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Our History is Before Us

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A chilly September breeze whistled through the hallways of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as Hermione Granger wandered through them, making her way to nowhere in particular. She couldn’t stop herself from scanning the sandstone walls looking for scars left behind by the battle that had raged within the building only months before. She had spent the last few months working alongside Minerva Mcgonagall rebuilding Hogwarts to her former glory. Once the reconstruction was complete most other people had rushed away from the castle, eager to distance themselves from the horrors they had encountered there during the war with Lord Voldemort. Even her own best friend Harry Potter and boyfriend Ron Weasley couldn’t wait to leave, desperate to get their careers as Aurors started. For Hermione Hogwarts was the only place she could imagine being, the brunette felt as though she had unfinished business with the old building. She was sure that if she changed her mind she could walk into any job at the ministry that she wanted, her reputation as the brains of the Golden Trio preceded her. But Hermione had always treasured her education and knew that were she to leave it unfinished she would spend the rest of her life regretting it.

Although Hermione had been at Hogwarts for months the other students had only returned yesterday with classes due to begin tomorrow. The halls were filled with cheerful chatter once again, the Great Hall was rammed with bodies and the first years were scampering around getting themselves acquainted with the enchanted castle. During her first time at Hogwarts Hermione was used to wandering these halls and being ignored, she had never been the main attraction while Harry was around. But now that she was the only remaining member of the Golden Trio she could feel eyes on her everywhere and hear whispers around every corner. Right now for example she could sense the small group of first year Ravenclaws following her. The four girls had excitedly squeaked as she rounded the corner and they caught sight of her. Hermione had tried to lose them by picking up her pace and taking various random turns, but they seemed determined to stick at her heels whispering and giggling. The brunette witch thought that perhaps if she found somewhere to sit in the courtyard and read her book the first years might eventually get bored and leave her to her own thoughts.

“Hi Hermione” An excited voice called as she stepped outside into the crisp air. She turned to look for the source of the voice, finding a 4th or 5th year Hufflepuff boy she didn’t recognise looking at her expectantly.

“Erm…Hi” Hermione replied tentatively with a weak smile, trying to figure out if she had ever encountered the younger boy before. “How’re you?”

“I..I’m good thank you.” The boy stuttered excitedly almost tripping over in his excitement to get a step closer towards her. “Are you ok?”

Hermione used all of her strength to contain her sigh as she realised she did not know this boy at all, he was just another person hassling her because she was ‘famous’ now. “Just fine thank you.” She offered curtly before turning away from him and making her way over to one of the benches on the other side of the courtyard. The four Ravenclaw girls rushed over to the young man, even from this distance their excited chatter made its way to Hermione.

“Do you know her?” one of the girls asked in an annoyingly high pitched voice.

The Hufflepuff boy threw the girls a cocky smile. “I’ve seen her around the castle. When she was here, you know…before.”

Another of the girls gasped before enthusiastically asking the boy. “Can you believe she spoke to you?”

“Maybe she’d talk to us if we went over to her.” The annoying voiced girl said in an excited tone and all four girls huddled together and began chatting animatedly.

All of this new attention unnerved Hermione greatly; she just wanted to sit her NEWTs and be left in peace. She had done her bit for the wizarding world, she had given up a year of her life. She had spent months living out of a tent. She had been tortured at the hands of Bellatrix Lestrange. She had wiped her parent’s memories. Was being left alone really too much to ask for? All of the eyes on her just served as a constant reminder that, although Voldemort was gone, nothing was ever going to be like it was. Hermione made a spur of the moment decision to make her escape from the courtyard now before the Ravenclaw girls plucked up enough courage to actually come over to her. Hermione quietly stood up and headed to the one place she knew would be empty.

Quickly she made her way across Hogwarts’ grounds, treading a path she had walked many times over the last few months. A sense of utter relief crept into Hermione’s bones as she jogged up the last few steps to the owlery and slipped through the doorway. She made her way to the back of the round room and hauled herself up on to her usual windowsill, peering through the glass at the sweeping landscape that surrounded the building. The Owelry had become her sanctuary as the months had passed; the soft hooting of the owls, rustling of feathers and haunting whisper of the wind calmed her mind in a way that nothing else could. As the summer had crept by she had begun to feel suffocated by her relationship with Ron and had sought out a place where she could just be. They had spent every single day together for months as they worked tirelessly to return Hogwarts to the beautiful building they all loved. Hermione had been excited to begin with, happy to have someone next to her at night to chase away the nightmares and relieved to have a loving family in the Weasley’s after losing her parents. But as weeks became months Ron’s constant closeness to her had started to frustrate her to no end. His hand was too clammy as he kept it permanently clasped around her own. He took up too much of the bed; always encroaching on Hermione’s side until she almost fell out every time that she moved. He always wanted to kiss her when she was in the middle of something and looked like a puppy that had been kicked when she didn’t respond with the fervour he was expecting. He didn’t understand the way that she felt about things, being entirely unable to get his mind around why the brunette would want to remain at Hogwarts when the new term started. Ron wanted her to get a job in the ministry with him and for them to rent a flat in wizarding London, to get their lives together started as soon as possible. But Hermione had spent too much of her life beholden to somebody else’s plan and somebody else’s expectations of her. She wanted to do something for herself. She and Ron were not suited to one another and Hermione had begun to believe that their relationship may have all just been a kneejerk reaction to the confusion that surrounded the Battle of Hogwarts. She had wanted so desperately to feel grounded and to feel like she had some degree of control over just one element of her life and by kissing Ron she had taken that control. If she was brutally honest with herself she hadn’t expected to survive the battle so hadn’t expected to have to deal with the consequences of the kiss.

As Hermione traced the Hogwart’s Express track with her eyes until it disappeared behind the towering hills she prayed to whoever was listening that her feelings would change now that she had some time away from Ron. Now that she wasn’t with him 24/7 she hoped some of the excitement she had originally felt might return, because the thought of what would be left if they were to not work out terrified her. Ron had been her best friend and she knew they could not go back to that after they had been so intimate with each other. She was also acutely aware of the fact that it did not just affect the two of them; it would force Harry and Ginny to have to sit squarely in the middle of them and that was not a position she was prepared to put her best friends into.

Hermione squeezed her eyes shut as she felt the tears sting, trying desperately not to let them fall. She knew that if she started now she would never stop. Taking deep gulps of the cold air she managed to compose herself just as she heard footsteps tapping up the staircase leading to the owlery. Her sanctuary had been invaded. She turned her head to the side, looking at the doorway, ready to face her intruder head on. Hermione couldn’t help the smile of relief that spread across her face when she caught the flash of blonde hair as Luna dreamily skipped into the room. If anyone could make her feel better it was the younger witch.

“Hi Luna” Hermione spoke softly to announce her presence to her friend. She was glad that the other girl had decided to return to Hogwarts this year, her warm nature was a great source of comfort to the bushy haired witch.

“Oh, hi Hermione.” Luna looked her way, a worried expression in her blue eyes.  “I haven’t interrupted a deep thought have I? I fear I have a bad habit of doing that.”

Hermione released a breathy laugh. “I think you may have. But believe me; you are doing me a favour. If I’m left alone with my own thoughts for too long I start to let them get on top of me.”

Luna moved closer to Hermione, smiling a crooked smile as she leant her back against the windowsill close to the brunette’s feet. The Blonde witch stood looking out at the room and Hermione could see the younger girls face in profile as her eyes danced up to the rafters of the owlery looking for creatures most could only imagine.

“They say a problem shared is a problem halved.” Luna offered, giving Hermione a chance to put voice to her worries if she wished to but not demanding anything of her.

Hermione heaved a heavy breath. “I was just thinking about Ronald.”

“Hmmm…yes.” The blonde hummed pensively. “I have often thought you two to be an odd match.”

“Luna how did you…” Hermione paused shaking her head in disbelief at the younger witch essentially being able to read her mind. She had offered such little information. “How did you know that was what I was thinking about?”

“Ron is a good person.” Luna replied, ignoring Hermione’s question all together. “But you need someone who challenges you, someone who matches your fire. Harry would have been a better choice, but he loves Ginny.” She continued as if she was discussing the choice between having jam and marmalade on her toast.

“People underestimate you Luna, did you know that?” Hermione asked rhetorically as she let her head fall back against the window frame. She scanned the rafters herself as she allowed herself to wrap her mind around what Luna had said. She did need someone to match her, to push her and someone who would confront her. She needed a leader, someone with their own mind. But Ron was a follower. Hermione knew that if Harry had decided to stay at Hogwarts this year the ginger boy would have just done the same. He was incapable of stepping out on his own.

“I can see why you like it here so much.” Luna commented in a cheery voice, breaking Hermione out of her reverie. “There are not nearly as many Nargles here as inside the castle.”

“And not nearly as many prying eyes here as inside the castle.” Hermione countered with a bitter tone to her voice, remembering what had driven her here in the first place.

“I have noticed people find you much more interesting lately.” Luna said conversationally. “Since beating the Dark Lord.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “It would seem I’m quite the tourist attraction.”

“It’s a shame they couldn’t see it before. I’ve always found you quite intriguing Hermione.” Luna turned her face to look at the brunette witch and smiled.

Hermione felt some of the tension melt away thanks to the ethereal blonde. “Thank you Luna… I think.” She said with a nervous laugh. “We should get back to the castle; it’s almost time for dinner.”

“I’ll follow you down in a second. I have to send this letter to my Dad.” Luna replied holding up the envelope she had been holding in her hand. “I promised I’d write to him and tell him if the staircases still moved.”

Hermione stepped into the Great Hall; hoping she could blend into the crowd of students and make it to the Gryffindor table without being stopped by someone she didn’t know or didn’t want to talk to. Her eyes scanned the four long tables that ran the length of the grand room, her attention mostly on the table bedecked in red and gold as she looked for somebody that she knew.  Finally Hermione spotted the fiery red hair of her best friend Ginny Weasley who was sat laughing with Neville Longbottom, Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan. Her heart swelled with relief as she thought about how lucky she was that so many of her friends had returned to complete their 7th year alongside her. Hermione made a beeline for the group and slipped onto the bench beside Ginny, smiling as the ginger girl turned to look at her.

“Where have you been all afternoon?” Ginny questioned in a demanding tone that reminded Hermione acutely of Molly Weasley. “Please do not tell me you have been in that bloody library already. Classes haven’t even started.”

“Oh hi there Ginny, it’s lovely to see you too. Yes I’ve had a fantastic afternoon thank you for asking.” Hermione responded, sarcasm dripping from her every word.

Ginny threw her a patronising smile. “You didn’t answer my question. Have you been in the library?”

“No, I’ve been in the owlery.” Hermione sighed. “I needed a little bit of time to myself. It’s crazy here now, people following me around like I’m some kind of celebrity.”

“Well you kind of are Hermione.” Dean offered with a shrug, reaching over to stab his fork into a steaming roast potato that had appeared on the platter in the middle of the table.

“It is pretty intense now that everyone is back.” Neville replied with genuine sympathy in his voice. “We were lulled into a false sense of security over the summer. Everyone that stayed to fix up Hogwarts had fought in the war; we were all in the same boat.” He too began piling food onto his plate.

“Things will calm down though Hermione.” Ginny reassured her.  “People stopped caring about who Harry was pretty quickly. And they would have forgotten about him all together if he hadn’t been getting himself into trouble every five minutes.”

“Yeah.” Hermione laughed, remembering fondly the trio’s antics in their early years at Hogwarts. In the simpler times before Voldemort had returned. “I’m sure I’ll be old news by the time the quidditch season starts.”

“That’s the spirit” Ginny grinned bumping her shoulder playfully into her brunette friends. “Now eat something. Before Mcgonagall comes over and loads your plate for you.”

Hermione’s eyes automatically snapped up towards the teachers table, sure enough the headmistress’s eyes were fixed solely on her. Mcgonagall knew of the younger witches concerns about coming back to Hogwarts without the support of Harry and Ron and knew that she was apprehensive about the effect her celebrity status would have. Hermione had predicted that her former professor would find excuses to check on her as much as possible. So to pacify the older woman she picked up a chicken leg from one of the platters and took a large bite, holding the rest aloft and raising her eyebrows with a smile. Mcgonagall rolled her eyes and shook her head but the ghost of a smile flashed across her features as she turned back towards Professor Flitwick, pretending she had been listening to him the whole time.

Hermione had eaten quickly so she could get back to the Gryffindor common room while the corridors were still relatively empty. She couldn’t wait for classes to start; the quicker things got back to normal the better. She heaved a sigh of relief as she realised she was now painfully close to the portrait of the Fat Lady. As she was about to round the corner something stopped her in her tracks, somewhere ahead of her she could hear the unmistakable sound of people arguing. She crept closer to the corner, straining her ears as she tried to listen in to what was being said but the words were still just angry murmurs. The voices were moving closer though and Hermione began to panic a little, she didn’t really want to be caught hiding and listening in to somebody else’s private moment. Wasn’t that what had her so on edge? People not granting her a moment to herself.

Any panic or trace of guilt quickly vanished as the one word she hoped to never hear again assaulted her ears, and it had been hissed in an all too familiar voice. “Mudblood” The word echoed through her brain. “Mudblood” it made her head spin. “Mudblood” it made her skin crawl. “Mudblood. Mudblood. Mudblood.” It seemed to reverberate off the inside of her skull with every beat of her racing heart. The scar that Bellatrix’s dagger had caused prickled on her arm, her hand inadvertently covered it before she drew her wand and strode around the corner. Finally she came face to face with the owner of that voice she had grown to hate over the years.

“Some things never change do they Malfoy?” Hermione ground out through gritted teeth. She levelled her wand at the blonde boy’s chest, cursing how her hand shook with the rage that filled her veins.  “You might be able to remove the Dark Mark but you can never kill the Death Eater.”

Draco Malfoy looked genuinely shocked to see the bushy haired witch appear in front of him and he gulped visibly as his eyes dropped to Hermione’s wand. “Now Granger, don’t go doing anything you’ll regret.” He said slowly, trying to sound confident but his voice betrayed a slight tremor.

“And why would I regret anything I do to you after what I have just heard?” Hermione countered with a hard voice.

Draco’s eyes flicked to his companion, Hermione only now registering Blaise Zabini standing slightly behind the blond boy. “Because you don’t understand what you heard…”

Hermione didn’t give him a chance to finish what he was about to say, she took another step towards Draco. “I don’t understand?” She all but shouted. “I understand just fine. I understand that you are a disgusting, pathetic excuse for a human being who should never have been allowed to come back to this school.”

“I know what you’re thinking Hermione…” Draco tried but was cut off again by the brunette witch.

Hearing her first name roll off the blond boy’s tongue almost made her want to throw up. “How dare you presume to know what I am thinking?” Hermione hissed, her nostrils flaring. “How dare you come here, to the only place that I have left and use that word? The word that your aunt made sure I could never forget.” She pulled the sleeve of her jumper up to reveal the angry pink scar that still stood out starkly against her pale flesh.

Draco clenched his jaw and looked away from Hermione’s arm. “If you want to hex me, go ahead. I’m not going to stop you. I’m not going to fight with you, not anymore.” He rushed out in a broken voice.

“I want to tell you that I’m better than that. That I’m better than hexing you.” Hermione almost sobbed. “But I think the part of me that was better than that died on your drawing room floor some months ago.”

Hermione flicked her wand and a red jet shot from the end of it, hitting Draco square in the chest. He flew backwards several feet and his skull hit the stone floor with a sickening thud. He groaned slightly as he tried to push himself up from the floor but didn’t quite manage it, blood ran from a wound on the side of his head dripping on to the floor. Hermione marched over to Draco’s crumpled form and pointed her wand at him again. Draco looked up at her from where he laid, his grey eyes met Hermione’s and she just had chance to see the broken look within them.

“Miss Granger, move away from Mr Malfoy this instant.” A stern voice demanded from behind Hermione. Her head whipped around and her eyes took in the livid face of Professor Mcgonagall.

The headmistress swept passed Hermione and crouched down next to Draco, looking over his body for any signs of injury; other than the obvious. “Can you stand Mr Malfoy?” she asked with a clipped tone.

“I think so.” Draco replied quietly as he pushed himself to his feet, reaching out for Mcgonagall’s arm to steady himself for a second.

Professor Mcgonagall spun around to her other two students. “Mr Zabini, please take Draco to the Hospital Wing at once. Ask Madam Pomfrey to check him over.”

“Yes Professor.” Blaise nodded as he grabbed Draco’s arm and led him in the direction of the school infirmary.

Mcgonagall turned blazing eyes on Hermione. “Miss Granger. With me. Now” The headmistress said in a voice that left no room for argument. The older witch spun on her heel and set off in the direction of her office while Hermione trailed behind her looking defeated.

Hermione settled herself into the chair in front of Professor Mcgonagall’s desk; the headmistress sighed and shook her head as she looked at the young girl opposite her. “Miss Granger what on earth were you thinking?”

“I heard him professor. I heard him say mudblood” Hermione demanded through gritted teeth.

“And you think that is justification for attacking him?” Mcgonagall asked incredulously.

Hermione stared at her professor with an expression that would have made anyone else shy away but the headmistress just met her gaze with equal fire. “No one gets to use that word. Not anymore. Not after all of the things that people have sacrificed to rid this world of bigoted thinking like that. No one gets to say it. Especially not Draco Malfoy with all of the things that his family has done.”

“I can understand why that word affects you the way that it does. But if I remember correctly, you were one of the people who spoke out in favour of the Malfoy family being pardoned.” Mcgonagall pointed out.

“That was when I thought they had changed.” Hermione stood up out of her chair as her anger took hold. “But people like them can never change Professor. Draco proved that this evening.”

“I would not have allowed Mr Malfoy to return to this school if I did not think he had changed.” The headmistress said in a measured tone. “Everyone can change Hermione. Just look at you. Before this war you would never have attacked anyone without just cause.”

“But…” Hermione began, stopping short when Mcgonagall raised her hand.

“I am not finished Miss Granger.” The older woman ground out. “In what context did Mr Malfoy use the word?”

“Context?” Hermione asked bewildered. “What does it matter what context he used it in?”

“Hermione, it makes all the difference in the world.” Mcgonagall said gently. “If Mr Malfoy had called you a Mudblood I could understand how it would make you so angry. But if he simply used it in conversation you have hurt the boy for no reason.”

Hermione scoffed. “What conversation could he be having where saying that could be justified?”

Minerva Mcgonagall observed her student over her glasses for moment, reminding Hermione distinctly of Albus Dumbledore. “Perhaps you should find out.”

“And how do you suggest I do that Professor?” Hermione shot back. “Surely you aren’t proposing that I seek Draco out and have a jolly little conversation with him about it.”

“Certainly not Miss Granger” Mcgonagall said in a hard tone. “I would not trust you within 100 yards of Mr Malfoy.”

Hermione spun around the glare at the older woman. “You don’t trust me?” she asked in a voice that cracked with emotion. Professor Mcgonagall had always been her favourite teacher, her mentor and now someone she classed as a friend.

“This version of you, Hermione?” Minerva asked as she stood up too, moving around her desk to stand in front of the bushy haired girl. “I don’t know the girl that I saw tonight. A girl that would gladly attack an unarmed boy. The thing that has always made you so special Hermione is your strong sense of justice and that you can see past what other people cannot. That you can see the true heart of a person.”

“Professor, what if that girl is gone?” Hermione asked as tears began to slide down her cheeks. “What if I can never be the girl that I was before the war?”

“Oh my dear.” The older woman sighed as she pulled Hermione into an embrace. “Of course you can never be the person that you were before the war. Experiences like that leave an indelible mark on your soul. But that does not mean that you have to lose the qualities that make you who you are.”

Hermione gripped onto her professor’s robes, breathing in the woman’s scent and finding that it eased the aching in her chest. “I’m so angry all of the time.” She admitted.

“Of course you are.” Mcgonagall said, squeezing the girl tighter. “So many thoroughly unfair things have happened to you. You have been forced to grow up well before your time. You have been forced to endure things that grown adults would struggle to recover from. You have seen things that no person should have to see. You are entirely justified in feeling angry. But I think tonight you may have directed your anger at the wrong person.” The older witch leant back to look at Hermione. “Draco Malfoy is not to blame for the things that Bellatrix has done.”

“I know Professor.” Hermione nodded as she untangled herself from Mcgonagall’s arms.

Mcgonagall moved away from the younger girl and headed back around her desk. “I want you to have a better understanding of what happened tonight.” She said as she pointed her wand at the top drawer of her desk and unlocked it. She slid the drawer open and took out a familiar object. “Maybe if you saw the incident from another perspective you might gain a new perspective on Mr Malfoy.”

Hermione reached across the headmistress’ desk and carefully took the time turner from the older woman.

Chapter Text

Hermione stood in the middle of the headmistress’ office holding the time turner in her hands; she traced the engraved words with her fingertip. ‘I mark the hours, every one, Nor have I yet outrun the Sun. My use and value, unto you, Are gauged by what you have to do.’ She thought about those words. What did she have to do? Did she really want to go back to her argument with Draco and find out that she had been wrong? Did she really want to find out that there had been a legitimate excuse for Draco to use that word? Did she really want to discover that she had attacked Draco for no reason and that she had let her anger get the better of her? Or would it be worse to go back and find out that she had been right the whole time? That Draco Malfoy had not changed from the entitled, pompous little git who had flung that insult at her so casually throughout their youth. If she were to find out that was the case, she wasn’t sure she could spend the next year sharing the hallways of her beloved Hogwarts with him. She wasn’t sure that she could attempt to forgive him another time.

Professor Mcgonagall watched her pensive student from where she sat behind her desk, she spoke softly to break her student’s reverie gently. “An hour should do it I would think Miss Granger.”

“Yes, I would think so.” Hermione replied distractedly.

“Hermione.” The older witch spoke softly, getting up and approaching the girl cautiously. “Is something the matter?”

The bushy haired witch sighed turning to face her mentor. “It feels as though whatever I find out will not put my mind at rest.”

The headmistress chuckled lightly. “Ignorance is not always bliss my dear. This would eat away at you in the end and you know it.”

“You’re right.” Hermione conceded, but she still didn’t look happy.

“We need to begin this year anew. We need to have buried the animosity of this war with our dead. If we allow bad feeling and anger to carry on it will destroy us all in time.” Mcgonagall said softly as she took both of the girl’s hands in her own, giving them a comforting squeeze. “If this war has taught us anything it is that there is nothing more powerful than love. A wise man once said ‘hate cannot drive out hate’. Do not let hatred consume you Hermione; we have seen the damage that can do.”

Hermione looked down at her own hands inside the older woman’s and thought about the words that had just been spoken. She had seen what festering hatred could do to a person’s soul in what Lord Voldemort had become. She had seen how hatred lingered in the eyes of Bellatrix Lestrange as the woman had pinned her to the floor of Malfoy Manor. She could not bear for there to be any comparison between herself and the dark creatures that had caused so much pain and suffering within this world.

“Why are you letting me do this Professor?” Hermione asked, not looking up as she spoke.

Mcgonagall cocked her head. “What do you mean?”

“Why are you letting me go back in time?” Hermione clarified. “You have always told me how dangerous time travel can be, that there are strict rules that govern what time turners can be used for. Yet this seems such a trivial matter over which to defy those rules.”

The headmistress let go of the younger witch’s hands and took a step away from her, looking her up and down. “You’re right; an argument between two students may be trivial in the grand scheme of things. But this is not trivial to you is it Miss Granger?”

Hermione shook her head. “I need to know whether Draco has changed. I need to know that I was not naïve to believe there was hope for a better future.”

“And that is exactly why I am willing to break the rules. You deserve to know the answers to your questions Hermione. You have given up much, much more than many others that walk these halls. Sometimes the universe owes a debt.” Mcgonagall said her voice betraying the emotion she tried to keep hidden.

The brunette’s eyes scanned the headmistress’s office and she cleared her throat. “I should leave now if I want this to work Professor.”

“Quite right.” Mcgonagall nodded as she swallowed thickly, all of a sudden looking conflicted. In one swift motion the older witch stepped towards Hermione and swept the girl into a tight embrace, resting her cheek on top of the girl’s head. “You are so very dear to me Hermione. You have the strongest heart of anyone that I know, make sure that you follow it…always.”

Hermione twisted herself around a little so she could look up at the headmistress. “Professor, is everything ok?” she asked, slightly shocked by the usually measured witch’s display of affection.

“I’m fine.” Mcgonagall laughed lightly as she released the younger witch from her arms. “It just feels as though, after everything we have been through, we should take any opportunity to tell those closest to us what they mean to us.”

The bushy haired witch was touched by the sentiment but couldn’t quite shake the feeling of confusion those words brought with them. She was only travelling back in time one hour and Mcgonagall was acting as though she was going back off on her hunt for Horcruxes. “I should leave.” She repeated, unsure of what else to say.

Hermione turned her attention back to the gold trinket in her hands and carefully turned the hourglass precisely once. Just before she slipped the delicate chain of the time turner around her neck she looked up at her Professor. “I have always trusted you above everyone else Minerva.”

As the older witch watched the girl disappear she couldn’t control the sob that slipped from her throat. She pushed her fist to her lips as she fought to regain her composure. “Good Luck Hermione.” Mcgonagall whispered to the empty room.

The older woman allowed herself a rare moment to be weak. She spent most of her life denying this side of herself but for right now she wallowed in the vulnerability. She allowed herself to cry for her student who was suffering right now and who had too much adversity still left to face. Hermione was so young and yet she carried a burden far beyond her years. Mcgonagall wished she could take some of the pressure away from the young girl, but she knew there was no chance of that now.

“Minerva, you act as if someone has died.” A voice behind the older witch said softly, the hint of a smile present in their voice.

 “In a sense they have.” Mcgonagall replied as she turned to face the source of the voice. “A version of Hermione has gone from my life forever.”

The headmistress’s companion stepped out of the darkness that had shrouded her from view until now. The dim candlelight of the office revealed a bushy haired woman with a scattering of freckles across her cheeks. The woman was unmistakably an older Hermione; around thirty years older than the Hermione Granger who had disappeared into the recent past only moments ago. “Am I really such a poor substitute?” Hermione asked affectionately.

“Don’t answer that Minerva. I fear this is one of those questions to which there is no correct answer.” A third voice called out in warning from the other side of the room. Out of the shadows stepped a woman dressed head to toe in black, her messy black curls framed her pale face as she focused her attention on picking at her blood red nails carelessly.

Minerva chuckled lightly as she cast a quick glance over her shoulder at Bellatrix Black. “I am very glad to have you here, I just wish I could save you from some of the heart ache I know you are about to face.”

Hermione stepped closer to her mentor and reached out to gently wipe the stray tears from her cheek with the pad of her thumb. “I wouldn’t want you to take that heart ache away. Without it I would not have what I do now.” The bushy haired witch looked across at Bellatrix who was fiddling with something she shouldn’t be on the headmistress’s desk. “It was all worth it in the end Minerva.”

“That may be so.” The older witch said softly. “I just wish that you could have achieved this contentment without all of the sacrifice.”

“It is not hard to sacrifice for those that you love.” Hermione said simply, smiling to herself as she thought about the people she had in her life now and how much love infiltrated every fibre of her being.

“What do we do now?” Minerva asked, her usual surety gone. “In a little over an hour, eighteen year old Hermione will be gone from this world forever. Many people will have questions, questions I’m not sure how to answer.”

“She won’t be gone altogether.” Hermione pointed out gently. “I will be here instead and I can explain, to all those that need to know, everything that I am able to. That is all we can do.”

Minerva sighed and turned her attention to the window, focusing on a nondescript point in the distance. “Do you think those boys will be able to accept that you have spent these years hiding away from the world with all of that knowledge of what was to come?”

“Perhaps not.” Hermione conceded. “But as you said, they are boys. When they grow up I trust that they will understand the burden of the responsibility that I had.”

“I trust that they will too.” The headmistress agreed, a small smile gracing her face.

Hermione appeared to steel herself before beginning to speak. “While we are on the topic of those boys, I was wondering if I could ask a favour of you.”

“Anything, Hermione. You know that.” Minerva said earnestly.

“Would you be able to support me in a conversation I must have with Ronald.” Hermione swallowed thickly as she was over taken by an unexpected case of nerves. “I feel as though he deserves an explanation of how Bellatrix and I ended up together. I want you to help me make him understand that he will be able to find someone who can make him truly happy. Because I never would have been able to make him happy.”

Minerva let out a dry laugh. “You want me to help you break up with Mr Weasley?”

“In a sense, yes I suppose I do.” The bushy haired witch said in something little over a whisper.

“And you don’t think this is something that is better coming from you alone?” Minerva asked diplomatically.

Any answer Hermione was about to give was cut off by a loud clatter and a whispered curse word which came from the direction of the headmistress’s desk. Bellatrix had predictably broken whatever it was that she had been playing with the last time the other women had checked on her. The black haired witch pulled out her wand and flicked it quickly over the object, repairing it to the state it had been before she had got her hands on it.

Bellatrix cleared her throat as she moved away from the older woman’s desk, ending her temptation to fidget with things anymore. “I can imagine that would be a rather awkward conversation. Sorry Weasley we’re done, but don’t pine over me because I’m now married to your mortal enemy.”

“I imagine Hermione would be able to handle the situation with more tact than you are capable of.” Minerva chuckled as she made her way over to her desk to check on the object Bellatrix had been manhandling.

“You would think so Minerva. But I often found my wife to be much too blunt.” Bellatrix replied nonchalantly.

