mounting frustration was about to tip over into anger a warm hand gently grasped her scarred forearm, breaking her concentration as she jumped back in shock.

“What-”

“Calm down Em’. Just me.”

She hadn’t even noticed the mounting warmth from her scar when Bellatrix had made her way over. Not that she thought she would have noticed even if she was looking. Being as near as she’d been to Bellatrix all afternoon had meant the scar had been active the whole time and had slowly faded into the back of her senses.

“This one not getting up?” the dark witch asked.

“No, she’s just wedged down in there and I’m afraid to just move everything. I don’t want to hurt her or the eggs.”

“Well,” Bellatrix crouched down and leaned towards the angry little eyes peering up at them, “Let’s see what her problem is.”

When Bellatrix began to speak Hermione’s eyes widened in disbelief. Surely she wasn’t hearing right, the snake must have put up a fuss again-

‘Nope. Not the snake.’

She huffed in indignation at the ease of it all. Bellatrix Black, on her knees getting her clothing covered in soot, speaking Parseltongue of all things, to a little snake that appeared to be conversing right back at her. The long-winded hisses and whispers of the language was something she hadn’t forgotten but truly hadn’t thought she’d ever hear again.

“How’re you-”

“Not now,” Bellatrix interrupted, before turning her attention back towards the snake.

After a few more seconds conversing in the odd language Bellatrix sat back on her haunches and rested her arms on her knees.

“She’s egg bound. We’ll need to pull her out of there and get the giant over here to help.”

Deciding that helping the snake should come before answers Hermione turned away and put her wand to her throat as she called out for Hagrid.

By the time he’d arrived Bellatrix had the poor snake out of its little den and was massaging the length of her back with soft fingers, hissing intermittently in quiet soothing tones.

“What’s up?”

“Hagrid, we found one holed up, I couldn’t get it out. Bella did,” Hermione informed him, not noticing the little glance Bellatrix shot her way at the nickname, “She says it’s-”

“She’s egg bound. It’s why she was so loathe to come out. Can you help her?”

Hagrid knelt next to Bellatrix and gently laid a finger almost twice as thick as the snake itself on her back, muttering below his breath as he observed her.

“Not good, not good at all. S’good you caught her here. I can take care of this, just need a mo’.”

Hagrid sat down cross-legged into the ash and stretched his hand out for the snake to lay on. Pulling her up he began massaging the little creature and speaking to himself. As he took care of the little snake Bellatrix stood back up and walked over to Hermione, crossing her arms and leaning against the witch’s shoulder as she watched Hagrid work.

“Ask your questions now Em’. I might not feel so inclined to answer later.”

Glancing to the witch on her right Hermione narrowed her eyes before replying in whispered tones.

“You know parseltongue.”

“Yes.”

“How? Isn’t it hereditary?"

Bellatrix looked at her softly before turning her gaze back to Hagrid and the little snake.

“Yes. But it’s also a language. And languages can be learned. All you need is a potion, a spell, and someone to teach you.”

“Well,” Hermione shifted uneasily, “Who taught you?”

“If I tell you, I want something in return.”

Well, now this was interesting. Her mind spun with questions of what the witch would want. A favor? Information? She had no unique physical items that could entice the witch, at least none that she knew of.

“What do you want?”

Now it was Bellatrix’s turn to narrow her eyes and mask her emotions.

“Occlumency. I know you’re good at it. Work with me on it til I’m as good as you,” Hermione opened her mouth to protest that, and question how Bellatrix knew she was even proficient at it.

“No, no questions on why. I know you’re good ‘cause I can practice mild legilimency. And you’re a wall. If you knew nothing I should at least be able to see something. Teach me occlumency, and I’ll do you one better than telling you who taught me. I’ll teach it to you.”

Really?’

Was learning something so often associated with the dark worth it? Would the hours of studying, and in turn teaching, be worth that?

‘Yes,’ she decided.

It was just a skill. That it was associated with dark wizards and witches was incidental. Almost all magic and knowledge were inherently middle of the road. It was what was done with that knowledge or magic that led it to be dark or light. And beyond that it was just intriguing. A skill and knowledge set she’d never have the chance to learn otherwise. She couldn’t certainly think of herself as The Smartest Witch of Her Age without striving to back that up.

Letting her eyes wander up and down her semi-friend before turning away and watching Hagrid gently place down the now spent snake she leaned over into Bellatrix.

“Okay.”

Chapter Text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Way to rub that in, yeah?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

---oo---

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

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

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

“Em’!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do I know how to deal with that?’

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

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

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

“Well, do you like them back?”

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

Hermione held up her hand to still the worried witch.

“I won’t say anything.”

She chose Lucius? I thought it was arranged?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So your advice is just see what happens?”

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

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

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

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

---oo---

Knock Knock Knock

Hermione shifted on her bed.

Knock Knock Knock

“Go away,” she mumbled into her pillow.

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

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

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

KNOCK-

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

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

“What do you want Bellatrix?”

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

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

Agreement? Oh. Right.’

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

“Watch me.” Bellatrix smirked as a response.

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

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

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

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

“Alright, let’s get started.”


Chapter Text

“I have to read all of this?”

“Yes.”

“I can’t. I’ll die.”

Hermione couldn't take it. This witch was supposed to become the most feared Death Eater of all time. And she was whining. About reading.

“No you won’t. It’s not even a lot.”

“Yes it is. Do you really hate me this much? Is this your plan? Death by paper-cut? Andy will avenge me. You'll be hounded into oblivion.”

“Argh,” Hermione grumbled out. “Are you trying to annoy me into canceling our arrangement?”

“No. Guess not. Teaching you parseltongue will be fun. I'll be a great teacher. Unlike you. You’re not a good teacher.”

“I haven’t even started teaching you yet!”

“And yet you’re giving me homework. Tsk Tsk. I think your lesson plan needs a rework.”

Exasperated to the point of near fuming, Hermione attempted to rein in her temper.

One, two, three, don't hex her, one, two, three…’

Grabbing the books from her hands she stood up from the bed and dropped them back onto the vanity. Turning around she glared the dark haired witch down with an icy stare.

“What would you suggest then?”

Bellatrix’s eyebrow shot up at the suggestion before she turned to observe the never changing view out into the Black Lake.

“Tell me how you do it,” she turned back, a genuine look of interest on her face. “Tell me what you do to keep people out. I don’t want the books, I want to try your methods. Besides, I’ve already read those books. And given my current state, they haven’t helped a bit.”

A frown graced Hermione’s lips at that. She hadn’t been aware the witch had tried on her own already, she’d just assumed Bellatrix knew nothing about the subject and had started her the same way she’d initially learned. It was… arrogant, she realized. She hadn't bothered to ask anything about her knowledge of the subject. Relaxing her posture she leaned back against the wall next to the vanity and sucked in air. Arrogance just wouldn't do.

“Well, if you're familiar on the theory we can run a refresher and I'll go through my variant. There’s a few ways counter legilimens but the most effective are built from three main avenues. One,” she ticked off a finger, “Empty your mind and make it so no one can see anything. Your emotions have to be under absolute control. You’re basically ceding the ability to feel in favor of calm, blank, openness. Personally it’s the hardest one for me.”

“Second,” she ticked off another finger, “Make a wall to keep them away from your mind, like a physical barrier in your mindscape that's high enough to ensure no one could scale it or see over. Or something like a fortification to hide your memories in. It’s a strong method but there are ways around it, and every memory or thought is still in some way available if your defenses are breached.

“Third,” she ticked off a final finger, “Redirection. Split apart or mix and muddle your mind to where no one can piece any of it together. One bit of a memory leads into another, into another, ad infinitum, always keeping what you want to hide unconnected or so pulled apart that it’s unrecognizable. Fabricating memories or hiding them with others of a similar emotional state falls under that. I mainly use a mix of the second and third methods. The easiest way to describe it is a castle made of mirrors. There might be a door or it might be a reflection. No way to know without checking them all, and there's infinite reflections.”

When she finished her explanation she waited for Bellatrix to say something. Anything. Instead, the witch was just staring at her with an inscrutable expression etched into her face.

“Bellatrix?”

“Yes?”

‘She’s not comatose. Thank Merlin .’

“Do you want to try any of the methods in particular?”

“I should have brought a quill. And parchment. I can’t remember a bloody thing you said.”

Oh gods.’

---oo---

The afternoon had continued well enough from there as Hermione described the individual styles in more depth and the blending that could be used to more effectively hide things. Bellatrix adopted a rather attentive mood and seemed more invested. They hadn’t gone far but by the end of their study session she’d gotten Bellatrix to agree to making an honest attempt at meditation and a promise to reread the texts she’d tried giving her earlier.

After they’d exhausted all training both witches had ended up sitting side by side against Hermione’s headboard in a companionable silence. Hermione’s hand moved back and forth as she gently massaged her scarred forearm at intervals, trying to work the warmth rolling off her scar into the muscle beneath it. Despite the objectively poor start to her day it had ended well. She’d gained some trust with Narcissa and by all accounts Bellatrix was committed to keeping friendly relations with her.

She’s nothing like Lestrange. Yet…’

She couldn’t deny that it would be an interesting mystery to uncover. Was it all to do with Voldemort? Had his influence really shaped her that much? The unhappy union with Rodolphus? Or was it the loss of Andy? It wouldn’t take a half-kneazle a minute to see the strength and camaraderie the two near-twins shared.

She remained carefully ensconced in her reverie until a thin hand was laid upon her clenching fist. Turning to look at Bellatrix she relaxed her grip and released her forearm.

Merlin’s beard her hand is warm.’

“What’s up?”

The witch’s hand left her own and she tried to pretend the lost of contact didn’t sting.

“You get lost in your head easy, don’t you?”

“I,” Hermione’s face and throat tinged at an unexpected blush, “Yeah… I guess. It’s a habit I suppose.”

“Well as much as I love sitting in silence while staring at nothing, I can do that in my own bed. So let’s talk.”

“Okay. About…?”

The witch beside her brought her knees-up and hugged them to her chest.

“Why do you have a prefect’s single?”

“No female Slytherin prefects this year, and I got here early. Slughorn didn’t mind.”

“Why’d you get here early?”

“Family issues.”

“Like…?” Bellatrix asked, letting her head loll to the side to look up at Hermione.

“Rather not talk about it if that’s alright.”

Bellatrix squinted her eyes and looked ready to press the question before turning away again and letting out a sigh.

“Favorite animal?”

“Otter. You?”

Bellatrix eyed her again with a warm smile on her face.

“Ravens. Like Harmonia.”

Fitting,’ she thought. ‘ Guess that explains the pendant.’

“Would you want to be an animagus?”

The question caught her off guard, and she took a minute to think it over.

“It would be, I mean… I'd like to but the hassle isn't worth it.”

Bellatrix took the moment after her reply to stretch out on the bed and prop herself up on her elbow.

“Well why not do it as unregistered?”

“Because,” she sputtered, “It's illegal. You could get thrown in Azkaban. And not to mention getting ahold of the ingredients for the potion. And what if it went wrong? You'd be a half animal freak for the rest of your life.”

Bellatrix stared at her with a bemused smile on her face while Hermione listed her reasons.

“You're looking at it too critically. Any git who gets an O in Transfiguration should be able to do it. It's not that dangerous as long as you follow the instructions.”

“But it is illegal,” she replied as sternly as she could. Truth be told she was interested in it. Just not interested in the time investment, privacy loss and possible complications.

“Only if you get caught,” Bellatrix stated plainly.

Hermione rolled her eyes at Bellatrix and crossed her arms over her chest defensively.

“Okay, so even if we had a way around getting caught there's still the ingredients to think of. I don't even know how much it'd all cost, and finding unspoiled dew would be a nightmare in preparation.”

“We, huh?” Bella's eyebrow quirked up in amusement.” Well, since it's we now, I guess we can have another trade. So long as you swear to not speak a word of this to anyone besides Andy or myself.“

“What's Andy have to do with this?”

Bellatrix sat up on the bed and leaned into Hermione, dropping her voice to a conspiratorial whisper.

“Vow to not talk about this to another soul besides Andy and I, then I'll tell you.”

Hermione gave her a once over, wondering if this was in some way or form a trick intended to catch her out for… Something.

‘Gryffindor courage, right?’

She placed her right hand forward, palm up, and waited for Bellatrix to grasp her arm. When she did she gripped down and steeled her gaze.

“I, Emelia Grenier, vow to not speak of this with anyone besides Andromeda Black and yourself.”

With a knowing smile Bellatrix released their linked hands after a warm sensation flowed between the two of them at the contact point.

“Good. Not as good as an Unbreakable, but I'll know if you tell anyone. And with your head so locked up I doubt anyone'll read it off you.” Leaning back against the headboard but still leaning into Hermione, she began. “Andy got me some ingredients for the potion before we returned this year. She got me enough extra that we could both do it. Though I think she just thought I’d fail it a few times first.”

“Andy approves of this?” Hermione interrupted.

“Yep,” the witch replied, popping the ‘P’.” She's known I wanted to do this for awhile now. But she's not interested enough to do it herself.”

The thought was intriguing. Cut through the meters thick red tape. Apply her knowledge. Hide it all from teachers.

“I'm in. One last question. Why me?”

“Like I said, she got me extra. And odd as it sounds coming from me, I think we'd be good friends. It doesn't hurt that we're neck n’ neck in Transfig. And to be honest it would be safer to do this with someone else. I’m not saying that the danger is as bad as we're told, but, yeah. That’s why.”

---oo---

The following week and a half was a relaxing change of pace. No one besides Rodolphus seemed to be actively pitting themselves against her and the monotony of classwork was easy to sink back into. Her afternoons were consumed with helping Bellatrix master Occlumency, ensconced safely in the Room of Requirement. Though her own Legilimency skills were subpar at best she still took pains to test Bellatrix as much as possible. The time and practice allowed both witches to improve significantly in occlumency and legilimency as the days progressed.

Outside of the room she’d attempt to breach her defenses while in classes or eating meals, looking for any and every opportunity to put her new student to the test. The results were surprising. By the end of the week and a half Hermione was completely unable to breach Bellatrix’s walls, regardless of her own increase in legilimency. After some time Bellatrix had finally decided to model her defense after Hermione’s own. A funhouse in the shape of a mansion, tall and imposing, constructed of mirrored thoughts and emotions that drew her in and held her lost, unable to look for anything substantial.

Checking that the coast was clear Hermione entered the seventh floor hallway and silently made her way to the entrance for the Room of Requirement. Focusing on her need she opened the door and walked into the perfect study room.

Tall bookshelves lined the walls flanking her, mahogany and multi tiered they held hundreds of books. It had only taken a little specificity and the contents were now made up of legilimency, occlumency, and other mental magic related works. Two shelves had been devoted to varied language dictionaries, parseltongue, and xenoglossia. A final shelf was filled with information on Animagus related topics from theory to application. Hermione loved it. The rest of the room was furnished according to Bellatrix’s wishes, a single large worn leather couch with an accompanying ottoman and a fireplace taking up nearly three quarters of the far wall. The walls were a rich burgundy color that was devoid of ornamentation.

Dropping her bag she reached the shelf on Xenoglossia and brought out one she’d been reading yesterday. Settling into the far end of the couch her bookmark floated out as she continued on from her last place.

It wasn’t long before Bellatrix flung open the door. Hurrying over to the couch she dropped a large leather satchel onto it and hopped over the back, landing in a heap next to Hermione. Blowing errant curls from her face she looked up at her and grinned.

“You’re unusually chipper today,” Hermione noted.

“Yep!”

Hermione snatched her bookmark from the air in front of her and placed it between pages.

“Any particular reason why?” Hermione questioned, a smile gracing her features at the dark haired witch’s enthusiasm. Bellatrix nodded vigorously, wild black curls flying around her head. “Are you going to tell me the reason or…?”

With an exaggerated sigh Bellatrix stilled and brought her satchel to her lap. Reaching inside she brought out a thin phial that was no taller than her pinky fingers length. Inside was a swirling liquid, deep green with flecks of silver sparkling into and out of existence. The top was shut with a dark black cork and sealed with a wax ring along the edges.

“Is that what I think it is?” She asked.

“Yes!” Bellatrix nearly screamed at the top of her lungs. “I got it two days early! Turns out repeatedly threatening someone when you know they’re futzing about can lead to them magically finding the last ingredient. Lucky me, eh?”

While Hermione wasn’t thrilled with the manner in which Bellatrix had gotten the potion finished she was excited that it was finally here.

“Lucky us you mean. So, what do we do?”

Bellatrix hopped off the couch, a small oval coffee table popping into appearance in front of the fireplace. She dropped her satchel down heavily on the surface and pulled her wand from its holster on her wrist.

“Honestly not much Em’. You down this here little potion, I say some magic words, and then we practice speaking to one another. It shouldn’t take long! Least it didn’t for me. We’ll just have to see how you do.”

Indignant at the veiled bragging, Hermione leaned back into the couch and narrowed her eyes at the witch.

“If it only took you a short while, I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it in half the time.”

Smirking at Hermione the dark witch passed the potion over after breaking the seal.

“Bottoms up,” Hermione whispered, downing the potion immediately after in one gulp. It had a smooth taste that hinted at something  tangy like a fruit but masked by a delightfully earthy aftertaste. Once she’d finished and stoppered the phial Bellatrix placed her wands tip at Hermione’s temple, a look of concentration etched into her face.

Ad Serpentes Dedit Lingua

The words came out almost as a single breath, flitting one right into the other. Hermione felt a warmth settle through her temple. It was almost a headache but filled with warmth instead of pain. The feeling took a minute to settle and Hermione looked up at Bellatrix as the witch placed her wand back and sat down. After a minute of silence between them Hermione became restless.

“Well? How do we know it worked?”

“I’ll try talking to you, let me know if you understand any of it.”

Hermione shifted on the couch to face Bellatrix as the witch began murmuring in a soft hissing tone. She could almost make out syllables in the sound, becoming stronger as Bellatrix continued. After a half hour of the continued hissing Hermione could catch the bare hint of true words. Pulling her legs up on the couch she pulled them cross-legged and propped her chin in her hands to allow her elbows to rest on her knees. Concentration overtook her features as her ears settled into the sounds.

::You definitely…. In the amount…. Me::

“I heard you!” She shouted, throwing up her arms in triumph as Bellatrix jumped back with a flinch.

::So you can… me now?:: Bellatrix mouthed slowly, recovering from her shock. She was smiling as she spoke, clearly pleased her potion and spell had worked appropriately.

“I can mostly understand you. Some parts still come through as more of a ‘hiss’ than anything, but I almost fully understood that last sentence.” She replied, leaning back against the arm of the couch. “How do I speak it? Is it just like ::talking normally?::”

This time it was Bellatrix’s turn to yell excitedly, understanding the last bit of Hermione’s reply.

“Yes!”

---oo---

Chapter Text

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.

‘How?!’

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.

---oo---

“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.

“Okay.”

“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.

Chapter Text

Jittering flashes of nervous energy ran up and down Hermione’s splayed limbs. Neither witch had yet to comment on their shared moment beside the lake but it was all she could focus on. They hadn’t exchanged vows. Hadn’t pledged love or fealty to the other. Hadn’t even kissed. But she couldn’t help but recognize it as a more intimate moment than she’d ever shared with a previous lover.

It just… had happened. Nothing to look too deeply into.’

She could relax herself by repeating to herself that the jitters and nerves and flutter deep in her abdomen came only from the act of defying rules. Doing something illegal but new and different. That they didn’t stem from the beautiful witch who’d worked her into action with a single word. Bellatrix inspired emotion, she wouldn’t deny that. The witch was gorgeous and smart, witty enough to hold banter and cleverer than their peers by leaps and bounds. She was also conniving, ruthless, and temperamental. Bound by strange familial abuses she wouldn’t share and fed on pure-blood fanaticism and affluence.

She’d never want someone like me.’

The sidelong glances Bellatrix was giving her had to be innocent. She couldn't deny that to an outsider it must have looked intimate. She was laid half on top of Bellatrix as the witch leaned back against the headboard of Hermione's bed, Bella’s fingers and sharp nails rubbing soothing patterns against her scalp and neck. But she was just tired and the mad dash they'd made from the edge of the lake and back to her dormitory had surely worn out Bella as well. Nothing to worry about here. They were clearly just grounding themselves back in reality.

“Em’?” The witch beneath her questioned softly. Her warm voice was still somewhat stilted as she adjusted to speaking around the leaf in her mouth. Before they’d left for the dorms both of them had determined that parseltongue was far easier to speak than English right now but had decided that they’d need to force themselves to speak normally as soon as possible. It wouldn’t do to be found out so early into their trial or risk losing the leaf and needing to restart the entire venture.

Hermione twisted her neck and upper torso around to look the witch in the eyes.

“Yeah Bella?”

“I know what I want. For your half of the trade.” She looked away from Hermione’s eyes before continuing. “Come with me to one of my tutoring sessions. Just one at least.”

What??’

Hermione’s face betrayed the depth of the surprise she found herself awash in at the request. She’d  imagined a multitude of things the witch could request of her but a request to join her hadn’t even crossed her mind.

Bellatrix’s eyes found her again as she continued staring expectantly, clearly awaiting a verbal assent. Screwing up her courage Hermione looked her dead on and nodded her head.

“Sure thing. Just let me know when. I’ll let Slughorn know where I’ll be. He shouldn’t have a reason to disagree with it.”

She was fairly sure she knew exactly who Bella’s tutor actually was. The witch had fought hard to keep any memories pertaining to her lessons away from the school hidden deep and obscured by switchbacks. But it didn’t make much sense for it to be anyone else and the few minuscule peaks she’d gotten in Bella’s head made it clear enough. She knew she’d need to speak with Dumbledore before she left. It was something that he ought to know if for nothing else than to know where she might be if she didn’t return.

“Wicked. You’ll like him, I promise. He’s like an open book. He knows about like, hundreds of topics, all different kinds of magic.” She flashed Hermione a sharp toothed smile. “If you like it I can ask him if you can stick on. I’m sure I could get my father to agree as well.”

When she finished speaking she pushed herself further back into the soft mattress and pillows beneath them. When she’d slid far enough into them Hermione’s body shifted further back into the witch. One arm wrapped around Hermione’s midsection while the other curled protectively across her chest to leave her hand curled around her neck.

“Thanks for agreeing to this Em’. Thank you for doing this with me.”

“No problem Bella... I should be the one thanking you”

Quite against her own wishes Hermione's eyes began to close. Wrapped into the warmth behind her and soothed by the burn in her arm. Her last thoughts before drifting off were loud and clear before dissipating into a soft murmur.

This is definitely not innocent…’

---oo---

“Orange Dragonpop.”

As she spoke the password the gargoyle began to grind and swivel its way clear of the hidden staircase. Soft light drifted down from above as she ascended.

Waking up alone in her bed had been disappointing to say the least. She’d been wrapped up in blankets with a pillow clutched tightly between her legs and arms. No soft witch waiting to greet her. She’d buried her head into the pillows behind her and concentrated until she could still focus on the faintest scent of the witch. As the feelings of safety and security evaporated she’d finally determined that she couldn’t put off meeting with the Headmaster.

And so she found herself here, knocking at his door and hoping he’d have enough time and patience to see her. Even though she didn’t completely trust the manipulative old man she’d felt compelled to make sure he was aware of her situation. The soft sound of slippered feet reached out beyond the door to his office. With a creak and a groan it opened inward until the sleepy face of the Headmaster peeked out. Hermione was surprised at the change in his appearance. He looked far better than when she’d seen him last.

His beard and hair were no longer unkempt and unruly. The bags beneath his eyes had disappeared, and he seemed full of energy. As he smiled down on her he pulled the door until it was fully opened to her. Stepping aside he raised out an arm and directed her towards an open chair facing his oversized desk. Following his direction she took a seat in a plush chair. He followed her closely behind, walking around the desk and sinking languidly into his seat.

“Good morning to you Ms. Grenier.” He smiled gently at her. “I would offer you a lemon drop, but I believe it’s too early for sweets. Now, how can I help you today?”

She took a moment to breathe deeply and settle her nervous jitters.

“Headmaster, how much of the future did you see when you viewed my mind?”

It made her uncomfortable to start off their talk this way but knew that putting it off wouldn’t make it any easier. At least this way she had control of the conversation.

“Hmm…,” Dumble mumbled to himself before leaning back in his chair and tapping his fingers. “To put it bluntly Ms. Grenier I saw enough. Not everything mind you, but the gist of it and some moments that held emotional weight for you. Enough of the broad strokes to give me an inkling of the trials to come.”

“So you’re aware of Voldemort?”

Calm, keep calm…’

“Yes Ms. Grenier. I am aware of the threat that Tom poses to our way of life. If I may ask, why bring this up now?”

Now or never.’

“I’ve struck up a friendship with Bellatrix Black. Not because you brought it to my attention sir. I fell into it quite on accident. Yesterday she asked me to join her for one of her tutoring sessions. I’m not one hundred percent sure but I believe her tutor is Voldemort.”

Later she couldn’t be sure of it but at the moment she finished speaking she could have sworn that his eyes swam with a predatory gleam.

“I’m had suspected as much myself Ms. Grenier. I’ve heard stirrings he had returned to the UK. If it is him, Ms. Black isn’t the only student receiving attention from Tom. But why bring this up to me now? You could have gone to see him without my knowledge or input whatsoever so long as Horace agreed to your leave.”

She knew it was a valid question. She held no allegiance to him beyond what he’d given her since her arrival, and if she’d been someone else she could have brushed the debt off as paid and gone her own way. She broke eye contact with the Headmaster and instead focused her gaze upon the fire blazing cheerily in its hearth at her side. Fawkes was leisurely perched above the fire, preening himself and taking looks at the two of them intermittently.

She didn’t have any better answer than the truth.

“I don’t know. It just figured to be the sort of thing I should bring up.”

The Headmaster looked down at his lap and shifted back and forth before a great sigh made its way through him. She couldn’t help but sheepishly look back at him while he digested her answer.

“Thank you for bring it to my attention Emelia.”

Hermione felt a shiver run unpleasantly down her spine. No matter who called her that name it never truly felt real. She was resigned to never feeling comfortable with it. Bellatrix was the only person that could make it sound natural.

“If you would indulge me, I think attending would be a good idea. I’m not saying you would have to, but quite frankly it could be useful to our cause.”

Our cause? Whose cause? Since bloody when is this our cause?’ It infuriated her that he would just add her to his army like a pawn chessboard. She wouldn’t be his little soldier just because he said it was so. He’d done that with Harry and nearly killed him.

He continued on speaking, not noticing or choosing to ignore the little scowl that she threw his way.

“Any information you glean from the meeting would be beneficial. If nothing else you could get a sense of him in this time. He is a man to be feared, and rightly so. But likely not in the way you might be used to. He is a free man with no accusations against his name. Perfectly willing and able to walk down a street in broad daylight. People may flee from the darkness they feel reaching out from him but there’s currently nothing we can do about it. Learn what you can, and maybe we can change that.”

In the end his request amounted to about what she’d expected. Meet him, satisfy Bellatrix’s request, report back any interesting information she managed to learn. Simple enough. Even if she didn’t enjoy the idea of being conscripted into his cause.

“Thank you Headmaster. Her next session is Tuesday, I’ll report back Wednesday afternoon.”

“Good, good. Now since that’s settled, I have something else I’d like to discuss with you.”

Oh no.’ Her first reaction was worry that he knew about their attempt to become Animagi. Her second was to wonder at how he could even know.

“One of my contacts in the Canadian Ministry has been in touch. When he found out that the last descendant of the Grenier line had shown up here, he requested a quick test to determine your true lineage.”

“But,” she broke in, “I’m not related to them. You’ve told them no, right?”

“Oh Merlin no. I’ve told him we’ll have a sample sent off by this Thursday at the latest.”

Hermione felt herself pale at his nonchalant statement.

“Headmaster I-”

“Don’t worry dear, we’ve got just the thing to take care of it. We’ll just need to perform a small blood ritual,” Hermione wasn’t sure it was possible but her face paled even further at his suggestion. “Once the ritual is completed you’ll show as a true Grenier to any inheritance checks that might come up in the future.”

“But Headmaster, blood magic is-”

“Dark? Well, usually yes. And when used for less savory needs, it’s even more so.”

Hermione let the thought roll around in her head. It was technically Dark magic. But then again, all the literature said that parseltongue was too. And she’d effectively jumped head first into learning that. The more she thought on it the more she was okay with the magic behind it. It was the use case though that bothered her. She would be defrauding whoever administered the test. She’d be lying in the strongest way possible. Permanently altering herself to fit a lie. It wasn’t something she was sure she could handle. Then again when she'd first arrived she wasn't sure she'd handle that transition either.

In the end her fracturing qualms on the subject didn’t matter. It was a protection she was being freely given and a knowledge set she’d yet to acquire. And she couldn’t really complain about the legality of it while going behind both the school and the Ministry to become an Animagus.

“Okay. What do I need to do?”

---oo---

The conversed at length about the magic behind the ritual and the mechanics of what was going to occur. By the time they’d finished and Hermione felt comfortable with it the morning had passed into noon and they adjourned for a quick lunch supplied by house elves. Dumbledore called up Minerva once they were ready to begin and placed her in a position to oversee the ritual. The inclusion of the professor helped settle any remaining nerves she had.

She stood in a runic hexagram painted out of the floor of Dumbledore’s office. The hexagram was stretched out further from top to bottom than side to side, with the inside of each triangular edge portion was filled with a glyph. She assumed it was written in blood, human or otherwise, but declined to ask. Some questions were better left unanswered and blood magic was considered Dark for a reason.

Runes marked the top and bottom portion of the hexagram and matching symbols were painted onto her palms. Minerva began a low chant in a language that Hermione couldn’t recognize once Dumbledore proclaimed them ready to begin. He handed her two ruby colored stones that were nearly the size of golf balls.Their surface felt coarse and grainy as she held onto them tightly. Within a few minutes of taking hold of them a burning sensation began to worm its way through her palms, though the stones remained cool to the touch. The heat traveled her arms and she could swear she felt her own blood singing in the magic.

After a brief flash of amber light it was all over. The stones turned to piles of ash in her hands and the heat was quickly swept away. Her first action was to palm the scar on her arm and feel out if it was altered in any way. After a second or two of not detecting anything different she let go. She could still feel the distant presence of Bella, through a faint pulse.

“Well,” Dumbledore started as cheery as ever, “Now then. WIth that out of the way, who’d like a sweet?”

---oo---

Tuesday came upon her before she had a chance to question the wisdom of her decision. Monday had been quiet, easy classes and nothing to distract them. Neither Bellatrix nor herself had sought to talk about the intimacy they’d shared over the weekend. Hermione couldn’t help but be somewhat disappointed at that.

Up until her last class on Tuesday she felt herself in a rut. Nothing held her attention, and she constantly felt racked by nervous energy that she could feel building up with no release. To appease her overactive mind she’d spent free time drawing out the final look of the runes for their revamped occlumency enchantment.

When the last class of the day was dismissed she grabbed up her parchments and supplies before stuffing them into a satchel and nearly sprinting out the door. A mop of long black curls awaited her outside, leaning up against the opposite wall.

“Ready?”

“As I'll ever be.”

“Good,” Bellatrix left the wall and started walking to the entrance. Hermione glued herself to her side as they passed through the entrance doors and out into the courtyard. No one chose to interrupt them but the few glances she got from the Gryffindor students that saw them were scathing and suspicious.

Bellatrix was unusually quiet as they walked. Her steps were filled with energy and her movements were sharp and quick but nothing was said. As they walked beyond the wards that covered the front gates she turned towards Hermione and held her arm out for her to hold on to.

“So when we get there it'll just be us and my tutor. Cygnus has been barred from attending.” Her eyes gained a distant glean as she informed Hermione. “Don't look him in the eyes, and don't give him lip. He's more temperamental than me.”

Grabbing hold of Bellatrix proffered arm she braced her core muscles as she felt the pull of apparition. One nauseas moment later and she was standing outside of a large wrought iron gate, tall and spiked. In the distance an imposing mansion stood gleaming against the mid-afternoon light. Tall and gleaming white it put the Malfoy estate to shame.

It sat at the end of a hard packed earthen road. The building itself was buttressed on the sides by a deep evergreen forest. Tall oaks and pines stood sentinel amidst shrubs and saplings licking at their heels. The front promenade that led to the entrance was walled in by pear trees, magically enhanced to bear fruit throughout the year. A sparkling fountain stood front and center before gleaming white steps that led into the manor proper. On either side tall columns of marble rose from the first step to support the overhang of the roof.

“Welcome to the Chateau de Mort,” Bellatrix commented dryly as Hermione soaked the view in. “Seat of the Noble and most Ancient House of Black.” As she finished Bellatrix waved her arm in an exaggerated fashion towards the manor.

Hermione couldn't help the small laugh that escaped her at Bellatrix's antics.

“Less than a year and I'll be free of this hellhole. And off to another.”

Hermione observed a dark look that gathered on the witch’s features before she shook it off and offered her arm to Hermione.

“We've dallied enough, best not to keep the Lord waiting. Shall we? ”

With a split-second of hesitation Hermione took hold of the proffered arm and walked with Bellatrix along the winding drive to the manor proper. She could almost convince herself it would be a lovely place to live in, if it wasn't for the heavy presence of Dark magic that lay upon them like summer humidity. No bugs or birds sang with the exception of the ravens flying to and from a corner window of the manor and the further they walked the heaviness increased. How Bellatrix and her sisters could have managed to live here for any length of time was beyond her. Calling the atmosphere oppressive would have been an understatement.

As they reached the front door, ancient looking and massive, they swung upon on their own accord and a diminutive house elf apparated into appearance just beyond the threshold.

“Mistress Bellatrix, the Lord is most displeased. He requests your presence in the back gardens.” The small creature was dressed in what Hermione thought might have once been a potato sack, though it was so old and threadbare it barely covered it. The poor thing was trembling in fright and Hermione couldn't help but feel her heart go out to the poor elf.

“Thank you Naya, please inform Lord Voldemort that we'll be right there, and offer him our apologies.”

The elf began elaborately bowing as it shuffled backwards before mumbling a quick “Yes Mistress” and disapparating.

If Bella noticed the stiffness that Hermione moved with she didn't comment on it. Or maybe she just mistook it for nervousness at meeting someone so narcissistic and we'll bred enough to adopt the title of Lord.

On their way to the back of the manor Hermione took quick but stilted looks around the area. Two winding staircases on either side of the entrance hall wrapped up against the left and right walls to meet at a landing that built the mezzanine for the first floor. The ground floor entrance was otherwise undecorated, hardwood floors and unblemished white paint with a black and gold trim. A double door beneath the stairway landing was opened out to a magnificent parlor room that was larger than the ground floor of Hermione's own home.

Hermione was no stranger to the comforts of a wealthy life, having two dentists as parent’s had ensured that. But still the opulence within view was staggering.

High backed armchairs and plush couches sat ringed around ornate tables that held empty crystal glasses and tumblers. A row of mid height bookshelves lined the walls and held various trinkets and liquors in ornately carved decanters. A single large fireplace held dominance of the right side wall, above which the mantel held a large slate gray broadsword supported on iron hooks. Stuffed heads from a multitude of magical and mundane creatures lined the walls. Rare, endangered, and extinct creatures were all on morbid display.

The only oddity that she'd noticed right off was the lack of portraits or paintings of any kind. Both this parlor and the entrance hall held no pictures, no family portraits. Nothing.

Before she could delve into questioning that discrepancy they reached a pair of glass doors that led to a veranda that wrapped around the backside of the manor. A tall man in a slim black robe was standing beyond the doors, leaning against the short railing that fenced the raised area in.

Almost immediately she could feel something scrabbling around the outside of her mind, seeking entrance. The brazen attempt at reading her with legilimency was more aggravating than terrifying.

The hell does he think he is?’

As they stepped towards him after passing through the doorway he turned around. Hermione's eyes widened in shock, though she schooled her features as soon as she could. He looked normal. Almost.

The pre-death Voldemort stood tall and thin. A gaunt and sickly pallor lent an ethereal look to his complexion. His hair shined with oil, slicked back flat against his pate. His cheeks were sunken in and his nose hooked forward to lend definition to a crooked sneer. His eyes were small and black, his pupils ringed in by bloodshot capillaries. She felt a shiver as they bored into her.

When they came within a few feet of him Bellatrix halted and performed a low curtsy that Hermione had trouble replicating in her haste.

“My lord, apologies for our tardiness. We were delayed in setting out.” Bellatrix kept her eyes firmly forward on Voldemort’s chest as she spoke in a subdued and deferential tone.

“No matter,” he spoke before running his eyes up and down Hermione. “Now that you’re both here, let’s begin.”

Chapter Text

‘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.”

Chapter Text

The first faint stirrings of consciousness brought with it the reminder of how unpleasant a lack of sleep could be. Her head was pounding and her throat and mouth were dry as bone. She’d had her fair share of late nights studying during her early years and her time on the run with Harry and Ron had been filled with a lack of sleep. But it never did seem to get easier. Promising herself to get at least eight hours of sleep going forward she collected the feeling of her limbs and assessed the foreign weight on her body.

She was surrounded by warmth in a tight grip. She dimly registered lying flat against the mattress while her head was pressed into a corner beneath a soft pillow. The grip on her tightened in reaction to her mild movement, crushing her more in security than a threat. Scents of pine and fresh ground after a rain floated through her head. Soft black curls were splayed out against her face to tickle her nose and cheeks. Rounding it all up she decided it was heaven even with the lack of proper rest.

The gears in her sleep addled mind began to turn.

‘Long hair?’

Her mind shot to full consciousness as she finally recognized the other presence that had become tightly wound around her. Brown eyes fluttered open in short bursts as she brought her free hand up to brush away the hair covering her face. The curls fell softly to the side before stopping against the sleeping form on top of her. Her cheeks flushed with warmth and heat as she looked down upon the snoring form of Bellatrix. At some point in the night the witch had abandoned her chosen side of the bed and instead found Hermione to be a much more comfortable spot. Not that Hermione was complaining in the slightest. It wasn’t every day she’d wake with a beauty nestled against her.

Across the room an enchanted silver bell began to ring as it sat upon her vanity. The soft tinkling sound was usually all she’d need as an alarm. Unfortunately she’d placed it across the room so it would force her to get up. And now it would force her from this wonderful heat.

Cursing her eternally too rational mind she twisted herself sideways until her head and neck were hanging off the bed. Scooting forward and pushing back against Bella’s shoulder she slowly slid away from her clutches and off the bed. When her grip gave way she landed unceremoniously onto the cold floor, shivering at the sudden loss of heat. Once she regained control of her limbs she stumbled over to the bell and reset it with two gentle taps.

Once free of the sound she stood to her tiptoes and stretched her body out. Kinks rolled out of her shoulders and her back popped while a deep yawn came out. Her eyes wandered helplessly to the witch currently snoring into her bed.

‘She’s beautiful.’

Hermione found that no other words could quite encompass her thoughts. Bella’s wild and untamed curls framed her face in a dark halo. Her body rose gently as she snored and occasionally her eyes darted back and forth beneath heavy lids. Her bathrobe had ridden down her body at some point in the night to leave her cream colored shoulders and part of her back exposed. Hermione’s chest warmed at the contrasting sight of the soft skin against her dark bedspread. Gathering her courage she stepped lightly to the side of the bed and laid a hand against the witches bare shoulder. Shaking her lightly she began calling her name.

“Bella, classes start in two hours. Time to wake up.”

After a few more moments of pestering the witch began to stir beneath her hand. An unintelligible grunt met her ears and the witch attempted to burrow further into the bed.

“Come on Bella.”

Planting her hand more firmly against her should she continued shaking her until dark black eyes opened up beneath a wave of curls and stared her down.

“Sod off.”

“Can’t,” Hermione smiled to herself, “You’re in my bed. In my room.”

“Well, that’s stupid. It’s mine now,” Bellatrix grumbled as she twisted among the sheets to look at Hermione head on.

Squinting her eyes and crossing her arms over her chest, Hermione sat down on the edge of the bed and pinned the witch with a stare.

“And how does that work exactly? This now being your room?”

“Because I’m in it. Possession is nine tenths and all that. And I was born this generation. I’ve the stronger claim to it. Time traveling mudbloods not allowed.”

Hermione’s face and neck heated up in warm indignation at the slur and dismissive comment. Letting the silence between them deepened she fought to maintain control of her usual reaction. When calming breaths eventually helped her relax Bella finally realized she wasn’t going to get the reaction she’d been looking for. Pulling herself up to sit against the headboard she shifted her robe back on properly to hide her shoulders and chest.

“What?”

“I won’t stoop to reply to that. On other topics, do you have any input? From last night?”

“Not particularly,” Bella turned an empty stare towards the door to the room. “Nothing formed anyways. I mean you did kind of just like, throw me into an existential crisis. I haven’t even begun to wrap myself around it. Not to mention the additional benefit of having to deal with the few things that actually involve me now, here, and not in twenty odd years. I’m being used by Cygnus for a dowry to Rodolphus, by Voldemort until he can train me into a good obedient slave to his ideals. My sister is dating a mudblood that she'll marry sometime soon only to be chased off the family name. Oh, and before I forget under the mountain of a million other things, you’ve been lying to me for weeks and come from a future where I tortured you and then died. Forgive me to taking some time to reassess the entirety of my reality.”

When she finished Hermione’s face had gone pale and blank as a white sheet. She inwardly thanked the gods she’d set up dozens of silencing charms to stop any errant eavesdroppers.

“Well, if it helps at all…,” Hermione settled into the bed to lean against Bella, “ You didn’t torture me. Sorry for being a pest about it. I’ll give you as much time as you need to adjust.”

“Thank you. Just, for the moment, leave it. Give me some space to reorient myself. We’ll meet back up in the Room after classes.”

“Alright,” she replied softly, eyes downcast.

Bella nodded in her direction before standing from the bed and transfiguring her robe into a less revealing matching pair of soft long pants and black shirt. Heading towards the door she took hold of the knob and turned back to face Hermione. Her mouth opened and closed before she simply slipped through the door and out to the hallway.

The lack of any pain in her scar was small comfort as the pounding in her head continued unabated.

---oo---

One large sized Pepper-Up Potion later and Hermione was comfortably, if a bit jittery, walking into the Great Hall for a late breakfast. She strode over to the Slytherin tables and took an open seat near the entrance. After setting her satchel underneath the bench she began to pile a plate high with soft and easy to chew food. Her mandrake leaf was still in place and the few days she’d had it in had given her ample time to figure out how to eat somewhat normally. Most students at the table ignored her with the exception of Narcissa who waved and smiled politely in greeting before delving back into an animated discussion with Lucius.

Andy was absent and though she’d correctly assumed that Bella would be as well it was still sore not to have the company of her friend. She knew it was pointless to try and imagine how Bella might change their day to day interactions after she digested all the new information and consoled herself by focusing on telling herself that she’d done the right thing. After a few quiet moments of eating the bench besides her dipped lower as the weight of a student settled.

“Heya Em’,” the gravelly voice of Rabastan rumbled up from beside her.

“Hey Rab,” she flashed him a smile, “How’re you?” She resumed eating while he set his own plate and replied.

“I’m alright. Beautiful morning n’ all that. I’d stay away from Rod though, I was you.”

She shot him a quizzical look. She already made her best efforts to avoid the bastard whenever she could.

“Some Ravenclaw with a death wish hexed his shoes. Made the laces turn into tiny snakes that slither undone afore going back to being laces. Apparently in places far from his shoes. Happens every time he finds em’ and laces back up.”

Hermione couldn’t help the laughter that she belted out nor the crooked grin that took up most her face. The look on Rab indicated he didn’t appreciate it, but the thought of the horrid boy running around searching for laces that constantly disappeared from him was too much.

“What,” she asked between giggles, “You have to admit it’s pretty funny.”

His gaze remained expressionless and unreadable until a small smile crooked the corner of his mouth and he shook his head in exasperation.

“Yeah, I’ll admit it’s a hoot of a situation. And he’d have more luck finding the bloke who did it if he could finish countering the hex. He gets about ten meters before the buggers slither off again.”

At that Hermione was fully set off and couldn’t contain any of the loud laughter that shook its way out of her. The exhaustion she was under, even after liberal application of a potion and coffee, was more than enough to loosen up some of her inhibitions against acting too jovially around her new schoolmates.

After a few more minutes of peaceful eating with Rab as company a uniformed body sat down primly across from her. Andy’s face jovial and warm in a way that reminded her again of Bellatrix.

“Mornin’ Andy. How’re you?”

“Oh, I’m fine Em’. Was wondering if I could talk to you.”

“Sure thing,” Hermione took a last sip of her coffee before setting it down and settling her full attention upon the younger witch in front of her.

“Um, alone?” The witch wrung her fingers together before shifting her eyes nervously between Rabastan and Hermione. To her credit Hermione didn’t immediately react out of the norm despite the now incessant worry that Bella had told Andy something of what she’d seen.

“Yeah, give me a sec, I'll meet you in the courtyard.”

As Andy took off Hermione gulped down her last fried egg and gulped the last of her too hot coffee. Pushing herself from the bench she leaned down to pick up her satchel before shooting Rab a small wave.

“See you later Rab!”

His only response was a small wave goodbye as he returned to his food.

The heels of her shoes clicked sharply against the stone floor as she exited the Great Hall. Numerous students of other Houses moved to the opposite side of the hall as she approached. A few brave, or more likely bravely stupid, Gryffindor students would shoot her wide-eyed angry glares when she passed them. It seemed that her association with the Black trio and Rabastan had begun to make its way through the rumor mill.

It was one of the few instances where she could empathize with the other Houses that were perennially unamused with the Gryffindor style of ‘bravery’, and the adjoining tendency to judge first and ask questions later if at all.

As she exited to the courtyard she filled her lungs and reveled in the clean autumnal air. She spotted Andy sitting alone on a far mid height wall as her feet dangled off and her wand intermittently twirled about her fingers.

“Hey Andy. What’s up?”

The young witch swung her head back and forth to check that no one was near them before casting a far too neutral expression as Hermione.

“Are you and Bella dating?”

“What…?” The sudden question threw Hermione off her loop. It was the last question she would have expected from her.

“Look, I’ve seen how you two look at each other. All, furtive glance here, furtive glance there. Neither of you are as subtle as you seem to think. Not to mention you both hide away for hours after classes end. And I know she didn’t come back to the dorms to sleep last night. She only showed up around seven, and she looked exhausted as hell.

“I mean, I’m not going to complain if you are. She’s been loads more calm and well-behaved since meeting you. Not to mention she only hexes people that really annoy her now. And don’t think I have anything against you two being ladies, no judgment here. But so help me Salazar, if you hurt her whatsoever they’ll never find the pieces of your body. So do right by her, yeah?”

Hermione could only continue staring at the witch with a deeply confused expression on her startled face as she continued gaping and trying to form words.

“So, whatever you did to make her all melancholy last night, fix it. Before it becomes my, and by extension your, problem. Yeah?”

Hermione continued practicing her ‘startled fish’ routine.

Andy hopped off the wall and clapped her twice about the shoulder before heading back towards the castle interior.

“Well then, good talk Em’. And good luck. She could use someone like you in her life.”

---oo---

Rather than cut into any time after classes had ended that she could spend with Bella, Hermione opted instead to visit Dumbledore as soon as she had her first free period. She knew he expected a debriefing on her lesson with Voldemort and though she felt like indulging him some information she was wary about the full story. She couldn’t be sure whether he would stop her if he knew exactly what had happened. The free time and doubts she’d started having about his morality in the face of the ‘Greater Good’ led her to feel even more cautious than she already was. She could review in her own memories how her life had progressed from being a First Year to now and in her estimation it hadn’t painted a very rosy picture of his methodology in achieving his objectives.

No longer did she look at him as the kindly old teacher that had given her friends and herself answers and help with their adventures. He had been reduced to a manipulative wizard, incredibly powerful in his position and with no qualms against using people as his pawn. As she entered the room she resolved to get this over with as fast as possible.

“Ah, Ms. Grenier. How lovely it is to see you on this fine morning. I trust your outing yesterday went well?” He ambled over to behind his desk. After he’d taken his seat Fawkes flew down from his normal perch to sit upon his shoulder.

Hermione couldn’t help a small laugh when the image reminded her of pirates with parrots on their shoulders. When her laughter finally subsided she settled deeply into a plush armchair that had taken residence in front of his massive desk.

“Yes Headmaster. Bellatrix and I arrived on time and Voldemort was there to greet us. He ran us both through some rather simple spellwork for most of the afternoon, stupefy and protego mostly.”

“Mostly?” His eyes sharpened questioningly.

“We also went over Rennervate. He assessed how proficient I was and then extended an offer to continue tutelage under him, alongside Bellatrix.”

As the old wizard sat backwards in his chair a distinct creaking filled the room and Fawkes flapped his wide wings in annoyance. He sat and began stroking his beard while looking off towards the fireplace, face unreadable. When he finally deigned to reply to her after almost a minute of silence his eyes held a conspiratorial twinkle and the corner of his mouth was upturned in a smirk.

“Well, I must say that’s wonderful. Learning under him will give you ample opportunity to ingratiate yourself to his cause. It will be all the easier for our next steps to take place if we already have you on the inside.”

His immediate jump at using her as a spy was slightly disconcerting. She’d assumed he would ask her eventually after she struck up a friendship with Bellatrix but hadn’t dreamt he would go after it so soon.

“Are you sure sir,” she put as much worry into her face as she dared, hoping he would believe her reluctance. “If he finds out…”

“Yes, yes. You’ll be fine Emelia, he won’t dare suspect anything untoward from you. You’ll be well-placed to observe and report if he brings you into the fold. Now mind you, I didn’t see into the full depths of the future but this is the best chance we could get, unless we want to wait many more years and waste many more lives.”

She had to hand it to him. If she wasn’t already nervous and suspicious of his machinations she’d be jumping at the bit at that last line.

“I’ll inform Horace that you’ll be accompanying Bellatrix on her tutoring sessions for the foreseeable future. Speaking of Ms. Black, how has she been, by the by?”

The sudden change of direction had her shoring up her mind even further. She was eminently grateful that Bella had picked up on their occlumency lessons so quickly. She couldn’t help but feel he’d be after Bella as soon as it was convenient for him.

‘I need to finish those runes.’

“She’s quite fine Headmaster. We’re getting along well and I’m sure the lessons together will help enforce that. We’re no longer at one another’s throat, and she seems relaxed and comfortable in my presence.”

A clock hidden away somewhere amidst the clutter of the office began to chime off tune to signal the turn of the hour. Grateful for the distraction Hermione stood from her chair and picked up her satchel.

“If that’s all Headmaster, I’ll inform Bellatrix of my desire to continue the lessons and go from there. I’ll keep you informed of any relevant information.”

He merely nodded his acquiescence and limply waved her out. Fawkes took to squawking lowly as she made her exit. Before the door shut behind her she could swear she felt eyes boring into her back.

---oo---

As Hermione shut the door behind her Albus let out a loud sigh and stood sharply from his chair. Meandering to the large fireplace he grabbed a handful of Floo Powder and made his way to his secure connection in the Department of Mysteries. He loosened his shoulders and reminded himself to relax now that his revamped plans were now in motion. As he stepped from the fireplace a pair of sharp eyes glanced over at him from across a wide wooden table.

“Mr. Bode. How good to see you.” He walked sharply to stand opposite the seated Unspeakable.

Bode was sitting on a thin wooden folding chair and leaning over what looked to be a larger version of a Time Turner. He had on a single monocle that worked as an enchanted magnifying glass and a pair of white silken gloves. The device set in front of him was plated in silver instead of the usual gold and the sand instead was a deep scarlet color. Incredibly thin strands of silver wire wrapped around the twin bases of the device and a long silver chain made of individual interlocking silver blocks only a centimeter in length and thickness were clamped onto both ends. The individual blocks of the chain were all engraved with runes that Albus had trouble making out as they sat loosely. The whole device hummed with energy and Albus was almost sure he could see a shimmering mirage effect roiling off of it.

“Albus. Glad you stopped by so quickly. Minister Leach is beginning to ask questions that I’d rather avoid. The sooner the girl is gone, the better.”

Albus picked up the Time Turner by the chained loop and left it to dangle from his fingertips, swinging back and forth slightly from the movement. He watched interestedly as the sand within remained motionless to the movement.

“You’re sure that this will work?”

“Not completely but it’s the best that you’ll get. I based it off of the information she gave us about the original and a few schematics and prototypes that we picked up during a raid a few years ago. Of course, my standard contract rules will apply. Give it to her but explain nothing about origin or design. Set the turns, loop her, and it’ll send her back. Or forward, however you like to see it. For the highest chance of recover she’ll need to leave from wherever it was she arrived. Once she makes it back the chain will break and the Turner will automatically return. I expect it back as soon as it’s done.”

The light from multiple well enchanted candles made the individual rune work on the chain stand out brilliantly. Taking a prim nail Albus followed the designs upon the chain and wracked his mind to see if he recognized them. Some were familiar but twisted so far as to be unreadable. After a minute or two to see if his memory jogged he sighed and wrapped the chain tightly around the glass before setting the whole device into one of his voluminous pockets.

“If you don’t mind me asking,” he kept his voice even and wizened, “Who else knows about this?”

Bode scoffed at him before lifting his legs to settle on the table and crossing his ankles.

“No one. My superiors know I’ve been working on a private matter, the Minister believes I’m fulfilling a favor to you. Anyone involved in the research process or initial prototyping has been obliviated after each stage. Standard operating protocol. Some of my colleagues might be lax, but I like to do things by the book around here.”

A warm and throaty chuckle left Albus’s chest at the clear pride that Bode put into his work. The young man’s work ethic would be needed across the board once his plans were in place.

“Well then,” Albus brought his wand from its holster with surprising speed, “Imperio, Obliviate.”

The twin spells shot soundlessly from his wand and pounded Bode straight into his chest. Remaining unmoving his eyes clouded with a dusty film as the twin spells took hold. Albus settled himself into taking a seat upon the large table and languidly placed his wand back.

“Mr. Bode, you tried your very hardest but in the end the Turner didn’t work out. You will, however, inform any who ask that your independent experiment has been completed. You will destroy the remaining evidence that you hold of the device and prevent any others from duplicating it. You have never met Ms. Grenier. Any correspondence you may have from her is to be destroyed, and any future correspondence is to be destroyed without opening. You shall treat the matter as though you were receiving correspondence that was sent to the wrong recipient. After I leave this room you will go back to your normal work schedule.”

After giving the spells a minute or two to sink in Albus determined that they had taken hold and were more than strong enough to hold his chain. He wandered back into the fireplace to return to his office all the while chuckling merrily to himself.

---oo---

Upon Hermione’s arrival in the Room she found Bella relaxedly awaiting her. Instead of the study space that she had become used to over the past weeks the room had been cleared of all bookcases and now only held a few minor furniture settings, a couch, and a rather large fireplace.

The floor had been replaced with a rich mahogany that stretched from wall to wall except in a semi-circle around the fireplace that was built from white marble. The large couch was settled into the middle of the room and facing the fireplace. It was some form of soft leather or something similar that Hermione couldn’t identify. The color was all Bella though, black from the fabric to the legs and stitching. Bella was laying crookedly in the couch with her head and neck propped up by the arm and her arms crossed against her chest. She didn’t stir as Hermione entered and instead stared off into nothing silently.

Hermione dropped her satchel onto the floor behind the couch before strolling over to the fireplace and stoking it higher with a bit of wordless magic. She’d felt herself unusually cold the past few days and wasn’t yet sure as to if it was illness coming down or the onset of Autumn. She stood before the flames for a minute before gathering the courage to turn around and face Bella. The witch’s eyes followed her as she walked to the couch and lifted her legs to sit down. Resituating Bella’s legs onto her lap she counted a victory when the witch didn’t pull away. Letting out an over dramatic sigh she turned towards her friend.

“So. What’s on your mind?” Her voice come out far closer to a whisper than the confident tone she’d intended.

“Oh,” the witch started up, “Not much. Just wondering what to do about a particular not-yet-Dark-Lord Dark Lord. And my impending sale to the Lestrange family. And my sisters. And the Headmaster. So, you know. The usual.”

Bella’s flippant attitude brought Hermione a small laugh as she began passing her hand along the warmth of Bella’s leg.

“Yeah, the usual… I met with Dumbledore earlier. I’ll be joining you for your tutoring going forward. He thinks it’s a good idea to keep an eye on Him. And probably you, now that I think about it.”

Bella shifted her body lower into the couch as her neck and head slid off the arm.

“When are Dumble’s ideas good? Here,” she sat up at the waist and leaned up against Hermione, “Let me see it again, please. There are some things I’d like to check.”

Soft air puffed warmly against Hermione’s cheek as the witch spoke. Their eyes locked together and she tried to pierce the dark depths. When no answers were forthcoming she took ahold of Bella’s proffered hand and led her index finger up until it was pressing against her temple. Dropping her walls she smiled at the witch on her lap.

“Go ahead.”

Again the feeling of Bella’s entrance into her mind was pleasant and calming. She could feel herself relax as the witch began to steer herself around. She relaxed into the couch and let her own thoughts wander as the witch on her thighs murmured softly to herself. Occasionally she would ask questions and Hermione would pull up from her internal reverie to answer, but mostly the witch refrained from speaking.

When an hour had passed and Bella slowly pulled away from her mind she felt the loss like a warm hand leaving her own. Her breath was steady and deep from where she’d nearly relaxed into a stupor.

“Well,” the dark haired witch began, “We can’t trust Dumble. I think that much is pretty clear. I’ve no desire to be used as a pawn.”

“Yeah,” Hermione started hesitantly, “I’d come to that conclusion as well.”

:He’s scheming something. :

The warm hiss from Bella flitted against her ear as the witch entwined herself around Hermione is a loose hug.

:I’m worried. I don’t know yet if I can forgive you for lying to me, but I know why you did it. I want to forgive you. :

Hermione shivered against the closeness of the witch, wrapping her arms around Bella’s back and holding her tightly to her body.

:I’m sorry Bella. :

Pulling away Bella moved her hands until they were holding onto Hermione’s shoulders.

“What do we do?” Her voice came out in more of a hushed whisper that Hermione suspected was close to her true state of mind on all that now lay before them. Hushed, worried, and hurt for the future she’d seen and Hermione had lived.

Her question was honest and Hermione took her time to formulate an answer. There wasn't much they could do right away, as far as she could see. Dumbledore and Voldemort were both powerful Kings on their respective sides of a chessboard. Neither had qualms about sacrificing pawns if it furthered their agenda. Bellatrix Lestrange’s mental deterioration and Sirius’s illegal imprisonment were testaments to that. As well as Dumbledore’s grooming of Harry into a figure that would rush to kill himself at the slightest mention of it helping a greater cause.

Her mind spun round in circles until she finally centered on a reply. If both Kings were already set and chosen, then they would be the Queens.

“What do you know about Wizard’s Chess?”

Chapter Text

Hermione’s skin prickled as a slow breeze passed through the Room of Requirement. Naked from the waist up, she pressed her torso further into the warm sand beneath her to escape the oncoming chill.

“So… How bad do you think this’ll hurt exactly?” A tremor ran through her voice as her nervousness mounted.

Across the pit a hand reached out to a long metal rod sitting headfirst into a fire. The branding iron was removed with a flourish as Bella brought the red-hot end close to her face to inspect it.

