Bellatrix and Hermione had huddled together in the unused greenhouse in the back corner of Manor Black’s formal gardens; Bellatrix had cast a warming charm on the little building to keep out the January chill. Voldemort had left a little over an hour ago and thankfully Lord Black had not made another appearance yet, so the girls had escaped to somewhere private to debate what the Dark Lord had come to discuss. Hermione still felt like her heartrate was raised, she could still feel the adrenaline coursing through her veins both from her encounter with Voldemort and her first meeting with Cygnus Black. The man was deplorable; it was saying something that he was even more unpleasant to be around than Voldemort himself, at least he tried to make people like him. Cygnus didn’t seem to care what people thought of him, she was not at all looking forward to having to share a meal with him later on this evening.
“What do you mean you don’t think taking up Lord Voldemort’s offer is a good idea?” Bellatrix demanded, she sat on the dirty slab floor looking up at Hermione who had perched on the edge of the empty potting table.
“I think there is more to this offer than is being said.” Hermione tried to explain as she swung her legs slowly back and forward in the air. She pulled her attention away from the blackbird she had been watching hop along the garden wall and looked at Bellatrix sympathetically. She knew how much Voldemort’s praise had meant to her and how she had been waiting for an opportunity to be free from the life she was dreading.
“What more could there be?” Bellatrix almost whined, she could tell while the Dark Lord was here that Hermione was feeling uncomfortable. She had thought to begin with that it had more to do with the confrontation with her father but she had made it fairly clear that it was actually the Dark Lord himself that she wasn’t so sure of. “He will get me a job at the ministry and I will help him to pass legislation that helps witches and wizards, people like us, to advance.”
Hermione peered down at Bellatrix who sat cross legged on the floor below her; she looked so excited, the way she always did when she was studying. She felt terrible that she couldn’t be excited right along with her but she was so torn about how she should tread this dangerous ground. On one hand she wanted to tell Bella to stay as far away from Voldemort as possible because he was the worst human being on the planet. If he could even be considered human by this point. But on the other hand she was desperate for her to make this decision for herself, to choose her own path. That didn’t mean that she couldn’t try and guide her hand somewhat though because she already knew the horrendous consequences of the decision Bellatrix would make on her own. “Does that not all sound a little too good to be true to you?”
“No.” Bellatrix snapped quickly, she sighed deeply as she leant backwards and rested her weight on her hands behind her. She knew in her heart of hearts that there was a grain of truth in what Hermione was saying, but she wasn’t prepared for the bubble to burst just yet. “Why can it not be that something is finally working out for me?”
“Bella…” Hermione began, she wanted to be enthusiastic and to get caught up in this beautiful dream that Bellatrix had in her mind. But she knew too much, she knew what Voldemort really wanted with her girlfriend. She knew she would never get her job in the ministry, she knew that she would never be a part of improving the lives of witches and wizards like she wanted to be.
“I have waited all my life for something to come along that can free me from all of this.” Bellatrix sighed and squeezed her eyes shut, this conversation felt like such a crashing come down from the euphoric high she had been on when the Dark Lord had been talking to her. “That opportunity has finally been presented to me and you are telling me not to go for it.”
“I’m not telling you to do anything, I just want you to think this through properly.” Hermione pacified, she slipped from the potting table and lowered herself to the floor opposite Bellatrix. She tried to smile warmly at her but Bellatrix just huffed bad temperedly and looked away. “The Dark Lord is offering you a lot here; a job you have dreamed of, a liberal husband, to continue our relationship.”
“And I will give him a lot in return.” Bellatrix replied indignantly, she didn’t like the insinuation that she wasn’t worthy of this offer. She had a lot she could contribute to the Dark Lord, certainly more than those Slytherins in the years ahead of her whom she knew had already been recruited to the cause. “I am intelligent, a hard worker and a powerful witch. The Dark Lord said so himself.”
“But what if your efforts at the ministry aren’t enough? There is so much bureaucracy and so much red tape. Ministers work all the time to have legislation and laws passed that never get off the ground because there are strong opposition groups.” Hermione reasoned, she didn’t want Bellatrix to think that she didn’t believe in her but someone needed to give her a reality check. When they were away at Hogwarts they got to live in a fantasy world, untouched by the troubles brewing in the real world outside. But they weren’t in Hogwarts now, this was the real world and they were a matter of months away from being thrust right into it. She needed to make sure that Bellatrix was with her on the right side of history this time around. “If that happens you will be indebted to him and how do you expect he will want to be repaid then?”
“I don’t know Hermione.” Bellatrix almost shouted, she knew deep down that these were all sensible questions to ask herself. She just didn’t want to pluck at this loose thread, she didn’t want to lose this feeling of tenuous hope that was blooming inside her.
Hermione reached out and squeezed Bellatrix’s knee; trying to calm her a little, trying to show her that she was still there for her even if they weren’t seeing eye to eye right now. “Well don’t you think that is something you should find out before you rush headlong into this?”
“Why can’t you just support me?” Bellatrix growled as she sat up straight again and levelled Hermione with an intense glare. “You’re my girlfriend, you are supposed to support me on things like this.”
“It’s not that I don’t support you Bella, I’m worried about you.” Hermione defended, she paused for a moment and allowed Bellatrix to take a few deep calming breaths before she carried on. “I have heard… rumours about Lord Voldemort and the things that he has been doing in Europe, how he has been dealing in the Dark Arts and spending time with some of the worst kind people.”
