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Ghost Light

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Hermione had read about sidealong apparition, but being pulled by Andromeda’s magic was the most fascinating and compelling thing she had ever felt. She was proud that she had managed to not stumble on the landing. She was skilled at solo apparition, but relying on the feel of someone else’s magic to land was an entirely different task. As she pushed down the roll of nausea, she looked up at Black Manor. It was the largest Manor house she had ever seen in person. She had done a bit of research on the inner circle in the last year and knew the Manor was based in Cumbria. The building itself was over 750 years old and with deep magical roots. The Tudor styling of the roofline made it look much like an old fortress. They paused at a large gate where Andromeda lifted her wand. Hermione felt the magic shift and move around them. It was like a warm embrace. 

“The wards will accept you until the ceremony is complete,” Andromeda said, shaking her from her thoughts. 

“Thank you,” Hermione gasped. The magic was still caressing her skin and made her want to quiver. 

“I imagine my sisters will be quite anxious to see you, so we shouldn’t keep them waiting. Sirius will join us at lunch. He makes his apologies, but it was unavoidable.”

“Yes, Madame Black.”

“Save those for my sisters. Please, do call me Andy. I know that your training has likely told you that it's impolite, but in the Black family we do not tolerate disobedience or insubordination.”

“Thank you for explaining. I understand, Andy.” 

“Ah, delightful. You are bright. Come along.”

Hermione walked quickly to try to keep up with her. She wanted to continue to look at the beautifully constructed building, but imagined there would likely be adequate time for that later. When the large door swung open, two witches were silhouetted by the light. They were beautiful and intimidating. 

“It took you long enough.”

Hermione recognized the low near growl as Bellatrix.

“I was hardly gone for half an hour, Bella. Do attempt to be less dramatic.”

“Welcome home, Hermione,” Narcissa said as though the others weren’t speaking. 

“Thank you, Madame Malfoy. I am honored to be here.”

Finally in the house, Hermione blinked her eyes to adjust them in the dim lighting. Bellatrix was looking her over as critically as she had the day before. The stare made her feel hot and invisible at the same time. 

“Hello, Minister Black,” Hermione whispered, unsure of what else to do. 

“Good Morning.”

Hermione was captured by the dark eyes and found herself forgetting her manners. 

“Come. It's breakfast and it will be cold if we stay here much longer,” Narcissa said. 

“Do pay attention as we walk, Hermione. I would hate for you to get lost and be late,” Bellatrix said in a tone that Hermione didn’t quite understand. 

Hermione did her best to map her way as they walked. She hoped she might gain access to the library so that she could search for the floor plans to be better equipped. Every hallway they turned down was more beautiful than the last and Hermione couldn’t imagine that she would be living under this roof. She sat in the chair she was ushered to by Andromeda. She felt an affectionate brush of magic from her, which was surprisingly soothing. 

“Are we prepared for the ritual,” Bellatrix asked once the food had been served. 

“We are,” Narcissa answered. “I anticipate we will be able to do the magic late afternoon. Unless Sirius causes more delays. But as you know, it would be best for us to complete it today. The others are still quite interested in her this morning and until the formal bond to the family takes place, the McNairs may continue to pursue her.”

“They wouldn’t dare,” Bellatrix hissed.

“I believe they would,” Narcissa said immediately. “They know that she is far too good for them. There will be plenty of other candidates at their level . They also know that there will be few worthy of us.”

“Hermione isn’t going to consider them,” Andromeda interjected. “Isn’t that right, Hermione.”

Hermione coughed as she was mid-sip of coffee. 

“No, Madame Black.” She blanched at the raised eyebrows. “I mean… Andy. I was honored by their offer, but there was no chance that I would choose any other when I had the opportunity to join the Ancient and Nobel House of Black.”

“That is very… sweet,” Narcissa said coolly. “All the same, I insist the magic be executed today.” 

“And so it will be,” Bellatrix said plainly. “Your will won’t be disregarded Family keeper.”

The pleased pulse of magic from Narcissa zipped up Hermione’s spine and left her breathless. Andromeda smiled at her knowingly.

“You are already so sensitive to our magic, Hermione. How will you survive when it is magnified by the family bond?”

Hermione tried not to gape at the question. She hadn’t thought deeply about the impact of the familial bond. The ancient families were extremely secretive about their ancient magic, and for the first time Hermione realized how out of her depth she was. 

“I hope one of you will teach me how to,” she said uncertaintly. 

Narcissa laughed beautifully. 

“I imagine one of us will. Eventually, once we have become bored of your delightful reactions.”