“Probably a lot. It is a branding after all. Can’t imagine it’ll be a walk in the park. Just bite down and think of Merlin. Or the Queen. Whatever it is mudbloods do.”

The body laying at Bella’s feet chuffed in her direction at the casual slur. Bella might have become more aware of her prejudices after viewing all of Hermione’s memories but had yet to break free from most of her more prickly habits. For her part Hermione no longer minded it so long as it wasn’t directed at someone other than herself. The scrawl on her arm and accompanying curse had diluted the pain of it.

Hermione bit down experimentally after placing the soft leather bit into her mouth. Rolling her shoulders back she tensed up in expectation of the pain.

‘Ow, ow, ow!’

No period of anticipation was enough when the metal made contact with her skin. The lack of warning from Bella prevented her from shying away from the heat as it burned its mark in. Within a full second of it touching her body her back screamed hurt as loud as it could. Tears scattered her vision and all the muscles of her body contracted painfully as they tried to escape the torment. Before a short scream could fully wrangle its way from her throat the heat and pressure disappeared.

Her lungs burning cued her into how she had been holding her breath. Taking as full a breath as she could only ended in her coughing as bits of sand and spittle flew down her throat. Before she knew what hit her all the air was expelled from her as the brand reconnected with her back, just an inch below the first.

‘Fuck fuck fuck NO!’

Courage fled as her mind focused only on one thing, escape. The pain overrode any self control she’d started with and Hermione quickly found her body reacting without her input. Her arms dug into the sand at her sides in an attempt to push her body up and away while her legs tried to push her knees underneath her.

However, before she could fully escape, a quickly whispered spell from behind her zapped into the meat of her hip. With no warning her body fell face down into the sand, chin bumping painfully against tiny rocks, as her arms were pulled back and glued to her sides while her legs shot out ramrod straight before being stuck together.

The heat on her back ramped again as darkness began to tunnel around her vision. Unconsciousness swiftly followed. Her last thought was as to whether it was her body or Bella betraying her.

---oo---

Sand fell down her cheeks when her eyelids finally began to flutter open. The stark brightness of the Room kept them squinted as she adjusted. A simulacrum of pale blue sky lay far above her. As her mind took stock and began ramping up she turned her head side to side to find her dark haired cohort.

When at last she could see with no ill effects she sat forward, stomach falling nauseatingly to the floor.

‘No clothes. No pain…’

When that realization washed over her she quickly covered her bare torso with her arms. Twisting her head about brought Bella into sight. The witch was seated to her left, legs crossed and elbow propped up on a knee to support her chin. She wore a bored smile but vigilant eyes. If Hermione had to guess, she almost looked relieved.

“What,” her throat burned, and she coughed before continuing, “What happened?”

Bella lowered her head and began running her fingers nervously through her hair before replying.

“Well you passed out. Obviously. Don’t know if it was the shock or what exactly, but I’d bound you right before. So I finished the rest of the brands.” The witch shivered in place before looking up to stare Hermione in the eyes. “Don’t think I’ll ever get that smell out of my head. Also don’t think I want any bacon anytime soon. You okay?”

Hermione rolled her shoulders out and twisted side to side to test the skin on her back. When she was satisfied there were no issues she nodded brusquely to her. A quick ‘ Accio’ brought her shirt over from the other side of the sandpit and she wasted no time in putting it back on. Once she was decent she stood and stretched properly.

Nothing had been ill met during her inspection. The tightening and tug of burned skin that followed the scarring around her neck wasn’t present in her back. If anything, she almost felt restored. No pain, limber muscles. A pleasant ache not unlike getting a back massage.

Internally she could understand that she shouldn’t be surprised. She knew that’s how the ritual was supposed to proceed. She’d developed the damn thing after all. Still, the self-satisfied part of her brain was purring in contentment at knowing it had left no lasting marks. Beyond the obvious that was. Or she hoped. Bella hadn’t exactly described how the marks now looked upon her skin.

“No pain at all. Don’t feel different at all really. Did they look okay?”

“Merlin’s balls. Do they look okay? They look bloody fucking awesome!” Bella glanced up at her with a toothy grin and a flash of delighted fire behind her eyes.

“Well then,” Hermione placed her hands upon her hips and widened her stance, “You ready?”

The witch at her feet groaned loudly before tilting her head back to stare up at the false sky.

“As I’ll ever be.”

Bella rose to her knees before turning away from Hermione. A quick flick of her fingers along with a whispered Dysovius and suddenly Bella was nude, her clothing banished to the other side of the sand pit. Her head turned side on to grin lasciviously back at Hermione.

Hermione could feel her face and chest brightening as her eyes lingered. However she’d imagined Bella might disrobe, this hadn’t been it.

‘Bloody hell.’

Bella settled herself face down onto the sand beneath her once she was sure that Hermione had been teased enough. She was sure that if she had one favorite perk that came with knowing this time-hopping mudblood, it was all the beautiful ways in which she could get a rise from her. Short and breathy chuckles blew dust away from her face as she settled in.

Hermione rolled her eyes and bit her lip as Bella quietly took her place in the sand. Striding to the rack holding the numerous brands they needed took only a few paces. She ran her finger to follow the curves of the rune after pulling the first in line from its place. Gleaming silver metal reflected a portion of her face back at her. Each brand had cost her enormously, but it wasn’t like the Grenier’s were spending their vast fortune anymore. And prudent investments would mean the interest would cover her spending in only a few months.

She switched her grip to hold the metal rod by the end before placing it directly into the fire. The heat rose about her wrist but never once touched her fingers. She silently thanked Bella again for planning ahead and casting a quick charm to dispel the heat off and into the air before it could make its way to the grip.

Moving quickly she placed the remaining rods into the fire beside the first. As the minutes passed quick sparks would shoot off the heads of the metal, black, pink, green and amber shot off into the air above the fire as they reached the correct temperature. When each in turn had acclimated she reached over to pull the first from the flames.

Turning about to face the prostrated form of her… Confidant? Lover? … Friend? None of those terms accurately depicted their relationship. They were confidants, but only one way. Bella had yet to truly forgive her lying and had yet to allow her access to her own memories. As for lovers, well, they had yet to do much else beyond tease one another and bond through touching and physical connection. No kissing, no awkward midnight professions of love or adoration. Friend? They were obviously beyond that point, if the naked bodies and secret blood branding ritual didn’t make it clear enough.

The past few weeks had been eye-opening. Hermione was bound to Bella in some form or another due to Lestrange’s curse, but she could feel that same magic flexing and changing in the presence of Bella. Her eyes raked up and down Bella’s naked form, drinking in the sight to stir at something warm and heady in her core.

Their bodies were markedly different. Where Hermione had filled out the last three years, Bella was lithe and compact. Hermione’s body showed off what her experiences had given her whereas Bella hid her abilities from the world. Hermione’s skin was permanently suntanned in a manner that only accentuated the instances when she blushed, freckles dotted her skin in patches with no discernible order while stretchmarks and scars told a story of her history.

The only marking on Bella’s alabaster skin was a single small birthmark in the shape of a squiggling S near her right thigh. The rest of her skin was an expanse that seemed chiseled from marble. Warm and soft, but still marble. If she was being honest with herself she was almost loathe to leave any mark upon her.

Both witches had initially assumed that simply tattooing the runes in a mixture of various enchanted inks would allow the symbols to work their magic upon their bodies. Further investigation however revealed that while it would confer some strengthening of ability to their occlumency, it wouldn’t make it unbreakable or always active unless they pulled the walls down. Instead, their research had led them in search of various dark magics outlined in several large volumes they’d purchased from the small, but ancient, bookstore in Hogsmeade.

The ritual would confer whatever magic that their runes intended directly into their bodies. One text had described it as ‘Branding the Soul’, rather than just the skin. Among the hefty purchase of the metal runes, they’d also needed to procure a rather large amount of their own blood to soak them in first.

Hermione had almost flat out refused when the discovered that bit of the procedure, but insistence on Bella’s part that this was necessary to their long term plans had won out. Their last bit of reading had informed them that although the process could be stopped it was not recommended. In the slightest. Half-assing the ritual and attempting to leave partly through could result in a severely compromised spell that might lash out at them in unexpected and potentially lethal ways.

To that end they’d promised one another that should they attempt to escape the ritual, the other one would cast a body-bind and ensure it was finished. Hermione was slightly dissatisfied in that she’d essentially ‘cheated’ out the ritual by means of unconsciousness, but didn’t let it weigh too heavily on her mind. It was over and done with, and she hadn’t exploded into bits of half formed magic.

Hermione shook herself from internal reflection when the witch below her coughed slightly and turned to look in her direction. Blushing again, this time with embarrassment, Hermione walked to Bella’s side and lined up the rod.

The sizzle and pop of the metal alerted Bella to her movements and the muscles beneath her skin began to tense. She may have held bravado when branding Hermione but internally it was as much of a struggle as it could be.

Hermione moved silently and with one motion, the brand hovering over her back one second and burning the skin in another. It was horrific, both ways. She could see how the skin to the sides of the metal blistered and reddened, darkening against the pale of her skin. When it was ready to be released and she pulled away from Bella a smell rose up and nearly turned her stomach out entirely. There was nothing to be done though as she’d begun the process.

Hermione fought to settle her resolve as she turned the branding into a rote action and quickly moved into a rhythm.

Grab rod.

Press.

Remove.

Repeat.

A keening hiss from Bella was brought louder and louder with every brand. Her muscles were shaking so badly from the pain that Hermione was certain she would miss her mark more than once. Somehow she persevered and landed all the correct positions.

Two lines of brands, four runes each, lay side by side in parallel with Bella’s spine. Each were an ugly raised mound of burnt and scarred flesh, red and bubbling as the heat continued to dissipate into the surrounding skin. As she continued watching the burns seemed to halt. Within seconds it was as if she was watching them come undone. Skin knitted back together, boils sank back down and slowly disappeared. The red of the inflamed skin crystallized into stylized runemarks of a deep and bloody red.

As she knelt down she placed her hands onto Bella’s warm skin. One hand soothed her back, rubbing up and down the new marks, while the other gripped her shoulder, thumb rubbing soothing circles into the skin. Bella’s strength of will was impressive. Beyond her body shaking automatically at the pain she hadn’t attempted to get up or resist in any manner. By the looks of the leather bit sitting in front of her she had hardly used that either.

“Em’,” a voice rough as parchment floated up from the unmoving witch, “I am never letting you talk me into anything like that. Ever. Again.”

The body in her hands lifted to roll onto her side before bringing her knees to her chest and attempting to sit up. Hermione kept her hold and helped Bella into a stable position, keeping her from falling back over. Only when she realized she was staring did Hermione avert her wandering eyes.

‘Don’t look down don’t look down don’t look down.’

“Did it work?” Bella inquired before shifting her arms across her chest.

“The runes took hold. Haven’t checked the spell though.”

Hermione tilted Bella’s head back to look directly into her eyes and began the spell. She could feel herself pull forward as she attempted to break through Bella’s defenses. In contrast to their previous training, a single great wall blocked her ability to read the witch instead of the large and near endless castle of mirrors that Bella had chosen as her main defense. Strong and thick, the wall proffered no access either through or around. A few more seconds of effort, and she was satisfied that it had worked. As she ended the legilimency she sat back onto the sand and broke eye contact.

“Seems like it worked. No entrance. Open up?”

When Bella nodded in acknowledgement Hermione reached out again with her mind. Instead of the wall she found instead a vast field filled with memories and the emotions attached to them. She pulled her mind back quickly before she could get a proper view of anything on display. Bella hadn’t indicated that she was free to peruse and she intended to abide by her wishes, unspoken or not. She hoped Bella would let her in fully someday soon but that trust was more important than trying to take a peak without asking.

“Open and closed on command! Changed your defense out a bit, but solid as it could possibly be. We actually did it!” Hermione raised her arms in triumph at weeks of work finally paying off.

An answering shout of happiness met her ears right before Bella shot herself forward off her seated position. Warm arms wrapped around Hermione’s torso as the impact from Bella pushed her off balance and she fell backwards into the sand. The arms around her midriff squeezed tighter as the witch on top of her let out peals of joyous laughter.

Bella pressed her warm cheek against Hermione’s own as outward enthusiasm died down somewhat. Curly black hair splayed out around Hermione’s head and soothing warmth flowed from her forearm.

“Um, Bella,” Hermione could feel her cheeks and chest warming frighteningly fast once again, “Your uh, your clothes are still over there.”

“True,” the witch whispered in answer, “But do you really want me to let go?”

Hermione’s voice escaped her for a second before she increased her grip on the warm body atop her and whispered, “No.”

Minutes passed quietly between them as their bodies settled in against one another before Hermione quietly spoke up again.

“As much as I’d like to stay likes this, and please believe me when I say I do, we need to head back out at some point.”

Bella pulled herself upwards and off of the witch until she was able to look Hermione in the eyes. Dark curls fell down in a heavy curtain to close them off from the rest of the world. Warm air buffeted Hermione’s lips as Bella softly asked, “Why?” Her eyes burned soulfully into Hermione’s, full of warmth and desire behind the inky darkness.

Neurons were firing in Hermione’s brain, she was sure of it. There were reasons , and perfectly good ones at that, that they needed to leave at some point. But all that came forward in her mind were thoughts of how perfect the face above her looked. Half of her wanted to say screw the consequences and soil this little ritual space that the Room had cooked up for them. And it was a very insistent half. Fiercely insistent even.

The other half, and the part of her will that usually won out, was terrified of being caught. And in this instance her Gryffindor courage wasn’t enough to break free from the mindset of a goody two shoes student that followed the rules and never played around with anything dangerous. Even if the danger in this case was wonderfully beautiful.

“Someone will notice we’re gone,” she replied when she realized what speech was again. “Someone will ask questions we don’t want asked. At best, it’ll just be one of your sisters. At worst, it’ll be Slughorn. Which means Dumbledore will know we’re up to something.”

“Well,” Bella’s head dropped heavily onto Hermione’s chest, “Now that you’ve completely ruined the mood by bringing the old cunts into this…”

Bella slowly released her hold on Hermione’s body and pushed herself up and off of the witch. Hermione wasn’t proud to note that her eyes waited until the very last second to divert their gaze and afford the witch some modesty.

Bella stood and brushed off the loose sand still covering parts of her body as she walked towards the pile of clothes at the edge of the pit. When Hermione felt that enough time had passed for Bella to be decent she turned to look at the witch and stood up.

Breaking down the little bit of equipment they had brought with them was simple enough. The books remained in the Room, as it had supplied them, while the only item they needed to take with them were the long branding irons and Hermione’s own written notes. Each piece of metal had cooled sufficiently enough to be placed inside of a satchel that Hermione had enchanted to be near weightless and bottomless.

When they were finished both witches took their leave and carefully began to make their way back towards the dungeons. The walk was silent and beyond a few seventh years still milling about before curfew, no one noticed or accosted them. As they gave the password to enter the common-room, neither witch noticed a pair of angry brown eyes that watched them from the shadows.

---oo---

The change into November brought cold winds and the beginning of snowfall to Hogwarts. It also signaled the halfway point on their quest to become Animagi.

The first Monday night of November found both Hermione and Bellatrix seated together atop a flat rock near the far edge of the Black Lake. The school-day had been aggravating for both witches and they relished this free moment with each other. Hermione had been run nearly ragged between her mounting classwork and another prankster taking great pains to ruin her day.

As if in repeat of her second week, she found her ink had been switched for disappearing ink, door handles had been hexed to shock her and her alone with nearly painful electricity, and her notes and homework had mysteriously shredded themselves into tiny pieces whenever she looked away. Rodolphus currently topped their short list of suspects as he was the only person to openly show any disdain for the witch. No one else came close in their animosity to Hermione as most had been spurred onward when Bella had been mad at her. Her good graces with Bella had calmed her prior tormentors into leaving her alone and attempting to befriend her.

The only problem with their current theory was that Rodolphus had been actively ignoring her for almost a week before the problems began to arise. He still gave her angry glares but had mostly kept out of her hair after Bella had the fortune of cornering him and persuading him to leave her the hell alone. That her method of persuasion had involved a wand point threat of lopping off his manhood hadn’t seemed to make him any angrier, and now neither witch could pinpoint any particular reason that would have caught his ire.

Bella had steadfastly stood by Hermione’s side once the witches realized that someone was targeting her specifically. Even then she still had no hint of who it might be. By the evening meal Hermione had been near ready to pull out her hair in frustration. In a last ditch effort Bella had poured herself into providing reassurances against the torment and reminders that that night they could finally take the blasted leaves from their mouths.

Bella’s method had worked as the witches now found themselves outside, waiting for the moon to show. Hermione kept a vigilant eye and ear out for any interlopers trying to intrude upon their admittedly illegal activity. Whenever a leaf or a twig would rustle in the wind her eyes would dart in the direction and her breath would still in her throat. Bella found it placed upon herself to ground Hermione and reassure her that everything was alright. In her estimation it was a role she was well suited for and Hermione’s praise was payment enough.

Across the distant expanse of the Lake, candlelight flickered in the high towers of Hogwarts. Cold and persistent winds flew in across the lake at high speed to buffet them and pull at their clothes. Even the warm cloaks they wore and the few heating spells that Hermione had cast before they set out weren’t enough to keep the chill of November at bay.

In search of warmth, Hermione had seated herself into Bella’s lap. Facing the witch, legs wrapped around her torso and handles clutched to rest against Bella’s chest, it was as perfect a position as she could get. Warmth rolled off the witch to keep her front from freezing, though it did little to nothing for the wind at her back. Bella threw numerous heating charms and warming spells around the duo after a particularly violent shiver erupted from Hermione and her teeth chattered together audibly.

Once she was satisfied that the wind would no longer bother them, Bella set her wand back into its holster and began to dig around in a pocket of her cloak. After a moment or two of searching she pulled her hand out to reveal two medium-sized potion phials. Inside of each was a swirling silver liquid and a small hard object tinkling softly against the glass as it sloshed about. Bella passed Hermione a phial before tilting her head to the sky and looking towards the moon.

High above them clouds made from gray puffs of smoke and translucent white wisps passed between the ground and the moon. Silvery shadows slid along the ground at high speeds as the furious wind high above moved their makers. When Bella popped the top off of her phial, Hermione mirrored the action, readier than ever to get this portion of the process over with.

Only a few minutes later the clouds above them dipped away from the moon, lighting the small area they sat in as well as the lake beside them in silver white. Bella tilted her head back towards Hermione and nodded slightly. In tandem, both witches reached to their mouth and removed the bitter leaf still under their tongue. After placing the leaf inside of the vial they stoppered the potions and set down on the rock.

Hermione and Bella mirrored each other as they brought their wands out and placed the tip against their heart. As they recited the incantation, the potion within the bottles began to give off a luminescent aura. On the last word the containers flashed a bright and brilliant neon green before settling back to a dark color beneath the night sky. Bella flicked her wand towards the bottles and with a sizzling sound they were banished to a small drawer inside of the vanity in Hermione’s room.

Hermione practically glowed as she smiled up at the witch she was pressed against.

“Well, now all we need is a lightning storm.”

Bella ran her tongue around her mouth, fidgeting at the feeling of no longer having the leaf inside her mouth.

“Sorry to break it to you,” she tilted her head back towards the sky before shooting Hermione a sarcastic grin, “But I really don’t think that there’s a chance of that happening anytime soon. Winter means snow, not storms.”

As if nature herself wanted to agree with Bella, a strong gust of wind blew in off the lake, carrying snow and chill. As Hermione began to shiver again she huddled her body closer to Bella, who placed a strong arm around her back and shoulder to pull her in closer. Bella rested her head between Hermione’s shoulder and neck once the witch in her lap had settled. The chill of Bella’s nose caused Hermione to flinch before the witch began to nibble at the skin of her neck. Tilting her head slightly to the side she allowed the witch more access to her skin, murmuring happily to herself.

Hermione spent a few minutes relaxing under the witch’s attentions before the analytical side of her brain started up again.

“Do you think that the spell could be tied to a specific location? Like, in the general region where the potion was made?”

“Don’t know,” Bella’s lips tickled at her neck, “Why?”

“Well,” Hermione’s tone adopted a familiar ‘bookworm’ note, “Nothing in any of the literature that we’ve read mentions location as being tied to the spell. Just that you have to wait, however long, for a storm. It’s like everyone who ever tried to become an Animagus just decide to stay in one spot. None ever decided to, I don’t know, go to where a storm could be. They just wait. Gods, some of them must have waited years for a proper storm. Anyone living where it’s drought stricken? Or always too cold? That’s insane.”

“Well maybe they all ended up dead if they tried it somewhere else. Have you thought about that? Maybe no one was able to report on it because they all died, half animal monstrosities left with no way to document it.”

“Why is it every time I try to have a mature conversation with you it somehow ends up being about death?”

“I have to maintain my Gothic image. It enhances the whole, mysterious dark witch dabbling in forbidden magic thing, that I have going on.” Bella leaned back and waved a hand in front of herself, as if that explained everything.

“Sure...” Hermione’s carefully manufactured look of stern seriousness lasted all of two seconds before she fell into laughter.

Bella simply rolled her eyes and nuzzled back against Hermione’s neck once she realized that the witch’s laughter wouldn’t be ending anytime soon. “Just admit it, you love my little eccentricities.”

The witches settled in against one another as the night wore on. Hermione's heart pounded with a feeling of warmth and safety she wouldn’t have thought possible within the arms of Bellatrix.

Eventually though the looming threat of curfew had them both shuffling off the rock and starting the meandering walk back inside.

“What do you think our next lesson is?” Hermione asked as the silence pressed in between them.

“Potions, if I’m remembering our time sheet right.” Bella cheekily knocked her elbow against Hermione after replying.

“Ass,” Hermione softly pushed back against Bella, “I meant with Voldemort.”

“Hopefully that whole, flying as a cloud of mist thing. Merlin’s beard I want that spell.”

“How would we even ask him about that? ‘Hello Mr. Dark Lord, Sir, could you please explain to us the particulars of a magic that we know about from the future? ’”

A snort of laughter escaped Bella at Hermione’s faux innocent tone. She could just about imagine the response they would get with a question like that.

“No, just ask if he knows about any spells that could lead to unsupported flight. If he knows or has made it yet, he’ll tell us. I’ve never met a man so in love with his own voice or lessons. Even more than Slughorn’s droning.”

Linking arm in arm, Bella and Hermione continued up to the Castle proper as laughter flitted between them.

Chapter Text

The first true blizzard of December brought with it heaps of snow and a blustery chill that pervaded every corner of the castle from the highest tower to the lowest portion of the dungeon. It also brought with it the second major intervention to Hermione’s new timeline.

The past two weeks had seen Bella follow Hermione back into her room like a lost puppy almost every night. At some point she simply ceased returning to her own bed unless there was an inspection by Slughorn or another Professor. The two other girls that Bella had shared the dorm with hadn’t commented on her lack of appearance at night and seemed willing to leave it as it was. Andy and Narcissa had both learned about her new sleeping arrangements but had yet to comment or question about it specifically. Andy gave them knowing looks while Narcissa simply acknowledged it and moved on.

It helped that they both kept their individual Animagus potions in Hermione’s room, both witches beginning each day and ending each night with wands pointed to their heart and incantations on their lips. Bella had cracked once that it was only efficient to simply stay in the same room as to ensure they both completed it at the same time and Hermione wasn’t one to knock efficiency. If her sleeping partner was as beautiful and alluring as a poisonous flower, then all the better.

The workload for classes had increased before they reached the halfway point to the N.E.W.T.'s and the seventh years were starting to feel the heat. Bella and Hermione’s afternoons after class had become infested with study sessions that could last well into the night unless they were absconding to train under Voldemort instead. Contrary to Hermione’s initial estimation of the man, admittedly stained with her own preconceived notions from her original timeline, he’d proven to be a capable instructor and had weaseled out a course list from both of them.

When he wasn’t pitting them against one another in a duel or teaching them Dark Magic he’d instead quiz and instruct them on deeper portions of their classes that most teachers had deferred and left alone. The knowledge they gleaned from him might not have been intended to end up on their exams but Hermione and Bella at it up regardless. The man might have been a genocidal maniac, but he was also incredibly well read and competent in multiple disciplines. The urge to pick his brain was one that Hermione could never quite complete, always finding he held more knowledge back than what he’d offer. To say it left her frustrated was an understatement.

When spending time along the edges of the Black Lake had become boring they’d moved to diving into the trails and hidden pathways that meandered under the thick canopy of the Forbidden Forest. Though Hagrid wasn’t her direct friend in this timeline he’d still become acquainted enough with the sight of the duo that he simply waved to them in passing let them go on about their way.

The Wednesday before Yule break found both witches tired and irritable, lounging in Hermione’s room while no words passed between them. Their afternoon had been filled with a particularly grueling slog through the Forest and both were happy to finally recuperate from it. Bella had lead them into searching for a particular form of lichen that only grew in the shade of trees where blood had been spilled and for all the hours searching they’d not even gotten half of what they’d hoped. Cuts, bruises, and scraped had been their reward for the effort and all Hermione hoped to do that evening was relax and study for the upcoming Ancient Runes mid-term exam. She knew she needn’t study as hard as she was, having made herself into a miniature expert in order to map out the runes now gracing their backs, but the thought of Bella getting higher marks had won out. The rivalry to exceed one another in all things scholastic or magic related had yet to abate despite the new closeness between them.

Bella lay at an angle to Hermione’s bed while her head and upper torso were left hanging off the side of the soft mattress. Long drapes of black curls lay in a puddle on the floor and for once a good deal of color had seeped into her cheeks as blood rushed to pool at the lowest point. Flash cards hovered at her eye level and swapped back and forth while she quizzed herself. The faint rustle of the cards, flipping pages in a book, and soft breathing were the only sounds in the room. Beyond early grumbling from Bella that Hermione had a striking lack of future knowledge, complete with Hermione’s equally sarcastic responses, no words were spoken.

A warm throw was wrapped around Hermione while she leaned into the headboard and draped her legs across Bella’s thighs. A pair of green woolen socks with multiple moving snakes embroidered upon them were keeping her feet warm while black cotton sweatpants that she’d permanently transfigured from a pair of ratty old jeans kept the rest of her body at a comfortable temperature. The chill of the dungeon had pressed into the room and recent days had proven how hard it was to shirk it.

A rapid and disjointed knocking on the door that led into a familiar voice had both witches startling from their respective studies and glaring at the door.

“Bella? Em’? I know you’re in there. Can I come in?” Andy’s voice filtered in, sounding muffled through the door.

Bella raised herself up until she was seated cross-legged on the bed before looking towards Hermione for her decision. When the short haired witch nodded at her she left the bed and silently padded over to the door.

Andromeda stood in the doorway, the perfect picture of nervous energy. The top buttons of her uniform shirt were undone while her heavy brown curls were frizzed and in disarray, almost as if she’d been running to reach them. Clutched in one hand she held an object about the size of a thin book that was wrapped in brown parchment. Shooting them both a harried smile she stepped into the room and closed the door softly behind her. As the latch clicked shut she pulled a small chair out from Hermione’s vanity and sat down.

As Bella returned to her seat upon the bed Andromeda shoved the brown item into Bella’s chest as she passed.

“That,” she pointed a finger at the item, “Arrived with Harmonica at dinner just a bit ago. She would have delivered it to you but, seeing as you’ve both yet to grace the rest of us with your presence, Narcissa got it instead. When she realized it was for you we both took a look at it.”

“Why are you reading my mail?” Bella’s eyes hardened as she questioned her sister.

“Because you weren’t there. Oh come on,” Bella’s eyes practically spat fire, “It’s not as if you don’t read my mail.”

Bella pulled herself backwards to sit next to Hermione against the headboard while mumbling lowly to herself in a voice that neither Hermione nor Andy could properly hear. The brown paper split down the middle as Bella dragged a sharp fingernail down the front, forgoing unwrapping it in its entirety. A piece of starched white parchment fell into her lap as she grasped for it quickly and began to read it aloud.

“Bellatrix,

Your engagement to Rodolphus Lestrange will be officially announced before midnight at the New Years Gala. Enclosed within you will find a magazine which includes styles of dresses that I have pre-approved for you. Pick two, one for the Gala and one for the wedding. The date will be revealed at the Gala. I expect you to return this magazine along with your indicated choices no later than Friday the 13 th .

-Cygnus Black III”

Despite Hermione thinking it was impossible, Bella’s face continued to pale as she read the letter. Both Bella and herself had been aware that the impending engagement was a task that they needed to conquer within short order but had still managed to let it sink to the back of their mind. The fingers holding the parchment began to shake and shiver while the witch herself started hyperventilating. In a single movement Hermione brought an arm around Bella’s waist to pull her bodily into sitting in her lap and used her free hand to begin rubbing soothing circles into her tensed back. The witch’s eyes had never left the parchment, and she appeared to still be mouthing out the words to herself.

::Fuck! ::, Bella hissed out, anger and venom lacing her tone. Andy was simply nodding her head up and down while staring at a point on Hermione’s wall.

“Well,” Hermione attempted to inject some levity into her voice, “I don’t suppose there're any options as simple as telling him ‘No’, is there?”

Bella groaned heavily before leaning forwards and dropping her head into her hands as the letter and magazine fell to the ground in a heap.

“He’d rather see me dead.”

Hermione knew of Cygnus being… None too pleasant, from her earlier interactions with Andy and Narcissa. She had still vainly hoped that they were over exaggerating his stances. Surely he was just a racist blood supremacist, not someone capable of filicide if his children stood against him. The haunting look in Andy’s eyes and continued tremor running through Bella put that hope to rest.

“Okay, sorry for not being up to snuff but how exactly do arranged pureblood marriages work?” For all her reading in this timeline and the last, pureblood traditions had eluded her. When Andy shot her a confused glance she piped up to cover her lack of knowledge. “In Britain that is. It’s… Different in Canada.”

Andy shifted and the chair she was sitting on creaked while she leaned backwards into the wooden vanity at her back. Hermione counted it a win for her cover as the suspicious glance fell from Andy’s face.

“Well, it’s a huge insult to refuse a marriage proposal, specifically if it’s already been arranged by both individuals parents. Usually there’s a dowry involved. Muggles call it ‘Bride Price’ or something inane like that. Pureblood etiquette maintains that marriages need be between pure lines. In cases where that’s not possible though, second or third cousin incest is generally practiced. Outright sibling incest is frowned upon. The Gaunts practiced it quite a bit, and they’ve all kind of gone… Crazy. Makes for a great display of why not to marry your sis. Second and third cousins are usually okay after proper vetting or no one else turning up that’ll accept you.

“Arranged marriage outside the family is used, generally, to increase one family’s station. There are only twenty-eight pureblood lineages remaining, and each exists on strata. And with each generation having less and less children, well, potency is a driver of marriage. The groom pays the bride’s family both for the benefit to his station and the chance of ensuring his line continues. In this case Rodolphus. Or well, they tried anyways.”

“What do you mean by ‘tried’?” Hermione questioned.

“Well, yeah, tried. Sure doesn’t look like Bella is going to marry that git.”

Bella meekly nodded her head, still cradled as it was in her hands.

“What about you then?” Hermione watched as Andy’s eyes widened. “Who’re they setting you up with?”

“Oh, um. Vance Mulciber. But it’ll be a frozen summer in Hell before I marry that righteous cunt.”

“Who’s he?” Hermione’s gaze swapped between the two witches.

“He left last year. Chose not to pursue a seventh year. Thought he was too good for another year around blood-traitors and mudbloods.” Andy’s voice dripped with contempt as she replied.

“So tell me Andy,” Bella looked up at her sister and pierced her with her eyes. “How’re you going to find a way out of your arrangement if I can’t find one out of mine?”

The unspoken knowledge that Bella had of exactly how Andy would escape her marriage sat heavy between herself and Hermione.

“Well… I don’t know how exactly but I’m not going to marry him. I don’t care if Cygnus decides to disown me or not.”

“I know about Ted, Andy. You don’t need to hide that.”

Andromeda’s eyes widened comically as she stilled at Bella’s statement.

“I’d think I’d need to hide it more, seeing as you eat up Mother and Father’s rubbish.”

“I don’t care that he’s a mudblood-”

“There you go with the slander again.” Andy interjected.

“Oh piss off. I’m not Cygnus, and I’m certainly not Druella. I don’t care that he’s muggleborn . I’m just happy you found someone you want.”

Seconds began to pass while Bella and Andy stared at each other, gazes flickering between blank nothingness and angry heat.

Andy was first to break the silence.

“Who are you. And what’ve you done with my sister?”

Bella rolled her eyes and leaned back heavily into Hermione before letting her head loll back onto Hermione’s shoulder.

“Sod off. I’m still me. Em’s just been… Educating me in all the manners that pureblood society is, quite frankly, complete and utter shite. Besides, you’re family. Family comes first.”

“Really?” Andy’s eyes shifted between Hermione and Bella while she sat still and chewed on her lower lip. “I’ve been dating him for two years now. We’re not planning on breaking it up. I still have at least one year before Cygnus tries to sell me off and I plan on leaving with him before that happens. But,” she held her gaze against Bella again, “We weren’t talking about that. We were talking about you. What are you planning on doing?”

“Um,” Hermione broke into their conversation, “If someone offered him a higher price, would he accept that? Or at least hold off on the engagement?”

“Yes,” the Black duo piped up at the same time, before Bella took the lead.

“It’s likely he would. I’m not the highest catch on House Black, regardless of how Ancient or Noble we are. It’d be a slight to the Lestrange family, but it’s not unheard-of for someone to swoop in at the last second with the promise of a higher price and better status.”

Bella turned to lean her side against Hermione, drawing her legs up and supporting her body with an arm splayed out to the side.

::Are you hinting what I’m thinking you are? :: Bella hissed quietly. Hermione only nodded her head slowly in response.

“You know, it’s highly disconcerting to hear you two talking like that. Like, I know no one else is going to give you anything for it but you sound like a snake. It’s kind of creepy. You know.” Andy sat back with a sarcastic expression painted on her face.

“If I offer your Father a higher price, do you think he would accept and cancel his current arrangement with Lestrange?” Hermione directed her question towards Andy.

During Andy’s explanation the thought had lodged itself into her head and wouldn’t leave. It beat out their previous plan of just ignoring the impending engagement, and would be easy enough to handle if Cygnus accepted. She’d pay him from a vault of money she didn’t really have a stake in, and once Bella was free to leave from Cygnus’s guardianship she could simply cease contact and she’d be free. She didn’t voice her opinion that it would make her feel better as well, to have Rodolphus no longer leering at Bella like he already owned her.

“Maybe? I mean if all you're aiming to do is waste his time it might work. But most of the old families don’t have much of a tolerant view on homosexuality. To put it mildly. Something or other about it being proof that the individual couldn’t bear children or further the line. But at a high enough price? He might just bite.”

“How would Cissa take it?” Hermione shifted Bella until she was seated between her legs again, arms wrapped tightly around her torso. “She’s still arranged for Malfoy, right? Would she be okay with you both getting out like that?”

“Oh bloody Merlin, she loves that dunderhead to hell and back. It’s always, ‘Lucius this, Lucius that’, with her. Even if they weren’t already in an arrangement she’d be head over heels for him.”

---oo---

Nearly two hours passed while the witches cooked up a plan for Cygnus to meet with Hermione. Since the onset of Yule break was only in a week, they planned to send a return letter along with a note of interest from Hermione. They also planned on letting him know none too gently that Hermione would be accompanying Bella to their home over the break. Their time was also spent determining how they would word her letter of interest. They knew they would have to be specific and clarify that she was from a Great House in the America’s. Andy and Bella were sure that If they could trump Hermione up enough and hint to her wealth in a sufficient manner that Cygnus would have almost no choice but to accept.

Neither Bella nor Hermione felt the need to ruminate on the fact that it wasn’t really her name or heritage, so long as it accomplished their mission.

The weeks having passed had clued Hermione into how much of a benefit it was to have a name that could work to her advantage. Using their gold and influence was slowly becoming second nature whenever it could benefit her.

After a particularly long lull in the conversation Hermione sat up slightly against the headboard before broaching another topic.

“If he does decline the offer, how will that go? Especially if you still attempt to call it all off?”

“Well,” the warm body in her lap began, “He can do one of a few different things. Firstly he could decline your offer, hold me against my will, and murder me. Putting the whole ordeal behind him.”

“Would he really do that? Murder one of his own children for declining a marriage?” Hermione’s face grew angry and flushed with righteous heat.

“I wouldn’t put it past him. It’s definitely happened in pureblood families in the past. Easier to deal with a death in the family than a shame that could taint their name for generations. Especially easy considering how many of the right people they usually have in their pockets. Old money and prestige buys you a lot of leeway with Aurors and courts.” Bella took a deep breath before continuing.

“As I was saying, he could murder me. Secondly, he could just Imperius me into accepting my fate. Probably he’d have to move up the ceremony, or at least had me sign the marriage certificate. Once that’s done, the magic binding it would hold me. I’d be screwed, with no way out. Divorce needs the husband’s approval and a reason that’s agreed to be legitimate by an impartial third party. And since almost no third party is impartial where a pureblood is concerned, well suffice to say that'll never happen. Lastly he could just attempt to hurt me physically or mentally enough that sequestering me in St. Mungo’s forever would be my only option. I’d never be seen again, and it’d save face with the other families if he could give them fake reason for my disappearance.”

“Our more likely scenario is that he bites at the upped price and prestige. He’s greedy beyond belief,” Andy broke in.

“So, Em’ , will you marry me?” Bella looked up at Hermione through her raven locks and attempted a look of pure innocence. It served to only get Hermione giggling.

::Yes, :: the witch leaned down to press a chaste kiss to Bella’s forehead.

“Aw, you two are so adorable for not being a couple.” Andy shot them both a cheeky grin before rocking side to side in delight.

---oo---

Before Andy left them alone for the night the trio went over the plan again. When they finally finished Bella was exhausted beyond belief and Hermione was right beside her in that. Neither had thought that planning an escape from the shackles of marriage would be so tiring.

Without any words spoken both witches grabbed what they needed and headed towards the lonely Prefect’s bathroom to soak themselves and unwind. Fluffy towels, warm humid air, and blessed silence met them as they entered.

Hermione left her bag against the alcove built into the room before making her way to the side of the bath and flicking her wrist to fill it with warm water and a cascade of bubbles. The room slowly filled with steam and the warm scent of fresh pine. As she waited for the bath to fill she stripped and turned to throw her clothing back into the alcove and nearly choked on her tongue.

Bella was turned away from her, naked but for the ringlets of black that spilled over her shoulder and down her back. The bright red runemarks were overlaid on her porcelain skin, the only thing to give a color to her otherwise ethereal look. Warmth dropped through her core to leave a heated mess where once stood a stoic and level-headed witch.

She only began to move again once her mind came out of its haze as she realized she’d been staring for an ungodly amount of time at the pale and athletic body in front of her. Turning on her heel she nearly dived into the water and pointedly made her way to a corner to sit and stare at a wall, away from Bella.

Within short order Bella turned and meandered her way to the edge of the batch, hips purposefully swaying and slyly grinning at Hermione. Hermione was quite sure she’d never been so warm before in her entire life and for a single moment she felt like slipping from her skin and disappearing would be a better fate than continuing on in this daze. The water was so warm it nearly burned her skin, the scar on her arm sent out pulsing heat deep into her muscle and up across her arm and shoulder, her cheeks were burning with a flush and this beautiful catastrophe of a witch was the cause of it all.

“So, what do you want in return for helping me with this?”

The question caught Hermione off guard.

‘What do I want? Why would I want anything?’

“Nothing? I don’t need anything in return.” She settled for voicing her thoughts directly instead of asking Bella to clarify or side step the question.

“Well what’s your trade? You’re getting me out of this marriage, what do you want in return?”

“Bella,” an exasperated tone bled into her words, “I don’t want anything. I just want to help you.”

The dark haired witch before her dunked her whole body beneath the water before returning to the surface and settling her hair out of her face to lay down her back. Her eyes narrowed as if she was trying to pierce Hermione.

“Nothing is free. Everyone wants something.”

“Not me.” Hermione leaned back into the tile behind her, drawing her legs up onto the ledge she sat upon and wrapping her arms around them.

“Bull. Everyone does. I’m beset on all sides by those I hate, those who want to control me. Cygnus, for what I’m worth in coin to him. Voldemort, for my use as a weapon. Rodolphus for his ownership of my soul and body. And now Dumbledore, for my worth as a potential spy or piece on his chessboard. So what do you want? What am I worth to you?”

The scar on her arm had abruptly turned from soothing to scathing as pain lanced up the muscle. Her free hand instinctively found its way to massaging the skin in loose grasping motions. Fighting through the pain threatening to break through she stilled her breath while her heart began beating furiously in her chest.

‘Is this how he trapped her? Fueling her broken worldview that any kindness only came in expectation of some trade?’

In a single movement she lunged forward until she was standing toe to toe with Bella, arms wrapped tightly around the witch and body pressed firmly against her own. Resting her forehead against Bella breathed deeply and pressed her forehead lightly against the witch.

::I told you already, I want nothing back. I want to help you. ::

Where Bella had previously stilled within her arms she suddenly reciprocated the position Hermione was in, wrapping her arms around her and pressing her body forwards.

::Okay. ::

Chapter Text

If someone had sat Narcissa down and forced her to really reflect on how she’d lived her life she’d quickly and readily come to the conclusion that it had been relatively easy up until this point.

Throughout multiple instances in her life the fact that she was both the youngest and the smallest of the Black siblings had had its advantages. The biggest in her estimation was that she was consistently underestimated by both her peers and elders alike.

Where Bellatrix was, in general, quick to curse or bully for any slight brought up against her no matter how imagined it was, Narcissa simply tallied the infraction. She’d make grand and sweeping gestures of wiping it under the rug while retaining a picture perfect clarity of what had happened. Insults and tricks and pranks of all manner and nature were, to the outside observer, simply water that ran of her back. But they were never truly forgotten.

While Bella was the sister who got even, Narcissa only got revenge.

Her eldest sister’s moods and opinions were mercurial by nature whereas her own were stable and well projected. If she said she didn’t appreciate magenta earrings on Monday, you could be assured that come Friday she’d plot your murder if you gave her a magenta earrings on a Friday.

Andy was much the same as Bella though she spun out in a more positive direction. The base behind the actions were close enough though. There were reasons after all for why people constantly wondered if they were actually twins. Visuals were only the half of it. The two thought so much alike that it seemed they shared one mind, more often than not. Andy was smart with books and quick with a wand, her prowess and skill with schooling and spells only second to Bella’s achievements.

They differed where the matter of personal drive was involved. Andy lacked the conviction and hard fought assurance that she was right in all manners while Bella’s were rock solid. Her middle sister only excelled because it was the minimum amount of effort that was expected of her whereas Bella excelled simply because she chose to do so.

Narcissa’s own temperament kept her more in line with Andy than Bella. The eldest Black was loud and brash and as prone to wear her heart on her sleeve as she was to clam up into a sullen mess. Her sister was somewhat of an emotional train wreck. Though she’d never state that fact to Bella.

Andy was much more like herself. Quiet. Manipulative. Hard to read in any situation and ready to save her own skin whenever possible. A consummate Slytherin. She’d glow with pride at each and every personal achievement and was cunning beyond measure. Narcissa had learned more from watching her middle sister than she ever had from imitating Bella’s brash and uncouth nature. Andy was warm and ingratiating. She broke through pureblood rhetoric to reach across the aisle that separated the Houses from one another. Bella was cold and callous, perfectly happy to spend her school years avoiding anyone outside of Slytherin. Andy was the shoulder to cry on while Bella had been the one who caused the crying in the first place. Andy was the scalpel where Bella was a hammer. Or at least she had, until a certain short haired witch with soft brown eyes that spoke of years beyond her age had arrived.

But Narcissa herself?

She wasn’t sure exactly where she fit in among her sisters. She knew she’d never be a true master of manipulation like her middle sibling could sometimes be. She’d never be strong enough to openly disdain anyone or treat them with cold unfiltered contempt. Her schoolwork and knowledge set weren’t well-rounded and the actions of comforting someone else were alien and unnatural to her.

She didn’t know what she was. But she knew what she wasn’t.

When she was younger and had only just received her letter to Hogwarts her Mother had sat back in a high backed chair while sipping from an ornate crystal glass and announced that she was different. That she rarely could tell what was happening behind those eyes, so different from her own. She’d called Narcissa cold as ice and instead of the inscrutable backhand it had really been she’d taken it instead as a compliment. It was so out of the blue and striking that she’d sought to embody it. If her own Mother couldn't tell what she was thinking or what her emotions were then it only stood to reason that no one else should be able to as well.

One of the few things that could break through her facade were her own emotions. Parental guidance was… lacking, if she was honest, and the job of teaching her how to manage her emotions had fallen instead to her sisters. Bella, who lashed out at anyone and anything that rubbed her the wrong way, and Andy, who bottled everything up inside until she walked around with a little smirk that said someone is going to die. They hadn’t been useful teachers.

Control of her own emotions had become forcing them behind a wall until it was too much, and she cracked. Though she was twelve and young and far too small for it, her tantrums could thrash rooms and her ire had no bounds. She’d learned from the best after all and Bella was truly the best at unmitigated destruction. The emotions were still hard and scratched at her in uneven ways, but she could cope now. So long as someone was there to help.

When Lucius had begun to pay attention to her at the beginning of the year it had startled her from her icy facade so much that she’d had no idea how to deal with it. Blowing up wasn’t the right response and neither was hiding away her own interest in him. It was hard to come to grips with the fact that despite their prearranged marriage, years away, Lucius was interested in her. Her! Of all people!

Not a single bit of that development was helped by the fact that she’d harbored her own little crush on him throughout the previous year.

In the end she’d been forced to seek out help from a third party. Emelia was familiar enough through her eldest sister that asking for help didn’t seem too outlandish and divorced enough from both herself and Lucius that she could trust she’d not try to twist or turn them in any particular direction. When all was said and done her advice was less helpful than it was merely reassuring but it had served its purpose.

And throughout it all she’d still remained on the peripheries of both her classmates and family’s thoughts. The few topics and opinions she’d show a bright-eyed interest towards had been potions, healing arts, and Lucius. Lucius, for the obvious affection they shared between each other. Potions and Healing for the demanding skill set necessary to master them. Both arts needed a mastery of emotion and reasoning to understand and acquire anything more than a base level understanding.

Potion work require a no-nonsense approach. The slightest mistake could be the difference between melting a cauldron and dying or perfectly crafted draught. Healing demanded a precise control and application of her magic so as to help the subject instead of hurt them. She’d learned over time and countless books how one could twist into the other if she didn’t remain calm and calculated. An errant thought or misplaced emotion could mean the difference between a spell meant to heal a cut building painful scar tissue instead. A regrown bone could become arthritic and painful for life. Simply attempting to heal a flesh wound could turn the site cancerous.

The intricacy and precision necessary to excel was fascinating to her.

Lucius had quickly become an extension of herself. Their tentative relationship had blossomed quickly and he’d become one of the few people besides her sisters that she’d never tire of being around. She allowed herself to be open with him, dropping the icy exterior she’d built up. Thoughts, emotions, ideas and aspirations. He took all of it in and gave back in equal measure.

He had grown up in much the same manner as she had, siblings notwithstanding. The lap of luxury and a society that nearly worshiped the ground he walked on was his birthright. He was honest with his intents and smart beyond his years. Being the sole focus of his Father had forced him to elevate beyond his peers in order to impress. Determination that he would amount to something worthy of his Father was his driving force. Abraxas only ever expected the best of him as the only heir to House Malfoy. And when the best wasn’t present or he slacked in any manner he would gamely show Lucius exactly why he needed to improve. Bruises, cuts, sharp words and scars motivated Lucius beyond the capabilities of his peers.

The arrangement between their families only fueled the burgeoning feelings between them. Narcissa wasn’t scared of her eventual marriage like Bellatrix or angered by the mere existence of her intended like Andromeda.

Narcissa could understand the rationality behind Bellatrix’s disdain for Rodolphus. He was an enormous git with a brain the size of a pea and a body sculpted for mayhem and pain. He was an unrepentant bully who got rewarded for his childhood sadism. She could even understand her reasonings behind escaping anyone's attempts to shackle or control her.

She was twelve, not daft. Sexism in the Wizarding world was taught young and the lessons were hard learned.

Even Andy’s secret was reasonable in her eyes once she’d finally determined what it was.

Not that she could get herself to care about said secret one way or another. Bella certainly seemed to be bucking conventions and if her middle sister was also going to do so she’d support them both. It honestly had bothered her more that she’d found Ted lip-locked with her sister rather than hear about their relationship directly.

Cygnus and Druella had drilled it into their heads from an early age that being pureblood meant something in their world. That someone being impure meant that they weren’t respectable. Weren’t worthy of the gift of magic. That they were a stain on the whole of Wizardkind itself. She’d been bathed in that pervasive supremacy since she’d been born and it had only been reinforced under the watchful eyes of her Aunt and Uncles. But still, she was twelve.

Young, and far too smart for her age. She’d made friends in secret with those of lesser blood and been able to formulate questions of why they were below her since she’d been able to comprehend that they were treated differently. Her sisters continued success at going behind her parents back was a sign that if she wanted to she could do it as well. She only lacked a reason.

Why should she stand out? Why make so many influential people aware of her inner thoughts and turn them to possible enemies? Bell and Andy might have been smart enough and strong enough to take care of themselves, but she was under no illusion that she could do the same. In the end it was better to not strain her already tense relationships or bring attention to herself. Rather let them think she was complacent and unknowing rather than capable of reading the landscape and choosing what would keep her safest.

And even with all this, this crystallized knowledge of where she fit in and her own capabilities for keeping herself safe and away from any suspicion, here she was. Outside her dorm. Past curfew, at night. Looking for Emelia of all people.

The girl had been an enigma from the first day she’d seen her. A pureblood from across the Atlantic who spoke with a similar accent despite telling them all that she’d only just arrived to the country. The heir to a well respected and Noble House that had seemed extinct until only just recently. She could be prim and proper while still bucking all conventions of normalized high society. Short hair, coarse language. She even wore Muggle clothing when not in class or when lounging around on weekends. Even her Muggle clothes were strange, out of place among the other students.

When the days passed into weeks into months and it became clear that Bella had become rather attached, romantically if she was correct, she’d resolved to figure out whatever she could on the rather intriguing witch.

Narcissa had waited until nearly eleven, well past lights out and safe from most of the Prefect’s patrolling the halls and their respective common-rooms before sneaking from her dorm and sleeping roommates. She’d wedged herself in tight between a large couch that was pressed tightly up against a wall. The gap it left was just enough room for her to hide behind while allowing her an unobstructed view of the rest of the room. Both doorways to the boys and girls dorms were clear to see as well as the pathway out to the entrance.

The room had been nearly silent and empty for an hour before anything remotely interesting occurred. A dark form had peeked out at an angle from the doorway of the girl's hallway before the form suddenly rushed out into the weak firelight. A second form had followed soon after and Narcissa had been able to get a better look. Bella had been in the lead while Emelia was dragged along silently, her hand secured in Bella’s.

Neither of the witches spoke a word as they sneaked about and headed towards the entrance. Narcissa had crawled out of her hiding place once they stepped into the passage and began to follow as close and as quickly as she dared. Her small frame was an advantage here as she kept to corners and hid behind armored statues whenever Bella or Emelia stopped to scan their surroundings.

They had slowly made their way down to the first floor via disused and out of the way staircases instead of heading towards the main Hall as Narcissa had been expecting them to do. Once or twice she’d needed to duck behind cover as Emelia or Bella would stop and turn about to check if they were being followed.

‘Honestly, if they can’t spot me I don’t know how they’d expect to see anyone else coming.’

A single candle lit their way, one that Bella had only pulled out once they reached the south side of the castle. A familiar eerie blue glow had sprung up from Bella’s hand as she kept it out in front of herself in search of anyone else. The enchanted item she was using had been specifically tuned to the Black trio and would only emit visible light to their eyes. It had been a rather eccentric gift from their far more eccentric Uncle Alphard.

The only unexpected hitch in their late night excursion had been an unexpected showing of Filch, the Caretaker. He’d nearly cornered them all as they reached a turn in a corridor and it had only been the untimely mewl of a kitten at his heels that had alerted them to his arrival. Bella and Emelia had ducked into a corner she couldn’t see while she herself had thrown herself behind an overlong tapestry that stood off the wall and hung down until it pooled on the ground.

After the old gump had wandered off she’d waited a few moments before peeking her head outside the cover of the tapestry and stared down the hallway. When the familiar blue glow reappeared she’d left her hiding spot behind and crept closer until she could make out the figures of the two witches.

After only a few more twists and turns the duo had stopped again and stood before a large and imposing statue. The design was medieval, depicting a rather frightening old woman huddled and shrouded with a stone cloak, her hands clasped in front of her face with a jeweled butterfly resting on her knuckles. Emelia had stepped forward then, hauntingly thin and ethereal in the blue glow, to grasp the clasped hands of the statue and pull down with all her might. When it looked like her feet were off the ground the hands she held onto jerked downwards as something gave way.

A shuffling and grinding of stone on stone, muffled as if with a spell, reached her ears and she watched in amazement as a hidden passage began to open up. Within the span of a few seconds the statue had receded entirely to only leave a black pit of an open doorway. Emelia and Bella had immediately stepped through the passage and into the inky blackness where even the enchanted blue glow wouldn’t pierce.

Narcissa had looked side to side down the hallway before power walking with all the speed her tiny body could muster and slipped past the statue as it began to move back into position. The tunnel she found herself in extended forwards and at a downward angle off into the distance. A slowly bobbing blue glow came from the very far end and Narcissa crept forward slowly to follow.

The rather eerie walk continued on for quite a few minutes before the pair in front of her appeared to reach a dead end. The smaller witch, Emelia , appeared to wave her hand up and down in front of herself and against the stone wall in front of her until a glowing pattern began to emerge. A green glowing glyph of some fashion began to stand out starkly against the darkness and before Narcissa had a chance to guess what it was the wall faded out of existence. A cold wind immediately flowed into the passageway and Narcissa could see the thin cloak that Bella had on billowing in the wind. When the two witches disappeared suddenly from her view Narcissa shot forward to follow them through before the passage could close back up.

A cold wind buffeted her against the opening and snow drifted up in billows against her shins as she entered open air. The rather stifling passage had been left behind as it opened up into the back of the castle grounds against a large stone outcropping near the Black Lake. She’d known that there were multiple secret or hidden passages throughout the school but had never dreamed of finding any of them. She knew once this was over she’d ask Emelia or Bella for any more that they knew of, having that information just seemed prudent to her somehow. The fact that it was Emelia who had seemed to know how to operate the passage was confusing and intriguing in equal measure as it only served to increase her desire to understand and uncover the mystery surrounding the witch.

The stony outcropping it had opened onto was surrounded on all sides by larger rocks and boulders that disguised the entrance. High in the sky the silver moon was a fuzzy ball of light as its rays filtered through wispy clouds. Fortunately enough the footprints that the witches had left were still visible in the poor light and allowed her an easy trail to follow.

Narcissa ventured further and further to the dense woods of the Forbidden Forest as the footprints ringed the outside of the Black Lake.

Most students would have balked at being anywhere near the woods so late at night but she knew Bella was more than likely drawn to them. Any danger housed within would have offended her to leave unexplored. For her part Narcissa was fairly sure that any of the large and dangerous beasts would have headed deeper into the woods to escape the oncoming cold and the numerous wards surrounding the grounds would keep out the rest.

Minutes passed in the cold as she trudged forward an a warming charm soon became necessary to keep her teeth from chattering painfully in her mouth. The winter weather had come down hard within the past few days as if making up for the rather large lack of precipitation that was usually more common during the warmer months. Each breath she took puffed up into a glittering cloud in front of her face as she dutifully trudged onward.

Soon enough the trail of winding footprints came to a halt before a towering assortment of rocks that jutted out into the Lake. It was a picturesque scene. Large boulders hewn from some ancient rock were settled into a line that extended out past where she knew the first drop-off to be. It was a stone knife thrust deep into something soft and malleable. The top of the rocks were covered in a thin dusting of snow that spilled off the edges and piled against the ice below. Emelia and Bella had ascended the rocks and were currently at the halfway point near the end. Voices drifted up and over the rocks to fall back down with the wind. Narcissa strained her ears in an attempt to catch any of the conversation.

As she stood still and quiet her muscles began to shiver as the cold made its way past the meager charm she’d placed. Inside herself she debated on whether it would be a smart move to stay away from them or move closer to the duo. If she didn’t swing wide in her attempt to get to the other side of the rocks they would observe her own footprints when they left. If she was unlucky they’d even catch her before she made her way back inside.

The building interest in their secret meeting won out and she began to trudge through the thicker snow between the rocks and the treeline. Her footsteps were muffled but she knew the illusion would break if she so much as made a misstep. She could only hope she’d be lucky enough to miss any branches or other detritus hidden up beneath the snow.

“...we don’t… enough time…”

A soft voice floated over the rock formation as she continued on her way, soft and clipped. She was still too far away to catch the full conversation or determine exactly who was speaking but the lack of bite to the words led her to believe it was Emelia. It seemed the witches were also doing their best to be quiet and hidden in the night.

A second voice came over clearer as she reached the base of the stones.

“You know how bloody fucking rich that is coming from you, a time traveler, right?”

‘Bella.’

She was sure of it, the tone was unmistakable. But the content she’d heard had her second guessing her ears.

‘Time Travel?... What?’

Narcissa placed her back against the stones and crouched lower before shuffling forward to creep closer to the witches. The lake had frozen over the earlier part of the week but she judged it safe enough to hold her weight.

“...He accepts it we can push a date out until we’ve... Once you’re free of him, we simply do what we want… have no claim over you.”

‘What’s Emelia talking about? What date? What claim?’

Narcissa closer her eyes and stilled her breathing in an attempt to catch the full conversation. She’d be lying if she didn’t admit this was what she’d come out for. Mysterious secrets. Still though, it left her no closer to understanding what was actually going on. Her feet shuffled further out as her weight pressed down on the clear ice.

“Did you get the last one?”

The tinkling and sharp touch of glass phials moving about carried over the edge as the witches above her began to rummage around something.

Narcissa was even more thoroughly confused than she had been only moments ago. Honestly thought she couldn’t get any more after hearing time travel uttered by someone she considered sane.

Footsteps from above and behind her stood out as the witches moved further up the rock. Narcissa mirrored their actions, gently sliding further to the side so as to not lose their voices.

CRACK

Her eyes lurched open and her mouth ran dry.

The ice below her gave a rather unsettling lurch downwards.

---oo---

Hermione caught the sound first.

They had been busy packing up their now filled phials of Ice Wisps and prepping to head back to the castle. Their late night ingredient excursion had been a resounding success and they’d been prepared for a nice warm end to the evening. The sound of shifting and breaking ice had put a stop to those thoughts. Bella’s fingers lost their hold on the last phial and it clattered loudly into the satchel at her feet.

“The bloody hell was that?” Bella asked, her voice barely above a whisper but filled with surprise.

“Um-”

Hermione’s reply was cut short as a second loud CRACK filled the air. As the sound faded into an echo a cray rang out at the side of the rock they were on. She immediately dove down onto her hands and knees, peering over the edge to assess the danger. Her quick movement gave her a glimpse of whomever it was that had decided to eavesdrop their conversation, blond hair and coal-black outerwear.