“People say that my family are involved with the Dark Arts.” Bellatrix laughed humourlessly and shook her head at Hermione. “People say that my family are the worst kind of people. It doesn’t make it true.”
“No, but I think it is true in his case.” Hermione said carefully; she leant forward and took one of Bellatrix’s hands, breathing a sigh of relief when she didn’t pull away from her touch. This was the moment she had been apprehensive about since she arrived in 1969, the moment when she would have to reveal some of the things that she knew about the future. She had thought that she would feel a little more reticent when the moment arrived but all she wanted to do was to give Bellatrix all of the information. She wanted to make sure that Bellatrix could make an informed decision…unlike she got to the first time around. “When I lived in France there was talk of a group of supporters that he was gathering, they called them Death Eaters.”
“Death Eaters.” Bellatrix mocked, she had heard whispers of this group herself but she didn’t believe that anyone was really stupid enough to risk their soul for someone else beliefs. No matter how convincing that person may be. “Don’t be ridiculous, they are just a rumour. People know that the Dark Lord is becoming influential and they always want to discredit potential leaders like him”
Hermione let her thumb rub over Bellatrix’s knuckles and looked at the other girl with an almost desperate expression. “What if they’re not just a rumour?”
“I can work for Lord Voldemort and not become a Death Eater.” Bellatrix tried to soothe, she could see that what Hermione said about being worried about her was true. She wanted to reassure her that she had this under control, that she would figure this out.
A sound something like a sob broke free from Hermione’s throat as she looked at that little eager expression in Bellatrix’s eyes. She was so convinced that she understood all of this; that she knew what was going on, that she would be able to control this situation like she did everything when she was at school. But she didn’t realise how much bigger the world outside Hogwarts was, how many more players there were in the game. “No Bella, I’m not sure that you can.”
“I am trying to do this for us.” Bellatrix barked, she dropped Hermione’s hand and pushed herself up from the floor because she needed something to do with the agitation she was feeling. She felt like the walls of the greenhouse were closing in on her. “I am doing this so that we can be together.”
Hermione stood up too but kept out of the way of Bellatrix’s pacing, knowing she needed to work off some steam. “And I am trying to help you to see the whole picture.”
“What makes you so qualified to show me the whole picture?” Bellatrix demanded as she spun around to face Hermione, she could see that pitying look she sometimes gave her all over her girlfriends face right now. “Despite what you might think I am not some naïve child, I know as much as you do about the way the world works.”
“I’m not sure that you do.” Hermione said carefully, she took a cautious step towards Bellatrix who took a step backwards away from her to keep their distance. Hermione knew this meant she was really starting to feel angry and that she was trying to maintain her self-control. But she was starting to get angry too, she was feeling frustrated that Bellatrix was defiantly refusing to see any other perspective but her own. “You have no idea about the life I have led or the people just like Voldemort that I have met.”
“How could I have any idea about any of that Hermione?” Bellatrix shouted, she had tried to keep her cool but it was infuriating to be accused to not knowing someone when all they did was throw walls up to keep you out. She cared for Hermione, she meant it when she said that she was falling in love with her but she knew what was holding her back from loving her completely. And that was the way that Hermione shut down completely whenever they got on to any topic that revolved around her past, her friends or her family. “Because you don’t tell me anything about your life before you got to Hogwarts, all you have ever told me is that your father is an unspeakable, you had a friend called Harry and that you miss your cat. We have known each other for months, we have been spending every day together for months, you are my girlfriend, we have been sleeping together and that is all the intimate knowledge that I have about you?”
“That’s because there isn’t that much to tell.” Hermione shot back but she knew the statement sounded hollow; everyone had stories, everyone had anecdotes about their past. Bellatrix shared tales about her and her sisters all of the time and really it was way past time that she was called out on how little information she had shared about herself.
“Of course there is more to tell.” Bellatrix scoffed, outright mocking Hermione’s ridiculous attempt to shut this conversation down yet again. “You don’t speak to your parents at all and you fled from France to live with some distant relative, there is quite clearly a story there. You just choose not to tell me.”
“No it’s not that I choose not to tell you.” Hermione tried approaching with the truth this time, she did want to tell Bellatrix the truth. She wanted to tell her the truth more than anything, to tell her everything that she knew so that Bellatrix would stay as far away from Voldemort as possible. But she knew that she couldn’t, she knew that she wasn’t allowed and that the consequences if she did could be catastrophic. Who knew what butterfly affect her presence in this timeline had already had? “I can’t tell you.”
Bellatrix threw up her hands in exasperation as she glowered at Hermione from across the greenhouse. “Oh, so now there is something to tell?”
A knock resounded through the space before the door to the greenhouse creaked open noisily and Andromeda stuck her head through the gap. She grimaced at the charged atmosphere she had barged into and looked worriedly between Bellatrix who was simmering and Hermione who was taking deep calming breaths. “Erm…sorry to interrupt but Maman told me to tell you to come inside and start getting ready for dinner.”