“Maybe,” Bellatrix added with a grin.

“Is there anything I need to prepare for the ritual?” Hermione asked quietly. 

“No. We will take care of everything,” Bellatrix answered. “We understand that you have been very independent and managing your life on your own for years. But as a part of this family, you will no longer be solely responsible. The Black family carries burdens as a group. You will see in time. There is much that we cannot explain. Some you will have to experience for yourself. Others we can discuss once the magic has been executed.”

Hermione nodded doing her best to understand. 

“Eat your breakfast, Hermione,” Andromeda added. “You will need your strength to survive us, particularly before you’ve grown used to us.” 

Hermione looked down at her untouched plate and obediently started to make her way through the food. She sighed at the first bite. The food was far better than what they served at Hogwarts. When she looked up, blue eyes were fixed on her with significant heat behind them.

“This is lovely, Madame Malfoy,” she said quietly just to have something to say. 

Bellatrix chuckled over her cup of tea.

Andromeda spent the morning showing Hermione the many rooms and grounds of the house. Hermione was in awe of it all. She was feeling quite wooed by Andromeda’s attention. She was intelligent and kind. And even more than that, she seemed deeply interested in Hermione. 

Sirius’ arrival drastically changed the atmosphere of the gathering. Any openness, Hermione had seen in Bellatrix and Narcissa had slammed shut at his appearance. Andy seemed unphased by him. Hermione found herself retreating into the most rigid form of manners. He too seemed extremely nervous, which struck Hermione as odd. 

“Come now, Sirius,” Bellatrix said impatiently. “The magic is well known and you’ve been formally accepted back into the house. The wards don’t reject you. My composition of family magic won’t reject you. You are worrying too much.”

“What if I cannot do the magic,” he whispered harshly leaning towards the dark witch. 

“Then we will do it for you,” Narcissa chimed in. “You know we can access your magic. We know how important this is for your case with the Dark Lord.”

“Take a deep breath cousin,” Andy soothed. “You are ready for this step and so are we.” 

Bellatrix leaned towards Hermione. “I’ll explain it to you tonight.” 

Hermione nodded. She was curious, but was happy enough to wait to have time with the mysterious witch. It seemed a more than fair trade off. 

“Good. Then can we please proceed into the ceremony room,” Narcissa guided. 

Hermione was surprised when Andromeda affectionately put her arm around her waist to show her the way. The room they walked into was dimly lit by candles and practically vibrated. 

“My, you are a sensitive one,” Andy whispered in her ear. 

Hermione shivered at the combination of sensations. Everything felt more in this room with these people. There was a depth of magic swimming in her veins that she couldn’t even have imagined. The dark witch walked to her and gently cupped her cheek. While it was far too intimate of a gesture for how well they knew each other. 

“Bellatrix,” she whispered, tasting her name for the first time. 

The dark witch smiled at her tenderly. 

“Trust us. The life you are going to have is beyond what you can imagine. The things we can teach you…” 

“Can we get started or is the Minister of Magic having a moment with our heir,” Sirius asked sharply. 

“As you pointed out, I am the Minister of Magic. So I am welcome to take my time if I so choose. Not to mention that I am your head of house.” Bellatrix was now holding her shoulder. “Let’s begin. Narcissa, if you would.” 

Narcissa walked forward with small vials of potions handing them each one. Hermione held her and looked at the semi opaque gold liquid. 

“Together,” she commanded and watched as they all lifted the vials. 

Hermione swallowed the liquid alongside and immediately felt it in her magic. She wasn’t sure if they all had the same experience, but her magic felt wide open. She could feel more of it and could feel the hovering magic of the others in the room. It made her want something, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. 

“Good. Hermione, come stand in the center of us.” 

Narcissa pointed to a spot on the ground where an elegantly carved version of their family crest was. Hermione moved as quickly as she could and looked expectantly at the blonde. 

“Very good. Now everyone, join hands.”

Hermione looked around at the circle that enclosed her. She could now distinctly feel the different varieties of magic around her. Each taste and smell was different, but she could already tell the core was the same. She wondered if her’s would blend too. 

“Hermione,” Narcissa continued, “do you understand that this is a lifelong commitment? That you will be in all things a Black, both inside and outside of these walls?”

“Yes, Madame Malfoy,” Hermione answered without pause. 

“Do you consent to join our magic? You will be permanently bound to us all. You will belong to the house of Black. The only dissolutions are being exiled by the head of house or death.”

“I consent,” she said firmly. 

“Very good. Let us begin.” 