The moon above shifted out from behind cloud cover and the figure was revealed. Before Hermione’s very eyes the person below her lurched precariously as the ice beneath them gave way completely. Her immediate response was to lay down on her front completely, throwing her arm down and forgetting her wand entirely.

“Grab onto my hand!” She shouted, hand and arm waving frantically above the person below her. Stretching her body and arm out fully she finally felt a small fist close around her fingers before a tug at her midsection began dragging her backwards. Bella held on tightly to Hermione’s midriff as she backed up and slowly pulled them both upwards.

“I got you, I got you,” the dark haired witch repeated into her side like a mantra. Within a few seconds she was free of the edge and the person holding onto her came next. Water splashed onto the stone and Hermione’s grip tightened when she realized it was Narcissa clutching onto her hand.

---oo---

Narcissa was cold. A deep-seated, bone chilling, teeth chattering, cold. The bottom portion of her robes had soaked through when the ice below her finally gave way and the bottom fell out of her world. Now water was dripping off her in rivulets and freezing on contact with the air around her and stone beneath her. Her wand was still tightly secured to the holster on her arm, having fallen through so quickly that she’d missed even a chance to react.

One of the two bodies above her was waving their own wand in frantic motions while hissing warming and drying spells as fast as they could. The other person was seated above her, knees on either side of her shoulders to support her head. A warm hand swept up and down her hair while they murmured soothing words to keep her awake.

She realized belatedly that the witch casting the spells was Bella and that the witch holding her head in her lap had to be Emelia. The air surrounding her body began to warm as the heating spells began to take effect. Her soaking robes and freezing skin warmed up to a fluffy heat as though she was seated in front of a fire.

Still the new heat did nothing to correct her internal temperature as her muscles shivered and her teeth chattered painfully. Breathing was painful as her lungs attempted to only take as short of breaths as possible.

‘This was a bad idea…’

Minutes passed before she finally felt secure enough and warm enough to try breathing regularly. Bella noticed immediately once her body regained some of its composure.

“Cissa, what in the name of Morrigan are you doing out here? Why’d you follow us? You could have died!” Bella hissed angrily at her as she transfigured a warm blanket from what appeared to have been a handkerchief.

“I Just… Just wanted to see what you were doing.” Her voice still shivered and stuttered from the cold as she replied.

“Come on Bella, you can interrogate her later. Let’s just get her inside before someone comes out and investigates.”

Emelia moved her head off her knees before placing her onto the stone gently. Standing up from her kneeling position she cast a featherweight charm and lifted her up, one arm wrapped around her back and the other supporting the underside of her knees.

---oo---

The walk back to the dorms was silent between the three witches as Narcissa hoped and prayed that Bella wouldn’t be too harsh on her for following them out. And nearly dying.

They retraced the earlier path led out by their footprints until they reached the entrance to the secret passage back into the castle. The wall had closed up sometime after they had exited, but Bella made quick work with another glowing glyph to allow them entrance.

The return was quick and uneventful from there on out. No ghosts blocked their path and Filch never once neared them as they kept to the shadows. When they entered into the common-room, instead of heading into the dorms as Narcissa had been expecting, Emelia carried her into her own room.

The trio remained silent as Emelia set her down gently onto the bed, releasing her with a sigh as the weight left her arms. The cold had fully fled Narcissa by the time they’d reached the dungeons but she still curled herself against the headboard and grabbed onto one of Emelia’s large stuffed pillows to hold against her body. Her small arms grasped tightly as if she was holding onto it for dear life.

“Cissa, look at me.”

Bella’s voice brokered no disobedience and Narcissa slowly looked up to meet her gaze.

“What were you thinking Cissa?” Bella’s voice was tired with the lack of sleep and energy. It left her flat and emotionless to the point where Narcissa couldn’t get a read on what she might have been thinking.

“I… I just wanted to know what you two were keeping secret. You spend all your time together, I just wanted to know why,” she replied weakly. She knew there was no use lying. She’d been caught red-handed and barely saved. She felt no compunction to obfuscate her reasons for following them out into the night.

“What did you hear? Before you fell through the ice?” Emelia was sitting to the side of the bed with a worried look painted on her face. Her short hair was twisted into short curls and damp clumps from the melted snow and cold wind.

“Not much. I was never really able to hear you fully. The wind would only carry your voices a little. You said something about time? And time travel…?” It still didn’t make any sense to the witch and she had a sense she’d not gotten anywhere near the full conversation.

“Oh…” Emelia’s face lowered into a crestfallen grimace while her eyes shot up to stare intently at Bella.

“Is that all you heard Narcissa?” Bella tensed visibly.

“Yes!” she exclaimed, “I don’t know why you were talking about time travel but that’s all I heard. I just thought you going off somewhere secret to snog or something. Not wander about the lake and talk about bloody time travel.” Her heartbeat began to quicken its pace in her chest. Why were they worried about her overhearing them? Everyone knew that the Ministry had Time Turners. If Emelia or Bella were using one it wasn’t much of a shock. It was just unusual. What did it matter?

‘Unless…’

Narcissa’s eyes widened dramatically when the thought hit her. And once it did she knew she’d never let it go.

It lined up.

Suspicious witch shows up unexpectedly with a story of coming from another country?

Check.

Said witch doesn’t conform the societal standards for the time and appears to have only a limited awareness of them?

Check.

Little inconsistencies built up into big inconsistencies. Emelia’s eyes seemed to widen just as much as her own once she realized how hard she was staring at her.

Could she…?’

“Are… Are you from…?” She couldn’t even finish the question when Emelia tilted her head backwards to stare at the ceiling and let out a long and exasperated sigh.

“We could Obliviate her,” Emelia’s voice was quiet, as if she hadn’t really wanted to voice that.

Narcissa, for her part, was just confused.

‘What’s Obliviate do?’

Whatever it was in particular, it didn’t sound nice.

“No, full stop. We’re not Obliviating my sister.” Bella spoke from her side of the room. Narcissa’s eyes were drawn to her immediately in suspicion. Bella’s immediate dismissal of the action seemed to clarify that it was something she should avoid, if at all possible.

“Then what do we do? She’s already guessed it. How do we get a handle on this?”

“We don’t. We tell her.”

“We haven’t told Andy. Are you sure about this?”

“Yes,” Bella’s voice was hard and offered no chance for a rebuttal. “We’re not Obliviating my sister. Either of them. At any point. She’s figured it out now, she’d just figure it out again at some point. And that’s besides the fact that we’ve no idea if it would negatively affect her at this age.”

“Good point. And I wouldn’t feel that comfortable with it either. Using it once was… more than enough times.” Emelia’s eyes softened as she peered down at Narcissa, who simply tugged the pillow closer to her chest.

“So, Cissa,” Bella spoke up, “How well can you keep a secret?”

Chapter Text

Hermione only needed to listen to a few minutes of bickering and questioning between the sisters before both she and Bella determined that no, Narcissa could not keep a secret to save her life. Or theirs.

The little witch had summoned up a put out expression, haphazardly throwing out guesses and questions when she realized that she wouldn’t get all the answers that night. She practically vibrated with nervous energy as she shifted back and forth on the duvet, eyes shooting back and forth from Hermione to Bella. One could be forgiven for forgetting that she’d almost drowned earlier that night.

Hermione found it cute. Bella found it annoying. And Narcissa, she just found it frustrating that she wasn’t going to be told anything of actual importance.

“So. You’re from the future.” The twelve-year old stated, more than questioned. Her voice was deadpanned and as frigid as the weather enveloping the castle.

“Yes, since you’ve already figured that all out, I can confirm that yes, I am from the future.”

“How far?”

“Far enough,” Hermione replied.

“And your name isn’t Emelia?” Narcissa questioned while rolling and pinching the duvet between her fingers. Anyone else might have thought she was fidgeting but Bella knew that her younger sister was more nervous than anything. She likely still wasn’t sure that she’d walk away from the room with all these memories intact.

“No, it’s not.”

“Your real name is Hermione.”

“Again, yes-”

“Why does Bella know all this?” She interrupted the older witch with her question, throwing her sister a scathing look. Bella merely leaned her head back and let out a long groan of exasperation.

“Because she deserved to know. She was also already proficient at keeping it all a secret.”

“And I can’t?”

“Not yet.” Hermione’s reply was subdued. She’d have no way to truly placate Cissa for tonight and was hoping to not offend her too much before she left.

“You’re a lying snake-”

“Exactly what I said!” Bella broke into the conversation, a wild grin thrown at Cissa while a finger pointedly poked into Hermione’s shoulder.

The witches danced around the topic of not telling Cissa or Andy anything about Hermione’s real reason for being in their time, but mostly they focused on forestalling any further questions that Cissa could rush to ask. Bella knew that the conversation tonight would likely end nowhere, Cissa had no training in deflecting someone from her mind or hiding her true thoughts or feelings from intrusion. The icy facade and emotional unavailability she would occasionally act was just that, an act. The fewer questions they could let her get away with the better. It would take time to get her ability at occlumency up to a level that Hermione and herself were comfortable with and none of that would be happening late at night after saving her sister from a freezing lake.

“Well then, enough about Em’ lying. Let’s get back to the main topic. How do we keep this all hushed up?” Bella asked quietly once her mirth had fallen back to her current tired levels.

“I can learn occlumency! I swear, just tell me what to do and I’ll keep it all quiet,” Cissa spoke up eagerly.

Bella and Hermione patiently began to explain in no uncertain terms that there was simply no way to go about training her in occlumency in one single sitting, until finally the younger witch relented and dropped the subject. Leaving her with just Hermione’s real name and the assurance that she truly was from the future would have to be enough for one night. Especially one as short as theirs had been.

A quick Tempus charm that Hermione had thrown out had revealed that it was closing in on two AM. To top it all off all three of the witches still had a full class load tomorrow, which technically started in less than five hours. Hermione wasn’t looking forward to working all day long with little to no sleep and a precocious pre-teen bounding after her heels.

They ended up settling for telling Narcissa that she should avoid any eye contact with her professors throughout the day and to keep her emotions to a minimum. That little bit of advice would have to suffice until she was able to meet with them in the Room of Requirement after dinner finished the next, current?, day. The promises of answers and the training to come had luckily been just enough to get the little witch to settle down and return to her own dorm room.

Neither Bella nor Hermione knew exactly how to handle the situation they now found themselves in but knew that they’d need to get a hold on it all quite fast. Andromeda would have to be told to meet with them as well, and oaths needed to be made that would keep the witches tongue-tied so that they wouldn’t accidentally reveal the secret to the whole student body. The fact that obliviation was now off the table meant that their training would have to advance quickly unless they were willing to believe that neither Dumbledore nor Voldemort, should they see him over break, would attempt to learn anything from the sisters. And Hermione just wasn’t willing to take that risk.

When the last echoes of Narcissa’s footfalls faded away behind the now locked door to Hermione’s room both witches turned to change out into sleeping clothes, ready to set the excitement of the night behind them. Sleep beckoned to both witches in equal measure and Hermione was nearly one hundred percent sure that she would fall asleep on her feet if she didn’t fall into the bed right away. Her muscles ached from yanking the rather waterlogged Cissa from the icy water and her eyes burned from being awake for nearly twenty hours.

Hermione’s face flushed, and she awkwardly turned around when Bella began removing her shirt and pulling it up above her head. The quick flash of a toned stomach had Hermione’s face and next flushing with heat, a feeling that spread to the rest of her body in a not unwanted fashion. The soft thump of clothing filled the room as Bella dropped her day wear into a pile at the foot of Hermione’s wardrobe.

Hermione knew that the dark haired witch would never ask her to give her privacy when they were changing together but nonetheless she still preferred to turn away and not reveal exactly how Bella made her feel.

In a few seconds, breath heavy with the warmth still flooding her body, Hermione had also begun to strip and change into warm clothes for sleeping. The routine shared between them had become a normal and steady comfort after the past few weeks of sharing the same bed, but each time she still felt a flutter fill her body and a warmth to her cheeks when they actually returned here for sleep. It was a feeling she both loathed for how wanton she believed it made her look and how much she still craved it.

An old undershirt had been the first item she’d transfigured into something specifically for sleeping, far too long and ridiculous for anything other than laying in bed, the item ran down her thin frame to ride up about her mid thigh. The memories of wearing the same style of clothing, usually a present for Christmas or sometimes a birthday, whenever she was home during summer or winter months was a comfort she sorely needed. It wasn’t the same but it did allow her some feeling of normalcy.

When the room was quiet again she turned towards the bed and slipped beneath the duvet, soft silk sheets engulfing her form in a chilly embrace. She shivered at the change in temperature before curling up and hugging her knees to her chest.

When the mattress dipped down on the side opposite to her she knew Bella had finally joined her. She’d found out quite quickly that the witch was fond of short nightshirts, a style that pulled taut against her lanky frame and defined the muscles beneath her skin in a manner that Hermione simply adored. And if it accentuated her ‘asset’s, well, Hermione wasn’t one to complain.

A quick flick of her wand brought the still roaring fire down a barely lit pile of embers that glowed softly in the darkness of the room. Pale luminescence filtered in through the large window pressed coldly up against the Black Lake. The body laying next to her was stretching back and forth as the witch sought out a comfortable position before she exhaled loudly in exasperation.

Hermione’s first thoughts had turned to wondering if the witch would leave the bed or perhaps continue tossing and turning, but the witch surprised her. Bella turned onto her side to face the still balled up form of Hermione and gently began to push her knees away from her chest until she was pressed close into Hermione’s space, stomach and chests practically touching and noses nearly tip to tip.

‘This is new…’

Warm puffs of air that carried the sweet scent of peppermint brushed over Hermione’s lips as she stared into the deep black pools of Bella’s eyes. The flush that she’d first felt while changing had returned with force, heating her chest and rising up through her body until the tips of her ears burned. She was suddenly so hot that it seemed as if someone had lit the fire behind them and turned it into a roaring inferno.

“Thanks Hermione,” the witch across from her spoke. Hermione’s eyes had drifted lower to watch her lips move as she spoke, lips firm and tilted into a slight smile.

“Uh… It’s fine Bella.” Hermione’s mind came back to her as she suddenly remembered how to make words. “She would have been okay regardless of my actions. We were still a way off from the drop off, she’d have been alright.”

Bella shifted her body closer to Hermione until their noses were touching and locks of thick black hair covered Hermione’s cheeks and pillow.

“Still though, thank you for going after her like that. I don’t know what I’d’ve done if things had gone differently, if we were further out…”

A sense of closeness had been growing between the duo over the past few months. Within only the past weeks that feeling had blossomed into something that made Hermione’s chest tighten and warm whenever she found herself even a second alone with the witch. Their actions were automatic now. Sleeping together, eating together, studying and training as though they were both only halves of a whole.  As though they were one and the same. Nearly every day found them in a position where they were physically touching, regardless of whether the situation called for it or not.

Seeking comfort from one another had become a second nature, but to Hermione’s chagrin the closeness had yet to develop to anything more than that. She knew she was partially to blame for it, if she wanted more she would have to take some form of initiative with it. Still though, her Gryffindor courage abandoned her whenever it came to Bella. Neither one of them had yet to comment or truly question their new quasi-relationship or the shared desire that seemed to be flowing through them both.

The simple rationalization that Hermione had settled for as an explanation to their actions had been that she’d simply become a more physical person over the past few years. Physical contact and emotional assurances had been at a minimum while she’d been on the run, lost and torn from all but two and then one. Being touched and held had become a ground for her in a way that simple conversation simply could no longer achieve.

Bella brought down the carefully constructed rationalizations like a house of cards when her lips tentatively pressed against Hermione’s. A warmth bloomed from her that led her to an immediate reciprocation, pressing forward into the heat that was Bella.

It was chaste, short, and to the point. Still, she could hardly contain the thumping in her heart. The taste of mint carried over from Bella’s lips, Hermione’s tongue darting out to taste the remnants on her own.

All too soon for Hermione’s liking, Bella pulled herself back and shuffled their bodies closer until she could throw an arm comfortably around Hermione’s waist.

“Night Em’.”

“Night Bella…”

---oo---

Friday morning came too abruptly for Hermione’s liking but carried with it no sense of awkwardness of the actions of the two witches the night before. She’d awoken with her face buried into the crook of Bella’s neck, thick black locks spilled across her face and warm arms wrapped around her waist. Bella’s body pressed tightly to her own and their shared body heat making the need for a duvet almost insignificant.

The little tinkling bell that sat across the room on Hermione’s vanity had begun to chime in an effort to wake them up. A short movement from Bella’s arm shot the bell off of its perch and onto the floor before Hermione could even think about lifting herself from the bed to turn it off.

“You need a new alarm…,” Bella groggily spoke up, sleep heavy in her voice.

Warm laughter bubbled up through Hermione’s throat and fought against her control to keep it in. In response to Bella’s take on turning off the alarm she threw an arm across the witch’s back and squeezed her tighter against her body.

She’d hesitantly expected that the moment that they’d shared last night would dissolve into an unspoken occurrence, a one time action that she’d never be able to repeat. To her pleasant surprise Bella shot forward into a searing kiss once their eyes locked on one another. When she finally pulled back a sleepy cheshire grin was plastered across her face while her eyelids were till half closed. Bella’s cheeks were burning bright red against the paleness of her skin, highlighting the blush as it moved across her neck and chest.

“Morning, Hermione.”

“Hi.”

Hermione’s face glowed as she shot forward to initiate a kiss of her own, hand moving from Bella’s back to rest in the mass of curls that defined Bella’s bed head. When the kiss ended both witches leaned back and eyed each other warmly.

“Well, I don’t know about you but I could get used to waking up like that. Shall we?” Bella quietly asked, an undercurrent of excitement in her voice that was tempered when she brought up leaving the bed.

“Do we have to?” Hermione knew she was being petulant and whining but abandoning all of her classes for the day was becoming a very tempting thought.

“Yes, now come on, up. Before we resign ourselves to live and die in here. Much as I’d love to stay hidden away, I plan on dying in a bit more of a climactic fashion.”

Rolling her eyes at the witch’s exaggerations, Hermione pulled herself up and prepared to leave the bed, a deep groan of displeasure ringing out from her chest. Bella’s only response was short and clipped laughter before Hermione turned around and smacked her face with one of the soft green pillows.

Their morning preparations passed quickly, despite the frequent breaks in getting dressed that led to kisses and tight hugs. Against her more frivolous wishes Hermione soon found herself fully dressed and heading from the room to grab breakfast.

---oo---

The rest of their Friday passed in what could best be described as normalcy. They both struggled to stay awake during History of Magic, Arithmancy dragged on in much the same way as it always had, but overall it was just bland. Another normal day, despite all that had grown between them in less than twenty-four hours.

A brief respite came from the Yuletide cheer that had begun to wrap Hermione, and many other students, with its infectious charm. A smile framed her face and a spring entered into her step that rivaled the giddiness at her happily evolving relationship with Bella. Despite knowing that she would be unable to go home to her own family, she was still ready for the freedom that the vacation would provide.

She was certain that no matter how the next two weeks turned out they would be better than the last two years. One had been spent on the run and the other had been spent in a hardly lived in castle still healing from a massive battle. Anything would be better than that in her book.

She couldn’t, however, say that she wasn’t somewhat nervous. The looming eventuality of her meeting with Cygnus had become a constant thought rolling in the back of her mind. Ever since she’d offered herself as a way to save Bella from her arranged marriage she’d been worried and constantly overthinking it. Their plan had already been put into motion and the first signs were promising, but she knew it could blow up at any moment.

A letter to Cygnus asking for a meeting and a discussion about Bella’s hand in marriage had earned her a prompt response where the old wizard was obviously champing at the bit to merge his line in with someone of such a renowned heritage as the Greniers. He’d politely, if tactlessly, asked that she join Bella for her return to Black Manor. The promise to host her over the break had coincided with a request for stacks and reams of parchment from Gringotts that would prove both her legitimacy and her monetary worth. She was left with a first impression that matched Andy’s perception that he was an incredibly greedy man, always looking for a way to up his station.

Wandering through the halls of Hogwarts had become sort of a walk through a winter wonderland. Yule decorations had been strung out all over the castle halls and corridors.

Hallways had been enchanted to hold clouds that snowed, garlands of tinsel were set out across archways and meandered along like snakes as they sought out different homes from where they’d been placed. Rare flowers from northern lands had been planted into pots carved out from ice, their eerie blue and green iridescence reminiscent of sparkling crystals of snow and ice. Even Filch was seen with a smile on his face and something akin to a holiday cheer.

The festivities were a soothing balm to Hermione’s nervous heart. It didn’t make up for the lack of family but it did bring her a measure of enjoyment that she hadn’t thought she’d ever feel, stuck in the past as she was.

Their last class of the day was Ancient Runes, and as Hermione left the room she caught sight of Bella waiting for her down a corridor at a junction point. Raising her hand in silent greeting she smiled brightly and quickened her steps. As she reached Bella, no more than a few paces away, she heard a rush of words call out from behind her before the suddenly found that her shoes had no grip on the floor.

An ice sheet had sprung up from nowhere, and she was stuck right on top of it. She skidded to the right and held her balance as best she could before catching an earful of a second spell, a hastily muttered ‘Damnum de Libra,’ had her feet flying out from under her body and toppling her in a second.

Bella’s eyes had widened and her gaze was firmly planted behind Hermione as she fell flat onto her backside, stars twinkling into existence as her head cracked painfully against the layer of ice and stone beneath her.

Bella cast a quick banishing spell that removed the ice from under Hermione before striding forward purposefully and roaring out “Incarcerous!” towards whoever had dared to prank Hermione. Dark ropes of hemp spewed forth from her wand tip only to fly forward and wrap painfully around, to Hermione’s surprise, Fabian Prewett. The young man’s face was suddenly as red as his hair as Bella’s spell dug painfully into his neck as a loop curved down to wrap around his leg, effectively hobbling him.

Hermione threw herself up from her seated position, pain in her head thrown to the back of her mind, fury lancing through her features.

When she reached Fabian her hand shot forward like lightning. The crack of her hand slapping his cheek carried out across the empty corridor before a lovely pain burned into her fingertips.

“You prick,” her voice shook with anger while spikes of heat lanced up her arm in near debilitating bursts, “Are you the idiot who's been coordinating all these pranks?”

Angry brown eyes peered up at her through a pained squint, fury and embarrassment dueling in his look.

“Answer me!” Hermione’s hand gripped tighter on her wand as the ropes from Bella’s spell began to constrict. The material bit down into his skin and tightened across his neck and leg, a short groan of pain escaping him. She could feel Bella’s eyes on her as she tightened the spell even further but found that she didn’t care. The heat in her arm was dying rapidly but flames still licked up her throat.

“It’s the least you deserve, now you’ve made yourself known as Black’s little whore,” Fabian spat out in pained gasps while fighting against his bonds.

“Oh, I am so going to-”

Bella’s hand clamped down onto her own, her eyes shooting Hermione a genuine look of concern and worry. Hermione was brought back to herself when her train of thought was broken, fully able to evaluate the rather ominous position she was currently standing in.

A student was at her feet with his leg hobbled, neck throttled, and sporting a massive red mark on his cheeks while blood slowly dripped down a split in his lip. She could suddenly appreciate how horrendous it all looked, especially if someone suddenly game upon them now that the ice he’d initially struck with had been banished.

With a start she pulled herself away and out of Bella’s grasp, wand falling to her side and teeth clenching as she hissed out her discomfort.

Gulping in a large breath of air she released the bonds holding Fabian in place while she stepped backwards and out of his immediate reach. She couldn’t tell if she did that for her protection or his own. The boy leaned forward and cradled his neck with a free hand once the ropes disintegrated off of his body, fingers rubbing the obvious marks that the rope had left.

Understanding that they’d overstayed their welcome, Hermione continued stepping backwards until Bella impatiently grabbed at her hand and hissed a low, ::Let’s go ::

Bella led her off by the hand as they shot towards the entrance as fast as their feet could carry them, the courtyard and fresh air their only objective.

‘Why the hell did I do that, I could have-’

“That was not normal,” Bella parroted back her own thoughts. “I’ve dueled you over and over so many times now and I’ve you’ve never once lost your cool like that before.”

A cold gust of wind knocked into the witches and threw their robes into disarray. It was a sobering feeling for Hermione, being brought back to herself by Bellatrix of all people.

“No. I’ve done it once before.”

“When?” Bella hauled Hermione to a low wall on the edge of the courtyard before lifting herself to sit atop it and pulling Hermione right up after her.

“Those first weeks back, when you were going after me mercilessly. I kept it all bottled up until I finally cracked back at you.”

Bella grasped Hermione’s hand lightly and brought it to rest on her lap. With her free hand she began to rub soothing circles into the skin, fingers and palm ghosting over Hermione’s knuckles and tendons.

“So what, you just finally snapped when you realized who was targeting you?”

A shudder wracked its way through Hermione’s body as she thought back to the immense hatred and anger that had begun coursing through her body right before she strode up to Fabian and slapped him. It had felt so good to fight back that even now she had trouble bringing herself to regret the action.

“I just… I just felt so angry. He must have been doing this for weeks now, inconsequential little things but still… It’s grating. This is just the first time we’ve caught him in the act. I just felt this anger well up and suddenly all I wanted to do was break him for it. And now I have to be on the lookout for his retaliation...”

Hermione’s free hand traced up and down the length of the scar on her forearm.

“Does it hurt?” Bella asked, trying not to stare at Hermione’s arm while she continued soothing the wound.

A quick flex to the muscle below the scar found no residual pain. It just felt… normal. Calming and warm instead of painful and burning.

“No, but it did. Right as I looked up and you saw…”

As her words trailed off Bella’s eyebrows raised in a rare showing of concern. Hermione knew without asking that the witch was on the same train of thought as she was.

“So,” Bella’s voice was barely a whisper, “The scar.”

“The scar.” Hermione’s eyes hardened along with her curt reply.

“What did Mayweather say it could be?”

“He didn’t, at least he didn’t say it could be anything but a cursed would.” She shook her head before sighing tiredly. “He’d never seen anything like it before. During all of his testing it never reacted like a normal cursed wound would. He even consulted a curse-breaker and even they couldn’t make sense of it.”

“Well,” Bella began, an odd note of pride to her voice, “Nice to know that even if I went crazy I’d still be smart…” Bella shot her a tight-lipped smirk before frowning as Hermione punched her friend, ‘Girlfriend?’, in the arm.

“Yes, yes. Nice to know that Lestrange was smart and truly sadistic.”

“What if it’s an empathic curse?”

“That seems pretty likely to be part of it, seeing as whenever you get angry I end up hurting.”

“So, she cuts the word into you and curses it so you’ll always feel her hatred.”

Hermione looked outwards and over the courtyard before replying, the free second allowing her a quick moment to think.

“Could be. But it wouldn’t explain why this never happened before meeting you here.”

“Well maybe you were too far away? Or what if it hadn’t fully set in yet by the time she died. You said she died not long after inflicting it?”

“Yeah…”

“Okay,” Bella’s voice rose as she spoke, “What if she hadn’t died? She’d’ve been able to inflict pain on you just by being near you. I mean, I doubt she intended to die that day and if she hadn’t maybe she thought that it would be a fitting punishment. I doubt she’d have ever had a happy thought about you. She might not even have been aware that it could be neutral, or pleasurable.”

“That would make sense, but it only reacts to you being happy or angry, what about every emotion in the middle?”

“If future me was as crazy as you say then she’d have no chance to experience any other emotion for you other than hate.”

Hermione exhaled a tired breath before pulling herself closer to Bella and leaning up against her torso. The whole thing made a sick sort of sense. Lestrange hadn’t been one to have all her marbles in one place and a blanket curse that caused unbearable agony as a response to her own hatred seemed to be something that would fit right up her alley.

“Guess that would explain the protection elements as well.”

“What do you mean?” Bella questioned, while slowly running her fingers up and through Hermione’s short hair. Her nails scratched pleasantly against her scalp in a soothing motion that helped to ground her still risen temper. She was sure that if she was still her second year self, she’d be purring.

“Well, I mean that I can’t hurt you. Or rather that I can but I’ll receive some sort of backlash. That’s why I passed out after hitting you. Dumble and company seem to think it’s a clause built in so that I couldn’t hurt Lestrange. I guess this just means it’s passed to you as well. But it does seem to be a two-way street.”

“You mean how I can’t seem to land a single hit on you cleanly when we duel?” Bella looked down at her nearly closed eyes.

“Yes. I think that’s part of it.”

Their conversation continued in speculation about the exact properties of the curse. When they were done, it was clear that another talk with Mayweather was likely in order. If he hadn’t died or resigned before the year was up that is.

Before Hermione knew it, she was once again pressed against Bella’s front, lip-locked and warmer than the meager cloak she was wearing could account for.

Unfortunately the bliss she found herself in didn’t last very long, as a rather stern sounding cough startled them both apart from each other.

Standing before them was a stone faced McGonagall, her pointed hat tipped from the force of the wind blustering about them. Her lips were pursed down tight into a sliver of a frown while she held her arms crossed above her chest. All in all it was enough to bring Hermione back to the fear she’d felt when she first attended Hogwarts, always scared that someone would find a reason to be upset at her or call her out.

The professor was leaning backwards on one leg while she impatiently tapped her foot on the other, timing out a rhythm that only she knew. Her piercing green eyes were swapping back and forth between the two witches, leaving both with a feeling of suspended dread. Bella might not have liked McGonagall very much, but she was strongly aware of how intimidating the old woman could be.

Hermione’s face flushed out with warmth at realizing she’d been caught before McGonagall began to speak.

“Ladies,” her tone was cold and sharp, heavy with disapproval, “I shouldn’t have to remind two overachievers such as yourself that there are rules at this institution. Specifically, rules against P.D.A. As such, five points from Slytherin for the both of you.”

“Sorry Professor,” Bella replied in a tone much gentler and subdued than usual.

“Now, I believe that you’re both about to be late to dinner. Off with you.”

As the two witches started off in the direction of the Great Hall, McGonagall called out to them, “Next time ladies, just keep it somewhere private.”

A warm smile turned up Minerva’s lips in amusement as she watched the pair leave.

Chapter Text

Hermione’s first morning of freedom from Hogwarts found her hurriedly rushing back and forth across Diagon and Knockturn Alley like a woman possessed. Her one day shopping trip with Minerva before the start of term had been quick and to the point, shopping for the minimum amount of clothing necessary and required class items had left her little time for personal shopping. That wasn’t to say that that day hadn’t been an adventure in and of itself. Between almost being floored at finding the duplicate to the wand in her holster and being literally floored by the frightening appearance of her now girlfriend, she’d had quite the experience.

Today was supposed to be not much different. Between shopping for presents for the Black trio and her meager friends and associates back at the castle, her only hope was to procure the documents necessary for Cygnus and get an appropriate accounting of the Grenier estate. Instead, she was now nursing a headache and foot ache at the pace with which Bella dragged her from shop to shop. The witch was a pro at absorbing all the information on pricing and quality that she could before darting out to another store to find a better version of whatever they had been searching for. Frugality seemed to be a foreign concept to the dark haired witch.

Bella also seemed to have a rather discerning eye turned towards fashion regardless of how much she pretended to be disinterested. Bella had made it her personal mission to throw Hermione into as many changing booths and hidden corner shops as she could before night fell over the shopping district. Hermione’s arms and several levitating bags were filled to the brim before the first hour of their shopping had even come to an end. The constant zipping sound of tape measures unrolling in the hands of old women seeking to squeeze her for every sickle left to her name was quickly becoming Hermione’s least favorite sound. Bella, for her part, continued to simply laugh and act bemused at Hermione’s constant lack of patience for period appropriate dress wear.

When the last in a long string of matronly old witch had set themselves upon her bust with cinching tapes and pointed glances at the closeness shared between Hermione and Bella, she’d simply lost it. Terse words and pointedly angry glares in Bella’s direction had ended up resulting in a murderous glint occupying the dark eyes peering back at her. Hermione had shrunk back at the sheer emotion bottled up in the glass of Bella’s eyes before the witch launched into a heavy and hushed discussion about pureblood etiquette and the formal wear necessary to portray someone as a productive member of the aristocracy. By the end of her tirade any of Hermione’s complaints had been addressed and a rather flush appearance had run into her cheeks and neck at the intensity that Bella had spoken. Bella was a dark witch after all, and even a simple but terrifying conversation was enough to warn Hermione into accepting her current predicament and acquiesce to Bella’s demands.

The only condition that Hermione had been able to bring up was a request to also find a good few pairs of muggle clothing. Her statement had caused Bella to roll her eyes but in the end she’d agreed, on the acceptance that she would be the one to decide colors and styles.

A few minutes spent in Madam Malkin’s and Twilfitts had resulted in a rather odd assortment of out of date muggle clothing that took Hermione only a few minutes of permanent transfiguration later to update into a presentable, but comfortable, wardrobe. Bella’s main contribution to that particular shopping spree had been the colors; black, black, and yet more black. It had only taken a pouty expression that would put puppies to shame before Hermione agreed and accepted the rather gothic tint to her wardrobe.

She was nothing if not true to her name.

---oo---

The last stop for the afternoon was the one she was both dreading the most and anticipating in equal measure.

The central London location was an institution.

If not for the massive banking installation and vault system that it housed it would be known as a silver and gold mine of massive proportions, well beyond any such location in the Muggle world. Its location at Diagon Alley was only the first of many as over the centuries the bank had branched out, literally. Locations had opened on mainland Europe in France and Sweden, Russia had an ancient branch as well as China and Japan. The newest addition had been in North and South America, split in New York as well as Rio de Janeiro. A tentative opening for Australia was projected to be complete within the next decade, but only time would tell how long it would take to be operational.

The branches were steeped in Goblin magic, and it was for this reason that Hermione found herself entering the pristine building with Bella in tow. A rather complicated series of portals had been produced by Goblin magic-smiths that allowed instantaneous admission into one's vaults, no matter their originating location. Without this feature Hermione would have had to travel by international portkey and wander into New York for a proper accounting, a fate she had desperately wanted to avoid.

The mass of wizards and witches that herded themselves through the massive doors to Gringotts was a near crush that captured and dragged Hermione and Bella along with it as one organism. Groups and throngs split off at irregular intervals and headed towards different levels and wings of the massive bank, some shearing off to the Investment Center while others headed towards tellers for requests and back rooms for more specific help. Hermione and Bella both forced themselves through the crowds and into the massive middle chamber that held access to vaults and House related requests. High walls that disappeared into a ceiling far above their heads capped off the room while witches and wizards lined up at the massive desks that Goblin tellers worked behind.

Luck managed to place them both behind an old man that was only just finishing his business as the Goblin high above them called out a gruff “Next!” while peering down into the throngs below him with an obvious distaste.

The teller looking down at them was a ruddy fellow, his complexion mixed between extravagant red clay and deep earthy green. His cheeks and nose were tinged with the telltale sign of alcoholism, burst and burst blood vessels spider webbing across his rather sharp nose. Two large and bushy eyebrows topped his rather expressive blue eyes, each with a pupil that tilted and sharpened to the shape of a cats eye. He wore a rather plain business suit, pinstriped in gray and black with the Gringotts logo embossed onto his breast pocket.

His visage was altogether both grandfatherly as well as incredibly intimidating in a blend that left Hermione unsure of how to act. Her prior interactions with Goblins had been during her school years had been simple visits that were completed in less than five minutes. She wasn’t counting the final explosive visit to Gringotts as the war had thrown off all sense of standard protocol during that visit anyways.

“Master Grindhelm, at your service. How can I…,” he looked down at her, squinting his eyes, “Help you today?”

“Hello, I’d like to get some forms signed out, specifically an accounting report.” Hermione’s voice was loud to carry over the hustle and bustle of the throngs at her back.

“Well give it here girl,” Grindhelm spoke up with an aggravated gravel, one hand reaching over the lip of his desk with his fingers outstretched. Hermione extended herself as much as she could, standing on tiptoes to deliver a sheaf of papers to his waiting hand.

The sheaf of papers was appropriately thin for ease of transport but was only held into that shape by a strong compression charm that held all of intricate paperwork together while a charmed piece of twine was wrapped around it. When Grindhelm undid the loop with rather shaky fingers it exploded into full existence, decompressing and expanding outwards into a multilayered packet nearly the size of a small tome.

“Anything else?” Grindhelm’s voice dropped a few octaves lower into a valley even more gravely than before.

“Inheritance test for any other relations, and I’d like to visit my vault.”

Hermione had only undergone an inheritance test once before at the specific behest of the Canadian Ministry to confirm her relation and blood status as a Grenier. That test had been a simple, single, drop of blood. Easy, quick, and over far faster than she’d wished to observe. The blood magic that Dumbledore and Minerva had performed was proved out at that test but the testing was too simple to determine her new lineage or reveal exactly who she’d become magically related to. Her request to Gringotts was mainly to determine if she held any other relations to Houses through squib ancestors. She personally wasn’t expecting anything to come of the request but was interested nonetheless. Any relation, however distant, could potentially be advantageous in the future she was now working towards.

Grindhelm peered down to give both witches a clear look of disdain that spoke volumes for his attitude against the Wizarding community. Whatever the reason, inscrutable as it was, Hermione was determined to not back down. The Goblin race was a warrior race that she refused to appear meek or weak to them. Her own glare back up at Grindhelm seemed to trigger something in his demeanor as he nodded once before tapping his finger against the pile of documents and shrinking them back down into their compressed state.

Leaning backwards from the lip of the desk he disappeared from sight while the sound of a ladder and quick steps passed over and around the desk while he made his way down. A small half door opened to the right of the podium as Grindhelm stepped halfway out before motioning for Hermione and Bella to follow him. Their steps behind the podium led them away from the throngs behind them, steps beginning to echo in the enchanted quietude of the staff area.

Even in Hermione’s last disastrous trip to Gringotts she hadn’t seen this area. Grindhelm led them between the marble wall and the tall desks of Goblin tellers and off through a hidden door. They opened into a long hallway with row upon row of gleaming white doors on either side, each inscribed with a beautiful golden scrawl that listed the name of the Goblin who held the office.

They passed multiple sets of doors before Grindhelm turned a door on his right with a name inscribed in Gobbledegook before placing his palm flat against the space where a door handle would usually be placed. After a second of this the door opened inwards with a sharp click as Grindhelm entered and motioned impatiently for Hermione and Bella to follow him in.

The room was at once ostentatious yet unremarkable. A single large desk took up the majority of the space, built with dark mahogany wood and simple in sweeping lines and curves. Behind the desk sat a plush leather chair that Grindhelm climbed into. Behind him was a line of filing cabinets built from some soft colored wood that Hermione couldn’t place and festooned with golden identifying tags in Gobbledegook. A single enchanted window looked out from the right side of the office and onto the sprawl of Diagon Alley in front of Gringotts where witches and wizards milled about their business without any knowledge that they within line of sight to the suspicious eyes of the Goblins within the bank. Two soft leather chairs sat together in front of Grindhelms desk that he invited them to settle into with a wave of his hand.

As the witches settled into the chairs Grindhelm opened back up the enchanted packet before shuffling through documents and arriving at a piece of parchment that Hermione couldn’t immediately recall.

“First to start will be the Inheritance test. Please lay your hand palm up on the desk,” Hermione moved to obey his request, “ Right hand, please.”

Hermione quickly pulled her left hand back and off the table at his brusque tone as she shot our her right hand and laid it down on the desk. Grindhelm seemed satisfied at her quick movements and began to search and shuffle through the drawers on his side of the desk before pulling out a rather large and ornate dagger and accompanying golden dish. The dagger was clearly expensive and one of a kind with the handle made from gold and the spine of the blade gold as well. The pommel was inlaid with multiple rubies and diamonds in a way that reminded Hermione all too much of the Sword of Gryffindor.

Grindhelm placed the plate onto the desk and moved Hermione’s hand above it with her palm still facing upwards. Laying the sharp blade against her palm he drew it back quickly in one swift motion. Blood welled up before Hermione even felt the sting of the blade, sharp as it was, whereupon Grindhelm turned her hand perpendicular to the desk and allowed blood to run off her hand and collect into the shallow dish beneath it. Rivulets continued to softly drip onto the plate until Grindhelm was satisfied and turned her hand back to parallel with the desk. Tapping his finger softly against the flesh of her palm the blood staining her hand withdrew into the cut before zipping shut with a cold feeling as if she’d dipped her hand into ice. Only a silvery white scar remained from where the blade had touched her skin as the minute pain that had accompanied the cut evaporated into nothing but a lingering sensation of cold.

The shallow pool of blood that had collected into the dish beneath Hermione’s hand was shuddering wildly as some form of Goblin magic took hold. Ripples began to spread out at evenly spaced intervals from the center of the dish, rising and lapping up against the edge of the dish before withdrawing and settling back down.

Grindhelm grabbed up a blank piece of parchment and a golden quill before looking at the dish with a fiercely concentrated expression and began to write. The blood within the dish slowly began to dissipate as Grindhelm wrote in large and whirling loops upon the parchment while he never once took his eyes from the blood in the dish. When the last of the blood in the dish had disappeared Grindhelm shoved himself away from the desk and left his chair, stepping around the desk to move to Hermione’s side. Holding out the parchment he stared into her eyes expectantly. When Hermione only continued to stare he rolled his eyes and placed the parchment and quill down upon the desk in front of her.

SIGN this please, some of us have far more important matters to attend to.”

Hermione hastily grabbed up the quill and signed her name at the bottom of the parchment as her eyes roved over the looping cursive paragraph that Grindhelm had written. Unfortunately it was all in Gobbledegook and Hermione simply had to content herself with finishing her signature and passing the parchment back to Grindhelm’s awaiting hands.

As the goblin all but tore the paperwork from her hands he belted out a low and dangerously brusque “Please remain here, I’ll return shortly,” and heading out into the hallway behind them.

Bella leaned over into Hermione as the door behind them closed shut with a sharp snap and pressed a surprisingly chaste kiss to Hermione’s cheek.

“Don’t worry about the rest, it’s all just to check, right?”

Hermione turned her head to capture Bella’s bottom lip in her teeth before releasing and leaning back heavily into her chair.

“Yes, I just want to have everything covered and accounted for.”

“It’ll be interesting to find out what other houses that ritual attached you to. Did Dumble ever tell you specifically whose blood he used?”

Now that Hermione thought back on it, no, he hadn’t. She’d just assumed he’d found a recent corpse and duplicated some cells before transfiguring them into blood.

“No, with a cover of being orphaned he just left it at that, and the test for the Canadian Ministry only tested to see if I was the heir.”

“Well, you’ll know soon enough then. Wonder if you’ll have any cousins running about.” Bella turned to look out the enchanted window while propping up her chin on a raised fist.

Bella’s comment about cousins brought Hermione’s mind back to the massive family tapestry that hung in Grimmauld place while a specific name she’d seen rang bells in the back of her mind.

“Hey, aren’t Molly and the Twins your cousins?” Hermione’s unprompted question caught Bella by surprise.

“Um, I think? Third or fourth removed or something to that degree. I tend to get a little bit fuzzy whenever it’s anything other than immediate sibling and cousin.”

Hermione’s expression hardened into a sharp gaze as she stared at Bella.

“And why, pray tell, do they hate you? And by extension, me?”

“Well,” Bella shuffled in her seat, “Their mother is the sister of Ignatius Prewett, who married my distantly related grand aunt? I think that’s the term, she’s from the other branch of the Black family anyways, and she hates us. Something must have happened when she was younger but regardless as soon as she married Ignatius she closed herself off from us completely and seems to have drip fed her hate for the family to her niece and nephews. And now that ire is directed back towards me and my sisters. I mean, I may have terrorized them when we first all arrived to Hogwarts but some silly pranks aren’t enough to-”

Hermione held up a hand to still Bella’s musings in their track.

“Okay, well. That answers that I suppose.”

Before they could continue talking about Bella’s rather tense relationship with anyone not of her own blood, Grindhelm returned to the room in a rather uplifted mood.

“Madam Grenier, here is your paperwork. Please take a moment to review.

“Thank you,” Hermione replied as she began digging into the sheaf of parchments that he handed her with gusto.

The first sheet held the results of her test, written out in barely legible calligraphy.

Emelia Grenier, Born February 19, 1951

Father: Antoine Grenier

Mother: Rosalie Grenier née Gaudreau

Paternal Grandfather: Dimitri Grenier

Paternal Grandmother: Fleur Grenier née Hamel

Maternal Grandfather: Atticus Gaudreau

Maternal Grandmother: Unknown

Living Relatives through Paternal and Maternal Lines: None

House Status: Head of House Grenier, Lady Grenier

House Title: Madame la Vicomtesse de Grenier

Distant House Relations: Gaudreau, Hamel, Nadeau

Bella snorted as she read over Hermione’s shoulder before piping up, “I should have known you were nobility, too snooty and well-read to be one of the common folk.”

She threw Hermione a grin while the witch beside her landed a lazy punch on her shoulder.

“Sod off, brat.” Despite her words Hermione’s tone was jovial. “No further information could be gathered?” She directed her question to Grindhelm, eyes leaving the parchment in her hand.

“None. You have distant blood through House Nadeau, but we’re uncertain from who or when it was introduced. Through your Maternal Line you’re the last surviving member of House Gaudreau, though honestly that doesn’t amount to much beyond a quaint bit of trivia. The Maternal Line of that House was left out of any and all wills, statements, and titles. Anything left by the House has already been absorbed or passed onto other Houses or entities. The same is applied by House Hamel, though you aren’t the last of that line specifically.

“You, as Head of House Grenier, have unfettered access to the lands, houses, and vaults left in Grenier control. Further in that packet you will find a list of such items. The vast estate was left in Gringotts control throughout the past years and has been accruing interest at a steady rate. It will be up to you whether you allow Gringotts to continue managing your accounts, but we can discuss that at a later date. I’ve had your other paperwork prepared, you can collect it before leaving.”

Hermione nodded her approval at his words before shuffling through the packet to another page. The parchment contained a list of the properties currently in her control, the sight of which widened her eyes considerably.

Three chateau’s amounting to over one hundred and twenty hectares were free for her to do with as she pleased. The homes had been placed into stasis when the last legitimate Grenier that Gringotts had contact with died, and would be awaiting her eventual use or sale. Taxes against the land had been taken from the vast interest that the coffers had accrued over the years and left her confident that leaving the Grenier finances to Gringotts would be the best course of action. They could always be trusted to act and invest in such a manner as to accrue as much wealth as possible, leaving Hermione mainly free to divorce herself from the financial duties of being a Head of House.

The nagging feeling in the back of her mind that reminded her that this was all ill-gotten gains was being quashed at her elation of finally having something to her name.

Her family had never been poor by any means but true wealth and privilege had eluded the Granger family even after her parent’s practice had become well-established. The last two years of her life spent sliced between preparing and living through and after a war had shattered her preconceived notions of security, both of the financial and familial variety. When she’d removed her parent’s memories and sent them off to another land she’d effectively cut herself off completely from any sense of stability.

Memories were one thing, but her spell and subsequent clean up efforts had removed any trace of her existence that could link her back to her parents. Physical documents that would have been necessary to prove she was alive were effectively lost forever and left her vulnerable in a way that she hadn’t immediately been able to deal with until after the war had been won. There were reasons she’d taken to residing in a half demolished school, and the comfort of warm memories were only one of them.

Seeing the sudden wealth and financial stability at her fingertips was a miracle she’d never anticipated, let alone planned for.

She felt very little against being selfish. Just this once.

The list of accumulated assets, beyond property, was enormous. Between physical goods worth their weight in galleons and currency placed into the care of Gringotts, she was able to get the view that the Grenier family had been shrewd in their efforts to carve out a fortune. The oldest parts of the family had thrown themselves into building and maintaining a shipping empire in Canada during the early twentieth century. Over a relatively short period of time they had quickly and efficiently established themselves as the premier company one should turn to when needing to ship or receive goods throughout the sparsely populated land.

The company itself had long been dissolved at the death of Raphael Grenier, last living son of Dimitri Grenier. The offshoot of the family that she’d been spliced into had consisted of a devoted husband and wife that had left Canada for greener pastures in pre-war America before disappearing into obscurity somewhere along the west coast. That they had regularly eschewed the company of both Muggles and Wizardkind alike had left enough openings and holes in their history for Dumbledore to slot her into without too much trouble.

No one would be able to check up on records that didn’t exist and would have in all likelihood been lost in the past forty years. The blood ritual that she had been a part of was her ticket to this estate, as the dark magic contained within had truly altered her genetics to relate back to Antoine and Rosalie. No one could question the inheritance tests as there was effectively nothing that could be discussed or questioned. Down to her base genetics she was their daughter.

“Here is your signet, a rather odd design but I assure you it’s the correct ring,” Grindhelm leaned over his desk to pass a rather plain wooden box to Hermione’s waiting hands. It was about the size of two decks of cards stacked on top of one another, minimalist in a way that understated the important item contained within. Rounded corners, barely any discernible wood grain, and polished silver hinges inset to not protrude above the level of the wood were the only distinguishing features of the box. With slightly trembling fingers Hermione opened the box by its middle and it snapped open to completion at the slightest touch of her fingertips. The ring sitting securely within a soft velvet cushion was magnificent to look at, regardless of how different it looked to other signets she’d seen before.

The ring was made of silver, with a band nearly two centimeters wide that curved up gently to house a simple green gem that Hermione could see cleanly through. The top of the gem had been faceted to project as much of a flat plane as possible with a single stylized G inlaid and protruding slightly from the stone. The remainder of the ring was blank and without adornment. Simple, elegant, and understated in its beauty. Just the kind of ring that Hermione would feel alright with wearing, not too flashy but strong enough to stand out on its own.

Bella was leaned up fully against Hermione as she inspected the ring in a quiet mood that reflected her own. Hermione plucked the ring from its cushion and holding it up to the light beaming in from the enchanted window to her right. The silver sparkled and presented a funhouse mirror style reflection of the world as she turned it back and forth to view it at all angles.

As she gently set the box down on Grindhelms desk she turned the ring so the G was facing inwards and slid it onto the pinky finger of her left hand. The band flashed from cold metal to soothing warmth as it settled about her skin and resized itself to fit securely.

“The House Ring is traditionally passed down through the patrilineal line in Grenier history, though there are allowances in the family charter to pass matrilineally in the event that no male descendants are alive to claim it. In the event of marriage you will still remain the Head of House Grenier until such a time as you have children. You will revert to Lady Grenier, and once the child comes of age the ring and title of Head of House will pass to them.”

Grindhelm’s eyes shifted expectantly between Hermione and Bella as he revealed that last lesson and internally all she could do was laugh. Here she was, muggleborn daughter to a pair of dentists , suddenly the Head of House to a Noble and Ancient lineage of purebloods. It was all just a little bit mad and Hermione felt that she couldn’t and shouldn’t need to be bothered by the worrying scowl that Grindhelm shot her as she shifted back and forth with laughter bubbling up her throat. Bella seemed to be enjoying the moment, in on the joke as she was, revealing her sharp smile and equally sharp teeth as she appreciated the irony of Hermione’s situation.

That Grindhelm had hinted that she of all people would have children one day was just the icing on her rather precariously placed cake.

When her outpouring of random mirth was back down to a manageable level she requested to view the main Grenier vault as soon as possible and have any paperwork written up today made into copies for future use. Grindhelm had acquiesced immediately, his fee already having been set to be taken from her vaults as soon as their business for the day was concluded. His congeniality, or rather punctuality, would only impact his personal commission through helping her.

---oo---

Only minutes had passed before Hermione and Bella found themselves being ferried off along the demented mine carts of Gringotts. Hermione’s only consolation on the wild and turbulent ride was that instead of being Bella, as was her last trip, she instead now had Bella securely pressed against her side. The odd synchronicity of the situation brought more laughter to escape her throat as the witch beside her wrapped an arm around her to stabilize against the twists and sharp turns that the cart took.

“Better than your last trip?” Bella asked with an amused smile turning up the corners of her lips.

“Oh for sure. At least this time there won’t be any dragons awaiting me at the end of this ride. And I’m not stuck in that gods awful corset.

Bella’s eyes turned on her with a feigned crossness as a pout took over her features.

“Nothing wrong with corsets, they’re highly fashionable in any time period.”

“No, there’s everything wrong with corsets. I about died, my breathing was so constricted!”

“Never said they were comfortable, beauty is pain and all that.” Bella once again adopted a smirk, clearly enjoying needling Hermione.

Within a few more minutes they arrived at their destination, a large and open platform that was deep within the bowels of Gringotts, as far into the earth as Hermione had ever been.

Her consolation at the crushing realization that there was so much earth above her was that there wasn’t a single dragon within sight.

Grindhelm left the cart with Hermione and Bella obediently following along behind him as neither witch was keen on getting separated from their guide and only hope of escape. The ground beneath their feet was stone with a light dusting of sand and broken gravel that spread out to form a large enough space to house a two story abode, or another such structure. The ceiling was dotted with stalactites that looked loose and close enough to falling that she visibly shuddered as her eyes roamed above her. She knew that Gringotts would never allow their customers to come to harm unless they searched it out themselves, unwarranted deaths being bad for business and all that, but still she found herself wary.

In the middle of the open room was a single large archway made from stone blocks and nearly as tall as Hermione and Bella standing on one another's shoulders. The individual stone pieces appeared to be granite but with a strange iridescent green vein that sparkled in the irregular light coming off Grindhelms torch.

Grindhelm walked to the left side of the archway before pressing his open palm flat against the stone and wiping his hand upwards in a short jerking motion. With that complete he removed his palm and began tracing delicate and intricate patterns against the stone that were soon lost to Hermione as she attempted to follow his fingers movements. Grabbing onto Bella’s arm she leaned into the witch and steadied her weight. She could admit that today had been tiring, between the shopping spree and realization that she was essentially set up for the remainder of her life even if she never found a way to return to her own time.

‘Do I even want to-’

Her musing was cut off as a low grinding sound caught her attention and seemed to be emanating from the archway before her. Grindhelm was backing away from the arch and pushing both Hermione and Bella backwards with his outstretched palm and seemed only content that they were safe after she’d moved back several paces. The iridescent green pattern veined up through the stone began to emit a strong light that pulsed in regular intervals. The archway itself seemed to be filling up with a mist that materialized out of nowhere. The light began pulsing stronger and faster as the seconds ticked onward until the entire inside of the arch was completely obscured from view.

After a few more seconds of the strobing effect the mist and light disappeared in a blinding flash before Hermione’s eyes were able to readjust to the sudden limited light of Grindhelm’s torch. The mist was gone completely and in its stead was a large metal wall that connected at all sides to the floor and the archway surrounding it. A single oval door was slotted into the center of the metal wall, unadorned and with only a single small keyhole in the center of it.

Hermione’s curious mind was pushing her to walk around the arch to find out whether or not the door would appear from the other direction but the knowing look that Grindhelm shot her as her feet moved forward was enough to still her inquisitive mind. She instead patiently waited as the goblin waddled forward and placed his torch onto the ground before placing his now empty palm against the metal. The spot he touched appeared to glow as he fished with his free hand in his pocket to retrieve a relatively plain looking key and slotted it into the hole in the center of the door.

A wild popping and clicking sound kicked up from behind the door as tumblers and unknown devices began to unlock the door for passage. In only a few seconds the door was quiet again and Grindhelm stepped backwards to pick his torch up off of the ground. The door before him swung inwards on silent hinges as a look of wonder and dread painted Hermione’s face.

‘This… This is-’

“Merlin’s bloody fucking balls!” Bella exclaimed as she caught sight of the interior of the vault. Hermione couldn’t help but agree with Bella as the sentiment behind her words was true enough.

“Well said,” Grindhelm piped up from beside them.

If the Lestrange vault had been a cavern filled with treasures, the Grenier vault made it appear closer to a broom closet stuffed with old trinkets.

Piles of galleons and sickles, both old and newer designs, flowed around the room as rivers and oceans. Interspersed as islands were mounds of priceless treasures and artifacts. She’d researched the Grenier family and even knowing that the lineage was old still hadn’t been enough to prepare her. Sixteen centuries worth of heirlooms and wealth had been accumulated into a treasure that surpassed the wealth of several small countries. Land holdings and physical objects of worth might have made up the bulk of Grenier wealth but the sheer amount of glittering gold and silver in the form of currency was eye-popping.

Bella placed her hand onto Hermione’s back and slowly pushed her further into the vault before leaning in and placing her lips against Hermione’s ear.

“I was right. You’re rich .”

---oo---

It took nearly two hours before Hermione and Bella finally left Gringotts behind and stood once again among the crowds of Diagon Alley. Daylight would be on its way out soon but it seemed that nothing would be stopping the massive throngs of shoppers. Though both witches were of age and perfectly fine with taking care of themselves while on Yule vacation, neither wished to remain outside any longer. The rather unobtrusive Pop! of apparition was lost amidst the hustle and bustle of evening shoppers as Bella brought them both to the front gates of Black Manor. The sheaf of paperwork tucked securely against Hermione’s side was ruffled slightly at the speed with which they rematerialized and the satchel hooked over her shoulder swung painfully into her side while she fought to control her footing.

The ring on Hermione’s finger was slowly releasing a pleasing hum and warmth into the digit it sat on that traveled up to mingle in with the warmth emanating from the scar on her arm. The twisted warmth that flowed across her body brought a measure of peace and comfort to her as she strode arm in arm with Bella towards the front door.

She’d only been inside the actual Manor a handful of times and each had been only to travel through the front and out to the back. She’d never once gone past the main sitting room or to any of the other levels of the house, leaving Hermione to stare in wonder at the opulence on display.

Her host, Cygnus, was currently occupied elsewhere for the night and had left Bella a terse note stating that he’d return at some point the next afternoon. As it was the building only held Hermione and the Black trio, along with a few odd elves that seemed fit to burst with joy at having the sisters all under one roof again. When the front door swung inwards to allow entry the documents under her arm and the satchel on her shoulder popped out of existence as an elf sent them off to her waiting guest room.

“Belle?” A voice hesitantly called out from beyond the foyer.

Bella strode off without answering to the unseen voice and Hermione dutifully followed behind as she let her eyes rove over each room as it opened up.

The interior was highly reminiscent of Malfoy Manor but far more personable than the stark designs that Hermione had witnessed during the war. No matter the horror stories that she’d been told about Cygnus and Druella, she had to admit that they kept a spotless and presentable home.

‘Likely all through the work of the elves though…’

Following Bella eventually led her to a long hallway that seemed to run the length of the home and stretched out far further than it would appear to do so from the outside. Decorations adorned the hall on all sides from large and ornate portraits of Black family members to paintings of still life and landscapes that reminded her of artwork in the Louvre. As they walked it became easier for Hermione to see where Narcissa had inherited her decorative senses.

Gentle talks with Draco as he pitched in to help the restoration of Hogwarts had revealed that Narcissa had taken to immediately making Malfoy Manor her own when she married Lucius. Apparently the man didn’t give a single thought towards presentation and his attitude towards the look of the manor had been so lackadaisical that his wife and son had come to think that the task was left to them either from some form of antagonism or some deep-seated spite against his own family name. Hermione had never been able to delve further into the subject with Draco as she’d disappeared before he returned from the trial of his family at the Ministry.

Several small tables holding candles and antique vases were interspersed at regular intervals between the tall doorways that lined the hallway. Each spot had an air of history and authenticity that had Hermione questioning whether she even deserved to be near such obviously priceless artifacts.