“Only with you.” Hermione chipped in with a scowl. “It is not my fault if you have absolutely no reading for subtlety.”

“I can read subtlety darling. It’s passive aggressiveness that I have the problem with.” Bellatrix smirked, raising her eyebrows in a mischievous way at Hermione.

Minerva cleared her throat and put on her stern teachers expression. “I could always go and get Hermione now and ensure that she doesn’t have her little horological accident. That way I could save myself the potential of spending almost thirty years listening to the two of you bickering.”

“It’s too late for regrets now Minerva.” Bellatrix said dramatically a smirk tugging at one side of her lips. “You’re chance to keep the girl here and save us all a few decades of stress has slipped away. Oh, can you imagine the peaceful existence I could have had if Hermione had not tumbled through time and into my life?”

“Yes a fantastically peaceful existence, locked up in a cell in Azkaban.” Hermione countered, smacking Bellatrix playfully on the arm. “You know your life would be miserable without me. My tumble through time is the best thing that ever happened to you.”

“Excuse me.” The dark haired witch said, rubbing her arm as if the light smack had caused serious damage. “Aren’t you the one that spends so much of their time telling our children not to hit?”

Hermione rolled her eyes, exasperated at her wife’s inability to take anything seriously. “I make the rules. I don’t have to follow them.”

Mcgonagall chuckled lightly drawing the attention of the two younger witches. “If I had told the Hermione that just left this office that this is what her future held I think she would have cursed me on the spot.” The older woman watched as Bellatrix moved closer to Hermione, slipping her arm around the brunette’s waist and affectionately kissing her shoulder. “But I do wish I could tell her the happiness that is waiting for her if she is brave enough to pursue it.”

Hermione reappeared, somewhat breathlessly, in the now empty office of Minerva Mcgonagall. She looked at the clock on the wall and realised the older woman would still be in the Great Hall having dinner. She wasn’t sure exactly what time her altercation with Draco Malfoy had happened but she knew she had to get moving. It would be dangerous for anybody to see her and heavens forbid she miss the action after the headmistress had taken such a personal risk to allow her to come back here. Hermione tucked the time turner inside the collar of her blouse, pushed open the heavy oak door of the office and made her way down the short spiral staircase, squeezing past the stone gargoyle that marked the entrance to the room. Skirting through the shadows of the wide corridors the brunette witch rushed to the part of the castle surrounding the portrait of the Fat Lady. Luckily she knew this area like the back of her hand so quickly found an alcove where she could hide from view but still see in the direction that Malfoy had come from.

Hermione sat in her hidey hole and counted every insufferable second that slipped by, she hated being idle. So she busied herself by picking loose threads from her robe and pulling at the split ends of her bushy mane. After what felt like 3 hours, which was probably more like 10 minutes, she began to hear deep voices drifting in her direction. At first they were just dulcet murmurs but before long Hermione began to be able to make out actual words.

“I was not sulking” The sullen voice of Draco Malfoy reached her ears making Hermione groan inwardly.

Blaise Zabini snorted “Yeah right Draco, what else do you call skulking in the dungeons while everyone else enjoys a feast?”

“I don’t want to be looked at like a freak show, Zabini.” Hermione could tell that Draco was angry and as much as it pained her to admit it she could understand what the boy meant. Hadn’t she, only earlier today, slipped off to the owlery to hide from prying eyes? “I just want to keep my head down and finish my education.”

“Keep your head down?” Blaise asked incredulously. “You cannot just keep your head down and hide Draco. People will begin to think that you have done something wrong?”

“Haven’t I?” Draco asked in a flat voice.

Now that the boys were closer Hermione could see their faces clearly. Blaise Zabini wore a mask of shock and anger after hearing his friend’s words. Where Draco Malfoy looked broken, his cheeks were sunken and there were rings under his eyes that Hermione hadn’t noticed when she had attacked him.

“Draco.” Blaise said calmly, obviously trying to pacify his companion. “Do not let the fact that we lost the war get to you this much. There are still many victories to be had.”

“Victories that I will not be a part of” Draco spat. “Do not be so naïve as to believe that there were winners and losers in the war Zabini. Everybody lost.”

Hermione heard Zabini chuckle humourlessly. “Are you scared Malfoy?” The sudden change in the darker boy’s mood made Hermione feel uneasy somehow.

“Of course I’m scared” Draco shot back, shocking both his companion and Hermione as she saw a dangerous fire flash in the blond boy’s eyes. “My family just about survived the war. We are hanging on by a thread and I will not be the one that brings us crashing down to earth. Not now. Not after everything we have done.”

“I thought Potter and his little friends ensured your pardon.” Blaise sneered. “After your father proved himself to be the turncoat everyone always suspected him to be.”

Draco tactfully ignored the jibe at his father but there was no ignoring the obvious anger in his voice. “They did. And they could just as easily ensure our undoing.”

Zabini shook his head. “Those idiots are too busy at the ministry to worry about you are your family Draco. They are riding the last of their luck into high powered positions that they will never succeed at.”

“Not all of them” Draco muttered.

“Don’t worry about the mudblood.” The dark boy said offhandedly with the trace of a smirk.

Hermione wanted to leap out of her hiding place and wipe the cocky look off of Zabini’s face, but before she could even tell her legs to move Draco had the boy by the front of his robes. The blonde’s face was twitching with anger as he spoke through clenched teeth. “Don’t you dare use that word. Don’t you dare call her mudblood.”

Hermione dropped her head into her hands, she felt sick. How could she have been so stupid? She had attacked Draco when all he had been doing was defending her. She wanted to cry and hide away from what she knew was about to happen next. But she couldn’t. She was the one who had acted out of hatred and fear; accusing the wrong person and doing something unforgivable. Now she was the one who had to face up to what she had done.

The bushy haired witch lifted her head just in time to see herself round the corner; the look she saw in her own eyes was one that she didn’t recognise. The look was ugly and empty and it made her skin crawl. What had she become?

From this angle, hiding in her alcove, Hermione could see things she had not the first time this scene had played out. When she had pointed her wand at Draco’s chest, she saw how Blaise had reached for his own wand only to be stopped by a firm hand from the blond boy on his wrist.  When she roughly pulled up the sleeve of her robes to reveal the word Mudblood carved into her flesh Draco had only just managed to choke back a heave before he looked away. Clearly replaying in his mind the terrible night she had received the scar. The night when he had been forced to watch his Aunt Bellatrix torture her mercilessly.

Hermione almost threw up herself when she saw the red jet fly from the end of her wand sending Draco sprawling through the air like a rag doll. The first time around she hadn’t taken a second to assess how bad the injury to the boys head had been. From here she could see how the deep plume of crimson saturated his blond hair almost instantaneously. She winced and closed her eyes briefly in shame. She hadn’t noticed how when Draco tried to push himself from the floor his arms had trembled and given way under his weight. She wanted to rush to him and help him up, to look him in the eye and tell him how truly sorry she was for having acted the way that she had. But she knew that she could not. Part of her penance was to play silent voyeur to this awful scene.

 It was with utter relief that Hermione saw the livid face of Minerva Mcgonagall, knowing that her suffering was about to come to an end. She watched the quick exchange between Professor Mcgonagall and the boys as Draco was sent to the hospital wing. Then she turned her attention to her past self, she wanted to scream at herself. The Hermione of a few hours ago stood with her head bowed in shame, but current Hermione knew that the shame she felt was at being seen at her worst by Mcgonagall not at what she had done. Past Hermione had no idea what shame was, it was nothing compared to the type of shame that was clawing away at her chest now as she hid in her alcove. She had attacked someone, but worse than that she had attacked someone who had not deserved it. When had she become someone who believed them self to be judge and executioner? Almost before she had time to compose herself Mcgonagall and her past self began making their way towards her hiding place. She pressed herself further into the alcove, shrinking back into the shadows to avoid being seen by either party. Despite her best efforts Professor Mcgonagall’s head swivelled towards where she was lurking, throwing the murky gloom a knowing look without ever breaking stride.

After allowing herself a few minutes to compose herself Hermione eventually prised herself from the alcove and quickly made her way to the Gryffindor common room. She just wanted to curl up in her bed, cry and pretend like tonight never happened. She knew she only had that evening before the corridors of Hogwarts would be awash with gossip about what she had done to Draco Malfoy. The anxiety at the thought of it almost over took her rational mind as she felt its crushing weight on her chest.

The feeling of anxiety dissipated slightly as she crawled through the portrait hole and sighed as she was greeted by the comforting warmth of the cosy red and gold common room. Her eyes quickly scanned the area suspecting that at least some of her friends would still be awake. Hermione didn’t really want to speak to any of them, particularly about what had happened tonight, but knew that it would be unavoidable without it looking suspicious. Her worst fear was realised when she spotted Ginny frantically waving at her from a couch by the fire. She reluctantly crossed the room and plonked down next to her friend.

“Hey grumpy Gus.” Ginny greeted her mockingly as she saw the sullen look on Hermione’s face. “I thought you would have beaten me here. You left the Great Hall almost half an hour before me.”

“I popped to the library.” Hermione shocked herself with the easiness of the lie. She knew that her ginger friend would not judge her for what she had done to Draco but she just wasn’t ready to talk about it.

Ginny turned to her friend with an incredulous look. “You and that sodding library Hermione. Do I need to repeat myself? Classes. Have. Not. Started. Yet.”

 “I’m aware of that Ginny, thank you.” Hermione replied sarcastically, blowing her breath out in a huff. “I guess I just wanted… to hide away a little bit.” This may not have been the truth this evening but it was certainly how she felt right now. She wanted to hide away from the world. From what she had just done.

“You can’t hide away Hermione.” Ginny said, it was a simple comment but the words made the bushy haired witch shiver as they were almost a direct echo of those spoken by Blaise Zabini earlier. Before she could stop it her mind was replaying the images of Draco’s head bouncing off the stone floor.

“I know.” Hermione offered to her friend as she squeezed her eyes shut trying to stop the sound of skull on stone floor echoing in her mind. “But I think I’m going to need to for a while.” She knew that although many of her peers would cheer over the fact she had taken Malfoy down a peg or two, others would be horrified at her actions.

Ginny reached across and took her friends hand; the ginger witch could see the turmoil swirling in the other girls eyes. “You know you’re never alone, right?”

Hermione smiled weakly. “I do Gin. And I appreciate it.”

“Would you like to talk?” The younger girl asked. She wasn’t sure what was bothering Hermione so much tonight but she was sure as hell not going to let her go through it alone.

“I don’t think I do right now.” Hermione said in a small but certain voice. “Is that ok?”

 “Of course that’s ok ‘Mione.” Ginny smiled softly at her friend, giving her hands a comforting squeeze of understanding. “Why don’t you go up to the dorm and I’ll hang around here for the next half an hour or so? It’ll give you some time to yourself, to decompress.”

Hermione sighed and fought with everything within her not to cry at her friend’s kindness. Kindness she didn’t feel like she deserved right now. “Ginny, I don’t know what I did in a past life but it must have been something good to end up with a friend like you.”

“What you did in a past life Hermione? What about all the good you have done in this one?” The younger witch chuckled affectionately, looking her friend dead in the eye. “I don’t know what is going on in that wonderful mind of yours right now but remember that we’re safe now and everything is ok.”

The bushy haired witch knew her friend was trying to reassure her but Hermione could not help but scoff in her head at the notion of safety and normality. She did not feel safe or like everything was ok at all, she had not felt like that for even a second since the war had ended. Yes Voldemort was gone but she wasn’t safe from the nightmares that plagued her most evenings. Yes the ministry was back under the control of the light but there were still people all over the country that believed wholeheartedly in what the Death Eaters had attempted to achieve. Yes she was no longer under attack but now she was the one doing the attacking because she couldn’t bring herself to trust anyone. Yes she and her friends were free to live normal lives, but did she want to live the life that was laid out before her? Did she want to marry Ron, have 2.4 children, live in a house with a picket fence and work for the ministry?

The crushing anxiety crept into her chest once again as her thoughts threatened to drown her. Standing abruptly she turned to her ginger friend. “I have to go. Goodnight Ginny.” With that she rushed towards her dorm not giving the other girl time to reply or adjust to Hermione’s new mood.

When Hermione finally reached the sanctuary of the dorm room she slammed the door shut behind her and pressed her back to the cold wooden door. She needed something to help her feel grounded, her breathing was ragged and the bushy haired witch was pretty sure she was on the brink of a panic attack. Hermione threw her head backwards; the pain of her skull hitting the unyielding surface brought her back to reality slightly. Looking around the room, that held all of her creature comforts and reminders of the person she was before the war, she couldn’t find it within herself to stop the sobs breaking free from her throat. She felt so far removed from the person she was only a year ago, the girl she had watched attack Draco Malfoy tonight was entirely unrecognisable to her. The more she thought about life as she knew it right now the harder the sobs became, her whole frame was shaking and her legs would no longer support her body weight, so she slid down the door until she was sitting on the cold floor.

As she curled her body around her knees she felt something hard dig into her chest and she remember that Mcgonagall’s time turner was still hidden under her blouse. She wrenched the device from around her neck and tossed it carelessly across the room towards her bed, where it hit the mattress before promptly bouncing off the edge and landed with a tinkle on the floor. Hermione knew she should be more respectful towards her mentor’s prized possession but right now she could not bring herself to care. All she could think about was the pounding in her head and the dull aching that filled her chest.

Hermione sobbed into her knees for more time than she cared to admit and would have continued to do so had she not been interrupted by the incessant pawing on her arm courtesy of Crookshanks. The half-kneazle must have had his peace disturbed by the girl’s incessant sobbing and now he wanted to know what on earth was going on. Hermione reached over and scooped the giant, ginger beast into her lap and buried her face into the fur of his neck, inhaling his comforting scent and letting her tears dry in his coat.

“Hey Crooks’” Hermione whispered affectionately to her beloved pet. “Did I wake you up from your nap with my silly crying?”

The half-cat, half-kneazle looked up at her with his big orange eyes before letting out an indignant meow and turning his nose up as if to show his displeasure at being disturbed.

Hermione chuckled lightly at her pets antics. “Well, I am so very sorry sir.” The bushy haired witch said her voice laced with sarcasm. “But I’m sure I can find a way to make it up to you.” She added as she reached out to scratch his chin, knowing this to be his one true weakness.

At first the ginger moggy attempted to move away from her touch as if to say ‘it isn’t going to be that easy’. But he could only refuse Hermione’s persistence for so long and was quickly purring away with his eyes closed, enjoying every second.

Once Crookshanks felt that Hermione’s debt was suitably paid he stretched, yawned and lightly climbed down from her lap to busy himself with something more important. Hermione sighed and laid her head back at the door once again, she took a steadying breath and then began the task of convincing her body to move. She unfolded herself stiffly from the floor and stretched her back out, hearing a few things pop and crack back into place after having been curled up in an awkward position for far too long. Hermione walked over to the mirror to assess the damage the crying had done to her face, her skin was blotchy, her eyes were puffy and red and her lips looked swollen and cracked. In short she looked a fright. Her first thought was that she was going to have to dim the lights before Ginny came up to bed in the hopes that she could hide the worst of the damage from her friend.

Hermione spun around about to make her way over to her bed when she was stopped in her tracks by what she saw. Crookshanks was laid on his back on the floor juggling Mcgonagall’s golden time turner between his large ginger paws, its delicate chain clamped firmly between his teeth.

“Crookshanks, no” the witch bellowed as she rushed across the room and dropped to her knees before attempting the wrestle the device from her pet. “You do not play with things like this” she reprimanded sternly as she untangled the last part of the chain from Crookshanks’ jaws. She looked the time turner over thoroughly but save for a few ginger hairs trapped in the mechanics Hermione could see no damage. Breathing a sigh of relief she slipped the golden trinket around her neck deciding this was the safest place for it until she could return it to the headmistress tomorrow.

No sooner had the time turner settled on Hermione’s chest she felt the familiar pull of the strands of time tugging at her body, dragging her back to she did not know when. The bushy haired witch began to panic, the racing backwards of time usually lasted a matter of seconds but on this occasion it showed no sign of stopping soon. As the seconds stretched on the tugging at her body began to become more insistent and more painful. It felt as though sharp claws were tearing at her flesh and something was squeezing her head as though it was attempting to crack her skull in two. She opened her mouth to scream in pain but no sound came out. She began to see black spots in her vision and she was pretty sure she was going to pass out any second. Hermione had heard the horror stories of what happened to those that mistreated time turners. How timelines could be irreparably damaged. How people could end up trapped in a time that was not their own. How time travellers bodies aged decades in a matter of days. But before Hermione could come up with anymore horrendous consequences to her accidental time jump the world realigned with a shocking jolt and she hit the hard floor with a groan.

Chapter Text

Two girls were innocently trying to relax in their darkened dorm room when abruptly their peace was interrupted by a loud thud and distinctly human groan filling the gloom. Both girls leapt out of bed simultaneously and a clattering sound could be heard as one of the girls fumbled around on her bedside table, desperately trying to find purchase on her wand.

“L…Lumos” the girl stuttered as her fingers finally closed around the carved wood. An eerie blue light illuminated the room and revealed a pale and shaking Hermione sprawled out on her front on the floor.

“Oh Merlin. Who is that?” The second girl said, stepping back from Hermione’s prone form in shock and pressing a hand to her chest, covering her racing heart.

The first girl knelt down next to the unmoving form, allowing her glowing wand to expose the features of Hermione’s face. “I have no idea. I’ve never seen her before. She’s wearing Gryffindor robes though.”

The second girl cautiously moved closer and peered down at Hermione too. “Amelia, she’s bleeding. Is she dead?”

Even in the dim light the exasperated look on Amelia’s face was obvious. “Of course she isn’t dead. You can see she’s breathing Marlene.”

“What happened to her?” Marlene asked, looking at her friend with a terrified yet curious expression.

“How am I supposed to know what happened to her?” Amelia threw back as she reached out to press two fingers to Hermione’s neck where she felt the girl’s pulse thump lazily.

“Do you think she tried to Apparate and it went wrong?” Marlene asked.

“You can’t Apparate in or out of Hogwarts. You know that.” Amelia said, shaking her head at her friend. “And that doesn’t explain why we don’t know who she is. She looks our age; we would have met her before now.”

“What if she wakes up and attacks us?” Marlene gasped and jumped away from Hermione again. “What if she’s evil? What are we going to do with her?”

“I don’t think she’s in any fit state to attack anyone right now. She’s clearly hurt badly.” Amelia replied as she stood up slowly and pinched the bridge of her nose.  “I’m going to get Professor Mcgonagall.”

“No!” Marlene shrieked, grabbing hold of Amelia’s arm in a death grip. “Don’t leave me here with her.”

“Fine” Amelia snapped at her friend. “You go and get Mcgonagall and I’ll stay here with her.”

Marlene scampered towards the door quickly; as her fingers closed around the doorknob she turned back around to face Amelia. “Do you want me to help you tie her up before I leave?”

“No! Just go Marlene.” Amelia snapped at her friend.

Once Amelia was sure Marlene was actually on her way to get Professor Mcgonagall and not about to burst back through the door to ask some inane question, she made her way back over to Hermione. Amelia knelt back down and moved her wand closer to the mystery girl, intending to thoroughly check her over for injuries. She didn’t seem to have hit her head; there were no bumps or bruises that could be seen. Her nose had been bleeding but that seemed to have stopped now. Her limbs all seemed to be in place and looked fine and her breathing was deep and even. Apart from the almost dried blood under her nose and the light sheen of sweat on her brow the girl looked like she was simply sleeping. Amelia reached out and gently tucked a stray strand of hair out of Hermione’s face so that she could get a better look at the girl who had appeared out of thin air. The action seemed to rouse the unconscious girl somewhat and she groaned and began to move a little. Amelia quickly pulled her hand away and leant back on her heels to give the girl some space.

Hermione’s eyes fluttered open and she looked around groggily. She scanned what she could see of the room from her position on the floor, she recognised it but couldn’t for the life of her place where she was. She continued moving her eyes until they fell upon a pair of knees. Hermione allowed her vision to run up the frame of the girl in front of her, when it reached her face she tried to rifle through her confused mind to put a name to the person knelt next to her. But again she couldn’t seem to place the girl.

“Who…Who are you?” Hermione croaked out. It seemed to be taking a lot of effort to speak and her voice was much huskier than the last time she used it.

The kneeling girl chuckled lightly. “I could ask you the same thing. You’re the one that just appeared in my dorm room in the middle of the night.”

“Dorm room” Hermione echoed, not quite able to process what the girl was saying to her. As she focussed on her surroundings again the ghostly image of a large, ginger cat padding through this very room filled her mind. But she had no idea what that meant or where the image had come from, thinking about it made her head pound.

“Yes.” Amelia said uncertainly now. The bushy haired girl was obviously in a much worse state than she first expected. “Well, my name is Amelia Bones and this is my dorm room in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. My dorm mate, Marlene McKinnon, and I were just trying to get to sleep when you suddenly appeared in our room. Do you have any idea what happened?”

Hermione rolled over slightly and laid her palm across her sweaty forehead, her skin was hot under her hand and she felt nauseous. “No. I have no idea how I got here.”

Amelia could hear the panic beginning to lace the other girl’s voice. “That’s ok. We can figure that out later. For now why don’t we get you up off the floor?” When Hermione nodded her consent she reached out and grabbed hold of the bushy haired witch’s arm. She had only meant to aid the girl but ended up half dragging her off the floor and dropping her on to the nearest bed.

“Thank you.” Hermione said with a smile. She did feel slightly better now that she was off the floor; some of her faculties seemed to be returning to her. “Did you say your name was Bones?”

Amelia smiled, relieved that the girl seemed to be acting more normal now. “Yes. Amelia Bones.”

“I know a Bones.” Hermione said with a distant voice. “Susan.”

“Susan?” Amelia asked in a shocked tone. “My middle name is Susan. How do you….how could you know that?”

Hermione’s opportunity to answer was cut off by the dorm room door slamming open. Professor Mcgonagall, clad in a bottle green tartan dressing gown, swept into the room closely followed by a flushed looking Marlene McKinnon.

“What’s happened Miss Bones? Miss McKinnon tells me that a strange girl apparated into your room.” Mcgonagall demanded as her eyes swept over a dishevelled Hermione before she focussed her attention back on Amelia.

“Well, we don’t know that she apparated Professor.” Amelia said somewhat nervously. “She just sort of… appeared out of nowhere. We heard a thud and she was there.”

Professor Mcgonagall walked over to where Hermione sat perched on the edge of Amelia’s bed, the lanterns on the walls began burning brighter to light the room sufficiently enough for the older woman to see. The girl had her head in her hands now, the nauseous feeling having returned when she whipped her head around at the sound of the door banging. The older witch delicately slipped two fingers under the girl’s chin and lifted her head to get a better look at her. She studied the girls face; taking in the grey pallor and clammy sheen of her skin and making note of the dried blood around the girls nose and left ear.

“You’re wearing Gryffindor robes.” Mcgonagall stated pensively, speaking more to herself than to the mystery girl.

“Yeah, we noticed that. Didn’t we Amelia?” Marlene cut in excitedly.

Amelia expertly ignored her over-zealous friend, instead speaking to Mcgonagall. “I’ve asked her a few questions Professor, but I haven’t got much out of her. She doesn’t seem to know what happened to her or how she got here.”

“Thank you Miss Bones.” Mcgonagall said as she reached out and touched the familiar time turner that rested against Hermione’s chest. “I think I may have an idea what happened.”

Marlene gasped as she recognised the object the Professor was examining. “Is that a time turner?”

Much like Amelia had, Mcgonagall ignored the girl’s question instead addressing the bushy haired witch directly. “What’s your name my dear?”

Hermione lifted her head and locked eyes with her future mentor, she wasn’t feeling well at all and just needed a second to compose herself before replying. As she was about to open her mouth to answer Mcgonagall’s question she saw a look of panic erupt in the older woman’s green eyes. Then Hermione saw the woman lurch forward; at the same time she realised that her own body was falling forward and that she was entirely powerless to stop it. This was the final realisation Hermione had before the world went black.

Hermione’s eyes fluttered open for a second but she quickly snapped them shut again as the brightness of the room she was in made her irises ache. She groaned as she became aware of her body again; her limbs felt heavy, her ribs felt like they had been squeezed to the point of breaking, her throat was dry and her head was pounding. Slowly she tried opening her eyes for a second time, the room was still too bright but this time she blinked the achy feeling away. Hermione scanned the room she was currently lying in; she was unmistakably in Hogwarts infirmary. But she could not come up with a justification for why she was there. The last thing she remembered was being huddled up on her dorm room floor with Crookshanks. Everything after that was a bit of a blur. Had Ginny come back earlier than expected and hit her in the head with the door? She reached up to feel for any obvious bump but found nothing but smooth scalp. Had she fainted? No, that didn’t make sense; people are only unconscious for seconds when they faint. Had she been attacked? That didn’t ring true either, Hogwarts was one of the safest places on earth again since the war. Hermione’s inner monologue was disturbed by a clipped voice.

“Oh, you’re awake.” Madam Pomfrey stated in a matter of fact tone. “I only gave you a mild sleeping draught but you have been out for almost two days.”

Hermione winced as she adjusted her position on her pillows and a pain shot through her aching ribs. “What happened to me?”

“All I can tell you, my dear, is that when you came to me you were unconscious due to the most severe exhaustion and dehydration I have ever come across. It was as if you had been left out in the Sahara for a week. ” The matron replied, she produced her wand from her sleeve and began a series of complicated flicks. The notes from the end of Hermione’s bed floated next to Madame Pomfrey and a quick quotes quill updated her medical details. “Professor Mcgonagall will be very interested to know you’re awake.”

Hermione frowned as she realised that the older woman had pointedly not answered her direct question. She had asked what happened to her not what was wrong with her. The matron, for her part, was making it abundantly clear that she was not about to engage with Hermione anymore about it as she busied herself with her charts. It bothered her that the woman was acting strangely but currently not as much as her dry throat bothered her. “Madam Pomfrey, could I have some water please?”

The older woman’s head snapped up and she looked at Hermione with a confused expression. “Of…of course dear. “ She stuttered before heading to the kitchen area at the back of the infirmary, she looked worriedly back over her shoulder before she left the room.

Hermione laid her head back on her pillows with a sigh and stared straight up at the arched ceiling above her. She tried to think about what had happened to her, but when she did it made her head hurt in a way that was worrying. Before it could bother her too much her thoughts were interrupted by someone clearing their throat. She whipped her head around to look at the source of the noise and quickly regretted it as her vision began to swim.

“It’s good to see you awake.” Professor Mcgonagall said with a small smile. “I have to say you had us very worried.”

“I have no idea what happened Professor.” Hermione said equal parts worried and relieved. Worried that she had still not figured out how she ended up in the infirmary and relieved that Mcgonagall was here to finally clear things up.

“Before we go into that, could you tell me your name?” Mcgonagall asked lightly.

Hermione looked at the witch standing in front of her. A woman she had known since she was eleven years old, who had been the first person to show her an act of magic, who had held her as she cried over the loss of her parents, who was now asking her for her name as if they were strangers. She forced herself to really study Professor Mcgonagall and as she did she realised the darker tone to the woman’s hair, the fewer lines and wrinkles adorning her face and the trimmer curve to her physique. The woman who stood in front of her was clearly a much younger version of the person she considered her mentor and dear friend. Hermione allowed her eyes to close as she focused with all of her might on what she could remember from before she had woken up. Again the image of a large ginger cat seemingly randomly filled her mind but this time he was not innocently padding around a dorm room, he was lay on his back playing with a golden trinket. A time turner more specifically. And as if someone had flicked a light switch in her brain she remembered. She remembered the pain as time dragged her body reluctantly into the past. She remembered the fear she had felt as she hurtled towards an unknown era. She remembered the sickening jolt as her world had realigned. And she remembered the sound of the thud her body had made as it hit the floor.

“Professor, what year is this?” Hermione asked her voice raising a few octaves as panic gripped her. She didn’t remember telling her body to do it but she was suddenly trying desperately to free herself from the crisp white sheet so that she could clamber out of the infirmary bed.

Professor Mcgonagall put a calming hand on the young girl’s shoulder, pushing her back against the pillows and gently holding her there. “As I have said, my dear, that is not important right now. I would like to know your name.”

“Hermione Granger.” The bushy haired witch finally revealed.

“It is a pleasure to officially meet you Miss Granger.” Mcgonagall said with a light smile, extending her hand to shake Hermione’s. “Although, I have an inkling that this is not the first time you are meeting me.”

Hermione shook her head gently. “No Professor, we have met a great many times in my time.”

“You were in Gryffindor robes when you were found.” The older woman stated with a sense of pride in her voice. “Are you a student here in your time?”

“Yes” Hermione admitted. “I am completing my seventh year.”

“A very important year. Now would you mind explaining something to me?” Mcgonagall asked, waiting with a stern expression for Hermione to give her permission to continue. When she received a worried nod she ploughed on. “How did you come to have my time turner?”

Hermione sighed and squeezed her eyes shut. She really did not want to have to admit to the actions that had led to Professor Mcgonagall lending her the time turner. “I…I needed a new perspective on…an incident that occurred.” The younger girl stumbled over her words. “You allowed me to use your time turner in order to see the events with new eyes.”

“A very vague account of what I’m sure is an interesting tale Miss Granger.” Mcgonagall looked pensive for a second as she observed Hermione with appraising eyes. “And I must say, that seems like a frivolous use for such a powerful object. There are strict rules governing the manipulation of time.”