The Black family, along with a very nervous Hermione, waited formally by the master fireplace in Manor Black’s ballroom for the arrival of Walburga and Orion. Narcissa, Andromeda and Bellatrix were standing shoulder to shoulder in age order in front of their parents, their backs were ramrod straight and their hands were clasped at their waists. Cygnus had a possessive, or controlling, hand on Bellatrix’s shoulder while Druella had linked her arm through her husband’s in a show of unity and power. They looked more like they were posing for a royal portrait than waiting for the arrival of close family, they were every inch the perfect pureblood family. Hermione could feel her heart hammering in her chest, it felt so loud that she was sure everyone else in the room must have been able to hear it. Her only experience with Walburga Black had been with her portrait in Grimmauld Place when her wizened effigy had spent all of its time screaming obscenities at her; Filth!...Mudblood!... Scum! Her nerves were not helped by the fact that Cygnus had ordered that she wait away from the family meaning that she couldn’t even draw strength from Bellatrix’s presence, she almost jumped out of her skin when the fireplace roared to life causing Lord Black to fix her with a scornful gaze. She didn’t want to wilt under his stare, she didn’t want to give him the satisfaction, so she clenched her jaw and looked straight back at him. His nostrils flared a second before he whipped his head back around to look at his sister and her husband; he gripped Bellatrix’s shoulder tighter before stepping around her to greet his guests.
“Good evening Walburga, Orion.” Cygnus welcomed them gruffly, he took Walburga’s hand and bent to kiss the top of it properly before reaching out to shake Orion’s. Walburga’s curly black hair was pulled back into a Victorian up-do and she wore a heavy black cloak over an extravagant black laced gown with a high collar. She was irrefutably beautiful with high cheekbones, a long nose, full lips and grey eyes topped by neat, straight eyebrows. While Walburga was like a gothic doll Orion was like a 1950’s movie star, his clothes looked like they had been styled off a muggle dinner suite consisting of a long tailored robe over the top of a perfectly fitted black waistcoat, crisp white shirt and a black velvet bowtie. His hair had been oiled and slicked into an executive contour style, his face was relaxed and he had creases around his eyes and mouth that hinted at someone who smiled and laughed easily. Cygnus turned to Sirius and Regulus who had stepped out of the fireplace behind their parents; he gave them a tight grin and clapped both of them on the shoulder a little too roughly. “And of course, good evening boys.”
“You need to get your elves to sweep the floo, our robes are practically ruined.” Walburga groused as she dusted frantically at Orion’s shoulders, a house elf holding a clothes brush materialised and began attempting to clean the soot from the bottom of her robe. She looked down at it with disgust before kicking it away from her with her heeled boot so that she could step further into the room. “Oh do get out of the way you pitiful creature.”
Druella stepped passed her daughters to greet Walburga, she gripped her upper arms and leant in to press their cheeks together. The gesture looked intimate and familiar and could have been warm if it were not for the strained looks on both women’s faces. “Walburga, I am so glad you could make it zis evening.”
Walburga raised an eyebrow at Druella, knowing that the woman was not ‘so glad’ she could make it at all; Druella smiled charmingly back at her, they were like a pair of lionesses sizing each other up. “I would not miss it, I have always been one to recognise tradition and a young lady turning seventeen does not happen every day.”
“Traditionally only once, no?” Druella drawled, she smirked at Walburga as she stepped over to Orion and allowed him to take her hand and kiss it in much the same way that Cygnus had done when greeting his sister.
Orion looked up at Druella smugly from his bent over position, he grinned roguishly at her as he stood up straight again. “Now, now Dru. Behave yourself.”
“Oh Orion, you know zat I never do.” Druella chuckled as she moved back to Cygnus’ side and laid her hand on top of his waiting forearm, for all of her swagger hanging on him she looked like the epitome of a trophy wife.
“Girls. Greet your Aunt Walburga and Uncle Orion.” Cygnus barked and levelled each of them with a look that said they better behave this evening or there would be serious consequences.
“Hello Aunt and Uncle.” The three Black Sisters said in unison, it couldn’t have been more perfectly in time if they had spent all evening practicing. Bellatrix stepped forward first and bent her knee in a quick genuflect, Andromeda quickly copied and finally Narcissa. Orion grinned again and Walburga nodded approvingly at the girls; Hermione meanwhile frowned at the extreme show of deference to direct family members. It was as if they were greeting royalty not a visiting aunt and uncle.
“Happy Birthday Andromeda.” Walburga smiled tightly as she stepped forward and kissed Andromeda sharply on each cheek, this was clearly not a usual action if Andie’s obvious discomfort was anything to go by. She turned her gaze on the tallest of her sons and gave him a stern look that screamed ‘behave or there will be consequences’. “Sirius, present your cousin with her gift.”
Sirius was not very tall for a ten year old but exuded a confident air none the less. He had dark, wavy shoulder length hair, heavy lidded grey eyes and a long thin face that was starting to show signs of developing a square jaw. Hermione swallowed thickly as she looked at him, he seemed so familiar and felt like a stranger all at once. He bared no physical resemblance to the haggard, tired looking man she had met years ago but there was something about his attitude and self-assuredness that even Azkaban couldn’t take away.
“Happy Birthday Andie.” Sirius stepped forward with a mischievous grin, he reached into an inside pocket of his robe just as Walburga smacked him with a resounding crack around the back of the head. He cringed and rubbed the spot his mother had slapped but the grin was still present, he winked conspiratorially at Andie as he handed her a small immaculately wrapped gift. “Ow, sorry happy birthday Andromeda.”
“Thank you Aunt and Uncle.” Andromeda said politely, she untied the bow and the box opened slowly on its own to reveal a necklace with a large round pendant on it. The outer edge was engraved with an intricate filigree pattern and the centre seemed to glow an ethereal blue, constellations ebbed and flowed across the surface. Andromeda pressed a button on the side of the pendant and it flipped open to reveal a delicate mother of pearl watch face, she looked up at her aunt and uncle with a genuine smile. “It’s beautiful.”