She mentally kicked herself once she realized that she had far more access to a larger degree of wealth and heirlooms than Black Manor had ever, or would ever, see. It was both a comforting and disturbing thought all in one breath.

Their long walk was brought to an end as they reached the end of the hallway, with Bella turning to the right and immediately being confronted with a sprinting Narcissa. The young witch launched herself up and at Bella in a running jump, grabbing onto her sister’s shoulders while Bella swung her around. Hermione stepped backwards from the two as Narcissa’s feet threatened to swipe her body as she twirled around in Bella’s arms.

“I was only out for a few hours Cissa,” Bella laughed out as she continued hugging the young witch in her arms.

“Yeah,” Cissa released her hold and landed gracefully on her feet, “But still, I missed you. Andy’s got the elves making dinner, it’ll be ready soon.”

With the last word spoken Cissa was off once again at a breakneck speed, sprinting down the hallway and off to an adjoining room near the end. Bella stared off after her sister before turning towards Hermione and offering up her arm.

“Shall we?”

Nodding and taking the proffered arm, Hermione allowed Bella to lead her to a stairway located further down the hall.

The next floor was much the same as the ground floor. A long hallway split into three directions and centered in on the stairs they had just climbed up. One portion branched off the middle of the manor while the others ran perpendicular to the front and back of the home. Bella brought her down the middle hall and stopped before each doorway to show her the contents within and provide a reason for its use. Among the doors they passed was the entrance to a study that the Black trio had claimed for themselves as well as their individual bedrooms.

Bella remained quiet as she swung the door open to her own room and let Hermione walk past her into the dark space.

Deep black curtains kept all light from being able to penetrate through the wide bay windows on the wall while the floor was hardwood, ebony if she was right. A large four-poster bed took up an enormous portion of her floor-space and was decked in black and green, Slytherin all the way. A fireplace roared forth from a free wall and was nearly as large as Hermione was tall. The remaining portion of the room was devoted to a large table and accompanying vanity mirror that wouldn’t have looked out of place but for the mass of pictures securely spellotaped onto it.

Each picture involved at least two of the Black trio, most commonly Bella and Andy, while Cissa seemed to content enough to be pictured by herself in the several that were pasted to the mirror. Hermione hummed slightly to herself as she took in the happy smiles and sisterly affection clearly on display in each and every one, while the thoughts in the back of her mind focused on wondering how such a tightly-knit group of sisters could fracture so badly. She swore to herself that no matter how the timeline progressed from here she would do as much as was within her power to help Bella keep those bonds alive.

The last bit of Bella’s room for her to explore was the ensuite bathroom and an accompanying walk in closet that Hermione was instantaneously jealous of. The whole ensemble reminded her of a four star hotel that she’d stayed with her parents in once when she was little, but still managed to outdo even that memory.

Even Grimmauld place, expansive as it was, had little in the way of similarities as the lap of luxury she now found herself in.

“There’s a passageway through the back of the closet that connects to the same spot in the room next door. It’s just a guest room, empty most of the time, so I never really use it. Just leave it locked instead. But, since you can’t officially stay in mine, I figure we’ll drop your things off there and just share this one.”

Hermione perked at Bella’s words and stepped closer to the dark haired witch before peppering her face and neck with soft kisses, her lips tasting the warmth of Bella’s skin.

“Thank you, Bella”

“Hmm,” the witch hummed as she leaned into Hermione’s affections, “I should be the one giving thanks here. Without you breaking me out of this arranged marriage I don’t know what I would have done. It’s a debt I don’t know how to repay.

“We can worry about that once it’s all said and done, okay?”

After nodding her assent Bella pulled her towards the closet and snapped her fingers to bring a soft light to life. The inside fit about what Hermione had been expecting. Black, black, and yet more black. The only thing out of place was an odd assortment of colored items that Hermione was sure only had a place in the closet due to familial obligations and threats from her parents. In the far back of the closet was a wall that had been embossed with intricate designs and patterns, vines crawling over a tableau of bones and skulls in a distressingly real to life depiction.

Bella tapped against the center of the wall with her wand in three successive movements before the wood audibly clicked and settled backwards into the space of the wall. Within a second the panel had slid further away until it revealed a low passage into an empty closet on the other side. Bella grabbed Hermione’s hand firmly before tugging her along after herself as she entered the closet. As they reached the door her hand paused upon the knob before she turned to Hermione with a grin on her face.

“Madame La Vicomtesse de Grenier, allow me to show you your room.”

Chapter Text

Instead of a brooding and tense affair that Hermione had been dreading since the moment of her arrival, dinner was instead… Relaxing.

She’d known distantly that there was nothing for her to worry over but doubts had still crept their way into the back of her mind. She had been dining with at least one member of the Black trio at every meal for months at this point and with Cygnus not in attendance there was no one around for her to impress. If the schedule that Bella had provided her held up, Cygnus wouldn’t be arriving for at least another sixteen hours.

Despite the assurances Hermione had still started the dinner off by watching her manners as if she had been invited to eat a five star restaurant that had a waiting list almost as long as her last midterm scroll, and not a simple affair at her girlfriend’s home.

From end to end the table was stocked with enough food to feed a small army, or a complement of Weasley’s. Plate after plate of vegetables and sides were spread across the outside rim of the table, only giving way for the utensils and place settings for the individual diners. The main courses had been piled into the middle of the table in a crowded lump of delicacies ranging from fowl and unidentified sea creatures to more terrestrial meats that Hermione wouldn’t have chosen to eat on her own but could at least identify. Boats of sauces and gravies were interspersed amidst the chaos along with pitchers of juice and other drinks that tasted just as heavenly as the scents slowly wafting off from them.

No pumpkin juice here, though Hermione couldn’t tell what exactly it was she was drinking instead of that more common item. She’d allowed an elf to pour her a flute of something crisp and fruity that snapped at her tongue like a lemon but lingered with a hearty aftertaste of something altogether magical.

Between the drink and forkfuls of white and dark meat she made a surprising dent into the edible cacophony before realizing that maybe eating herself into a coma wasn’t the best impression that she could give. But the sight of little Narcissa, scarfing down something that suspiciously looked like green ham in mouthfuls that some adults couldn’t reach was enough to calm her senses.

In a word, it was all delicious. All the more so for the company provided.

Bella had seated herself from her at the table, her long dark hair pulled back into a rather messy looking bun that was as neat as Hermione knew she could get it. Only a few errant strands and curls peaked out from the sides to frame her face and serve as a contrast that highlighted the vast difference between her raven hair and porcelain skin. Despite arguing with the witch that she should go outside more (being that pale couldn’t certainly be healthy) she was perfect looking as she was.

Admitting her attraction to Bella’s beauty was a fact that Hermione was more than comfortable with making now that they were more than a week into their newly minted relationship. The witch across from her was wearing a rather loose assortment of clothes; long sleeved blouse (black, of course) rolled up to her elbows and a pair of dress slacks (black, again) that served to highlight the length of her legs and toned muscle of her body. She was beautiful and Hermione wouldn’t have wanted the witch any other way.

Hermione herself was dressed down into something closer to an outfit from her own time, a short sleeved blouse and comfortable, if overly long and cuffed at the ends, pair of denim jeans. It wasn’t high fashion, or even the outdated ‘normal’ fashion that Wizarding Britain always seemed to lag behind in, but it was acceptable and reserved enough to pass in polite company.

The younger portion of the trio was similarly dressed down; not a single long dress, frills, or robe in sight. It seemed that casual meals and time away from parental figures lended themselves nicely to the trio indulging in comfort over presentation and Hermione couldn’t enjoy it any more.

Andy was, however, the one to take her freedom right off the edge of casual and straight on into the extreme. Dressed down in a pair gray sweatpants and a wide necked mens t-shirt that looked suspiciously like she had stolen the ensemble off of Ted, if the size was anything to go by at least. Her hair was thrown up in a haphazard mess of brown curls that seemed content enough to stick behind her ears until the earliest possible inconvenience.

Usually meaning right before the younger witch leaned forward to take a bite of food or grab something else off the bottomless dishes before them.

Narcissa seemed the most determined to maintain some form of societal standards out of all them. Or as much as a twelve year old could, at least. She sported a high buttoned blouse in a light blue coloration that complemented the color of her eyes and lent her a look that seemed far older than her diminutive size would betray. The facade was only broken by the near constant shifting of her eyes from Hermione to Bella while she giggled to herself at some unspoken joke in random intervals. Bella’s side eye once she’d noticed her youngest sister had done absolutely nothing as of yet to deter whatever was fueling her mirth and seemed in fact to instead be increasing it.

Hermione, for her part, was just happy that the three of them seemed happy.

The Cissa that she knew now was so different from the Narcissa that she had known that it was becoming harder and harder to reconcile that at one point both had been one and the same person. One, Cissa, deeply motivated to protect and enjoy her family. Two, Narcissa, the Ice Queen and Death Eater sympathizer that had ended up becoming the savior of Harry Potter, if only by chance.

‘I won’t let her become that person, not if I can help it.’

“Well,” Andy spoke up from her set beside Hermione, “That was a lovely meal.” The empty dish sitting in front of her disappeared when she laid her fork down upon it, popping into nonexistence as the elves hidden throughout the house worked their magic.

“I’m going to go and spend the night with Ted, so don’t wait up for me.” She pushed herself back from the table while she spoke, leaving her seat and pushing it back underneath the table with a flourish and sarcastic salute.

“Make sure you get back here on time or Cygnus will be pissed if you’re not around,” Bella reminded her in her bored, mother-hen tone.

“Cygnus can hang. I’ll be back before he is tomorrow, and he’ll never know I left. I already swore the elves to secrecy before we left for start of term.”

With that the witch left the dining room leaving the soft sounds of her feet on hardwood floor the only thing to follow her out as she exited.

“You going to leave too, Cissa?” Bella asked and glanced over to the youngest Black.

“No,” she snorted, “Lucius would have a panic attack if I showed up out of the blue like that. It’s ‘improper behavior’ to have a rendezvous without familial approval. I love him, but sometimes he can be such a stickler for propriety that it’s bloody maddening.”

Hermione grinned in commiseration with Cissa when she finished her sarcastic explanation with a sigh that was as full of exasperation as it was endearingly cute coming from the pint sized Black. Cissa had no equal in being able to seem so utterly boring or by the book and then opening up with some distaste or bemusement at the chivalry that pureblood etiquette imposed that Hermione couldn’t help but find herself amused.

“Also, if I left too, I’m sure you two would ‘do it’ in every corner of the manor.”

Bella erupted into a coughing fit, choking on her drink before she finally managed to croak out a painful sounding, “Cissa!”

Hermione simply snorted and laughed silently to herself while her face reddened as she stared down into her plate.

---oo---

The conclusion of dinner brought with it an insistence from Bella that she be allowed to give her the grand tour of the Manor. The witch looked both so excited and nervous that Hermione had quickly agreed and latched onto her tour guides arm as they began wandering the halls.

One room after another were filled with treasures and more antiques than Hermione could ever hope to catalog or closely inspect. From the decor alone it was a world away from Grimmauld Place, the entire atmosphere that surrounded her painted such a starkly different picture that she couldn’t understand how the two branches of the Black family could be in any manner related. It was just so… different.

Grimmauld had been dark, bleak, gothic, and so steeped in obvious Dark Magic that it was a wonder it had let her inside at all. Pureblood snobbishness had practically oozed off the walls of that broken home. Black Manor however was, while still snobby and reeking at the edges magic darker than Hermione was used to, far more inviting to the point where she almost couldn’t tell that it wasn’t inhabited by a Light family.

“Why is Black Manor so different? From your Aunt’s place, I mean.”

Hermione’s question hung in the air while Bella led her through another set of double doors and into yet another, out of five, perfectly arranged sitting room. In the corner was a quaint little fireplace and against the far walls were softly inviting couches and end tables that dripped with so much evidence of wealth that Hermione was almost certain she would break it all apart if she did anything at all other than breathe.

“Well it’s mostly because Auntie Wal is crazy as they come.” Bella grasped her gently by the hand before leading them both forward and over to the larger of the two couches that sat quietly in the room. The bay window looking out onto the Manor grounds was letting in just enough light with the sun still hanging above the trees that the entire room was glowing in oranges and reds.

“This is the Ancestral Home. First of our acquired lands in Britain. It has to look nice for a number of reasons, though that’s the most particular one. We entertain guests and dignitaries here during any Ball or Gala that we host. Can’t have someone walking around and accidentally find their way into a hallway decorated with severed heads. I admit it would be fun to see their reaction but it would also ruin the festive mood. And I’m certain it would ruin some guest’s stomachs as well. Unless it’s Samhain. It might be appealing round about that time but we haven’t hosted a Samhain ball in ages.”

She turned to pull Hermione into her side before twisting and directing her fall until Hermione was practically laying down on top of her, trapped from escaping with an arm wrapped tightly around her body. Hermione notched her head into the crook of Bella’s neck while her body rose and fell with the rhythm of her breathing.

“Technically Orion is the Head of House Black and should be installed here. Cygnus is from the offshoot branch but he’s in better standing with the pureblood community at large and not married to his own relative, no matter how crazy Druella is. Purebloods might put up a strong talk about purity and marrying only the worthy but most of them still frown at incest.”

“Mhmm,” Hermione murmured her understanding in a contented sigh while Bella’s free hand began to pet at her short hair.

“So rather than flaunt the indecency of their incestuous relationship or allow anyone else to see the absolute madness that is my Aunt, he’s taken up Grimmauld and pretty much lives his life as a loner. Cygnus is free to do as he wishes so long as he refrains from letting anyone get away with the notion that he’s the Head. Orion will issue a familial decree every now and again but it’s usually over mundane issues and nothing that would ever interfere with any of Cygnus’s long term plans to enrich himself to the point of engorgement.”

“So Cygnus gets to parade around like he’s the top Black but had none of the benefits of actually being the Head and having an heir?”

“Effectively. Besides the fact that all he’s got are my sisters and I, even if he had a boy at some point they wouldn’t be in line or anywhere near close to the line of inheritance. That’s counting on Sirius and Regulus not dying, anyways. We’ve no other cousins that could sit as Head, and if they both die it’s going to come to me until I marry an esteemed Husband or deliver a male child. Whichever comes first. Theoretically Walburga might have another child but seeing as she’s supposedly barren after Regulus, it likely will never happen.”

“That doesn’t exactly sound like something that would come up in polite conversation.”

“Oh, it’s not. Great-Aunt Cass told me last year. She’s the family gossip and blackmail extraordinaire.”

Hermione’s eyes peered down to Bella in a wordless request to continue explaining the ridiculousness that seemed to exemplify House Black. Bella shifted her hand to run soothing patterns into Hermione’s scalp with her sharp nails before continuing.

“Aunt Cass is my Grandfather’s sister, the only Black left besides my family, Orion’s, and Alphard. Though there isn’t really anybody that considers Alphard as a Black anymore. He’s almost never in England and couldn’t give a single knut about what the rest of us do so long as we leave him alone and away from all of it. Great-Aunt’s Dorea and Lucretia effectively swore off the family as a whole once they married out, so we’re unlikely to ever see them again unless it’s a major function and they deign to grace us with their presence.”

“I see. Will any of the rest of your family be joining us for the gala or just your branch?”

Bella shuffled underneath Hermione and began to mirthlessly chuckle before turning her head to stare out the window.

“Yes, unfortunately. Both Orion and Walburga will be joining us, and likely dragging Sirius and Regulus along with them. If Uncle Alphard’s track record holds then he won’t be joining us but if he does put in an appearance it’ll just be a token one. Probably show right before midnight and dash right off again so he can say he showed his face to ‘polite society’. If no one actually remembers him being there then that’ll be all the better in his mind. Aunt Cass will likely make an appearance if only to observe the families and dig up more dirt on whoever caught her ire this year. She’s absolutely bloody terrifying but isn’t crazy enough to mount elf heads on pikes, so I think you’ll get along with her just fine. Practice your background before she arrives though, she’ll definitely interrogate you if she can catch you alone.”

Hermione huffed into the side of Bella’s neck while she absorbed the information. While it was nice to know that she wouldn’t be dealing with many of Bella’s relatives it was the rest of the guests that would likely be the real problem. Beyond being shy of large gatherings since the War had ended, Gala’s, dances, and fancy parties had never been her cup of tea. Barring her fourth year Yule Ball that she’d spent with Viktor, that was. And the coming event was looking to be as opposite of that night as it could be. Her occlumency brands would help with keeping her emotionally grounded and prepared for the rush of people and ensure no one could take an uninvited look into her mindscape but it would still be an exhausting event but it would be a harrowing experience nonetheless.

Biting back a sigh she settled instead for biting the warm skin of Bella’s neck.

---oo---

Both witches ended up leaving the sitting room and retiring for the night before the light outside had fully drained off and hidden beyond the horizon. Once they’d arrived in the room Bella had carried her off her feet and dropped her into the overly comfortable, plush bed that took up the majority of the space in Hermione’s guest room.

The room itself was beautiful in all the same ways that Bella’s had been; comfortable furniture, exquisite decoration, even the ensuite bathroom was gorgeous. Just all a little bit smaller and more cramped together. A fire burned cheerily in the corner of the room while a massive comforter and silken sheets were as inviting as a bed could ever be. The inclusion of Bella’s lithe form, nude and warm beyond measure, only served to enhance the feeling of comfort that Hermione found herself soaking in.

“A little tight,” Bella squeaked out as Hermione contracted her muscles further, pulling Bella deeper into a tight embrace.

“Oh hush. You’re warm, and you’ll live. I’m not that strong.”

“You’re not that weak either,” she shifted her body to better accommodate Hermione’s clingy form. “How are you still cold anyways? It’s burning up in here.”

It was a valid question. The past few weeks of winter had been unusually unkind to Hermione, brining with it a cold chill and shiver that blend through her even when under the effect of warming charms. She would have attributed it to a sickness picked up from their late night excursions outside of the castle but scanning charms hadn’t picked up anything out of the ordinary. The idea of working warming runes into her clothing was a brief thought that had met her fancy before she’d worked out exactly how many individual items she would need to work a rune into to even make it effective.

The amount wouldn’t be extravagant by any means but her recent wealth (and accompanying shopping trips) meant she could take all the time in the world and still not finish all the items she owned. Winter would likely conclude far before she could get close to finishing her new wardrobe. No, it would likely be far quicker and easier to simply brand a rune into her body that could be called upon whenever she found it necessary. The inner conversation slowly led her to considering what other brands she would like to acquire, especially those that would be a boon right before a war was set to begin.

“What else should we brand? I’d say we go with tattoo’s for the ones that don’t draw a lot of power but that would leave us susceptible to having them removed. I’m thinking we should at least add heating and cooling for one, and at least some mild potion resistances.”

“Odd turn of topics, but okay,” Bella turned into her side to rest her forehead against Hermione’s, chips of cold onyx locking onto golden hazel. The lack of clothing expedited the transfer of heat between the two witches as Hermione pressed herself closer to Bella. “We need something to block poisons for sure, though something that could block mild potions like Amortentia would also be useful. Or a blanket rune to negate anything we imbibe.”

“General would also mean blocking helpful potions too unless we figure out the runework to turn it off and on. And even then we’d be unable to control it when unconscious. It’d be inefficient. If we block potions we’ll need specific runes for specific maladies.”

The discussion continued between the witches while the fire at their back crackled and consumed the enchanted logs that the elves popped into existence. Their conversation wormed and winded itself through various benefits that more runes would allow them and the possible negative effects that could also arise. Among their eventual planning was a heated debate between the merits of branding a rune that could grant control of Fiendfyre into their palms and covering the existence of it with a secondary glamour rune.

While Bella’s points to the benefits of the brand were legitimate, in that it would grant them easy access to destroy any horcrux they came upon or help them escape a losing situation, it was lessened by her expressed desire for, as she put it, ‘Exquisite mayhem and destruction at a moment's notice. And it looks fucking amazing.’

The conversation was exactly what Hermione was expecting, dreading, and looking forward to. Equal parts smart, and crazy.

Eventually she had begrudgingly acquiesced upon getting Bella to agree to only having a single brand for Fiendfyre and a complimentary brand that supplied the suppression charm. That her limited experiences with the cursed fire were dangerous and nearly deadly was left unsaid. All of that was something that Bella knew and had seen through Hermione’s memories. Her experience did however leave her able to agree that it could be breathtakingly beautiful, and in the hands of someone with precise control it could be a literal game changer that might save their lives.

The moral scruple about the spell being dark was a wasted argument as far as Hermione was concerned as she knew that the fight to come would require every trick that they could think of to help them survive it. She’d take every advantage that she could get.

The remainder of their conversation was an agreement to find runes to strengthen their bones, prevent damage from fire (itself another concession to Hermione’s agreement of Fiendfyre), and a handful of other useful if not incredibly taxing runes.

When the conversation wound down it was nearing the dead of night and Hermione could barely keep herself awake. Bella had buried herself deep into Hermione’s side while soft fingers drew lazy patterns across her neck and chest with a sharp tipped fingernail, humming quietly to herself as the crackle of the fire filled the background.

Hermione’s eyes were closed shut as she relaxed into the witch when, without warning or preamble, Bella’s warm lips and tongue surrounded the warm skin of her breast. She inhaled deeply without conscious effort, pushing her body backwards into the bed beneath her while turning slightly to ease the angle that Bella was meeting her at.

Her eyes remained shut as she brought the arm draped across Bella up until she could tangle her fingers in the curls of the witch’s hair, holding and incessantly pressing the witch further against her. Bella’s left hand found its place on the plane of Hermione’s stomach before gliding every so slowly upwards until her fingers were pinching at the hard nub of Hermione’s nipple, not sharply, but not without pressure.

“Bella…” Hermione’s words passed her lips with all the candor of a moan, as warm and expressive as an open invitation to the witch at her side to search for more. Her skin practically glowed at the heavenly feeling that Bella’s touch alighted in her while her lips left their post and marched, open-mouthed, up the trail of her collarbone and then onto the curve of her throat.

Her position shifted as she rose to slide her body across Hermione’s, settling in to straddle the witch beneath her. The hand that was left teasing a nipple slipped down lower to rub smooth circles above the strong muscles guarding her pelvis, fingernails digging in lightly at intervals that pulsed along with her heartbeat.

Warmth slid down Hermione’s chest and into her core as she weathered Bella’s ministrations, gasps and moans and a heady whine strangling forth whenever the witch pulled back to shift her position and kiss her elsewhere.

The body above her was warm and keeping her pressed down into the comfort of the mattress while a steady piercing heat pulsed against her where Bella was positioned. Bella’s hand had abandoned her stomach to reach up and grasp a free wrist, her other hand pulling away to mirror and press her down further, keeping Hermione still as Bella began to rock her body, her core, back and forth on the strong muscle beneath her. Bella’s legs were splayed out widely to allow herself a position to touch Hermione with all of herself, the heat in the stifling room furthering a sheen to build upon her skin as she worked herself back and forth, again and again.

Hermione was lost to herself amidst the thrall of Bella’s desire and touch. The familiar weight upon her midsection as the witch dropped herself lower and squeezed her thighs together was striking in its clarity. A building ache was budding between her legs and thumping in tune with her quickly beating heart, leaving her shifting her thighs together in desperate search for any form of friction.

As seconds dragged to minutes she could smell pine and ash and the remnants of smoke lifting out over a fire, the body above her pressing down -familiar- to unlock something she’d felt and wanted and known for months now.

Nails scratched gently -incessantly- into the flesh of her wrists.

The weight pressing down into her settled -grew- as her own body sought out more contact -freedom- .

Her chest grew tight as fought to breathe through her own arousal -fear- , in, out, in, out.

Faster.

Faster.

Faster.

Her eyes opened up onto chips of onyx looking -leering- down on her, filled with love -hate- , Bella -trix- ’s nails scratching down her arm, forearm, a hollow pit filled with heat -ice- opening up inside her as she looked upwards through a thick trestle of black hair.

The scar etched into her arm burned bright with passion -pain- as the old -new- wound blend it’s particular brand of poison deep under her skin to seep like dust, dirt, -mud- into her veins and light her body on fire. Her chest burned as she breathed -begged- .

Rapidly pushing air from her ribcage she stole a glance at her arm, seeing nothing different as she stared at the closed -opened- wound.

Her eyes looked back up.

Bellatrix looked back down.

She screamed.

---oo---

She awoke. Or more accurately, was awoken. Soft words amidst even softer caresses. The warmth of a body pressing down into her side while her own legs and knees were pulled up for her to curl into the covers below her and body beside her. A thin and pale arm wrapped its way around her back to grip tightly onto her shoulder, pulling her closer still. It served to prevent her from falling or otherwise escaping into nothingness as the other hand rubbed soothing patterns against her scalp. Fingers ran through her short hair, tugging gently against curls and proving she was physically there. She felt soiled and tired and ached with sadness and incompleteness at the turn from horror to waking up protected.

It was comfort. It was soothing. And eventually it counteracted the last memory of a pained and broken face peering down at her with a maniacal grin and blood painted on her lips and teeth. The body holding her tight was mumbling into the side of her head, soft and quiet enough that she wasn’t even sure she had heard it before it began again.

“What?” Her throat was torn and strained while her voice sounded hollow and hoarse, chafing against the feeling of being parched beyond belief. She pulled her head up and away, trying to catch a better glimpse of Bella.

The witch had been crying, that much was obvious. And likely a long time as well if the salty streaks that bled downwards across her cheeks were anything to go by. Pin pricked lines of veins clouded the usual whites of her eyes as she directed her gaze to avoid Hermione’s entirely.

“I’m sorry.” Bella’s voice was no better than her own and came across as a whisper that she almost missed even in the preternatural silence of the room. “I’m so sorry…”

Hermione closed her eyes and clamped down on the emotions beginning to run rampant through her chest while she buried herself forward in Bella’s embrace. “You’ve nothing to be sorry for.”

“Yes I do. What she - I - did to you, would have done to you… I’m sorry.”

Hermione knew this wasn’t an argument that she could win, at least not at the moment. She chose instead to bury herself even further forward and snaked an arm around Bella’s body before pulling her closer into a warm embrace.

---oo---

The chatter of morning songbirds lulled Hermione out of a languid sleep and back into the world of the living. Two, if she guessed right, going back and forth outside the window of the room. Each call was a further tug back into wakefulness and eventually she couldn’t find it within herself to fight it anymore.

Sunlight streamed in through cracks between curtains to light the interior of the room into warm streaks of fiery white and gold, glittering off the mirror of the vanity and sparkling into patterns across the walls. Her head was clear and her throat no longer burned as if she had swallowed embers while the scar on her arm was busily pulsing a soothing tingle throughout her body. The sensation was no longer painful and for that she set to thanking as many gods as she could think of. It was a small blessing, but one she would take with no complaint.

A warm arm was wound and wrapped around her midsection, pressing comfortingly against her stomach and pulling her backwards into the close heat of Bella’s skin. The witch behind her was still snoring softly into a pillow, in and out, as she laid asleep behind Hermione. Long black curls spilled out and across both the pillow and her shoulder to tickle softly against her cheek. A patch of skin on her neck alternatively cooled and warmed from each inhale and exhale from Bella.

‘This,’ Hermione decided, ‘Is the best way to wake up.’

After a few short seconds of shifting limbs and positions she turned to lay on her side while facing Bella, her chin in her palm and free hand weaving patterns into Bella’s cream colored skin. The contrast in colors combined with the incoming sunlight made the soft body beneath her practically glow against the backdrop of black sheets. Within a short order she had the witch stirring and yawning as sleep fled from her, joints popping loudly as she stretched herself outwards in every direction.

“Morning…” Hermione laid a soft kiss on Bella’s temple before turning and pushing herself up and against the headboard. The dark witch was, as she predicted, just as against waking up during a holiday as she was during a normal school-day. Protestations and lazily moving limbs characterized her morning routine, something that Hermione had felt readily comforting as the months had passed.

With the absence of being able to wrap her arms around Hermione, Bella opted instead to burrow into the pillows and comforter until she made the pile into her own little nest. Poofs of curly hair and distorted words mumbled up beneath a mountain of pillows as she sought to evade waking entirely.

Hermione, however, wasn’t having any of it.

With a quick flicking of her wrist she pulled the comforter and sheets that had so far kept Bella from fresh morning air and tossed them off into jumbled mess of silver and black on the floor.

Bella’s response was to curl around herself and wrap a pillow into a tight embrace that hid her face before Hermione had the chance to rip it out of her clutches. Her quick reactions worked, and when Hermione went to send the pillows off the bed she only received a low growl in warning for her efforts. Both witches ended up holding onto the pillow and while Bella gave as much of a fight as she could, naked and cold and awake far, far too early, she lost her grip eventually when Hermione leveraged her nearly standing angle.

The pillow ended up flying across the room and Bella was now bared to the world.

“Fuck you.”

“Maybe later, I’m hungry right now.”

The eyes peering back up at Hermione through a thick curtain of black were positively murderous. At least, until Hermione leaned forward to leave a kiss against the tip of Bella’s nose.

“Come on, get up. Cygnus is supposed to be back later and I have literally no desire to meet him wearing anything less than my Sunday best.”

“The hell does that even mean?”

“Muggle saying.” Hermione dropped herself off the bed to grab a hold of one of Bella’s ankles and tugged at the still curled up witch.

“You can be a complete arse, you know that, right?” Bella’s voice was laced with faux anger that was belied by her slowly, petulantly really, allowing herself to be dragged to the edge of the bed. Right before she was set to fall off entirely she turned to the side and slid off to crumple into a heap atop the mountain of bedding.

“Yes, I know. It’s all part of my charm. Incessant nagging until I get the results I want. Seems to be working just fine. Now, get up. I need a shower and if you’re late there won’t be any room left for you to join me.”

The threat finally did the trick, prompting the dark haired witch into practically tripping over herself to trail off after Hermione while she padded into the ensuite.

When Bella finally disentangled herself from the coil of traitorous bedsheets, Hermione was already running the shower at full blast. Warm waves of steam and heat poured out and over the lip of the shower stall to fulfill Hermione’s silent wish for warmth and comfort.

The bathroom had been renovated recently, which to Bella’s knowledge could mean anywhere from last year to thirty years ago. She tried to not keep up on the constant need for improvement that her father was almost always trying to push for. Regardless of when it had been accomplished the room now sported a rather ostentatious touch up.

Instead of what could loosely be described as a regular shower the space had been fitted with piping that wound up and around to the ceiling before breaking into multiple shower heads. As a consequence, instead of water dropping down at an angle and needing to be repositioned to get anything washed up, the ceiling practically rained at a soothing but steady pressure.

A long ledge had been built into the side of the stall to allow someone to sit and soak in comfort while the shower door had been enchanted to turn into a wall whenever someone felt the need for a bath instead. The space was tiled all in black with the grouting done in a glittering gold color to bring some much-needed brightness back into the room. Enchanted glass containers of Bluebell Flames sat at in the high corners of the stall to provide a constant light source and illuminated the space in dancing whites and blues.

It wasn’t what Hermione would call normal. Even after all the years she had lived at Hogwarts and used their rather large version of bathtubs their showers had been at least slightly reminiscent of the standard Muggle version. Here though, in Bella’s home, luxury and presentation mattered far more than simple ease of use and functionality.

Not that she would be complaining.

It was luxurious, after all.

---oo---

Chapter Text

Cygnus was at once both everything Hermione had been expecting and nothing at all like what she’d prepared herself for. Tall, wiry, and bespeckled with the ruin of a past encounter with Dragon-Pox, he looked more like a scholar or low-born professor than the shrewd businessman and Dark Arts' magnate that she’d been expecting. A tumble of black curls twisted around themselves again and again to limply hang down to the nape of his neck. It was nothing if not obvious where Bella and Andy had inherited their mass of unruly curls from. There were no bulging muscles, no paste of red to his nose that would indicate a proclivity to drink, nothing sharp or overly antagonistic about his walk or tone of voice. He was uncomfortably normal.

Reconciling that this man would stoop so low as to regularly beat his children as easily as he’d worm his way into the caravan surrounding a new socialite was a disconcerting task. Not that she wasn’t unaware that people could have two faces, Quirrell was certainly the most literal embodiment of that truth, but he seemed to portray himself in such an opposite manner to the past she’d been told that the contradiction was fraying on her already nervous mind. The Manor held no pictures or portraits of the man, showcasing only Druella and even then only in a handful.

He dressed in soft gray robes overtop of a far more muggle-like suit of coal-black that was powdered in a thin layer with ashes from his travel through the Floo. A pair of twinned golden rings holding rubies and sapphires sat snugly on his thin fingers that clutched and gripped like so many spiders legs around the long ashen gray wand held tightly between them.

Silver orbs with flecks and streaks of brown bore down on her from his position in front of the fireplace while the tell-tale prickle against her mind alerted her to his failed attempt at legilimency. She smirked up in his direction, safe in the knowledge that he was cut off from entering her thoughts, before schooling her features back into the taciturn and humble visage of Emelia.

“Ms. Grenier-” His baritone voice caught in his throat as Hermione’s face once again broke character with a smirk of disdain and barely concealed anger alighting behind her eyes as she interrupted him.

“Lady Grenier, actually.” Despite having no qualms with controlling this conversation she knew it was wise to stay somewhat on the amicable side of his temperament, but something in the dismissive way he’d begun speaking to her had just rubbed at her the wrong way. And Hermione wasn’t one to let someone start things off with her on the back foot just because of their name or wealth. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance Mr. Black.” A quick of his eyebrow was the only sign that he had any emotional reaction to her interruption.

“The same to you, Lady Grenier.” His hand swept out to the side in invitation for her to sit on one of the plush chairs rooted in front of his personal desk. “If you would make yourself comfortable I’ll have the elves fetch us some refreshment. I, for one, am quite parched from my recent travels.”

She nodded her head in quiet acceptance before taking to the proffered seat, dropping the bundle of paperwork she’d kept underneath her arm unceremoniously onto the massive desk situated before her. Before her nerves could get the better of her she let the soft thrumming of her heart as it beat along to the nervous energy flashing constantly through her body form a point for her to focus herself in on. She was prepared, Bella and herself had worked through as many arguments as they thought that Cygnus could come up and found counters for each and every one, yet still her stomach was tightly coiled in on itself like a knot of Runespoor’s.

Cygnus, still standing behind her and talking quite softly with an elf named Tinan, slowly finished up his conversation before he turned to sit at his desk. The soft thud of his steps upon the wooden floor echoed about the space as he neared her. While he rounded the desk he flicked his wand to pull the large and obviously antique desk chair out from its place, sitting down heavily and scooping the loose sheaf of paperwork she had dropped onto his desk.

Teacups sprang into existence on expensive looking marble coasters with a mellowed ‘Pop!’, while Cygnus occupied himself with digging through desk drawers for his own assortment of parchments and notebooks. Hermione reached forward, grabbing the tea and sipping slowly as she waited for her host to begin. Second after second stretched onward as the lull in conversation allowed Hermione a moment to reflect on what she knew of the man.

The common description that was thrown around had been that he was wickedly smart and held a penchant for grinding his political and business opponents into the ground as one would crush a beetle with their heel. A penchant for heaping upon his opponents a revenge that far outweighed the offense was his hallmark, while those he supported could depend on him until a more advantageous opportunity presented itself. He both supported and proposed pureblood laws while also taking a keen interest in the makeup of the Wizengamot even though he could not sit upon it himself. Orion might have been the actual Lord Black, but it seemed almost everyone knew who really held the power within the family. His supporters consistently flocked to defend his name as readily as he took to defending theirs. A theory spread wide by the tabloids of the time held to the theory that the ongoing riots that had persisted throughout the year after Squibs came out for equal rights were instigated, at least partly, by his meddling and rumormongoring.

The man was also absolutely comfortable with both physical and emotional abuse, even targeting his own family so long as the end result suited his desired need. The trio had taken a prolonged amount of time to explain that incurring his displeasure was usually a one way ticket to a cruciatus or far more muggle means of discipline . The bruises still lingering on Andy were a reminder to how high his temper could flare.

He was also shrewd enough to distance himself as soon as something caught the public ire. His recent distancing from his incarcerated wife an easy example of the behavior. The moment that her actions painted them both in an unpleasant light he had practically stood from the rooftops to denounce her. Bits and pieces of information regarding the whole story were all that Hermione had to go on so far as none of the trio were very inclined to share exactly what had happened and Bellatrix still hadn’t divested any of her memories for Hermione’s viewing. She also had a sneaking suspicion that none of them had a full grasp on what exactly had happened to her, sometimes it seemed she’d been incarcerated in Azkaban while other times it was more likely she’d been interned at St. Mungo’s. Until one of the trio opened up Hermione was content enough to let the matter rest and focus on Cygnus’s roundabout actions during the scandal.

Time and silence continued their uninterrupted movement between them as Cygnus continued to shuffle paperwork back and forth while Hermione maintained her practiced air of lethargy and boredom. She held no illusions about who would likely control this negotiation, he could order her to leave at a moment's notice or summarily turn her offer down with whatever reason he wanted, and she would be left with no means to pursue it any further.

Cygnus already had her at a disadvantage, holding them up in his personal office space to discuss the matter instead of somewhere more neutral like Gringotts or a Law Firm. She wasn’t willing to show him any weakness or give him pause to characterize her as easy to walk over and if forcing him to be the first to speak would accomplish even a small part of that, then she would wait.

The only bit of her betraying the image were her eyes as they roamed across the room. Hardwood flooring was laid end to end across the space in an off color brown that more closely resembled black when she squinted her eyes. The dark wood comfortably matched the worn furniture and seating arrangements that were scattered about the space. A single tall bookshelf pressed tightly against the far wall was filled up to the brim with books and tomes of various thickness and age, their jackets dust covered and spines peeling back in evidence of a life spent well-read.

The Black Library, sitting only two levels above her, was a room that nearly had Hermione on her knees and begging Bella for entrance. Her incessant please were, unfortunately, denied outright. The wards surrounding the shelving and individual books were too keyed into the blood of the family that her touch could start off a cascade of obscure and deadly curses. The danger that the room presented served to only irritate the itch in the back of her mind that screamed out at the injustice of having knowledge so close but still so far out of reach. She’d only been able to quiet herself once Bella had given in and agreed to look for a spell or ritual that would allow her unfettered access.

The corner of her lip turned up at the realization that if this meeting went to plan then she would have easy access to the room and its contents whenever she so desired.

Sunk into the wall opposite of the bookshelf was the large and rather ostentatious fireplace that served to both heat the room and provide easy access to the Floo network. It stood nearly as tall as she was and was built up from within by bricks that had turned matte black where flames constantly licked up at them. Bella had told her that for as long as she could remember the fire had not once gone out, instead left open and on for easy and discrete transportation at all times. A thick mantle piece was attached above it, holding up small statues of Grecian mythology and smaller trinkets of gold and silver. Hanging above it all was a large metallic version of the Black coat of arms. Three massive ravens preened and waved their wings from their position above the mantle, two-dimensional bodies opening their beaks in a silent caw.

“Lady Grenier,” Cygnus’s voice brought Hermione out of her inspection of the room, “Are these all the documents that I requested?”

She smirked outwardly at finally forcing him to be the first to speak before tamping down her amusement and responding.

“Yes, Mr. Black. They’re all there and signed off by Master Grindhelm, of Gringotts. Also, I’ve taken the liberty of including a copy of the enhanced inheritance test that I recently took. I figured if you’ll be looking at everything else that you might as well have that too.”

He nodded silently before shuffling through the paperwork in front of him, slowly organizing it into some mess that only he could understand.

“Well then. If you don’t mind my asking, Lady Grenier, why exactly are you so eager to saddle yourself to Bellatrix? Surely there must be plenty of young suitors begging for your hand?” He peered over the lip of parchments to stare down at her through blocky reading glasses, one eyebrow raised up questioningly.

“If you must know, I’ve taken quite strongly with her over the past months. She was antagonistic at first, and I’m sure my showing up out of the blue wasn’t that helpful to our friendship, but since then we’ve become extremely close. I’d think it quaint, but accurate, to say that I’ve fallen for her just as she has for me. As for me sitting here today, well, I’d like to ensure that the Lestrange boy is no longer a part of our future.”

“So love then?” He shot a toothy and disingenuous smile her way, “Simple as that?”

She inclined her head almost imperceptibly in agreement.

The sheaf of papers held in his hand dropped down to the desk as he removed his glasses and clasped his hands together on top of the desk before leaning backwards in his creaking chair.

“Come now. I’d like to think I’ve shown you a good deal of kindness so far. I’m allowing you to meet with Bella and our Lord during his tutoring sessions, I’m letting you stay here during your break. I’m even taking time out of my busy schedule to sit down with you for a private meeting. Simply declining your request for this meeting would have been the most conscientious decision, I’m almost definitely losing money by spending my time here and not our working. On the basis of my current graciousness to you and your House, please don’t lie to me. Why are you here?” His silver eyes twinkled in delight as he watched intently for her reaction.

Hermione could barely restrain a groan of exasperation. Of course Cygnus would see a material motive where nothing more than concern and a burgeoning link between the two existed. She was, however, prepared for this eventuality. Bella had practically drilled it into her head but having to deal with his projected superiority as if he’d caught her in a lie was grating. Her only consolation in dealing with him was that she had a plan that both witches had agreed would work.

“My last name is Grenier. Not a specifically well-known name outside of the New World or France. And those that know it here are generally much older than witches and wizards my age. Now, regardless of the age of my name or the purity behind it, it’s not a favorable name here nor is it advantageous to me. I could get by on it, I know I could, but it would take me far longer than I’m willing to wait. A more favorable name however, one old in England and carrying the backing of generations, would go a long way towards carrying me to my ambitions and anchoring myself here.”

“And what exactly are you expecting to anchor here?”

“The same thing that the Grenier name was known for in the past. Shipping, logistics, freight hauling and furthering access, for those with the right amount of coin, to a multitude of items and eccentricities that most of the Ministry would rather prefer were left outside of the country. The world grows ever closer and no one can stop the march of progress. A shrewd businesswoman could make a lot of galleons in the coming years.”

Cygnus’s eyes slowly widened as he listened to her rehearsed lines, the words spinning up and greasing the gears that drove him towards recognition and avarice.

“I see. In that case, what is the name worth to you? I assume since you’re looking for a foot in the door that it’d be worth quite a lot, no?”

---oo---

Everyone surrounding her was on edge, so much so that Narcissa could nearly feel the piercing of nervous spikes digging into her flesh. Again, and again, and again. Terse sentences, clipped tones, glares and barely concealed jitters. Bella and Hermione could both give a pincushion a run for its money and Narcissa had just about had enough of it.

Red hot sparks of molten slag dripped off the tip of Bella’s wand and the clipped almost bark like laughter that bubbled up her throat with whatever inane thoughts passed through her mind was more than enough for Narcissa to resolve to find a way to get her out of the Manor. Or at least into a more comfortable room. The building was large and expansive and still she felt cooped up on the ground floor with all the nervous energy floating about the spaces. The mixture was heady enough that even the air was tinted with the bite of ozone and sharp spices. Convincing her sister to leave and find solace in the wilderness surrounding their home was another matter entirely that nearly had her crying in frustration while Andy took the low route to slink off to another room in silence before anyone could even notice that she was leaving.

Dealing with Hermione hadn’t been much easier. The short haired witch had opted instead to plant herself before the study door and hiss underneath her breath in low tones that oozed with barely restrained energy. That odd display had lasted right up until she shut herself inside the room and bathed it with privacy wards and anti-eavesdropping spells. Narcissa counted herself lucky that she’d not had to handle the witch as she had her sister. She had an inkling that the older witch could have been quite the handful if she’d been so inclined.

With both witches sorted and off to their own devices she had left the ground floor, heading upstairs and trying to find wherever Andy had run off to. Darkened hallways and silent portraits left her wandering in quietude with only the creaking of loose floorboards and her own near silent footfalls to accompany her.

Minute after minute crept onward as she searched throughout the Manor until after what felt like hours she finally caught wind of what sounded like someone singing. The words floated out through a disused room on the third floor, hauntingly eerie and peaceful in the same breath.

Passing through door led her to a small sitting room that was generally empty and unused except during holiday gatherings, and today was no exception. Andromeda was alone and pushed into a corner, lying on her back with a pillow from the couch propped up underneath her head. Her hands were clasped on top of her midriff and her feet, clad in Slytherin green socks, waved back and forth in time with the tune she had begun to gently hum.

Narcissa’s entrance appeared to go unnoticed until her sister grunted in acknowledgement of her presence and went back to humming her lonely tune. After sitting down on the empty couch that was pushed up against the side of the wall she turned sideways and laid out, comfortable in the quiet presence of her sister.

The past week had been horrendously taxing on both her mind and body. Not only had she just barely finished her mid-term assignments, but spending each and every afternoon with Hermione and Bellatrix in the Room of Requirement to train up her occlumency barriers had been mental torture. Each and every lesson had consisted of her attempting to empty her mind of emotions so as to construct barriers and defenses in their places, each go round draining her more and more to the point of nearly falling asleep while Hermione trained her.

Being woken with a sharp elbow from her eldest sister hadn’t been one of her proudest moments, but appeared to be something she would have to live with until she could properly protect all of their secrets. Not that they would divulge all of them anyways, Hermione had made that quite clear before they’d even begun. Not having knowledge of what was to come was grating but acceptable so long as she was alerted in matters that actually counted. Chief among them was her prospective engagement to Lucius.

Hermione had asked her, in a neutral tone, to observe his actions during their time together and try as much as she could to keep him from doing or joining anything reckless or dangerous. She hadn’t been told what he could be doing that would be harmful, just to be on the lookout, but she’d agreed to do so all the same. The tone that Hermione had used as she’d explained her request had been insistent to the point of worrying the younger witch, and so she had taken to it immediately. Her rationalization revolved around assuming that anything that kept him safe and away from the wrong side of the law would be beneficial to her as well, especially by the time they were set to be wed. It might be a few years of silent gatekeeping but she held onto the vague hope that her actions would be advantageous to their future.

Gentle humming, soft and ethereal, filled the room and softened the senses as Narcissa drifted towards a peaceful sleep, confident that when she awoke the matter taking place below her would be resolved in an acceptable fashion.

---oo---

Heat and electricity flooded up in a bout of nervous energy through Hermione’s body, channeled forth through her scarred connection to Bellatrix. She could feel each moment that the witch lost control of her temper and each moment she vented the ensuing frustration. She could discern the level of nervousness surrounding the witch and infecting her thoughts with dark scenarios and painful outcomes. The raised letters of the scar pulsed with heat as Bella drew upon her magic to unleash some fury or another in attempt after attempt to calm her mind and body.

Hermione intimately understood that Bellatrix was no saint. She knew it as much as she knew she herself was no longer some shining pedestal of ‘Light’. She also knew that she would be lying if she didn’t admit and accept that some small part of her deep down in her core was slowly being hyped into a pleasant warmth at the realization that Bella’s outbursts and rage were tied directly into concern for her own wellbeing and the outcome of this meeting. It was a strange realization for sure but one she could accept.

Still though, upon shaking in her seat with a heady rush of Bella’s emotions, she knew that it wasn’t the visage that she wanted to present to Cygnus. She needed to be calm, collected, comfortable, and in total control of the negotiation at all times. Shaking with feelings and emotions that all too readily matched the pool of heat that would gather between her legs when she was intimate with Bellatrix was not how she wanted to feel at that moment.

By the tenth or eleventh revision of the contract, she’d lost count after he’d gone into an extended monologue on the need to ensure she’d remain virtuous throughout the process and up until the wedding, she was practically vibrating with the intense need to escape the claustrophobic meeting and irritating company.

“Mr. Black,” Cygnus paused mid word to stare down at her across his glasses when she interrupted him, “If it wouldn’t be much of an imposition I’d like to take a short break. We’ve been at this for more than a few hours and a moment of respite might do us both some good.”

“Of course Lady Grenier, it’s not a bother at all. Not all of us are built to withstand the lengths of contract negotiation. It takes a certain kind of wizard to keep up with this pace. Let’s say we adjourn for a half hour and pick back up after that.”

Smiling and nodding she bit back the retort sitting on her lips at his answer.

‘Self centered twit,’ she fumed internally. ‘Of course he fits the mold of a sexist businessman.’

Pulses of energy continued to lance through her arm and out into her body as she stood and paced from the room in only a few short strides. When she entered the hallway her breathing pattern broke as she took in heaping gulps of air to calm herself. With only a small bit of concentration she walked away while letting the curse drag her towards Bellatrix.

---oo---

Each room she passed by was flawless and empty of life. Stark white surroundings and deeply brown furniture contrasting against what little semblance of habitation that the rooms could hold onto. A book overturned here, pillows and cushions with indents that showed a favored seat. And all so sterile that she could hardly believe the fact that three young women had been raised here. There were no plants, there was no dust, everything covered up by the limitless efficiency of house elf magic.

The only thing that gave her a compelling reason to enter or search the rooms were the small bits of magic released from harmless looking artifacts that felt the wayward tug of the curse on her arm and responded in kind. These little pinpricks were something she hadn’t been aware of before, but it seemed that between the original healing of the scar and the limited interaction she’d had with the interior of the Manor and lack of dark artifacts at Hogwarts after the wars end, she’d managed to completely overlook it.

The general lack of dark objects was also a factor in her lapse at realization. Andy and Cissa had taken time to explain to her upon her arrival that the majority of their family’s artifacts were hidden away or owned by Walburga and any that remained were safely hidden or obfuscated so well that even a full investigation by the Ministry wouldn’t uncover anything untoward. Any items that remained were simple things that could be brushed off as being family heirlooms that had simply absorbed magics over the years and now softly radiated it out into the environment, surely no cause for concern among any visitors, Aurors or otherwise.

The only room in the Manor that still contained actual items of relevance to dark magic was the library and it was so well warded up that even a team of Gringotts best curse-breakers would be stunted and likely forced to work for days if not weeks to allow themselves entrance.

The room taunted her with its existence, locked out as she was. It was filled with grimoires, scrolls, tomes from ancient and long dead authors and packed to the brim with magics that she wanted desperately to get her hands on but had no method to do so. Thoughts of the Head of House Atreus bit at the corners of her mind as she wandered throughout the ground floor according to the whims of her scar.

Eventually she found herself in a wing solely devoted to servants quarters, small doors and disheveled appearances marking it as the home for the numerous house elves in service to Black Manor. The doors were mostly closed and the few that were open housed elves that were taking a break in between their duties or waiting on the snap of a summons to put them to use. Most left her be, content as they were to simply ignore her presence, while she wandered throughout their habitation. Eventually she came across an open door leading to a small room that seemed occupied for a reason other than rest.

Three elves stood in the center of the room to form a semi-circle around a fourth. All were dressed in tattered sheets and scraps of cloth twisted about into the fashion of a toga, heads bowed forward conspiratorially and eyes shifting back and forth among one another. The synchronicity with which they all turned to look at her once one they caught her movements was oddly alarming and so very much like something out of a muggle horror movie that Hermione’s breath caught and her heart stilled at the realization that she’d walked into something that was supposed to be hidden.

‘Might have been hidden better if they’d kept the door shut.’

The implication of their suddenly ceased conversation, that it was forbidden, passed through her thoughts while her mind focused mostly on their sudden and startling lack of emotion. Large eyes, usually expressive to an eerie extreme, were sullen and blank. None moved or even seemed to breathe as they stared at her, and she back at them.

Before she could even utter a word of question the door was snapped shut rather loudly after the elf in the center snapped its fingers. Apparently they understood she was a guest there only at their masters leisure and standard courtesies and civility needn’t apply. Hermione's breath leaped out of her throat when she found herself out of her stupor.

'What in the bloody hell was that about?'

She continued staring mutely at the door for a few seconds more until another passing thought and the tingle at her arm brought her away from her stunned incredulity and back into the land of the present.

‘Bella first, creepy elves second.’

As she turned away and walked further down the hall the sharp sound of her heels on the hardwood floor became her only accompaniment. The tug of magic between Bell and herself brought her out and through the west end of the Manor until she found herself walking out through a pair of glass double doors and out onto a magnificent patio.

She’d stood here only once before, after a lesson with Voldemort, amidst white marble and intricate banisters that spread out into a facsimile that called upon ancient Grecian and Roman architecture. The whole area was buttressed and cleanly carved into a magnificent scene of wizarding architecture. Here there was life in abundance. Here was proof that someone cared enough to displace the antiseptic aura of the rest of the Manor. Rows of plant beds lined up against the railing to hold flowers of varying sizes and heights. Magenta, pink, a neon spectrum of petals and bright green stalks swayed back and forth in the gentle breeze, growing tall and unencumbered despite the cold snows and biting winds that regularly blew through the area this deep into winter.

A wandering ivy had taken root in the cinder and clay bricks that made up the exterior of the Manor, climbing high and broad until the entire left side of the Manor was nearly blanketed in thick leaves and vines nearly as thick as her wrist. It was, in its own way, far more beautiful than it had a right to be. It was clear that without active maintenance the ivy would spread and consume the home it was situated upon, a startlingly aggressive plant tamed only so long as someone was around to control it. It was something that she near desperately hoped that one of the Grenier estates might emulate.

CRACK!

Sharp sparks and the biting sound of spellwork impacting a solid object flashed out amidst the copse of trees buttressing the side of the Manor. Fresh snow muffled most of the sound and left only the sharp echo to spread out across the grounds. The nervous tingle that thrummed throughout her body pulled her forwards and into the treeline while the stresses of the past few hours settled out and faded softly into the back of her mind, eked from their roost with thoughts of Bella. The short trudge out and into the woods proper brought her to a sight she hadn’t seen in years.

It was chaos, pure and simple.

Like the aftermath of the Forest of Dean, tree’s bared evidence that they’d taken the brunt of the assault. Broken trunks and splinters the size of daggers lay strewn in heaps across the snow as evidence of the violence of Bella’s spellwork.

Bella was standing alone amidst the carnage, facing away from Hermione with her wand trained on a target only she could see. Charred wood and splinters lay at her feet while the smoking ruins of a patch of trees continuously popped as the fires contained within them settled and cooled.

As Hermione rounded a large trunk and stepped into the clearing she coughed lightly in a show of making enough noise to get Bella’s attention but not enough so suddenly as to end up being accidentally hexed for her troubles. As she looked upon the form of her girlfriend she realized that Bella had changed at some point prior to her onslaught, leaving behind the skirts and heels that she’d worn up until Hermione had entered Cygnus’s study.

She wore long shorts, that looked far more like she’d hacked up a pair of black mens slacks, her bare shins and feet nearly buried beneath the layer of snow beneath her. A black undershirt stretched tightly across her torso while remaining short enough that Hermione could see the curve of her hips and pale stripe of her back. Her hair was tied up into a messy ponytail with strands hanging loose from multiple spots that bounced upon her shoulders as she breathed in great heaving gulps of air. Steam rose from her uncovered skin in trails and ribbons against the backdrop of dark trees and exhaled breath.

Twin lances of nervousness and anger flashed through her body and mind as she watched the slightly swaying form before her.

“Don’t wear yourself out too much…” Hermione spoke up lightly as she made her way towards Bella, cautious enough to not startle or upset the emotionally oscillating witch.

“Em’,” Bella turned around to face her before rushing forward. She wrapped Hermione into a tight hug with a strength that was belied by her short form, lifting her up and off her feet. “How’s negotiations,” she asked through a voice that was muffled into the crook of Hermione’s neck, “Getting a good price for me?”

A snort of laughter met Bella’s question as Hermione buried her face into Bella’s side, peppering her warm skin with soft kisses. When she felt that any further hugging would crush her lungs she disengaged from Bella and stepped backwards before throwing up a crooked grin.

“If by best price you mean a hefty parcel of what he believes I’m worth, and assurances that if I revive the Grenier shipping business I’ll run portions of it through him, then yes. I’m getting a good price. He ran down straight to brass tacks pretty quickly, we’re just squabbling about the specifics right now. And naming, and bedding procedure. Quite fun.”

“Fun? I’ll be sure to try it then. What are you leaning to for naming? We haven’t really spoken about it.”

“I’ll go with Black, I think,” she waved her hand in evidence of her lack of concern, “So long as you’re okay with me taking your name. It’s either that, or Black-Grenier. Although, I’m not much a fan of hyphenation. Grenier on its own has no ties to England, and I think we’ll need some in the future. When it’s all said and done I’m going to look into a legal name change from Emelia to Hermione though.”

“Why?”

Hermione wrapped her arms around herself before shrugging and looking off into the distance at the broken trees. “I’m not too attached to ‘Emelia’. I’m Hermione, through and through. But you can continue calling me Em’, if you like. It sounds good when you say it.”

“Aw, you’re so sweet,” Bella wrapped an arm around her waist before nuzzling her cheek against Hermione’s. “I think I can live with that. Not too worried about anyone conflating the names and appearances?”

Silence stretched out before them as Hermione searched for an appropriate answer. Bella filled the gap in their talk with wordless spells that left gashes and missing chunks of wood into the trees in front of them.

“No, I’m not worried really. It’s most likely that I’ve just been shunted off into a different dimension somehow, rather than sent back in time within my own world. Least, I’d like to think so. That my friends wouldn’t just abandon me… Or maybe I just made a new branch in reality when I was sent back. That Unspeakable, Bode I think, hasn’t responded to me yet so I’m not exactly sure what’s happened. But anyways, I’m not worried. If things work out as planned then we’ll have a whole different future lying ahead of us anyway. No point in preparing for things we’re actively avoiding in the future.”

Bella dropped her wand arm before returning the crooked item to the holster she had strapped to the inside of her forearm while releasing a long exhale and turning her face up to peer into the clouds hiding the sky behind them.

“What are our plans anyways?”

“Well, first we need to finish a few things before graduation. I don’t want to lose access to the castle and still have things to clear up.” She shook her head before continuing, “There are a lot of things we’ll need to do in the coming months and years to prepare for the war.”

“Like?”

“Well, we need to kill the Basilisk in the Chamber, destroy or hide the Diadem Horcrux, and destroy or nullify the curse on the D.A.D.A. position. There are some other things I’d like to complete but those three are the priority items.”

“Sounds like a walk in the park, nothing but smooth sailing for now. When do we start?”

Warm laughter broke through Hermione’s chest and into the air surround them as she leaned into Bella’s projected nonchalance. Even if her calm at their situation was manufactured, it was for her own ease and she appreciated the effort.

“Soon as we get back I think,” she turned back towards the Manor with a scowl painted across her face. “Right, I need to get back inside then. Much as I hate your cunt of a father, I’d prefer not to piss him off too much. He might try and up the price again.”

“We could save ourselves some frustration and just kill him. I know a few old family plots that could use some new bones.” Bella’s deadpanned response was so apathetic and honest that Hermione could do nothing more than slowly narrow her eyes and remind herself exactly who she was courting.

“No.”

The pale smile on Bella’s face downturned into a pout as she leaned back, puppy dog eyes making an appearance.

“Not without a good reason at least,” Hermione acquiesced before rolling her eyes at the immediate smile that Bella broke into.

“I can think of at least-”

“Bellatrix,” her voice broke in with a stern tone that brought Bella to a halt, “We’re not killing anyone right now. We need to stay below Dumbledore’s and the Ministry’s radar, and while I’m pretty sure Voldemort might not care except in that we follow him, I’d rather not end up in a position where he needs to bail us out. I don’t want him to intercede on our behalf and end up owing him a life debt or something. Which is something that might happen if we suddenly off a prominent member of a Noble House.”