“I’m aware Professor.” Hermione cut in before the older witch could launch into one of her infamous lectures. “But the world that I came from is very different to this one. The lines between right and wrong have become a little blurred to say the least.”

“That may be so.” Professor Mcgonagall said in a clipped tone. Using her teacher’s voice, a voice she had long since lost when speaking to Hermione. “But I cannot imagine what would have to happen to convince me to entrust my own time turner to a student.”

Hermione smiled lightly, thinking of the warmth and protection that emanated from the Minerva Mcgonagall of her time. “We have been through such a lot together, my Minerva and I. She is very much more than just my professor and I would like to think that I am more than just a student to her.”

Professor Mcgonagall’s heart fluttered unexpectedly at the girl’s use of the term ‘my Minerva’. The affection and respect that this girl held for her future self was palpable in the way that she spoke about her. The older woman did not know why but she was sure, deep down to her very core, that this affection was reciprocated. She could feel a strange ghost of it as she looked at the bushy haired girl in the hospital bed, she seemed older than her years, hardened by the world somehow and yet not defeated. “I must trust you a great deal Miss Granger.”

“A trust I can assure you I have earned Professor.” Hermione said confidently. “A trust I will earn again if you will allow me to.”

“My trust is hard won.” Mcgonagall returned with a hard voice but the trace of a smirk graced her lips. “I will not make you win it twice.”

Hermione could not help the smile that crept on to her face as she caught a glimpse of the Minerva she knew within this younger version. “I remember what happened to me.”

“Do tell Miss Granger. Albus is the fan of mysteries, I deal in pragmatism.” Professor Mcgonagall stated as she perched delicately on the edge of Hermione’s hospital bed.

“I’m embarrassed to say that I was careless with your time turner Professor.” Hermione admitted in a quiet voice. “I left it in reach of my cat Crookshanks and while I was distracted he started playing with it.” She looked up at the older witch who simply nodded for her to continue her story. “I took it from him and thought the safest thing to do would be to wear it until I could return it to you. I was so stupid; I didn’t think for a second that he could have activated it. But he’s half kneazle so I suppose it must have reacted to his magical signature. I didn’t think it was even possible for the time turner to send me back this far. I don’t even know how far back I have travelled but I know it is much farther than is allowed. I have used a time turner many times in my life but never have I been as scared as I was this time. I thought I was going to be torn apart. I’ve heard the horror stories of those who abuse time travel.”

“Take a breath Miss Granger.” Professor Mcgonagall said calmly as she gave the younger girl’s arm a comforting rub. “We will try everything within our power to try and return you to your correct time. But I must warn you, it may not be possible at all.”

“I read a lot Professor. I know there has never been a case of a person being successfully sent forward in time.” Hermione looked down into her lap and squeezed her eyes shut to stop herself from crying. She knew there was a very strong possibility that she would never be able to get back to her own time. That she would never be able to see her friends and the people that she loved again. That she would never be able to sit and laugh with Harry and Ron again. That she would never be able to settle into the comforting warmth and chaos of the Burrow again. That she would never hear one of Luna’s insane tales about potentially made up creatures again. That she would never feel a reassuring hug from Ginny again. She thought back on all of the things that she may never get to experience again and she realised how much she had taken them for granted. Assuming that they would always be there for her to call upon when she needed it. But now that she sat, knowing in her heart of hearts, that all of those things were lost to her she felt incredibly lonely. A loneliness she had only ever felt once before, as she had walked away from her childhood home leaving behind two people who no longer knew she existed. She had orphaned herself all over again.

Professor Mcgonagall reached out and gently tipped the bushy haired witch’s head up so that she was looking at her again. “My dear, there was a time when there had never been a case of someone being sent backwards in time. There has to be a first, why can it not be you?”

Hermione nodded and swallowed thickly, she wasn’t sure how much Mcgonagall’s words pacified her. She knew how risky experimental magic could be. She could end up in a worse position than she was now if something went wrong. On top of that she would change the future beyond all possible imagining if she were the one to prove that travelling forward in time was possible. There would be no telling the consequences this could have on the time line. “Professor, please tell me what year it is.”

“It is September 1969.” Mcgonagall said carefully. She watched the younger witch intently, noticing how the girl grew pale at this answer. “What year did you leave behind?”

“1998” Hermione whispered sadly.

Chapter Text

Three days Hermione had been cooped up in the Hogwarts infirmary, Madam Pomfrey had made her stay in bed the entire time while she performed every conceivable spell, test and check on her. It was understandable; she had just hurtled almost thirty years into the past. But did she really have to endure three whole days of utter boredom to be told what she already knew, she was fine for now but that was not guaranteed to last. She had spent the entire three days desperate to find out what was going on and if Professor Mcgonagall had a plan for her yet. She knew in her heart that it was ridiculous to hope that the older witch could have made some headway on sending her home but during the hours she had spent unoccupied in her infirmary bed she had found her mind slipping to the idea of home regularly. Would she ever be able to go home? The questioned troubled her. What was home? Hermione had always felt like Hogwarts was her home, its magical hallways and vaulted ceilings were the image that came to mind when she imagined home. And yet here she sat, in Hogwarts and she could not feel more out of place if she tried. Was it the people that crowded the corridors that made the building her home? Was it her friends and peers that filled her with that feeling of warmth and comfort? Yes, time to allow the mind to be idle was not a good thing for Hermione at all. That was why when Madam Pomfrey had told her she was free to leave she had almost whooped with joy and hugged the matron. She had managed to stop herself just at the last moment.

Hermione was under strict instructions to go to the Headmaster’s office as soon as Madam Pomfrey had discharged her, she was not to talk to anyone on the way and she was not to make any detours. So she dutifully trotted as quickly as she could through the, thankfully deserted, hallways heading for the gargoyle that marked the entrance to Dumbledore’s office. The thought suddenly struck her. . . Dumbledore. She had not seen the man in over a year and the last time she had was when he was lying dead at the bottom of the Astronomy Tower. Had that really only been a little over a year ago? How could so much happen in such a short space of time? As she stood staring at the blank eyes of the gargoyle she wondered how she was going to face the man that she now knew so much about. She felt dirty all of a sudden, as if she had invaded his privacy in some way by knowing what she did about him now. Thanks to Rita Skeeta she knew all about his family and his life and loves before Hogwarts and details about his personal life she was sure the Professor didn’t want any of his students to know. Her Gryffindor courage threatened to drain away and she wanted nothing more that to turn and run back to the sterile safety of the Hospital Wing. The option was taken away from her when the stone gargoyle leapt aside to reveal a grinning Professor Dumbledore, the mischievous glint that Hermione remembered present in his blue eyes.

“Miss Granger, I could hear you thinking from upstairs.” Dumbledore said in his gentle voice as he gestured with his arm for her to precede him up the stairs.

Hermione scampered so quickly on to the staircase that she stumbled on the first step and had to catch herself on the wall. Her cheeks glowed pink as she heard Dumbledore’s gravely chuckle behind her. She managed to make it to the top of the spiral staircase with no further incident and entered the headmaster’s office hoping to appear more composed than she felt. Her vision first fell on Professor Mcgonagall and a small smile tugged at her lips at the sight of the woman. Then her eyes slid across to the other person already in the room. Sat bolt upright in the chair next to Mcgonagall was a man who looked to be perhaps in his late twenties, he was wearing formal robes and on his lap was a shiny leather briefcase that he held on to so tightly that his knuckles were white. Fear instantly gripped Hermione, she could tell a Ministry employee from a thousand paces. 

“Take a seat Hermione.” Dumbledore commanded softly as he indicated the empty chair in front of his desk. “And allow me to introduce you to Professor Saul Croaker.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Sir.” Hermione greeted the young man. She hadn’t recognised him when she had looked at him but after hearing Dumbledore speak his name she could see how he could become the man she met at the Quidditch World Cup. His hair was styled in a similar way, although much thicker, and there was a distinctive manner in which he held his mouth.

Dumbledore nodded his approval at Hermione’s manners. “Professor Croaker is..”

“An unspeakable.” Hermione cut in before she could stop herself. “He works for the Department of Mysteries.”

“You really do read a lot don’t you Miss Granger?” Professor Mcgonagall said with a chuckle.

Hermione smiled at Mcgonagall “We have crossed paths in my time.”

Professor Mcgonagall turned to look at Hermione more fully at this admission. “You have crossed paths with an unspeakable? I have the distinct feeling that I am going to have my hands full when you get here.”

Hermione laughed softly. “I’m afraid you might Professor.”

“Well I look forward to formally meeting you in the future Hermione.” Croaker spoke up for the first time. He had an easy smile and a boyish twinkle in his eye, his demeanour was much less formal than his appearance had led Hermione to believe. “But for now we should probably discuss the present. And please don’t call me sir, it makes me feel far too old.”

“Professor Croaker is here to talk about the rules regarding your time here.” Professor Dumbledore clarified.

“Rules?” Hermione questioned nervously.

“Yes. There are strict rules that must be adhered to when someone becomes removed from the correct timeline.” Croaker said as he snapped open his briefcase and began riffling through its contents.

“I’m sorry Professor Croaker. But you say this as though it happens often.” Hermione said, her curiosity getting the better of her.

“More often than you would think actually.” Croaker chuckled as he looked up over his briefcase for a second. “Only last week the Magical Congress in America had to deal with a displacement. Although, I have studied all of the recorded cases of time travel and no British person has ever travelled from as far in the future as you have. There is a theory amongst intellectuals that at some point in the mid-nineties all of the time turners are destroyed for some reason. But you may have just debunked that theory Hermione.”

The young witch couldn’t help but smile at Croaker’s enthusiasm for his chosen field. It was a quality that she admired and respected. “How do you deal with a..a…”

“Displacement.” Croaker offered. “A person who has been displaced from their own timeline.”

“Yes. How do you deal with a displacement?” Hermione asked.

“Aha.” Croaker shouted triumphantly as he pulled out the collection of parchment that he had been rifling through his briefcase to find. “We will get on to that. But first I need to take some details from you. I need to clarify exactly how you got here. Is that ok?”

Hermione nodded, looking worried. “Of course.”

“You don’t need to look so scared Hermione. You’re not in any trouble…yet” Croaked laughed easily and winked across at the bushy haired witch. The action earned him a death glare from Professor Mcgonagall but he quickly defused her emerging anger with a charming smirk.

“Why don’t you stick to the business at hand Mr Croaker?” Professor Mcgonagall ordered stiffly.

“Of course Professor.” Croaker nodded, Hermione was in no doubt that this man was an ex pupil of Hogwarts. And probably one who had found himself on the wrong side of the head of Gryffindor one too many times. “So, I have the time turner you used to travel here Miss Granger. Do you recognise it?”

“Yes” Hermione answered as she peered at the little golden gyroscope Professor Croaker was holding up. It had been placed and sealed into what looked like an evidence bag.

Croaker scribbled something onto his parchment. “And could you tell me who the time turner belongs to?”

Hermione’s eyes flicked nervously towards Dumbledore who smiled warmly and encouragingly back at her. “It belongs to Professor Mcgonagall.”

“That would be Minerva Mcgonagall; Professor of Transfiguration and Head of Gryffindor house at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?” Croaker asked formally.

“Correct.” Hermione nodded as she began nervously picking at the skin around her nails.

Without looking up from his parchment, Croaker ploughed on. “And is that the post Minerva Mcgonagall holds during your time?”

“No.” Hermione swallowed and flicked her eyes first to Mcgonagall who seemed to be shifting uncomfortably in her chair and next to Dumbledore who was wearing the knowing look he so often donned. “She is the Headmistress.”

Croaker nodded approvingly at this piece of information as he furiously made notes on the parchment. “Could you tell me the nature of your relationship with Minerva Mcgonagall?”

“I’m sorry. The nature of my relationship? I don’t understand how this is relevant.” Hermione said, her discomfort at being under the spotlight making itself known.

“I think I will field this one Saul, if you don’t mind.” Professor Dumbledore spoke up for the first time since introducing Croaker to the room. “It is not easy to travel this far through time Miss Granger. We must be able to prove within all reasonable doubt that this was truly an accident. Many powerful witches and wizards have attempted to manipulate time for their own ends. It is a very dangerous game.”

“I’m aware of that Professor, which is why the Hour-Reversal Charm was placed upon time turners to ensure that they were all limited to five hours. With this in mind, I don’t understand how I was able to travel twenty nine years into the past.” Hermione ranted, her voice becoming shrill as she got more upset.

Croaker cleared his throat. “I may be able to answer that. I only know of two ways in which the Hour-Reversal Charm can be nullified. Firstly should the time turner used be unregistered meaning the charm was never placed upon, which we know is not the case here. Secondly if the Ministry were to fall.” All eyes turned to Hermione who all of a sudden found her fingernails incredibly interesting. “The Hour-Reversal Charm is a restriction put in place by the authorities to ensure that the time turner’s power is not misused. With the ministry gone the time turner’s magic would be free to show its full potential.”

“Yes…well. That explains a lot.” Hermione said cryptically, never breaking her gaze with her finger nails. She knew the danger that was attached to giving too much information away about the future. How one slip of the tongue could change the entire world as she knew it. “Getting back to the question you asked Mr Croaker, Professor Mcgonagall was my transfiguration teacher and then she became a mentor of sorts. Now I would class her as much more than that. You see I lost my parents in horrible circumstances and she is where I turn for advice now, her office in Hogwarts is where I go to feel warmth and comfort and she is who I strive to make proud.”

Professor Mcgonagall reached over and squeezed Hermione’s arm trying her best to provide the girl, who was a perfect stranger to her, with some comfort. Yet again the older witch found herself moved by the words of the bushy haired girl in a way that she couldn’t quite explain. “I look forward to the day that I become those things for you Miss Granger.”

Croaker’s line of questioning, or interrogation, went on this way for another half an hour while the Ministry man established exactly what had happened and why. There were many moments where Hermione had felt so uncomfortable that she wanted the floor to open up and swallow her whole. But she knew that there were procedures that needed to be followed and boxes that needed to be ticked. She was astute enough to notice the palpable change in atmosphere in the room as Croaker’s questions slowed down and Hermione’s story came to end. All three adults before her had begun to make eye contact with her less and less and Mcgonagall in particular looked significantly uncomfortable. Her face had taken on a permanent scowl and she was shifting in her seat with increasing regularity. Hermione almost wanted to scream at them all and demand that they tell her exactly what was going on, that they tell her what they were obviously keeping from her.

“Well Hermione, that’s all that I need for my paperwork.” Croaker said finally with a half-hearted smile. “But now I’m afraid we must move on to the difficult part.”

“The difficult part?” Hermione questioned nervously. Had he thought that this part was easy for her? Having every decision and every conversation she’d had in the twenty-four hours before she arrived here picked apart by this man she didn’t even know.

 “Yes, there are very strict rules that must be adhered to when a person becomes displaced.” Professor Dumbledore began in his soft yet business like tone. Despite the fact that he was being kind Hermione couldn’t help but feel angered by the phrase ‘strict rules’. What were there strict rules that everyone kept mentioning but refusing to talk about?

Mcgonagall’s posture changed suddenly, her back becoming ram rod straight. “Is there any way we can tackle this delicately gentlemen?”

Dumbledore smiled warmly. “Of course Minerva, I forget myself sometimes. Why don’t you begin to explain to Miss Granger what is happening?”

“Miss Granger.” Mcgonagall began, turning her full attention to the younger witch for the first time. “When we spoke in the Hospital Wing you mentioned that you have read a lot around time travel.”

“Yes Professor.” Hermione answered. “I have had a lot of experience with time travel in my life.”

Mcgonagall nodded and seemed to weigh up her next comment. “You also mentioned that you are not aware of a case where a person has successfully been sent forwards in time.”

“Professor” Hermione called out as squeezed her eyes shut and tried to block out the ringing that had begun in her ears. She knew what Mcgonagall was building up to, she knew the woman well enough to know when she was attempting to come up with a way to cushion a blow. Her head was spinning and she had the horrendous feeling like she might faint. She took a few deep calming breaths before she carried on. “I can’t do this. I can’t talk around this topic. I need you to answer my question honestly.” She waited for Mcgonagall to nod her agreement to her request. “I’m not going home am I?”

“No. No Miss Granger you are not going home.” Mcgonagall said thickly as she tried to swallow back the emotion that flared up inside her at the broken look on Hermione’s face. “I am so very, very sorry.”

“Hermione.” Croaker’s voice broke through the haze in her mind as the reality of her current situation began to sink in. “If I can explain a little. It is not impossible for us to send you back to your time. We have found through the years that when we attempt to send those who are displaced back to where they came from we begin to do damage to time itself.”

“Like Eloise Mintumble” Hermione said hollowly, her brain and mouth working of their own accord. She didn’t care about Eloise Mintumble or time itself for the matter right now. All she really cared about was the fact that she wasn’t going to see the people that she loved again. That she was stuck here in a time that she didn’t understand with complete strangers.

“Exactly, Eloise died due to hyper-aging and many people were unborn. Not to mention the effect on time itself; Tuesday lasted two and a half days and Thursday merely lasted four hours.” Croaker explained. “We cannot risk the damage to time or to your own health should we send you back.”

“I understand.” Hermione sighed shakily as she fought with all of her resolve to not cry. “What’s to become of me now?”

“Miss Granger.” Dumbledore spoke up again. “You will stay here with us. Hogwarts has always provided a safe haven for those with nowhere else to turn.”

“Thank you Professor.” Hermione replied. She hoped that her voice showed some of her gratitude at being allowed to stay at Hogwarts and not just the despair she felt at being someone ‘with nowhere else to turn’.

“It is our pleasure. And of course you will be more than welcome to finish your seventh year with us here.” Dumbledore smiled and fixed his gaze on the bushy haired witch over the top of his half-moon glasses.

“But Professor, what about the transcripts from my earlier years at Hogwarts? Without those anything I achieve will be unrecognised.” Hermione asked earnestly, she wanted desperately to finish her education but she wanted even more desperately to not waste her time. “And I’ll be nineteen in a week, I’m a year older than all of the other students.”

“Let me worry about the finer details, Miss Granger.” Dumbledore answered with a soft smile. “Now should we get down to discussing our plan for you?”

Hermione nodded her head resolutely. “Yes please.”

“You are to become Hermione Ross, a transfer student from Beauxbatons Academy of Magic in France. The story will be that you have moved to Hogwarts due to a disagreement with your parents which resulted in you moving in with your distant relative Professor Mcgonagall.” Dumbledore explained.

Professor Mcgonagall nodded, picking up on her cue to take over the explanation. “Ross was my mother’s maiden name; although her family was not pure blood they were very proud of the fact that they could trace their untainted magical blood through eight generations. When my mother decided to marry a muggle her parents were so furious that they severed all ties with her. But her brother, my uncle, did not agree with his parent’s treatment of his sister so in order to distance himself from them he accepted a job within Liechtenstein’s Ministry of Magic. Little is known of him after this, which works in our favour.”

“So I am to pose as his daughter?” Hermione asked.

“We thought it would be more believable if you were to pose as his granddaughter.” Professor Dumbledore clarified.

Hermione nodded her understanding at this. “Did he even have any children?”

“We don’t know.” Mcgonagall admitted. “But if we don’t know, neither does anybody else. This allows us the opportunity to put ‘your father’ forward as an unspeakable.”

“This simple twisting of the truth gives you a get out of jail free card Miss Granger.” Dumbledore said in his usual cryptic manner.

“How so Professor?” Hermione enquired.

The grey haired wizard chuckled softly. “Because it means you are simply not allowed to talk about your family.”

Croaker nodded his agreement. “The fewer details you can give the better. Be a woman of mystery.” He added at the end with a smirk.

“Yes, but do not isolate yourself Hermione.” Professor Mcgonagall countered with a stern look thrown at Croaker. “Remember that she must make a life for herself here.”

“In deed she must Minerva, I completely agree.” Croaker said although his agreement sounded much more like an argument. “But there are strict rules that must be placed on the life that she leads from now on.”

“I am not a fool, I understand that.” Mcgonagall almost shouted. “But I will not sit idly by and watch your rules diminish the girl’s existence.”

“My hands are tied and you know that.” Croaked returned, his voice beginning to rise as well. “She is here now and she must behave appropriately.”

“Oh come on Saul. You forget that I know you of old.” Mcgonagall bellowed. “You have never been one to stick to the rules.”

“Please.” Hermione called before Croaker could respond again. “Don’t talk about me as if I am not here.”

“I’m sorry Miss Granger.” Mcgonagall declared, a look of genuine remorse morphing her features.

“It’s ok Professor, I know that it comes from a good place.” Hermione nodded. “Now, Mr Croaker I have spent almost the last hour hearing about these strict rules that are to govern my life from now on. Would you like to clarify what they are?”

“Of course Hermione.” Croaker replied, although he did not apologise he at least had the good grace to look embarrassed about his behaviour. “We have covered the first stipulation; that you must take on a new identity so that you cause as little damage to the timeline as possible. With that in mind you also must not take on a career in which you invent new things like spells, potions or magical objects. Everything must happen as it did and you must not benefit financially from your time travel. You must not tell anyone that you are from the future; that fact will stay between the four of us and the Department of Mysteries. Even the Minister for Magic will not be privy to information about your true identity. And the final rule is always the most difficult to discuss.”

“Please tread carefully with this Saul.” Mcgonagall pleaded as her eyes flicked to the bushy haired witch who was now looking distinctly over whelmed.

Croaker sighed and cleared his throat nervously. “Well Hermione, in the interest of preserving the timeline as much as is possible we must request, no demand really that you do not have any of your own children. We cannot risk the disruption that this could cause; we have no idea how much a child born in the wrong time could change the fate of all of those around it. We can’t calculate for the impact of a child who would technically be older than it’s parent.”

“That seems….I’m….I can’t really….”  Hermione stuttered as she attempted to force her emotions down. She hadn’t even thought about children yet, she had never been completely sure that she even wanted them. But now that she was told that she couldn’t have any no matter what she decided she couldn’t seem to force down the utter disappointment she felt. Would she be able to build a life in which the absence of children was never felt or would she spend the rest of her life feeling unfulfilled because she could never become a mother. She thought about the women in her life. On one side of the spectrum was Molly Weasley with her seven children that she lived for on the other was Minerva Mcgonagall who had never had children but had found a way to fill her life to the brim. She wasn’t sure which woman she was most similar too, right now she hoped with everything within herself that she could be like Mcgonagall. “That is reasonable I suppose Mr Croaker.”

Professor Dumbledore stood up from behind his desk. “I think that will do for today. Miss Granger, or should I say Miss Ross, has had more than enough information thrown her way.” The wizard turned his full attention towards Hermione. “I’m sure you would be happy to have some space to mull this over.”

“Yes please Professor.” Hermione almost sighed in relief, she wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep the river of tears that were threatening to spill held back.

“I’ll show you to your quarters.” Mcgonagall offered in a clipped tone as she stood as well and headed for the door seemingly unable to look at Hermione at all.

Hermione’s room turned out to be in the teacher’s quarters, an area of Hogwarts she had never been before. Dumbledore had thought it was prudent to keep the young witch separate from the general populous for the time being, while the finer details of her story were worked out. Mcgonagall had escorted her out in the evenings to walk the grounds and get some fresh air but other than that she had only really been permitted to leave her room in order to meet with Professor Dumbledore in his office. The first time she had been summoned was to sign paperwork for the Ministry of Magic in which she formally agreed to the terms that had been laid out by Saul Croaker in their earlier meeting. The second time was to receive her school robes and timetable, after much discussion it had been decided that it wasn’t sensible for Hermione to continue as a Gryffindor, much to her own and Professor Mcgonagall’s disappointment, and the only logical place for her was Ravenclaw. To begin with the idea had made her baulk, she had always been fiercely proud to be a Gryffindor and had never even considered being a part of any other house. But as she had been left to stew on it in her room all day she began to see the logic in it. She would risk coming into contact with too many people from her future in Gryffindor and really she could do worse than Ravenclaw. At least Professor Dumbledore hadn’t suggested Slytherin, she wasn’t sure if she would survive in those dark, damp dungeons that they call their home.

That was how the following Monday Hermione found herself stood outside of the potions classroom door wearing her school robes which were discomfortingly lined with blue and the still foreign feeling blue and silver striped tie. She stood staring at the heavy wooden door trying to convince herself to knock, but for some reason all of her Gryffindor bravery seemed to have abandoned her now that she was in a different uniform. She took a deep breath; she was five minutes late, a detail which had been suggested by Dumbledore to make it seem as though she was truly new to the castle.

“Just do it.” Hermione muttered to herself. “It’s not that hard, just knock on the door.”

Bellatrix was rushing through the deserted dungeon corridors; running late. . . again and all because of her damned hair. Thankfully she was only late for Slughorn’s Potions lesson a level below the Slytherin common room. She knew that she had the rotund Potions Master wrapped around her little finger; she could get away with anything if she batted her eyelashes and shot him a sweet smile. Her mother had demanded that this year she start taking more pride in her appearance because according to her, at seventeen, she was a woman now. But not just any woman, a pure-blood woman and as such there were certain standards she would be held to. One of those was being immaculately turned out at all times. Bellatrix thought it was ridiculous, she didn’t understand how her appearance made any difference what so ever. She was one of the brightest witches in her year; she was predicted ‘Outstanding’ in all of her NEWTs, she was an exceptional duellist and she had perfected many non-verbal spells while her peers were still struggling with Wingardium Leviosa. On top of all of this she was a member of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, any man would be lucky to win her as his bride. Not that Bellatrix was interested in getting married but she knew that her mother was concerned with making sure that she married into a reputable and respected pure-blood family. Her parents had her entire life planned out for her and she was sure that they already had her husband picked out, much to her irritation. She could tell a respectable pure-blood match much better than her parents; she would certainly pick someone worthier than the spineless Lucius Malfoy that they allowed to sniff around her sister Narcissa. It would be a cold day in hell before she would allow her little sister to marry that toad.

As Bellatrix trotted down the staircase that led to the potions classroom she heard something that stopped her in her tracks and dragged her out of her reverie; a human voice. Surely another student wasn’t late to class as well? The castle was too full of goody two shoes that were too worried about disappointing the great Albus Dumbledore for that to happen. The place hadn’t been nearly as interesting since Fabian and Gideon Prewitt had left.

“It’s not that hard, just knock on the door.” The female voice whispered, the girl obviously talking more to herself than anyone else.

Bellatrix carefully crept down another step so that she could peer around the corner and put a face to the disembodied voice. She caught a glimpse of bushy hair and instantly knew who the voice belonged to; the new girl. She had seen the new girl prowling the grounds at night while being vigilantly supervised by Professor Mcgonagall. The girl had been in the castle all last week but this was the first time she had turned up in lessons. Bellatrix knew the girl had been here a week thanks to her nightly routine of sneaking up to the Astronomy Tower. From her vantage point high up above the rest of the castle she could see the entirety of the school grounds and therefore was privy to the nocturnal comings and goings of the other inhabitants. Bellatrix loved her time on the Astronomy Tower she would carefully perch as close as she dared to the edge and allow her feet to hang freely over the side of the building. Up there on her own with the wind whipping around her she felt free, free to be herself and surround herself with her own thoughts without the worry of someone listening in. She could think about what she would do with her life if she had not been born into a pure-blood family, what she would do were she to be in charge of her own destiny. The Astronomy Tower was where Bellatrix left her deepest, darkest desires, where she thought through and then abandoned aspirations for a life she would never be allowed to live.

Taking a deep breath Bellatrix stepped out into the corridor the girl was standing in; she drew herself up to her full height. “Talking to yourself in the corridors isn’t going to win you many friends new girl.” She said, trying her best to sound cocky and confident.

Hermione managed to stifle the gasp that threatened to erupt from her mouth at the unexpected interruption to her thoughts. Her head snapped around to look at the person who had just sauntered into the corridor she was occupying. The girl stood a few meters away from her seemingly appraising her. The first thing Hermione noticed was that she was wearing Slytherin robes; her crisp, white shirt was buttoned perfectly to the collar, her green and silver tie was fastened flawlessly and looked as if it had been painstakingly centralised and her shoes were polished to a high shine. Hermione’s eyes moved away from the girl’s body to look at her face; her perfect uniform seemed to be in total juxtaposition with the unruly black curls the girl had obviously tried to tame into a bun on top of her head with little success as random locks had dropped out around her face and across her forehead. This odd mix didn’t seem to take anything away from the girl’s beauty though, if anything the slight imperfection only enhanced it. Her profile was undoubtedly aristocratic with a perfect slope to her nose, strong jawline and high cheekbones. She could almost look masculine but her full, pouty lips that turned up in the corners into a permanent superior smirk made her look distinctly feminine. Finally Hermione’s eyes fluttered up to the girl’s; her strong, defined eyebrows drew you into her dark eyes which were beautifully framed by thick black lashes. But it was here, at the girl’s eyes, that Hermione’s mind began to stall. She recognised this girl. There was something in the glint in her eyes and the way that they narrowed as they attempted to read her that was disquietingly recognisable. And suddenly all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together; the slytherin robes, the mass of black hair and those eyes. She was looking at a much younger, much more beautiful Bellatrix Lestrange, or Black as she would be right now.