The pace of the magic immediately picked up. It was closer and more intimate than it had been before. She felt her walls accept their intrusion and reached her magic out in turn. It was exhilarating and felt more like home than anything she had ever felt. Then she felt their chanting. It invaded all of her senses and she felt as though it was bending the very elements of her body and soul. Then it all settled and sunk into her. She felt so much like she belonged, which was an unfamiliar feeling.

“Open your eyes, Hermione.” 

Andy’s gentle voice was very close. And Hermione did as she was asked and was immediately enveloped in a hug.

“Just remember that touching will help settle the magic as you adjust,” she said as they embraced. 

“Welcome home,” Narcissa said and opened her arms. 

Hermione shyly stepped to her. Once she was in the blondes arms, she couldn’t help but relax into a feeling of safety she didn’t know was possible. 

Sirius stepped up next. For a moment, Hermione thought that he might just shake her hand, but he looked her in the eyes before kissing each cheek instead. It was different yet so genuine that she couldn’t help but be charmed by it. 

“Well done, Hermione Black,” Bellatrix said. “We have a few gifts for you in the library.”

Hermione wanted… needed to touch the eldest Black sister. There was something in the magic that demanded it. 

“You have more will that I expected, but I don’t recommend fighting the family magic. Come here.” 

Hermione was relieved as the cool hands pulled her close. After a brief hug, she was guided out of the ceremony room. She expected an energy drop, but it still lingered in her limbs. She could feel Bellatrix’s magic licking at the edges of her personal control. She wanted to be so close to her that she almost couldn’t put words to it. 

“Thank you both for joining us,” Narcissa snarked. “I didn’t realize it was such a long work.” 

“Shush, Cissy. We each needed a moment with her. You know how the family magic works.” 

“I will gift first,” Sirius said quietly. He handed a small package to her. “This is your copy of the key to the joint Black family vaults. You are a member of our family to share in our wealth and our property.” 

Hermione opened it carefully and wondered how she would keep it safe. The metal warmed pleasantly in the palm of her hand. 

“Thank you, Sirius. It will be my honor to contribute to the family.” 

The warmth in his eyes at the statement made her happy. 

“I am gifting you safety. This port key can only be activated by your magic when you are in danger,” Andy said, handing her a charmed coin. “Always carry it. It will transport you to the head of house, or anyone who may be acting as the head of house.” 

“Thank you, Andy,” Hermione said as she fought back tears. She was overwhelmed by the kindness. 

“I offer you acceptance,” Narcissa said, reaching around her to clasp a beautiful sapphire necklace that looked suspiciously like the color of her eyes around Hermione’s neck. “You will find that I have a fully decorated room personalized for you with a full wardrobe. You will look like a Black when you next leave these walls.” 

“Thank you, Narcissa. You are the most fashionable witch I have ever seen. I cannot wait to see what you have chosen.”

“You are a flatterer and perhaps a flirt, but I look forward to showing you.” 

“And this,” Bellatrix said holding out a ring, “will mark you as a member of the Black family. The name you had before is gone and no one will dare act like it ever existed. I expect this to be permanently on your right hand. Do you understand?” 

“Yes, Minister Black.”

Bellatrix cackled and Hermione felt it in the core of her magic. 

“You dare use their first names, but not mine. Seems the little witch understands the hierarchy. It seems you can all learn from her. And with that, my time is up here. I will be back after dark.” 

Bellatrix looked at Hermione meaningfully before leaving the room. 

“Can you stay for dinner, Sirius?”

Narcissa looked at him expectantly.

“I… I can. Thank you for inviting me.”

“Why don’t we let Narcissa and Sirius chat,” Andromeda said, pulling Hermione out of the room. “And we can go find some tea and biscuits.”

Once they were out of the room and earshot, Andromeda continued. 

“How are you really feeling?”

The concern in her tone made Hermione wonder if they had just attended the same ritual. 

“May I speak freely?” 

“Of course, you don’t need to ask. You are after all one of us now.” 

Hermione nodded, still trying to process that. 

“The magic felt unbelievably good. It was the best thing I have ever felt. But… accepting that I am truly a Black now is a tremendous adjustment. I never thought….” 

“I am quite sure you didn’t. I know this happened quite quickly. Our Lord brought back the olde ways only last moon. As Bella is the Minister of Magic, we needed to be one of the first families to follow his command. Bella, Sirius, and I don’t have a desire to have children so late in life and this solution frankly is the best possible outcome. You are brilliantly educated. You reacted warmly to the Black family magic, which is rare. It is finicky magic.”