“You are quite welcome.” Walburga waved off Andromeda’s thanks because her attention was already elsewhere, she was eyeing Hermione as though she was an urchin who had wandered in off the streets. The temperature in the room seemed to drop a few degrees while Walburga sized her up, her head whipped around to look at her brother. “Who is this?”
“This is Hermione Ross.” Cygnus answered without so much as looking in Hermione’s direction. “She is a friend of my girls, she attends Hogwarts with them.”
“Oh, the girl Constance Malfoy was telling me about.” A smirk slipped on to Walburga’s face as she turned slowly to look at Hermione again, she made a show of looking at her from head to toe. “I am surprised you have welcomed her into your home Cygnus.”
A frown pulled at Cygnus’ brow as he looked to his wife who shrugged as if she had no idea what Walburga was talking about, he held her steely blue gaze before his attention drifted to his sister. “And why would I have any concern about having the girl in my home?”
Walburga grinned, clearly she was a woman who enjoyed stirring the pot. “Well Constance Malfoy was telling me at lunch the other day that Lucius has caught Andromeda and this Hermione in a compromising position or two.”
Cygnus’ head snapped towards Andromeda and he took an almost imperceptible step towards her, his shoulder seemed to broaden as he subtly loomed over her. When he spoke it was careful and measured. “Is this true?”
“N…no.” Andromeda stammered, there was a clear shake in her voice but to her credit she did not cower too much under her father’s intense scrutiny.
Cygnus’ face became a mask of fury and he took a more pronounced step towards her this time. “Excuse me.”
“No Father.” Andromeda corrected, she swallowed nervously but her chin raised in a way that Hermione was sure Bellatrix had taught her to do. “She is not my type.”
“Of course it iz not true, Cygnus.” Druella spoke up, in a synchronised movement she gently pulled her husband back to her side while Bellatrix moved Andromeda so that she was now standing slightly behind her. “Constance iz constantly trying to denigrate our daughters’ reputation, you know she iz jealous of ‘ow beautiful our girls are while ‘ers looks like a Kelpie.”
“And Lucius is always trying to jockey for position by making up lies father.” Bellatrix added, revelling in any excuse to talk badly of that toad. “He truly is pathetic.”
“He is not pathetic.” Narcissa shrieked, completely forgetting any sense of decorum as she leapt to her boyfriend’s defence.
“Of course he is Narcissa.” Bellatrix drawled as she rolled her eyes at her youngest sister. “You are just too enthralled with him to notice.”
“You will not bicker in front of company.” Cygnus barked, the look he sent towards his daughters could have melted the paint from the walls. He appeared to take a deep, calming breath before he turned back towards his guests. “Perhaps I need to have a private conversation with Lucius about learning how to hold his tongue.”
“Perhaps a conversation with your daughters about how to conduct themselves would be apt too.” Walburga pursed her lips and glared at Bellatrix and then Narcissa but it was clear that she was enjoying the impact that she’d had.
Druella made an indignant noise in her throat, she cocked her hip and raised an eyebrow at Walburga. “Our daughters conduct themselves just fine.”
Walburga snorted out a sarcastic laugh, further convincing Hermione that she and Druella had a tenuous truce at best. “They conduct themselves like the French.”
“Oui, I agree Walburga wiz class and poise no?” Druella smirked and before Walburga could respond she had whirled elegantly away from Cygnus and began walking briskly towards the double doors that led out of the ballroom. “Should we move through to ze dining room?”
The rest of the party made their way into the dining room behind Druella, she stood to the side as everyone found their seats without needing to say a word to one another. Cygnus sat at the head of the table with Walburga to his left and Bellatrix to his right, Narcissa sat next to Walburga with Andromeda next to her. Druella sat at the foot of the table with Orion on her right, sandwiched between her and Andromeda, and Sirius sat to Druella’s left with Regulus next to him. Hermione lingered for a moment behind the one chair that remained empty between Bellatrix and Regulus; she looked to Druella who nodded at her subtly before she pulled the seat out and sat down. As Hermione tucked her chair underneath the glasses on the table filled with wine, Cygnus lifted his glass and raised it which was clearly a social que that everyone else was now able to drink too.
Walburga looked at Hermione over the rim of her wine glass as she took a long pull of the ruby red liquid, she slowly put her drink back down on the table. “Hermione, are you a Slytherin?”
Hermione quickly swallowed the mouthful of wine she’d just taken, she looked across to Bellatrix quickly who subtly slipped her hand on to her thigh under the table. It brought her comfort to know that although they were not on the best of terms right now that Bellatrix would still support her, not that she had doubted that for a moment. Bellatrix’s strongest trait was her loyalty. “I’m in Ravenclaw actually.”
“You must be very intelligent.” Walburga probed, keeping her remark as neutral sounding as possible.
“Oh… I…” Hermione stuttered, she could feel that Walburga had some kind of ulterior motive for this line of questioning. She thought that she was good at dealing with social situation and reading people but there was something about Walburga that she couldn’t quite figure out.
“Yes she is very intelligent aunt.” Andromeda answered for Hermione, as she leant around Narcissa so that she could look at Walburga. “She gives Bellatrix a run for her money.”