Bellatrix watched as the surprised expression spread across the other girl’s features but quickly recovered turning to face the black haired witch. As she did so she subconsciously raised her chin and puffed her chest out. Bellatrix knew this to be a sign that the girl was trying to seem more confident than she felt. She knew this because it was a pose she regularly struck at her parent’s social gatherings where she was shown off like a prize heifer up for auction to Britain’s pure-blood elite. The bushy haired witch’s eyebrows pulled together delicately and she narrowed her eyes as she tilted her head to the side ever so slightly, obviously evaluating her. Bellatrix took the opportunity to return the favour; although the new girl had tried to arrange her posture so that she looked composed and collected her toes still pointed inwards slightly in a way that the black haired witch found unexplainably endearing. Bellatrix quirked her eyebrow as she took in the girl’s Ravenclaw robes, she was slightly disappointed the girl wasn’t in Slytherin but at least she wasn’t a Gryffindor. It was obvious from the way that the robes hung and how uncomfortable the girl looked in them that they were brand new. Where had this girl come from? Bellatrix loved to acquire knowledge and the fact that this girl was a mystery to her bothered her. If she was new to Hogwarts that meant she must have attended one of the schools on the continent; Beauxbatons, Durmstrang or maybe even Koldovstoretz. Where had she come from? Bellatrix’s gaze finally made it to the girl’s face; her bone structure was delicate and almost elfin. But that delicacy stopped at her features, although they were fine and feminine the girl held her face in a way that made her look determined and wilful. At first glance the girl could be mistaken for a wilting wallflower but there was something about the fire in her dark eyes that said she would not go down without a fight. She looked like she could be a challenge and there was nothing that Bellatrix loved more than someone who challenged her. She came across them so infrequently after all.

“Well are you going to go in or are you going to just stare at me all day?” Bellatrix decided to test her theory and see how far she could push the girl straight away.

“I….Ye…I.” Hermione swallowed thickly as an unexplained fear gripped her, it was clear to see that this girl was a million miles away from the insane figure she was to become. Her voice was a few octaves lower than the childish voice she was used to hearing emanate from the dark haired witch.

Bellatrix sighed and shook her head in disappointment. Maybe she had read the girl wrong and she was just as pathetic as all of the other ants that swarmed around this castle. “Move” she demanded as she reached for the handle and swiftly opened the door bumping into Hermione slightly. The jolt seemed to clear the fog in Hermione’s mind and she scrambled to follow the other girl into the potions classroom.

“Ahhh, Miss Black. What a pleasure it is for you to join us.” Professor Horace Slughorn called from the front of the classroom causing all of the heads in the room to turn curiously towards the two girls who were stood only inches apart. “And it appears you’ve brought along a friend.”

Bellatrix threw on one of the smiles that she knew always won Slughorn over and saw an opportunity to test out the new girl again. The girl was stood so close to her that she could feel her body heat and smell her perfume, she smelled like vanilla. “Yes Professor. I apologise for being late but you see I was helping our new student find the room. She had gotten terribly lost.”

“No I…” Hermione began but was cut off by a sharp elbow to the ribs courtesy of the black haired witch. Both of their heads snapped towards each other in synchronisation; Hermione scowled at the other girl but her look was met by a murderous one from Bellatrix and she quickly decided that it would be wise to pick her battles.

Meanwhile Bellatrix could have jumped for joy. The girl had bitten back, finally someone who might challenge her. She almost felt bad for elbowing the girl in the ribs. . .almost. The girl had thrown her a look filled with fire and she’d had to fight with herself not to smirk as she returned her look.

“Wonderful, wonderful.” Slughorn beamed, seemingly oblivious to the silent exchange that had taken place. “Your hospitality can cancel out the house points I was going to deduct from Slytherin as a result of you being late. Now, take your seat Miss Black.”

“Thank you Professor.” Bellatrix grinned again at Slughorn, she could feel the tension that filled the girl. She wasn’t entirely sure why it happened but she was pretty sure it had something to do with her, she decided to cash in on it. Bellatrix looked over her shoulder and threw the girl a wink; she stayed looking at her just long enough to see the bushy haired witch clench her jaw and stiffen her back.

“So, you are my new student?” Professor Slughorn asked rhetorically but Hermione nodded in response anyway. Finally Slughorn had asked the question Bellatrix had been dying to ask, but of course she couldn’t because that would ruin her aloof image. “You are very welcome Miss….?”

“Erm…Ross” Hermione stumbled, her new name not quite rolling off her tongue just yet. “Hermione Ross.”

Hermione’s nervous stutter made Bellatrix pause for a second, yet again today she was finding the girl surprisingly endearing. Her nervousness was sweet somehow and ignited a protective instinct in her that usually only stretched to her sisters.

“Wonderful, wonderful.” Slughorn repeated with the same inane beaming smile he had sported earlier. “The only seat that we have left is right in the back with Miss Black. But considering she has already made such an effort to assist you I am sure that will be fine. Miss Black is very proficient at Potions she will be able to help you along quite nicely.”

Bellatrix heart skipped a beat; the girl, Hermione, was going to be sitting next to her. More than likely for the rest of the school year too. Why did that thought make her feel mildly excited? She had barely said two words to this girl but she was already hooked. Bellatrix didn’t like people, she didn’t have friends. The closest she got to having friends was her sister Andromeda and yet she felt oddly drawn to this girl as though they were already connected somehow. And wait. . . did Slughorn just say she was proficient at potions? Proficient? She was excellent at potions, the best in the class and she had been since her first year.

Hermione wanted to shake the chubby little man in front of her, was he really so stupid that he didn’t see that Bellatrix was manipulating him? Obviously she had always had a knack of making people bend to her will, her methods just become more brutal as she had gotten older. “Of course, that sounds lovely Professor.” She ground out the lie between gritted teeth as she turned and headed for the seat next to Bellatrix. A feeling of dread filled her chest as she realised that she was at risk of having to spend a large amount of time with the person that still haunted her dreams on a regular basis.

Bellatrix had hoped that the bushy haired girl might be different from everyone else at this school; different from all of her peers who hated her on speck simply for being a Black. But if the look of distain that Hermione was throwing at her was anything to go by her hopes were well and truly dashed. She tried to write their distance off as jealousy but deep down she knew it was because of her family’s affiliation to the Dark Arts. She had come to Hogwarts hoping to find people that she could connect with, maybe even call friends. But by the end of the first week it became clear to Bellatrix that a reputation preceded her, a reputation that no one seemed able to discount or willing to look past. So instead of fighting it she decided to live up to it, she had decided to become the intimidating, cold bitch people expected her to be. Bellatrix rolled her eyes as she tried to fight down the disappointment that she felt and did what she did best. She threw up the walls that she spent her life hiding behind and tried to make it seem as though she didn’t care at all, hoping that if she believed it enough so would everyone else. “Well, Ermross. Let’s hope you are better at potions than you are at opening doors.”

Chapter Text

“Arhhh, now where was I?” Professor Slughorn asked the class rhetorically. “Oh, yes yes. I was in the middle of discussing the potion we will be brewing today. Its first documented use was in the late 10th century by a wizard named Samuel Plunkett who used it to terrorise a muggle village. There have been various iterations of this potion throughout history but by far the most successful to date is the version developed by Zygmunt Budge in the 1500s. Does anyone know which potion I am referring to or do we need some more clues?” The benign smile on Slughorn’s face faltered for a second as two hands in the back of the room shot up at the same time. He chuckled as though this was the funniest sight he had ever seen in his life. “I was hoping that I would get to have a little more fun, I should have known better than to think I could outsmart you Miss Black. But it seems as though you may have some competition for top of the class today. Miss Ross would you like to tell us which potion we will be brewing today?”

Bellatrix threw the bushy haired witch a look that was a mixture of impressed and annoyed, Hermione swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat as a result of the other girl’s dangerous look. But quickly the look changed to a smirk and Bellatrix gestured with her head for the other girl to go ahead and answer. Hermione took a deep breath before launching into her hurried response. “The potion you are referring to is Shrinking Solution which allows the drinker to take on a younger form until the antidote is taken. Most predominantly it is used in the mass transportation of livestock as moving them in a younger, smaller state is considered to be more humane.”

“Fantastic fantastic.” Slughorn beamed. “A perfect answer Miss Ross. Bellatrix, do you have anything you would like to add?”

“Yes Sir.” Bellatrix replied trying to mask her surprise at the fact that there might be somebody in the classroom who could challenge her intellect. “Shrinking Solution is typically brewed one of two ways; in the orthodox manner, which would have been used by the likes of Samuel Plunkett and is still the preferred method for many today. Or it is brewed using Budge’s method in which the potion is stirred immediately after adding the first ingredient. His theory was that it creates a much more potent result.”

“My My ladies. Did you two swallow a textbook this morning?” Slughorn asked in a teasing tone, rubbing his chubby hands together in glee. Both girls rolled their eyes subtly but chuckled lightly to appease the man. “Ten points to each of you for providing an excellent segue into the next part of my lesson.” He turned to now address the class as a whole. “As Miss Ross identified, today you will all be attempting to brew Shrinking Solution. And as Miss Black suggested you will have some choices to make, not only in the brewing method but in which type of cauldron you will use and how you will treat your ingredients. Now, one person from your pair come up and collect your ingredient list and the other go and choose a cauldron, off you go.” The rotund Professor dismissed the class with an extravagant flourish of his arms.

As the rest of the class scuttled off to do as the Potions Master asked, Bellatrix turned to look at Hermione with a perfectly manicured eyebrow raised. “Impressive ErmRoss. It’s about time that this school acquired someone else with two brain cells to rub together.”

Hermione shook her head at the annoying nickname, young Bellatrix really seemed to like pushing people’s buttons and her nerves were currently raw enough to allow it to get to her. “If you took the time to remove your head from your backside you would realise that you have never been the only person in this classroom with talent. You have just always been too conceited to see that fact.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth she regretted them, she didn’t know much about the Bellatrix that stood in front of her right now. But she knew she could not be a million miles away from the person she would become and the Death Eater would never allow someone to disrespect her this way.

A deep, throaty laugh erupted from Bellatrix’s throat, the sound was rich and melodic and so unlike the cackle that her adult counterpart had become synonymous with. Bellatrix fought to control the rush of joy she felt at finally finding someone who was willing to stand up to her. While Hermione fought to not over analyse the odd fluttering that had begun low in her belly at the sound of the dark haired witch’s laugh.

“Which one of my wonderful contemporaries do you suggest I extract my head long enough to observe, hmmm?” Bellatrix asked as she fought to control her mirth but not quite managing to put a stop to her smile. “Maybe your fellow Ravenclaw, Sybil Trelawney who spends so much of her time looking for answers in the sky that she has no idea what day it is? Or maybe that pest Skeeter who besmirches the good name of Slytherin by buzzing around and sticking her nose into everyone else’s business? Or maaaaaaybe that useless fool Amos Diggory who has added one ingredient to his potion and it is already eating a hole in the side of his cauldron?”

Hermione looked around the classroom at the other students; she had to admit they were a fairly pitiful lot. Two Gryfindors had somehow managed to set fire to their desk and were frantically trying to put it out with the help of Slughorn. Over the other side of the classroom a Slytherin girl was in the middle of untangling a caterpillar from her hair with very little luck. And as Bellatrix had pointed out the side of Amos Diggory’s cauldron was indeed slowly disintegrating, not that he seemed to have noticed. But Hermione was not about to admit to how inept those around her actually looked, she crossed her arms over her chest and rolling her eyes looking every inch the know-it -all. “Well Amos Diggory is one step ahead of us then isn’t he? We have neither a cauldron nor our ingredient list.”

“Those things can be easily fixed. But there is no cure for lack of skill.” Bellatrix smirked smugly as she slipped off her stool and sauntered towards Slughorn’s desk, glaring at the other students as she passed them.

“I guess I’ll get the cauldron.” Hermione muttered quietly to herself.

“Good idea ErmRoss.” The black haired witch called over her shoulder. “And don’t get a copper one or we’ll end up with poison rather than a shrinking solution.”

Hermione huffed indignantly as she made her way to the cauldron storeroom. “Of course I won’t get a copper cauldron. Who would be stupid enough to choose a copper cauldron when using Caterpillar blood?” As she finished speaking she smiled apologetically at two Slytherin boys who were fighting, in vain, to stop their potion from crawling over the rim of their own copper cauldron. She carefully selected a heavy based brass cauldron and set about lumbering it back to where Bellatrix was now waiting for her.

“Brass” Bellatrix announced as she took the cauldron from an obviously struggling Hermione and deposited it onto their desk with ease. “An interesting choice.”

“It has thermal conductivity so we can remove all outside heat source and still keep the potion warm and it is resistant to corrosion so we will not suffer from anyone else’s failed attempts at potion making.” Hermione defended herself, assuming that the comment was a jibe being directed her way by the future Death Eater.

Bellatrix smirked that damned smirk again. “It wasn’t a criticism. I was simply trying to point out that most people would have chosen pewter.”

“I guess I am not like most people.” The bushy haired witch replied, as she attempted to hide her unexplained blush from the other girl. Surely Bellatrix Lestra…Black had not just complemented her? Even if it was in a very strange, round-about way. The dark haired witch was infamous for her sense of superiority; she thought she was better than everyone. She particularly thought she was better than muggle borns, but this Bellatrix had no idea that she was a muggle born at all. As far as the black haired witch was concerned she was Hermione Ross and a member of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black would surely recognise a pureblood name.

“You certainly are not like most people.” Bellatrix whispered softly as she smiled a genuine smile at the pink glow in Hermione’s cheeks. Again she was struck by how endearing she found the girl in front of her, somehow she found this fiery and stubborn girl cute and she was not sure she had ever found anything cute before in her life. She was drawn to her in a way that she couldn’t explain, she was like a tricky knot that she was compelled to pick loose.

Hermione cleared her throat awkwardly, she was sure she had heard the other girl say something but she hadn’t been able to make out exactly what it had been. The more she thought about all of the things that the other girl might have muttered the less sure she became that she actually wanted to know so she decided to change the subject swiftly. “Do you have a preference on which method we use to brew the potion?”

Bellatrix gave Hermione an appraising look; she tilted her head to one side and narrowed her eyes as she weighed up her next move. “You decide.”

A gentle crease appeared between Hermione’s eyebrows as she thought about the best course of action. Their whole interaction since they had met in the corridor had been like a fencing match, as Bellatrix lunged she parried. And despite the fact that she was looking at the face of someone she had grown to despise the part of her that was always so eager to please desperately wanted to give the right answer. She thought back to the essay she had written on shrinking potions back in her third year for Professor Snape. “We should use Budge’s method.” She had not allowed herself much time to think about her old potions master but now that her mind had wandered to him she was struck by a distinct pain in her chest. The man had given up his whole life to be a double agent for the Order of the Phoenix and had never got an ounce of credit for it. She thought about his talents in potions and the Half-Blood Prince’s copy of Advanced Potion Making that she had studied while it was in Harry’s possession. “But I want to make some adaptations of my own.”

“No offence ErmRoss but I don’t know you from a hippogriff and you expect me to trust your potion making skills based on zero evidence?” Bellatrix asked incredulously with a dry laugh. “I’m the top of this class and I have been since the beginning of my first year. I will not allow that to be jeopardised.”

“I received an O in my Potions O.W.L, I will have you know.” Hermione fired back defensively. “I am not going to jeopardise anything at all.”

“How do I know that whatever second rate school you came from doesn’t just hand out O’s to anyone with a pretty face.” Bellatrix challenged, half trying to push the girl’s buttons and half trying to trick the girl into giving her more information about herself.

Hermione felt something inside herself flare up. She wanted to scream in the other girl’s face, to ask her how dare she assume that she had not earned her grade fairly. She had worked twice as hard as everybody else in her year, taking twice the amount of classes and all alongside believing that her best friend was being pursued by a crazed murderer. But instead she took a deep calming breath and thought about her new identity and the story she had to put forward to the world now; a story that did not include surviving a wizarding war. “Beauxbatons is hardly a second rate school. It has produced as many noteworthy witches and wizards as Hogwarts.”

The corner of Bellatrix’s mouth quirked up slightly; she had got her way, Hermione had divulged information about herself without even realising she’d done it. “I should have known you were a Beauxbatons girl, they are renowned for their arrogance.”

“Oh really?” Hermione snapped the acrid toxin of anger rising in the back of her throat as quickly as it had disappeared. “And I had heard it was Slytherin House who were known for their arrogant attitude.”

“That is one description for us I suppose. Alongside cunning, determined and… devastatingly brilliant.” Bellatrix mocked, she could hardly control her glee, she was enjoying the fact this that this new girl was so willing to bite back. So willing to challenge her. “But our shared arrogance aside, talk is cheap ErmRoss.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Hermione asked, trying to gauge the expression on the black haired witch’s face.

Bellatrix out right smiled this time. “If I am going to risk my reputation through your…adaptation did you call them? I want something in return.”

Hermione glared at the other witch, silently challenging her to continue; when no further reply was forthcoming she spoke. “And what could you possibly need from me?”

“Need? Oh no, I don’t need anything from you. But I want something.” Bellatrix clarified coldly, sounding almost like the Death Eater she would come. “You are close to that crone Mcgonagall and she has a nasty habit of setting Transfiguration essays which take up far too much of my time. If we do this your way and it goes wrong… you write my next Transfiguration essay.”

“No.” Hermione all but shrieked. “I will not be doing any of your homework. It’s… it’s cheating.”

“It would only be cheating if you actually had to do the essay.” Bellatrix pushed. “And if you are as good as you say you are that won’t happen.”

“Still no.” Hermione demanded. “I don’t want to play your silly game.”

“I knew it.” Bellatrix said, shaking her head in mock disappointment. “You know that if I allow these adaptations the potion will all go wrong.”

“That is not what I said.” Hermione scrambled.

“If you are so sure that your method will work, what will be the harm?” Bellatrix continued to goad the bushy haired witch; she could see that her resolve was beginning to fray around the edges.

This girl really was infuriating; from her near constant cocky smirk and arrogant air to the annoying nickname she had given to Hermione and the ability to push all of her buttons with relative ease. There were many things that Hermione could brush off but a jibe at her academic ability was not one of them. “Fine, have it your way ErmBlack, go and fill the cauldron and I’ll start preparing the ingredients.”

Bellatrix grinned and threw Hermione a mock salute and a wink before she marched off to prepare the cauldron. Hermione rolled her eyes and internally questioned how she was going to get through, potentially, a year with the future Death Eater as her potions partner. Particularly if the girl was determined to test her at every turn. Deciding not to dwell on that thought for too long she set off to collect the first few items they would need for their Shrinking Solution. By the time she returned back to the desk the other girl already had the cauldron ready and simmering.

“So, what’s first boss?” Bellatrix asked sarcastically as she reached out and picked up the knife from their desk. “I can do the chopping and dicing, I’m pretty handy with a knife.”

Bellatrix’s comment hit Hermione like a hard punch to the gut and she almost doubled over from the impact of it. She knew first-hand just how handy this person could be with a knife, she still had the painful scar on her arm to prove it. She looked at the young witch, who was now casually twiddling with the knife; the beautiful features that made up her face began to morph as she looked at her. Her full cheeks seemed to become gaunt, her eyes became sunken, her hair lost its lustre, the loose curls around her face frizzed, her plump lips became a thin line and before Hermione’s eyes the girl became the creature that often frequented her nightmares. She couldn’t remember what she was supposed to be doing all should could focus on was the confused look in the crazed Death Eaters eyes. Her throat felt like it was constricting as if those claw-like hands were back around her neck; each breath she took elicited a sharp pain through her chest. As the fear and lack of oxygen started to register in her numb brain she saw stars erupt in the peripheries of her vision and a piercing ringing sounded in her ears. She had felt like this many times since the war had ended and hoped her old tactics for pulling herself out of it worked here. She wasn’t sure her reputation would recover from fainting on her first day or her pride if it happened in front of this particular witch. She squeezed her eyes shut as she tried to focus on what she knew was reality; she was in the past…no that didn’t help at all. She tried again; her name was Hermione Granger, she was from England, she was at Hogwarts, she was in the potions classroom, she was making a Shrinking Solution. With each fact she recalled her heart rate seemed to slow and her breathing calmed somewhat. But she was pulled back to reality rather quickly and with a significant bump when a cool hand was delicately placed across her forehead and another firmly gripped her arm as though to steady her. She snapped her eyes open but, for some reason, she made no move to step away from the other girl. “Wha…what are you doing?” Hermione choked out. Her accusatory words were a stark juxtaposition to her actions as she leant in to the cool, sure and steadying touch; soaking up all of the reassurance that she could.

“You had gone all pale and clammy.” Bellatrix defended quietly, looking slightly awkward as she withdrew her hand from the other girl’s head. “I thought you might be ill.”

“No, I’m fine.” Hermione replied unconvincingly. Bellatrix’s eyes were alight with something that Hermione had not noticed before, a tenderness that seemed to illuminate the brown of her irises and make them appear deeper and richer. She took a step away from the dark haired witch, breaking contact all together, suddenly desperate to be away from the other girl’s aura, her body heat, her scent. The combination of all three seemed to make her head spin almost as much as the near panic attack had. “Thank you.” She finished in a small voice, unable to stop herself from offering her gratitude.

“It’s fine.” Bellatrix tried to shrug off Hermione’s thanks as she forced her walls back in place; she had allowed herself a momentary slip from her usual cold self into something more caring and that just wouldn’t do. “It was simply a reflex, my youngest sister is… delicate. She allows her emotions to get the better of her at times and takes turns similar to yours; she usually just needs a good anchor.”

“Oh.” Hermione replied, unable to force her mind to form any other words passed the shock in her mind. Bellatrix had been… kind and spoken to her like a normal person for the first time since their meeting.

Bellatrix took her own step away from the bushy haired witch as though to physically distance herself from their last interaction. “So am I going to get to see the wonders of a Beauxbatons education today or are we going to waste the entire lesson?”

Hermione glanced at Bellatrix and noticed how the degree of warmth that had been in her eyes moments before seemed to have faded. In its place was a mask of aristocratic indifference that she was sure was well practiced. “Could you slice the caterpillars up please?”

“Slice them?” Bellatrix asked sceptically.

“Yes.” Hermione answered somewhat nervously. “The metamorphic power is much more potent in their blood.”

Bellatrix seemed to accept this with a slight shrug and gentle nod before she set about meticulously cutting the tiny creatures into perfectly even pieces. “All in at once?” she asked as she held up the chopping board and allowed it to hover over the simmering cauldron.

“Um humm” Hermione hummed in confirmation as she began to concentrate on getting the skin off of the Shrivelfig. “Make sure you get as much of the blood… in there as you can.” She allowed the end of her sentence to trail off as the dark haired witch began scraping the board with her knife before she was even asked.

“You peel the Shrivelfig?” Bellatrix asked as she peered over Hermione’s shoulder. “I have always found the skin to be far too tough to be used in potions making myself.”

Hermione turned to look at her potions partner and almost jumped when she realised the girl was so near, a few of Bellatrix’s stray black curls tickling her cheek as she moved. “Erm…will you cut this up?” she stuttered as she passed the peeled fruit over clumsily.

“Living up to the name there ErmRoss.” Bellatrix mocked with a wink as she moved over to her part of the work station and set about chopping the Shrivelfig into precise cubes.

The bushy haired witch simply rolled her eyes at yet again being the butt of Bellatrix’s joke, she moved over to the cauldron to stir the potion and inspect its colour. Her concentration was quickly lost when she looked over to check on her partner’s progress; she became mesmerised by the other girl’s sure, quick and efficient strokes of the knife. It was obvious by the way that she worked that Bellatrix was diligent and committed to the things that she did, her attitude would lead you on instinct to believe that she was blasé or uncaring. But that could not be further from the truth, Hermione watched as she tutted and huffed when the knife slipped slightly and two of the cubes became more like triangles. She watched how Bellatrix carefully and delicately wiped bits of the fruit and juice from the blade of her knife with a sure finger. And how the girl’s tongue seemed determined to slip out of the corner of her mouth when she wasn’t paying attention to it.

“How do you want me to…” Bellatrix began as she looked up at Hermione and noticed how the bushy haired girl had been looking at her and how she shook her head in an attempt to snap herself out of some daze. “Were you staring at me?”

“What?” Hermione squeaked before clearing her throat. “No I was not. I was just making sure that you were dealing with the Shrivelfig correctly.”

Bellatrix laughed dryly, the sound so unlike the pleasant true laugh from earlier. “You don’t have to worry about the quality of my work, believe me.”

“I’m starting to realise that.” Hermione muttered under her breath.

“So you were watching me?” Bellatrix prodded.

“Well I just told you that I was watching you didn’t I?” The bushy haired witch snapped. “And is there anything that you don’t hear?”

“I have two sisters; I learned a long time ago that the things that people don’t want you to hear are the most important parts of a conversation.” Bellatrix replied in a matter of fact manner.

Those words struck Hermione for a second, since Bellatrix’s escape from Azkaban she had thought of her as many things. A Death Eater, a lieutenant, a criminal, a murderer, a pure-blood, a supremacist, a lunatic but she had never thought of her as somebody’s sister or daughter or friend. She had never thought of her as human. But this Bellatrix seemed human, like her very own person; she was mischievous and cocky and yes…annoying but it all seemed to be in the name of fun. There was no malice to the things that the girl did; she was just testing the boundaries around her.  Hermione found herself wondering when all of that changed and the evilness set in, when she stopped pushing boundaries and began pushing people to the brink of insanity with her magic. “We’ll need the Shrivelfig juice soon, the potion is pink.” She said softly.

“How do you want me to juice it?” Bellatrix asked, finishing her forgotten question from earlier.

Hermione picked up a sealable plastic bag from their work station and handed it to Bellatrix. “Put the pieces in there and shake them.”

The look of horror on the black haired witch’s face was almost comical. “Shake them….in this?” She asked, gesturing with the plastic bag.

It was Hermione’s turn to chuckle and smirk, it did feel rather muggle to use a plastic bag but it worked.  “I can do it if you’re not up to it.”

Bellatrix didn’t even answer her; she simply fixed her with sarcastic look before turning and filling the bag with the pieces of Shrivelfig and aggressively shaking them to prove a point.

“I think that should do it.” Hermione pointed out as she watched the bag quickly fill with the fruits rich juices. She leant over their cauldron to check that the potion was at the correct shade of red before motioning for Bellatrix to join her. “Add some of the juice until it starts to turn orange, I’ll stir.”

“If this insane method of yours poisons us I will hex you.” Bellatrix said with a stern look as she opened the bag she was holding and began pouring measured amounts of the juice into their cauldron.

“If I was going to poison you I would do a proper job and you would be hexing no one.” Hermione countered, not daring to tear her eyes away from the contents of their cauldron for fear that she had pushed their little game too far.

Bellatrix’s gentle chuckle put paid to that worry though. “I think that should be enough of the Shrivelfig juice, a few more stirs and that will be orange. Do we need to add any of the flesh?”

“Yeah” Hermione affirmed simply. This Bellatrix was certainly a conundrum; she knew the degree of anger that the other witch was capable of, she knew the horrors she was capable of inflicting on anyone that crossed her. But this Bellatrix was magnetic, her personality seemed to draw you in and push you away all at once, she was warm and cold all at the same time. She was enigmatic and captivating and absorbing in the way that she seemed to appraise and test the world around her. Hermione somehow found her own fascination with this girl was almost as terrifying as the thought of the Death Eater she would become.

Bellatrix watched as Hermione seemed to shrink into herself, getting lost in her own mind somewhere. The girl reached for a wooden spoon on their work station and passed it over to her without exchanging any words. But she needed no further prompt as she set about carefully extracting the pieces of fruit from the bag and transferring them to the cauldron. “What colour are we looking for?” She asked after three spoons full of Shrivelfig had made it into their brew which had begun to pale to a dull orange.

“Yellow.” Hermione answered, her second one word answer in a row drew a sideways glance from the other girl. But she couldn’t concentrate on that right now; she was too busy trying not to concentrate on the electric chill that ran up her arm every time the other witch’s body inadvertently brushed hers. How could this girl be having such an effect on her? Was it fear that made her skin prickle and all of her senses heighten? Or was it the mere energy of the girl herself?

“Are you ok?” Bellatrix asked cautiously, that hint of caring slipping into her voice again despite her best efforts to keep it at bay. Hermione’s cheeks were taking on a distinctly pink shade and the girl looked flushed and distracted. “Are you getting too warm? Maybe you should take your cardigan off. Or at least roll your sleeves up.”

Just the mention of exposing her arms made her scar tingle, her mind slipped to the derogatory slur scrawled across her skin in childish writing. She could almost see the glint from the dagger that had engraved it flash in the corner of her eye. She could still smell the perfume the Death Eater had been wearing on the night she had pinned her to the drawing room floor; that smell seemed to invade her senses now. “I will not be removing my cardigan and I do not need you to fuss over me.” Hermione snapped as she subconsciously tugged the sleeves of the knit wear down further.

Bellatrix rounded on the other girl with a murderous look in her eyes; she put her hands on her hips and set her jaw. “I do many things ErmRoss.” She began through gritted teeth. “But I can assure you that fuss is not one of them. If you take one of your turns again, rest assured I will not be attempting to catch you this time.”

Hermione met Bellatrix’s dark glare for a second but the look was too intense to hold and she found her eyes frantically searching the rest of the girl’s face. That is when she noticed the slight pink colouring at Bellatrix’s cheeks; it stood out in stark contrast to her otherwise porcelain skin. It didn’t look like a flush of anger, she looked too composed otherwise. Was this the colour of embarrassment? “I’m sorry.” Hermione muttered. “I didn’t mean to… offend you.”

“Offend me.” Bellatrix snorted, fixing her lips into a self-assured smirk. “You will have to try a lot harder than that to offend me.”