Bella looked at her with a thoughtful expression and questioning eyes before she inhaled slowly and responded. Her hand was still raised while she still held one finger out to point off where she’d begun to count reasons.

“What’s radar?”

‘Bloody buggering hell.’

Chapter Text

After nearly eighty-eight years wandering around the world in one capacity or another, Albus Dumbledore was hard to surprise. That was why, after some discrete inquiries, it was such a shock to his system to realize exactly how much the current generations disregarded or outright ignored breaches amidst their security and livelihood. Most of, if not all, witches and wizards seemed to have forgotten about the tiny little security flaws in waiting, skulking about their homes and places of business with no sense of security or accountability.

It seemed to him that most, if not every one, that owned a House Elf were perfectly fine with allowing the little creatures to exist around them and protect their secrets and interests through a millennia old magical bond that most didn’t have even the faintest hope of understanding.

The elves themselves were generally regarded as little more than chattel, barely intelligent slaves that served no more purpose in life than to be servile little animals with just enough wit and ability to serve their betters without being considered a liability. Pitiable little things that were only meant to serve a House or a Master. They had existed for so long inside the homes of Wizarding society that unless they failed egregiously at their respective tasks that they simply faded off into the background until their services or abilities were needed.

This realization shocked Albus, and he kept it to himself all the same.

The seemingly simple creatures were far more than simple servants. They were sentient creatures capable of a level of foresight and knowledge that fell far, far beyond their capabilities as mere servants. They were able and willing to work far outside of their duties and responsibilities so long as their actions never once contradicted an order. It was also a relatively unrecognized reality that elves had friends. Families. Scattered though they were, no elf was ever truly alone.

An elf serving in one House might be directly related through blood or marriages to the elves serving faithfully in another House. The Houses might even be considered mortal enemies and it wouldn’t matter to the bonds the elves wove between each other. They held friendships as well, stretched out long and thin by their service but unbreakable nonetheless. The elves knew no animosity between one another no matter the petty squabbles of their sloven overlords.

The multitude of elves in service to Hogwarts were no different. They had lives and experiences that touched far outside of the physical spaces that they were permitted to work and live in. They even had time off, another fact that most Houses seemed to have forgotten. Waiting around after chores were completed, spending their break outside and away form the hustle and bustle of Wizardkind was not an unusual action for the elves once they finished their duties.

They didn’t just hide in a closet and remain still as an unworn pair of shoes or sleep when their services weren’t needed.

And Albus knew this.

Yes, there were a handful of elves that were forbidden or removed from their own society via codes and words of Honor, never even once permitted to interact with another of their own kind. But most were not restricted in such a fashion and many who were had loopholes that they wouldn’t hesitate to use. And more still were simply left to their own devices with no one else's say in the matter.

But then again, most wizards were useless.

And Albus prided himself on not being of those feckless dunces.

After years of peace between Wizardkind, barring the mildly significant blip that was Gellert, they had grown complacent and fat in their contentment. They had forgotten the old ways. The Oaths that had once served them well in times when secrecy and security were paramount had faded into the background, relegated to old books and senile old wizards.

But Albus hadn’t forgotten.

Each and every elf working and living inside of Hogwarts were sworn until death to serve the Headmaster above all others. An Oath, that once struck was much like the Unbreakable Vow, superseded any and all other instructions or bindings. Any order could be countermanded, any secret revealed, all confidence twisted inwards to the select benefit of the Headmaster. It was a strong Oath. So much so that the blood flowing through their tiny bodies practically hummed with the background effects of the latent magic. Heaped upon by runework that had been etched deeply into the Keystones that supported Hogwarts, the bond was as infallible as the castle itself.

Phineus had been the first to implement such a bond. He had been a paranoid old man, crazy even, but incredibly smart. Paranoia and backup plans made up nearly half of the man's thoughts and it was mindset that Albus could deeply appreciate.

The elves had a hold on a magic far different from the type wielded by Wizardkind. Far older and more incomprehensible than what their current mundane existences would lead one to suspect. They had not always been House Elves. And their kind still carried the markers of their hallowed past, however diluted and subdued in the intervening years. A magic more primal, unfocused, sparked through them and was brought into existence by only a thought and willpower.

It was, again, something that Albus had not forgotten.

It was why, when he called for Chief House Elf Bolin to report to his office, the elf was able to describe the murky and ofttimes haphazardly built chain that linked himself to multitudes of other elves. From Twiffle, and elf under House Goyle and Bolin’s sister, to Twiffle’s father Gormin, serving under House Nott, whose cousin served under House Potter, whose sister served House Longbottom. And whose father served House Black.

Tinan.

This chain, tenuous and long and invisible to Wizardkind, but still a link, allowed one such as Albus an immediate and ready-made form of access into the home of his current star pupils.

A link that Orion and Cygnus had not managed to break.

After discovering that the link existed, and understanding the level of familiarity between the elves, it was only a matter of asking a few requests of Bolin.

And the elf was only too eager to serve.

---oo---

Narcissa’s body shook as she jigged her leg up and down in a decidedly unladylike fashion as she waited for Hermione to exit the study next door. Up and down, up and down, again and again and again. The restless energy flowing through her body was pent-up to a near maddening level while she waited for them to finish.

She had finally left the sitting room behind with Andromeda sleeping peacefully in her corner when the waiting and anxiety behind the outcome of Hermione’s appeal to Cygnus finally grew to be too much. She’d instead returned to the ground floor and found herself a quiet spot in the lounge that pressed up alongside the Study. Fading echoes of her time spent in here while learning the piano accompanied her while she sat down upon a lonely settee, her feet planted firmly and stubbornly on the floor while her leg continued to jig.

It was in this room that she had first learned about the perceived value that her blood held over others. Druella had been far too enthusiastic to show her pieces of music that had been authored by famous wizarding composers, purebloods only of course. She had taken to showing off muggle and half-blood music as a form of denigration. For every note from a muggleborn or a half-blood she had played ten times more from a pureblood, busily pointing out the differences. Narcissa had never been able to hear what supposedly set the artists apart from one another even when she listened to covers of famous songs. Her mother had never noticed though, deciding instead to lecture her on how much more sophisticated and regal the pureblood works were.

The lessons and mindset had been something that Narcissa had only half listened to. An eight-year old could only understand and imbibe so much, and the venom that dripped from her mother’s voice had been off-putting and heavy-handed for her younger self.

After Druella had tired of mincing out harsh words and hour long lessons Narcissa had taken to inhabiting the room whenever her mother wasn’t around. She’d surround herself with music from a variety of composers in an effort to understand whatever differences that her mother had been spouting. Nothing more than a deep respect for those who made music and a deep appreciation for music made in centuries past.

It was a win in her book.

And now, as she sat rigidly upon the settee with her leg bouncing at a blurry pace while her mind was caught up in hope for Bella, she found that she couldn’t relax for the life of her.

She could hear a gentle murmur coming over from the room next door but couldn’t make out any individual words or speakers. The room was warded in such a way that understanding their conversation was likely impossible, but she hadn’t come down to the room to eavesdrop. She’d only come here to await Hermione’s exit and subsequent news. Not that she couldn’t eavesdrop if she wanted to. Druella had quickly clued her youngest daughter into a secret only she knew, that a single corner of the room had been heavily enchanted to allow words and sound to pass freely between the two rooms. As paranoid as she was, she’d never once let Cygnus have the study all to himself, even when he was the only one in the room. She’d chosen instead to listen in on each and every conversation he’d had.

Narcissa kept herself purposefully away from that location. It had crossed her mind for a split second that she could betray Hermione’s confidence, take up that spot, and listen to every word that was said. In the end it had been her desire to maintain trust and friendship that kept her away, finding it more important than hearing the explicit details of Hermione's maneuvering.

Bella was still somewhere outside of Manor, likely to remain there until Hermione came to find her. Knee-deep in snow and probably covered in the fine debris of her favorite form of stress relief. The woods surrounding the Manor would eat it all up and return again with an even hardier shell to take in and absorb her abuse. Bella’s choice to obstinately avoid the root of her anxieties was familiar to Narcissa and although she was worried about the pending outcome she had still wanted to be the first person in the Manor to know.

Her eldest sister had been so despondent when she’d first learned the news of her arrangement to Lestrange that the black pit she’d thrown herself into had been both physically nauseating and horribly saddening to Narcissa. To see her protector, fierce Bella, thrown down so far into herself that she’d become a magnet that only attracted danger and rage had been a deeply worrying development. No one else besides Andromeda had been able to see how far she had fallen into constant aggression since the announcement and the fact that it had been compounded by their mother being led away in chains certainly hadn’t been helpful to the situation.

The change in her sister had been immediate once Hermione had found a way to work herself beneath Bella’s hardened exterior. Rage and anger had dissipated into a simmering aggression that she was now able to reign in more often than not, warm smiles on her face instead of a constantly pissed off scowl.

Click.

The door to the study opened and shut with a soft click that alerted Narcissa to Hermione’s exit. Within the span of a second she was off of the settee and charging out into the hallway, standing before a stock still Hermione and shifting side to side

The older witch was standing stock still in front of the closed door, her hair a ruffled mess and sweat clear against her brow. A large packet of parchments were tucked up under her arm while her free hand rubbed incessantly against the words that Narcissa knew to be carved into her skin. Throughout the intervening seconds she continued staring off ahead of herself with a far away glint in her eyes.

The older witch’s lips began moving as she mumbled something softly under her breath.

“What?” Narcissa tried to focus her hearing.

Within a few seconds Hermione seemed to come back to herself and peered down at the young witch standing before her, her unfocused eyes sharpening up and finding the piercing blue of Narcissa’s.

“I did it. He’s… He’s dropped Lestrange. I… We’re… Betrothed.”

A giddy feeling flew up and spread throughout Narcissa’s chest in tandem with an increased beating of her heart as she heard the good news. The carefully maintained facade of calmness evaporated from her face.

“Is my father still in there?”

“No,” Hermione gently shook her head from side to side, “No. He’s left. Said he’d be returning again tomorrow. Someone by the name of Gregor Ivanov will be by tomorrow for a meeting with him.”

Hermione’s voice had quieted again as she spoke until Narcissa had trouble even making out the words that comprised her whispers.

“You okay Em’?”

A deep breath shook through Hermione before she responded. “Yeah, yeah… Just tired is all. I didn’t think it’d take that long. And it got kind of weird before the end.”

With that said the witch stretched herself out, arms raising as the parchments fell onto the floor and joints popping audibly in the preternatural stillness of the Manor.

“I’m going to go and find Bella. Feel free to let Andy know if you want, otherwise I’ll just let her know when we have dinner.”

Before she could think better of it, and before Hermione could start to walk away, Narcissa had thrown herself forward and into a crushing hug around the older witch, a smile etched deeply on her face in reflection of her happiness at the outcome.

---oo---

Since Hermione’s exit from the pit of Tartarus, hours had passed and now the quartet found themselves ensconced within a sitting room on the second floor while a bottle of wine passed between the hands of the three eldest. It was an old vintage, rare and worth far more than any of them found reasonable, that Cygnus had left to collect dust in the disused wine cellar deep beneath the Manor.

Narcissa had been politely denied when she’d asked for a glass, her older sisters hurrying to claim that it wasn’t healthy for one so young as her to drink. Hermione had sat quietly while trying, and failing, to hide a smile behind her wine glass. Narcissa wasn’t too hard-pressed to be upset over it, the air of freedom and fresh air waving away other concerns after the news had broken through the Manor.

“So then. What’s next?” Andy quietly spoke up over the rim of her glass.

“Well, I guess we’ll start getting to work on your marriage next. Not sure yet how we’ll be able to spin it though.” Hermione’s voice was still muted and dull from her exhaustion but she’d been making an effort to engage with the trio as much as she could manage.

“Don’t really think that we can,” Andy said disdainfully. “Burga will just strike me from the tree for living Ted, not to say even marrying him. Which I’m looking closer and closer to. Cygnus can’t Imperius me into marrying if I’m already taken. No one will officiate something as sacrilegious as that. I’ll be spoiled blood by that point, too worthless to waste his time on.”

“Still, don’t rush off into something if you can help it. We might figure something out.” Hermione shot Andy a sympathetic look as she finished talking.

Bella leaned back into her seat on the settee before leaning heavily to the side to press her body up against Hermione. “Em’s right, we’ve got a year to work on it. We can figure something out.”

“True.” Andy’s subdued look spoke volumes as to her true thoughts on that matter.

A weariness had settled between them all following the bottle of wine from glass to glass as each witch unwound from the tightly packed stresses of the day.

“So what about Voldemort?” Narcissa could swear she’d be able to hear a pin drop after that particular question. The trio had turned to look at her with worry in their eyes and silence speaking volumes through their closed lips. A shuffling of glasses took place before any of them were willing to respond.

“How much do you know about him?” Hermione asked quietly.

“Well, I know he’s not just your tutor. Andy and Bella met with him and Cygnus before term started. And whenever you two show up after a lesson you’re bone tired and beat near half to death. I know healing charms and potion work when I see it. I’m young, not stupid.”

Bella’s glass clinked against the table as she set it down before fixing Narcissa with a steely eyed look and a frown twisting at the corner of her mouth.

“He’s got nothing to do with anything for the time being. Just ignore him.” Her voice brokered no room for disagreement, eyes pinning down on Narcissa while she mutely nodded. “Keep your focus on Lucius. Keep his leash tight and it’ll all be fine. You’ll both know more once you’ve reined in your occlumency. We can’t take the risk of anything we tell you getting out to anyone else.”

“Well how am I supposed to do that if you won’t tell me what he needs to avoid? And we’ve been practically occlumency for days, when are we supposed to be good enough?”

“When we tell you that you’re good enough, then you can know. And not a single second before then.”

Hermione finally seemed to acknowledge the conversation happening in front her her when Bella finished speaking. When she looked up and connected her eyes to Narcissa’s the young witch could painfully feel the breath catch in her throat.

Hermione looked tired. Far more so than could ever be explained by just sitting around throughout the day with Cygnus. Her eyes radiated a bone deep exhaustion that spoke to the length she’d been carrying it far more than words alone could. It wasn’t a defeated look, far from it, but one of someone who’d lived through horrors and now simply saw through them.

“Cissa. If anyone, anyone at all, starts a club or anything that includes only purebloods, keep Lucius away from it.” Hermione twisted in her seat upon the settee before pulling away from Bella and leaning forward, her elbows sitting up on her knees as she propped her chin on a raised fist. “Keep him from radicalizing. That’s the entirety of your objective for now. Keep him from being blinded by prejudice and from joining any others that believe in the idiocy of blood supremacy. Keep him from pledging support, monetary or otherwise, to groups that espouse blood supremacy. Collar him. Control his leash. He’s eager enough to please from what you’ve told us of him. So make it as painfully obvious as you can without putting yourself in danger. Make sure he understands that you expect him to forgo those types of behaviors and that sort of company.”

As she finished speaking the witch’s words had a sharp edge to them that cut further than the petty squabbling that she’d been prepared for with Bella ever could. It stung to be told that her position in this was to simply be used as a way to police Lucius. The edge that Hermione spoke with and the glint of something horrible in her eyes were the only things that kept her tongue from lashing out and prompting a fight between the three of them.

She wasn’t completely comfortable using Lucius like this. She wasn’t comfortable being held away from the secrets that her sisters were, or would, be privy to. She was many things though, but not dense. The witch seated before her needed this done to protect something and had already gone so far as to promise herself to her sister in hopes of removing Lestrange from the equation.

She bit down her lip hard enough to draw blood before nodding her head in acquiescence and leaning back into her chair. Pent up air exploded outwards from her lungs in a sigh that carried with it all the tension that had been building between them in the past few minutes.

Andy chose that moment to hiccup from her leaned back position in a high backed armchair before throwing her own thoughts into the ring.

“So. If Cissa will be doing that, what’ll you two be doing?”

Bella snorted out a laugh, “Playing at both sides and hoping we don’t get caught out by anyone.”

“Do you think you can manage it?”

Bella’s face and demeanor turned grim before she sighed deeply and held her tongue. In the end it was Hermione that was left to answer.

“Hopefully.”

---oo---

THUMP.

THUMP.

THUMP.

Pain lanced up and into arcs throughout Hermione’s head as the pound of her headache beat steadily into her temple. The slow moving heat and sparks of pain had been migrating all throughout her head from the moment she’d woken up. First it had struck in the back of her skull and had now moved forward to settle deep behind her eyes to the point where wincing in bright light was all she could do to save herself.

Hangover potions, or whatever swamp water could pass for them in this time period, had yet to be fully perfected. Or understood in any real manner. She knew that they were supposed to be cure-all potions but none had the efficiency or potency of a true hangover potion from her own timeline. The last few months before her unexpected tumble through time had given her ample opportunity to get well acquainted with the numbing feeling and slightly garlic aftertaste that they left her with.

Since her rather rude awakening with the blinds being ripped open to reveal the stark light of winter she had downed three potions that Bella had thrust into her hands, popping off the cork stoppers and downing them without the slightest hint of hesitancy or wariness to be found.

‘Fat lot of good they did,’ she opined while stuck on her knees on the floor, legs spread out and a porcelain bowl blocking all of her vision. The biting chill of cold tiles pressed up against her knees and shins was uncomfortable and barely enough to throw off the throbbing heat worming its way throughout her body. Bile and acrid pools of saliva choked at the back of her throat while her empty stomach made its distress known with cramps and a steady nausea.

The single uplifting thought that she could muster was thanks to herself for her new choice in hairstyles. With all the bushy mane having been shorn away she no longer needed anyone to stand beside her and hold it up and out of the way of her regrets made manifest. It was a poor consolation but amidst the suffering of her body she would take any that she could get.

Bella was sat beside her with a cool hand on her naked back that rubbed half circles into the stiff muscles beneath her skin while sending out cooling charms with practiced efficiency every few minutes. She was trying her hardest to keep Hermione from completely succumbing to the poor results of drinking an entire bottle of Centaur produced wine, but thought it likely that her ministrations were an exercise in futility.

“You need me to get you anything else?” Bella’s words were soft against her skin as the kept her voice low enough to not cause any undue discomfort.

“Yeah, a new brain. And stomach. You know,” her voice rasped out, “The usual.”

---oo---

An unfortunate hiccup in Hermione’s plans, but shopping for new organs was not on the agenda for her outing today.

Side along Apparition had run her stomach through the ringer again but passing up on breakfast in favor of life giving water had been enough to stave off any further expulsion. The last thing that she wanted to do for the day was prowl around three gigantic Manors but time wouldn’t wait and Bella had been asking her for this since they’d first been informed that the estates were hers to claim.

And creating a disappointed Bella was something that she sorely wished to avoid.

Passage to the first Manor on their list had come via a quick pit stop at a slightly less than reputable portkey station to take them over to mainland Canada, before a series of short hops of Apparition brought them to stand before the front gates. Hermione resolved that before the week was over she would get personal portkey’s for herself and the trio. The long travel was arduous and could prove deadly if speed and efficiency were necessary.

Standing tall before them was a massive wrought iron gate that barred any further passage onto the property. The design of the gate was massive with bars nearly as thick as her forearm and a height almost five times her own size. Not that that really amounted to much, short as she was, but the oppressive feeling she had gotten from standing in front of it had her feeling even more minuscule than normal.

The cobblestones leading through the gates were old and weathered into a near uniformity with a layer of dirty snow and detritus built up over them all. The thin layer of snow on the ground led Hermione to assume that the ground had been at least mildly charmed to resist snow buildup but whether it was a heating charm or something more exotic she couldn’t tell and didn’t have time to figure out.

Hedges rose tall and prominent on either side of the path to wall them inside, cut out of Privet bushes and shaped to match the tall brick walls that ran the outside perimeter of the estate. Green and tall, the hedges sat peacefully while long dead vines and evidence of past grown wrapped themselves up and through the dense foliage in patterns and whirls that seemed both purposeful and random in equal measure. It was a style that bespoke of a lack of maintenance and one which Hermione planned to change out as soon as she was able.

As they followed the winding path to the front door of the Manor Hermione couldn’t help but be impressed by the massive structure. It was only the first of three estates that they planned to visit that day, but Château de Grenier was the largest of the three and only one with a location that was public knowledge. The other two estates were side properties that served uses as a summer home and a hideaway from the world, respectively.

The building by itself was as impressive as Black Manor even if it wasn’t nearly quite so beautiful to look at. The outside of the massive estate was clad in red clay bricks all along the outside with only the trim on the windows and door frames left to stand out in a stark white against the oppressive ochre coloring. The building rose four stories tall and stuck up out of the land like some form of monstrous outgrowth, the Manor curving in on itself in the shape of a massively over-stylized C.

Only about thirty paces before the front door and stuck in the middle of a snow covered island that was surrounded on all sides by cobblestone road was a large and rather ornate fountain. Cold as it was the water had either been turned off or frozen itself shut as either way there was no water to flow and brighten it up with even the tiniest bit of life. Full sized depictions of Sirens surrounded a large center obelisk that was nearly three meters tall and carved from the same cold marble as the Sirens themselves. They were situated against the sides of the obelisk, leaning back in an uncaring manner to rest against the surface of the obelisk while their carved faces turned up into a staring contest with the sky. It was beautiful in an ephemeral way that left Hermione speechless as she stared.

“Hey,” Bella crowed up beside her before elbowing her gently in her ribs, “Eyes off.”

“Oh sod off,” came Hermione’s reply, head turning slightly to smile over at her girlfriend.

“Come on,” Bella flashed her a grin, “Let’s go. I’m freezing my tits off out here.”

Their footsteps crunched against the thin lay of snow and ice that had built up on the cobblestones as they made their way towards the center of the Manor, a large wooden door staring back at them with disapproval as they carried forward.

As Hermione reached out to grasp onto the handle of the door, assured beforehand by the Canadian Ministry that it would open immediately to her touch, the door pulled itself open unexpectedly. Glancing over at Bellatrix with a small amount of trepidation in her eyes, ‘This is how people die in horror films!’, the tiniest of voices spoke up from behind the door.

“Halt!”

The order, unexpected as it was, would have been far more imposing and shocking to the two witches if it hadn’t been uttered by the single smallest and wrinkliest house elf that Hermione had ever seen in her life. The elf had plodded around the door to stand in front of it and start the duo down, snow melting on the raggedy towel that it had draped around itself and closed shut with a golden pin.

“This is the Manor of the House of Grenier, presided over by Lord and Lady Grenier. State your business.”

Hermione looked back and forth between the elf and Bella for what seemed like an eternity before shoring up her surprise and responding to the geriatric elf.

“I am Lady Emelia Grenier, of the House Grenier. This is my Manor.” Her voice brimmed with confidence and authority that she couldn’t feel resonating inside of her, thoughts turning instead to the fraudulency of her statement.

‘Well, it was fraudulent. I am a Grenier now, in blood and status…’

“By order of the Claimant Law of the Canadian Ministry, I have inherited this land and the accompanying Manors as the last surviving member of House Grenier.”

The little elf kept its crooked mouth closed and seemed to be wavering back and forth between shutting the door in their faces or allowing them entrance. Hermione finally tired of waiting on the little thing to make a decision and made it for him. Reaching out and grasping the door handle she pierced the elf with a sharp stare.

“There. Now, If I wasn’t of House Grenier, I’d have been burned by now. Will you please let us in already? It’s bloody freezing out here.”

The elf seemed shocked to have been talked back to in such a manner, eyebrows rising high on its sloped face, before taking her words at face value. It shuffled back behind the door to pull it open from the handle on its side, allowing them both to enter. As Hermione and Bella stepped into the foyer, the heat of the Manor pushed down at them both while snow and ice that had accumulated on their clothing began to weep and melt away, dripping down to dissolve completely into steam before it even managed to touch the beautiful carpet under their feet.

“Thank you. Now, what’s your name?”

“Malbon, Lady Grenier. I’ve been in service to your family for generations and waited many years for someone to come back to the Manor. Malbon is quite pleased to meet you Lady Grenier.”

The diminutive elf clasped its hands behind its back before bowing down so low that its nose scraped against the ground.

“Least it knows its place,” Bella growled out lowly before a swift elbow into her side cut off her comment.

“Would the Lady Grenier and her… associate,” the elf looked upon Bella with obvious disdain, “Like Malbon to give them a tour? Malbon has kept the estate in proper shape in your absence, truly Malbon has.”

“Yes, I’d like that. Thank you Malbon.” Hermione linked her arm with Bella before the witch could get out another insult and practically dragged her girlfriend off to follow the elf further into the foyer.

Above them the ceiling rose high up into the air, capped off at the top with a single chandelier that sported well over one hundred everlasting candles and seemed to be draped with anchor chains forged in gold. Wax dripped off and into nothingness while the candles burned, shining a golden light onto every inch of the room. Up and in front of them were mezzanines for each level above them, the first floor being the only one with a staircase that led down and into the foyer itself. Hardwood flooring extended past the carpet they had originally trudged in on and branched out into three paths.

One path led up to the staircase and the first floor while the other two split off at the sides to run parallel to the front of the Manor. Malbon led them off and to the right side first, passing into an overly warm sitting room where a fireplace roared cheerily in the corner and multiple expensive looking black settee’s sat undisturbed with tables carved out from massive trees parked in front of them. The walls held decorations of all stripes but most notably instruments that related to sea faring as far as Hermione could tell.

They passed forward and without comment into another room that was far more suited to spending an evening in quiet company. Massive easy chairs with plush leather and end tables at their side to support whatever was needed there while the far wall held a row of bookcases stacked and littered from top to bottom with books and nearly no free space whatsoever.

Hermione could feel her heart lurch up and into her throat as they passed through room after room, her mind resolving to find the library and sit herself down for an inventory as soon as was feasible. The remainder of their tour encompassed much of the same, Malbon leading them from room to room while describing the name and function in exhausting detail. He seemed to put no further importance on pleasantries or questions of where she’d been, opting instead to reluctantly give them history lessons. The elf seemed either reluctant to talk about Hermione being the last Grenier, or simply didn’t care enough for small talk as they wandered about the hold home.

Two kitchens, five sitting rooms, ten bedrooms and accompanying bathrooms, a room dedicated towards the appreciation and collection of music, one large study, one smaller study, a dining hall and ballroom, and even more rooms that Hermione simply couldn’t keep straight in her head made up the bulk of the interior of the estate. The tour was exhausting and wandering from room to room was taking its toll on her patience and energy. By the time they had finished over two hours had passed by. Her head pounded with the residual of her hangover and her stomach had begun clenching in the absence of food before she finally relented to her body’s need and asked Malbon to take them to the nearest kitchen in order to prepare something to eat.

“Lady Grenier, not to impose, but Malbon will take you to the dining room and bring out food. Malbon has kept the late Master’s charms on the food, nothing has spoiled. Please, please, come this way.”

The sound of footsteps echoing across the rooms as they trudged from the conservatory and down two flights of stairs to the dining room contained within. Malbon seated them both before promising to return right away with food for the both of them.

“So. You happen to remember that time that I said you were rich and you didn’t believe me?” Bella flashed her a sharp toothed grin as she ribbed her.

“Yes, I seem to remember a conversation that seemed something like that… You were right.” Hermione settled down into her seat before laying her palm out across the table for Bella to hold, both witches tired and enjoying the brief respite from walking.

“And you still have two more to visit, right?”

“I do. But we don’t have to go to them today. Honestly I’m not even feeling up to finishing this one. I need to get portkey’s made and this all seems far more tiring than its worth right now. I’ll ask Malbon to get an inventory together of all the items in the Manor. More likely than not I’ll just donate a good portion of it and sell whatever isn’t fit for donation. Probably end up selling one of the other estates as well.”

“Keeping this one then?”

“Unfortunately yes. In order for the Canadian Ministry to qualify the Grenier name as a House, I need to keep at least one home on the mainland and ensure that its location is known to them. The other two aren’t on mainland and while I don’t particularly feel a need to occupy this monstrosity, it’ll have to stay. I’ll clean it out though and still likely buy a plot somewhere in England. And a few more to keep things discrete. Leave this as a last resort if we ever need to use it.”

“Well whatever you can’t end up selling or donating, I call first on destruction. I could use some target practice once we’ve got hand held Fiendfyre.”

Hermione’s features cooled into sharp lines as Bella brought up the subject of Fiendfyre, her eyes narrowing slightly at the thought of the dark haired witch holding so much power literally in the palm of her hand.

The grin plastered onto Bella’s face began to slip as she waited for Hermione to speak up, the witch instead favoring to continue staring at her without saying a word. Brown eyes held fast to the thoughts she was leaving unspoken.

“What?”

---oo---

The lunch hour passed by them as a quiet affair. Plates of sandwiches and bowls of steaming hot soup had appeared into existence in front of them as Malbon worked his magic in one of the faraway kitchens. By the time they had finished up Hermione was feeling far better than she had all morning. Her feet were rested up and stomach settled into something resembling normal. Her headache had even finally faded into the deeper recesses of her memory. Unfortunately it still did nothing for the deep-set fatigue that continued to linger on in her bones and after she finished up with her food she sought out Malbon and relayed her requests for an inventory to him.

Soon enough they were both set out again, apparating first back to the portkey hub they had entered from and through there setting back out on a nauseating spin back to mainland England.

The scar etched into her forearm was humming pleasantly along with Bella’s mood, warm and comforting and lacing her mind and body with the familiar comfort of home. It was a new feeling but one that had forced its way into her body once she had given Bella the good news of her new marriage contract, springing out and into existence in enough of a fountain that she’d been nearly knocked to her knees from the warmth of it all.

And now that feeling thrummed along with her heartbeat as Bella brought her back to Black Manor via side along apparition, her thoughts churning away towards the remainder of their break together and the multitude of plains they still had waiting to begin. Most of what was to come would be hard and certainly not for the faint of heart, but the determination she felt shared between them would help to keep they buoyed against any despair or worry.

Their steps crunched in tandem across the snow covered walkway while a light dusting that fell from the clouded sky above landed on their shoulders. Cool, clean winter air filtered throughout their lungs as they slowly ambled back to the front door.

As they made their way closer to the entrance the soft sound of pops and irregular sharp sounds filtered out and across the walls and grounds towards their ears. Snow muffled what they heard to the point of it being nearly unnoticeable, but a small pit had begun to form in the bottom of Hermione’s stomach as they grew in volume the closer they came. With each step closer they could hear more and more definition, their pace quickening at the sudden turn to sour fear. When the scar on her arm abruptly switched to feelings of worry and anxiety she looked over to Bella’s face and tried to read the witch. Her features had closed off, a question in her eyes and lips parted slightly as she panted with the increased exertion of their pace.

Their steps sped up again, nearly into a sprint as snow crunched loudly beneath their feet and in the distance the distinct POP sound of spellwork became easily discernible.

“NO!”

A shout made its way through the walls of the manor and caution was thrown to the wind. Bella released Hermione’s arm and flat out sprinted forward, her boots digging into the snow in an effort to gain traction and speed while Hermione took off right on her heels. With each stride her heart leaped up in her throat, worry and fear gnawing at her insides. When the duo reached the front door Bella’s pace refused to slow as she withdrew her wand and twisted it in a complex pattern, releasing the lock on the door and opening it wide for her to sprint through.

The angry sound of offensive spells blasted out through the now opened door while screams of terror followed. One voice rose up above the cacophony though, a male voice shouting-

“ -kill you!”

Chapter Text

Anger was an emotion that Albus had conquered many years ago.

Fear, that had once been a common companion, had been thwarted and overcome.

Happiness was but a distant memory, fleeting and lost many decades before.

But this feeling? This envy, this jealousy? The feeling of having a good plan be wasted as he was outmaneuvered by a foe he’d underestimated?

The feeling was quite odd, of that he was sure. Alien even. In place of contented satisfaction he was left with frustration and a good deal of annoyance. The plans that he’d meticulously organized had been dashed against the rocks and nothing he could do would fix it.

In the beginning he was sure that his plan was solid. Foolproof, even. The method of execution had been vetted, or so he’d presumed. He would use an efficient method to pass information and inspire a certain decision. The break during Yule holiday had promised to be the best time to begin his work, the easiest time to plant those first few seeds. It could have become the perfect moment to test the weak points and stresses that his opposition seemed for all the world to lack. A chance to find a chink in the armor.

It had been so simple. Pass certain information along and ensure that it reached a certain student, and a certain adult. His plan would have been allowed to unfold any which way and all he would need to do is sit back and watch it all play out. The outcome, whatever it would have ended up becoming, would have been an easy win in his book. A chance to begin the removal of an obstinate piece on the field or find out if they were already off the board.

The original plan, causing the defection of someone he’d seen playing an enormous role in both of the coming conflicts, had been met with an unfortunate dead end. His intention to endear himself to them both and give them the information necessary to save a wayward soul before it could be blackened to the point of unrecognizability had needed to be scrapped. The plan to give them a hero to worship, scrapped. Give them something to hold onto and fold them into the newly formed Order, scrapped.

They had been his plans.

And now he sat here while everything around him went tits up.

Instead of the rebellious time-hopper falling into line like a good little soldier she’d unexpectedly struck out on her own, and now was attached to His side.

The passing weeks had made it abundantly clear to him that his initial work with setting up her cover had done far more harm than good. He’d allowed her a chance to dig herself in deep, make too many waves, and more importantly he’d allowed her to interact with far too many people. His time had been wasted hemming and hawing while he still held out hope that she would come around.

He’d been wrong.

The expectation that she would be forever grateful to him for all the hard work he’d put into her had gone unfounded. The meager allowance that he’d made available to her had been folded into a far more enormous fortune. She was no longer dependent on his approval or assistance and now there was absolutely no guarantee that she would graduate to a position that he could monitor or supervise. She’d been far less meek than he had initially assumed.

Now she was out cavorting with the enemy and attending the very same tutoring sessions that he’d hoped she would be able to put a stop to.

With a sigh leaning more toward anger than exasperation he swung his hand out furiously at the tiny tin box holding onto an assortment of rare candies. All the infuriatingly wrapped candies, decked out in pink wax paper and stamps of crimson, went sailing out across the room to crash down unceremoniously against the far wall before scattering about all over the floor. Bits and pieces of smashed sugar dusted the wall where they had impacted and sharp pieces of sweet shrapnel entombed themselves into carpeting and beneath furniture.

The loud crack of the sugar pieces cracking had awoken the tired Phoenix that had until now been sleeping peacefully at his side. With a croak that sounded like death and the opening of one eye the Phoenix stared him down until he deigned to apologize, feather ruffling in quiet annoyance.

“Ah, yes… My apologies dear Fawkes. I don’t quite know what came over me.”

“Yes, yes you bloody do,” a croaking old voice raised up from its position anchored up on the wall behind Albus. “You’ve been beaten! You old buffoon. Just admit it already and move on. There’s nothing worse than a wizard sitting on his arse and throwing out a tantrum. Well,” the portrait paused to laugh out in chords much harsher than a human voice should be able to, “Except mudbloods I suppose.”

Albus leaned backwards in his old chair, wood creaking unsteadily beneath him as he let his emotions sink through his body. One hand gripped down onto the armrest with white knuckled intensity while the other hand came up to run at the dark circles gathering beneath his eyes.

“Phineas, if you would be so kind as to exclude yourself and your ramblings from my-”

“No! Merlin be thrice damned, I will certainly not, you half-blooded twit! You’ve contended yourself to interfere with my bloody family. My descendants, my legacy. I will not content myself to sit here in inaction on a wall or participate in the farce of being deaf and mute when your actions are directly affecting those of my House.”

“Well then what do you suggest Phineas?!” Albus’s voice rose to a roar in the quiet room as he whipped around in his chair to pierce the portrait of the late Headmaster with a glare that could have shriveled daisies. “What exactly am I supposed to do? Give up? Lay myself down like a lamb to the slaughter? Should I sit by and allow Tom to run roughshod through our world? Please, tell me, oh honorable and magnificent Phineas, what is your wise and sage advice in these most trying of times?”

The portrait smirked down at Albus with a toothy and all too dangerous smile playing at its lips and eyes lit up like coal before replying. A chill wormed its way down Albus’s spine at the sight. The old man had never been one of his favorites, hells he hadn’t even been the favorite of anyone who’d gone to Hogwarts during his tenure, but the consequent years stuck on a wall hadn’t been kind to the portrait’s temperament. And when Albus himself had finally ascended to the position of Headmaster, Phineas had become downright hostile.

“Easy now Dumble. Admit your defeat. Let. Them. Be.” His voice practically growled out the last three words. “Suck it up and move onward from this fiasco. Being an arse about the whole situation or crying all the time won’t change it. It's your interfering that brought this all about, that and your damnable need for control and information.” Albus huffed in indignation as the portrait finished speaking.

“I cannot in good conscience allow them to run loose!” He swiveled away from staring at Phineas, hands wringing violently in exasperation. “They might interfere and in the worst case scenario they could bring it all tumbling down. I thought that I had a good read on Ms. Granger. The glimpses I had into her mind were illuminating I must admit. But they were incomplete, and since the event she’s been more buttoned up than Gringotts. I managed to figure out twelve uses for Dragon’s Blood and I still haven’t even the foggiest clue as to what she’s gone and done or whether it’ll even be reversible.”

“Well, you do know that it's your incessant attempts at gaining entrance to somewhere you’ve been clearing warned off from that’ve led the poor girl to whatever it is that she’s done,” another voice, Dippet he presumed, popped up alongside murmurs of agreement from Phineas and another portrait.

Light flashed in brilliant patterns as he squeezed his eyes shut at this newest interruption.

“You know, as long as I’ve laid claim to this office I’ve lived under the assumption that you lot were all bound to help me, not play devil’s advocate for the Dark.”

“Well you know what the Muggles say. When you assume, you make an ass of you and me. More accurately you in this case, but the sentiment still remains.” Phineas shot Ablus a self-satisfied smirk as Dippet finished admonishing his replacement.

“You don’t even know that she’s leaning that way yet. And for that matter there are more things between Light and Dark than are sided off to one or the other. We’d have thought that you of all people should know that.”

“No. I am precisely the person to know that there is only Dark or Light. Supposing there to be some form of Gray is what led me to make the mistakes that allowed Gellert to rise. Under no circumstances will I ever make those mistakes again. I’ve done nothing wrong, nothing to prompt Tom to become the dark spectacle that he is today. That was not my doing, but I’ll be damned if I let him get away with it.”

“Aye,” Phineas gravely agreed, “But you did nothing to prevent his descent either. It’s all on you either way.”

---oo---

Heaving breaths and adrenaline coursing through her veins brought Narcissa out of sleep faster than ever before. Her heartbeat ran a staccato rhythm through her chest and blood rushed like rapids through her ears.

The dream had been about… Something. In the first few seconds after waking she could hardly remember what it was that she’d been running from, only keeping with her the vague sensation that she had been running. Running from something unstoppable while holding something very precious in her arms. Something from Andromeda. The vague sensation that she’d needed to leave quickly was hovering in the back of her mind as she scrunched her eyes shut in an attempt to remember it fully.

Phantoms had been shouting loudly in her ears about something that had seemed relevant in the dream but was lost to the waking world.

Pulsing light filtered into the room through cracks between the curtains covering her window in dancing patterns against the far wall. Streaks and shapes merged and split with the brightness of winter morning behind them. It was an odd feeling to go from pain and heat, ‘Why was it so hot?’, to the sudden chill of her surroundings. The duvet and comforters were a tangled mess at the foot of her bed and the rest of her sheets had fled at some point in the night.

Sweat streaked across her brow and if she concentrated enough she could swear she still smelled the faint remnants of an acrid fire, more potent than the crisp ashy cinders produced in a fireplace. The distant memory singed her nose instead of leaving pleasant reminders of times past.

She shook her head in a vain attempt to throw off the lingering feeling of being chased as she slowly slid off the side of her bed. Bare feet found purchase on the thick carpeting while her toes dug in to further ground her in the feeling of being awake. The remnants of the dream faded to a lost memory as her concerns were replaced with a rumbling stomach and dry mouth.

With a practiced efficiency the young witch dressed herself before heading out into the hallway outside her room. Instead of turning right, she turned left, leading her to stand before Andromeda’s room with a need to check in on her older sister. She couldn’t describe what was driving her to do so, sisterly affection maybe, but if it was that it was the first time in many years that she’d reacted to it in this manner.

As she lingered before the door with her hand securely on the knob her heart began to creep up into her throat while her ears rang in the silence. Stuffing the fear into the back of her mind she twisted the silver knob that allowed entrance while straining all her senses against the still air of the corridor and room.

With a click, the door opened at her insistence, and she slowly tiptoed her way forward into the often forbidden room.

A sigh raced out of her mouth and her muscles relaxed as she took in the sight.

Her sister was curled up in multiple yellow and green blankets, tucked into a corner of her bed against the headboard in a nest of her own making. The bed was strewn with clothing and pillows, cheery colors of red and lilac clashing with the rest of the rather drab looking room. A brown mop top of curly hair slowly shifted as the witch within stirred at the quiet intrusion while Narcissa happily reconciled that her sister was alright.

The window was slightly cracked, something that Andy had always been fond of, causing Narcissa’s breath to ghost out in ice crystals as she breathed in the comforting scent of home.

Backing out slightly she left the room before padding down the hall. A smile played at the corners of her lips as the lingering feelings of worry and doubt that had branched off from the dream and into the waking world finally sloughed off of her small shoulders.

---oo---

The table in the dining room was filled to the brim before Narcissa even had a chance to sit down. The elves knew her preferences for food and her standing order was that it should be prepared before or at her arrival, not a moment after. The little beasts were somewhat… amicable, she supposed, if not good conversationalists. But she supposed that was all par for the course where it involved something as lowly as them.

One bowl of fruit, cubed. Check.

One plate, filled to bursting with a rasher of bacon, fried eggs, and toast. Check.

Simple, filling, and effective. And all so easy that the elves could prepare it in their sleep.

The stumbling noise of feet shuffling about on hardwood flooring heralded the arrival of Hermione, the tell-tale sharp healed clack of boots walking down heel to toe announced her eldest sister. As the duo passed into view she placed her fork down and glanced up to greet them.

“Good morning Bella, Em’.”

“Mornin’ Cissa,” her sister replied, while Hermione only grunted in acknowledgement. The witch looked a little worse for wear, short hair tousled and frizzed while dark rings fell drearily beneath her eyes. Breakfast proceed from there in a peaceful contentment as each of them silently ate their fill.

“So,” Narcissa asked once she’d finished her plate, “What will you two be up to today?”

Hermione shook her head before pushing the plate in front of her out of the way, elbows coming to rest on the tabletop while she cradled her head in her hands.

The social perfectionist inside of Narcissa nearly screamed out at Hermione’s blatant disrespect for proper decorum before she managed to school herself and remember that the witch had not been raised in their manner.

“Going to my,” Bella air quoted as Hermione said that, “Estates. Need to look them all over. See how they’ve fared after some years of being abandoned.”

"Well that sounds like… fun.” If her sister or Hermione noticed the slightly strained quality to her voice, neither brought it up.

“Yes. You have no idea. Literally cannot wait.” Hermione deadpanned her delivery as she sunk further into herself and the table.

---oo---

Morning passed quickly from there on out. By mid-morning she’d determined that staying inside was becoming unbearable and opted instead to take a walk around the grounds. Snow lay piled outside of the walkways and even warming and anti-frost charms did little to satiate the bite of winter in full force.

The grounds were worth the discomfort however. Beauty in all its splendor awaited her at every turn as the land around her lay quiet beneath a blanket of snow. Fluffy white drifts lay piled against the base of the Manor and crisp air encircled her very being as she focused on enjoying her time off.

She had no schoolwork to focus on after having blitzed through it all at Hermione’s determined insistence and now there was little for her to focus her efforts on. The past few days of worry had ended in a pleasant manner when Hermione’s plan had come to fruition, and she was determined to enjoy it in a more fitting environment.

That the older witch had come to fit securely in their dysfunctional little family, garnering Bellatrix’s love, and the sisters quiet affection for both her unique presence and the calming effect that she seemed to have on the eldest. That she was also working to help them in their lives was secondary to the feeling of finally finding someone who seemed thrilled to be around them for just being themselves. She was genuine in her endearment to the sisters instead of sycophantically clinging onto them like a leech.

Her thoughts were dashed from her head as a snowball sailed over the side of the hedge she had meandered over to, crashing down on the side of her face in a puddle of slush and snow. With a squeal of surprise she crouched down and dipped low, already taking up her own snowball as Andy’s laughter ran out over the lawn.

Within minutes the yard had turned into a full on battlefield as each sister threw lumps of snow, the sounds of joy and adventure ringing out through the air.

---oo---

Cygnus was fuming. Since the moment that the sisters had returned from their impromptu war, there had been shouting and ranting coming through the other side of his study door. It seemed even the ward surrounding its walls were unable to quell the anger raging within. Harsh words and the thumping of boots as someone paced were getting louder as the morning weaved into afternoon, sun climbing high and with it the tempers embedded on the ground floor.

Andy had taken in the sound for little less than a minute before running off to the rookery with an excuse of needing to send a letter. The lie was hiding a simple enough truth that Narcissa felt alright in letting it go. She was still slightly miffed though as Andy trudged up the stairs and away from the conflict.

In the first floor library the young witch had found refuge. Ensconced within multiple woven afghans on a comfortable armchair, she kept a book in her hands and ears open to the sound of unbridled fury flaming beneath her feet. At nearly even intervals she could catch snippets of shouts as the wards buckled against the screaming men.

Her hand wrapped around her wand as she absentmindedly pulled it out when a particularly violent shout passed through the floorboards at her feet. Setting the book down onto the end table at her side she threw the blankets off and stood to her feet. She didn’t know enough silencing spells to knock down the sound below her and listening to it was beginning to give her a headache. Reading had quickly become an untenable distraction.

She knew she could have run to Andy to keep herself busy and safe but the nagging pull of her pride kept her from doing so. The smell of mold and dry pages continued to waft throughout the room along with ash and smoke from the fireplace, settling her nerves in sensations that kept her feeling safe.

The logs cracked and popped while the wood within it shifted, embers growing bright with flares of heat and movement. Recovering her position she sat back down into the chair and attempted to contrate on her book again. As the sounds beneath her died out and remained quiet for over a minute she took a moment to believe that the fight was finally over. She could only hope that Cygnus had grown tired and that his temper had finally relented.

She had almost convinced herself that all was well, she was seconds away from it truly, before the loudest bang yet exploded off in the distance below her.

It wasn’t the first time she’d heard power being thrown off like that but it was the first time she’d felt it. The entire house seemed to shake on its foundations when the spell went off, dust falling off of the chandeliers above her.

In only seconds she was on her feet and sprinting towards the mezzanine staircase, her flats scuffing against the bare hardwood and rugs slipping out from under the force of her movements. Andy had been able to hear and likely feel the disturbance as well, the sound of her sprinting was banging loudly along the ceiling as she descended from wherever she’d decided to take refuge.

Dropping down the stairs two at a time she nearly landed into a heap when she reached the bottom, feet skidding to a stop as she went down on one knee while her balance fled her. With her wand out and trained down the hallway she took in the sight of the empty hallway. The sound of her sister reaching the top of the staircase caused her to look up. Andy stood at the landing, brown hair wild and eyes blown wide open in confusion and worry.

“Cissa, get back, now!” Andy hissed out through clenched teeth as she made her way to the bottom of the stairs. Throwing an arm out behind herself she pushed Narcissa to her back and whipped her wand out to face towards the hall. None of the elves had arrived to take notice of the issue, or they were purposefully avoiding the confrontation.

Narcissa couldn’t tell which option worried her more. Their lack of attentiveness during what could be a deadly intrusion or their apparent desire to avoid it entirely and let the family fend for themselves. She knew that they didn’t treat their elves the best that they could, Hermione’s constantly tight face whenever one of them interacted with an elf was obvious enough, but she couldn’t for the life of her understand why they would purposefully abandon them. They weren’t Walburga for crying out loud.

The seconds ticked on as silence continued to reign over the empty hall while both sisters strained their ears as best they could in an attempt to remain alert. A low sound traveled down the hallway, fast words spoken far too quickly and too quietly for them both to know much more than the face that someone was still alive in there.

“Who is that?” She asked Andy, the arm still wrapping behind herself in a protective grasp.

“Gregor maybe? I didn’t see who it was the Floo’d in. Not sure.” Andy’s voice was barely more than a whisper and still Narcissa could hear the tremor running through it.

CRACK!

The door to the study suddenly exploded outwards in a brilliant flash of blue light, the wood having been rent into pieces as it clattered against the wall before falling to the floor.

“Back up,” Andy began to push Narcissa further behind herself as she stepped backwards and angled them towards the front door. “Back up Cissa, move-”

“You’ve betrayed MY House-” A voice bellowed out as a spell flew out through the destroyed passageway and into the wall beyond it, crashing with a spark of blue flames and embers. Andy pushed Cissa away with renewed vigor, turning them both towards the door in an effort to usher her away from the danger.

As she turned them fully away from the hall and lunged out towards the door a spell shot by her right shoulder, singing a path through the air and colliding with the flooring in front of her with a high-pitched whine and an odor of ozone lingering in the air. As the spell landed a scream rose up out of Andy’s throat while she dived to the side with Narcissa following swiftly.

“Pierre, I don’t know what you’re talking about, as I’ve already explained to you already!” Cygnus’s voice caught their ears as Andy sprinted ahead to grab up Cissa’s free hand and began to drag her towards the relative cover of the opposite hallway.

Heavy footfalls followed their movements and Narcissa redoubled her effort at keeping up with Andromeda.

“I’ll kill you, and I’ll kill your whole fucking brood for this Cygnus. You dare disrespect my family? Yours deserved to be wiped off the face of the earth!”

Narcissa risked a glance behind herself as she lurched forward. Her eyes caught sight of a tall man with thin and wispy brown hair, a buttoned coat spattered with blood that reached down to his mid thigh, and a look in his eyes that threw her heart into a terrified pace.

Green light shot from the smokey ruins of the study towards Pierre’s position, the caster unsteady on his feet as blood dripped steadily from a cut above his eye and obscured his aim.

“Pierre, stop this madness! My children have done nothing to  you, you bloody fool!”

Cygnus was staggering after the man as fast as he could while only stopping to steady his aim and cast spell after spell in the wizard’s direction. Every spell was easily deflected into the side of the hallway or out into the foyer, blasting into the ground and walls in explosions of wood and plaster.

“You’d have us mate with those things and claim ignorance to my face? I think not. It’s obvious to me now that your whole line is rotten if you think you can get away with that marriage with simple restitution,” Pierre practically hissed out his last sentence, venom dripping from every word.

Andy was practically flying down the long hallway as she bounced from side to side in an effort to refrain from presenting a clear target to the murderous man behind them. She kept a wordless shield charm up and floating along with them, nothing near strong enough to stop a direct hit but maybe enough to stop a glancing shot.

Indiscriminate shouting reached Andromeda’s eas as they finally made their way to the base of the staircase at the far end of the Manor. As she shoved Narcissa up the stairs she turned around to block their retreat, weaving a ward in glyphs of red and blue into the base of the staircase. As she finished casting Pierre rounded the corner to stare her down with a manic look and a violently waving wand.

As his hand finished cutting through the air a hex of dark light shot out to smash painfully against Andromeda’s shoulder. Grunting in pain she pushed herself backwards and up the stairs while forcing a shield out, focusing only on blocking his next attempt as her arm lay ruined at her side. The pain was a biting, living thing, leaching into her shoulder and robbing her of both energy and breath. Adrenaline that had powered her only moments before was swiftly fleeing her, covering the pain in a rapidly thinning blanket of relief.

At some point Narcissa had leaned down to help, either unable or unwilling to trust using her magic. The young witch, shaking with exertion, reached down with both arms and pulled Andromeda backwards, practically dragging her up the stairs and to the landing.

Pierre stared up at them with a look of pure malice in his eyes while stepping towards the now invisible wardline that Andromeda has weaved. His left leg caught first, trapped by the spell, and as he moved to advance further the magic brought him to a standstill in a miasma he couldn’t see. The man moved furiously, waving his wand around himself while angrily growling in a tone that slowly morphed into a scream of pain.

“No!” The webbing of the ward appeared visible right before it began to tighten down on his body with surgical precision. The magic  and power began to lace together, digging into his skin and clothing and separating anything that got in its way.

With a faint squelching sound the lines wrapped tighter around his wandless arm, snapping the trap shut and sealing themselves through flesh and bone. The useless appendage dropped to the ground at the same time that he managed to extricate himself from the wards. He stood mutely for a second with his mouth agape and blood pumping uselessly through the cleanly severed stump.

“You fucking bitch, I’ll kill you!” The guttural proclamation from the wounded man carried the full might of his rage and anger, strong enough to make blood boil.

As he stood at the base of the landing Andromeda limped backwards and towards a safe room with Narcissa gamely trying to take her flagging weight while her own blood dripped onto the floor in rivulets. As she reached the door her wounds overcame her, darkness filling her vision as the world around her shut off.

---oo---

Bellatrix’s heart was running a marathon in her chest. Heaving gulps of air were making her lightheaded and the adrenaline coursing through her system was inducing a shiver to her muscles that she wasn’t quite sure she could control.

Fear and anger ruled as twins in her head.

As soon as she entered into the foyer, she turned to her right and caught sight of her father speeding down the hallway, his coattails flapping as he sprinted down the corridor. With a grunt of exertion she changed her direction and headed off after him, Hermione following closely at her heels. She wasn’t sure who it was that had been screaming earlier, not her father, she was sure. The voice had been too deep and scratched but a man for sure. Cygnus was mad, but he wouldn’t willingly attack Andromeda and Cissa, not now anyways. The man had no way of knowing about Andy’s dalliances with Ted and Cissa was a model daughter in all respects.

As Cygnus rounded the end of the corridor and took off to the left where the stairwell rose up to the second floor a spell of purple flame flew into the wall just inches from Bellatrix’s face and halting her progress. Skidding to a stop she threw her body up against the wall and leaned slightly to peek around the corner.

Cygnus was standing, wand raised, in front of a tall man that she distantly recognized but couldn’t place. His face was covered in blood, eyes wide open and more than half mad. A stump limb was spewing blood while he raised it up and down in time with his other arm that fired off spell after spell towards Cygnus. The flurry of spells was impressive but Cygnus appeared to be holding his own, each spell landing with a muted thud against his shield or crashing into the wall behind him.

With Hermione at her side she took a moment to look at the witch in her eyes before steeling herself and turning the corner. Her arm remained raised up to hold an opalescent shield and she planted her feet to keep herself grounded to the floor, moving forward in sure steps with at least one foot solidly on the ground at any time.

Hermione moved forward to take her place beside her with her wand raised and firing off a multitude of offensive spells in rapid succession, looking to all the world like a model duelist. Their faces were set in grim determination as they both kept up the push, the shield surrounding them doing its job and bouncing the mans spells off and into the wild directions before digging into the surrounding walls.

The man continued to back slowly up the stairs while his feet stumbled and bumped into the steps as he went higher and higher. He held himself straight through the continued assault, wordlessly keeping his own shield up while peeking around the corner to shoot off powerful spells and scream obscenities at the advancing trio. When he finally recognized Bellatrix as the witch standing before him he broke into a loud cackle of crazed laughter, lips set wide in an angry sneer. His arm reared backwards as the madness finally overtook him.

The man drew a complex figure with his wand as he brought it slashing down, shield still supported by his ruined stump to block and redirect the spells careening towards him. As the hand reached level with the ground he shouted out, “Maledictus Dei vivi Aestuo!”

When the final word left his mouth Bellatrix understood what he’d cast, her shield dropping and mind spinning back towards the D.A.D.A. lesson where she’d learned the counter.

Red flames, vivid in the tightness of the hallway, burst forth from the tip of his wand in swirling patterns of orange and white. The mass of fire accelerated forward with unparalleled speed as it grew and expanded to stretch itself out across the entire hall. Bellatrix could see a ram’s head forming in the center as it grew and approached with a frightening intensity to overtake her father completely. The flames blasted around his body with the fluidity of water to eat up his scream of pain and surprise. Heat bathed them as she dropped to her knees and dragged Hermione down with her.

“Caeli Remotionem!”

A popping sound similar to apparition started the counter as the air in front of them shimmered and glowed. A suction force began spinning rapidly at the base of the stairwell to draw the fire and air in front of itself inwards with a surprising amount of force and sound that nearly deafened her.

When the spell ended the fire had gone out completely, smothered by a lack of fuel, leaving behind the charred corpse of her father and the staggering man, his bloody stump boiling in the void. The man dropped down into a seated position on the stairs behind himself, free hand dropping the wand and grasping at his throat. The howl of wind picked up again as air rushed forwards to fill the gap between her and the hallway in front of her. Windows along the side of the Manor smashed at the sudden drop in pressure, glass shards imploding into the hallway in a shimmering rainbow of sharp edges.

Hermione shot herself forward before the man on the stairs could recover. Her wand was out and wordlessly she cast a white spell that impacted the man's chest before exploding outwards to envelop his whole body. She wondered to herself what exactly she had cast before the effects made themselves clear.

Slashes of white appeared all over his body in a cascading effect, the white lines taking chunks from his clothing and flesh to leave peeling skin and blood again and again and again. As Hermione stood tall, wand still aimed at the now dying man, Bellatrix left her knees to join her side. Her own wand hung uselessly at her side as she watched the carnage unfold.

Nearly a minute passed before the man’s gurgling screams finally ended and the sound of an invisible blade finally died out.

As Bellatrix came back to herself she looked up past the body and began to race up the stairs to follow the trail of blood at the top.

---oo---

Hermione couldn’t hear anything at all but the sound of her own breathing and the steady patter of blood dripping off of the stairs and onto the floor below.

‘In. Out. In. Out.’

The mantra revolved around in her mind while she waited for Bellatrix to make a reappearance or call her up.

Her body was just barely coming off of the adrenaline high that had been unleashed during the fight, arms and fingers still twitching involuntarily as she casually observed the scene. Cygnus’s body was a charred shell, his body baked and heated to unrecognizability.

The hallway in front of her was also a disaster zone. The floor and walls were scorched black from the intense heat of the Fiendfyre and the metal chandelier hanging above them was a twisted metal amalgamation. Bella’s quick thinking had avoided any further catastrophe by removing the air in the tiny space as fast as possible. It was a trickly play, one that usually worked but could turn deadly in an enclosed space. Thin tendrils of snow blew in through the now shattered windows to collect on the floor and almost immediately melt into the ashes.

The sound of Bella’s voice high above her brought her out of her reverie.

Sidestepping the body she made her way up the stairs in an aim to find Bella and figure out whether anyone else was injured. The landing was answer enough as a messy trail of blood led up and further down a hallway.

The trail ended before a partly closed door and Hermione stopped to collect herself before pushing it open and taking in the sight before her.

Andy was sitting with her back pressed up against the wall, the room around her bare with its furniture either banished or having never been furnished. Cissa was sat beside her uninjured arm, knees pressed to her chest and arms wrapped tightly around them to pull them into her chest.

Bellatrix was down on one knee and gently probing Andy’s wounded shoulder with the tip of her wand, gently muttering beneath her breath as she worked. Her free hand reached out to grasp Andy softly by the uninjured shoulder to steady the younger witch and keep her grounded through the shock. When Bella noticed Hermione’s presence she motioned with her eyes for her to enter and join them.