Walburga narrowed her eyes at Andromeda’s comment before turning back to scrutinise Hermione. “How did you become friends with the girls if you are not a Slytherin?”
Hermione felt Bellatrix squeeze her leg under the table and she fought to stop the corners of her lips pulling up into a small smile. “When I transferred to Hogwarts I was made Bellatrix’s potions partner.”
“Where did you transfer from?” Walburga demanded, eager to glean some information.
“Beauxbatons.” Hermione lied easily.
Walburga scoffed and took another drink from her wine glass. “I am sure you are happy to finally be attending a reputable school.”
Druella made a noise that sounded very much like she was mocking Walburga’s scoff, earning herself a smirk from Orion. “And what exactly is wrong wiz Beauxbatons?”
“What is right with it?” Walburga snapped as she glared down the table at Druella and slammed her wine glass down on to the surface of the table. “It is filled with half-breeds. Veela , werewolves and that half-giant they have recently employed as the headmistress.”
Hermione bristled as she thought of Fleur and Lupin and the term half-breed that Walburga had used, they were not half-breeds they were whole and complete people. She had never been one to allow injustice to lie so she defended them in the only way she could right now. “Madame Maxime is a wonderful headmistress. She is fair and strong and I was lucky to study under her.”
“She is half animal.” Walburga spat, her face a mask of fury as she scowled at Hermione.
“She cannot be much worse that Dumbledore.” Orion chimed in as he swirled the contents of his wine glass casually, his elbow leaning on the table and his attention on the ruby liquid as it whirled around. Clearly Walburga’s heated attitude was nothing new at these dinner parties. “He is letting Hogwarts go to the dogs.”
“I am sure his tenure will not last much longer.” Cygnus said in a tone that left no room for argument, he snapped his fingers and their starters appeared in their places. “Not if the Dark Lord has anything to do with it.”
Orion took a moment to enjoy a few bites of the king prawns in chili and lime glaze that had been served before he looked down the table to Bellatrix but addressing Cygnus. “I hear that the Dark Lord payed Bellatrix a visit earlier today.”
A clattering was heard as Druella dropped her knife on to her plate, she spluttered a little in embarrassment as she composed herself before she looked to Cygnus too. “Did you allow zat man to be alone with my daughter?”
“Yes I did.” Cygnus all but growled as he levelled his wife with a look that defied her to challenge him in front of their guests. “Do you have a problem with that?”
Druella narrowed her eyes and set her face in an expression that was so reminiscent of Bellatrix that it was almost spooky, she held her husband’s eye defiantly before speaking slowly. “Yes I do ‘ave a problem wiz zat.”
“I will do as I please in my home.” Cygnus spoke through gritted teeth, his neck and the edges of ears flushing in anger that he was barely containing. “And I will introduce my daughter to whomever I see fit.”
Orion laid his hand gently over Druella’s quivering fist that contained her knife, partly in comfort and partly to make sure she did not hurl it towards Cygnus. “What did the Dark Lord have to say Bellatrix?”
Bellatrix shifted a little in her chair and removed her hand from Hermione’s thigh now that she had the attention of the entire table. “He said that he had heard about how well I was doing at school and that he wanted to help me get a job within the ministry.”
“What could you possibly need with a job in the ministry?” Walburga asked sarcastically, she laughed mockingly as Bellatrix frowned but bit her tongue obviously containing a retort.
“I had heard that the Dark Lord had begun to approach women to join his cause.” Orion spoke, his hand still gripping Druella’s and his thumb now running over her tense knuckles. “He is of the belief that they will be under less suspicion than the young men he has recently installed into key ministry positions.”
“He believes that witches and wizards should not be living in the shadows of the muggles anymore.” Bellatrix added excitedly, clearly enjoying being able to finally be a part of the adult conversation taking place.
“It does not make any sense zat we are ze ones ‘iding when we are more powerful, in France zere are many areas where ze magical and muggle communities live togezer.” Druella said clearly much more calm now as she moved her hand pointedly away from Orion’s grasp. “We can kill zem wiz a stroke of our wands and yet zey hold all of ze power here in England.”
“That is because centuries ago we tried to act like the more dignified species.” Cygnus announced, waving his hand causing the empty dishes to vanish and the wine glasses to refill. “We were the ruling power and we agreed to devolve some of it to the muggles, to let them govern themselves as they saw fit but they got greedy.”
“They started the witch trials; they hunted us, they stripped us of our wands and then they killed us in the most brutal ways they could imagine.” Walburga picked up where her brother left off, her brow forming a straight line as she her voice got dark and serious. “They drowned us, they beheaded us, they burned us at the stake.”
“We were forced to live in small communities on the outskirts of towns so that we could try to defend each other but still they came for us.” Orion added, the near permanent smirk he’d had on his face all night dropped now as the mood of the room changed. “Witch-hunters would circle our wards and wait for children to accidently stray beyond their protection and then they would slaughter them like animals, like we were some parasites to be rid of.”
Walburga took a long, measured pull of her wine as she let what had been said already sink in before she continued. “Our numbers dwindled as they killed us and others went into hiding, which is why I cannot stand the mudbloods they are a reminder of our ancestors that gave up their magic to hide amongst the muggles. They are the descendants of the cowards that did not stand with us, proud of who and what we are.”
“As time went by those of us that survived the early persecution were forced to perform like monkeys for the entertainment of the muggles.” Orion sneered, his attractive face turning ugly with spite as he spoke, his attention drifted slightly as the main course arrived in their places. “We had to debase ourselves for that scum.”