“Still I’m sorry.” Hermione said in a small voice as she looked at Bellatrix through the corner of her eye, she watched how the other girl’s stiff posture loosened slightly at her words.

 “Forget it now.” Bellatrix replied with a dismissive wave of her hand. “What do we need to do next with this potion of yours?”

“Ours.” Hermione corrected before she could stop herself. “Erm… the potion needs to simmer until it turns purple. While we’re waiting we can prepare the next ingredients.”

The corner of Bellatrix’s mouth pulled up slightly despite the fact that she was still trying to look put out by the other girl. “There you go again ErmRoss.”

Hermione rolled her eyes before quickly turning away to hide the look, not wanting to disrespect the fact that Bellatrix seemed to be extending the olive branch.  “I’m going to get the rest of the ingredients.” She almost whispered before taking a deep breath and heading to the ingredients store and collecting the last three items they needed. Once she was back at their work station and had deposited the items she was carrying she spoke again, this time in a more assured voice. “The rat spleens can go in as they are as soon as the potion is purple.”

“Which one would you rather prepare?” Bellatrix asked as she held up the pinch of daisy roots in one hand and a writhing leech in the other.

Hermione scrunched her face up in disgust at the slimy black creature in front of her. “Since you seem to have such an affinity to those awful little things why don’t you take care of them?”

Bellatrix hummed contemplatively as a smirk broke out on her face. “I’ve never known somebody take such a dislike to daisy root. But if you insist you can get to work on the leeches.”

Hermione’s eyes widened in horror for a second before she realised that Bellatrix was trying very hard to fight back a laugh. “Oh just give me the daisy root and start juicing the leeches will you.”

At this Bellatrix did actually laugh, the same tuneful sound as earlier emanating from her again. “I will, I will. You don’t need to fuss about it ErmRoss.”

Hermione ran a hand through her quickly frizzing hair, she was feeling equal parts frustrated at Bellatrix’s sporadic moods and relieved that the girl seemed to be more forgiving than her ruthless future self. Again she found herself questioning when the girl in front of her began her transformation into the heartless monster that plagued the wizarding world. As she began mincing the daisy root with the knife Bellatrix had been using earlier she couldn’t stop herself from wondering if there was anything she could do to put a stop to her metamorphosis. She thought about all of the lives that could be saved if Bellatrix remained as the forgiving, almost caring person she seemed to be right now. She thought about how weakened Voldemort’s cause would be without Bellatrix’s extreme fanaticism. And she thought about all of the things that a mind like Bellatrix’s might be able to achieve if it was directed in the right way and not towards death and destruction. It was this thought that stopped her in her tracks, it was not her job to change the future; to take Bellatrix out of the running, and it was certainly not her job to decide what was right for somebody else. As much as it pained her to think about it, Bellatrix had only ever done the things that she did because she believed it was right. She truly believed that muggles were inferior to her and that muggle-borns did not deserve to be educated in the ways of magic, she was as disgusted by this as many people were by her actions. And my God, when the hell had she started to become sympathetic to Bellatrix Lestrange and the way that she thought?

Thankfully Hermione didn’t have much chance to dwell on this as she was pulled out of her musings by Bellatrix’s sure voice. “The potion is purple and I’ve added the rat spleens, I put them in whole like you mentioned before.”

“Perfect.” Hermione acknowledged with a small smile. “Now stir is carefully, it can be a little volatile at this stage.”

“I’m good with volatile.” Bellatrix mocked, as she picked up the long spoon used to stir the potion. She carefully slid it into the cauldron, being careful to disturb the surface of the liquid as little as possible and began making graceful figure of eights through the substance.

Hermione approached the cauldron too, taking care to stand a good distance away from the other girl this time; she couldn’t risk getting distracted at this point in the brewing process. “Keep stirring while I add the final ingredients.” She instructed as she sprinkled some of the minced daisy root onto the top of the potion. She watched how the bits of fibrous material were combined into the liquid and it began to turn a sludgy brown. She scattered another pinch of daisy root into the potion, estimating it to be enough to transform it to the desired shade of green before turning away to prepare the leech juice Bellatrix had prepared.

 “You weren’t exaggerating when you said you were good at this were you?” The black haired witch uttered quietly, refusing to look away from the potion.

Hermione smiled nervously, not really believing that she had heard what she had actually heard. “Shouldn’t you be sounding upset? At this rate you will be writing your own Transfiguration essay.”

“There’s still time for it to all go wrong.” Bellatrix replied with a wink, finally looked up at the other girl to catch her eye.

“You’re not planning to sabotage the potion are you?” Hermione asked, only half joking.

Bellatrix gave a snort of laughter. “Not a chance, there is still twenty points we can squeeze out of old Slughorn if we play our cards right.”

It was Hermione’s turn to laugh this time; she shook her head good naturedly as she began carefully adding drops of leech juice into their potion. “I’m sure you have many methods which allow you to milk our good Professor out of all of the points that you want.”

“ErmRoss what are you insinuating?” Bellatrix gasped, looking at the bushy haired witch with a look of horror.

“N..nothing. Oh my God, nothing.” Hermione stuttered, realising too late the double entendre she had inadvertently made.

Bellatrix abandoned her rhythmic stirring of the potion to stand in front of Hermione. “I’m kidding.” She said gently as she laid her hand on the other girl’s shoulder. “Slughorn is a collector of exceptional people. He tries to recruit them into this club that he runs, it’s all very elite. He has been trying to enlist me since I began in my first year. But so far I have eluded his grasp.”

“So he tries to bribe you with house points.” Hermione finished the tale for Bellatrix, remembering all too well the methods Slughorn had employed to drag Harry into his Slug Club.

“Exactly.” Bellatrix confirmed with a nonchalant shrug. “And until he realises that all of the house points in the world would not get me to put on a fancy dress and play nice with my peers I will continue to take them with a sweet smile.”

As if he had been summoned by the mere mention of his name, Slughorn approached their work station with a benign grin. “Well, Well ladies. I hope you two are getting along.”

“Of course Professor.” Bellatrix replied with a smile. “I was just telling Miss Ross here what a wonderful Potions Master you are.”

Slughorn covered his mouth for a second, portraying a pantomime version of someone looking coy. “Oh I don’t know about all of that Miss Black.”

“Professor, don’t be modest.” Bellatrix continued, sending a surreptitious wink Hermione’s way.

Hermione narrowed her eyes at Bellatrix’s game, but decided to play along all the same. “Yes Professor, you’re reputation really does precede you.”

“Girls, you both really are too kind.” Slughorn grinned again, rubbing his chubby hands together. “Now, my fingers are itching to give away some more house points so let us take a look at your Shrinking Solution.”

As the Potions Master turned to peruse their cauldron Bellatrix reached out and grabbed Hermione’s hand briefly squeezing it before letting go. When the bushy haired witch caught her eye, looking at her in confusion she mouthed I told you.

Slughorn humming pensively drew both of the girl’s attention. “Is there a problem sir?” Hermione asked cautiously.

“No, not a problem per se.” Slughorn said in a distant voice. “The potion is almost there; it’s just that something needs a slight tweak.”

“A tweak?” Hermione asked, her voice cracking slightly as she spoke. She could feel Bellatrix’s heavy gaze on her, despite the fact that she refused to turn and meet it.

“Yeeeees” The Professor drew out the word as he wracked his brain. “Of course, of course.” He finally shouted as he produced his wand from within his robes and waved it with a flourish at the cauldron. The flames underneath leapt higher up its side and almost instantly the potion began making an odd groaning noise. Both girls subconsciously moved closer to the cauldron and peered inside, they watched in wonder how the contents seemed to glow as it moved from its emerald hue to an almost fluorescent green. Once it had reached the colour that Slughorn was happy with he waved his wand again and extinguished the flames all together. “I would hasten to guess that this is an almost perfect brew ladies.”

“I can take very little of the credit sir.” Bellatrix said with a slight smile directed at Hermione. “Miss Ross took the reins on this one, I simply followed instructions.”

“Now she is the one being modest Sir.” Hermione interjected.

“Yes, Yes Miss Black.” Slughorn agreed. “Even with the best of instructions a fish can never learn to fly. There has to be some skill there to begin with.”

“Thank you Sir.” Bellatrix replied, sounding almost genuinely grateful.

“Well, shall we see about testing this little concoction of yours?” Slughorn asked rhetorically as he reached into his pocket and withdrew an empty potions vial. Before either girl had replied he had spooned some of the liquid into the delicate glass wear, popped a cork into the top and begun wandering back towards his desk.

Bellatrix frowned at Hermione, before inclining her head in a silent gesture for them both to follow the rotund little man. They walked silently, side by side to join the Professor and watched as he held up their vial to the light before nodding and extracting a frog from a glass tank behind him.

“Ladies and Gentlemen.” Professor Slughorn called out dramatically. “I would like you all to leave your potions where they are and gather around me. We have a potion to test.” A general din erupted as students began muttering and stools were scraped across the stone floor as the class moved. Once the whole group was gathered around his desk Slughorn began speaking again. “Miss Black and Miss Ross appear to have brewed the perfect Shrinking Solution. See how it seems to glow as it catches the light and it lets off a delicate mist as it moves. This is what we are looking for in a correctly brewed draught, but there is only one way to be sure of its true triumph and that is to test it.”

Ever the show man, Slughorn uncorked the vial of green liquid with his teeth and poured a generous amount into the now wriggling frog’s mouth. As soon as the substance touched the animal’s tongue it instantly stilled, it made a feeble attempt to croak but only a slight groan escaped its throat. Bellatrix looked over at Hermione with a questioning look, obviously unsure if this was what was supposed to happen. The bushy haired witch inclined her head, drawing the other girl’s attention back to the animal which was now an obvious black colour opposed to its previous green. Before their eyes the little creature’s limbs began retracting into itself, its body elongating and stretching out to create a tail; its form now more obviously that of a tadpole than a frog.

“Excellent, Excellent.” The Potions Master cheered. “We have success! Twenty points to both Slytherin and Ravenclaw. Not only are you the only pair to finish your potion but you have also created a practically perfect brew. I see Outstanding N.E.W.Ts in your future ladies.”

“Thank you Professor.” Hermione beamed, feeling slightly giddy at her success. It had been such a long time since she had felt the rush of excelling at anything academic and she had almost forgotten how addictive the sensation was.

“Oh you are quite welcome my wonderful girl.” Slughorn grinned across his desk at the bushy haired witch before turning his attention back to the rest of the class. “Now, next lesson we will be brewing the Elixir to Induce Euphoria. Before then I expect you and your potions partner to conduct research on the potion’s history, its uses and the best brewing method. Any pair who reneges on this duty will be woefully unprepared when next lesson comes around. Dismissed.”

With this abrupt ending the class began to move, muttering as they packed their things away but all too happy to bid a hasty retreat from the classroom and have an extra break between potions and their next lesson. Hermione joined the flow of people moving towards the back of the room before diverting off to her own workstation.

“Well done ErmRoss.” Bellatrix’s voice sounded close to Hermione’s ear as she bent down to collect her belongings from under the desk, she almost dropped her notebook in shock. She stood up quickly and turned to see the dark haired witch observing her with a raised eyebrow and a smirk.

“You almost scared me half to death.” Hermione snapped pressing her hand to her racing heart. “Didn’t anyone ever teach that it’s rude to sneak up on people like that?”

Bellatrix didn’t answer, she simply chuckled. “I guess you are stuck with me and my appalling manners for a little while as we now have another potion to brew together. Do you have any tricks up your sleeve for this one?”

“I do actually.” Hermione smirked. “But I don’t intend to always do all of the work.” 

“Of course not.” Bellatrix replied, throwing the other girl a look of mock offence. “I fully intend to be the Robin to your Batman.”

Hermione laughed outright despite herself at the image that analogy brought up. “How do you know about Batman and Robin?”

“I don’t live under a rock.” Bellatrix threw back, shaking her head. “Anyway, we have some research to do before Friday. Should we meet in the Library on Wednesday, around 6.30?”

“That works for me.” Hermione agreed as the two girls headed for the door together.

They stepped outside the classroom and looked in separate directions along the corridor, Bellatrix towards the Slytherin common room and Hermione towards the stairs to the upper floors of the castle. The dark haired witch paused and looked back at the other girl awkwardly for a second; a slight smile broke out on her face as she took in the look of uncertainty on Hermione’s face. Again that word, cute, flittered into her mind and she couldn’t convince her feet to carry her away from the girl, she squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep breath. “Well, see you around ErmRoss.” She managed to force out before she spun on her heel and marched away, using all of her will power to stop her from looking back, just once, at the girl still stood in the corridor.

Chapter Text

Hermione found herself in her last lesson of Wednesday afternoon; Transfiguration. She had been looking forward to it all week; it had always been her favourite class and Minerva Mcgonagall was her favourite professor by far. But now the class had the added appeal that a certain black haired witch would more than likely be there too. Most people chose Transfiguration for their NEWTs, didn’t they? Then again, Bellatrix wasn’t like most people was she? She had shown up in Charms yesterday morning but had sat in the back corner, completely ignoring everyone while picking at her nails and looking entirely bored. She hadn’t even raised her wand to practice the charm that Professor Goshawk was lecturing them on. And of course she had been in Defence Against the Dark Arts later that day; in this class she had been like a force of nature, so unlike the passive version of herself from the Charms lesson. They had been revising and perfecting non-verbal defensive spells but it was quite apparent that Bellatrix did not need any practice what so ever. Professor Jigger called her up to help him with his demonstration; she was able to throw off every single one of his attacks without even changing her facial expression never mind opening her mouth to utter a counter-curse. Hermione found herself equal parts amazed at the dark haired witch’s skills and terrified at the true potential that lay within her. Bellatrix had at least spoken to her in this lesson though. It was clear that Jigger treated her as more of an assistant in the class than a student, a few times the dark haired witch had made her way over to correct Hermione’s stance or suggest a more appropriate wand position. But other than that she had acted as though they had never shared a conversation before. All week Hermione had found herself looking for glimpses of untamed dark curls, hoping to see more of how the girl interacted and reacted to the world around her. She was filled with a weird sense of excited apprehension as she sat watching the classroom fill up and realised the only seat left was the one next to her. If Bellatrix came in now they would have to sit together… for a whole hour.

“Good afternoon seventh years. Stop your conversations now thank you, I am ready to begin.” Mcgonagall’s voice cut through her thoughts and doused her tenuous hope in ice cold water. “Make sure all of your equipment is out on the desk by the time I have finished taking the register.”

Hermione glanced once more towards the open classroom door hoping to find a certain silhouette filling the empty space but she was met with a totally unobscured view of the corridor beyond. With a sigh she turned back around and began rifling through her bag to retrieve her wand, parchment, quill and ink.

“Bagman, Ludovic.” Professor Mcgonagall called.

A handsome sandy haired Slytherin answered her with a grumbled “Here Professor.” He was much more interested in trying the flirt with the Hufflepuff girl sat next to him who, unfortunately for him, didn’t look at all interested.

“Black, Bellatrix.” Mcgonagall moved on with only a raise of her eyebrow in Ludo Bagman’s direction that effectively silenced the boy. Hermione felt her heart start beating a little faster as her eyes scanned around the room again looking for any sign of the girl. “Ah, no of course.” The professor spoke up as if she had just remembered something. “Cattermole, Reginald.”

Hermione couldn’t help the feeling of disappointment that spread through her as she heard Professor Mcgonagall just move on past Bellatrix’s name. Any hope she had that the girl might turn up were now well and truly dashed. Hermione knew that she shouldn’t be associating any positive emotions to Bellatrix; she was the woman who had hunted her friends as if they were animals, who had tortured Neville’s parents into insanity, who had killed countless innocent people including her own niece and had vandalised Hermione’s body… or at least she would become that woman. Hermione knew that the best and most sensible thing to do would be to keep as far away from the other girl as humanly possible. But she just could not seem to stay away from her. If they were in classes together Hermione found her eyes drawn to the dark haired girl, watching the delicacy she seemed to possess when writing with her quill or using her wand. When Bellatrix wasn’t around was when it was worse because Hermione found herself wondering where the girl might be and what she could be doing and who she might be doing it with. Oh Merlin, why… why did it matter? Why did it matter how Bellatrix held her wand when she knew the catastrophes she could create with it? Why did it matter what that deranged individual decided to do with her spare time? She wasn’t deranged yet though was she? She was a school girl and quite the brilliant one at that. She was someone that Hermione could easily be friends with if she didn’t know about the monster she would become. But she did know what she would become and for some reason, that it thoroughly scared her to dwell on, she just could not make that matter in her mind. After waking up in the middle of the night from nightmares, that always involved Bellatrix, Malfoy manor and Dobby’s lifeless body, was when she would find herself lost in her darkest thoughts. She often wondered if she had developed some kind of bastardised form of Stockholm syndrome where she had become obsessed with the woman who held her captive, even if only in her own mind, night after night. And now day in and day out too.

“Ross, Hermione” Professor Mcgonagall’s crisp voice made its way into the edges of her subconscious and called an abrupt halt to her inner monologue. She shook her head to clear it and looked at the older witch in confusion for a second, hoping she would give her some instruction on what she was supposed to do next. “Miss Ross, are you with us?”

“Oh sorry.” Hermione flushed as a few of the other students stifled giggles and Ludo Bagman threw a flirty smirk over his shoulder that caused no reaction within her… unlike Bellatrix’s that cause a distinct fluttering in the pit of her stomach. Why was her mind making that association? “He…here Professor.”

Thankfully the rest of the lesson seemed to go without a hitch. Hermione managed to keep her mind off of Bellatrix long enough to not make a fool out of herself again and actually make some half decent notes on Understanding the key concepts of Un-transfiguration. She even succeeded in pinching five points for Ravenclaw for being the only member of the class to be able to identify ‘Vipera Evanesca’ as the spell to vanish a conjured serpent. She could distinctly remember having heard Professor Snape use it to get rid of the snake that Draco had created during Duelling Club in their second year.

After class she took a rather circuitous route to Ravenclaw tower, having made it halfway to the portrait of the Fat Lady before realising her mistake and turning towards the teacher’s quarters only to remember she had been moved in with the fellow members of her house the previous Monday. Once she finally made it to her room she quickly shed her school robes only to spend entirely too long deciding on an outfit to wear to her library session with Bellatrix. She didn’t really have that many clothes to choose from though. Professor Mcgonagall had taken her on a quick shopping trip to London the week previously but she had really only picked up the essentials, she didn’t have anything nice. She couldn’t fathom why she felt so much pressure to look good anyway, she was only going to the library to do homework. She had spent months in a forest covered in dirt and wearing the same outfits over and over again and somehow Ronald had managed to still find her attractive. Although she assumed that Bellatrix held distinctly higher standards than Ron Weasley. They were going to do homework. They were going to look up potions ingredients in the library. She did not need to look attractive. No, she didn’t need to look attractive, but she wanted to. She wanted to look good for Bellatrix. Stop, she screamed at her racing mind, she had literally had one extended conversation with the girl during a potions lesson where Bellatrix had been pretty much forced to spend time with her. Why was she acting like some love sick puppy? This was the woman who had used the Cruciatus curse on her until she couldn’t even stand on her own. It made no sense at all. She sighed as she settled on a pair of slim cut jeans and a grey, long sleeved, button neck t-shirt. It showed some skin but it didn’t look like she was trying too hard, plus it had long sleeves that she could tug at nervously as was her habit. Hermione gave herself a final once over in the mirror, fixing an errant curl and grabbing her bag, before setting out for the library.

While the idea of being trapped in 1969 was overwhelming and, in truth, out right terrifying; Hermione couldn’t help but find a slight silver lining in it all. She had made it all the way to the library, through the corridors littered with people and not a one of them had even looked her way. No one had tried to stop her and start some ridiculous conversation that she had no interest in. No one had followed her, hiding behind pillars whenever she looked over her shoulder. No one had asked her to sign anything like she was some celebrity. Here in 1969 she was not Hermione Granger, destroyer of the Dark Lord, she was simply Hermione Ross of Ravenclaw and that gave her a strange sort of comfort. As she entered the library her eyes scanned the tables and rows of books, there were not many people in here and, as far as she could see, no Bellatrix. She was early though, as she always was, she looked around at the empty tables that she could claim as their work station and tried to think where would be best. Would Bellatrix want to be in an open area where she could watch people? Hermione had noticed how she liked to observe the others in the class and sneer subtly as they made mistakes. Or would she like to be in a dark corner? That seemed more her style really, more cloak and dagger, more clandestine. She spotted an empty desk that was just out of the way but was lit well enough to allow them to read and work efficiently. She dumped her things on it so people would know it was occupied and set out into the dimly lit shelves of books to find some starter material for when Bellatrix arrived.

She quickly located ‘Potions, Herbs, Oils and Brews’, 'The Herbal Alchemist's Handbook: A Grimoire of Philtres’, ‘Potion Opuscule’ and ‘Advanced Potion-making’ before hurrying back to the desk she had chosen. She couldn’t stop her eyes from doing a sweep of the area with the hope that Bellatrix might have arrived while she was rifling through the dusty tomes but still the girl was painfully absent. Sitting down she opened ‘Potions, Herbs, Oils and Brews’ to begin researching the uses and benefits of Peppermint, Professor Snape’s notes in his copy of ‘Advanced Potion-making’ suggested adding it to the brew. She knew that it counteracted the more annoying side effects of the Elixir to Induce Euphoria but she didn’t know why it did what it did, so that was what she had tasked herself with figuring out. She flicked through the pages until she found the information she was looking for and set about reading; without much conscious thought her right hand made notes on the properties of Peppermint and before she knew it she had a full side of parchment. Hermione checked her watch and was shocked to discover it was 6.45, Bellatrix was fifteen minutes late. She checked around her again to see if the dark haired witch was anywhere to be seen but still there was no sign of her, she couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Trying to distract herself she switched books and began skimming through the pages of ‘The Herbal Alchemist’s Handbook’ to see if she could identify a way to prolong the effects of the euphoria created by the potion. That would be sure to win her a few house points from old Slughorn if she could.

“Ahem” a quiet feminine voice interrupted her reading. She looked up sharply with a smile that quickly faded when she realised it was not Bellatrix as she had been hoping but a blondish Gryffindor stood in front of her. “Sorry to bother you when you’re in the middle of something but are you finished with ‘Advanced Potion-making’? It’s the last one in the library and I need to check something for an essay. I left mine in my dorm.”

Hermione sighed and fought to not roll her eyes, she wasn’t exasperated with the girl so she quickly threw on a smile that she hoped didn’t look too forced. She was just so annoyed that she had built this evening up all day just for it to be a massive let down. “Yeah, I’m done with it.” Hermione said as she quickly glanced down at her watch, noting that it was now 7.15; if Bellatrix wasn’t here yet she wasn’t coming at all. “In fact I was just about to leave. And I always find ‘Potions, Herbs, Oils and Brews’ to be really useful for Slughorn’s essays. You can take that too if you want?”

“I will take it actually, thanks.” The girl said smiling warmly at Hermione before the look faltered slightly. “Wait, aren’t you new? How many essays have you written for Slughorn?”

“Oh” Was all Hermione managed to utter as she felt her cheeks flush in slight panic. “Well, I’m an over achiever you see. I write essays for fun.” Even she cringed at the lie.

The girl raised her eyebrows and appraised Hermione as though looking for some clarification that the brunette was indeed mad. “It takes all kinds I guess.” She said with a shrug. “I’m Mafalda by the way, Mafalda Hopkirk. I’m in sixth year.”

Hermione almost chocked on thin air at the revelation of the girl’s name, it was only a matter of months ago that she had impersonated an older Mafalda in order to gain entrance into the Ministry of Magic. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Hermione Gr…Ross. Seventh year.”

“Hermione…nice name.” Mafalda said awkwardly as she tapped absent mindedly on the edge of the mahogany desk. “I better…you know…get back” she gestured over her shoulder to the table that her friends were still sat at.

“Of course.” Hermione said, equally as awkwardly. “It was nice speaking to you Mafalda.”

The Gryffindor smiled again and picked up all of the books that Hermione had been working from. “Nice speaking to you too.”

The next morning Hermione woke up in a particularly terrible mood. Not only was she annoyed about being ditched at the library but she had barely slept all night after having a series of feverish dreams that an older Bellatrix had featured in heavily. She heaved herself reluctantly out of bed and dressed in her school robes hastily before making her way down to the Great Hall. Her funk seemed to dissipate slightly after a few slices of toast and a goblet of orange juice but she was still absolutely seething. She allowed her eyes to flitter around the room when something caught her attention like a giant flashing beacon. A head of unruly black curls. After days of being reclusive and showing up to lessons as and when she felt like it, now here Bellatrix was sat, as bold as brass as if nothing had happened at all. The Slytherin was sat at her house table, on her own of course, reading a book with one elbow on its surface and her head propped up nonchalantly on her hand. Hermione didn’t remember giving herself permission to get up or cross the room but before she knew it she was stood next to the other girl. Her face was obscured by her mass of dark hair and she hadn’t even had the courtesy to look up at her as she approached.

“I hope you have a good excuse for leaving me hanging around in the library last night.” Hermione demanded, her voice sounding much shriller than she would have wanted. The Slytherin didn’t look away from her book. “Hey, I’m talking to you, you could at least look at me.” Still the girl did not move and Hermione found herself filled with an unfettered rage that she couldn’t control. She lashed out and slapped the book the girl was holding out of her hand, it hit her half-finished bowl of cereal with a resounding thud and upended the contents into her lap.

“What the fuck?” The girl screeched as she stood up from the bench and attempted to wipe as much of the milk off her skirt as she could before she turned a murderous gaze on her attacker. Hermione’s face paled as she took in the large, chocolate brown eyes and noticed the rounder form to the features of this girl’s face.

A gasp from the other side of the bench drew her attention to a platinum blonde girl, probably only in her second or third year. “Andromeda, you mustn’t swear. It’s unladylike.”

“Really Narcissa?” Andromeda almost shouted back. “Some lunatic has just thrown my breakfast all over me but me using the word fuck is what has offended your sensibilities?”

“I’m so, so sorry.” Hermione almost sobbed as she hastily pulled out her wand and cast Scourgify on Andromeda’s skirt and the floor around her feet. “I don’t know what came over me. I thought you were…”

“You thought I was Bellatrix. Yeah, that happens a lot.” Andromeda snapped as she picked up her now empty cereal bowl and put it back on the table with some force. “Not the getting covered in my breakfast thing… the getting confused with Bellatrix part.”

“I really am terribly sorry.” Hermione babbled, she could feel her cheeks blazing as eyes up and down the Slytherin table turned in their direction. “I was just…I was so angry. And I haven’t slept well. And I’m….an idiot and so bloody stressed out….I…oh God. I’m so so sorry.”

Andromeda placed a calming hand on Hermione’s arm in order to stop her rambling and obvious impending panic attach. “Look, it’s ok and it’s really not that big of a deal. My skirt is clean now…no blood, no foul.”

Hermione glanced at the girl with a look of shame set into her features. “No it’s not ok, it’s not. I should have kept my temper. I should have…”

“Nobody knows better than me how annoying Bella can be.” Andromeda interrupted the bushy haired girl again as she sat back down gracefully and gestured for Hermione to join her. The older witch plopped down onto the bench next to the Slytherin looking like a crumpled mess, her face was flushed and she looked like she was about to cry. “Try not to let her get under your skin like this. She’ll only see it as a conquest.”

“Don’t speak about Bella like that Andie.” Narcissa spoke up again to reprimand her sister. “It isn’t kind.”

Andromeda chuckled; emitting a warm, comforting sound that seemed to light up her entire face. “Disagree with me then Cissy… you know as well as I do that Bella has a particular skill for pushing people’s buttons. Was it not only yesterday that you were complaining to me about how much you hated her because of her constant teasing of your beloved Lucius” The dark haired witch said the boy’s name with as much scorn as she could muster. Narcissa didn’t seem to be able to contradict her older sister though so she simply made a sound of indignation and went back to her breakfast; Andromeda shook her head and smiled knowingly before continuing her conversation with Hermione. “So what has she done this time?”

“It’s going to sound stupid when I say it now.” The bushy haired witch said meekly as she picked nervously at her finger nails.

“It is never just one thing with Bellatrix, she picks and picks until one small action makes you snap. After a week of particularly heavy teasing from my sister I once hexed her hair pink because she drank the last mouthful of my coffee one morning.” Andromeda raised a mischievous eyebrow and smiled warmly at Hermione. “That was pretty stupid, but Merlin did it feel good.”

Hermione’s eyes widened in shock and she covered her mouth with her hand to stifle her stunned laugh. “What did Bellatrix do?”

“Oh, nothing much. Called me a few colourful names but that was about it.” Andromeda replied, waving off Hermione’s concern. “It got her out of going to one of our family’s dull balls so she was pretty happy about it really. I, of course, still had to go so she saw that as my punishment.”

“Bellatrix was supposed to meet me in the library last night to do a homework project we had been assigned by Slughorn. She didn’t turn up and I had to do all of the work myself.” Hermione finally enlightened the younger witch.

“Hmmm… that’s odd.” Andromeda said pensively. “Bellatrix can be insufferable at times with her attitude towards things but one thing she does take seriously is her studies. Narcissa, have you seen Bella this morning?”

“No.” Narcissa said in a small voice laced with worry. “I went in to her room this morning to see if she was coming down for breakfast but she wasn’t there and her bed was already made.”