“Hey Andy,” Hermione said as she started setting up a number of monitoring spells, checking everything she could in an effort to help. The younger witch remained silent throughout the whole of the examination, only nodding her head in answer to Bella’s yes or no questions.

After a few more minutes Bella stood from her spot and turned towards her youngest sister. Narcissa was still seated against the wall with a vacant stare in her eyes that hurt something deep inside Hermione’s chest. The young girl shouldn’t have ever had to deal with what happened this afternoon, and she couldn’t help but feel the sorrow of the situation flow through her chest and scarred arm.

Bella reached down to lift Narcissa from her spot, turning the witch and picking her up to cradle against her chest as she walked out of the room. Narcissa buried her face in the crook of Bella’s neck but otherwise made no movement or sounds throughout the exchange.

“Andy, what happened?” Hermione’s voice was quiet in the still silence of the room.

“Mr. Lestrange must have interrupted Cygnus. I think… I’m not sure but I don’t think Cygnus intended to meet with him today. I don’t know where Gregor is, whether he left early or was caught in the crossfire. Need to check his study…”

The witch trailed off, free hand coming up to rub at the split in her top and massage the new pink skin of her scar.

“Let’s go.”

---oo---

Chapter Text

Silence permeated the sitting room as Hermione entered, broken only by the sigh of pain and exhaustion that leached its way past her lips. Charcoal colored cushions supported her weary form as she leaned into Bellatrix, her head resting gently upon her shoulder.

“If you were planning to let this time timeline, dimension, whatever the hell it is, play out in anything close to what it was like where you came from… Well I think you can let go of that plan.”

Bella’s voice was hoarse and tired, half a whisper and half a rush of air as she let herself finally relax.

“I know,” Hermione dug the heels of her palms into her eyes, a kaleidoscope of bright shapes and colors blooming up beneath her lids to dazzle and distract as she fought back the annoyance and upset threatening to leak through her mind. “I think it’s safe to say it’s all buggered up now.”

Bella laid a warm hand on her knee before squeezing gently and keeping their shared silence as they absorbed the admission. Truly their future had been changed the moment Hermione made an effort of getting close with Bella, but the plan had been to cause the least amount of deviation possible. That was now thrown out, unclipped from normality and lost.

Across the hall they could hear the sound of soft voices, medi-witches attending to Narcissa and Andromeda with as much care as they could muster for two young girls who’d only barely survived a crazed man. Hermione could feel the anxiety bubbling its way through Bella and knew it was taking her utmost control to refrain from throwing the healers out to comfort her sisters on her own. She appreciated her patience, even if it was edging towards its limit.

The spell that had torn into Andromeda had cut deeply, carving out a path down to her bones and shattered most of her shoulder into tiny pieces of shrapnel and gritty powder. Her quick patch up in the aftermath would only do so much, and the healer attending to her had told Bellatrix that she was likely in for weeks of recovery. When she’d heard that, Hermione had felt a bolt of guilt ran through her heart, knowing that the younger witch would have been safe if it hadn’t been for her.

Two Aurors stood outside of the room they had chosen, neither talking but merely standing at attention and ensuring the rest of their team ran into no issues. The rest of the Auror group were wandering about the ground floor, from Cygnus Study to the room that Andy and Cissa had hidden themselves in. It was a grisly scene, one Hermione felt would be etched into her mind for quite a long time, and they took their time as a result.

When the Aurors had first appeared Hermione and Bellatrix had been roughly escorted to the opposite side of the Manor and deposited into the first large room they could find without a fireplace. Whether they thought there was a risk of them leaving or not, it was grating on both witches nerves to be treated with such suspicion.

The whole process of the Aurors was more than infuriating for both witches. When Bella had finally secured Cissa and Andy into another room and ensured neither were in immediate danger, she had immediately Floo called the Auror department. That had, unfortunately, not gone over so well.

Her tone was so lacking in emotion that the Auror on duty had initially assumed she was pranking him, laughing in her face and ignoring her request. Only when she’d shouted condemnation and threats to his job had he moved into action, rousing the rest of the on-site staff and moving to help them. When the Auror had passed through the Floo his ears had still been red-hot and his chastisement seemed to have worked considerably.

In the meantime Hermione had descended down the staircase that Lestrange died on, determined to space the gruesome sight and determine for herself whether both men were dead. She’d also felt the need to convince herself that it had actually happened. That she had cast that spell from her wand. It wasn’t a need to see the carnage so much as see what carnage she had wrought.

Lestrange was almost entirely caked in dried blood the color of rust. What parts of him were clean were white with exsanguination and torn to pieces.

Cygnus was a black husk of ash, smoldering slightly in the barest breeze still fluttering throughout the halls. The withdrawal of air from Bellatrix’s spell had been enough to extinguish the open flames but had the aftereffect of making charcoal of whatever had already caught fire.

Neither man was truly recognizable as what they were and Hermione hoped to all the gods that the Aurors would clean the place quickly. Having them there any length of time was already too long. The elves certainly weren’t going to be of help. None had dared show even the faintest hint of their presence after the fighting started and all the doors leading to their quarters were still locked shut and quiet.

The only positive to come from the amalgamation of death at the foot of the stairs was the faintest stirring of ash against ash as something small moved under what had once been Cygnus’s left foot. Hermione had knelt, secure in knowing she could protect herself and brimming with curiosity in an effort to distract herself. Two tiny unblinking eyes, red as garnets, peered up at her amidst a covering of black ash and human charcoal. A small tongue had flicked out from a head no larger than the tip of her pinky finger to scent the air before the piled moved again and the snake slithered out.

Hermione had been nearly beside herself with amazement at the sight. It wasn’t an adult, that much was obvious by its size, but to her knowledge the eggs of Ashwinders were either infertile or erupted into fire before they could ever hatch.

‘Or we freeze them, and inadvertently kill them…,’ she thought to herself.

The little animal had been as inquisitive as Hermione, moving forward with a constantly flickering tongue to rest before her outstretched fingers. Squatting down amidst the death, it was the first thing that brought her a smile that whole afternoon.

---oo---

::Speakers, the tall ones approach,:: a gentle hissing brought both witches back from their introspection and back to their wobbling reality. The black head of the snake was peeking out from beneath the drapery of Bella’s wild curls, its colors meshing with her own to keep it hidden.

The event was a welcome distraction to them both that lifted them from their stupor while they attempted to look more put together than they felt. The snake remained quiet after its announcement, flitting back and forth between peering up at the two and shifting its attention to the doorway. It was clearly eager to see what came of this meeting but not anywhere willing to be seen itself.

Alastor Moody, Auror First Class and assigned Detective to their case was an intimidating man at best and a terrifyingly overburdening personality at worst. Hermione hadn’t felt her nerves settle since the man had first walked into the room hours ago with his ears burning red at the verbal run-through that Bella had unleashed at him. The man was different from what she remembered of him and yet still the same regardless. An enigma and a presence that refused to subtly fade into the background.

He was younger. Vibrant even. It was clear that the trials of the coming war would strip him of the remnants of his youth and harden him into the half mad Auror she remembered. Besides the electric blue eye rolling unsteadily in his eye socket there were no signs of maiming on this version of Moody.

His skin was an agglomeration of overly tanned skin left papery and dry from extensive time in the sun and scars from fights and training that overlaid until it all looked almost natural if one squinted well enough. Scraggly hair fell down to his chin in greasy clumps and bunches while his eye continued to oscillate wildly between piercing their gaze or avoiding them entirely while it spinned to search through walls and doors.

The gruff voice was the same, lilt and all, leading Hermione to visions of chain-smoking and yelling at young recruits. A cold shiver sprinted up her spine as she listened to the man talk and heard both his older and younger selves at the same time. Déjà vu, but magnified.

The upside of meeting him was the lack of his constant vigilance malarkey. And Hermione would take all the upsides she could get.

“Madam Black, Grenier,” he nodded politely in their direction, “We’ve finished with the cleanup and evidence retrieval.” He stared down his nose at both of them with his good eye while the fake continued wandering about, “We’d appreciate it if you both would accompany me back to the Ministry.”

At the startled shift in their posture he placed his hands out in a placating gesture before continuing.

“I’d like to make it clear to you both now that neither one of you are under arrest or a suspect of any wrongdoing. What happened was an attempt to protect yourself and the youngin’s. We would merely like to get a full accounting of the afternoon, from your perspective.”

Hermione settled herself as she turned to look at Bella with breath caught in her throat as she waited.

“What about my sisters?” The dark haired witch questioned him with an edge to her voice.

“Both of your sisters are fine Madam Black. We’ve made arrangements for them to spend the night with your Aunt and Uncle. We’ve gotten their statement and memories of the incident. They’ll be fine.”

Bella heaved in air as she turned to stare at her lap, fingers intertwined and moving with restless energy.

“Alright. Lead the way then, let's just get this over with.”

---oo---

The Ministry was much the same as Hermione remembered it.

Rooms and hallways filled to the brim with witches and wizards or the occasional goblin going about their business as fast as they could. The whole thing reeked of bureaucratic nonsense and red tape in a way that left her squirming and unsettled after her last time walking these halls in someone else's skin.

Moody led the way from the Floo down a flight of stairs and around sharp right angles towards the Aurors Office. Stained glass windows lined the hallway to let in false sunlight to the depths in a manner that left odd shadows and ill-fitting lighting bouncing around the hallway and black marble beneath their feet. After entering behind a frosted glass door her directed them towards the back of what was clearly the office or administration rooms and offered them both a seat in front of a large wooden desk. Hermione had assumed he’d lead them off towards some sort of interrogation room and felt herself unwind slightly at the more relaxed atmosphere.

Moody sat down behind the desk and set his wand on the edge of the table away from himself before clasping his hand and smiling roughly at them both.

“Now, I would like to speak with the both of you together,” he opened his palms towards them both, “and then separately. You might remember things better together, but we don’ want neither of you to affect the other's statement.”

Bella stiffened as he mentioned talking separately, her hand shifting to Hermione’s armrest and seeking a firm grip.

“Then may I call in a lawyer, Auror Moody?”

The comment left Moody with his mouth open and words stripped from his tongue, seemingly flabbergasted that she’d ask for a lawyer.

“Um… Yes, Madam Black. You may call them to be present during your statement. May I remind you thought-”

“It’s just a precaution,” Bella interrupted him. “Just for my peace of mind. Surely you can understand that?”

Moody shifted uncomfortably in his chair before leaning back to cross his arms over his chest and nodding up and down vigorously.

“Yes, yes,” his tone grew rougher, “I’ll show you to the appropriate Floo once we’ve gotten your joint statement. Now, to begin with. You both were outside of the estate when this altercation began, correct?”

They both nodded their heads.

“How did you know, or find out that there was a fight inside of the building?”

“We heard spells going off and loud voices,” Hermione answered. “It was loud enough that we could hear it outside. When we realized what that likely meant we rushed inside.”

Moody nodded before grabbing up a parchment and hastily scrawling onto it with plain quill.

“So you both willingly rushed into an unknown situation, unaware of exactly what could be going on inside or who might be involved, with no thoughts to your own safety?” His eyes narrowed as he finished his question, voice growing gruffer by the syllable.

Bella shot ramrod straight in her chair, “Of course we did. We knew that Andromeda and Narcissa were there, and we weren’t willing to wait around and let them get hurt.” Bella’s face turned from her characteristic bone white shade to a red flush with her temper rising.

Hermione gripped down on the scar on her forearm with her unoccupied hand in an attempt to soothe the pain that began lancing through it at Bella’s upset. She was warily cognizant of Moody’s fake eye swiveling to her arm and felt a block of ice settle down into her stomach.

“How much combat training have either of ya had? Any? None?” He looked incredulously between the two of them. “Two school girls,” Bella huffed at that, “like you shouldn’t be rushing off into dangerous situations without full knowledge of what’s goin’ on.” Hermione felt a twinge of fire lance through her left side and knew this conversation was headed to dangerous territory if it continued like this for much longer.

‘Best nip this…’

“We did what we thought was right at the time. We didn’t want anyone to get hurt and couldn’t just sit back to wait it out.”

Moody remained silent after she spoke, his features visibly softening.

“Aye. And you did well,” he nodded at them, “That’s the kind of daring and initiative that we look for ‘round here. Have either of you lasses given any thought to what you’re doing after Hogwarts? You’re both seventh years, right?” He stopped and stared at the now stunned look on their faces. “Well maybe now isn’t the right time to be going about it. Later then. Madam Black, please feel free to call in your lawyer. You can use the Floo in the Supers Office, it’ll be secure and no one will trouble you in there.”

Bella turned towards Hermione before squeezing her hand tightly and getting to her feet. The sound of her marching off towards the office that Moody was pointing towards echoed in the empty room while the silence continued between Moody and herself.

Only when Bella was safely behind the door to the Supervisors Office did Moody train his eyes on her and begin speaking again.

“You on the other hand, I would like to come with me. Would that be an issue Ms. Grenier? You can also call a lawyer if you’d like.”

Hermione huffed to herself before standing waiting obstinately for the Auror to lead the way.

---oo---

The room she now found herself in was far more reminiscent of a Muggle interrogation room than she’d imagined it would be. Harsh lighting from a single lamp on the ceiling, large table in the center with chairs on opposite ends, and an oppressive gray coloring scheme that could bore someone to tears. The only thing it was missing was a two-way mirror and Hermione was sure that it was simply magic that allowed someone to see through at least one of the walls, though she couldn’t discern which.

“Now then. Let’s begin.” Moody eyed her carefully and fiddled with his parchment and quill while she sat quietly in the chair across from him. “Please state your full name.”

“Emelia Grenier,” Hermione quirked an eyebrow, “I thought we weren’t here to be interrogated?”

“Oh, Ms. Grenier you’re not here for that. This is just standard procedure. I’m sure things might be done differently across the pond, but we can’t all be screwed on right now can we?” He chuckled to himself before continuing. “So, who are your parents?”

“Antoine and Rosalie Grenier.”

“And where are they now?”

“Dead and in the ground.” Hermione let a growl reverberate through her answer in hopes of dissuading him from the line of questioning.

---oo---

Her bristling at the personal questions seemed to work. Instead of focusing on her personal life the interview proceeded to cover the events of the day from her waking, to the lead up to the death of Pierre.

“What spell did you cast, Ms. Grenier?”

They had finally arrived to the question that she had silently been dreading since she’d sat down. Besides the fact that it had yet to be invented, the inventor hadn’t even started Hogwarts yet. He’d only be arriving next year. And if she told him exactly what it was and how she knew it she assumed he’d rightly lock her up in St. Mungo’s.

She couldn’t even lie and just say that she had invented it. Despite spell invention not being a discipline that was frowned upon, dark inventions were. And it honestly didn’t get much darker than a death by a thousand cuts.

“It’s called Sectumsempra.” Moody scribbled on his parchment as she spoke.

“I’ve never heard of that one. What’s it do?”

“It’s designed to incapacitate someone via lacerations.”

“Interesting. And where did you learn this spell? I can’t imagine that it’s in any of Hogwarts curriculum.”

“I read it in a book.”

‘Technically not a lie…’

His fake eye swiveled upwards to stare her dead in the face.

“In a book? What book?”

‘I hope this works.’

“I don’t know. The cover and multiple sections were torn and missing. I assumed it to be a grimoire of some sort. There were sections that covered potion making and spell theory as well.”

“And where is this book now?”

Hermione centered herself  with a strong breath and gripped down on the robs laying bunched in her lap.

“Destroyed in the Fiendfyre that Mr. Lestrange used. When he tried to kill us.”

Here his quill stopped moving entirely and his normal eye came up to level on her face.

“Ah. Convenient, that. Any known counter to it?”

“Yes. Vulnera Sanentur. It only works at the beginning though. Too much damage and it can’t be countered.”

“Could you demonstrate the spell and counter if requested?”

Hermione initially balked at his request until she managed to view it from his side. A rather unknown individual had used an extremely potent spell, extremely dark at that, to make mincemeat of someone that had been considered an exceptional dueler and been far older than her. The man had wielded Fiendfyre with no issue whatsoever and Bellatrix and herself had cut through him. Not without casualty of course, but neither actually had any trouble. And her knowledge was responsible for that. Were she in his shoes, she’d want answers as well.

“Yes. Is that all, Auror Moody?”

“Just one last question.” He set his parchment and quill to the side before steepling his fingers and leaning forward conspiratorially. “And don’t worry, this room is spelled off right now so it’s only the two of us who can hear anything. No one else will know or hear about this.”

She could feel the knot of cold reappearing in her abdomen as his voice continued to lower.

“How long have you been lying to Madam Black? Or is she in on it?”

“Excuse me?” She narrowed her eyes and tried to control her breathing at the venomous hiss that accompanied her angry question.

“Emelia Grenier is a good backing. You almost had me fooled as well. But I have this,” he tapped at his fake eye with one finger, “and this can see through anything. Glamours included. Even the one woven around your arm. Mudblood, eh?”

If blood could boil and freeze at the same time, Hermione’s was doing so as she shifted from side to side in the now harshly uncomfortable chair. Her fingers shook with exertion as she tightened down on the cloth in her lap, fingernails biting through to prod painfully into the meat of her palms. She swallowed through her dry mouth and attempted to keep her breathing even, knowing full well she could do nothing about the angry flush building up her neck and face.

“Excuse me, Auror Moody?”

“Come on lass. Drop the act. I’m not daft and I can see through that glamour quite easily. Though I have to hand it to you, it’s held up quite well. Strong work. So tell me then. You wanted to do what, get one over on her? Climb out of your station? Not that I’m against that mind you,” he spread his palms open and shrugged, “A woman’s gotta do what a woman’s gotta do. But if it had anything to do with what happened today, anything at all to do with why Mr. Lestrange now lays cut up like a pile of old rags, well, I have to pursue it.”

“I was scarred against my will. I am not a mudblood,” the words tasted like ash and her voice shook with rage as she countered his pig-headed questions. “You can go ahead and contact Gringotts. They completed a full inheritance test only a few days ago. Get in touch with Grindhelm, I’m sure they’d be happy to do another on the Ministry’s dime.”

The man across from her chuckled darkly while he leaned back into his chair, hands clasping over one another while his fake eye wobbled from her arm to her face.

“If you say so lass, if you say so.”

He returned to writing on his parchment, silence spreading between them as he worked.

Minutes passed before Hermione found herself calm enough to speak.

“What happened to your eye?”

“Eh?” He looked up at her in confusion.

“What happened to it? Why do you need something that invades so much privacy anyways?”

He finished his scribbling before setting the quill down and taking a much more relaxed position in the chair.

“I lost it in’a fight with some bloke a few months back. Nutter decided he’d try n’ rob some mudbloods living in a bad part of town. He didn’t have the foresight to block their Floo before he did so. He did however have enough foresight to sling curses and ask questions later. Blasted me as soon as I stepped out of the fireplace. Last time I’ll walk into a situation unprepared, I’ll tell you that.”

With his story finished he picked up his paperwork before standing and waving her off towards the exit, a lax farewell and reminder that he’d be in touch being all he left her with.

---oo---

The waiting tore at her patience. Three hours sitting in a chair outside a blank office door until Bella finally strode out with her lawyer in tow.

As soon as they caught sight of one another Bella made a beeline straight for Hermione and scooped her into a tight hug bristling with all her strength. When Hermione felt she could no longer breathe Bella released her and turned to the man standing at her side.

“Hermione, meet Lincoln Fawley. Lincoln, Hermione.”

Lincoln stepped forward to offer his hand out, shaking it gently and offering her a small smile.

The man was tall, nearly two heads taller than Hermione, and stood ramrod straight in deep maroon robes. Blond hair cropped close to his scalp and a noticeable scar under the left side of his cheek were the only bits that stood out. Other than that, Hermione could find nothing remarkable about the man standing before her.

“Lincoln’s the attorney that my father contracted to. Now that he’s dead the contract passed on to me. Let’s go somewhere else to discuss this, shall we?” She offered her arm for Hermione to hold onto and led them both out of the Auror office and towards the rows of communal fireplaces for Floo access.

The quick trip out had Hermione spitting ash and dusting off her clothes as she stepped out from the fireplace and took in the scenery before her.

The office was well decorated, nighttime light spilling through a massive bay window and illuminating the deep sea greens and midnight blue decor. A black leather couch was pressed against a wall and across from it was a massive desk made from ebony wood, stacks of parchments and folders heaped on top in haphazard piles. The walls contained paintings of voyages at sea, a schooner here, a naval armada there. Each was distinctive in its style and beautiful nonetheless. The only odd ring was the lack of any portraiture, though Hermione reasoned it was probably best to leave a lawyer's office without any eavesdroppers.

“Have a seat please, I’m just going to run through these,” Lincoln held up a sheaf of parchments that had been tucked neatly under his arm and shook them in their direction, “Before we really get started.”

Lincoln sat at his desk while Bella led Hermione to the couch and sat down comfortably next to her, the cushions giving way as she practically sat down on top of her, legs propped up on the length of the couch and Hermione’s thighs. The witch wrapped her arms through Hermione’s and clasped their hands together, a rocky shudder of a sigh flowing out of her throat. The passivity and closeness leaked through the scar to radiate outwards in warm pulses.

“We’re definitely getting runes for Fiendfyre and the counter. Sooner rather than later, preferably.” Bella’s voice was muffled into the crook of Hermione’s neck as she sought comfort.

The little snake that had heretofore been hiding with Bella finally shifted into view before sliding gently through the curls bunched on Bella’ shoulders and over to Hermione’s neck, winding its way around her like a living choker. Little pleased hissing sounds emanating from it as it took in the new surroundings and soaked up Hermione’s warmth.

::Speakers are safe?:: The little animal asked them, tongue languidly pushing against the skin of Hermione’s neck.

::Yes,:: Hermione answered in a low hiss to keep Lincoln from noticing the odd conversation, ::We’re safe.::

“Are you going to keep it?” Bella asked quietly as her hands moved to massage Hermione’s sides.

::Maybe, :: came her reply, :: Little snake?::

The ashwinder peered up at her from below her chin, ::Yes?::

::Do you want to stay with us?::

The little snake shook its head up and down in rapid movement, happily agreeing to stick with the duo.

“Looks like you found a familiar then.”

“Does Hogwarts even allow snakes?” Hermione asked, quirking her head to the side as she eyed Bella.

“We’re only going to be there a few more months. I’m sure it’d be fine. Besides, who’d tell you know? Dumblefuck? Just tell people you’re investigating it. I’ve certainly never heard of an ashwinder surviving so long.” Warm puffs of air beat against Hermione’s cheek as Bella spoke, warmth finally rising up to overtake all the anxiety of the day.

::Maybe… I can do that. But speaking of the Headmaster…::

::You think he had something to do with this all?::

Hermione couldn’t say that she hadn’t thought about it. Once she’d found out why Lestrange had been there, and coupled with the words he’d been saying as he chased after Andromeda, it had made a sick sort of sense. Lincoln, however, saved her from responding.

“Ladies, I’ve finished going through the current files.” He stood from his desk and walked over to stand before them before conjuring a chair and taking a seat.

“As of right now the Ministry has nothing on either one of you. So, that should help allay your fears somewhat. But before we go on any further, you don’t have a lawyer, do you Ms. Grenier?”

Hermione disentangled herself from Bella while the little snake dropped down to intertwine with her fingers and wrist.

“Correct. And if nothing else, today has proven that I should have gotten one once I arrived.”

“Yes, you should have.” Lincoln sighed after the admittance. “Being heiress to a massive fortune notwithstanding, it’s always good to have someone dedicated to being at your side, legally speaking. If you’ll allow a verbal agreement, I’ll draw up a contract later and we’ll go more in depth.”

“That’ll be fine then, I think.”

“Alright then. Now, Bellatrix,” He turned his gaze towards the dark haired witch, “Your sisters are both fine. They’re currently with your Aunt-”

“Which one?” She interrupted, “Cass or Walburga?” Her voice was quiet, one hand coming to rest gently on Hermione’s knee.

“Walburga. They’ll be fine there until the Ministry clears them and approves the Manor as being safe for their return.”

“Is someone there right now? I don’t want those rubes messing with anything not directly related to the incident.”

“Yes. An understudy of mine has been overseeing them. He’ll let us know once it’s cleared for your return. Your sisters arrival might be somewhat later though, due to Andromeda’s injuries.”

“So what’s next then?”

“Well at this point you have some decisions to make.” Bella tilted her head back at the ceiling as he spoke, “Your father wasn’t of the main Black line. However, he still has a dearth of items to bequeath you and your sisters. The matter is somewhat complicated because your mother is still alive but since she’s been declared legally incompetent you’ll-”

“I’m sorry,” she leaned forward again to stare at him, “But what the hell does that mean? Cygnus kept us all in the dark about whatever it was that happened to our mother. One day she was in St. Mungo’s, the next, Azkaban. He never kept his story straight. Just the events leading up to it.”

“Oh…” Lincoln looked both embarrassed and perturbed as he took in that information.

“Well, she’s in Bartholomew Burbages Center for Wellbeing. She was committed after her trial last summer. As of now she’s excluded from all inheritance and acceptance until she’s been cleared for readmittance to society. That, as you can probably guess, could take quite a while. Therefore, all titles and duties will fall to you as the firstborn. Your father’s will made no exception for gender, just order of birth.”

Hermione tried to listen patiently but ended up tuning it all out as the conversation continued from there. Honestly trying to understand the ins and outs of the situation was more than she was capable of doing at the time. The main point she was still able to understand by the time they finished talking was that Druella was still alive, and Bellatrix was set to inherit. Any debts would be made up by selling Cygnus’s shares and businesses and whatever remained would be put aside for Bella and her sisters.

“What about marriage contracts?” Hermione perked when she heard Bella ask that question. “Are they null and void?”

“Well, you’re of age. And you no longer have nor do you need a legal guardian. You can break them with no legal repercussions as they all hinged on Cygnus staying alive to see them through. Now that he’s not, you’re free to do as you wish.”

“And what of my sisters?”

“Their contracts are also null and void. It’ll be up to whoever gains custody of them to either rebuild them or leave them be.”

Hermione felt an uncomfortable cold spot form once again in the center of her stomach as she thought of who was likely going to gain custody of the pair.

“And do you know yet who it’ll be that takes over? Orion or…?” She let the question drop off, apprehension striking through her tone at the thought of little Cissa having to grow up under the thumb of Orion and Walburga. Cygnus and Druella might have been… harsh, abusive, and crazy, but their Aunt and Uncle were out on a whole different level.

“That’ll be up to the law to decide. But your Uncle Orion has already expressed interest. Alphard and Cassiopia have both declined, on part of age and social standing, respectively.”

“Of bloody course…” The pit in Hermione’s stomach turned sour as Bella spoke.

“However,” Lincoln started tentatively, “You are of course welcome to apply for guardianship yourself. In the eyes of the law, you’re an adult witch. The possibility is open…”

---oo---

Hours passed in quiet conversation as Lincoln helped them frame a way forward.

Black Manor was Bella’s, usually bequeathed to the first male Heir to the min line, Bellatrix had instead inherited it from Cygnus. At some point in the past Orion and Walburga had both sworn off the property, refusing to take control of it or will it back to their line.

Any items within the Manor were, however, subject to review. Anything not specifically purchased as a gift for the sisters, or purchased by them themselves, were to be brought out and divided between the remaining members. Neither witch were particularly concerned about that, though Hermione made Bella promise to remove the contents of the library before anyone else could do so.

Eventually the candles surrounding them grew dim and Hermione could feel the exhaustion pooling in her bones. Both witches bid goodnight to Lincoln and received stern promises to meet up with them again as the week progressed.

Stepping through the Floo back to Black Manor was a welcome relief and both witches sagged against one another after dusting ashes and dust from their clothes.

As they headed towards Bella’s room the little snake remained securely wrapped around Hermioen’s neck, coiling delicately and running circles against her warm skin.

::What should we call you?:: Hermione asked the ashwinder as it moved down her arm to curl around in imitation of a particularly fanciful bracelet.

::Agathodaemon, speaker.:: The snake peered up at her with its unblinking red eyes.

Hermione and Bella shared a look of confusion at the odd name, but acquiesced as the snake hissed at them happily.

::Is Agath okay? That’s a long name,:: she asked it quietly.

::Yes!:: The snake bumped its head along the underside of Hermione’s thumb as they ascended the stairs and made their way to Bella’s door. As they entered she set Agath down inside of a drawer that was slightly pulled out, the snake dropping from her wrist and curling into a tight little ball.

“We need to talk about what happened today,” Bella brought up in a quiet tone when Hermione finished with the snake.

“There isn’t really anything to talk about though. He brought it all on himself. Now we’re just stuck dealing with it.”

“But how are you dealing with it? Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure I was the killer from when you’re from.” Bellatrix’s voice held a hint of a whine and aggression as she bristled from Hermien’s blase attitude.

Hermione’s throat tightened in response while she stripped down to avoid replying straight away. It was… dull, in her mind. It had all just been a split second decision that she’d not even needed to think about.

“Pierre Lestrange brought it on himself. Once he threatened your family-”

“Morgana’s bloody tits, Hermione I’m not asking you why you did it, I’m asking how you’re holding up.”

“I’m fine-” She couldn’t even finish her rebuttal before Bella was pressed tightly against her back and pulled up her left arm in front of her body. Without any pretense she drew her finger down against the skin to release the glamour and placed her palm face down upon it.

All at once Hermione could feel heat pulsing up and through the etched skin to tingle at the underside of the muscle and flow out like running water into her chest. The longer Bella held on the more the magic continued pulsing, electrifying the connection and overriding the gray fog she’d let herself become enveloped in.

“Hermione, what happened. You didn’t need to let him die like that. I know you had time to start the counter, I know it as well as I know I could have killed him instead. I’ve seen you practice it, in your memories. I’ve seen them all. Let me in.”

Hermione felt pressure build amid her sinuses as she released the magic holding onto the runes buried in her back. A single tear trailed downwards across her cheek as Bella turned her around without losing her grip of the forearm, dark onyx eyes coming to pierce steadily into her own.

All at once it was like being two different people stuffed into the same body. She held the awareness of Bella viewing her mind and headspace, sifting through the memories of the afternoon and leftover splashes of emotion lingering within. She felt the same as she dipped into Bella in return, the biting fear and anger at hearing the first cries when they arrived back, the processing that had taken place to accept the shame of her/their sister being harmed.

She could feel Bella focus on the moment she’d struck Lestrange. She hadn’t attacked with practicality or the thought of incapacitation. She’d struck in anger that even she hadn’t recognized at the time. It had been automatic, cutting him to ribbons. Satisfaction at his pain. She hadn’t been happy. But she had been somewhat sick with glee at stepping over his bleeding body.

They both sighed and leaned in to rest forehead against forehead, eyes continuing to pierce, as it came to the forefront. She’d willingly let him expire, painfully, as justice for injuring Andromeda, her friend, her family.

The bulwark of stoic emotion she’d thrown up around herself fell as she closed off the connection fell into Bella’s embrace. Tears leaked messily down her face as Bella led her to the bed, depositing her safely between sheets and pillows before wrapping her up in an embrace. A hand patted down at her short hair, scratching lightly at the base of her neck as Bella whispered soothing words amidst the sobs.

She wasn’t aware of how long she lay there, safely protected by someone she’d once feared more than death, but eventually the tears dried and she felt strong enough to respond. She wrapped her arms around Bella, tight and compressive, holding onto the warmth therein.

“We need to figure out what this scar really is,” Bella voiced after a few minutes of comforting silence. “We should have looked into it awhile ago. We don’t know what curse it was or whether there was a motive to it beyond marking you…”

“Seems obvious enough to me that it was for more than pain,” Hermione’s tear strained voice husked out.

“No shit,” Bella gently laughed, “But for what exactly?” She wound herself tighter around Hermione and dragged the covers over them both. Pressing warm lips to Hermione’s neck she kept the silence.

“I’m going to raid your library tomorrow. If it doesn’t have anything related to it, I’ll continue the search at my Manors. There’s bound to be something somewhere.”

“You think we’ll find it? Even if Mayweather couldn't’?”

Hermione huffed in indignation, “Not to be mean to the man, but I don’t exactly have the highest opinion of anyone who can’t figure out the D.A.D.A. position is cursed.”

Bella joined her in quiet laughter at that before continuing.

“Alright, that’s sorted then. And I’m going to proposition the Ministry for guardianship of Andy and Cissa. I need to do that tomorrow, before Walburga and Orion.”

“What about, well… us?” Hermione asked her in an unsure tone of voice. As she finished speaking a tremble ran through her muscles. Bellatrix constricted her tighter in her hold, nose nuzzling against the side of her cheek before she laid a gentle kiss.

“We can still, you know. Get married. Now that Cygnus is dead I dare say it’ll be a little bit easier. No contract to uphold.”

“Your sisters will be okay with that?”

“I don’t see why they wouldn’t be. They already both consider you family. Now it’ll just be official.”

“Okay. We need to check in with the elves as well. And figure out how Lestrange found out.”

“All problems for the morning. Sleep, Pet.”

Hermione relaxed herself in Bella’s sure grip while a small smile peeked out into the darkness.

---oo---

Morning brought with it a clearing of the last remnants of Bella’s fatigue and nightmares. Bella’s dreams hadn’t been pleasant but also hadn’t been bad enough to wake her or her partner. Extricating herself from Hermine’s grasp was another matter entirely, one that she wasn’t at first sure she could manage.

The witch had turned around their embrace at some point, warm skin pressed tightly against Bella’s while her limbs wrapped around and entangled her completely. As Bella glanced at the sleeping witch she thought briefly about waking her up, but the guilt eventually won out.

Crawling off the side of the bed was embarrassing, but morning waited for no witch, and she had a job to do. The cool air of the room sapped the remaining heat from her skin as she hurried to dress in something warm. A pair of Hermione’s transfigured sweatpants and a low cut shirt were the closest items to her reach, and she dressed quickly before throwing her long tresses of curls into a semi-loose pony-tail.

She caught sight of the small ashwinder peering up above the lip of the drawer that it had been deposited into. Rubies with black slits darted back and forth between Bellatrix standing by the bedside and the sleeping beauty still snoring. Catching its unspoken request, Bella strode forward and scooped the little snake into her palms.

Something about the situation unnerved her, from the unexpected hatchling to the name it had chosen for itself. She’d never once heard about an ashwinder lasting more than a few hours after laying eggs, and not even a single instance of the eggs actually hatching. It was a perplexing mystery, but one that unfortunately took back seat to the priorities of the day.

::Agath? :: she asked, :: I hate to be insensitive, but are you a Lady or a Lord? I’m not versed in snake gender.::

The snake trusted in her hands to peer up at her with impassive eyes before its tongue poked out gently to flick at her thumb.

::Tall speaker, Agath is Lady. What is speaker? ::

Amused at the question and answer, Bella almost snorted in amusement before remembering her still sleeping charge. :: I’m a Lady. And you can call me Bella. That, :: she pointed Agath towards Hermione, :: Is Hermione, or Em’. She’s a lady as well. ::

Bella gently placed the snake down onto Hermione’s chest where it moved to coil up into a ball before turning to look up at her expectantly.

::Agath, when Em’ wakes, tell her I’ve gone downstairs to find elves. Okay?::

::Yes Dark Speaker! Bella! Agath will do.:: The snake replied in a happy hiss before tucking its head back into its own coils, hiding its eyes from the light. Content that Hermione would survive the morning with Agath watching over her, she kissed her cheek and turned to leave the room.

The hallway outside of her room was empty and quiet as she made her way towards the stairwell, her bare feet against wood and carpet the only sounds. The lingering traces of scouring spells stained the air with antiseptic coldness, biting at her nose. Nothing and no one stood to greet her arrival to the ground floor, everything around her still, quiet, and unsettling. Items all around were still knocked over or overturned from where Cygnus and Lestrange had chased after Andy. The doorway to the study was still open and unrepaired, the hinges smashed in and the shattered door swept into a pile opposite of it.

Nothing lined the walls of the study, every painting and item having been stripped and blasted away at some point during the duel. A deep gouge was etched into the center of the desk starting from the direction of the fireplace, letting her assume that Lestrange had entered the room and immediately started fighting. The lingering feel of dark magic flooded the room, smothering her breaths and making her feel lightheaded in its presence. Her pulse quickened and her mind relaxed as she took the space in. However, before she could let it overcome her, she quickly left the space behind and promised it further inspection later, when she was not alone.

When she reached the kitchens she kept her ears open for any sound coming from the elves, any pots or pans clanging, or the distant sound and smell of food frying. It took only a second to reach her conclusion.

Nothing was there.

As she stepped through the space she drew her wand out and headed towards the door at the back that led towards the servants quarters. Again nothing met her as she passed the threshold.

The hall was empty and silent as death.

Each door lining the hall was closed tightly, no signs left out whatsoever to indicate the presence of elves or anyone else for that matter. She took the hall slowly, room by room. Her unease at the situation grew with every step. Door after door held only an empty and filthy space, devoid of any life, and growing filthier as she neared the end.

Cygnus was never one to dictate what his elves did on their time off, he was always much more hands off than that, but it seemed that none of the elves had made any effort whatsoever to make their own quarters livable. Dirty scraps of cloth littered across the floor, cut up kitchen towels and table spreads lay in piles amid newspaper clippings and detritus. It was all a hodgepodge of secondhand filth.

The final door in the hall was as unopened as the rest, right against the back of the hall and adjacent to the pair of doors that led outside.

Bella pushed it open with her free hand while the other clutched at her wand and pointed directly into the interior. As she stepped forward and no spells were sent her way she dropped her wand hand to her side and forced a Lumos wordlessly.

If the other rooms were horrid, then this one took first place prize.

It was scattered and covered in cloth and paper, everything pushed to the side to reveal a ring of dirt in the center and what looked to be nests against the outer corners. As she shuffled through the debris she caught sight of something that seemed just a little out of place.

Kneeling down, she picked up a well-kept piece of parchment, dusting it lightly before reading it.

On it were two names, side by side. Bellatrix drew in her breath in as her muscles tightened in shock.

Chapter Text

“So are you going to actually help or…?” Her tone was petulant, even to her own ears, but Hermeione could hardly help the irritation from invading her mannerisms. It was abundantly clear by now that Bella had absolutely no interest in actually helping.

But still. Asking was polite.

“Are you going to actually help?” Her darker haired partner replied with a snide tone and barely even looked up to register the exasperation evident in Hermione’s face.

“Bella…” Hermione used her best, ‘Dealing with Children’ tone.

“Ah come on Em’, it’s been four hours n' we’ve found nothing. We should just start moving things out of here. Or assign me something less boring at least.”

The pile of books that Hermione had bundled against her chest reached the ground with a thump before spilling out over themselves while she cocked her hip and crossed her arms over her chest.

“You,” she pointed a thin finger at Bella, “have been building castles with shrunken books for over an hour at this point. We’d’ve both been done and out of here ages ago if you’d just stuck to the plan and helped, instead of insisting on playing around like an unruly child while wasting our time.”

The dark haired witch squinted, peering up at Hermione, before sighing heavily and rising to her knees. 

“Yes, I’ll agree that we could have been done quicker if I’d made a full effort, but it’s boring.”

“Boring?”

“Yes, boring. We can look at them all later. And besides,” she spread her hands out to show off her miniaturized castle with her as the queen, “I am helping. Look how neat this all is. Blood runes,” she pointed towards the outer wall, “Curse imbibement,” two tall towers standing side by side, “And all the rest. You get the picture.”

She leaned back on her haunches, a lazy smile playing across her face as she observed her meticulously crafted disorder. Inspection complete, she turned back to face Hermione.

And promptly felt her grin tighten in fright.

The witch’s eyes were… well, glaring daggers would be a monstrous understatement at this point.

“Ahem,” she coughed and shrank back, “Well, guess I’ll pack it in then.”

---

Seconds ticked by into minutes that transitioned as slowly as possible into hours while the pair continued their scouring of the library. Hermione was a cruel taskmaster, keeping their pace harsh while she flipped through books at a frightening pace only to turn and toss the miniaturized versions into the extension charmed bag that kept floating along directly behind her. 

The back left quadrant of the library had been dispelled after only a few minutes of wandwork by Bella, glyphs and tainted cones of light splaying out across the bindings to scour the curses from their pages. Most had been spelled to prevent anyone not of Black blood to touch them, but some had gone so far as to relegate safe handling to only one or two specific people. 

It was a process that Hermione had been intensely pleased to watch. Bella had moved with all the grace of a dancer, flipping her wand from side to side; counter clockwise and back, all the while murmuring words of bygone languages in a near constant stream. It was magic that captivated Hermione, pure and simple.

The rest of the room had simply been spelled to ward off touch, either through painful shocks or mild curses that would do no more than inconvenience someone to prevent them from trying again. Those were the easiest to remove from their home, a quick Wingardium floating them up and out of their resting spots to open for Hermione’s casual perusal. 

It was a ridiculously simple workaround to something that should have been much tougher, and Hermione could hardly stop the chuckle that came out when she thought about the lack of protection.

Eventually they had isolated all the books they’d needed into a single bag, weightless and floating open with the expectation for more. It had taken just a swift call to Malbon and the elf had apparated away with their ill-gotten goods. His method of apparition was a mystery to Hermione, able to take inanimate objects but not people, and one that she swore to solve as soon as her world stopped turning on a dime.

When their task in the library had finished both witches set out to the sisters bedrooms, turning to magic to stirp them clean. Everything, from the rugs to the faintest scraps of parchment were transported to Château de Grenier. The stripped bare rooms were an oddity, along with the mostly missing library, that Bella chose to cover up by illusion. Scrap quills, knuts, practically any debris that she could get her hands on were transfigured into lookalikes to pacify whichever family members came by to take their claims. That Bella garnered amusement from the idea of her family members suddenly finding everything empty was just an extra perk to the extensive spellwork.

The last of the items passed to the Château before a rapid tapping at the window alerted them both to a rather regal looking horned owl. 

Tawny and over puffed with an inflated self-importance, the look was both magnificent and far too pompous for a bird. A leg ending in sharp talons was outstretched as soon as Bella opened the window, beak chattering as it impatiently awaited the letter's removal. When she finally untied the delicate knot holding it to the bird, the owl nipped her fingers twice and flew off into the dusky sky with snow kicking up as it raced away.

“Who’s it from?” Hermione peered over her shoulder to get a look at the yellowed envelope.

“Don’t know. Expect we will once I open it. A little late for mail though, isn’t it?” She peered out into the evening beyond the window where snow continued falling steadily from gray clouds backed by a setting sun.

“A little bit. Come on, hurry up.”

Bella nudged Hermione with her elbow before turning around and unpacking the envelope. 

Contained within was a single sheet of folded parchment, colored in a spotless eggshell white and written in black ink that seemed to glitter gold in the flickering light of the room. Turning it further to the light, Bella began to read it aloud.

‘Madam Black,

I am so sorry for your loss. I was immensely worried when the news first reached me and I hope that both you and your sisters are well and unharmed. 

Your Father was an immense supporter of mine, unbending in his adulation of the Cause, and a good man,’ Bella snorted in subdued laughter before continuing, ‘His unexpected passing has brought turmoil to both of our spheres, and I would greatly appreciate a face to face meeting to determine how we’ll go forward from here. If you wouldn’t mind it I would like to meet with you as soon as possible, say three thirty tomorrow? If this time is not amenable to you, please owl back with a recommendation. 

Warmest regards,

Lord Voldemort, Heir to House Slytherin & Gaunt.’

Bella folded the letter in half, dropping it into the fire at her side before sitting down heavily into a worn armchair with a huff.

“Condolences from a Dark Lord, who’d have thought you’d rate so highly?” Hermione said as she walked over to straddle Bella’s waist, peppering kisses across the curve of her neck as they both absorbed the news.

“Should we receive him then?” She asked, before nipping at the curve of Bella’s throat.

“Yes.”

---

The night ran long from there. 

A quick Floo call to Grimmauld place had both Bellatrix and Hermione feeling better. The conversation had avoided the circumstances of the sister's separation but covered what little they could. Words passed quickly under the effects of a Muffliato, plans and promises to keep the two younger witches safe. 

That conversation behind them, Hermione and Bellatrix then turned to their preparations for the coming visit and remainder of their school year, deep within the bowels of the Manor and hidden behind locked doors.

The room was like most others, large, impressively stocked,  with charmed windows that peered into the outside even though they were ensconced in the middle of the Manor. A single fireplace warmed the room, taller than Hermione was and deeper even than her arm span. Heat came roaring out of the space as the great fire sucked in massive amounts of air to pull a warm breeze throughout the room. 

High ceilings were painted in relief with images that hearkened back to Rome and ancient wars, witches and wizards standing side by side during great battles and among rousing groups of senators. The walls were only half wallpapered, the bottom a dark ebony wood and the top half covered in ivory wallpaper that seemed to enhance the size of the room through visuals alone.  

The whole space practically rang with the call of Magic, placed directly in the center of the home to absorb as much runoff as it could. When Hermione first entered she could feel the residual dregs of the recent battle settling in among the years built up energy.

With a flick of their wrists the carpets and rugs were tugged away from the center and the fireplace before they folded themselves into neat piles underneath the enchanted windowsill. All the while different furniture items neatly placed themselves flush to the wall to open up the space.

When they were finished altering the room they both summoned in their tools for the night, a cauldron and heavy stand, eighteen branding irons, and phials beyond measure all packed tightly into an enlarged box.

It was time to start the rituals.

---

“Next rune?” Hermioen’s voice rang hollow with the impassiveness of dealing with her pains, too inured to the pain to be anything but utilitarian at that moment. The cauldron situated over the fire continued bubbling away amid the labored breathing of the duo, oblivious to their pain or discomfort over the past hour. 

“Yes, hurry on with it.” Bella tossed aside the freezing cold rag she’d been using to wash over her new rune marks, the pile of wet cloth landing with a wet splat a few meters away.

She gritted her teeth down over a leather bit, biting back the scream in her throat that sought to tear itself from her when the burning metal met the top of her hand. She’d thought that experiencing multiple applications beforehand would dull the pain to any degree but it had instead seemed to make every subsequent brand hurt even worse. 

The pain seemed to over and float through her body even as the brand was removed only seconds after application. Sizzle and the smell of burnt flesh left behind a crisscross of bright red lines that shimmered across her skin as the magic within them activated and latched onto her soul.

“How are you holding up?” Hermione set the brand aside before wrapping Bella’s shoulders in a rather pitiful hug, squeezing as much as her tired body would allow.

“Bloody well I think, least for now. Gimme a minute?” She rolled off to the side and onto her back with her limbs splayed out and breath panting out in a rush. She fought to focus and remind herself that in the end all this was worth the pain.

‘Fiendfyre,’ she thought, ‘In the palm of my hand, forever…’

The branding proceeded from there, each marking the other in ink stolen from their own blood, magic forced to bind with their essence in a permanent display. Each had hurt them both badly, especially the jagged runes marking their upper chest, searing the flesh beneath and forcing them to lock each other up in a body bind while it was applied. It was worth it though when the runes glowed off neon red and sparked as magic flowed through them.

Their chests had perhaps undergone the worst rune, a mashed up amalgamation of letters and swirls that felt like a pinpoint Cruciatus when applied and still constantly burned on the periphery of their senses. It was necessary though.

A direct portkey stitched into their body, aimed towards Château de Grenier, but programmable with enough effort to land them wherever they wanted, provided they linked the location beforehand.

Hermione hadn’t thought that the runes would be successful at first, and oddly enough, her first instinct after reading through the passage in a worn tome hastily thrust into her hands by a smirking Bella had been to scoff and call it the ravings of a mad man.

It wasn’t exactly what she had wanted. When she’d first thought of making them specific portkeys for returning to the Manor she had zeroed in on using some item of jewelry that couldn’t be spelled off of them, but a few hours in the Black Library and the sing-song lure of dark magic had led her to using themselves as the catalyst instead. And it did have at least one advantage over others. Portkeys were liable to be lost, even ones spelled to remain with them, but a magic bound to their body and soul was not so easily gotten rid of. 

It seemed that necessity, and Bella’s pushes, had become quite the facilitator for dark magics in Hermione’s life. And even with the pain of application still stinging against her breastbone, she couldn’t be happier that she’d agreed to it.

The rune linked up through the occlumency runes on their backs, channeling the magic when they activated the portkey and alerting the other to its use. It would be painful, and something that needed more extensive testing than the quick diagnostics that Hermione had run, but if they worked as advertised and delivered them both from danger and into the warded monstrosity of a Manor that she now owned, it would be worth it.

The binding imprinted on their front was stronger than the multiple runes on their backs, focused and distilled through an honest ritual sacrifice, had led to a crackle of energy and magic that was purpose fed to deliver them from wherever they were to halfway across the world, at any given moment that it could be activated.

The more difficult parts of the application hadn’t been pain based. It had instead been the initial sacrifice and subsequent formation of a Fidelius charm.

The spell was complicated, old and mutated over time as brilliant witches and wizards had added to its effectiveness, and casting it upon a person’s thoughts of a location was as much luck as it was invention. No harder than applying it to a rigid location, but difficult and different nonetheless.

The sacrifice had also gone off without a hitch. One life, that of a goat purchased from a locally sourced farm (as Hermione wouldn’t accept anything less than the best), had been sent below, and after that they had a winding web of gold and red painted out in crushed pyrite and blood. A few soft words, wand waves, and magical diffusion later, and they had spelled the brands to imbibe them with portkeys that could never reveal their destination, even if someone tracked them from where they left.

After their branding the air surrounding them smelled of incense and the iron tang of blood, a hazy mist spread out across the ceiling that swirled and churned with the eddy currents of magic suffusing the room. They were both sat side by side, skin to skin, a variety of shapes and symbols patterned into their skin with blood left dripping off the metal instruments lying around them. 

Shatter resistance, Aguamenti, Expelliarmus, and anti-incarcerous were among the litany of new brands, symbols tracing inwards at specific points on their bodies to maximize the output of magic. Lines and symbols dotted the outside of their forearms, their palms, down their torso the settle above heated cores. One mark, directly under their chin, was pointed and flared enough that the edges wrapped in a Y shape to touch the corners of their lips. Each was unique, though similar motifs peppered each. A single long line, dotted with blank spaces, raced down the inside of their thighs to connect with a mass of right angles burned into their knees.

It was, Hermione thought, beautiful in a way that Muggle tattoos and brands could never be. Beneath the skin, beneath the deep bloodred, swirled more magic than she’d thought she could produce, at least on a casual scale. 

The months of learning with Bella had coupled well with the intensive physical and mental workouts that Voldemort led them through had expanded her abilities and reserves far beyond anything she’d once thought possible. If this was the low end of how people like Voldemort or Dumbledore felt all the time, then she couldn’t stop herself from wanting more of it.

Three runes on the nape of their necks had been the last to be applied. Three curving and stylized R’s with a T that curved out to the right and hooked onto the next in line. The closing efforts of their nighttime session of heat and blood. Devised to cover the rest in a purpose built glamour, these three runes would be the only ones to remain visible, while they worked to cover up all the rest.

They had been devised via a recommendation suggested in a Dark tome on ancient Byzantine warding, and spun out into the beautiful shapes now adorning their bodies. The last thing that the witches wanted was someone noticing the flowing tapestry of their bodies, and even if these were visible, they could be played off as simple tattoos, a story they had agreed to before embarking on their new marks.

To Hermione’s immense satisfaction the runes would also cover up the existence of the scar on her arm, leaving her free and no longer beholden to the application of the fading glamour.

She could feel the magic seeping throughout her body, entering her bones and veins and surging around the newly confining space. It wasn’t so much something that hurt her as it was a rather pleasant feeling of being flush and energetic. Her body sang beneath the sweet reminders of pain in the limelight cast by the new magic.

‘We’ve been doing this all for the right reasons,’ she reminded herself as she looked around the frankly terrifying room. 

The floor was spattered with blood and crushed mineral, a severed goat hoof lay off against the stonework of the fireplace and the remnants of ash dotted the floor space.

The cauldron in front of them still swirled, now filled with a reduced mixture of blood and metal, sparkling chips of energy sparking into nothingness as the concoction churned.

“Time for the last?” Bella’s question was hoarse and soft, hidden by a forearm draped across her face.

“Yes. The Patronus marks. Won’t ward off dementors, but should stop them from sucking out our souls or good memories.”

“I’ll take your word for it, don’t really want to get up close and test that theory.”

Hermione left her position with a pained sigh, standing to grab a box of empty phials and a large cast iron ladle. Careful of the burning mixture she scooped the contents into the glass containers for later use, while setting aside a generous portion for their last task of the night.

Bella stared unabashedly as Hermione strode about in all her glory, her body a series of sharply defined angles hiding under curves and muscle, light leaking out from the brands they’d applied and softly wrapped in an aura of deep magic. She could feel it lingering in the room, mixing with traces that the Manor had picked up over the years, permeating and lingering with Hermione’s scent to form something uniquely distinct and wholly her own.

“Alright,” Hermione grabbed up the last full phial from the cauldron, “Let’s do this.”

The glass glowed a neon blue when she was done, soft light radiating from the phial amid a swirl of neon blue metal, falling and churning like glitter in a bottle.

Hermione grabbed up Bella’s wand from where it sat near the base of the fireplace, twirling the solid wood between her fingers as if it were her own. Ever since she’d been marked by Lestrange the wand had felt… different underneath her control, and it seemed that the feeling extended even into the past. As time had passed she’d found herself more and more proficient at borrowing Bellatrix’s wand, while her own became more stubborn as time went on. She was close to the point of visiting Ollivander again and seeing if any of the other wands strained to be with her, eager and interested in knowing how much she’d changed since the man had last seen her.

With a careful movement, counterclockwise thrice and then flicked sharply to the left and dropped twenty-three degrees, no more and no less, the phial between her fingers exploded outwards into a neon display of glittering silver white as the material within burned with unexpressed magic.

Sitting down beside Bellatrix she took the stopper off and gently ran her fingers down the outside of Bella’s triceps and gently kissed the skin. In a fluid movement she upturned the phial at the top of Bella’s shoulder, allowing all the liquid inside to fall out and cover the pale skin.

The inky blue patch swelled as it coated her arm, flashing at intervals with blue and white as the magic took hold and marked the witch. With a sound of bees and chittering animals the liquid began pulling in on itself into a recognizable pattern, returning from the wide ink blotches to form her soul tattoo.

The magic she was attempting was old, possibly older than the author themselves, who seemed to only be recording something they’d heard rather than seen. It had been written on parchment, near faded and so badly torn in some spots that Hermioen’s eyes had blurred and become bloodshot the more she worked to translate it. Eventually though her persistence had won out, and the information contained therein had bloomed a fascination inside of her that would not be quenched. 

Bella’s first reaction upon learning of it had been to scoff and say that she’d believe it when she’d seen it, to which Hermione had immediately taken as a challenge. And now, sitting together with burning liquid etching a visible outline of Bella’s soul into her arm, she sat in wonderment as her hard work paid off.

Bella was hissing in pain, an expected but undesired side effect, jaw clenched shut as the fluid worked, body flushing red in pain and exertion. When she started shivering Hermione brought a hand to her back, rubbing soothing circles and hoping it would end quickly. And indeed, it was. Instead of the outline she’d been expecting, a crow of similar variety to the Patronus that the witch had formed within the Room of Requirement, she got something similar but not quite so.

It wasn’t a crow.

It was a raven, large and majestic. The massive bird’s outstretched wings wrapped around Bella’s shoulder and tricep, its tail feathers tickling the crook of her elbow. The hooked beak, so distinctly that of a corvid but not a crow, was open as if squawking in greeting. Intricate feathers were etched to outline a brilliantly pale blue mark, dots of silver metal gleaming throughout in the appearance of starshine.

Hermione could only stare in wonderment at what she considered to be one of the most beautiful markings she’d ever seen.

“Well, how’s it look?”

“Amazing,” Hermioen replied in a sing-song whisper, finger grazing the outline of feathers and retracting at the warmth it carried within. “Though, it’s not a crow. Raven, more like.”

Bella screwed her face up in confusion, no doubt wondering the same as Hermione about where her crow had gone.

“Never knew someones Patronus could change, never heard of it.” She brought her hand to the marking, fingers grazing over Hermione’s as she swiped up and down.

“I didn’t either, but I guess it could make some sense? I mean, you’re not a static person your whole life. We all change and grow. If your Patronus is a reflection of your inner self then it stands to reason it could grow and change with you.”

“Well then what defines a Patronus’ form? What qualities? Is it a reflection of known personality characteristics or something that only Magic can interpret?”

“No clue,” Hermione sighed out, “I guess you’d need a large study group to track it over time and keep with them for quite a few years. And usually the spell is only mastered later on in life, not many people our age can conjure one that’s fully formed. Maybe later in life your soul is more fixed, or rigid? Like it’s been bent into shape by all your experiences…” She trailed off, hand grasping Bella’s to twine their fingers together.

“Do mine now?” 

---

Bella performed the ritual this time, hands moving deftly as she turned from phial to subject with the grace and poise of a dancer. As she sat down on crossed legs she dragged Hermione down with her, a warm hand closed around the wrist and tugging at her to hurry up.

This phial was much the same, blue and neon at intervals, swirling with a silvery glitter that spun to its own tune, regardless of how much she shook or twirled the container. When Hermione nodded and bit down on a leather bit, she upturned the container and let the magic spill down.

Sparks danced behind Hermione’s eyelids as the liquid doused her skin, a sucker punch of heat and pain bursting to life all along the now covered muscle of her shoulder and arm. In the manner of a few seconds her teeth had sunk a few more millimeters into the leather as the pain reached a crescendo and plateaued.

Slowly, so much so that drops of sweat beading up on her skin had time to race down the length of her body, the intense pain began morphing into a building heat not dissimilar to the feeling espoused by her scar when Bella was enraptured with strong emotion. The liquid sizzled and danced on her skin as it worked until she could feel the flesh underneath it churn and stretch. Her shoulder and muscles in her arm began cramping in waves, pulsing at the rhythm of her heartbeat before it all, at once, was over.

Air exploded from her lungs, startling the witch at how long she must have held her breath. Spots danced between her vision before the lightheadedness faded to be replaced by clarity. Steadying herself as much as she could she splayed out backwards and landed with her back to Bella’s chest, a warm pair of arms wrapping around her waist.

“Well,” she asked in an exhausted whisper, “How is it?” She conjured the image in her head, an otter dancing somewhere on the meat of her arm in some form of playful fashion, long and bright as the day-

“Um, well… You should just take a look.”

With a flick of her wand Bella conjured a mirror to their side and angled Hermione with her arms so that she could view into it. The witch tensed in her hold, body immediately freezing as the mirror image of her eyes widened and glanced hurriedly up and down.

Hermione could feel her heart begin to stutter at the sight of it, her breath drawing in and hitching in the back of her throat. 

‘That’s not possible’

Her eyes roamed over the surface of her skin, up and down, as she twisted in place to see the extent of it. Winding its way across the skin of her arm from the crook of her elbow to the tip of her shoulder was a snake. The massive serpent was partially coiled, body winding back in on itself as it stretched out and upwards. Its tongue was poking out, fork pointed towards her neck and riding up the curve of her shoulder.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” she whispered under her breath, eyes continuing to widen at the unwelcome sight etched into her skin.

With a huff she turned away from the mirror and stood up from the ground, grabbing up her own wand and turning towards an empty portion of the room before selecting a memory.