“Eventually, for our own protection, we reluctantly got the muggle monarchy to sign the Statute of Secrecy.” Cygnus grumbled as he picked up his knife and fork and began angrily cutting up the piece of steak on his plate. “It stopped the persecution of our kind but we were forced into hiding and we have been there ever since.”
“We have recovered our numbers since then and we are strong again, it is time for change.” Orion said firmly as he put a piece of his own steak into his mouth, he chewed it for a few moments before speaking again. “It is a great honour that you have been approached Bellatrix.”
“Yes uncle, a great honour.” Bellatrix smiled a little awkwardly at Orion as he winked at her, she swallowed thickly as she looked at Hermione and debated whether it was a good idea to draw her family’s attention to her again. But she wanted them to like her and she wanted them to accept her. “He said he was impressed with Hermione too.”
“Did he now?” Cygnus drawled, he made a show of taking a long drink from his wine glass while looking at Hermione the whole time. “Well I most certainly was not impressed with her.”
“Despite the compliment I still cannot imagine a pureblood husband being happy with his wife having a job.” Walburga cut in before anything more could be said about Voldemort or Hermione or Cygnus’ opinion of her. “Speaking of which, have you found an appropriate match for Bellatrix yet?”
Cygnus cleared his throat looking as close to awkward and uncomfortable as it was possible for him to appear. “I am in a few discussions at the moment.”
“You need to hurry up, she is eighteen already.” Walburga declared, levelling her brother with an incredulous look. “If you do not get a proposal secured for her soon people will start to think something is wrong with the girl.”
“What could zey possibly think iz wrong wiz my Bellatrix?” Druella enquired with a raise of her perfectly manicured eyebrow, goading Walburga into saying something insulting so that she could go for her again. “She iz beautiful, no?”
“She may be beautiful but she is wild.” Walburga stated, not at all intimidated by Druella.
Bellatrix scoffed and frowned at her aunt Walburga. “I would hardly say I am wild.”
Cygnus’ head swivelled towards Bellatrix slowly, there was a murderous look in his eyes that made her visibly gulp and shrink back into her chair. “Learn to speak only when you are spoken to.”
“Sorry father.” Bellatrix muttered as her attention went back to her dinner, she felt Hermione squeeze her knee quickly under the table.
“I can’t imagine that attitude would impress the Dark Lord very much.” Walburga said superciliously, her smug gaze drawn to Druella.
“I can’t imagine zat ze Dark Lord would want a wilting wallflower.” Druella countered, there was no way in hell she was going to allow Walburga to belittle her children in their own home. “She iz a warrior, she iz simply living up to ‘er name.”
“She is wild and she is that way because you have indulged her.” Walburga accused, her composure beginning to crack.
“We cannot all be as ‘eartless as you Walburga.” Druella drawled as she placed her cutlery down carefully on her plate and picked up her wine glass. “I will not apologise for loving my daughters.”
“That is enough.” Cygnus barked, looking between his sister and his wife with an unimpressed expression. Clearly he wanted to nip this power struggle between the two women in the bud before it got out of hand. “Druella, perhaps it is time for you and the girls to retire to the parlour.”
“Bon.” Druella said simply, her lips pursed into a hard line; she looked to her daughters and nodded at them signally they should rise from the table. “Girls, ‘ermione let us take our leave.”
Bellatrix stood up as she had been instructed but she did not look the least bit amused about it. “But we haven’t had dessert yet.”
“We will take it in the parlour.” Druella snapped sternly, shooting Bellatrix a look that threatened the consequences should she try to test her further. She fixed a false pleasant look on to her features as she addressed the table again. “Orion, Walburga it ‘as been… a pleasure as always.”
The shower in the bathroom between Bellatrix and Andromeda's bedrooms was in a word incredible, it was like the thing was sentient and knew exactly the temperature and water pressure you wanted. It had been the perfect balm the sooth her frayed nerves from the night before. Hermione sighed happily as she slipped the deliciously soft towel around her body and swiped an arc of steam off the mirror with her forearm. She looked at herself critically; there was a small love bite in the juncture between her neck and her shoulder that she would have to heal before going down to breakfast and the scar from Dolohov's curse was standing out stark white against her flushed pink skin. She turned around and let the towel slip lower down her back as she looked over her shoulder. There were some light nail rakes, which she would most certainly be leaving there, over the top of the ever fading spider web of marks left behind by her extended exposure to the Cruciatus Curse. It was odd how the new marks that Bellatrix left on her skin could cause her such a thrill when the old ones still made bile rise in the back of her throat if she thought about them for too long. Hermione heard the distinctive click of a door opening a second before Andromeda came tromping into the bathroom, she didn't have time to right her towel before the girl's eyes were on her body.
"Oh shit Hermione I di..." Andromeda's voice trailed off subconsciously as her eyes roamed over the marks that littered Hermione’s skin.
"Merlin Andromeda, don't you ever knock?" Hermione shrieked as she tugged her towel back in to place and secured it under her arm. She hoped that if she didn’t address the elephant in the room that Andie might not mention her scars either.
"The door was unlocked I thought you were done." Andromeda defended, her feet carried her closer towards Hermione without her permission. She couldn't take her eyes off the scars, marks and blemishes that she had tried so hard to hide up until now.