Andromeda groaned and brushed some of her hair out of her eyes, as Hermione looked at her more closely she realised that the girl’s hair was much lighter than Bellatrix’s. It was more of a deep, chestnut brown rather than the raven black of her older sister’s tresses and looked much neater and more cared for. “This happens a lot.” The Slytherin informed the bushy haired girl. “Bellatrix has a tendency to get caught up in things and lose all track of time. She can be missing for days at a time.”

“What do you mean by ‘get caught up in things’”? Hermione asked sceptically, wondering if the things that Bellatrix was caught up with might be of the dark and dangerous nature, maybe even Death Eater related. Had she been embroiled in that depravity from this early on in her life?

“How many classes do you share with my sister?” Andromeda countered, seeming to totally ignore Hermione’s question.

Hermione frowned but answered the younger girl none the less. “Well we have Charms, Defence Against the Dark Arts and Potions together. She should be in Transfiguration too but she didn’t turn up yesterday.”

“That is to be expected.” Andromeda replied with a resigned nod. “Do you have History of Magic together at all?”

“No.” Hermione said while shaking her head. “That isn’t a subject that I continued on to N.E.W.T level.”

“If you were in History of Magic you would find that she rarely attends that class either.” Andromeda revealed as she began reaching for her school bag from under the table.

“But how does she get away with that?” Hermione probed, now even more intrigued by the black haired witch.

Narcissa piped up again from across the table when she felt that her oldest sister needed defending. “She doesn’t get away with it. The Professors are well aware of where she is.”

At Hermione’s questioning look Andromeda decided she needed to elaborate on Narcissa’s comment. “As infuriating as Bellatrix can be, she is equally as exceptional. So exceptional in fact that she has surpassed many of her peers, meaning that she gets bored in her classes. And a bored Bellatrix is very, very hard work. Many of the Professors have agreed to let her do extra research on her own. They say it is for her benefit but really I believe it is to get her out of their hair. I can’t really blame them.”

Hermione couldn’t help but smile gently at this new piece of information. “So, Bellatrix isn’t just skipping lessons then?”

“Most definitely not.” Andromeda confirmed lightly. “She prizes her education more than anything else. She believes education will be her route out of the ridiculous life our parents have planned for her.”

“Andie.” Narcissa spoke with a warning tone. “Is it wise to spread too much of Bellatrix’s business? We don’t even know this girl.”

“Oh don’t be so naïve Cissy.” Andromeda chastised her younger sister. “We’re purebloods; it is hardly a secret that all women like us are committed into marriages we have very little choice in. It has been this way for centuries.”

“Yes, I’m already well aware of the old pureblood custom of arranged marriages.” Hermione agreed with Andromeda, finding it very hard to keep the tone of disapproval out of her voice.

“But you are right Cissy. I’m not about to divulge any of Bella’s secrets.” The darker haired witch said as she looked at Hermione warily now. “My sister will have a good reason for missing your… study date yesterday evening. And I’m sure she will enlighten you with that reason once I chase her out of whatever hole she is currently hiding in.” With that Andromeda stood up and threw her bag on to her shoulder, she carefully stepped over the bench she had been sitting on and turned to look at the other girl. “It was lovely to meet you…”

“Hermione.” Hermione supplied. “And it wasn’t a date… with Bella last night. We were really only doing homework.”

“Yes, people do tend to get as worked up as you did over only doing homework. But either way, hopefully next time we meet you can refrain from throwing my breakfast in my lap.” Andromeda said with a mischievous smile that was not a million miles away from one that Hermione had seen gracing her older sister’s face.

“I will try to control myself in future.” Hermione replied, returning the smile as she watched Andromeda stroll away gracefully.

Hermione had been rather subdued for the rest of the day, despite Andromeda’s assurances that she held no grudge the bushy haired witch couldn’t help but feel awful for her actions during breakfast. What made her feel worse was the parallel it drew to the very incident that had brought her here, to the past, in the first place. Hadn’t that been due to her inability to control her temper too? And despite the great personal risk Mcgonagall had taken to help show her the error of her ways, evidently she had learned nothing at all from it. Currently she was sulking on her bed in her, thankfully empty, dorm room. She knew that allowing her mind time to roam was not such a good idea these days; it often took her to dark places but she was nothing if not a glutton for punishment. Immediately after the war she and the boys had been encouraged to attend sessions with a psychiatrist of sorts, or the wizard equivalent anyway, at St Mungo’s. Healer Macmillan had been kind and gentle, she had not put any pressure on Hermione to talk about things she didn’t feel comfortable with; at times she just allowed her to sit there and not talk at all. But Hermione had quickly decided that whatever help the woman could offer her she was not quite ready to receive, she needed more time to mull it over and try to rationalise it for herself before she would be able to view anything through somebody else’s perspective. She had every intention of going back to speak to Healer Macmillan at some point but, well, now she was here and that chance was gone. One thing that the woman said had stuck in the bushy haired witch’s head though; she had told Hermione that no matter how normal she felt right now it was almost impossible to be touched by so much loss and destruction and hope to come out unscathed. She had expected that the effects of her traumatic year would manifest themselves as stress or anxiety; she thought that maybe she had got away with just the nightmares. Sometimes she wondered whether at any point she may just begin to uncontrollably cry at ridiculous things with no explanation like you see people do in movies when they are dealing with problems. But never in her wildest dreams did she imagine that her post traumatic stress would lead to her becoming an overly aggressive lunatic that attacked innocent people. Her fight or flight switch was firmly positioned at fight and it was certainly on a hair trigger. Hermione wondered if she should speak to Mcgonagall about what she was experiencing, maybe she could suggest some way to help her.

Hermione’s attention was caught when the door to her dorm room began to swing open slowly with a creek. She only shared her dorm with two other girls, but being studious Ravenclaws they spent most of their time reading or doing homework in the common room. This meant that, much to the bushy haired witch’s preference, she found she was able to gain plenty of peace and quiet in there. She craned her head around to look at the door to see which of the other girls it was returning, but the doorway was strangely empty. Instantly Hermione was on high alert and her eyes began scanning the room, she caught sight of a tell-tale ripple in the air. Quicker than she had time to catch up with her own actions she had leapt off the bed with her wand in her hand and she had cast a wordless finite incantatem. Her mind had not had chance to gather its equilibrium when she found herself almost nose to nose with a now fully visible Bellatrix Black.

“Fuck.” Bellatrix breathed, breaking the stalemate. “Well that was impressive ErmRoss.”

“Don’t you dare!” Hermione roared as she took a step away from the other girl and sat down on the edge of the bed, dropping her head into her hands. “You don’t get to forget about me and be a complete arse and then make fun of me too.”

“Make fun of you?” Bellatrix asked as she narrowed her eyes and appraised the bushy haired witch.

Still with her head in her hands Hermione replied. “Yes calling me ErmRoss all of the time. I want it to stop!”

“You’re being ridiculous.” Bellatrix said patronisingly, which was completely the wrong move.

Hermione’s head snapped back up, her eyes alight with something undecipherable. “I know the opinions that you true purebloods hold. Just because you view yourself as superior does not mean that you get to bastardise my name and mock my heritage.”

“Hold on there, Ross.” The darker haired witch snapped defensively, her hands flying to her hips. “What exactly is it that you think you know about me as a true pureblood.”

“Oh I know plenty.” Hermione replied furiously as she stood up to face Bellatrix full on. “I know that you think you are better than everybody else just because you were born with the silver spoon. I know that you do not see any value in those that you deem lesser and you would trample all over any of them to get where you want. I know that you would even go as far as to stab your own family in the back if they were to go against you.”

“Stop right now.” Bellatrix thundered as she took a small step closer to Hermione until their chests were almost touching. Her eyes were filled with rage and she looked more like a Death Eater than the fairer girl had seen her look since she arrived here. It was terrifying to behold the way her delicate, beautiful features could morph so easily into something so hard. “Some things you may be right about and I won’t deny it. I think I am better than everybody else because I try twice as hard as anybody in this school. Nothing, when it comes to my education, has been handed to me because of the family I was born in to and I will not apologise for having ambition and drive and being prepared to leave those behind who cannot keep up. But you go too far when you talk about my family.”

Hermione burst out a laugh that bordered on hysterical. “What a double standard. I’m not allowed to pass comment on your family but it is fine for you to belittle mine.”

“What have I done to belittle your family, Ross?” Bellatrix asked incredulously, her anger seeming to have morphed into frustration as she spoke. “I called you ErmRoss to try and break the ice with you. I saw you outside of the potions classroom earlier this week and you looked terrified and tense. I wanted to make you feel more comfortable. I was mocking you not your family.”

“Am I seriously supposed to believe that you were putting yourself out to make me feel more comfortable?” Hermione shook her head and stepped away from the other girl, putting some distance between them so that she didn’t hit her.

“When I spoke to you in that potions lesson I was sure that you were different from everybody else in this school. Or at least I hoped you were.” Bellatrix said in a small voice as her eyes wandered to the small window on the other side of the room. “From the first day I walked through the front doors of Hogwarts I have been judged because of my last name. I finally thought that I had found someone who wouldn’t do that. How wrong I was when here you stand telling me that I couldn’t possibly have thought about anyone else, I couldn’t possible have the ability to put someone before myself because I am a Black.”

“Tha…that’s not what I meant.” Hermione stuttered tripping over herself as she tried to think of what to say next. That had been exactly what she meant hadn’t it? She couldn’t believe that Bellatrix could have actually done something nice because she was well….Bellatrix. But she didn’t even know this Bellatrix, she knew Bellatrix LeStrange. “You don’t even know me, why would you do something for me?”

“Because I wanted to know you.” The black haired witch replied in a voice flushed with emotion. “I saw something in you. You cared about what Slughorn was saying, you knew about the history of the potion, you challenged me. Nobody here does that, everybody just ambles through their days not thinking about life outside of these damned castle walls.”

“Well maybe I don’t want to challenge you. Did you ever think of that? Maybe I just want to have an easy life.” Hermione felt awful as soon as the words were out of her mouth. The things that Bellatrix had just said slowly began to sink in. She wanted a friend and she had seen someone who might actually be on par with her and had reached out for it. Hermione knew how rare it must be for the girl to do that and in return she had lashed out at her. Maybe the girl didn’t really know the perfect way to go about endearing herself to people but at least she was trying, surely that should be respected. If more people had tried to give Bellatrix a chance and tried to be a friend and a support for her perhaps life would have turned out differently for her. One residing memory from her awful night at Malfoy Manner was Bellatrix’s anger at everything; she had filled Hermione’s body with that anger. This was the first time that she had even begun to try to understand that emotion, how could the black haired witch not be angry when she spent her entire life being ostracised. She wasn’t like their peers and, from what she had seen in classes, most of them avoided her like the plague. Andromeda had suggested that the teachers couldn’t even seem to take to Bellatrix and her family refused to recognise her drive and intelligence because she was a woman. It didn’t seem fair.

“I spoke to Andromeda. She told me that she had met you this morning while you were looking for me; she said you were angry about last night. She likes you by the way, she said you seemed sweet.” Bellatrix said carefully as she looked back at Hermione. “I came to apologise about not meeting you in the library, I was working on something for History of Magic and I got engrossed in the research. I do that sometimes. I lost all track of time, in fact I only realised what had happened when Andie came to find me this morning. I had worked all through the night without even realising it. But I did find time to put this together.” She reached into a pocket in her robes and pulled out a scroll of parchment, she unrolled it before handing it to the other girl. “Hopefully you find it useful.”

 Hermione scanned the neat handwriting and read the title at the top of the page; How to prolong the effects of the ‘Elixir to Induce Euphoria’. This was the very thing that Hermione had wanted to research last night, before she got too pissed off the carry on working that is. She knew it would be possible somehow to make the feeling of euphoria created by the potion to last longer and the other girl seemed to have cracked it. “Bellatrix…” she breathed softly as she looked up from the parchment but the girl had already disappeared.

Chapter Text

“Where are you going?” Narcissa asked frantically as she scurried along behind her eldest sister.

“Nowhere Cissy.” Bellatrix replied as she carried on marching down the corridor and tried desperately to stop herself from sighing exasperatedly. Narcissa could be incredibly irritating at times, but her heart was always in the right place. So Bellatrix tried her very best not to snap whenever she started to get infuriated with her little sister.

Narcissa darted forward a few paces until she was finally next to the black haired girl; she reached out and slipped her hand into her sister’s in order to slow her progression somewhat. “You can’t be going nowhere Bella, you have to going somewhere. And I want to come with you.”

Bellatrix stopped steaming ahead and turned to look at the blonde girl’s eager expression and her mood softened slightly. “Well of course I’m going somewhere, but I was trying to politely say that I wanted to be alone.”

“But you have wanted to be on your own all week.” Narcissa replied petulantly. A few months ago she might have paired her tone with a stamped foot but she stopped herself because she was trying her best to be a lady and ladies did not stamp their foot. “You haven’t been yourself since your argument with that new girl.”

“My mood has nothing to do with Ross.” Bellatrix said with a slight frown, as she began studying her finger nails intensely, looking anywhere but at her youngest sister. “Believe me she is not that important.”

“Oh, of course Bellatrix.” A third voice spoke up, its tone filled with mirth. “I’m sure it would be much easier for us to believe that if you could look our little sister in the eye.”

“And what does where I am looking have to do with anything Andromeda?” Bellatrix snapped, her slight frown from earlier becoming more of an outright scowl now.

“I was simply suggesting that should dear Cissy catch a glimpse into your mind she might just see how unimportant Hermione really is to you.” Andromeda smirked as she saw how her sister’s cheeks coloured at her comment.

“Narcissa wouldn’t use her ability to betray my privacy.” Bellatrix said with more confidence than she actually felt, Narcissa did always have a way of figuring out what was going on in her head.

“Bella, you know I can’t always help what I see of others minds.” Narcissa said in a small voice laced with guilt. “Especially when someone’s feelings are particularly strong, as hard as I try I can’t block some thoughts out.”

“Your suggestion that there is some privacy to betray confirms all of my thoughts quite nicely.” Andromeda prodded as she slung an arm around her blonde sister’s shoulders and winked at her older sister in a way that she knew would drive her to distraction. “Come on Cissy, let’s leave Bellatrix to sulk over her crush. I’ll take you for a walk to the Black Lake, we’ll see if we can entice the giant squid close to the shore again.”

“I am not sulking.” Bellatrix called down the corridor after her sisters’ retreating forms, she knew she sounded pathetic but she had to get the last word in.

Andromeda looked over her shoulder with a beaming grin, looking like the cat that got the cream. “It’s funny how you rush to deny the sulking and yet say nothing at all about my suggestion that you have a crush.”

Bellatrix rolled her eyes and fought with the urge to draw her wand and curse the nearest suit of armour. This whole situation was frustrating her to no end. She was frustrated that she fixated on things so much; whether it was people, studying or perfecting spells she just couldn’t stop herself from pursuing them with absolute intensity. She was frustrated that her fixation on her work had led to her forgetting about her commitment to meet Hermione. She was frustrated that she cared so much that she had upset the girl. She was frustrated that Hermione wouldn’t accept her apology. And she was frustrated that Andromeda had somehow now got involved and would inevitably start meddling. A frustrated Bellatrix was not a good thing; she needed to find a way to blow off some steam.

As if the Gods had heard her plea who should wander around the corner but a young, scrawny sullen looking Slytherin boy with shoulder length blond hair: Lucius Malfoy. His face paled when he laid eyes on Bellatrix and he seemed to have a moment of internal debate where he thought about turning back the way he had come but instead puffed his chest out a little and carried on along his initial route. “I’m looking for your sister.” Lucius stated somewhat nervously as he stopped, what he hoped was, a safe distance from Bellatrix. “Have you seen her?”

Bellatrix smirked in a satisfied sort of way. “I haven’t seen Andromeda in a while actually. Sorry.”

Lucius sighed, catching onto Bellatrix’s intentional obstinance pretty quickly. “I was talking about Narcissa.”

“Of course.” Bellatrix said in a voice filled with mock innocence. “How silly of me.”

Lucius stood for a few minutes staring at the black haired witch with an expectant look before rolling his eyes and sighing. “Well, have you seen her or not?”

“Now, now Lucy. No need to be rude.” Bellatrix retorted, her smirk growing as she saw how her comment made the boy begin to squirm.

“I think I’ll just find her by myself.” Lucius said in a voice that he had obviously tried very hard to make sound confident but his eyes dropped to the floor. “It was a pleasure as always Bellatrix.”

“What do you want with my baby sister anyway?” Bellatrix asked as she stepped in front of Lucius, blocking his path as he attempted to scurry past her.

“What do you mean, what do I want with her?” Lucius threw back, his eyes went wide at the girl’s sudden proximity and he swallowed a lump in his throat. “I…I wish to speak to her, that’s all.”

“Really, is that all?” Bellatrix derided. “It just seems odd to me, that a fifth year like you would be seeking out the company of a third year like my sister.”

“Am I not allowed to speak to Narcissa just because she is a few years younger than me?” The blond boy asked as he raised his chin defiantly.

“I would have no problem with you speaking to my sister.” Bellatrix replied as she narrowed her eyes and took a step towards Lucius. As he tried to shrink away from her he effectively pinned himself between the stone wall and her imposing figure. “I have a problem with you leering at her. I have a problem with you creeping around after her. I have a problem with the way that you look at her. She is a child.”

“I..I don’t leer at her.” Lucius stuttered, he looked as if he wished the wall behind him would just go ahead and swallow him whole. “She is to be my wife someday. Our fathers have decided it.”

“Oooooo, your father.” Bellatrix’s mocked, her eyes flared with anger at his comment and the boy seemed to physically shrink. She shook her head at how pathetic he looked right now. “She may become your wife someday, but for right now she is MY sister and what I say goes.”

“And what exactly are you saying Bellatrix?” Lucius pushed, but as soon as the words left his lips he looked like he regretted it.

Bellatrix took another step forward, her body almost touching his but not quite. Still she loomed over him; she was so close now that she could see beads of sweat beginning to erupt at his hairline. “Stay away from my little sister because if I ever have to get rid of another love bite from her neck courtesy of your raging hormones I will not be held accountable for my actions.” With the threat ringing through the air she walked away, leaving a slightly shaking Lucius still stood against the wall looking entirely too terrified to move. She loved messing with Lucius; it always made her feel better.

Bellatrix was lay on her bed with her arm thrown haphazardly across her eyes, her dorm mates had been in here earlier but she had effectively scared them off with her sour attitude. As much as she didn’t want to be thinking about Hermione she couldn’t seem to keep her mind off of her for long. The bushy haired girl had tried to make conversation with her while they were working together in Potions, but she had ignored her. The other girl had tried to complement her on her research for the Elixir to Induce Euphoria but she had just waved her off without acknowledging her comments. Hermione had tried to come and speak to her during breakfast one morning but she only responded in grunts until Andromeda had taken pity on the girl and engaged her with actual speech. Bellatrix wanted to say it was because she was angry with the girl but she wasn’t; she was embarrassed. She was embarrassed that she had revealed too much to a person that she didn’t even really know. She spent so much time building up her defences in order to keep the entire world out; she had spent so much time building up a reputation as an intimidating bitch so that everyone would keep their distance. It had worked perfectly until Hermione had come along; the girl had got under her skin with her curious mind and her outright intelligence and her kind eyes. She did not try with people; a lot of things in the world intrigued her but never people, not until Hermione. And now she was fixated on the girl and she was torn between cutting the girl some slack, because she was obviously trying to fix things, and continuing to keep her at arms-length so that she couldn’t get hurt. It scared her that it even crossed her mind that Hermione might have the power to hurt her because she knew that the girl could only have that power if she had given it to her in the first place. She loved her sisters dearly, she loved them more than anything, she would die for them, but even they were kept at a distance. She protected them, she took care of them, she gave them advice, she supported them but she never let them do any of that for her in return. She couldn’t let them see her being that weak.

The door to her dorm room was flung open violently, the wood banging against the wall with a resounding boom as a result of the force. It was like déjà vu from when she snuck into Hermione’s room last week, only much more aggressive and in reverse as she was now the one being barged in on. A small part of her hoped it was Hermione bursting in to demand she stop being so hard faced and start talking to her again, and she would agree to that obviously. She had made the girl suffer enough; as much as she wanted to make her grovel she would draw the line at that. Her tenuous hope was crushed pretty quickly as she peeled her arm away from her face and her eyes fell on her sister’s form in the doorway.

“Narcissa is exceedingly mad with you.” Andromeda said as she stepped into the room and kicked the door closed unceremoniously behind her. “Something about you emasculating Lucius earlier today?”

“Hello Andie, won’t you come in.” Bellatrix replied flatly, when her comment was met with only a raised eyebrow from her sister she sighed and continued. “Narcissa will get over it; I didn’t touch Lucius this time. I just threatened him a little.”

Andromeda snorted out a sarcastic laugh as she approached her sister’s bed, staring down at her until she reluctantly scooted over to allow her younger sister to lie down next to her. “Why Bellatrix, how you’ve grown.”

“Don’t act like you care Andie.” Bellatrix scowled as she rolled onto her side to face the other girl and propped her head up on her arm. “You hate him almost as much as I do.”

“He’s a slimy prat.” Andromeda nodded and scrunched up her face in disgust. “But Narcissa adores him, she always has.”

“Did you know that Father has already promised her to Abraxas Malfoy?” Bellatrix asked, the disgust in her voice matching the look that was previously gracing her sister’s face. “She has only just turned thirteen.”

“I didn’t know, but I’m not surprised.” Andromeda said squeezing her eyes shut briefly as she let the news sink in. “We all know we are just commodities to Daddy dearest and Narcissa has always been his most prized possession. It was an inevitability that her virginity would be sold to the highest bidder.”

“Yes, his flower amongst the ugly thorns. You and I have always been such disappointments to him.” Bellatrix laughed lightly and Andromeda joined in.

“Is it bad that disappointing him makes me feel pretty proud of myself?” The younger girl asked, the chuckle still resounding in her voice.

“Not at all Andie.” Bellatrix answered softly, reaching out to move a stray lock of hair out of her sister’s eyes. “I’d be more worried about you if you didn’t feel that way. The man is an idiot.”

“That is being too kind.” Andromeda grumbled.

Bellatrix beamed at her sister’s distain for their Father and how closely it mirrored her own. “As pleasant as this little chat is, I’m sure you didn’t come here to discuss Narcissa’s relationship or even our Father.”

“As fascinating as I find our little sister’s, vaguely inappropriate, relationship with an older boy. No that is not why I came.” Andromeda clarified. “I came to check on you.”

Bellatrix sighed as she flopped down onto her back again. “I do not need checking on Andie.”

“Shut up Bella.” Andromeda said lightly. “You have barely been paying attention to any conversations that Cissy or I have had with you for the last week. You have spent no time in the library and all of your time on the Astronomy Tower stewing. And I know you only torment Lucius when you need to release some tension.”

“When did you get so perceptive little one?” Bellatrix asked affectionately as a light smile slipped on to her features.

“I’ve always been perceptive Bella; you have just never been perceptive enough to notice it before.” This time Andromeda was the one to turn to face her sister. “Talk to me, I know something is bothering you.”

“Andie, it’s nothing really.” Bellatrix replied as she stared at ceiling. “You know how I get. It will pass.”

“Yes, I know how you get. You obsess.” Andromeda reached out and turned her sister’s face towards her. “Is your current obsession a certain bushy haired Ravenclaw by any chance?”

“Is there any point in denying it at this point?” The older witch asked.

“Not really.” Andromeda smirked at her sister’s lack of fight on the subject, she liked when Bellatrix was willing to open up to her a little. The times were few and far between. “I already know you’ve taken a shine to her.”

“Taken a shine to her,” Bellatrix mocked, her words lacking their usual bite as she actually felt a little nervous at the direction of this conversation. “Who are you, Grandmother Rosier?”

Andromeda just rolled her eyes and shook her head at her sister’s pathetic attempt at avoidance. “I see how you struggle when it comes to her Bella. You push her away and ignore her when she is near you and yet you spend every second that she is away from you searching for a glimpse of her.”

“Am I really that obvious?” Bellatrix asked, a hint of pink creeping on to her cheeks.

“Only to me.” Andromeda reassured. “Cissy hadn’t noticed anything until you forgot to protect your mind when Hermione came over to speak to you the other day.”

Bellatrix sighed heavily. “So that is why she was looking so guilty earlier?”

“I’ve tried to make her feel better about it, but you know how she is.” The younger girl pulled a resigned face. “It is hardly her fault that you go to mush around the girl.”

Bellatrix’s head snapped towards her sister. “I do not go to mush”

“Ok maybe you don’t go to mush.” Andromeda replied as she tried to stifle a smile. “But she has definitely got under your skin.”

“I don’t know why she has though.” Bellatrix almost wailed as she covered her face with her hands.

“Because she isn’t scared of you.” Andromeda offered. “Well maybe she is a little scared of you. But she doesn’t let that dominate her thinking about you. It’s almost like she wants to push past all of your… bullshit and figure you out. Nobody other than Cissy and I have ever done that before.”

Bellatrix’s expression seemed to soften at her sister’s words. “I thought I was supposed to be the mature older sister in this situation?”

“You can’t be the mature older sister when you are acting like a love sick puppy.” Andromeda mocked with a supercilious smirk plastered across her features.

“Shut up.” Bellatrix laughed as she gave the younger girl a strong enough shove to send her sprawling from the bed. She rolled over so that she was looking down at the girl who was in a heap on the floor and stuck out her tongue, thoroughly satisfied with herself.

“I was going to ask you if you still needed to blow off some steam.” Andromeda said as she rubbed her elbow where it had clattered against the floorboards as she had landed. “But evidently you do.”

Within minutes the two dark haired girls found themselves outside of the Room of Requirement, having raced each other the whole way there. Bellatrix had won by a very narrow margin and both girls were breathing heavily as they paced in front of the, currently blank, stretch of wall. The ornate doorway materialised from the brick and the sisters jostled with each other as they reached for the doorknob at the same time. Andromeda got there first this time and she yanked the door open victoriously and marched into the cavernous room that had appeared. The walls of the room were the same grey stone as the rest of the castle but they were bedecked with banners featuring the Slytherin emblem and the Black family crest intermittently. The floor was slightly cushioned and bounced a little as the girls walked across it, the whole placed seemed to be illuminated by a light that had no source. The only thing in the room was a dummy on wheels that sat in one corner, its robes were ripped and slashed in places and its face was so charred that it didn’t even look human anymore.

“We don’t have to do this you know.” Bellatrix spoke up, her voice echoing around the room. “I feel much better now that we’ve had a bit of a chat.”

“Awwww is big bad Bella scared?” Andromeda cooed in the most facetious tone she could summon up.

Bellatrix’s face turned murderous as she stared daggers at her younger sister. “I am not scared of anything.”

“Perhaps you’re not scared of me.” Andromeda smirked. “But you do hate losing and you have yet to beat me.” She hinted at the numerous times they had found themselves in this very room doing exactly what they were about to do.

“I….” Bellatrix began but was cut off by a jet of red light that hit her square in the chest and sent her flying backwards straight onto her arse. She looked up through the pile of curls that had fallen in her face and a growl erupted from deep in her throat. “That was a big mistake Andromeda.”

In a flash Bellatrix was back up on her feet and had sent her own yellow hex firing towards her sister so quickly that it could barely be seen. But with a twist of her body and swish of her robes Andromeda was safely out of the way and smirking. She was always the much more athletic duellist; she saw it as a sport. She believed that by training the body you could keep a step ahead of your opponent, both metaphorically and physically. “Come now Bella. You will have to be better than that.”

Bellatrix slashed her arm through the air and another beam of yellow crackled across the room, she always worked more on instinct. Acting whenever she saw an opening or perceived weakness and not thinking about the knock on effect. Despite the ferocity of the spell Andromeda seemed to sidestep it easily but an errant curl gently smouldered as it settled back on her shoulder suggesting how narrowly she had been missed. Her chestnut eyes widened ever so slightly as she reached up to pat the lock of hair and put a stop to the gentle wisps of smoke that were rising from it. “Is that better?” Bellatrix mocked as she flung her arms wide and made to advance on her sister.

“Not much.” Andromeda returned in a flat tone as she raised her wand and shot a blue spell in Bellatrix’s direction. The darker girl tried to step out of the way but Andromeda had anticipated her sister’s move and aimed slightly to the left. The spell hit the older girl in the shoulder and forced her to take a few steps backwards to steady herself. “You’re spells are strong, they always are. But you leave yourself too open when you duel. You let your anger rule your head.”

“Well getting knocked on your arse without warning will generally serve to make you angry.” Bellatrix replied as she began to circle around the younger girl. Andromeda kept a careful eye on her opponent and turned subtly on the spot so that she didn’t at any point have her back to her sister. They had done this too many times. Andromeda knew all of her tricks. If Bellatrix wasn’t gaining the upper hand she would resort to dirty tricks. “You know I always work best when I’m fuelled by anger, I need something to feed off when I duel.” The older girl sent a hex towards her sister, but with another graceful twist Andromeda avoided it, earning herself another growl of frustration from Bellatrix.

“Allowing anger to be your fuel is not a bad thing, you have to draw from something.” Andromeda confirmed as she spun her wand between her fingers, trying to act nonchalant but ensuring that she stayed vigilant. Bellatrix was entirely predictable in all of her unpredictability. “But you need to be certain that you are in control of the anger. Otherwise you become sloppy.”

Bellatrix laughed cruelly. “And how do you control your anger Andromeda?” The younger girl narrowed her eyes at the older; she knew there was more to this question than the innocent words would lead her to believe. She knew the question was loaded she could tell by the look in her sister’s eyes. “Is it by fucking your mudblood?”