“Expecto Patronum,” a white cloud burst forth from the tip of her wand before it began to coalesce into a fine mist and disappeared. Shaking her head and widening her stance she tried the incantation again, to not better results.

By now her body had begun to shiver in the cold air, shaking more and more each time the Patronus failed to materialize.

Bella walked up behind the panicking witch, wrapping her arms around her torso and pressing close up against Hermione, their bodies sharing the feeble warmth of the room.

“What memory are you thinking of?” She asked in a hushed tone, right hand splaying out across the smooth expanse of Hermione’s stomach while the other held her tighter to her front.

“My,” Hermione casted again, “Fucking,” again, “Family!” She tried one last time, not even a whimper of energy emerging from the tip of her wand.

“Calm down,” Bella whispered between gentle nips along the skin of Hermione’s neck. “Try something else,” she pressed an open-mouthed kiss to the muscle rising up underneath her chin. “It’s okay.”

“I don’t know what to think of,” Hermione leaned back fully into Bella’s ministrations, letting her head and neck recline against the witch’s shoulder as she continued worrying skin with lips and teeth.

“Try something recent then? Might help.”

Hermione mumbled in reply, not even understanding the words herself. The scar on her arm began radiating warm heat and soothing acceptance, working in concert with Bella herself in an effort to ground Hermione.

Taking nearly a full minute she concentrated fully on all her recent happiness. Everything prior to her skip through time was now marred by knowing how far removed from them she was. Divorced through not only by people but time as well, those memories were nearly useless to her. It took a few more seconds, her breathing trying to return to a steady rhythm meanwhile, before she focused inwards and raised her wand, casting forth with vigor and a flush of heat pulsing underneath her skin.

A hollow stream of light, white and then blue, ate up the darkness growing in their corner of the room as it spilled forth from her wand tip. Slowly an animal emerged, tip of its snout poking out before the power of the spell ratcheted up and the animal came fully formed into the world. 

The Patronus, only slightly smaller than Nagini had been at the Final Battle, rose up onto its long body to peer back at Hermione, its body swaying lightly as it kept balance and observed them both.

“She’s beautiful,” Bella spoke against the skin of Hermione’s neck, hands and arms tightening possessively.

“Well, she’s me, or my soul or whatever. So I’d hope you’d say that.”

Hermione’s tone of voice was unsure, still confused and in subsection of denial at the change that had been wrought so unexpectedly upon her.

Instead of the beautiful little otter, sleek and powerful, a massive and winding snake had taken its place. 

She could feel her heart racing again, pulse quickening as she stared the Patronus down.

‘This is not me.’

The beast before her watched back with intelligence behind its unblinking blue gaze that both intrigued and unnerved her in equal measure. Muscles spasmed throughout her body, seizing and releasing just as quickly while she began shuddering in place. Sweat broke out across her body before her knees gave out, colliding softly as Bella let her down gently to the hard floor. A sudden loss of balance and lightheadedness stole at her vision, the snake lowering its gaze to keep level with her own.

“It’s-” Her breath caught again, stomach beginning to roil and clench around nothingness while her mind continued speeding up.

‘This is NOT me.’

Fleeting images passed her mind, lost memories of a zoo, an enclosure, warm air and the smell of earth and water pressing in on her from all sides. Children talking excitedly nearby and the overpowering scent of jasmine weaving through it all as she stood pressed to her mother's side and leaned over the enclosure wall to peer down at the beautiful little animals swimming below her.

Her body shook as quiet sobs began wracking her body, the Patronus slithering forward to wind itself around her body. She was distantly aware of Bella leaving her place behind her, more preoccupied with the outpouring of emotion running through her chest to notice either action.

‘They’re gone…’

“I- I don’t-”

There was nothing else. Nothing tangible. Thirty years in the future, eleven years in her past.

Gone.

‘You have nothing now Muddy,’ a wicked tone spoke up from the depths of her mind, wriggling its way out the back of her skull and into places it should never have been allowed, where it held no right to be.

“You’re dead…” Hermione whispered through the anguish, body shaking and rocking as movement blurred her front and warm hands rose up to cup her face.

‘Oh Pet… and here I thought you were smart for a Mudblood,’ the voice skittered around her skull in whispers as loud as shouts-

“You’re dead-”

‘Gone, but not forgotten-’

A tightness wound its way up her torso, compressing tightly against her skin and bones to bathe her in warmth-

Pale hands grasped at her face, one hand on either cheek, pulling up her gaze from the ghost lying in front of her to the reality seated before her. Onyx eyes as hard chipped as obsidian offered depths for Hermione to swim in and pulled her gently off the ledge she felt herself creeping closer towards. 

The familiar tightness that told her she wasn’t alone in her own head started up, sped along by a gasp of pain and surprise before the burden fell away and was replaced by warm acceptance that mingled with the smooth roughness of the scaled body winding its way across her body.

“You’re-”

She knew it wasn’t the truth.

She knew she wasn’t dead.

She was here. Face to face and so close she could feel warm puffs of air beating against her own lips as the witch breathed in fear and worry.

“I’ve got… you’re… be okay,”

She could hear the words but not place the meaning, air slipping in one ear and out the other as she tried to pull herself back into her own body and evict the unwelcome thoughts plaguing her mind. The blue heat across her skin compressed again as heat flooded her body from three angles.

“I’ve got you… you’ll be okay,”

The whispers lingering on the edges of her peripheries faded away as mist in the morning sun, growing fainter every second that she focused on the Bellatrix in front of herself.

“I’ve got you Hermione, you’re safe, you’ll be okay.” Bella’s words came full force as Hermione felt the distinct feeling of suddenly being herself again. Nude skin, warm and flushed but not clammy. Not uncomfortable. The soft compression of her Patronus, more solid than she’d ever believed they could be, wrapping and squeezing around her body in a grounding manner that kept her tethered to the here and now. And Bella, tears sliding down her pale cheeks, hair and curls askew, lips moving as fast as she could talk while warm fingers worried the skin of Hermione’s cheeks.

“It’s a Thunder Blanket…” Hermione whispered out in a voice so hoarse it hurt her own ears.

“A- a what?” Bella leaned in, confused and worried that she’d misunderstood Hermione, or made things worse somehow.

“It’s a Thunder Blanket. It’s a Muggle thing.”

“Okay? What’re those?”

“Muggles who have pets, well some of them anyways, sometimes they have pets that freak out during storms. Like, they get scared and panic? Thunder, lightning. It can overwhelm them sometimes. Panic attacks for dogs, I think,” Bella nodded absently as she searched Hermione’s eyes, “Anyways, when the animal freaks out like that some Muggles will wrap them up in a warm, weighted blanket. It… It comforts them, you know? It helps them feel safe. Secure.”

“Ah…” Recognition lit up Bella’s eyes as she glanced down at the snake wrapping around Hermione, a barely there smirk plastered to its scaly face. “You feel better now?”

The Patronus wrapped around Hermione raised up to set its weightless head upon her shoulder, tongue flicking languidly in Bella’s direction. Hermione eyed it, vision slightly unfocused and still unsure about the bulky animal, before nodding. What remaining stamina she had fled her as she sank down into the dual embrace, heart finally returning to a normal pace. 

Her body aching with the remnants of magic and emotional whiplash, she gave in.

She collapsed forward, a broken mess of emotion held together by the strength of her lover and the newly born form of her soul, a collection of sharp pieces but held together all the same.

---

“Madam Black, once again I must express my deep sorrow at your loss. Cygnus was an exceptional wizard, one in a generation.”

The face behind the silky smooth voice cracked an awkward frown as if the words tasted off even to him.

“Yes, of course, thank you my Lord.” She led the tall man out through the back and onto the enclosed porch, spelled up so that winter’s harsh chill remained outside where it belonged.

“And how are you sisters faring? I must admit it gave me quite a start to hear that they had been the targets.”

“They are well, thank you. Both are recuperating at my Aunt’s home in the city.”

The echo of sharp heeled Oxford’s clacked against the marble beneath them as walked.

“Good. I’m glad to hear no permanent harm has come to any of you. However,” he paused as he took a seat at the circular table that was dotted with tea cups and crossed one leg over the other, “I must confess that I sought this meeting to offer more than just my condolences.”

Voldemort’s bloodshot eyes narrowed as he peered between the two witches, fingers intertwining as he capped them over his knee.

“What about then?” Bella’s tone was distinctly on edge, still dealing with the ramifications of their experimentation the night prior. Hermione’s feelings mirrored her own, the short haired witch offering nothing more than a greeting while she settled into her seat.

The man, monster, had been tutoring them both for months now, delving into theory and practice rather than indulging in Pureblood fanaticism. Whether his reluctance to address the topic was out of belief that they were already both too inured, or he simply didn’t wish to scare them off, neither witch knew.

Their time spent with him had in many ways been a wonderful boon. The man was a walking repository of ancient knowledge, from ancient curses to medicinal and practical uses for understudied or uncultivated flora and fauna, the man was a walking encyclopedia of dark information.

“Your late Father was a patron to my cause. He believed in it with all his heart, of the good that it could do for the world and all of us. WIth him gone however, that avenue of income and steadfastness has broken.”

Bella kicked back in her chair, looking up and through the glass ceiling to the swirl of gray clouds hovering overhead.

“I’d like to know what else he got from your arrangement as I suppose that tutoring us was likely only a side benefit. Am I right?”

"You’d be correct. He was also receiving the help of my organization in his business dealings, helping to move things about and propose legislation to increase his yields. Again, with his death, those avenues have dried up. Our business dealings have been noticeably less efficient over the past few days.”

Bella tutted in mock sympathy as Voldemort raised a glass of warm tea to his lips. 

“There are however some rather fortunate side effects to this situation as well.” He set the delicate china down on the table with a soft ‘clink’.

“Being?” Bella’s tone was as even as she could muster, her mind already racing ahead to figure out exactly what those effects were.

“I now find myself with two spots to fill. In my inner circle. The inner circle.”

His thin lips upturned in a smirk, confident that both witches at least knew that much.

“And what exactly is this… circle?” Hermione interjected. His dark eyes turned over to her own, piercing in their intensity.

“They’re a group of like-minded individuals, all Pureblood, who strongly oppose the current stance of the Ministry and Society at large. We believe that we’ve kowtowed to Dumbledore and the Minister’s wishes for far too long.”

He sat forward, dropping his crossed legs and leaning against the rim of the table, “I’ll be the first to admit that some of what he’s done has been incredible. But a half-blooded fool is still a Halfblood. His heyday is far behind him and going about while pretending that he and the Minister have our best interests in mind is quite frankly too treasonous against the soul for us to continue.”

Hermione leaned slightly back and opened up her body posture, trying to give off the idea that she was receptive to his words.

“My group and I are preparing, you could say, for the moment that we can retake those positions of authority. For the time to show those who’ve held us at a disadvantage and misused us that we will remain downtrodden no longer. If we don’t throw off their yoke soon, we never will.”

“What benefit do we give you? What benefit do you give us?” Bella slipped into her predetermined role of businesswoman, ready to take up the reins of the conversation and guide it where she needed.

“Straight to the point, I like it. Tell me; what Holiday are you both on right now?”

Bella’s head cocked to the side in confusion before she simply replied, “Yule.”

“By this time next year it will be called a Christmas break. Samhain, these past few months ago? Halloween. Same, again and again for all Wizarding holidays. Salazar’s scales, they’ve already removed Wizarding Tradition from the curricula at Hogwarts. They’ve instituted quotas for the least populous among us. Supplanted fine bred stock with mud to fill out their portfolio and put on the charade that they care.” 

As his voice rose Hermione snuck a glance at Bella, eyes sharp as her lover’s face remained unreadable and gray.

“They’ve removed the power that had once been stable across this region for almost two millennia, since the days that great Merlin rode out across the channel to conquer Brittania. And the worst part of it all is that the Mudbloods don’t even want it! The current secrecy laws keep them as much in the dark as Muggles until they’re first found and introduced. They grow up ignorant of our laws, ignorant of our culture, while we’re told to sit idly by the wayside and see power unheard-of be locked and throttled into submission as the Ministry throws the keys to our inexperienced jailors. 

The slightest crack of Bella’s thin smile brought Hermione’s full attention, eyes shifting over as she struggled to keep her ears open to Voldemort’s words.

“Dumbledore isn’t out there, marching for the uplifting of squibs. He’s not out there lobbying on behalf of the Mudbloods, screaming to raise them from the dirt they were born in, trained and trussed until they could act as our equals. No, no, he’s not doing that. He’s dragging us down instead. Him and his incompetent Ministry. They’re both dragging us down to their level, all the while claiming that we should thank him for it. Well, I say no more. We need to resist. What has he done for the Mudblood? Nothing. What does he want from us? Everything.”

He stopped to sip at the tea before continuing, eyeing the look in both witches eyes with unbridled curiosity, hoping at least one of them got the gist of his words.

“We’re in a leveled playing field where all we have is the dirt of the arena floor and a sharp rock in our hands. He’s sitting off to the side and tells every fighter who enters that they are the one, that true salvation lies right ahead, while all he really does is hand us each the sharpened rock. I want you both, with me. Your potential is enormous and you’ve both excelled in our training. You took on an incredibly skilled wizard that had designs on killing you both, and you succeeded. You’ve both learned a practically dead language-”

“What,” Hermione interrupted his speech and leaned forward in upset and confusion. “How do you know about that last bit?”

::Where do you think Madam Black acquired the potion ingredients, or the ritual instructions for that matter?::

‘Well,’ Hermione thought, ‘That answers that question then.’

“As far as I’m aware, neither one of you has a job lined up, correct? You’ll both be graduating in a few months, top of your class no less. You’ll marry, and then do what? I don’t believe two inquisitive minds such as yours would just sit back on a pile of money and ignore the world.”

Neither witch replied, and he smirked at how right he was.

“Pledge yourself. To me, my cause. Take a full year, say between summer of ‘69 to ‘70. I’ll train you both. I’ll teach you everything I know and give you access to everything I don’t. You can decide where you want to go from there. We could use your strengths in the coming conflicts.”

Bloodshot eyes peered down into brown and then black, soulless and unending in their hunger and drive to consume. If Hermione squinted just right, she could swear that the pupils were slit.

“Can you give us time to think it over? Your offer?

“Of course. I wouldn’t be so presumptuous to assume you’d pledge yourselves right here, right now. Take until the end of your school year. We can continue with our current lesson structure, consider it a boon, my way of honoring Cygnus’s memory. I won’t bring up the offer again until you graduate, or you bring it up to me.”

Bella turned her head to stare at Hermione, both witches thoughts pulling towards the same outcome.

“Ladies, I’ll take my leave. Just remember,” he smirked at them with the icy gaze of a predator moving in for the kill, “Six months.”

Chapter Text

Dec’ 29, 1968

A Wizarding funeral, in light of Hermione’s admitted lack of experience, wasn't very different from the Muggle equivalent. Of course there were differences and many of them were quite important distinctions but beyond the application of magic the structure of the event was much the same. Her own experiences had been colored by the distinct lack of funerals in her own life, something which could honestly be seen as a good thing despite the actual number of people she’d been close to that had died. First had been her grandparents on her mother’s side, dead before she was even seven years of age. Her mother had ended up forbidding Hermione’s attendance in a bid to preserve her already fragile sense of innocence and left her instead in the care of a babysitter. It had worked, somewhat. Instead of understanding why the event had mattered she’d instead ended up only questioning why her mother left with tears in her eyes and came back with even more.

Beyond that experience in her early childhood the only major event had been the death of her late Headmaster, Dumbledore. His service had been relatively plain and simple even with the great number of people who had shown up to speak on the dead man’s behalf. After that there were the numerous funerals she’d attended in the immediate wake of the war. The bereaved families had opted for plain and simple instead of grand gestures in the wake of the war. Horror still lingered in the back of people's minds and rather than spread opulence they had sought out comfort and immediate family. Wooden boxes, slowly entering the ground as families fell to their knees with grief. Extravagance just hadn’t been a luxury that many could emotionally afford.

But at this particular point in time? WIth the horrors of the last war so far away in people's memory and the death of so significant a Black?

Extravagance was in abundance and seemed to be inflated with the remnants of aristocratic abundance that would have been shed at the New Years Gala. Cygnus’s family might have spared him no love but they did put stock in societal appearances. Within a few days of his passing Walburga had stepped forth as the only one interested in planning and orchestrating her brother’s funeral. The speed at which it was accomplished shocked Hermione until she learned the action was sparked by ages old superstition, stories passed down from generation to generation as a way of controlling the presentation surrounding their demise. Any Black who died needed to be buried as soon as possible, and at the very least they needed to be buried before the turn to a new year. If the action was not taken with due haste then the spirit would wander restlessly for all eternity as a non-corporeal shade of their past self, always hurting, always wanting, searching and reaching for a rest they could not have.

Bella and Hermione had both professed that that would have been the preferable outcome for the abusive man’s soul but they weren’t in charge of the planning and had become too involved with playing as the grieving and traumatized survivors. It simply wouldn’t do to make their opinions known and instead had left Walburga to her planning.

The day of Cygnus’s entombment began early enough that even the sun had yet to make an appearance off the horizon, the world around them shrouded by listless snow and gray clouds. The viewing was to be held in Black Manor and was expected to be fit near to bursting with guests, well-wishers, and relatives from within and without the Black family tree.

The first arrivals that day had been Narcissa and Andromeda, both practically leaping from the entrance Floo and straight into their sister’s arms. It brought a lightness to Hermione’s chest to see the sister’s reunited so enthusiastically and without any animosity. The feeling grew tenfold when she was included in the warm hugs of greeting. It had been far too long since the trio had seen one another in person and while intermittent Floo calls were nice they couldn’t make up for the distance and separation forced upon them by Walburga sheltering them.

Hermione had wrapped her arms tightly around Andromeda when she turned to pull her into a hug, the wound on her shoulder causing Andromeda to favor her right side. When they had pulled away Hermione had dropped into her mother-hen mode, inquiring about the injury and bombarding the younger witch with questions and concerns. The witch avoided the conversation for a moment before opening up to reveal the damage, pulling aside her dress to show the true damage caused by Lestrange’s curse. The skin around the strike had been darkened considerably as it healed into a large Starburst shaped scar, edges harshly meeting with the natural paleness of her skin.

“I’ve been told it’ll never truly heal back to normal,” Andromeda said with a sad smile, “I’ll be stuck with the scar and reduced range of movement. Potions help, but the scar tissue went too deep.”

Hermione pulled the witch in again for a hug after hearing that as no words were available to her to convey how harshly that knowledge twisted her up inside. By the time she let go Bella had released Narcissa and stepped up instead to pull Andromeda aside for a hug and quiet conversation, one pale hand smoothing down the auburn curls of Andromeda’s hair as the other soothed her back. It was quiet and intimate in a way that had Hermione looking away to give them privacy. It brought up memories of a future hopefully rewritten, questions popping into the plane of her mind as she wondered how such a close bond had been severed irreparably in the future she’d come from. The thoughts lingered on her periphery as she opened her arms for Narcissa.

Agath had wrapped herself up around Hermione’s neck until her tail swished back and forth against the skin covering Hermione’s pulse point. The little snake kept up a colorful little commentary as Hermione greeted the sisters while her tongue flicked up and out as she scented and peered up at the new arrivals.

:: Friends? ::, Agath had asked with a soft hiss in her ear. The curiosity of the young snake was evident in her tone in a way that Hermione couldn’t explain, choosing instead to simply acknowledge that she knew it to be that. Questions could be had at a later date.

:: Yes, Lady Narcissa and Lady Andromeda. They’re not speakers though. ::, she’d replied as she let the Ashwinder crawl down her arm to get a closer look at the duo. 

Narcissa had immediately taken a shine to the young snake as it darted down Hermione’s arm to offer herself up for Narcissa’s hesitant hand to pet her scales. When she seemed more confident Agath had climbed up Narcissa’s hand to wrap herself about her wrist, tongue flickering happily at the attention. Excited whispers flew from Narcissa as she talked to the snake, uncaring if she couldn’t understand any replies. Andy had passed on interacting with Agath, opting instead for a polite wave as the snake peered up unblinkingly at her and running a single finger down her dorsal scales before turning back to her sisters.

Introductions had completed from there and Agath made her way from Narcissa’s arm and up Bella’s, wrapping and hiding herself amid the curtain of black falling down her shoulders and back.

The next flash from the Floo offered up an ashy looking Walburga who set to immediately pushing them all out of the entrance room and into the hallway, loudly informing them that their place was to be seen and not heard. The older woman looked as well as she had in future version of Grimmauld place. Tall, rigid, and wearing an unyielding stare that sent shivers down Hermione’s spine, the woman was intimidation bound up in corporeal form. A few colorfully distasteful comments about Hermione’s choice of hairstyle later, and the woman had wandered off to attend to something elsewhere. 

Orion came through next in a puff of smoke and ash, lazy smile forming as he left his wife to her devices, avoiding the young witches entirely. The angry hiss that Agath let out at the sight of the man brought a smile to Hermione’s face as he walked past them to follow his wife.

Alphard and Cassiopeia had both been wrangled into attending and arrived in short order after Orion had stepped through. Each had been bribed into attending with promises of first dibs at the contents within the Manor after Cygnus was securely in the ground, greed spurring them more than familial obligation. Hermione did a double take as Alphard stepped through the Floo, her mind spinning up and wondering whether Sirius had actually been Alphard’s clone.

Chestnut colored hair fell down in lazy waves upon his shoulders while a thin mustache wrapped around his top lip and fell down his jaw in a chisel cut. Gray eyes, luminous and energetic, jumped about the room at a frenetic pace. A wry grin filled his face with cheer and amusement as he read the room. His sonorous voice boomed out a greeting as he scooped Andy and Narcissa into a wide armed hug. When he released them and spotted Bella he stopped and stared, Bella returning the look just as well. Seconds passed in silence as tension grew in the room until Bella’s composure finally cracked, a smile breaking out  as she ran up to him. Alphard picked her up with ease to twirl her around the room as he laughed deeply. The sight brought a smile to Hermione’s face as she felt the love Bella was basking in flow up and through her scarred flesh.

Hermione stepped forward after he let Bella down, her hand out professionally and a thin lipped smile showing as she raised her chin in imitation of pureblood aristocracy. The man stared back at her with eyes gray and unreadable as he left her hand hanging in mid-air.

“Come on now girlie, you’re to be my nieces intended. Not an enemy. ‘Least, not yet anyways.”

His expression softened in her direction as he finished speaking and he opened his arms wide in clear invitation. Hermione froze for only a moment before stepping forward to indulge herself. It had been far too long since someone, anyone, had taken a position of familiarity with her that wasn’t one of the Trio. The warm hug and kind words that followed brought her nerves down and settled her into a warm perch as they talked at length about one another.

When she mentioned all that she’d heard about him through Bella, Alphard turned to give his niece a glare and chuckled darkly to himself. 

“Nothing too scandalous then, I hope. We’ll save those stories for when there aren’t any innocents about!” His remakes finished with a wink towards the younger two witches who merely groaned at his play acting with feigned indifference.

The camaraderie of Alphard couldn’t last, and Hermione’s next introduction to a Black family member was decidedly more hostile.

Cassiopeia Black, the Great Aunt of the trio and favored relative of Andromeda, stepped out through the Floo and immediately sent her niece Walburga a glare that could have shriveled a tree. Hermione had been briefed before her arrival and was well aware of the woman’s rather duplicitous and meddlesome nature. Gray hair, gray eyes, a stooped back and wrinkles beyond measure all lent themselves to giving her a visual age that was far beyond her mere fifty-four years. Hermione would have likened her to being more than a century old if she hadn’t been aware of the woman’s actual age. She stood as a direct counterpoint to the youth that Bellatrix Lestrange had been able to maintain even through her stint in Azkaban, fifty-four being still young by wizarding standards and genetics. 

Cassiopeia was a crone in body and mind who delighted in interfering wherever she was least wanted. The woman was an expert at pushing herself into situations and conversation that allowed her to mingle at the periphery of people's minds. All the while she would absorb everything she heard and saw until she could put it to use at a later date. She was dressed in only the finest garments, black of course, and threaded through with silver thread that gave her a shine as mourning runes sparkled and shone in the soft light of the Manor. An oversized black bonnet completed the look, never mind the fact that it was the middle of winter, perched atop her head like a gaudy ornament.

In contrast to her visible age and degradation the eyes she sported were sharp as they could be. Dagger like and enlarged by square spectacles, they seemed to see everything as they swiveled about in a head that sat unmoving on her hunched shoulders. The silvery orbs peered about and roved from one family member to the next until she landed on Bella and Hermione.

“So then. You’re the French twat that my dear Trixie is marrying,” she croaked out in a horrid voice that physically grated on Hermione’s ears, “It’s a fitting accomplishment for Cygnus I suppose, a cock up even when he’s in the grave.”

“Auntie Cass, how lovely to see you,” Bella broke in before the old hag could continue to disparage Hermione or Cygnus’s memory. An arm wrapped loosely around the woman in a hug as Bella whispered sweet words and guided the older woman away. It worked, eventually, but not before she got out a series of rather rude questions involving fertility tests and an unexpected offer for tea later that week.

Before Hermione could accept the offer Andromeda had swooped in to save her, pulling her away by the arm and informing her of the truth to the offer. If she’d have accepted and actually shown up then she’d have likely been dosed with veritaserum and subjected to whatever questions the old woman could come up with. Not that it would work, Hermione noted with a wry smile, but she appreciated Andy stepping in and informing her regardless. All in all it was a meeting that Hermione was eager to never repeat.

Dorea Potter, née Black, had sent through the Floo a lowly Potter cousin along with her deepest sympathies for her lack of attendance. The news that she was still alive was a shock to Bella after she’d assumed that the woman had likely died. That had been far from the truth, however, as the cousin explained that instead she was still alive and kicking somewhere distant within a care-home.

The last of the family to arrive had been the children, Sirius and Regulus, herded through the Floo by an elderly elf that immediately apparated away as soon as both boys were on solid ground. Regulus, tiny and barely seven years old, waddled along with his brother at his side. The little boys eyes were wide and saucer shaped as he took in the surrounding landscape and people milling about. He was charming, as young children of his age tended to be, filled with endless questions about one thing or another as his mind and attention span kicked about at a rapid pace.

Sandy colored hair that had yet to turn dark was draped about his shoulders and down to the nape of his neck in ringlets and waves that were purposefully left mussy. When he’d spotted Hermione with her rather unconventional hairstyle he’d immediately asked the witch if he could pet it. She’d acquiesced and knelt down to his side as he oohed and awed at the softly tamed curls. After that moment had ended the young boy had followed Hermione around as she made her way about the Manor, determined little smile on his face as he accompanied his new friend.

Sirius, by and large, was another matter entirely.

Only just turned eleven and set to join Howarts for his first semester in the coming year, the young boy walked around aware of both the money lining his family’s pockets and the good looks that he would one day grow into. A pair of steel silver eyes peered out into the world through a curtain of curly brown hair. His gaze seemed to inhale everything that surrounded him as he darted about from one thing to the next. He stood apart from his family like a sore thumb in more than just mannerisms though. He had eschewed the formal attire of black mourning garb and had opted instead for cream colored dress robes atop a similarly colored suit. Cassiopeia and Walburga both glared at the young boy as he passed by, voices muttering lowly at the disrespectful coloring. He carried himself about with a haughty indifference and aristocratic posturing that Hermione could already tell would one day break a few paramours hearts. 

In some words, he was just as she knew him, and nothing like it. 

A few others had arrived to make a token appearance at the funeral. Some families offered up cousins or daughters, son-in-law’s and estranged family to represent the great houses that had intermingled with the Blacks at some point in the past. The remainder of the attendees, and by far the majority, were businessmen and prior paramours, Ministry workers and acquaintances who’d risen the ranks of society through Cygnus’s lining of their pockets or his silvered words being placed into ears. Only a few noble purebloods filtered in, followed by a displeased looking Voldemort, shaking hands with one another and networking instead of comforting the family or paying their respects.

---oo---

After all the attendee’s had filtered into the Manor, they rejoined into the largest room on the ground floor. It had been cleared out in advance of the event, floors cleared and furniture moved to other rooms to make way. The group in the room were dressed as dark and posh as they could be with the exception of Sirius, and presided over a closed walnut casket holding Cygnus’s cinder remains. A brazier of simmering coals stood off to the side of the casket, burning and available to accept small parchments filled with well wishes for his afterlife. Ash and powder in the brazier grew as the morning continued until they collapse inwards and billowed up to tint the room in smokey haze.

The Black trio stood in attendance at the corner of the room to pass out thanks and aristocratic gossip to those who stepped forward to view the casket or put parchment into the brazier. As minutes ticked into hours the haze about the room increased until ashes had permanently smudged themselves onto the oppressive black garments of the attendees. Sirius seemed to regret his choice in snubbing the event as the ash tinged his robes and suit a chalky gray. Bella chuckled lowly to herself whenever she caught sight of the young boy, drawing glares from her Aunt whenever the woman caught her in the act. Eventually the smokey interior even got to Hermione, causing her to cough at random intervals as it became harder and harder to breath.

Agath, now wrapped around Hermione’s neck in clear view of the attendee’s, licked gently at the scar emblazoned around her neck and hidden underneath her glamours. The young snake was quite pleased with the ash filled atmosphere as she preened and hissed happily whenever a new plume of ash would shoot towards the ceiling. It brought a smile to Hermione’s face to see her familiar enjoying herself and helped to push back the overwhelming thoughts of how much she despised the majority of the attendees.

Not to say that some weren’t good people, she knew quite well that not all purebloods were evil supremacists, but the gathering here seemed to be a collection of the worst of the worst. Only a few redeeming members had made an appearance and they seemed to only be here out of obligation rather than emotional support for any family members.

---oo---

As the hours passed the estate was finally shrouded in darkness as clouds continued lazily dropping snow across the land. The viewing had taken hours and Walburga had presided over it in its entirety until the time had come to complete the funeral. As one the group moved from the room and out through the double doors at the front entrance and out into the snowy night.

Everyone in attendance drew their wands and softly released a Lumos as they organized themselves into two distinct lines. Cygnus’s casket levitated between the group until it reached the head of the lines and drew them forward into a march towards the Black Crypts.

Deep within the sprawl of the forest surrounding Black Manor lay the Black Crypts, hidden deep and cold within the land that had sheltered the family for centuries. The twin lines passed beneath bowed trees that lay heavy with snow and swerved around logs and puddles of ice as they forged a trail deep into the wilderness. No one spoke as the march continued to drag on and the only sound to accompany them was the crunching of feet in snow and the whistle of wind as it threaded through the land.

After what felt like hours the group finally reached a large clearing hidden deeply into the forest. It was wide and smooth with all the trees surrounding it preened back in a way that seemed as purposeful as it was unintentional. The center was unburdened by snow and surrounded on all sides by a low wall that seemed built from stone that was as old as the earth itself, lending an eerie quality to the already dark night.

The casket continued forward as the lines halted in their place until it passed to the middle of the circle and halted. The ground underneath it seemed to shimmer and shine before disappearing entirely and leaving a black void where dirt once lay. Obsidian obelisks rose on either side of the hole as Bella and her sisters walked forward with Hermione in tow and Walburga at their side. Hermione threaded her fingers through Bella’s as a chill crept up her spine that couldn’t be attributed to the chilly environment surrounding them. 

As the casket dropped into the newly opened space the procession behind them began moving again, soft footsteps following in the pathway made by those in front. A flight of stairs had appeared in the hole and the casket preceded them down into the space as the dark of night gave way to the artificial darkness of the underground Crypt. The air that surrounded Hermione began warming as they descended further into the ground while a damp draft pushed back up the passage they were traveling through. Hermione’s hand clutched tighter at Bella’s as the angle increased and chills wormed their way over her skin.

Warmth and heat began pumping out of her cursed scar as Bella sought to calm them both down as they descended. The runes that adorned her skin itched and began pulsing as they continued onwards, old magic recognizing old magic and the proximity sending the hair on Hermione’s arms to stand at attention. The three runes emblazoned on her neck seemed to be the most affected as they tingled and burned with every step she took. Her tongue darted out to lick the corner of her lip as the newly applied rune on her throat and chin began heating and pulsing in a rhythmic fashion.

Minutes of descent passed by until the space surrounding them slowly opened up. Eventually the staircase ran out as the ground leveled and a hallway presented itself to them. The casket continued moving until it reached a space as open and large as the Great Hall and just as High, if Hermione’s judgement was correct. Open passageways were interspersed at regular intervals along the outer rim of the room but remained pitch black even in the face of increased illumination. Warm air passed through and up to ruffle at hair and clothing as the space seemed to breathe around the interlopers. The crowd behind them continued to filter in slowly as attendees took up spots along the wall to allow everyone fair entrance. The casket moved towards the center of the room , silent and still as it floated in place.

Orion strode forward until he stood next to the casket and placed a wavering hand upon its lid. Weary eyes reflecting the light from their wands turned to face the crowd as he gave last rites to Cygnus. His voice carried a melodic quality as he spoke in a language that Hermione couldn’t recognize, golden runes spreading out from his hand upon the wood and etching themselves into the casket in a haphazard pattern to seal it for eternity. The crowd remained reverent and silent as Orion continued, never once reacting even as Orion finished and stood back to let the casket continue on its way.

Bella turned to Hermione and gently kissed her cheek before squeezing her hand one last time and turning to follow the casket. Andromeda and Narcissa joined her as the casket made its way deeper into the Crypt and towards its final resting place.

---oo---

Hermione ended that night, after returning to the surface and seeing all the guests off the estate, in her guest bed with Bellatrix draped across her weary form. Soft hands and nipping teeth joined gently hissed words of reverence as both witches sought out comfort in one another.

---oo---

Jan’ 2, 1969

The last three days before their return to Hogwarts had been no less than hectic for both Hermione and Bella. Their current errand at the Ministry, deep down where most sane visitors would never treat, was currently the foremost cause of Hermione’s nervous energy. She stood tightly pressed to Bella’s side while a weary looking desk clerk sat in front of them as he continued only just barely going through the motions of assisting them. A clock situated upon his desk continued to tick and tock annoyingly towards the end of the business day and Hermione found herself eyeing it with every second that continued to pass. Both witches were aware that their meeting was last minute and had no reassurances that what they needed done would actually happen that day. Still, neither were bothered with the timing enough to wait and come back at a later date.

A stack of paperwork that was much the same as the one she’d initially given to Cygnus sat upon the desk as the clerk blearily perused through it, a bored look etched upon his face. It had been like this for so long that Hermione had had time to average how long it took him to read a page. Forty-five seconds, flip the page, forty-five more seconds of reading. Forty-five seconds longer than should have been necessary to read the information presented within. As the page flipped to the next Hermione could feel a flush of heat rise to her cheeks and chest as her nerves and impatience rose to ever higher levels. She’d never once been one to deal well with lax authority or those who would purposefully hinder those in need, and that attitude was quickly leading her to a breaking point.

The Ministry was so full of these incompetent paper-pushers that Hermione could nearly feel her blood boil as she stood here awaiting something to happen. She’d known that her experiences at the hands of Fudge’s incompetent Ministry would color her perception of the institution but she’d not truly believed it could affect her this much. Unfortunately, she was wrong. And that now left Bella to attempt to be the level-headed one of the pair which honestly was a task she was distinctly unsuited for. It was a wonder neither witch had blown up in his face at this point.

Both witches had found it best to attack the problem of custody for Andromeda and Narcissa as soon as possible. And now that Cygnus was in his grave and the one day Holiday for the Ministry had ended, they’d found no better time than the present. Even though the process was shaping up to be laborious at best and convoluted at worst both witches felt it appropriate to put in appearances and start the process before Orion and Walburga could step in to claim the right.

And so they stood at the desk of one Austin Peagrave, as his brass nameplate pronounced him, while the man continued to flick absentmindedly through their stacks of parchments with an artificial slowness. The only sounds came from him as he hemmed and hawed at each little bit of inconsistency within the stacks. Hermione was having none of it though and had made it a point to refute each error with and answer in duplicate. This usually resulted with her turning the pages of parchment herself or dutifully reciting exactly which page the information was located on, all the while slowly growing angrier and angrier at his incompetence.

If there was anyone in the entire world that a bureaucrat shouldn’t mess with, it was Hermione.

Over time and snide comments while she corrected him the man finally admitted defeat and prepared the stack of parchments for further review by his superiors. Hermione could physically feel the stress and anger melt away as he bundled each sheet back up and sent it on its way.

“Well then, we’ll see to it that Mr. Carlyle receives those tomorrow, wouldn’t do to have all your,” he squinted heavily at Hermione’s still red form, “exhaustive work end up lost somewhere. I’ll send you an owl when he has it. Now, will that be all for today?”

“Yes,” Bella replied with saccharine sweetness and an edge that could cut glass, “It wouldn’t do at all for any of this to get lost somewhere. We Black’s have long memories after all, and you’ve made quite the impression Mr. Peagrave.” Agath appeared and peeked out through the curtain of Bella’s hair to hiss angrily in his direction as the witches turned on their heels and exited the cramped room.

Finally relieved from their task of the day the witches set about leaving the depressing confines of the Ministry. The lift was thankfully empty as they approached, scissor gates sliding open gently as they came forward to board.

Just before the gates could close back up a single hand shot forward to bar them open as a man stepped in with them. He was only just a smidgen taller than Hermione, young and deeply tanned despite his robes proclaiming him as one who worked within the Ministry. Hermione tried to let him fade into the background until he turned to the side after pressing a button. There, on the side of his shoulder, was the embossed logo of the D.o.M., standing brightly out over his rather drab work robes. Bella backed up to give the man space which allowed Hermione the room to maneuver and view him from another angle. Agath peered out from Behind Bella’s neck to begin hissing at the new arrival, causing him to turn and allowing Hermione to get a full view of his face. Memory caught up with reality as Hermione finally realized who it was.

Bode. Broderick Bode. The Unspeakable who’d been roped into helping Hermione with the task of returning to her reality and had instead subsequently ghosted her. Her eyes widened as he peered back at her before turning around without even the barest hint of recognition or even a hello.

“Mr. Bode,” Hermione started off in an unsure tone, “What a surprise to see you here. Or I suppose not, since you work here…” Her tone softened as he turned around again and shot her a quizzical look.

“I’m sorry Miss, but do we know each other?”

Hermione could feel her heart still within her chest as her lips fell open in disbelief. The hand holding onto Bella’s forearm dug sharp nails down painfully into her skin as her body tensed.

“Oh, um, we met a few months ago? With Professor Dumbledore? You were working on tracking something down for me…” Hermione’s head tilted to the side as she peered up at him, not a spark of recognition behind his pale eyes.

“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid that I have no clue as to what you’re referencing, Miss…?”

“Gra-Grenier,” she almost faltered, “Emelia Grenier.”

His pupils contracted slightly and his head tilted to the side, almost as if he was remembering something, before the dull look overtook his features again and he shook his head weakly.

“I’m sorry sir, I must have gotten you confused with someone else. Sorry to bother you.” Hermione lied out through her apology while putting in just the right amount of feigned embarrassment to make it appear somewhat genuine.

In a stroke of good luck the lift doors opened up upon the Atrium and both witches made a hasty exit away from the still confused man.

“What the fuck was that about?” Bella whisper-shouted as the made their way out, feet pounding on the marble floor in their haste to reach the apparition point.

---oo---

Jan’ 3rd, 1969

The train whistle of the Hogwarts Express rang out merrily as students boarded from the platform and sought out refuge inside brightly furnished compartments. Hermione and the Black siblings had arrived with no issues, apparating into the platform with Andy on Bella’s arm and Narcissa tucked securely against Hermione’s side. The only grievance they’d been dealt as they passed by the throngs of returning students and parents had been wide-eyed stares and murmured gossip as they passed.

The Prewett clan of redheads had worn sulking eyes and terse stares, peering out at the group from a compartment as they passed by. Though no one exchanged any words Hermione couldn’t help but stoke the fire building in her breast as they passed, memories of their last encounter with Fabian clouding her mind.

The worst part of boarding however had been passing by a compartment near the back that had been filled to bursting with Slytherin students. It was a group of seventh years only two compartments down from their own and close enough to remain within earshot during the trip.

The Lestrange brothers, Corrigan Goyle, Aldalus Crabbe, and Laureli Parkinson were all sitting huddled with one another and glaring angrily towards anyone that passed. Their stares turned to daggers as Bella and Hermione had passed by with the two younger witches securely between them. Hermione had so far had little to no interaction whatsoever with Laureli, something she was quite happy for after finding out that common gossip about the witch was that she was as prim and proper as a pureblood could come, with a stuck up attitude to match.

Rudolphus himself wore a pinched expression to his face as he glared down his nose to the group of witches when they passed by. His dark eyes were filled with wrath that sent a shiver of fear lancing down Hermione’s back. She could already tell that he would be trouble at some point this year. Rabastan was a different story however. Instead of anger or resentment in his eyes he’d instead looked at her with what seemed like sadness and pity. As soon as they’d locked eyes he’d turned to find something else more interesting on the floor of their compartment, leaving Hermione confused and determined to find out the reason for his peculiar attitude.

---oo---

As the sun began to set across the hillside and the train ride had only reached tis midpoint, the door to the shared compartment slid open. In a flash of movement Agath was awoken, hissing out a warning and winding her body around Hermione’s neck in an effort to wake her. When the movement finally brought the dozing witch out of her dreams she reacted by sitting up out of Bella’s grasp and slipping her wand from its holder to point in the face of the intruder. The movement startled Bella awake, who only took a half second before mirroring the actions of Hermione.

Standing before them at wandpoint was a young woman with a lovely tanned complexion that reminded Hermione of holidays spent in Italy and Greece, with eyes of deep amber that were as inviting as they were hidden. Long ochre colored that was streaked with black hung down at the witch’s side in an intricate braid that left the tip reaching past her waist to swing back and forth as she flinched back from Hermine’s hostile greeting.

Her hands raised slowly into a surrender pose as she attempted to make herself seem like less of a threat and Hermione replied in kind by dropping her wand to point at the floor. As the moment stretched out Hermione could feel her panting breath still back into a normal rhythm while her mind was struck with an odd sort of familiarity.

“I don’t mean you any harm,” the mystery girl spoke after flashing them all a brilliantly white but too sharp smile, “I just wanted to talk.”

Bella leaned forward from her position against the window to nudge at her sisters with a foot and at the same time gestured towards a space at the end of the bench for the witch to sit.

As she did so, Narcissa awoke, eyes blinking slowly as she rubbed sleep away and peered about their compartment. When she settled her gaze upon the girl she gave a slight smile before speaking.

“Hey Allesa.”

“Hey Issa, Andy,” the witch bowed slightly in her seat towards Bella and Hermione. “Madam’s Black, Grenier. Pleasure to meet you.”

Hermione straightened her back as she sat up further and inched her body backwards until she was pressed securely against Bella’s front.

“Hi. And you are…?”

“Allesandra Zabini, third year,” she replied with only the barest hint of an accent, “I’ve seen you both around.”

“Nice to meet you then Alesandra.” Hermione relaxed fully into Bella as she placed her wand back inside the holster strapped to her forearm.

“Please, feel free to call me Allesa. But pleasantries and first meetings aren’t why I’m here.”

Hermione’s head cocked to the side and her eyes narrowed as the witch finished speaking.

“How’d you do it?”

“...Do what?” Hermione replied as Bella moved to wrap her arms around Hermione’s waist and pull her closer still.

“How’d you manage to take out Old Man Lestrange? Everyone on the train is talking about it, they have been since we boarded. But no one seems to know exactly what happened.”

Narcissa turned away from the conversation while Andy wrapped an arm around her shoulders, preferring to avoid the topic of something that had so recently affected her.

Seconds passed by in silence as the group of witches stared at one another while Hermione contemplated on whether she should answer or ask Allesa to leave. The witch seemed to notice the hesitation in her gaze and so saved her the chance to make a decision.

“That might have come across as inappropriate. I’m not trying to be a gossip, if that’s what you’re worried about. I’m just interested in knowing how you did it. What spell you used. Whatever it was, I want it.” Her voice reached a sinister inflection as she finished and shot them a smile filled with sharp teeth.

“Why?” Bella asked quietly.

“Because,” Allesa shrugged, “Why not? What if someone makes an untoward advance on me? I’d need some way to protect myself from assault and we all know exactly how useless Mayweather is.”

Hermione cleared her throat softly before speaking up in reply, “I can’t tell you. Even if I wanted to, I’m bound by the Ministry in regards to the spells that were used.”

While not exactly untrue, it wasn’t the full truth either. It was however just enough of both to ease Hermione’s conscience. She’d needed to sign a multitude of forms and documents before leaving the Ministry after Lestrange’s attack and among the group had been a single page that bound her from teaching or informing anyone of the particular spell that she’d used to end his life. Hermione hadn’t given the document much thought at the time but looking back on it she realized how little it meant. Bella had such easy access to her mind and already possessed a copy of the memory. If someone really wanted to learn the spell then all they would need to do is ask the dark haired witch instead. Not that she’d tell that to Allesa. Hermione was also quite sure that if someone did ask Bella that the witch would almost assuredly say yes just to get a kick out of whatever happened to the intended target.

A defeated look crossed Allesa’s face at that, before she turned the conversation into other subjects.

---oo---

The return feast, as lovely as ever and filled with as much food and drink as the students could inhale, had filled Hermione back up with nervous energy instead of mirth. Nothing but glares awaited her from many of the other Slytherin’s, and even Bella’s rather prestigious standing among them did nothing to tone it down. Andy and Cissa were mostly spared, instead shot pitying looks from many that grew into sad frowns at how much less movement Andy had in her arm.

Rudolphus was by far the worst of the lot, sending Hermione hate filled glares and even sneering down on the younger witches as he stuck his knife deep into a portion of roast something on his plate. As the merriment surrounding them wore on his glare morphed into a predatory smile, glinting in the candlelight at some unknown thought. Hermione could feel her runes reacting to her emotional state at that, tightening the skin beneath them and tingling with unexpressed energy.

Rabastan threw her a few pitiable looks, glancing back to his plate as soon as he caught her eye. Hermione reminded herself again to get some time alone with him at some point soon to see where his heart lay on the matter, before the hope of his intervention could pass them by.

The Prewett trio sat across the Hall with Gryffindor, purposefully seated against the wall so as to get a clear look at Hermione and Bellatrix, eyes radiating maliciousness and anger beneath their mops of unruly red hair.

‘This is shaping up to be a fun few months…’, she thought wearily to herself as the rattle of dishware and hum of voices continued on around her, oblivious to the stench of wrath wrapping around them all.

---oo---

The walk back to the dungeons was simple enough, Hermione trailing off behind the greater group of students while Andy hovered protectively over Narcissa, Lucius at her side. When they came down the last staircase and stood before the statue guarding entrance, a shadow departed from a nearby dark hallway to advance upon them. As it entered the light the form of Professor Slughorn materialized from the darkness, done up in his winter robes and hair askew. His cheeks were a ruddy red color, the same as his blotchy nose, and his gait somewhat unsteady. The smell of firewhiskey rolled off him as he pointed towards Hermione and Bella, motioning them out of the greater group of students and off into a separate hallway.

“Ah, ladies, I’m so glad I managed to catch you before you turned in.”

“Professor Slughorn, good evening,” Bella replied in a tone of forced delight. She barely managed to keep herself from rolling her eyes at the overbearing professor, wishing instead that he’d bothered anyone but them.

“I do hope you two managed to have a pleasant break despite the, er, difficulties. I was quite relieved to hear that you both made it out in one piece. Shame about your father though, I do feel so deeply for your loss.”

“Thank you Professor,” Bella’s voice dropped into an obviously tired and annoyed tone, “Did you need anything Professor?”

“Ah, yes, yes. The Headmaster would like to speak with the two of you in his office before you head off for the night, something about ensuring you are both well enough to continue for the year after that bit of… unpleasantness. The password is Cream Shakes, he’s expecting you.”

Both witches thanked the professor before turning back to head up the stairs they had only just so recently descended, heading up in silence towards Dumbledore’s office.

Agath, at least, appeared to enjoy their trip. Her tongue flicked out persistently as the snake took in its new surrounds and the smells of so many people. Tucked up as she was into the folds of Hermione’s robes, the animal could only peer out occasionally, otherwise remaining tightly bound around her wrist. Hermione ran a finger down the scales of Agath’s back as they neared the stonework hiding the entrance to Dumbledore’s office, worried about keeping the little snake hidden and away from his view. She still wasn’t sure what his stance would be upon seeing a creature that technically shouldn’t have been born like it was and had been determined during the trip back to keep Agath a secret for as long as possible.

When they reached the gargoyle she uttered the phrase and the statue ground of out of the way, revealing the spiraling staircase behind it. Taking hold of Bella’s proffered hand to thread their fingers together, they ascended up into the office.

“Ah,” Dumbledore exclaimed as they opened the door and stepped through, “How good to see the both of you. I can’t tell you how worried we all were when we heard the news, I’m so glad to see you’ve both come out of it well.”

“We didn’t all come out of it well,” Bellatrix answered with an edge to her tone, “My sister was almost killed as a result of that fool’s attack.” Dumbledore nodded minutely at her words, spreading his hands out in invitation for them to sit.

“Be that as it may, you are all well enough and with no permanent harm, correct?” His old eyes twinkled at some hidden knowledge as they sat down in the empty chairs before his desk. Bella immediately sought out everything and anything to look at except Dumbledore, eventually settling upon a staring contest with Fawkes. The phoenix was surprisingly young looking, startling Hermione who hadn’t expected him to resurrect so soon.

“You wanted to speak with us sir?” Hermione asked as the silence continued on around them. Agath was rustling beneath her robe, tightening and coiling around her wrist and forearm as she climbed.

“Yes, yes. I’ve a few questions that I’d like to go over with the two of you. Are you both still attending lessons with Tom Riddle?”

Bella immediately clenched up and hissed out through her teeth when Dumbledore said Voldemort’s real name, something that wasn’t missed by the quick eyes of Dumbledore or Hermione.

“Yes. He’s extended his offer for tutelage in light of the recent tragedy the Black’s have suffered, and included me as well for the part I played in its end.”

Dumbledore nodded before replying, “I see. Then please ask him for the approximate times and dates, and give them to Horace as soon as you can. Has anything else come up during your break?”

“Nothing yet sir,” Bella started before Hermione could even get a chance to reply.

“We would however like to make it known that Rudolphus Lestrange has made overtures in the past against my health with regard to my courting of Bellatrix. Now that the… situation, has spiraled out so much, we’d like it to be made a matter of record that we will retaliate should he conspire to harm us, or Bellatrix’s sisters.” The words were out of Hermione’s mouth before she knew it, hoping to make at least some part of this known so that the younger witches would be safe from any retaliation. 

“I’ll have Horace speak with the brothers then, and should anything come to light, please don’t hesitate to let myself or Horace know. We’ll deal with it as soon as possible.”

Something in the way his eyes seemed to grow darker as he said that made Hermione extremely suspicious that he would follow up with that assurance.

---oo---

The scar on Hermione’s forearm was pounding in displeasure as the duo made their way down to the dungeons. The statue guarding entrance slid away silently and the common room was mercifully empty as they made their way forward and down the hall to Hermione’s single. Hermione had only a moment to smile at the two trunks side by side in the middle of the room before the door behind her slammed shut and Bella rounded on her.

“We shouldn’t tell him anything, I don’t trust the old bat.” Her words were hurried and through a mixture of slight anger Hermione could detect an undercurrent of fear.

“We should. I don’t trust him either, but we’ll need him if we’re to play on both sides and still come out ahead. We can’t count on Voldemort not to use us and discard us at the soonest opportunity, or whenever we end up displeasing him. We’ll need allies, even if we’re not on their side.” Hermione backed up towards the bed, pushing the trunk out of the way and eyeing Bella as the witch paced back and forth.

“But we’ve got no idea what’s going on with him though, you saw the parchment, it had your name, both of your names,” she raised her hands in exasperation before clenching them at her side, “We only know of three people with that information right now.”

“Well what do you suggest then?” Hermione began to disrobe and tossed aside her uniform, “We need allies. We can’t do this with just us, and we can’t just stick to Voldemort’s side.”

“We wait, we figure out what Dumblefuck might want from us, and then, only then, do we propose anything to him or give him any information.”

“Fine,” Hermione could feel the beginning of a headache bloom into existence at the base of her skull, “But we’ll need to give something to him. Anything at all to keep his peace. I’ve already made a deal with him regarding information from our study sessions, so we’ll need to come up with something else.”

Bella stood next to the door, head turned up and eyes blankly staring up to the ceiling and chest moving steadily as she fought to calm herself.

“We can take care of the Basilisk. Remove the curse or jinx or whatever it is on the D.A.D.A. position. But first things first, we need to kill that snake,” she turned towards Agath, “No offense to your kind little one, but that Basilisk has got to go.”

Hermione sat down wearily on the bed, arm out for Agath to climb off and onto the nearby nightstand, before opening her arms up wide and beckoning Bella to join her. When the witch was within her grasp Hermione set about removing her clothing, fingers taking their time with each button and lace until the witch was nude and calmed down into passivity. Releasing her glamours, Hermione scooted back into the bed and dragged Bella along with her, arms and legs wrapping around the witch as she sighed deeply into the mess of curls atop Bella’s head.

“Okay then. We’ll take care of the Basilisk first. Then the jinx. Then gather whatever information we can on both sides, as much as we can. Then we do what?”

“We make him an offer he won’t be able to refuse,” Bella murmured in a small voice, “The war will start in what, two years? Maybe less, maybe more, depending on how my father’s death changes things. Voldemort will accept us into his ranks if we agree to his year of on-boarding. Once we’ve got that set up, we give it to Dumbledore. Offer to spy for them both.”

Hermione tensed at the suggestion. She’d seen how that affected Snape, how torn he’d been between what he wanted to do and what was right for the war effort. He’d led a hollow existence, constantly pulled between warring titans that in the end cared very little for him beyond how he could be used.

“Are you sure about that,” she asked, “I’ve seen what being a spy for them is like, it nearly killed, or I guess will nearly kill, Severus.”

“Yes. We’ll be in the perfect spot to ferry whatever information we want. We’ll have easy access to them both.”

Hermione sunk further into the bed, wrapped securely around Bella and tired beyond measure as sleep lured her in. Bella dispelled her own glamours, turning to embrace Hermione. Her fingernails scratched gently against the outline of the snake patronus on her lover’s arm, tracing up and down the wild pattern of curls and coils on the neon inked reptile.

“I’m worried,” Hermione breathed out against Bella’s neck, punctuating the end of her sentence with a kiss on warm skin.

“Me too. But we’ve got this.” The dark witch scratched patterns into Hermione’s back as she pulled her closer.

“We need to plan this out, get some assurances in place. And still find a way to retain usefulness to Voldemort that doesn’t hinge on us murdering people. Something that won’t put us on the line.”

“We can run some arithmantic predictions tomorrow, the Room of Requirement should suffice. Then work out occlumency with Cissa and Andy.”

Hermione perked up as a thought flashed through her mind, hand stilling and fingernails diffing lighting into Bella’s skin. She knew it was hard, that they might not make it, but it could work.

“We should stay at the castle after term is up. Find a way to keep ourselves close to Dumbledore. Something that will let us pass information. I can imagine that Voldemort would be pleased to have someone constantly in the loop.”

“How would we do that though? We’re a little young and inexperienced for a professorship.”

“After our year with Voldemort we can apply for Masteries. I don’t know about you but after getting all this ink, I could go for a Runes Mastery. Maybe Arithmancy as well, or Transfig.”

“That would work,” Bella smiled into Hermione’s temple, “Apply for professorship after we get Masteries, or one of us can look for employment in the Ministry. It’ll put us both somewhere that’s useful for each of them.”

Their talk continued, working plans and coming up with theories on how to accomplish them, until finally the night caught up to them both. As they drifted off, secure in one another’s arms, smiles graced their faces at the first bit of good news for the year.

 

Chapter Text

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.::

Chapter Text

Feb’ 15, 1969

Euryale had become a constant sort of anxiety and dread that blended with awe to linger and fade into what Hermione was almost certain had been a dream. Unfortunately the constant visits back to see her were more than enough to prove it had been a very odd reality. The giant serpent, colloquially known as the Serpent King (or in the instance of Euryale, the Serpent Queen), had become so used to their presence that she was almost eating out of the palm of her hand. If, that was, Hermione’s hands could hold the large portions the serpent enjoyed.

The initial conversation they’d held with Euryale had been terrifying until they’d brought up their desire to release her somewhere far more fitting than a cave beneath a school. Neither witch had been sure that the rooster icon they’d brought with them would be enough but were thrilled when they ended up not needing it. It had taken a little bit of convincing but by virtue of them being the first entrants to the room in nearly twenty years and their eager plans, Euryale had practically fallen in love with them. Hours were passed deep beneath the foundations of Hogwarts as the duo worked out when and why Euryale had been placed into the dark prison.

Basilisks were known for their longevity and maybe could live upwards of a millennium but Salazar had never intended that his familiar spend so much time alone in the Chamber. He had been sure that his heirs would seek to correct the ‘problem’ of Muggleborns that he’d expected Euryale to be trapped for no more than a hundred years at the most. Unfortunately though his death brought a swift end to the ideals of his family name and the remainder of the family had begun their slow and laborious descent into madness. Their inability to live up to Salazar’s expectations ended up leaving Euryale trapped and slowly starving to death as she outgrew her meager food sources.

An inlet at the bottom of the water filled chamber led back towards the natural caverns that had been carved out of the Black Lake by nature and magical species alike. When she’d been smaller she’d had easy access to the food sources prevalent inside the lake and anything wandering into her abode had been fair game. But as the years continued to move onward and her body grew with every passing day, eventually enough time passed that her growth and appetite had both outstripped her ability to feed herself. The Grindylows occupying the Black Lake, already a somewhat sentient species (or at least close enough to form rudimentary clans of hunters) had claimed the caverns as being haunted or cursed. Their aversion to entering removed them from her list of available food and though fish still came through they were far below size and a relatively infrequent occurrence.

Euryale was still able to find a meal from time to time but had otherwise passed the decades in a lonely hibernation with only her thoughts and memories to sustain her. Hidden far beneath the castle she fought to extend her life, however meager and dank of an existence it was.

That particular information and the resounding pity it had brought forth was the driving factor behind why, not two weeks later, Bellatrix and Hermione were currently investigating an appropriate home for the massive serpent. One that would preferably be as far from human civilization as possible. Finding that home was turning out to be the easy part. Devising a way to transport a multi-ton serpent that could kill someone with a single glance? 

That was far more difficult.

Euryale could easily live out the remainder of her life in an unexplored forest, Russia or South America was Hermione’s first thought, but a portkey was simply infeasible given the mass behind the serpent. A transfiguration into a different animal for the duration of the trip would work on almost anything besides a Basilisk, Euryale’s scales and flesh were far too resistant to magic to allow for the change. They brainstormed throughout their days and talked methods and means with Euryale’s own input, searching as much as possible to find an amenable solution.

Euryale gave them as much time as they might need and was kept complacent by promises of food and talk of the world outside her cage. However far on the back-burner their plan went, Hermione was at least partially satisfied that issue of the Chamber had resolved itself.