Hermione took a deep shuddery breath; she knew this moment marked a cataclysmic change and that there was no way she was going to be able to talk her way out of this one if Andromeda queried her. She knew in her heart of hearts that she wouldn’t be able to hide who she really was forever, but she did think she would have been able to keep it hidden for a little while longer. "Andie...I..."
Andromeda put her hand up to silence Hermione and she looked at her with sad eyes. "This is why you wouldn't let me into the changing room with you when we went dress shopping."
"Yes" Hermione answered even though Andromeda hadn't really asked a question, she had simply come to a conclusion in her mind and said it aloud.
"You should have told me... I would have understood." Andromeda spoke emotionally as she grabbed Hermione's shoulders and looked her straight in the eyes, she could see tears brimming there. "Let me look at you, please?"
Hermione nodded, this was her worst nightmare on two levels. She hated anyone seeing her body; she knew she should be proud of all of the things that it had endured but she hated that her skin betrayed her, that it told her story without her consent. She also didn't know how she was going to explain all of this away; there had been no war that she could have been caught up in yet, there were no Death Eaters out in the open yet. But still she carefully loosened her towel, she pinned it to her chest with her left arm so as not to expose herself and to hopefully hide the mudblood scar. Andie could see the others, she could hopefully lie about the others but there was no way to get out of that one when as far as she knew she wasn’t a mudblood at all.
Andromeda let her right hand drift down from Hermione's shoulder to skim across the tight skin of the burn mark on the left side of her chest, it felt cold under her touch and she knew it could only be the result of a dark curse. She stepped around Hermione and pulled her towel down lower, she let her eyes roam over her back. It was covered in different types of scars; there were small scorch marks like the ones that were scattered across her own hands and forearms from when she duelled, there were pock marks that looked like brands made by white hot metal and purplish lines that looked like cracks of lightning across her skin. She had seen marks like this before on Bellatrix’s body after she had been punished for something by their father, but hers never looked this angry...this deep set. "What happened to you?"
"I...I can't...” A quiet sob escaped Hermione's throat at the emotion in her friend's voice, she could see her heartbroken expression as she watched her in the mirror. “I can't talk about it."
Andromeda took a step closer to Hermione from behind and caught her eye in the mirror. "You were tortured."
Hermione wanted to deny it but she couldn't lie to Andromeda, she had spent enough time omitting truths from her so she would not outright lie to her now too. "Yes."
"By who?" Andromeda whispered, she felt a tear roll down her cheek but she did nothing to wipe it away.
Hermione held Andromeda's eyes for a few long moments trying to communicate wordlessly that she wasn't trying to be deceitful, that she wasn't trying to be evasive. "I'm sorry Andie, I really can't tell you that."
Andromeda noticed how Hermione's arm subtly tightened across her chest and how her left hand was gripping her towel so tight that her knuckles were white. "There's something else you haven't shown me."
Hermione's eyes danced down subconsciously to her left arm where it clutched across her chest. "Andie please."
"Show me your arm." Andromeda demanded, a frown marring her usually friendly features making her look distinctly like Bellatrix.
"Please." Hermione repeated pitifully, she could hear her heart beating in her ears as panic began to sink in. She stared into Andromeda's eyes and tried to beg her to drop this, but already knowing that she was not about to.
"Where did you really come from Hermione?" Andromeda laughed humourlessly, she moved so that she was next to her again rather than lurking behind her like some spectre. "It wasn't bloody France was it?"
"No." Hermione breathed, her eyes still focused on the spot behind her where Andromeda had just been.
"And you're not really related to Mcgonagall are you?" Andie pushed as she turned to fully face Hermione, noting how she was pointedly refusing to look at her.
Hermione shook her head and felt a few more tears stream down her cheeks. "No."
"Fucking hell are you even eighteen?" Andromeda erupted as she grabbed Hermione's arm and spun her around to face her "Are you some Ministry spy?"
Hermione adjusted her towel and fastened it more securely around her body before letting her eyes trail up to Andromeda's. "I'm not eighteen but I am only nineteen and I'm not from the Ministry, I don't work for them."
"Who even are you?" Andromeda sighed as she shook her head. She had grown to love Hermione over the last few months, Bellatrix was well on the way to falling in love with her but now she felt like a complete stranger. "We don't know you at all, do we?"
"Yes you do, you do know me." Hermione said earnestly, she reached out for Andromeda with her right arm but the girl took a step away from her. "I have been myself with you, I..."
"Yeah you've been yourself but you have just failed to mention that you have been tortured." Andromeda cut in, her voice rising dangerously. "Oh yeah, and that your name is not even Hermione Ross."
"My name is Hermione." Hermione said pathetically, her shoulders slumping as she began to fold in on herself. She had imagined this conversation a thousand times in her head, but being stood here was so much worse. Seeing the trust and affection drain from Andromeda's eyes was more painful than she could ever have prepared herself for.
"Well that's something I suppose." Andromeda replied sarcastically, her mind drifted back to her sister and the dreamy look she always seemed to get in her eyes whenever Hermione was around. "Does Bellatrix know any of this?"
Hermione shook her head and squeezed her eyes shut, praying to whoever was listening that she would open them again and this would all have just been a nightmare. "No."
Andromeda took a stride towards Hermione, her blazing eyes boring into hers. "If you are planning to hurt my sister you will see a very ugly side of me Hermione."