“You bitch.” Andromeda spat as she whipped her wand at her sister, taking the girl’s legs out from under her and leaving her crumpled on the cushioned floor. The younger girl sent a particularly strong stinging jinx at Bellatrix, it struck her on the hand and she hissed in pain. Ted was much more than a mudblood; he was a good, kind boy who made her happy, who made her laugh every time she was with him. She sent another stinging jinx at Bellatrix but she managed to throw herself out of the way this time and the spell just left a scorch mark on the floor.

“Touched a nerve did I?” Bellatrix grinned up at her sister before she threw herself at the girl’s legs sending her toppling over in a heap on the floor too. The floor had not always been cushioned, it had just been solid stone like the walls at one point but after one too many injuries the room had decided it was time for a change. The older witch clambered on top of Andromeda and attempted to pin her hands to the floor but she was being fought off frantically. “So much for controlled anger.”

“You know that I hate it when you call Ted a mudblood.” Andromeda spat as she bucked her hips and threw her sister off to the side so that she could scrabble back to her feet. “You only do it to annoy me. You care as much about Ted’s blood status as I do about the gender of your conquests.”

Bellatrix threw a red curse towards her sister from her spot on the floor; Andromeda leaned to the side to avoid the spell. The older girl took the chance to pounce up from the ground and advance on the other. “The girl’s I have bedded could hardly be called conquests Andie. They all gave in to me far too easily for that.”

“You’re disgusting Bellatrix, must you be so vulgar?” Andromeda snapped as she pulled a face full of disgust, she swirled her wand and a torrent of water washed over her sister leaving her gasping and shell shocked. “You shouldn’t lower yourself to sleeping with people who hand themselves over so willingly.”

“Oh I’m sure Ted Tonks fights you off with a stick when you creep into his bedroom at night.” Bellatrix mocked as she rang out her curls before throwing the still damp tresses over her shoulder and grinning mischievously. She took a stride towards the other girl, encroaching on her personal space and tilting her head to one side as she eyed her up. “I’m sure he tells you how he has too much respect for himself and you two should wait.”

Andromeda gave her sister a strong shove and sent the girl staggering backwards, even as she fought to stay on her feet she was still smiling. The younger girl knew that she was letting Bellatrix under her skin and that it was exactly what the older girl was hoping for but she was just so bloody annoying. “Are you jealous Bella? That someone that I actually care about likes me back.” She sent a half-formed curse at her older sister to send her back a few more paces; if she could back her into a corner she could end this duel quickly. She just needed to keep her distracted and lucky for her it was very easy to distract Bellatrix. “Because that’s what really scares you about Hermione isn’t it?” She took another step forward and Bellatrix took another step backwards as her jaw tightened and her eyes narrowed. “That unlike some of the other girls that you have perused, she hasn’t turned to mush at your cocky smirk.” Bellatrix looked as if she might launch an attack for a second but Andromeda cut her off before she had the chance to move. “That she has stood up to your mocking rather than becoming a giggling mess.” Andromeda moved again and edged the older girl ever closer to the stone behind her, just one more step. “That she isn’t in awe of your brilliance and you so desperately want her to be.”

“Shut up Andromeda.” Bellatrix roared as a bright fountain of orange sparks erupted from the end of her wand sending the younger girl sprinting away as the embers singed her skin where they landed.

“What the hell was that?” Andromeda bellowed as she slashed her wand at her sister who threw up a hasty Protego to block the spell.

Bellatrix looked at her hand where the sparks had burned her skin too. “I have no idea, I was just annoyed.”

“For God’s sake Bellatrix when will you learn some control? You’ll never win a duel if you don’t.” Andromeda chastised as she analysed her own pockmarked hands with a frown. With a grunt of annoyance she sent a silent Petrificus Totalus towards the older girl. There were only two ways to end a duel between the Black sisters; immobilise your opponent or draw blood. Unfortunately Bellatrix had managed to clumsily duck out of the way of her attempted body bind.

“I told you before I’m not scared of anything.” Bellatrix snapped by way of a half-hearted defence. As she went to take a step towards her sister she was quickly stopped in her tracks when Andromeda flicked her wand and she felt a sharp sting across her cheek.

“You are scared, scared that you will have to work for Hermione and it still might not be enough.” Andromeda said softy as she looked upon her sister with kind eyes and a sympathetic smile. “And you’re bleeding, which means I win. Again.”

Bellatrix furrowed her brow but reached up to touch the spot on her cheek that was still stinging. When she looked down at her fingers, sure enough they were stained red.

Night had fallen a few hours ago and most of the occupants of the castle were beginning to retire to their beds but Hermione wasn’t tired. She had far too many thoughts and worries flying around in her head to be granted a decent nights rest. She needed some place that she could go and mull things over, some place she could be truly alone with her own thoughts. In truth she needed somewhere to sulk. To sulk about how unfair it was that she was stuck in 1969, how unfair it was that she would never see her friends again and how unfair it was that Bellatrix was treating her like some pariah even though she had apologised more than once.

Hermione didn’t really have a destination in mind, she was simply wandering mindlessly. Originally she had thought about heading up to the owlery, like she used to in her own time but the thought stung just a little bit too much to follow through on.  Instead she had meandered aimlessly until her wandering feet had begun to tromp up the staircase of one of Hogwarts many towers. She soon found herself at the top of the Astronomy tower, the place held a bittersweet resonance. It was the place where Dumbledore had perished but it was also one of the more beautiful parts of the castle with its rolling vista of mountains surrounding the school. She stepped towards the railings and allowed her eyes to scan the landscape as she pondered on how similar this world looked to her own, if she could dull the voices screaming obscenities in her mind for a minute she could pretend that she was back there. She could pretend that when she ventured down from the turret Ron and Harry would be waiting for her and they could stroll back to the cosy Gryffindor common room as they laughed about something stupid Draco had done that day. But that was not her reality anymore, she was stuck here all alone and the nearest thing she had to a friendship was Bellatrix Black.

Hermione had always tried to do the right thing, be a good person, treat people well. So why did the world seem determined to shit on her from a great height at every opportunity. She had been a witch stuck in a muggle world filled with relief when she received her letter to Hogwarts only to find that there she was a muggle-born thrown into a world she didn’t understand. She had been caught up in a war that she had no part in starting but was for some reason expected to help end. She had been tortured, she had watched friends die, she had been forced to remove all trace of herself from her parent’s minds. And then just when she was finding her feet and beginning to find her place in the mess the world had become the rug was pulled from beneath her all over again. It was utter bullshit. Her whole life felt like utter bullshit. Hermione looked up to the sky, the gleeful beauty of the twinkling stars above her even seemed to be mocking her dark mood by trying to cast some unwelcomed light into her gloom. She felt rage bubble up from the depths of her gut; she gripped the edge of the railings until her knuckles turned white trying to control the urge to start burning the world. She wanted to cause destruction, she wanted somebody else to have to feel the way that she felt right now, she wanted somebody else to have to shoulder this burden she had been saddled with. But she knew deep down that she could never be that person, a person who would willingly cause harm to another. Hermione breathed deeply through her nose and tried to fight down the fire within her but she was losing the battle, “Fuuuuuuuck” she screamed into the emptiness of the night. “Fuck everything, fuck everyone out there that wants to ruin my life, just fuck you.” She threw her hand over her mouth and muffled a sob, she staggered back away from the railing as if she had been thrown back by the force of her own outburst. Her mind was reeling and she felt dizzy and fuzzy, she took another wobbly step backwards but found her foot meeting only empty air. She was closer the staircase leading down from the tower than she had realised, as she was about to let out a yelp of horror to signal her impending doom when an arm wrapped around her waist firmly and stopped her fall before it even happened.

“You’re ok, I’ve got you.” A reassuring voice soothed as Hermione was set steadily back on her feet. She found herself enveloped in the scent of Jasmine and cedar wood, it was familiar in a distant sort of way. Like she had dreamed of it before. “You need to be careful up here.”

At the slightly chastising tone Hermione shook her head to clear some of the fog and began to register that it was Bellatrix that was still holding her up. “I was being careful I just…” she trailed off as she moved away from the other girl’s body and took her own weight cautiously.

“Screaming at nothing.” Bellatrix finished for her as she reluctantly allowed the other girl to step away from her but kept a cautionary arm stretched out towards her just in case. The trace of a smirk tugging at her features disappeared quickly when she saw Hermione’s face pale in embarrassment. “I get it, it’s beautiful up here and sometimes you just have to ruin something beautiful.”

Hermione looked away from Bellatrix and moved back over to the railings to look over the mountains in the distance again. She didn’t want to admit out loud that Bellatrix had essentially just summed up exactly what she had been doing up here, although inadvertently. “What are you doing up here?” She asked, deciding that going on the defensive was her best course of action.

Bellatrix chuckled softly and came to join the bushy haired girl at the edge of the tower, her eyes flicking across the landscape too. “Well it would seem that you have found my usual hiding spot. I come up here to be alone when things are bothering me. I come up here most nights.”

“Things bother you that often?” Hermione asked quietly, almost robotically.

“Be careful, it almost sounded like you cared there.” Bellatrix sniped, despite her earlier thoughts about forgiving Hermione next time that she saw her.

Hermione let out a weary sigh. “Forget I said anything.”

Both girls were silent for a few minutes before Bellatrix muttered. “I know, it’s hard to imagine.” Although Hermione still wasn’t looking at her the eye roll was evident in her voice. “The spoiled rich girl couldn’t possibly have any problems that keep her up at night.”

“That’s not what I think.” Hermione said as she turned to look at the other girl, the breeze was picking up a few of her inky tendrils, their colour almost as dark as the night sky around her. “I don’t think that wealth eradicates all of the problems from a person’s life. This world is…fucked, money doesn’t change that.”

“Do you really believe that?” Bellatrix asked as she met Hermione’s eyes. “Do you believe that the world is fucked?”

Hermione nodded her head slowly, her eyes turning sad as she tried desperately not to let herself cry. “I’ve seen enough of it to know that it is.”

“Maybe it is fucked right now but I think that we can change it.” Bellatrix said confidently and for the first time Hermione saw the girl in front of her as exactly that. She was still just a girl, filled with a childlike confidence and arrogance that Hermione had long since lost. As she looked at the fire in the darker haired girl’s eyes she felt a desperate desire to protect that invincibility in Bellatrix for as long as she possibly could.

“I hope that you can.” Hermione said softly, knowing that whatever change Bellatrix saw for this world was completely different from the perfect world that she could conjure up in her own mind. Bellatrix saw a world free from muggles and muggle-borns, where pure bloods reigned supreme and wizards could live without hiding. Hermione saw a world where she could live in peace and quiet, a harmonious community that could live alongside each other.

“Hermione.” Bellatrix said gently, tasting the syllables on her tongue as the word slid from her mouth for the first time. “I don’t do this often so please listen” She paused to make sure that she had the other girls full attention, she took a deep breath as though she was readying herself to do something incredibly difficult. “I’m sorry I’ve been such an utter arse to you recently.”

A warm smile slipped onto Hermione’s face as she acknowledged Bellatrix’s awkward words. “I’m sorry I didn’t try harder to understand you.” As the words left her mouth she wasn’t sure if she meant trying not to understand Bellatrix Black of right now or for never taking the time to try and understand the Bellatrix Lestrange from her time.

Chapter Text

Hermione and Bellatrix had found an easy rhythm in the weeks following their argument; it had started tentatively at first, with the girls finding excuses to ‘accidentally’ bump into one another. But as each girl found the other receptive to the other’s company they grew in confidence and began to actively seek each other out. Both were careful not to lash out at the other and both were cautious to hold their tongues so as not to start anymore unnecessary arguments, things seemed to be working out. The two girls had established a regular meeting point; sitting atop the Astronomy tower heatedly discussing one topic or another or doing homework while enjoying the quiet companionship.

During their conversations Hermione had discovered that Bellatrix wanted to work for the Ministry of Magic, specifically for the International Magical Office of Law. Her burning desire was to travel, to experience other cultures, to learn more about the world and she couldn’t imagine anything better than to be paid for doing it. Hermione learned that Bellatrix’s passion was History of Magic but she could not stand Professor Binns, she claimed that he took all of the joy out of the subject. She believed that the man was solely responsible for the distinct lack of Magical Historians in Britain today. Hermione could hardly disagree, his dyer lessons were why she hadn’t taken History of Magic as a N.E.W.T. herself. Professor Dumbledore allowed Bellatrix to be enrolled on to the History of Magic course while she conducted her own research, as long as she checked in with him every other week so that he could check over her work. The fervour with which Bellatrix spoke about topics like the Goblin Rebellion of 1612 and the evidence of it that could still be found in and around Hogsmeade Village made Hermione wish that she had listened more when she was in classes. She had learned more from Bellatrix over the last couple of weeks than she had in years studying under Professor Binns.

 It came to light that on the night Bellatrix had not turned up to the library; she had been holed up in the Room of Requirement researching some obscure Historical fact or other. Bellatrix had made it her mission to prove that Urg the Unclean did not deserve his reputation as ‘The Butcher of the Rebellion’, a name he had earned by inadvertently leading his band of fellow goblins to their slaughter. She was certain that the wizards had been tipped off about Urg’s plan to attack by one of his very own goblins but that this fact had been wiped from history in order to make the wizarding community seem more triumphant. At first Hermione had been confused by Bellatrix’s determination, despite the fact that Urg had been dead for centuries the Slytherin seemed hell bent on clearing his name. She hadn’t seen why it was so important to the other girl to fix the obscure goblins unjust reputation but one day it had dawned on her that Bellatrix herself had an unjust reputation. But no one was fighting to clear her name. People feared Bellatrix, they avoided her in corridors and sneered at her across the Great Hall at meal times, when apart from a few dirty looks and an annoyingly superior attitude, the black haired girl didn’t seem to have done anything wrong. None of it seemed very fair, no wonder Bellatrix always seemed to be walking around in such a bad mood.

One particular evening Hermione had suggested to Bellatrix that maybe she should try to replace Binns as the Professor of History of Magic when she graduated from Hogwarts. The excitement that had been playing in the Slytherin’s eyes had died so quickly that Hermione had questioned it before her mind had caught up with her actions. For a few heart stopping moments Bellatrix had remained in a brooding silence and Hermione had worried that she had finally pushed the other girl too far. But eventually Bellatrix had spoken with great sadness in her voice and explained how rarely she allowed herself to consider her own future because she knew that she had no say in it. That once she came of age her Father would marry her off to some pureblood boy, who she already hated, in order to further one of his own business ventures. And then she would be expected to stay at home and take care of the home, produce an heir or two and waste her talents until the day she died. Pureblood women were not supposed to have minds and they were certainly not supposed to have aspirations, they would only lead to heartbreak when those aspirations inevitably ended up painfully unfulfilled. It hurt Hermione’s heart to think of this brilliant witch being expected to waste her skills on simple household magic and chores. And it worried her that the more she learned about Bellatrix the more she could begin to understand why the life that Tom Riddle offered her would seem so appealing.

Tonight they sat on top of the Astronomy Tower once more, on the edge of the turret with their legs hanging into the abyss and their eyes scanning the darkness of the Forbidden Forest. Bellatrix had managed to wiggle a rare nugget of information free from Hermione’s usually closed off character.

“What do you mean you can’t fly?” The pureblood asked incredulously.

“I don’t know how else to explain it.” Hermione replied with a roll of her eyes. “A broomstick and I just do not mix.”

“But you’re a witch.” Bellatrix stated dumbly as if this simple fact would solve the problem entirely.

“Really?” Sarcasm dripped from the word as Hermione uttered it. “I did wonder why that stick in my pocket kept letting off sparks.”

Bellatrix smirked salaciously. “That’s only happening because you’re exceeding pleased to see me.”

The comment earned her a backhand across the arm from the bushy haired witch as she fought down a blush. “Is your mind always in the gutter?”

“How can I help it when you’re making comments like that?” Bellatrix defended, the smirk still firmly on her face. “And don’t try to change the subject. You can’t fly!”

“No Bellatrix.” Hermione sighed. “I can’t fly.”

“Did your Dad not teach you when you were younger?” Bellatrix asked more gently this time, her jest having given way to genuine curiosity now.

“No my Dad never taught me.” Hermione felt her body heat up as nerves hit her, no her Dad had never taught her to fly a broom because he was a muggle and had no idea that flying brooms were anything other than a fairy tale. But she couldn’t very well tell Bellatrix that now could she? “He was always too busy with work to do anything like that.”

Bellatrix hummed pensively as she digested that piece of information. “My father is pretty ineffectual overall. But the one useful thing he has ever done for me was teach me how to fly a broom.” She was silent for a few moments, becoming lost somewhere in her own past. “He was desperate for a son, he realised he was going to have to settle for me as the next best thing quite early on in my life. So he taught me how to fly when I was five, he used to take me out around the grounds of our manner on a training broom most evenings in the summer. For my eleventh birthday I asked for the Comet 220, it was due to be released two days before my birthday and I couldn’t imagine anything better than turning up to Hogwarts with that thrown across my shoulder. I woke up the morning of my birthday and I rushed downstairs but I had received everything I asked for except the broom. I asked my father about it sometime later, he told me that flying was fine when I was child, now that I was a young lady it was not fitting for me to be racing around on a broom. We have spent virtually no time together since that day; I was so angry at him, I felt as though he had taken away the only thing that had ever made me feel truly free.”

“Harry used to say that about flying.” Hermione muttered. She didn’t even register that she had actually spoken out loud; Bellatrix’s revelry had made her feel nostalgic. “He loved it because he was free. Free from people’s expectations. Free from stares around school. Just him and the broom and how far he could push it.”

The black haired witch didn’t miss the warm glow that filled the other girl’s eyes when she spoke about this Harry and she couldn’t help the wave of jealousy that erupted in the pit of her stomach. “Who’s Harry?” She asked in as nonchalant a tone as she could muster with her heartrate as elevated as it was in that moment.

“A friend from Beauxbatons.” Hermione said quickly, she hoped that they could move the conversation swiftly away from the dangerous territory it was currently in. But her obvious thinly veiled lie and nervous demeanour did not escape Bellatrix’s eagle-eye.

“Just a friend?” Bellatrix snapped, her jealousy giving way to anger at the thought that Hermione could be pining after some lost love in France. “Or were you two ever more?”

Hermione shook her head as her eyes slipped closed and she fought to keep her emotions in check. She so rarely permitted herself to think about the boys, it was simply too painful to allow her mind to dwell there for too long. The thought that she would never hear their voices again, never see their faces glowing with excitement over a stupid Quidditch match again, never have to try and fix Harry’s unruly hair again, never have to correct Ron on some half learned fact again, never get to be the voice of reason in their ridiculous schemes again was almost enough to break her entirely. So she did not let herself think about it. Until right now. With Bellatrix watching her desperate attempt to compose herself, a battle she was failing miserably.

Bellatrix gently reached out and tucked a strand of hair, which had been misplaced by the late October breeze, back behind Hermione’s ear. Her hand lingered there a moment when the bushy haired girl leant ever so slightly into the unexpected comfort of her touch. Her jealousy quickly gave way to care as she saw how upset Hermione was. “I know what it’s like to lose things that you love. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“You didn’t upset me.” Hermione said as she swallowed thickly and attempted a weak smile. “It’s just hard to be away from everything that I know, I try to ignore it but sometimes it gets on top of me.”

“You shouldn’t bottle things up.” Bellatrix stated softly as she tilted her head to try and catch Hermione’s reluctant soft brown eyes. “I know from experience how hard it is to keep pain contained. It changes you when you try, it makes you cold.”

Hermione caught the look of sadness that flittered through Bellatrix’s dark eyes, for someone that she had always thought to be untouchable and uncaring the Slytherin had a very low opinion of herself. “Is that what you think? That you’re cold?” Hermione paused to gauge the other girl’s reaction, but when no response other than her picking invisible fluff from her skirt was forthcoming she continued. “You’re not cold. Bellatrix you are fire personified, I see the way you care for Narcissa and Andromeda. You protect them with a fierceness people can only wish to possess” She reassured wholeheartedly, not even questioning her desire to comfort the other girl. “But it isn’t an option for me to let things out, I just…can’t.”

Bellatrix looked away, not sure how to respond to such genuine emotion. People usually pushed her away, treated her like she was something diseased. She wanted to say something to Hermione about how much it meant to her that she was sat here listening to her talk about her life. But she knew she would never be able to find words to do justice to what she was feeling, so instead she ignored it entirely and just moved on. “I won’t push you about opening up, but if you ever change your mind I’m here to listen.” Bellatrix offered simply but sincerely as she finally looked back at Hermione with a gentle smile. 

“I appreciate that.” Hermione said, returning the smile warmly. She could see the seriousness that had set in to the dark haired girl’s features; she could see how she was beginning to retreat into her own mind. But she wanted to keep Bellatrix here…with her. “Be careful though, you’re starting to sound like care.” The repeating, in jest, of Bellatrix’s own words from their argument felt cathartic, it felt like the elephant in the room had finally been addressed. “Won’t that ruin your street cred?”

“Shut up Ross.” Bellatrix laughed as she bumped shoulders with the bushy haired witch, without having to say it out loud it was recognition that everything had been forgiven. “Anyway how did we get from you can’t fly to you almost crying over some boy?”

“You’re talk of flying made me think about my friend Harry.” Hermione replied with a pointedly raised eyebrow. She put emphasis on the word friend and was rewarded with a slight blush from the other girl by doing so. “He loved Quidditch, he was the youngest seeker in a century.”

“Clearly the boy has good taste.” Bellatrix spoke in a mocking voice but it lacked its usual harshness, she examined her nails rather than look at Hermione as she added. “In friends as well as sport.”

Hermione swallowed at the rare compliment to come from the pureblood, she wasn’t sure how to respond so she led the conversation onto what she hoped was safer ground. “Do you play Quidditch?”

“I did…I do…But not for the school team or anything.” Bellatrix stumbled over her words with an unexplained nervousness, her blush from a moment ago intensifying. “I tried out in my first year, I was the only girl to make the team…I was made beater.”

“Why don’t you play anymore?” Hermione asked, intrigued to learn yet more about the enigma that is Bellatrix Black. “I imagine you would be fierce on the Quidditch pitch. I certainly wouldn’t like to come up against you.”

“I didn’t even get to play a game.” Bellatrix said in a small voice as she raked her hand through her curls and tried to subtly rearrange them so that they shielded her face from Hermione.  “My father found out I had made the team and he lost it. He wrote to the school and said that he would withdraw me from Hogwarts entirely if they didn’t remove me from the team, no daughter of his was going to besmirch the family name by flying around like some commoner.”

“What difference does it make to the family name if you play Quidditch or not?” Hermione asked, her temper getting the better of her as she spoke.

“Apparently ladies do not play Quidditch.” Bellatrix replied with a snort.

Hermione almost growled in frustration, that was the most ridiculous thing she had ever heard. Women could play Quidditch, the Hollyhead Harpies were an incredibly successful all female Quidditch team. “But you’re not a lady. You’re a girl. It’s ridiculous that those expectations are placed on you now.”

“Not being able to play Quidditch and being expected to behave like a lady are the least of my worries to be honest.” Bellatrix laughed hollowly, she sat there quietly for a few moments just picking at her nails. “The worst part of the whole thing was that I had just got my uniform. I was so proud to have it, to fly around in Slytherin colours. It was all I had dreamed about when I was a child. I was trying my uniform on for the first time when Slughorn came to inform me of the owl he had received from my father. I was….crushed.”

“Oh Bella.” Hermione whispered, the thought that Bellatrix was so upset about Quidditch could seem trivial to someone else. But she knew it represented much more than that to the dark haired girl, she was upset that yet another choice in her life had been taken away. She couldn’t choose the family she had been born into and yet people judged her for it. She couldn’t choose who she would marry, her father would do that for her. She couldn’t choose to have a job, no self-respecting pureblood man would let his wife work. And then to top it all off she couldn’t even choose to do something as inconsequential as play Quidditch because it wasn’t deemed ladylike. Hermione wanted to roar in frustration, she wanted to storm through the world and change it so that Bellatrix could do whatever it was that she wanted. A force like Bellatrix should never be beholden to anyone else’s expectations of her. “I wish things could be different for you.” Hermione offered as she reached out slowly to lay her hand on top of Bellatrix’s very gently, as if she was reaching out to touch a startled animal that she was worried about scaring off.

“You called me Bella” Bellatrix said almost absentmindedly, as if she was lost in a daydream somewhere. She was staring at the spot where Hermione’s hand was touching her own, a mixture of confusion and contentment playing on her features.

“I’m sorry… I… don’t know what I was thinking.” Hermione stuttered, embarrassment evident in her voice and the swift colouring of her cheeks. She went to snatch her hand away but Bellatrix moved quickly, catching her retreating hand and interlocking their fingers and keeping her effectively trapped.

“No I like it.” Bellatrix reassured as she stared out at Hogwarts grounds so as not to have to look at Hermione. Her thumb traced a feather-light pattern on the bushy haired witch’s hand and she revelled in the softness of her skin. “Only my sisters call me Bella. Only people that care about me call me Bella.”

Hermione was in a rush to get out of Arithmancy, the lesson had been a killer and her head was pounding from the level of concentration it had taken to keep up. All she wanted to do was go back to her dorm room and lie in the dark. As she pushed past a particularly slow moving group of Hufflepuff girls she walked straight into someone who was trying to force their way in the other direction.

The distinct sound of books hitting the floor was heard followed by an exasperated exclamation of “Hey, watch where you’re going.” The person bent to hastily collect up their fallen things with a heavy sigh and without even looking to see who they had run into.

Hermione on the other hand looked down at the mass of black curls with a smirk; she would know who that harsh voice belonged to with her eyes closed. She cleared her throat and put on as stern a voice as she could muster. “I’m pretty sure you’re the one who should be watching where they’re going.”

Bellatrix looked up from the floor where she was still in the process of retrieving her scattered belongings, her eyes blazing thinking that someone had dared talk back to her. “Oh Ross.” Her expression changed swiftly from all out irritation to bemused smile as she stood up gracefully from the floor. “I was on my way to find you, I wanted to catch you before you left Arithmancy but I got stuck behind that lot who were moving at snail’s pace.”

“How did you know I had Arithmancy?” Hermione asked gently, a soft smile playing on her lips. One thing she had learned about Bellatrix over the last few weeks it that she was full of surprises and she sensed today she had something up her sleeve.

“You told me how you were struggling with the topic you were covering in Arithmancy right now.” Bellatrix answered sheepishly as she picked at the corner of one of the books that she was now holding again. “I found out when Arithmancy was on for seventh years.”

Hermione’s smile beamed as she reached out to briefly squeeze the Slytherin’s forearm. “That was…sweet Bellatrix. I didn’t think you would remember me talking about that.”

“Yeah, well I thought that you could probably do with some cheering up.” Bellatrix dismissed the other girl’s comment with a wave of her hand, if there was one thing she really struggled with it was taking a compliment. So she dealt with her discomfort the only way that she knew how, by piling on the sarcasm. “And I know how my mere presence does that for you.”

“Yes. You are a ray of sunshine in my otherwise cloudy day.” Hermione replied sarcastically. She smiled internally at Bellatrix’s obvious avoidance as she allowed her to lead the conversation away from the seriousness she knew made the girl feel awkward.

“You know what Ross I’ve been told that many times before.” Bellatrix smirked, her usual cocky smirk lighting up her features. “In fact I have lost count of how many times I have heard that only today.”

“Oh really? Have you made a habit of following people around the castle Bellatrix?” Hermione asked, trying to sound as innocent as possible while trying not to laugh at the other girl’s now horrified expression. “That is how you get yourself a reputation, you know?”

Bellatrix caught on to her mocking pretty quickly though and laughed, one of her true laughs that made Hermione’s stomach flutter whenever she heard it. “Ross, you have not been here long enough. I already have a reputation. And a pretty terrible one at that.”

Hermione hummed as if she was mulling this information over. “Well perhaps I should stay away from you then. I don’t want to make myself the subject of idle gossip.”

“Don’t worry.” Bellatrix shook her head and stage whispered behind her hand as two Ravenclaw girls skirted past them in the corridor and shot them a furtive glance. “People are too scared of me to gossip. I get away with everything around here.”

“Well I think your streak has come to an end.” Hermione stated as she cocked her hip and crossed her arms across her chest. “Because you will certainly not be getting away with everything with me.”

“Good.” Bellatrix chuckled softly as she bit her lip and allowed her gaze to flit appreciatively over the other girl’s form before she realised what she was doing and squeezed her eyes shut.

“Now I know you didn’t come to find me to talk about your creepy habit of following people around the castle.” Hermione mocked, not noticing the black haired witch’s sudden struggle with herself or the slight pink tint to her cheeks that had just begun to bloom. “What did you really have planned?”

Bellatrix recovered herself pretty quickly, attack being the best form of defence and all. “First, I do not have a creepy habit. You will be pleased to hear that you are the only person I follow around the castle.” She threw back with a flirty wink. “Second, I wanted to show you some research I found regarding Urg the Unclean. I wanted your advice.”

“Of course Bellatrix. I love looking over your research.” Hermione said sincerely as she tried to fight down another flutter in her stomach that Bellatrix’s wink had caused. “What have you found?”