---

Feb’ 17, 1969

An exceedingly gloomy and overcast morning found Bellatrix and Hermione squeezed in on an uncomfortable bench deep within the bowels of the Ministry. Today was the first, and hopefully last, hearing for custody of Narcissa and Andromeda. Both witches had prepared as much as they could beforehand by reviewing the requirements for custody and hiring the best lawyer that they could, Lincoln Fawley. Though he didn’t specialize in Custody he was well versed enough, and well liked enough, that his addition to their team was a boon that neither witch was willing to part with. 

Weeks of preparation and multiple owls and Floo calls had all lead them towards their meeting that day. Sitting on a dingy bench in a darkened corridor while they waited for a chance to argue the fate of Andromeda and Narcissa.

If the results of the day went south then Andromeda had the best chance of escaping from Grimmauld Place in one piece. The witch only had a few more months before she was a legal adult and no matter what happened she was skilled enough to protect herself, from either spellwork or the verbal and societal runaround she would be likely to receive. And even if that wasn’t enough she had an easy out from the Wizarding sphere through Ted and his family. All things considered it was likely she would be okay.

On the other hand Narcissa was in a much more precarious position.

Walburga had made it abundantly clear during Cygnus’s funeral that she planned on using the girl to her own ends, either towards her advancement in pureblood society or as a monetary gain after selling her as a bride. Beyond simply controlling her future she was also likely to shove enough pureblood propaganda down her throat that she eventually either snapped, or choked.

Eventually they were brought into the oval shaped conference room, all dark colors and depressing attitude. At the far end were the committee members, sitting at a U-shaped table with two empty chairs in front of them. Five older wizards in a mix of muggle suits and robes were staring at them pensively while at the far right an elderly witch gave them a slight smile when she caught sight of them. Without preamble the duo took their seats and fought to calm their hearts.

“Welcome, Madam Black, Madam Grenier,” the wizard on the far left began, ‘Old One,’ Bellatrix thought, labeling them all in her head from left to right. “We, the Committee for Juvenile Custody and Homing, are here today to read the case for custody of Narcissa Black and Andromeda Black, daughters of the late Cygnus Black and Druella Black née Rosier. 

“We, the Committee,” the group of them nodded their heads as one, “Have been petitioned by two groups. Group one consists of Bellatrix Black, sister to Narcissa and Andromeda Black, and her intended, Emelia Grenier. The other, Orion Black and his wife, Walburga Black, Aunt and Uncle to Narcissa and Andromeda Black.”

Lincoln began the presentation after that, handing out copies of the required documents to each of the committee members and running them through the background of why the two young witches were up for grabs. His voice was strong and deep throughout the retelling, his face and emotions carefully schooled to elicit as much emotion and sympathy from the group as he could. By the time he finished his honeyed tale the group was composed of softly sobbing old men and frowning old woman.

“After hearing the case as presented by Mr. Fawley, we have a few followup questions for the two of you,” Old Three piped up, “We’ll receive answers from you here, copied down via our stenographer, Martin Binns, and witnessed by Undersecretary of the Compliance Management Department, Alphias Montague. Is that amenable to all?”

Hermione and Bellatrix nodded somberly, faces unreadable and bodies still. The dual bond between them was attempting to sustain and prevent their emotions from spiraling into worry and anxiety, and luckily doing a good job of at least keeping them from appearing terrified.

“Question One,” Old Two started, “What is the current financial status of each of your Houses, in specific the value as it relates to that which you have hold over, including holdings and investments beyond the scope of Gringotts.”

Hermione took the answer on that with only a little assistance from Lincoln as she delved deep into the monetary worth of both witches. Her words ran smoothly as she outlined business, properties, all manner of non-liquid assets, and when she was finally asked by Old Four why she was speaking for the both of them, Bellatrix stood to speak for the first time.

“I am currently set to marry Madam Grenier. As such, both she and I would prefer that she is aware of all financial matters that would affect us. She is fully aware of my status, as I am of hers.”

That obviously seemed to ruffle a few feathers on the first two committee members, frowns appearing and their brows furring to a point. Luckily, before they could begin speaking, the witch at the far side spoke up.

“If that’s the case and you trust one another to share that information fully, thank you, and let’s move on.”

“Yes, yes. Now, Question Two; What sort of custody arrangement are you seeking? And when would be prospective date of your union? We’d be hard-pressed to send Andromeda or Narcissa to your home, Madam Black, if it will only be you in charge.”

Bellatrix cleared her throat with a soft cough before looking at each committee member and answering, “We seek sole custody. No influence or input from either Orion or Walburga Black. Both Narcissa and Andromeda would reside in one of our residences until such a time as they reach the age of majority.”

“To the second question,” Hermione took over, “We will be marrying after our graduation from Hogwarts, sometime on or before the Eighteenth of July.”

The rest of the questions were more of the same, requests for them to speak upon things that had already been outlined and explained in great detail on the documents Hermione and Bellatrix had filed with the clerk a few weeks prior. Within the span of an hour the meeting was called to a close, both witches thanked profusely for attending. Lincoln gave them a firm shot towards winning, noting that since they’d been the ones to save Narcissa and Andromeda from Pierre, it would go a long way towards convincing the committee of the sincerity of their claim.

Bodies tired, heads aching, and hope thrumming through their bodies, both witches left knowing there was nothing more for them to do but wait.

---

Feb’ 22, 1969

Saturday morning started off with a dreadful wind flowing around the castle and bringing with it a snow fall that nearly swallowed the school whole. Huge drifts nearly as tall as Hagrid had built up overnight to land in piles next to walls and cover towers and weak spots in a permanent frosty glaze. Gray clouds passed by overhead in a single long blanket that obfuscated sun and sky, leaving the grounds covered in as much shadow as it was covered in snow. The majority of students kept to their beds or the common-rooms where it was still warm and steaming hot, avoiding hallways where a stray breeze blew and forsaking Hogsmeade for locations less glacial. A few stray Gryffindors, stubborn as always, braved the freezing weather along with the colder weather inclined Hufflepuffs, building forts and battlements out of solidified chunks of snow, magically guided snowballs rising up the tops to crash back down below.

Hermione started her morning as lazily as she could, climbing out from beneath a pile of blankets that were supplemented by those from Bellatrix’s unused bed, piled high and combined with the warm body next to her, more than enough to keep her warm. The fire along the wall was low enough to almost just be embers, the ground chilling overnight to nip at her toes as she pushed herself sideways and slipped from Bellatrix’s clutches. The dark haired witch could only be seen from her mass of black curls while the remainder of her body gently snored away beneath the blankets. As Hermione gathered her things in silence she thanks the Gods that Bellatrix was a deep sleeper, allowing her to make noise as she searched high and low for her toiletries.

Wrapped up in a fluffy green robe and toiletry items tucked up beneath her arm she opened the door to her room and eyed the floor and walls for any sign of traps that Rudolphus might have had laid out overnight. Both he and his cronies had stepped up their efforts as of late and Hermione was sure that their not-so-cold war would come to a head once she and Bellatrix implemented their revenge scheme. The hallway clear of any traces of magic, or students, she slipped out and walked through the empty common-room towards the Prefect’s bathroom that she’d effectively claimed. All around her was quiet and serene as the castle bathed in the cold weather and no classes. The emptiness let her daydream as she walked, going over plans again and again until it seemed she’d nearly overload from it all. 

One Horcrux down, one massive serpent placated for the time being. There wasn’t much more that either of them could do at the school to improve it for the coming years. There was of course the jinx, or curse, that held sway over the position of D.A.D.A. Professor, but that would need to wait until the last minute. Both women were positive that there were far more qualified Professors than Mayweather and they had decided that he’d need to be ousted before they broke it. Not dead, though the Professor tried hard to accomplish that with every session, just… retired, or on permanent leave.

Slipper clad feet slapped sharply against the hard stone ground to echo off into vacant hallways and open corridors as she passed, nary a single soul in sight.

By the time she finished her musings she’d come upon the secret entrance leading to the bathroom and hurried along to get inside. While she disrobed she set the bath to fill with warm and soapy water that wafted luxurious scents all throughout the room. When she was sure she had it set to her liking she stood across the full length mirror embedded into the wall, dropping her glamours. Each scar and runic mark immediately became apparent on her skin, along with the neon colored tattoo of her Patronus as it coiled and shimmered on her arm. It had taken her some time but eventually she’d managed to get used to the new look of her Patronus, understanding that it changing from the otter it had been into the snake it now was wasn’t exactly a bad thing. 

Callused hands dusted against the scars embedded into her body, starting from the massive non healing burn around her neck to the constantly red and raw slices of her forearm. Both scars would remain forever while the pale reminder of Dolohov’s curse slowly faded with time until it would be nothing more than a memory. Turning left and right she caught sight of the loop around her neck, the indents plainly visible from where the chains had fused into one another until they’d burned straight through her clothing and down into the top layer of her flesh. The skin was stiff, yellow and white in blotches that would never tan, and red around the edges in a jagged pattern. It had hurt, getting the scar. It still hurt whenever she looked at it too long.

She wasn’t sure why she’d volunteered herself for that madness. It hadn’t been fully tested yet as it was just the first of a new generation of Time Turners, goblin forged amid bits and pieces offered up by dozens of Magical species. It had been a rash decision to try blasted thing, but she’d wanted to see what could be done with it. And now, nearly six months later, she regretted endangering her life so readily. But she didn’t regret that it had sent her backwards. Or sideways. She was still somewhat unsure which it was.

A few more minutes of staring back at amber colored eyes led her to take up her wand and snipping down the length of her hair until the sides were shorn clean and the top only four or five centimeters long, not that length mattered with the curls it still sprung back into. The past few months she’d let her hair grow out again until the soft curls and looping tufts of frizz had become a noticeable issue yet again. Charm and enchanted hairbrushes, potions and special oils, nothing at all seemed to be able to tame her unruly hair. 

In the end her only solution was to cut it back down again, something that Bellatrix heartily endorsed. She could have grown it all out again but the look had slowly begun to appeal to her more than it had when she’d initially cut it all off in a fit of anger and resentment. She was now able to watch the curls and loops fall away to the floor while feeling little more than happiness at the look that it uncovered. When that task was complete, all that was left for her to do was clean and wait for Bellatrix to join her.

---

A Tempus charm revealed that only a half hour had passed before the door to the Prefect’s bathroom opened and feet on the tiled floor announced the arrival of Bellatrix. Hermione had long before finished cleaning herself and had set in for a long soak beneath the warm water to prune to her heart's desire. She’d nearly fallen asleep while propped up in a corner of the tub, feet up and resting on a hidden ledge and head leaning back onto cool tile behind her. The time spent alone in the room was a luxury that Hermione didn’t get to often indulge enough. Her body was warm and tingling all over while her head rested heavy against the tile and water lapped against her skin. It was perfect, all things considered.

‘Though it’ll be more so once she get-’

The thought crashed and burned when her mind finally caught up to what her body had been feeling the whole time. The curse running through her scar had become such a constant ache that it had faded into the background radiation of her life, so much so that once she realized she couldn’t feel it any more she nearly broke.

She was warm, pressed down on all sides and heated until her skin was tingling from the almost scalding temperature of the water.

But there was no additional feeling from the scar on her forearm.

In a flash she’d thrown herself forward and away from the lip of the bath, treading deeper water and turning while she cursed herself for how slowly she moved. The hand that reached out to grab her neck just barely missed her when she pushed forward, swiping up at thin air where she’d once rested.

The was standing near the center of the walkway surrounding the pool, clad in a black cloak that swished about his body from the momentum of his leap forward. A silver mask with black engravings guarded his face as he looked down at her, soap still dripping off her shoulders and chest, her body positioned for a fight should he attempt to come any closer to her. The rune mark branded into her inner thigh was flaring up in anticipation, the magic nearly coming undone as it heated and bled out a strong red light. She flexed the mark, a shield very much like a well cast Protego surrounded her from the front, weightless and able to be held indefinitely as she stared him down. 

Silence continued all around them, barely broken by the sound of their panting breath in the ethereal stillness that had descended upon the room. She had no doubt that whoever this was had silenced the room, leaving her unlikely to find any aid even if she called out for it. 

‘One, two, three,’ she counted the seconds until he finally made a move.

THe attacker reached their hand down to the side, a wand dropping from within the sleeve and into their waiting palm. At the same moment they switched their stance, turning their body to the side and reducing the size of the target as they moved to attack.

Hermione threw her barrier forward with as much force as she could muster, body ducking to the side and hurtling up onto the walkway at the same moment. A green flash of light proceeded to crack against the top of her shield, ricocheting off before smashing a portion of a wall into a powdery mess of tile fragments and plaster. 

Hermione tugged all her magic inwards before channeling it out through a rune on her wrist, a bright red blast of magic wrapping around her skin and following the arcing curve of her punch even as it ended before his body. The magic left her hand and flowed forward off the curve of her movement until it slammed into his torso and rode up the curve of his arm. His wand went flying, blasted from his grip and shot to a far corner of the room, while he was bashed backwards and into the wall, his head landing painfully with a loud Crack!

Hermione was half convinced she’d killed him when he finally slid down off the wall and into a heap at the base, tile all around him and smoke flowing languidly off his clothes and wand arm.

She threw herself forward and onto the walkway, sliding on her knees as she reached for her own wand. When she finally grabbed it though, she found two wands. 

A whimper mixed with anger and sadness tore through her throat when she realized her own had snapped in half at some point during the scuffle. Besides the clothes on her back that wand had been the only item to come through time with her, and it was now nothing more than a shattered twig.

“Ugh…” A wounded groan sounded from the collapsed body seated before her, snapping her from her sadness and shooting her forward in a mad frenzy. She turned in a single movement, standing into a crouch and leaping forward at the same time, intending to smash the git his eerily hidden face. She managed to accomplish that, in a roundabout way, as she slipped forward on a puddle of water that threw her whole body weight behind the punch. 

It landed on his chest with a hard thump, nothing but the thin black cloak to break the impact. She felt a bone crunch and crackle beneath her, her first managing to survive unscathed whereas at least a few of his ribs failed to. When the continued to groan and move about in pain she stood and smashed down the heel of her foot into his face, knocking the mask aside and leaving a bloody mess to come spilling out his nose. 

As she stood there and panted over his fallen body the scar on her arm and the door to the room both opened at the same moment. The scar began pounding out a confusing mess of emotions as the darker half of Hermione’s soul wandered into to look at the mess before her. 

’I wonder if I’m the darker half in this world,’ she thought to herself, looking down at the broken body at her feet.

“Em’, what the hell happened?” Bellatrix’s voice was run through with worry and trepidation as the door shut behind her. Before moving forward any further Bellatrix whirled around, wand out to lock down the door with overenthusiastic magic.

“Goyle ambushed me. Or attempted to at least,” her body shivered and shook as she began speaking, half crouched and half standing over the student’s broken body. Before she knew what was happening Hermione had collapsed to her knees, leaning backwards as all breath escaped her. Bellatrix dropped forward immediately to catch her before she hit the ground while strong arms encircled her waist. Hermione could feel herself breathing but it was if all the oxygen had left the room, her heart was beating laps in her chest and lightheadedness flooded her senses.

---

Goyle, the ignorant lackey that he was, hadn’t had much in the way of information once he was rudely awoken from his nap by a sharp kick to the abdomen. Bellatrix threw all her weight behind getting answers out of his quivering form, but in the end they merely learned how well screams could echo in a confined space. 

Hermione couldn’t find it within herself to feel any pity for the boy.

Eventually they had tired of the roundabout interrogation; question, no answer, pain, repeat, and so had decided to wipe his mind and head back to their quarters. As they left the room Hermione couldn’t help but wonder how many years the Ministry would put them away for if they knew what had just transpired. It was a sobering thought, ending up on that rock of countless maddened prisoners was a fate she desperately wanted to avoid, but thinking on it gave Hermione an outlet that allowed her to avoid remembering her nearly deadly morning.

When they finally returned to the room she immediately dove between the covers on the bed and the warm embrace of Bellatrix. She hadn’t realized it when they’d been walking back but tracks of tears ran down her face until salt and redness were wiped away with a flick of Bellatrix’s wand. She burrowed in beside Bellatrix and fought to keep herself level even as she ran through the gamut of being completely worn down, her body dry and aching while her muscles were limp with exhaustion.

She hated it. 

Agath was doing her level best to cheer Hermione up after having noticed her mood state when they’d first come in, and was currently sliding up and down Hermione’s exposed arms and neck, her little tongue flicking out against pallid skin. She hissed quiet reassurances that she was safe with her ‘mate’ (Agath’s view of human courting seemed to be entirely influenced by her own mating habits, whatever those specifically were). The snake, no longer so little since she’d put on multiple centimeters of length and width (even though Hermione still didn’t know what she ate), would alternatively headbutt her tattooed arm or wrap herself around Hermione’s bicep in a show of solidarity towards her sadness. 

It did little towards improving her mood, but she was thankful nonetheless. 

Eventually the body wrapped around her began to stir, first warm hands rubbing soothing circles into the small of Hermione’s back, before she was gently pushed up and away as Bellatrix twisted and slid herself off the bed.

“Come on,” she said, grabbing up a pile of clothes, “Let’s go somewhere. I know what can cheer your mood.”

Hermione blinked up at the expectantly waiting form of Bellatrix, confused at her request and momentarily debating with herself on whether she should refuse and claim a need to rest. Her half plan was undone by the sly smile on Bellatrix’s face as it warmed her into agreeing. 

---

“Now, I have to warn you that the spell is untested,” Bellatrix began as they made their way towards the Room of Requirement, “But my theory is sound and it should all just work out fine.”

“Should, or will?” Hermione asked, shoving playfully at Bellatrix’s shoulder. “It’s an important distinction there.”

“Well considering it’s a spell that I modified, it’ll work the first time, without a doubt. For you? Eh, I’d say your odds are seventy-thirty.”

“Seventy percent that it works for me? Wow, way to lowball,” Hermione laughed at Bellatrix’s teasing.

“Oh no, I meant thirty for success, it’s just a tad bit out of your range.”

“Oh fuck you,” Hermione shoved against her shoulder a little harder at that crack, Bellatrix only laughing in response.

“Need to ask a little nicer than that, Love. I’m an upstanding young witch you know; I can’t be dropping trou for just any ol’ witch.”

The light banter continued as the ascended towards the seventh floor until Hermione eventually dropped herself from the retorts, retreating somewhere inside herself as she climbed the seemingly endless steps. Her mind was a rolling back in on itself as she overanalyzed their words and clamped down on her emotions. She did want to ‘drop trou’ as Bellatrix had called it. Maybe not in as vulgar or as simple a term, but she did. However, each time they’d gotten any bit more than comfortably intimate a brick wall had formed in her mind, and painted on that wall was Bellatrix Lestrange’s face. It had effectively been years since her encounter, and she still couldn’t seem to escape the specter of that afternoon.

The closest the duo had gotten in their efforts had been Hermione on top, a safe position she’d found where she couldn’t be reminded of being held down while furious onyx eyes glared down at her with hate and unbridled malice. But even then she’d get a cold chill, angry words dancing around her skull from the voice of someone who’d screamed in pain for far too long.

That had been the end of that.

And now, an infuriating number of weeks later, they were still lingering on soft touches, warm fingers, lips that tasted of desire and longing, and sharp bites that reaffirmed them as being alive and solid. But nothing further.

Hermione’s melancholy was shoved rudely aside when they reached the corridor outside the Room of Requirement, Bellatrix squeezing gently on her hand before asking her to remain at the periphery of the corridor. The dark haired witch strode forward with a glut of confidence and her chin held high, long black curls bouncing along behind her. She paced the length of the corridor three times before the door manifested itself, and she hurriedly waved Hermione over.

“Here,” she conjured up a long length of black fabric, “I’ll need to blindfold you for this. I’ll only keep it on ‘til we’re inside and ready, okay?”

Hermione trusted in the witch completely and nodded her assent. Bellatrix looped the material around her eyes and head, warm fingers and hands smoothly running down the side of her neck to scratch with sharpened fingernails once it was secured. Hermione shivered and smiled at the sensation while her melancholy well and truly fled, forgotten and discarded amid the thrill of the unknown that Bellatrix was offering her.

When the witch was satisfied that Hermione couldn’t see through the blindfold she grabbed ahold of Hermione’s hand and led her forward and through the door, the air inside prickling at her skin with a cool breeze and the heat of the sun. It was a distinct surprise, that much was for sure, and Hermione couldn’t help but wonder exactly what Bellatrix had done to get the space to act in such a way. Even when they’d used the room for their branding ritual it had only been able to cough up a facsimile of a nighttime forest and it hadn’t even felt a tenth so much alive. 

Bellatrix led her over slightly uneven ground and over tuffets of grass until they’d entered a good many paces. Hermione stood there, blindfolded and in wonder of what was happening, wrapped up in the scent of the outdoors and bubbling over with newly awakened enthusiasm. Bellatrix hardly gave off a sound as she moved around Hermione, “I was planning on using this for the night before we graduated, but I think it’ll work well after this morning.”

Bellatrix’s voice was warm and soothing against her ears, strong arms wrapping around her midsection and pulling her snug against the dark witch’s front. She placed a gentle kiss upon the curve of Hermione’s shoulder blade before reaching up with one hand to undo the knot holding the blindfold on, fingers nervously bouncing along skin as she moved.

Hermione squinted her eyes at the sudden brightness once the blindfold fell away, taking a second to readjust before opening them and gasping in delight at the sight spread out before her. A smug smile pressed up against the back of her neck, Bellatrix obviously approving of her immediate reaction to the room.

It was beautiful.

The Room of Requirement had outdone itself this time and Hermione had an inkling that the witch behind her had more to do with the improvement than the magic inherent to the room itself. Instead of a study hall or a dark forest in the middle of the night, the room around her had enlarged itself to nearly the same size as the Room of Lost Things, spanning out in every direction until an ethereal gray fog shrouded off the exact edges to the room. The ground was no longer a barren floor but had acquired hillocks and gently sloping plains carpeted in a thin layer of grass and flowers. All around her were patches of tiger lilies, ochre and orange in a brilliant display, tangled up amidst purple carpets of geraniums. All around her was a medley of plant growth that sparkled in all the colors of the rainbow, a mixture of muggle and magical variants on beautiful flowers and plant life.

A grin etched itself into her face as her eyes roved all over land and skies, all blue and clear without a single cloud in sight. Far, far above her was a facsimile of the sun, not as hot as it would normally be, nor as painful to look near, but it warmed her skin and brightened the ground regardless.

“So,” Bellatrix hopped from foot to foot, “You like it?” She punctuated her question with a kiss to Hermione’s cheek, positively vibrating with energy and happiness.

“I love it. How in the Gods names did you manage all this…?” Her voice trailed off at the end as she turned around to situate herself in Bellatrix’s grasp, her own arms wrapping around the witch.

“By the careful management of several enlargement charms, help from the Room itself, and a few raids into the Herbology Department. The Room couldn’t furnish this all on its own, but it seems to store the… Memory, I guess, of this location. All I needed to do was give it some instructions, seed the ground, and help it along. The Room took care of the rest.”

“Well,” Hermione pressed forward into soft lips and cheek, “I think you did a wonderful job, I love it,” she pressed herself tighter into the warm body of Bellatrix, “I love you.”

Bellatrix surged forward to trap Hermione’s bottom lip, smirking halfway at the expression on her fiancée's face, “I love you too. But!”, she released the hold she had on Hermione to step back and reach down into her pocket, “This isn’t the only reason I made the room.”

Two vials shrouded in black cloth were now clutched tightly in her grip, glass sides clinking together quietly as she waved them in Hermione’s face.

“You know how a few months ago you asked why no one has ever just, left and taken the Animagus potion elsewhere?”

Hermione nodded, recalling the question and trying to fit it with their current placement.

“Well, I couldn’t answer that question. But, then I had a thought. Maybe we don’t need to wait for a storm to come to us, maybe we bring one to us instead.”

“What do you mean?” Hermione questioned, not knowing where the conversation was headed but intrigued nonetheless.

“Well, nothing in the literature says we can’t bring a storm down to us, and believe me I searched,” she finished speaking and pulled out her wand to point it into the air above them, twirling and forming a pattern that Hermione couldn’t follow. Within a few short movements the energy surrounding them seemed to charge and build up as it pulsed in time with the incantation that the witch was muttering beneath her breath.

Hermione finally understood what the witch was doing and forced herself closer to Bellatrix as fat drops of water began falling from the false sky and down onto their heads. With a final flourish Bellatrix finished her spell, turning to the side and summoning them a tent to keep the water off their heads. All around them the rain intensified as large black clouds took over the blue sky, crowding out the light and settling a dim twilight across the Room.

A peal of thunder broke out through the space, rolling through their chests and vibrating the very ground below them.

“Won’t someone hear all this?” Hermione asked, Bellatrix still smirking beside her.

“No,” another boom of thunder rang out, followed closely by lightning, “I’ve got enough silencing wards that no one can hear it.”

“And the water?”

“I spelled the ground,” Bellatrix was practically shouting amidst the downpour, “It’ll all vanish once it’s low enough in the topsoil. It can rain all it wants, nothing will be left.”

Hermione stood silent next to Bellatrix after she finished explaining the intricacies of the room, nodding along as the witch explained this or that, pointing out little bits and pieces she’d needed to throw together to get it all working properly. It was astonishing, and filled Hermione with soothing heat, to hear how much Bellatrix had learned and practiced, all to bring this here, for her. Her attention was eventually brought away however when the phials Bellatrix had brought began pumping out a steady pulse of magic and pressure. With a steady hand she reached over to pluck them up, Bellatrix gently grabbing her wrist before she could do so.

“Strip!” Bellatrix howled above the roar of the storm, eyes gleefully bright and a wide smile on her face. Hermione, infected by Bellatrix’s enthusiasm by this point, was more than willing to comply, dropping her clothing into a pile beside Bellatrix’s and shivering in the cool and rainy breeze.

With that complete she’d turned back towards a similarly dressed down Bellatrix, both witch’s releasing their glamours to reveal all their various runes and scars. Her eyes raked heavy across Bellatrix’s pale form, cream colored skin highlighted by the flashes of lightning all around them. Her own body, naturally tan and far darker than Bellatrix’s, found itself pressed flush to the other witch, warm skin to skin, lips tracing patterns over collarbones and neck, tongues drawing up and pressing down in furtive darts. Bellatrix squeezed her hand one final time before pulling the phials out and passing Hermione her own.

They both whispered the chant one final time as their bodies began to thrum and warm with pent-up magic. The glass heated in their hands, vibrating slightly as the words tumbled past their lips, and when they were done speaking the containers flashed a brilliant blue that dazzled their eyes and brought wonder on their faces. That done, they interlinked arms at the elbow, pulling themselves closer to one another and downing the phials in one go.

Once both glass containers were empty Bellatrix placed hers on the ground and snatched up her wand, twisting and flicking it until the pressure outside their tent began to relent, the storm vanishing before their eyes.

“Well, what are the chances of us ending up as some sort of weird animal hybrid for the rest of our lives?” Hermione asked a Bella as the seconds ticked onward.

“Should be lo-”

Bellatrix’s reply was cut off as her body began visibly shimmering and rippling right before Hermione’s eyes. The palate of her skin pulled and muted as if she was being swirled and denatured, her whole body seeming to snap back as she suddenly darkened and shrank in one rapid movement. All at once there was no Bellatrix, but instead a rather large Raven nearly the same size as Harmonia and colored nearly identically with the exception of a large tuft of white feathers that stuck out on her chest. 

Hermione lowered ‘til her knees were bent, smiling down at the Bellatrix-raven, who seemed to be looking about herself in confusion, before her own worldview seemed to tilt and spin. All at once there was a bright and furious movement all around her as the world shifted and pulled back, seeming to blink from existence until she found herself lying still on the ground, her body splayed out and nearly immobile.

At least she thought it was still her body. She could feel it, muted but still there, but it was… odd. She couldn’t hear the rain properly, now listening as it settled into a drizzle, almost sounding like she was in a car and only barely hearing it pitter patter against the roof or sides. A heavy surge of energy lanced through her as the storm finally dispelled itself, clouds floating off and sunlight breaking onto the ground. She tried to walk forward, suddenly compelled by a small part of her brain that ‘sunlight is good’, and tried to push her paws, or claws, or whatever it was that she had, forward so she could get out from underneath the tent. 

Curiously, instead of walking forward or crawling she seemed to… Push. It startled her so badly that a long black tongue pushed forward from the odd green lump filling the middle portion of her vision.

‘What.’

---

Bellatrix was hopping with excitement. She was beyond excitement, actually. Ecstatic and impatient and happy in some weirdly uneven blend, pushing her movements as she hopped and happily cawed underneath the small tent. She stared ahead from her new position on the ground, her wings flapping as she got used to their feel and newly distributed balance, watching Hermione with expectant eyes and a happy warble singing up her throat.

‘It worked!’ she thought to herself, mentally high-fiving at coming up with her ingenious plan. Movement caught her eye, flashing of light and color as Hermione shot down towards the ground through her change.

Her small black eyes widened rather comically as the body and form she’d come to know as Hermione’s was replaced with a rather overly large snake. The few memories that Hermione had of Vodlemort’s future pet-horcrux, Nagini, floated into the forefront of her mind as she stared ahead. Hermione was just about the size of that memory-snake, if just a little bit smaller. Scales in a dark ochre and yellow coloration faded into a muted green that covered the whole of her back, patches and patterns of darker blacks and browns apparent over her spine in the rough shape and alignment of their Runic brands. The snake, Hermione, seemed entirely nonplussed about her situation, head rolling side to side and tongue darting about at a rapid frequency.

With a mental snap Bellatrix found herself standing above Hermione in her normal form, a hand tentatively reaching out to pass down cool and dry scales.

::Can you understand me when I speak like this?:: she asked, running her palm up underneath the smooth and cream colored scales that lined Hermione’s underside.

::Of course I can,:: Hermione hissed back, ::Though I’m not exactly happy about WHY.:: Her voice was raspy, muted and elongated into the more natural hiss sound that Agath spoke to them with, but it was still Hermione, of that Bellatrix was sure. She’d be able to recognize that sound anywhere no matter how different it seemed.

::Well, you’re certainly no Gryffindor Lion, but it fits you well,:: Bellatrix said, a lopsided grin on her face.

::It’s… alright I suppose. Different, but I can deal with that. I’m also strong , I can feel it in my muscles, look,:: she moved forward towards Bellatrix at a startling pace, her long and sinewy body wrapping up Bellatrix’s leg and side until she hung down over a shoulder, body squeezing in a show of muscular power.

Without any warning Hermione suddenly shifted back to her normal form, pushing down Bellatrix until she was laying sprawled on top of her.

“Okay,” Bella huffed out, “I guess you figured out the switch, yeah?”

Hermione pouted at her, looking as meek and innocent as she could. 

---

“Thank you,” Hermione whispered in Bella’s ear as the witch pulled her further on top of her warm body. She pressed soft kisses against Bella’s jaw and lips, warm breath stolen away in the soft breeze that caressed their bodies.

“You’re welcome,” Bellatrix nipped her jaw, “I’m happy you liked it.”

Words ceased to be adequate as Bellatrix licked a long line from the base of the rune on Hermione’s throat and up to the corner of her lip, stopping only once to gently bite against the plump skin and earning a warm and heady sound of approval from Hermione’s throat.

Hands shifted lower, flat palms tracing the curve of Hermione’s shoulder and down to her hip, fingernails digging in and drawing warm scratches that raised and burned in the cool air.

Hermione pushed herself down the length of Bellatrix’s body and let her lips trail across the pale skin, kissing and licking until she found the warm and hardened bud of Bellatrix’s left breast. Soft lips wrapped around, tongue darting out and swiping against the skin while her right hand raised up to mimic the motions on the free portion of Bellatrix’s chest.

Bellatrix squirmed and writhed beneath her, alternatively pushing her chest or hips upwards in time with the twist of Hermione’s tongue and breath panting louder and louder from her throat as the seconds wore on. When sharp teeth bit down she couldn’t keep a moan from flowing out of her mouth, heavy and warm with desire and pleasure. Hermione released her hold with a soft ‘pop’, lowering herself further down the muscled expanse of Bellatrix’s stomach. 

When she was low enough she wrapped her arms underneath and around Bellatrix’s thighs, fingernails pressing into the soft skin of her abdomen as she pulled Bella’s core closer to her lips. When she could smell the sweetness of her partners arousal she nuzzled into the warm thigh with her cheek before drawing back and biting down harshly into the skin, earning her another moan of approval and hands digging into the short hair of her scalp. She released the hold she had, blowing air across the reddened flesh, eventually bringing her head forward, tongue laying flat across Bellatrix’s exposed center and finally tasting the sweetness for herself.

Lips and tongue continued their exploration, eager and wanting to repay kindness for kindness. Over time her ministrations paid off, the constant touch and friction setting off Bellatrix as the witch's muscles began to clench and roll, pale skin flushing to a heated red as her back arched off the ground and Hermione rode her out.

Their bodies cooled in the intervening stillness, breath slowing and bodies shifting again until they held one another close.

---

By the time the duo found themselves back in Hermione’s room the sun had set far beneath the horizon and dinner had come and passed. Both witches were too strung up on energy but unwilling to hide away in the Room of Requirement anymore. They made sure to be seen by others of their House and let Narcissa and Andromeda know they were back, and fine, and would likely be sleeping if needed.

Agath hissed loudly at their arrival before burying herself deep beneath the pile of embers sitting in the fireplace, only to be roused back out when Hermione knelt down in front of her.

::Agath,:: Hermione spoke to the basking serpent, ::Look at what I can do!::

In a flash and whirl of color there now lay a massive python where Hermione had once knelt, head bobbing up and down as she tried to remain still for the smaller snakes inspection. Bellatrix watched on with amusement tugging at her lips, Agath poking her head out beneath the embers to inspect Hermione’s new form. 

Bellatrix was more than pleased that the witch hadn’t ended up having a panic attack when she discovered her Animagus form. She’d very much wanted to avoid another heart wrenching display like the one she’d been a part of when the witch discovered her Patronus to have changed. When Agath finished her inspection and gave her seal of approval, Hermione changed back and disrobed beside Bellatrix, both ready for time in a proper bed instead of the coarse ground of the Room of Requirement.

A rather nasty popping sound rudely interrupted their plans though, as the elderly form of Malbon apparated into their room.

Malbon, looking both hectic and disgusted in an eerie blend, searched around the quarters with his overly large eyes until he focused on Hermione. In his hands lay a parcel wrapped up in brown paper and nearly the size of the elf’s head.

“Mistress, this arrived for you,” the elf barked out, holding out the item while his thin arms shook from the effort. Hermione wrapped the top bedspread around her body before leaning forward and taking the item from him, dropping it into her lap and turning back to the elf.

“Thank you Malbon, you’re dismissed.”

Though it pained her to treat the elf so dismissively, Malbon had made it quite clear that he expected nothing less. So far he had refused out of spite (or sheer stubbornness) to call her Emelia, opting instead for Mistress, even when she directly asked him not to. His attitude towards his own servitude remained much the same, even after Hermione had gifted him a shirt and let him know he was free. His first choice in this nearly acquired freedom had been to finagle himself back into her service, though now for only six days a week instead of seven.

It was a small mercy, but one that Hermione would take.

With a nod in her direction the elf disapparated, leaving Bellatrix and Hermione to wonder at the package. Bellatrix grabbed up her wand from the end table before waving it in a rather complex pattern over the surface of it as she checked for traps or dangerous surprises. When the green string of runes and glyphs came off the surface of the package she dropped her wand again and nodded at Hermione, certain it was safe.

“Well then, open it I suppose. Little late for Christmas presents though,” Bellatrix said as she sidled up behind Hermione and wrapped strong arms around her waist.

Hermione took in a deep breath before running a nail along the edge of the package, neatly splitting the paper and revealing the contents within.

It was a red box, wooden and grainy in a pattern that was mesmerizing to look at, and dense enough to be solid. Two hinges laced the back side of the box and a single lock adorned the front, the two halves of the wood converging and joining between its grasp. The lock stuck out slightly from the face of the wood and seemed to be fashioned from bronze. It was flat and broad, patterned into a leaf, while in the center stood a raised spine that looked sharp and thin.

“That’s a blood lock, keyed to you most likely,” Bellatrix offered up from behind her, her arms squeezing down in reassurance when she mentioned that.

“Who’d send me a box though? And why key it to me? Why lock it at all…” Hermione said, puzzled and confused. She held nothing more than a passing familiarity with most of the student body, Slytherin and other Houses alike, and none were more than acquaintances. She had no true friends with the exception of the Black Trio, and possibly the younger Zabini girl who’d taken a liking to her. Rabastan might have sent her something but with his newly standoffish nature and the specter of his father’s death still hanging between them, she thought that unlikely.

The rest of everyone in the school were enemies, or at least outspoken critics of her.

Hermione sighed loudly as she placed the pad of her thumb against the leaf, the small spine cutting easily into her skin and drawing blood nearly instantly. The lid popped itself open with a click and rose up a few centimeters while Hermione placed her thumb in her mouth and sucked at the new wound.

“Well? Open it up.” Bella’s voice was impatient as she spoke, the dark witch leaning over Hermione’s shoulder to look at the object in her lap.

“Gimme a sec,” Hermione replied in a voice obscured by the digit in her mouth. When it had stopped any immediate hurt she opened the lid fully, displaying the curious item within.

It was a Time Turner, that much was obvious. But not any like she’d ever seen before. 

Beautiful silver metal capped off the ends of the hourglass while twin metal poles connected the pieces together along the side of the glass. Wrapped around each end were an uncountable number of silver wires, no thicker than thread and shining back the light in a beautiful rainbow pattern. The sand held within was the most startling aspect of the design, a stark and scalding red instead of the normal color she remembered. A link consisting of silver blocks made a chain that hooked the item from end to end, tiny runes that Hermione couldn’t make out dotting each piece of the chain. 

The sight of the object brought Hermione’s heart to a stuttering crawl, leaping up into her throat and constricting her breath, even as her stomach folded and curled in on itself.

The body pressing against her back began to noticeably shiver as Bellatrix began thinking along the same train of thought as Hermione.

“He didn’t remember you at the Ministry. How’d he remember to send you this?”

Hermioen couldn’t think of an answer. The thought latched onto her mind, memories called forth and reviewed for any irregularities or hidden attempts at communication.

She came up blank. “Maybe he just didn’t want to talk about it? Or… I don’t know.”

“... Are you going to use it?”

Bella’s voice was tiny and thin, subdued and cold. It was so very unlike the witch that Hermione twisted around where she sat, arms wrapping up around the witch and forehead pressing against forehead. She let her fingernails ghost against the warm skin of Bellatrix’s neck, trying to reassure the witch and bring her back from her assumptions.

“No, no, I’m not going to,” she pulled the witch closer to her body and wrapped her up completely in a possessive squeeze. “I wanted to when I first arrived but… No, I’m here with you now, I’m staying.” Hermione’s words were soft against the skin of Bellatrix’s neck, warm and soothing. She continued saying sweet words and peppered the witch before her with kisses, the box itself now forgotten as she sought to convince Bellatrix. She was unable, however, to forget  what the item represented.

A return.

A way home.

‘It would have been one,’ Hermione thought, ‘If I hadn’t already found it.’

She shifted her position again, pulling herself onto Bellatrix’s lap, and as she did so the box shifted and slid on the blankets to fall off to the side, the heavy metal device clacking loudly onto the ground. Hermione reached off the side of the bed, fully intent on righting the box and locking it away forever, when her hand touched a link in the chain.

The world differed after that.

One second Hermione was naked with Bellatrix, in her own bed, her rune marks visible and Agath sleeping peacefully in the hearth.

One second Bellatrix was naked, with Hermione sitting on the bed, her rune marks visible and Agath sleeping peacefully in the hearth.

The next ,she was spinning in place as the world around her began bleeding into a smear.

The next, Bellatrix was watching as Hermione seemed to freeze, half bent off the bed, fading out before she became solid and emitted a loud pop.

And then, she was alone.

And then, she was alone.

???’ ??, ????




Chapter Text

 

U1 - Feb’ 22, 1999 - 08:32pm

‘Bollocks.’

The individual bits and pieces that made up Hermione-Emelia Granger-Grenier were there.

And then they weren’t.

She was floating, falling, pressed down under too much weight and then left to crash and scatter back into herself.

The disorientation of forced travel was magnitudes greater than her first go round even though in the end it harmed her far less. There was no burn this time as the chain in her grasp remained cool and slick to the touch. The magic didn’t assault or overpower her body, instead it was channeled through the Turner itself and then into Hermione’s body at a far safer level. She landed back into the universe with a firm snap as her body vibrated and thrummed with residual magic seeking an exit. A sharp flash of blue light heralded her return to the physics of the world right before she smashed down against a harsh stone floor upon her knees. The skin split and scraped as she skidded along a few centimeters with extra momentum, her body only coming to rest a second or two after everything was over.

The chain, silver and square links held together by small openings and magic, popped and separated itself from the housing of the actual Turner. Hermione could only stare at it with a confused and disoriented expression, so very unsure of what was happening, as the Turner began to vibrate with energy and shimmer in place. Like lightning a spell shot past Hermione’s shoulder, arcing up and over the tan skin to come crashing back down into the metal and glass contraption to leave it wrapped up in a bubble of pearlescent air. The inside of the bubble began to gray while the silver metal darkened and the bright red of the sand turned a mute, dull brown.

Hermione remained sitting on her knees with both body and mind in a stupor, words and feelings rattling around at a blistering pace throughout her skull. Her face remained wrapped in confusion. At least, until the moment passed.

Hermione twisted herself about to face behind, her body scooting backwards with speed as she reached for a wand that no longer existed. She scrambled backwards and brought the green flame of Fiendfyre to life around her wrist and hand, ready for defense or offense as necessary.

“Hello Hermione!”

The voice was soft and friendly, speaking with an uneven cadence as though the speaker was floating. After months of being away it took Hermione a painfully long moment of time to put two and two together. In the end she looked like a fish, mouth gaping open and closed, her brows furrowed and shocked, green flame wrapped around her arms sputtering and dying the longer she stared.

“Luna?!”

---

Luna was first to move once it became clear that Hermione was too stunned to do anything other than sit there and gape. She threw her a hooded robe and a pair of sweats with a shirt, all black and soft fabric, waiting only until Hermione had the shirt on to rush forward into a crushing hug. Hermione’s eyes burned, ‘I am not crying, I am not,’ until she eventually stepped backwards to take in the sight of her lost friend. 

Platinum blond hair that was cut shorter than before and was now not long enough to brush against her shoulders. A pair of twin infinity symbol earrings dangling down from her earlobes, while she wore a blue shirt with a moving Moon emblazoned on the front along with a pair of  Muggle jeans all colored in lilac. It was Luna, to a T.

And Hermione couldn’t have been happier.

Well. She could have. But that issue was yet to be resolved.

“How did you know I’d be down here Luna?” Hermione’s question came with a confused smile, happy at the outcome but unsure of why it had happened in the first place. She glanced about herself to confirm where she actually was. “This is, or was, my room. Why’d you come down here?”

“Well! The answer to that is a bit odd actually.”

“Luna, no offense, everything about you is odd and I love it anyways. And I just traveled thirty years through time. I can promise I won’t be phased.”

The blonde smiled up at her with so much sincerity that Hermione felt a pang of hurt from a loss she hadn’t even realized, before Luna launched into her explanation of the night’s events.

“I’m a Seer.”

Hermione almost blanched at that. Despite the Prophecy that had surrounded Harry and spelled doom for Voldemort, she’d never been one to take much stock in the practice of Divination. Her preference had always remained for the hard calculus of Arithmancy, even well into her future-past. On reflection though it wasn’t the oddest explanation it could have been. Luna had always had a very odd knowledge and wisdom that her age shouldn’t have had.

“I had a very strange dream last night and Firenze says I should always heed them, so here I am. It started out that I heard a Puckerwort down the hall, crying out and alone, so I grabbed some spare cloth and headed down to this room. I found it bleeding on the ground, and normal spells won’t heal a Puckerwort. Their hide is far too resistant to Magic, not that we’ve really explored it, and even though my Fathe-”

“Luna, I’m sorry, but the dream?” Hermione interceded, smiling at her friend’s penchant for tangents.

“Oh yes, of course,” she replied in a dreamy voice, “So I wasn’t able to staunch the bleeding on its own but I could put it in stasis.”

That explained why Luna was here, but not why she’d shot the spell at the Turner. Hermione let her mind float along on Luna’s dream logic, attempting to view it from each angle.

“Why does it need to be in stasis though? Couldn’t you have just carried it somewhere for help?”

“Well yes, but it would have disappeared. When Puckerworts are hurt enough they fade back out into the air, allowing them to heal on their own at a much slower rate.”

The chain snapping. The gathering energy. The likely who that had sent it to her in the first place. It struck her slowly as she wound her way through Luna’s dream logic, but once it did she looked at the now chainless Turner in the pearl swatch of air.

“So it would have returned. That’s brilliant Luna.”

“Yes, well, it’ll only be able to hold for a bit. Soon enough it will fade and whatever that is,” she pointed to the bubble, “It’ll go right back to doing whatever it is it wants.”

“Then how long do I have?”

“Two hours,” Luna flicked her wand until four glowing digits emerged, “Or, well you have one hour and fifty-two minutes now.”

“Long enough.” Hermione’s voice was near a growl now that she knew she had a way back, a way home.

“Luna I’m going to need to know if anything I’ve done in the past has affected this future.”

“Hmm… If you changed my past would I even notice? Or would I adapt to the time-stream?”

“I don’t know. I’ve been going through my Seventh year, and it seems to be quite lacking in explanations of Temporal paradoxes. Would you mind if I used Legilimency?”

“No, not at all. That’d be fine,” Luna smiled up at her with a polite smile and open expression.

“Thank you!”

Hermione dug down, not needing a wand for any surface level reading, and peered into Luna’s mind. It only took her a few minutes but by the time she was finished she had a good reading on the past. Nothing seemed to have differed or changed from what she’d remembered, all of Luna’s memories had seemed appropriate for what Hermione had lived through before her jump back. It just didn’t make sense that with all she’d done that Bellatrix would end up the same broken woman all over again.

“I don’t understand, something should have changed. I’ve done more than enough to completely mess up the future.”

“Maybe it has, and you returning spun it off? Or maybe you’re not back from when but where.”

Hermione couldn’t say she hadn’t thought of that happening before. Especially when her initial efforts at returning home seemed to yield no forward movement. The Unspeakables had confirmed they’d made attempts to alert their future selves. And the Ministry housed at least one time capsule that should have opened here to let people know where she’d gone.

“Alright then, until I can confirm it I’ll operate on that assumption.” She stood and stretched before walking towards the door, “Is McGonagall here?”

“Yes,” Luna moved to follow here, “She’s recently taken up the Headmaster’s old office.”

Hermione nodded once before picking up the rounded pearl of air that held the suspended Turner, her skin warming as she touched it.

“Let’s go then.”

---

Hermione avoided the rather stunned stares of the few Prefects who were out and about on their rounds as she marched her way towards the Headmaster’s office, long black robe trailing along behind her. A few seemed like they recognized her, most obviously did not, but all seemed more afraid of seeing this short haired witch in black stomping through the hall with obvious purpose and intention. For her part Hermione couldn’t have been more pleased as it left her free to formulate a plan as Luna followed dutifully at her side.

When they eventually reached the stone Gargoyle guarding the upwards passage she huffed and realized that any passwords she knew were over thirty years out of date. And guessing it wasn’t a likely option, sweets and snacks had been Dumbledore’s penchant and was likely to not be repeated by Minerva. She stood there before the stone edifice while her fist clenched and unclenched, before throwing Luna a questioning look. Her only response was a shrug of her shoulders and apologetic smile.

“Move.” 

The Gargoyle leered down at her, “No. I needs a password, if ya’ ain’t got’s it, i ain’t openin’.”

Her right hand uncurled, fingers spread wide in front of herself as a green snake made of fire and consumption wrapped itself around her wrist, smoke pouring lazily from its open maw.

“Oh really?”

---

Minerva was enjoying a positively relaxing evening.

The weekend had run smoothly, Monday as well, and now she was in her warm office with a bottle of Elvish wine that Albus had had the forethought to hide behind a false bottomed drawer who knew how many years ago. Across the desk in front of her lay a circular platform made of wood upon which danced an ethereal glass otter, her eternal reminder to a life now gone.

She’d done her best when Hermione had spun off into nothingness, shooting forward to wrench away the Turner at the last second and only missing by millimeters. Failure. When the screaming had finally stopped, and oh how she was haunted by that tortured scream, she was alone. Empty. The smell of ozone and lightning lingering in stilled air.

No matter how much she cleaned or how many new candles and potpourri she set up, that smell still lingered. Even six months later and a move across the castle, she could catch a whiff of that unstable magic and be transported back to that night. Time hadn’t lessened the pain, it only served to confirm that her pupil, daughter practically, would never return.

From across the room a majestic Phoenix of gold and red glided its way down and onto her shoulder, pecking softly at her suddenly dejected mood. She’d found Seraph as an egg, tucked far away into a trunk Albus had kept locked beneath his bed, startling and nearly breaking down when the oddly colored egg began to creak and crack under the warmth from her hands. He’d been a constant companion ever since and was frequently remarked upon by the staff and students as Albus’s watcher, looking over them in perpetuity from his place on the other side.

THUD

Something heavy down below sent a shock all up the stairs and into the room, pulling her from her reminiscing.

THUD

Again the sound, shaking through the stone at her feet.

With a rush of adrenaline Minerva stood up from her seat to wobble slightly until her palms were flat against the desk. ‘Elvish bloody wine,’ her eyes narrowed towards the door as a single final, THUD!, ripped up and through the room.

She sobered up almost immediately. Her wand dropped from its holster to sit warmly between her fingers as she pointed it towards the door, ready for anything and everything to force its way in. Her stance squared as she psyched herself up to fight what she assumed to be renegade Death Eaters, Harry had been busy but many were still unaccounted for. A peculiar feeling washed through her the longer she stood pointed towards the entrance. None of her wards had tripped. No one had entered from outside the castle.

The little glass otter was running circles back and forth upon its platform with a furious speed while Seraph landed onto the desk. The Phoenix puffed itself out, spreading her wings wide across the space in a puffed up intimidation tactic.

Two pairs of steps rang out against the stairwell beyond the door, the clatter more than enough for Minerva to settle into a proper dueling mindset. Her wand shook the longer she waited and belatedly she realized she hadn’t even activated the Token the Ministry had given her for just such emergencies.

‘Dammit.’

The doors before her burst open with a clang and a spell shot from the tip of her wand before the figures could even take a step forward into the room. Smoke barreled up the hallway from behind them, obscuring the attackers and leaving Minerva blind. Her spell was knocked aside easily, pinging off a blue-white shield that covered a roughly human form, ripples of strong magic digging into the stonework at their feet and sending another plume of smoke and dust into the air.

“Stop!” A voice yelled out through the haze, familiar and yet not.

“Yield!” Minerva’s answer was expelled from her lungs as harshly as she could, “Drop your wands!”

A single wand was thrown onto the floor with a clatter, coming to roll to a stop at her feet.

“And the other!”

“I don’t have one,” the overly familiar voice began again.

“You’d take me for a fool? Drop it this instant, the Ministry is already on its way.”

“No they’re not, and I’m telling you the truth, I don’t have one.”

Minerva was by this point red in the face and shaking with indignation. The voice was young, no older even than the students she taught every day, and the impudence they must have had to waltz into her office was incensing her. She drew up her wand into a slashing movement across her front that left the smoke and dust before her vanishing into nothingness.

She recognized one of the intruders, the Lovegood girl, holding her hands high up into the air while a weirdly large pearl sat clutched between her fingers.The other was still a mystery however. He, (or was it she?) had hair shorn down on the sides straight to the scalp while an unruly mess of auburn curls rose up maybe six centimeters from the top of their head. A tattoo in red was pressed against their neck and chin, starting at where an Adam’s Apple would be and running up to branch in two, both ends of the fork coming to a rest at the corner of their lips. Their palms were out flat in a motion of surrender that left the sleeves of their robe falling backwards to reveal even more red tattoos on hands and forearms.

“Who are you?” Minerva’s voice was struggling to keep calm by this point, angry as she was and confused about what exactly what was happening.

“Come now Professor,” the person began to say, “It hasn’t been that long, has it?”

Auburn curls, honeyed eyes. That tone, that inflection.

“... Hermione?” 

---

Minerva managed to wave off the professors and Filch when they finally arrived to see what had actually happened. The sight that greeted her at the bottom of the stairs was more than enough cause for worry but an explanation of accidental magic and the Gargoyle reaching the end of it’s enchanted life was more than enough to get them to back off. She was Headmistress after all, and most were more than happy to defer to her judgment of the matter, especially once they saw she wasn’t hurt.

The Gargoyle itself was a loss. Half melted and torn aside, it looked like it had been ravaged with Dragon-fire before being attacked by trolls. A fitting amount of destruction for her fiery little Gryffindor.

When she’d arrived back in her office she found Seraph eating birdseed from Hermione’s hand while the girl herself stood silent and still beneath the portrait of a still sleeping Dumbledore. He hadn’t even awoken once while they’d had their standoff. When she caught Hermione’s eye she shot her a glaring look, only receiving an, “He asked for it,” in explanation.

Though she was nonplussed by the response, she was happier still that the girl had managed to return. With quick steps she strode forward to pull her into a tight hug, Seraph squawking at the interruption before flying off to her perch. Tears fought their way down her cheek as her heart absorbed what was lost and now found.

“I’m so glad you’re back Ms. Granger.” Minerva released the hold she had on Hermione to step backwards and keep her at arms length, overlooking the rather new appearance her pupil sported.

“It’s actually Grenier now, Professor. And I’m afraid I won’t be back for long.”

“... What?” Surely she’d misheard?

“Luna, how much time left?”

“Sixty five minutes.”

“Not long at all then.”

“What,” Minerva’s confusion was evident on her face, “What do you mean Hermione? You’re… You’re back.”

“Yes, but I have another place to be. To belong.” Hermione shot her a sad smile, her eyes turned down to the ground and voice a mere whisper.

“Ms. Granger i think you should explain. And speaking of your return, why have we felt no ripples? How did you even manage to return?”

“Well the first is simple enough, or so we believe,” she pointed between herself and Lovegood, “I didn’t go to our past. As for the second half of your question, I believe he,” she jerked a thumb behind herself to point towards the sleeping portrait, “Would be best equipped to answer that.”

As Hermione turned away Minerva shot Lovegood a questioning look before suddenly having to cover her ears.

“WAKE UP!”

The old man in the portrait quit snoring and startled awake with a fright before peering down at Hermione with a loopy grin and nodding head.

“Ah, Ms. Granger! How lovely it is to see you back among us.”

Hermione didn’t seem willing to return the greeting.

“If I showed up on your doorstep in nineteen sixty-eight, here, alone and afraid with explicit knowledge of the future, what would you do?”

---

09:30pm

Hermione waited. She was content with giving him a minute to think his answer over.

The minute passed by.

“Professor,” she began, voice stern and brokering no dismissal, “I asked you a question.”

Dumbledore peered down at her with an infuriating smile that still managed to make her feel like she was a child again, young and asking questions beyond her grasp as though he was simply a kind old man who’d tell her to sod off. In a polite manner of course.

“Professor.” Her voice rose into a growl now. She could sense Minerva’s confusion at the situation, one didn’t need to be a Legilimens to read body language, but she was tired of catering to the whims of others. Let her be confused. The explanation would come from her conversation. 

“Well, I would do my utmost to ensure you were properly righted and sent back to your home.”

“And if you managed to get a peek into my mind that told you of things yet to pass. What then?”

Dumbledore stroked his beard with a thoughtful glint to his eyes, his body stiffening as he looked at something hidden beyond his frame. “I would still attempt to send you home. But I would also ask you for your help, first.”

So far that all lined up with what she knew. He’d promised to send her back home to her timeline, peaked into her head, and then insinuated that she help Bellatrix, which would eventually help him. The removal of an enemy’s pawn before she even accessed the board.

“And what if you couldn’t directly control me? If you couldn’t steer me wherever you wanted?”

“My answer would depend on how far off course you were from my designs.”

“Albus,” Hermione glanced behind herself when Minerva began speaking, her eyes glued to her friend’s face.

“I’m already dead Minerva, best I help her as much as I can. That includes laying out the truth, ugly though it may be. I was a different man in those days. Younger, more brash. I was afraid of the war looming over the horizon. I was overconfident at having dealt with Gellert, assumed that I could do the same with Tom.”

“Which means what exactly?”

“It means, Ms. Granger, that I would have viewed you as a chess piece. And a pawn you cannot control is one that you remove, so that others may provide more benefit.”

Green fire sputtered into life around her fist, spitting and curling as it fed off her energy. Minerva shot her a worried look that spoke volumes to her confusion and fear, but her voice remained still as she watched the flames slowly fade and vanish.

“I see you’ve done some tinkering of your own.”

“Yes, old laws and open books generally lend themselves towards that comfort.”

“Now then. What else did you want to ask me?” He narrowed his eyes at her and shot her an infuriating smile that had her positively shaking with repressed emotion and energy.

“Where are they.”

“One is in the Gaunt shack, hidden beneath the floorboards. It is cursed, so please refrain from wearing it no matter how beautiful it may appear. There is a second that I do not know the location of, at that time it was still unknown to me. A third, the Journal, would either be with him or hidden, though I’m not sure where he’d keep it.”

“I’ve already destroyed the Diadem. He’s not found Nagini yet, and I’m unsure where the Cup would be.”

“Well then it seems you’ll have your work cut out for you my dear.”

“Will you please explain whatever it is you’re both talking about? If you’ve already destroyed something of importance, why haven't we seen any ripples? And why in Merlin’s name are you talking about going back!” Minerva’s voice was strained as iron cabling to the point that it struck Hermione with a strong twinge of sympathy. She knew what it felt like to be thrust upon a situation with no knowledge and no control.

“Luna?”

“Fifty minutes.”

“Well, best sit down then. This will take up most of the remaining time.”

---

10:23pm  

In the end her tale had taken the remainder of her time, just as she’d guessed. There had been tears, some revelations, thoughts and feelings that Hermione wouldn’t be ready to unpack until much later. And hopefully within the strong arms of Bellatrix. Now, little time remaining, she had one last request.

“Professor, do you still have her wand?”

The wand.

Bellatrix Lestrange’s wand. The one she’d lost to Hermione, the one she’d ended up using for months until her own was returned to her. She’d given it to Minerva when she’d had her own again, finally ready to be rid of the horror that wand had caused. 

“Yes. Much as I’d prefer to say no, I have it.” Minerva moved off towards a large filing cabinet placed in a corner of the room, large and imposing and built of wood and metal with fanciful decoration. She opened a drawer at the bottom and began to root around, the seconds ticking ever onward, until with a triumphant, “Found it,” she pulled out a wooden box and shut the drawer. When she returned to their side she placed the box into Hermione’s grasp, warm hands stilling on top of the younger witch’s.

“Is there anything else you’ll need?”

“No, not now. Though I can’t be certain I won’t pop back in form something at some point in the future.” She reached forward and wrapped her Mentor into a warm hug, tears threatening to spill down her cheeks, “Please don’t tell anyone about this. Especially not the Boys.”

The older witch squeezed Hermione gently, her own tears evident in her eyes, “Alright.”

-oOo-

U2 - Feb’ 22, 1969 - 08:32pm

Chapter Text

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 wh