Hermione nodded. It was all very logical, though she suspected that it wasn’t the whole truth. 

“Will all the ancient families follow suit,” she asked instead of the very personal questions burning in the back of her mind. 

“Yes, I think they will. The days of successful arranged marriages seem to have ended. And love matches are slow coming, as my sister, cousin, and I are proof that heirs are no longer guaranteed.”

“And the whole world will really just forget I was born to muggles?”

“They will unless they want the fire of Bellatrix Black rained down on them. And you are not to even think about allowing them. You are magically as much a Black as I am,” Andromeda finished hotly. 

“It's a large adjustment, but I promise I will do my best. How can I best contribute to the family?”

“First, my dear,” Andromeda leaned close to her, “you must learn the ways of this family. Once you have completed that education, we will place you into the career you seem most suited for. You will find that connections are everything and we have the very best ones.” 

Hermione found herself blushing. The idea of being painfully successful was overwhelming and there was something about the way that Andromeda was looking at her made her heart beat faster. The warm hand on her forearm calmed the magic buzzing through her. She wanted to lean into it and be consumed by it.

Dinner was an interesting affair. Hermione was seated close to Narcissa, who was rarely not touching her throughout the meal. It started with pointers about how to eat properly, as her training had only been nearly correct. It then moved to a simple hand on her wrist that eventually drifted to her knee. In any other situation Hermione would have been uncomfortable, but with Narcissa it was easier to breathe. So she decided to act like it was normal and enjoy it. 

Sirius was beyond clever. He had told her about his rebellious youth and how it had cost him his family. And he was open about how he was just finding his way back to them. The ritual had been the first time he had used family magic in well over a decade. She watched him happily chat with Andy. She had the distinct feeling that she was watching a magic as significant as what had been performed oh her earlier. 

Hermione had done her best to soak in every minute of the experience, but she knew she was half focused on the witch who was missing. There was something about Bellatrix. It was certainly more than her title or even her fame. She was known to be the most skilled and fearsome witch alive. 

Narcissa and Andromeda had been kind enough to leave her to wait for Bellatrix in the library. They hadn’t told her when the witch might return, so Hermione had taken it upon herself to make herself comfortable. She lit the fireplace, called for an evening tea service, and found a book to bury her nose in(though it was not the floor plans she had contemplated). She was mid learning the mechanics of a new spell, when the door banged open. 

Bellatrix’s hair was wild and her eyes intense. Hermione was frozen by her appearance if not the feel of her magic. 

“Hello, Hermione Black.” 

“Hello, Bellatrix Black,” Hermione said quietly, feeling the name again. 

“Oh, so you do know my name then, I thought perhaps you would forever call me Minister Black.”

Bellatrix sat down across from her hoping she would continue to play. Hermione blanched.

“You make me nervous.”

Bellatrix grinned wolfishly. 

“Do I? I have perhaps heard that before. But you wear it better than most.” 

Hermione blushed. With the other sisters, she wasn’t sure if it was innuendo. But she knew Bellatrix was flirting and she couldn’t resist.                                                                                                                                                                            

“But tell me, Hermione, did our family explain to you how becoming our heir will work practically?” 

“In some ways, I think,” Hermione tried to remember all she had learned. “I have family training to do, then I will be able to get a job somewhere in our world. I should act like I have always been a member of the family.” 

“You are a swot. I am pleased. You are technically to be registered as Sirius’ heir, which does not mean you are any less close to the rest of us. We are as a family restoring Sirius to honor and to our society this will be a key part. We expect you to contribute to that effort as my sisters are. Particularly when we break it to him that he must move into Black Manor. You must convince him that you need him here.”

“I will do whatever I can to assist. He seems very kind,” Hermione said thinking of his kind eyes and vulnerability at dinner. 

“Very good. But I will in some ways consider you to be my apprentice. You will someday carry the name of our family, I am the only one you can learn how to be a head of the Black family from. Do you understand the weight that carries?” 

“I am learning. I suspect that there is a depth I have not yet seen.” 

“You truly have no idea, Hermione. But I will teach you. I will show you, even the things you don’t want to see.” 

“I am not afraid, Bellatrix. I was born to adversity. It is all I have ever known. I will be dedicated and will not disappoint you.” 

“No,” Bellatrix said. “No, I don’t think you will.”

Hermione felt an undercurrent that was more interesting than the words that were being spoken. She knew what she would want, if she could have anything she wanted, but it was far too soon to know what sort of game Bellatrix Black might be playing.