"I'm not going to hurt her." Hermione said sincerely; forcing herself to meet Andromeda's gaze, willing her to believe what she said. But it wasn't true was it? Bellatrix would eventually find out about all of this...and she would be hurt. "Well I didn't ever intend to hurt her."
"Yeah sleeping with her while you lie to her about everything that you are is a great way to protect her." Andromeda spat with more venom than even she knew she was capable of.
"It wasn't supposed to be this way." Hermione sobbed, her hand reaching out and grabbing Andromeda's wrist.
"Well how was it supposed to be?" Andromeda asked more calmly than before, she wanted to be destructively angry at Hermione but the girl just looked so broken.
"I don't know." Hermione sighed, she realised now how she had selfishly let herself get swept along in her feelings for Bellatrix without really thinking about the consequences for her. She had been so angry at Dumbledore for his insinuation that she should try to stop Bella from becoming a Death Eater, arguing about her free will. And yet she hadn't even considered that Bellatrix deserved a say in whether she got into a relationship with someone like her, because if she knew the truth she wouldn't choose to be with her. "I didn't have a plan."
Andromeda's eyes drifted down to the arm that was still holding the towel against Hermione's chest. There was something prickling at the back of her mind; she had never seen the girl not in long sleeves and when they had gone dress shopping she had refused to try on anything sleeveless or even short sleeved. She had heard rumours about extremists groups that had enchanted tattoos that showed others they shared their beliefs. But that didn't seem like Hermione's style, she felt like she didn’t know her but she had to trust her instincts about her. She had to believe that Hermione really was compassionate and kind. She couldn't be that good an actress could she? "Show me your arm."
"Ok" Hermione conceded, she could tell by the look in Andromeda's eye that she had figured something out in her mind. And really... she knew everything else now, what more harm could really be done? She swapped her arms over so that she was holding her towel with her right instead and slowly exposed her left forearm.
"Bellatrix." Andromeda gasped the second she saw that slur carved into the flesh of Hermione's arm, she would recognise her sister’s handwriting anywhere. The points on the M, the flicks on the tail of the B and D and the almost square form of the Os were so painfully familiar. "But how? She wouldn't do this to someone…she would never hurt you."
"I know." Hermione agreed, because Andromeda was right. The Bellatrix Black that they knew would never hurt someone like this but Bellatrix Lestrange who had been influenced by Voldemort, who had lived through a war and survived over a decade in Azkaban most definitely would.
"Hermione you are being fucking infuriating do you know that?" Andromeda sighed as she tore her eyes away from the angry, raised letters that were carved into Hermione's skin. She wasn't angry with Hermione necessarily, she was angry that she had proved her fears about her sister’s future correct. "Where did you come from?"
"When did I come from?" Hermione offered by way of an answer to Andromeda's question.
Andromeda’s eyebrows furrowed for a moment before a look of understand bloomed in her eyes. "The future?"
"I'm displaced." Hermione clarified, she drew her arm back away from Andromeda and wrapped it around her stomach. "There was an accident with a Time Turner and they can't send me back. I was told to build a life here but I didn't plan to... I didn't mean to..."
"Fall for Bellatrix." Andromeda finished for her, she had a lot to question after Hermione's confessions but something was telling her that her feelings for her sister was not one of the things she needed to doubt.
"Absolutely not." Hermione shook her head; she felt adrift, almost the same way she had when she had first arrived in 1969. Like she had before she had Bellatrix to anchor her.
"She tortured you and then you came here and you fell for her?" Andromeda asked incredulously, as much as she trusted Hermione’s feelings it didn't mean that she could understand how she could set that trauma aside.
"I know it doesn't make sense." Hermione laughed self-consciously. It made no sense at all, in fact falling for Bellatrix was probably one of the least rational things she had ever done. "But she isn't the same person. Apart from the name there are no similarities between our Bella and the woman who did this to me. I think I was drawn to her in the first place because of what she did, I was looking for reasons to hate her and instead I found reasons to care for her."
"What is she like?" Andromeda asked quietly, she didn't know if she was really ready to hear the answer to that question but she knew she needed to ask it. "In the future?"
"She's..." Hermione began, she thought through what she should say here. It felt like she was stood on a forking path; she could keep trying to trudge on the way she had been, where she refused to consider changing Bella's destiny. Or she could take the new path which led to her changing the future exponentially but...perhaps for the better. Because if she was to march out of this bathroom now and tell Bellatrix everything she was to become she knew she would not choose that life for herself. She decided to be truthful with Andie, there had been enough lies. "She is a monster."
Andromeda picked up Hermione's left arm and laid her hand gently over the scar there. It felt hot to the touch and she could feel a tingling in her palm where the Black Family magic imbued in the injury recognised her blood. "This...what she has done to you...isn't the worst that she does is it?"
Hermione's mind drifted to all of the muggles Bellatrix had killed, to how she had tortured Alice and Frank Longbottom into insanity and to when she had killed Andie's only child. "Not by a long way."
"We have to stop it Hermione." Andromeda said passionately, she let her fingertips trace over the letters on Hermione's arm. "We have to stop her from becoming that monster that you knew."
"I know." Hermione nodded, for the first time since her conversation with Dumbledore about destiny she felt like she had some clarity in her mind. Bella would not want to be turned into the person that she knew, she owed it to the person that she was falling in love with to try to save her. “But Andie, you can’t tell anyone about this…about me.”
Andromeda gave Hermione a look that was somewhere between exasperation and anger. “Hermione, if it saves my sister I will take your secret to my grave.”