“I’ve found this information on a goblin named Rabat, he was one of Urg’s soldiers. I know because I have read about him before in the translated goblin retelling of the battle.” Bellatrix held up one of the books she was carrying and tapped the cover excitedly. “But according to this book by Ralston Potter, who was a wizard general during the rebellion Rabat was a sympathiser, he fought alongside the wizards during the battles.” Bellatrix paused, waiting for Hermione to reply to her barrage of information. When the other girl just chewed pensively on her lip she continued. “Don’t you see? According to the Goblins, Rabat was on their side. According to the wizards, Rabat was on their side. He could be the double agent, the one feeding information about the goblins’ movements to the wizards.”

Hermione took an excited step towards the other girl. She knew how much this research meant to Bellatrix and how this could very plausibly be the breakthrough she had been looking for. “Do you have any more information on Rabat?”

Bellatrix took a breath to steady herself, with Hermione’s sudden close proximity the girl’s vanilla scent had invaded her senses and clouded her mind for a second. “Ye…yes, he survived the rebellion. As did all of his family.”

“Which was a rarity during the rebellion?” Hermione asked quickly, she seemed to remember Bellatrix talking about how few Goblins had lived through the struggles. Her amber eyes met Bellatrix’s almost black ones and she recognised the fire of discovery deep within them. She had never met anyone who had the same passion for knowledge as she did; at times she wondered whether the black haired girl’s intensity might rival even her own.

“Practically unheard of. Everyone had always just put it down to luck. But now it would appear it was much more than that” Bellatrix answered with a smile, thanking any Gods that were listening that she had finally found somebody in this dump that could keep up with her. “The wizards were ruthless, they went after the goblin’s wives and children to draw them away from the front lines and back to their homes where they would be more vulnerable. Then they would slaughter them.”

“So something was keeping Rabat’s family safe.” Hermione stated this time a smile creeping on to her face to match Bellatrix. The girl was just so infectious.

“According to Potter’s book, Rabat was the only goblin after the rebellion to be given a job at Gringotts again” Bellatrix carried on excitedly as she subconsciously leaned nearer to Hermione as she got carried away. From this distance she could see all of the freckles scattered across the other girl’s cheeks like a new constellation ready to be explored. “A…after the rebellion Gringotts Bank was under the control of the wizards. No one in the country trusted the goblins anymore, especially with something as precious as their money. The entire goblin community was living in poverty. Well, all but Rabat it would seem.”

Hermione nodded enthusiastically her eyes twinkling as she coaxed Bellatrix to continue. “The Ministry obviously trusted him then.”

“And there is only one reason why they would trust him after everything that the Goblins had done.” Bellatrix started but paused when she noticed Hermione itching to say something.

“He had already proved he was worth their trust. By feeding them information during the rebellion.” Hermione finished off the black haired girl’s point with a hint of awe in her voice.

“Exactly.” Bellatrix almost shouted as she reached out and grabbed Hermione’s hand without thinking. “I think he could be it, I think he could be the missing piece I’ve been looking for.”

“Bellatrix….you’re brilliant.” Hermione blundered out before she could stop herself. Her gaze dropped to where Bellatrix’s hand had grasped her own before looking back up at the other girl sheepishly. “I mean… it’s brilliant. You know, that you’re finally getting somewhere.”

“Yeah, it is brilliant.” Bellatrix gave Hermione’s hand a gentle squeeze before letting go of it self-consciously. She looked at the floor and kicked at a small stone with her toe before speaking again. “Ross, there is a trip to Hogsmeade coming up this weekend. I was wondering if you were thinking of going?”

“Well, I didn’t really know about it.” Hermione admitted in a small voice. She really wanted to go into Hogsmeade with Bellatrix, she didn’t know why she wanted to go so badly but it all of a sudden felt incredibly important to her. Her heart sank though as she remembered how difficult it had been for Harry to get into Hogsmeade without his guardians written permission. “I’m…I’m not sure if I’m able to go. I have no way of getting my consent form signed.”

“If we sent an owl right now your parents reply would probably be back in time for the weekend.” Bellatrix replied in an excited voice, not ready to give in to Hermione’s defeatist attitude just yet.

Hermione swallowed thickly as she realised she would have to lie to Bellatrix again about her life. The closer she got to the girl and the more Slytherin opened up to her, the more she felt like she was deceiving the girl by pretending to be something she was not. “I don’t have any contact with my parents.” She decided that keeping things as simple as possible was the best course of action, plus it wasn’t a complete lie was it?

“Oh, right. Ok, well never mind.” Bellatrix pulled a face and shrugged trying not to look as disappointed as she felt. She had really wanted Hermione to come into Hogsmeade with her. She had thought about what it would be like to share her version of the village with someone who cared, unlike Andie and Cissy who just humoured her. She had imagined what it would be like to finally have someone to go into the Three Broomsticks with and laugh at the third years that were trying Honeydukes’ acid pops or exploding bonbons for the first time.

Hermione hesitated briefly before she spoke, her eyes narrowing as she took in Bellatrix’s defeated posture. “I’m sorry Bellatrix. I’m sure you can find somebody else to go with you.”

“I usually go to Hogsmeade on my own.” Bellatrix said with a shrug but still she was looking anywhere but at Hermione. “I don’t care for the shops while every other student seems to be obsessed with wasting money on Dungbombs and biting teacups from that ridiculous Zonko’s shop. I prefer to look at the historical features, see if I can discover something new.”

“I have a meeting with Professor Dumbledore tomorrow; I could ask if he is able to give me permission to go into Hogsmeade.” Hermione suggested as she watched Bellatrix carefully for a reaction.

“That would be…” Bellatrix stuttered over what to say as her head snapped up to look at Hermione again finally. Part of her wanted to tell her that she was really hoped Dumbledore would let her come to Hogsmeade with her because those days made her feel even more lonely than normal. But instead she went with. “Yeah that would be good.” She screwed her eyes shut and mentally cursed herself for making herself look like such a blundering fool. She tried to rescue the situation. “I…I can show you all of the places you have been hearing about for the last couple of weeks.”

Hermione smirked as she took in the usually unflappable girl who was currently looking rather flustered for some reason. She decided to take a leaf out of Bellatrix’s book and cut the tension with mockery. “Yeah that would be good.”

The sound of a charming, tinkling bell filled Dumbledore’s office alerting him to the presence of somebody at the bottom of the staircase leading to the cavernous room. He rose from the high backed chair behind his desk and waved his wand, a few instruments zipped their way into the cabinets that lined the room and the glass door swung shut securely behind them. The wizard nodded once in approval at the state of the room before he made his way across to the heavy oak door and pulled it open.

“Good evening Miss Granger.” Dumbledore greeted as he gestured for the young woman to enter his office. “A pleasure to see you as always.”

“Good evening Professor.” Hermione returned with a tight smile, the meetings with the older wizard always made her a little nervous but she could not put her finger on why. Perhaps it was the fear that she would have broken one of the stupid rules imposed on her.

“It is a beautiful night; shall we sit by the window where we can see the stars?” Dumbledore observed the brunette witch for a second through his half-moon spectacles, a knowing smile brightening his features before he added. “Your love of the astronomy tower has been noted.”

“I have been spending a lot of time up there lately.” Hermione chuckled gently and tucked a fallen curl behind her ear self-consciously. She made her way over to the two midnight blue armchairs that were set up in front of the office’s large window. She lowered herself stiffly into one of the seats and wrung her hands together anxiously as she waited for the man to join her. Her mind was working over time trying to figure out how the headmaster knew where she spent her evenings.

“Would you like some tea Hermione?” Dumbledore called brightly from elsewhere in the room. “I find it works wonders for calming the nerves.”

Hermione looked over the back of the armchair at the headmaster who had that mischievous look on his face. She quickly untangled her hands from one another and gave them a shake for good measure, internally cursing at giving herself away so easily. “Yes please Sir, that sounds lovely.”

Dumbledore made his way over to the other armchair with two steaming teacups in mismatched saucers; he gently passed one to the girl before flopping into his seat with a sigh. He gazed out of the window for a few moments as though lost in contemplation, taking a few delicate sips of his tea as his companion waited with bated breath for him to remember she was there. “It is a little over three weeks since I saw you last Hermione. How has 1969 been treating you?”

“It is treating me well I think Sir.” Hermione took a sip of her own tea, hoping to sate the dryness that had bloomed in her throat. “My classes seem to be going well, I have made a few friends and I feel more settled. I have finally stopped heading up to Gryffindor tower when I want to go to my room, so I am taking that as a small victory.”

“Oh I would take that as a large victory.” Dumbledore smiled warmly as he looked away from the window to observe the brunette. “Another victory I would like to congratulate you on is that you and Miss Black seem to be back on speaking terms. Last time we spoke you were not in her good books.”

“Yes, we seem to be getting along for the time being.” Hermione replied, trying to keep the confusion out of her voice. Of all of the things that she thought would register on the headmaster’s radar, she would not have considered the relationship between two teenage girls to even cause a blip.

“Do you foresee more problems in the future?” The headmaster probed good-naturedly, confusing Hermione even further with his continued interest in this topic.

“I don’t intend to cause any more problems.” The bushy haired witch muttered quietly as she swirled the contents of her teacup distractedly. She thought about how careful she had been around the other girl since their argument, how she didn’t want to push their truce too far for fear of losing the only person she really had in 1969. “Bellatrix can be… unpredictable at times though.”

“That is certainly one way to describe Miss Black.” Dumbledore laughed as he nodded his agreement to Hermione’s assessment of Bellatrix. “I was quite surprised when I found out that you two were spending time together.”

He was surprised that they were spending time together? If someone had told her a few months ago that she would be spending her evenings with Bellatrix, through her own choice, she would have had them admitted to St Mungo’s on the spot. As much as her rational mind told her that she should create some distance from the girl she just didn’t seem able to do it. If she was honest with herself, when the black haired witch wasn’t around, she missed having to think about what she said before she said it. She missed the intellectual conversations about things that actually mattered. She missed looking for little clues that would help her to figure out the conundrum that was Bellatrix Black. Hermione chuckled dryly before she spoke, “Believe me Sir, not as surprised as me.”

Dumbledore took another sip of his tea as he observed Hermione and her now slightly pink cheeks. “I imagine after everything that Bellatrix put you through in your time that she is the last person you thought you would, if I may be so bold, have become friends with.”

“I’m sorry Sir, I wasn’t aware that we had discussed my… interactions with Bellatrix.” Hermione tried to say in as respectful a tone as she could muster. But she couldn’t help the curl of anger that licked up her chest as she tried to figure out how the headmaster was privy to information she had shared with no one. She knew the man was accomplished in Legilimency, she thought that he was better than abusing that power to invade her privacy though.

“No, no my apologies Miss Granger, you are quite correct. We have not discussed your past, or rather future, relationship with Miss Black.” Dumbledore said as he placed his cup and saucer on the table that sat between the two armchairs. He turned in his seat in order to face Hermione more fully and continued gently. “But I am afraid your scar gave you away.”

“My scar?” Hermione asked, her hand coming up to cover her forearm where the scarred slur was still safely hidden under the sleeve of her school cardigan.

“When you first arrived I was summoned to the infirmary by, a more than slightly perturbed, Madam Pomfrey. While she was checking you over she had discovered your scar and was unable to heal it. I think it may be the first time she has come across a malady she has been powerless to remedy.” Dumbledore explained, he tried to keep the tale light but the man could see the dark cloud descending over Hermione as he spoke. “I recognised the Black’s calling card immediately; Bellatrix’s father Cygnus perfected the art of creating these dark scars that do not heal. He thought that marking his enemies for eternity would remind them not to come into conflict with the Black family again”

“Bellatrix is not the only Black though Sir.” Hermione said sceptically, Dumbledore had always had a way of knowing everything when she was at Hogwarts. But she had always assumed that it had something to do with the school’s enchantments, so how did he know everything about the future too?

“No, indeed she is not.” Dumbledore nodded again, his silvery hair catching the moonlight as he moved. “But I made an educated guess. Was I correct in my assumption?”

“Yes.” Hermione said simply as she took her turn observing her companion for a moment. There was something that the older man was holding back. She knew that she should let him keep his cards close to his chest. She knew that he always had the greater good in mind but Merlin was she sick to death of being kept in the dark because of the greater fucking good. “Professor, I get the impression that you know something about Bellatrix that I don’t”

“On the contrary Hermione, I know much less about her than you do.” Dumbledore replied brightly, seemingly unconcerned about the gentle accusation that had been sent his way. “But I do have many worries about the direction that Miss Black’s life will take. We are on the verge of war and soon we will all be forced to make a decision about which side we stand on. I know with absolute certainty which side the Black family support but I am not as certain that Bellatrix’s heart lies in the same place.”

Hermione almost snorted at Dumbledore’s assessment of Bellatrix Lestrange, if there was one thing she was sure of it was that the woman’s heart lay with Voldemort. “I am sure this does not happen often, but you are wrong Sir. Bellatrix is very firmly on the side of the darkness, there is no uncertainty.”

“Perhaps in your time.” Dumbledore tilted his head and brought his hand up to stroke his beard pensively. “But tell me honestly, do you believe that the Bellatrix you have met here is the same one you once knew.”

“No Sir.” Hermione answered carefully, her mind drifting as she realised that at some point she had started to think of Bellatrix Lestrange and her Bellatrix as two completely different people. Her Bellatrix, who lost herself to passionate rants about history. Her Bellatrix, who spent hours poring over books to perfect a potion. Her Bellatrix, who was so unlike Bellatrix Lestrange that she couldn’t imagine how they could be one in the same.  And when the hell had she started thinking of the girl as her Bellatrix. “She is very different. She is determined and ambitious and… quite exceptional really.”

“Yes, Bellatrix certainly personifies many of the best attributes of Slytherin House.” Dumbledore agreed with a warm smile. “Also like a true Slytherin she is fiercely loyal to those that she loves and I fear that this will lead to her blindly choosing the side of her family. She has always been desperate to make her father proud and despite being excessively accomplished in virtually every subject within Hogwarts she always seems to fall short of that goal.”

Hermione frowned at the unfairness of it all; Bellatrix was incredible at everything that she set her mind to. It should be easy for her family to be proud of the things that she did. “So you think that she will join Voldemort as a way of getting some recognition from her father?”

“Yes.” Dumbledore answered simply as he breathed a heavy sigh. “And to perhaps finally find somewhere that she fits in, that her talents can be truly celebrated. It is no secret that she is shunned by the other students, that the Professors are intimidated by her skills and that her parents despair of her unconventional way of doing things.”

“I wish I could tell you that your worries about Bellatrix’s future are unfounded.” Hermione spoke seriously as she subconsciously scratched at the scar on her arm. She thought about the woman that had fought alongside Voldemort, held up by him as a paragon of what a Death Eater should be. “But unfortunately I can’t put your fears to rest for you. My scar is obviously proof that she will take the path that you foresee.”

“I had accepted that, as much as I might have hoped otherwise, Miss Black would end up becoming a mighty enemy.” Dumbledore said as he rose from his armchair and strode over to the window to peer outside. “That is of course until you arrived in our midst.”

Hermione ran her hands over her face in annoyance over the old man’s cryptic comment. “I don’t understand what difference I make Sir.”

“You make all of the difference Hermione.” The headmaster stated as he turned away from the window to look at her again. “Because you are the difference for Bellatrix. You see her potential, you are not intimidated by her brilliance, you listen to her desires. Nobody else in that young woman’s life has ever done that before. You see her.”

“But Sir, it doesn’t matter how much I see Bellatrix. I can’t do anything to change the path of Bellatrix’s life.” Hermione fought to keep the annoyance out of her voice; she couldn’t believe that she had let Dumbledore talk her into the corner that she was now backed into. “The rules say…”

“Miss Granger.” Dumbledore interrupted her before she could even get started with what was sure to have become a rant. “I don’t believe that you would be here, in 1969, if you were the kind of person that always adhered to the rules.”

“Well, no…no, I have been known to sidestep certain rules.” Hermione stuttered out as she pinched the bridge of her nose trying to fight off the beginnings of a headache. “But, no matter how much I might wish Bellatrix could be different, I cannot use my knowledge of the future to change her.”

“Why not?” Dumbledore asked innocently, when Hermione just stared at him open mouth and obviously exasperated, he carried on. “Do you believe in destiny Miss Granger?”

A frown marred Hermione’s features as she answered with a sigh. “I can’t say that I do Sir.”

“I am a great believer in destiny.” Dumbledore stated almost proudly. “I think that we do the universe a huge injustice if we chalk your arrival here up to a mere accident. I believe that you were meant to come here.”

“You think that I am part of some grand plan orchestrated by the universe?” Hermione asked incredulously. If she didn’t have so much respect for the man stood in front of her she would have got up and walked out of his office. She had come here to ask the man if she could go into Hogsmeade this weekend and had ended up struck discussing Bellatrix and destiny of all things.

“Yes, I believe you are integral to a time loop.” The headmaster revealed, his face remained neutral as if he had simply informed the girl in front of him that the sky was indeed blue. “I know you are well versed in time travel so will have heard of such time loops. If my summation is correct you continue to return to this point in time over and over again and change the future each time that you do.”

“Like groundhog day?” Hermione muttered more to herself than the headmaster. She shook her head to try and clear the fog of utter confusion that had descended in her mind. “But I am not allowed to change the future Sir.”

Dumbledore smiled serenely, he looked like he was enjoying all of this far too much for Hermione’s liking. “You changed the future the second that you landed in Miss Bones and Miss McKinnon’s dorm room.”

“That was an accident though.” Hermione argued, attempting to not sound like a petulant child as she did so.

“Nothing is an accident Hermione.” Dumbledore pointed out with a chuckle at Hermione’s outraged expression. The girl looked as if she was about to tear her hair out.

“But it is unethical Sir.” Hermione tried to appeal to the headmaster’s logical mind. Although she was not sure that he was using his logical mind at all currently. “I cannot take Bellatrix’s free will away.”

“Is it any more unethical than allowing Bellatrix to waste her talents on furthering Tom Riddles cause?” The silver haired wizard asked with a slight crease to his brow now. “Let me pose it to you this way Hermione, would it be unethical to use what you know to save an innocent person?”

“Well…yes.. I mean no. Oh Merlin I have no idea what is right and wrong anymore.” Hermione almost wailed as she dropped her face into her hands before she continued in a muffled voice. “Either way, Bellatrix is not innocent.”

Dumbledore observed the young woman for a few moments as she composed herself, taking a few calming breaths before she sat up properly in her seat again. “Bellatrix Lestrange of 1998 may not be innocent. But what has Bellatrix Black of 1969 done wrong?”

“Nothing I suppose.” Hermione admitted reluctantly.

“She is simply a girl who is on the brink of being destroyed by the unfair expectations that are placed upon her shoulders. So what would be so unethical about saving an innocent girl from the wrong path?” Dumbledore asked, he had the look of a man who was about the make a breakthrough.

“Something just feels wrong Sir.” Hermione began as she started picking at her nails nervously, a habit she noticed she had picked up from the Slytherin girl in question. The concept of keeping the Bellatrix that she had begun to know and rather like was a very appealing one. But the one thing that had made her the angriest after the war had ended was the thought that she, Harry and Ron had been manipulated into doing somebody else’s will. Could she really with all good conscience do exactly the same to Bellatrix? But if she did attempt to influence the girl’s choices she would severely weaken Voldemort’s regime. She could save Neville a childhood of pain and his parents from a lifetime of insanity. She could stop little Teddy Lupin from being orphaned and Andromeda from losing her daughter. She could maybe even stop the Second Wizarding War all together and therefore save countless lives. But what would the cost be? The thing that upset Hermione the most about Bellatrix’s life was that she was answerable to everyone else’s plan for her existence, could Hermione really bring herself to be another person who decided for her? “The thing that bothers me the most is this one nagging question. Would I really be doing this for Bellatrix’s benefit or would it be for my own.”

Dumbledore cocked his head to the side and appeared to be mulling her comment over. “Perhaps Miss Granger, you are thinking about this the wrong way. Why does it have to be one way or the other? Why can’t this benefit you both?”

Chapter Text

It was well after nine on Saturday morning and uncharacteristically Hermione was still in bed. The other two girls from her dorm had got up early to excitedly get ready and have breakfast before the first Hogsmeade weekend of the school year. Meanwhile Hermione had grumbled and thrown the pillow over her head to try and block out their incessant chatter, she didn’t see the point in getting up just to have to wander around the half empty castle on her own. After all of Dumbledore’s ridiculous conversations about destiny and how it was now somehow her responsibility to save Bellatrix from the clutches of Voldemort, she had forgotten altogether to ask him about going into the village. She didn’t really know why she was surprised about the expectation that Dumbledore had voiced, practically all of her life it seemed she had been responsible for someone. From eleven years old she had been responsible for making sure that Harry and Ron got all of their homework done and got to lessons on time, not to mention the small task of keeping them alive. And she wasn’t even eighteen by the time that the fate of the wizarding world was on her shoulders with her being expected to destroy a dark wizard who struck fear into the hearts of most grown adults. Merlin forbid that now she only be responsible for her own happiness. But no, clearly that was too trivial a matter for the universe to be concerned with. It was everyone else’s happiness that mattered and she just had to be the one to facilitate it. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride. Hermione buried herself deeper into her pillows and pulled her covers further up over her head as she sighed morosely. The sound quickly morphed into a shriek of panic though as her newly adjusted blanket was unceremoniously dragged from around her body leaving her shocked and suddenly freezing.

“Rise and shine.” Bellatrix cackled as she grinned down at the brunette who had instinctively curled into the foetal position to protect herself from the sudden cold.

“For fucks sake Bellatrix!” Hermione launched to her feet at the sound of that irritatingly familiar voice and glared daggers at the raven haired girl who looked like she could not be enjoying herself more. “How the hell do you keep getting into my bedroom? You aren’t in Ravenclaw; you shouldn’t even be able to get past the door.”

Bellatrix wanted to answer, she wanted to come up with some smart arse response… but she couldn’t. Her mind was a blank mush, like putty that she would have to try and mould back into some kind of rational shape before she could figure out how to form words again. The only thing that seemed to still be functioning right now was her eyes, which were currently attempting to take in as much of the creamy skin that was exposed in Hermione’s pyjama clad state as possible. She was wearing a pale blue, long sleeved cotton top that was cut in a deep V showing the top of her cleavage and striped shorts that stopped mid-thigh. Bellatrix really didn’t want to be a creep but her stupid mind seemed to have zeroed in on the sight of Hermione’s nipples straining against the fabric of her top due to the low temperature in the room. She coughed suddenly, chocking on the excess amount of saliva that had collected in her mouth. The action seemed to kick her brain back into gear and she quickly, and somewhat reluctantly, spun around so that she had her back to the inappropriately dressed girl. “Those riddles are hardly going to keep me out.”

“What are you doing here Bellatrix?” Hermione almost shouted, the shock and surprise of her rude awakening causing the volume of her voice to rise. Her heartrate was going wild and she could hear her pulse in her ears. She absolutely hated surprises.

“I’m here to take you to Hogsmeade.” Bellatrix forced out in a strained voice as she swallowed thickly, she screwed her eyes shut and tried to clear the memory of Hermione’s body from her mind. She was losing the battle miserably though as imprinted onto her eyelids was the image of the girl’s chest covered only in a thin layer of cotton.

“We have had this conversation twice already this week.” Hermione huffed irritably as she stared at the back of Bellatrix’s head. The girl had attempted to pile her curls into a messy topknot but had missed a few stands out at the base of her skull. Hermione was struck by how endearing she found it that Bellatrix tried so hard to tame her unruly tendrils but always just missed the mark. No! She was mad at her right now she was not supposed to be finding her ineptitudes charming; she shook off that distracting thought before continuing more calmly. “I can’t go to Hogsmeade. I don’t have a signed consent form.”

Bellatrix sighed concentrating on her racing heart, waiting for it to slow down a little before she spoke. “It may be hard for you to believe but I am not an idiot. I remember that you don’t have your consent form signed. We are going to work around that.”

“Work around it?” Hermione questioned incredulously, her voice shrill again. She took a step towards Bellatrix, grabbed her arm and spun her around so that she was facing her once more. Still the black haired girl refused to look at her though, instead she had her chin lifted and her eyes were skimming the ceiling. Hermione frowned at Bellatrix’s sudden unexplained awkwardness and crossed her arms over her chest self-consciously.

“Yes.” Bellatrix replied tightly, the tendons in her neck showing as her body filled with tension. She chanced a glance back at Hermione but it was a mistake, when the girl had crossed her arms it had hitched her top up. Only an inch, but it was enough to show a sliver of perfect skin at her hip, she felt a need to reach out and touch it flare up inside her. She looked away sharply, flicking her eyes over to the rumpled sheets of Hermione’s bed. She thought it would be safe to be looking at something as innocuous as a bed. She was wrong though, very very wrong because the sight of the tousled bedding brought images of Hermione in bed to mind that she just could not deal with right now. “I have a plan.”

Hermione groaned and rubbed her forehead impatiently as she dropped to sit on the edge. “Why do I have the feeling that I won’t like this plan?”

“Well you will have to get dressed to find out if that feeling is correct won’t you?” Bellatrix answered with a forced smirk as she tried to play the part of a normal, composed person. Plus I won’t remember what the plan is if you don’t get dressed she thought as she focused on a spot on the wall instead of Hermione. She needed to get out of this room and to get some air desperately. “I’ll meet you in the fountain courtyard in ten minutes.”

Hermione wanted to argue, wanted to ask more questions about this mysterious plan but she didn’t get the chance to. As soon as Bellatrix had finished speaking she swept from the room and slammed the door behind her with a resounding thud.

“Are you insane?” Hermione whispered angrily into Bellatrix’s ear as the black haired girl towed her by the hand across the courtyard and towards the path leading down to Hogsmeade village.

Bellatrix grinned lightly enjoying the way Hermione’s breath ghosted across the shell of her ear. “I have been called insane a few times, yes.”

“You pulled me out of bed and demanded that I get dressed for this?” Hermione asked as she tugged on the hand that Bellatrix was using to propel her forward, causing the other girl to falter and turn to face her as she stopped in her tracks. “Your plan is to just walk past Professor Mcgonagall as if nothing is going on.”

“Exactly.” Bellatrix shrugged nonchalantly as she took a step in order to get them moving again.

Hermione pulled on Bellatrix’s hand again to stop her motion and keep them where they were. “It will never work, this whole thing is pointless.”

“That is where you’re wrong.” Bellatrix smiled conspiratorially as she pulled Hermione closer to her and grabbed the girls other hand too. “People only ever question if you are doing something wrong if you look like you are doing something wrong. All we have to do is walk past Mcgonagall, smile sweetly and not look back.”

“And if it doesn’t work?” Hermione asked, a frown marring her features as she looked Bellatrix dead in the eye. Despite her rising panic her mind registered how long and thick the girl’s eyelashes were and how they framed her eyes in the most beautiful way.

“It will work.” Bellatrix squeezed her hands reassuringly, trying to stop the flush of, what she assumed to be, worry that had bloomed on Hermione’s cheeks. “But if it doesn’t, we will spend the afternoon doing something else. Maybe we could spend it teaching you how to fly a broom.”

Hermione’s mouth dropped open causing Bellatrix to laugh heartily which in turn caused the Griffindor’s stomach to flutter like it always did. “I am not getting on a broom Bellatrix, no way. I’m a danger.”

“I don’t know about a danger but you certainly are dramatic.” Bellatrix shook her head and let go of one of Hermione’s hands, this time managing to move them on successfully towards the gates at the edge of the courtyard. “Anyway, let your desire to not get on a broom serve as motivation for you to get this right.”

“No pressure then.” Hermione muttered grumpily as she tried to fix her face into a neutral expression, she attempted to clear her mind of worry and pay attention to the physical. She focused on the cool November breeze blowing through her hair, the cobbles under her feet as she walked, the way that Bellatrix’s hand fit perfectly into hers. She let the pad of her thumb rub over the delicate, soft skin she found there and smiled internally at the way the action caused the girl to squeeze her fingers almost imperceptibly. She took a slight step closer to Bellatrix so their shoulders bumped together as they walked, she enjoyed the feel of the girl’s body heat radiating through her robes.

“Miss Ross.” A distinct Scottish voice called out, shaking Hermione out of her contemplations. When she looked around she realised that they had made it out of the courtyard and part of the way down the path towards Hogsmeade. “A word please.”

Bellatrix leaned close to Hermione to whisper in her ear. “Remember, you are doing nothing wrong.” She squeezed her hand once before she stalked off to flop herself down on a nearby boulder and await the girl’s return.

Bellatrix’s sudden proximity to her face paired with the invading scent of Jasmine and cedar wood sent a pleasant shiver down Hermione’s spine. She took a moment to fix her features and square her shoulders before setting off towards the older woman. “Yes Professor, is everything ok?”

“Are you planning to go into the village today Hermione?” Mcgonagall enquired, with the tone of a woman who already knew the answer to her questions.

“Well…yes...yes Professor. I was going to, if that’s ok, of course.” Hermione stuttered, she mentally face palmed over her utter awkwardness, so much for acting like she was doing nothing wrong.

Mcgonagall eyed up the girl in front of her for a second, her face giving away nothing at all. “You know as a nineteen year old you are technically considered an adult. So you do not have to actually ask me if you can go into Hogsmeade. You are free to come and go from the castle as you please.”

“I…well….” Hermione rambled, not really sure what the Scottish witch was suggesting but knowing she was shooting for something.

“But in the interest of keeping your story believable.” Mcgonagall intoned, effectively ending anymore blathering that Hermione was about to do. “It would perhaps be best that you at least pretended to follow the rules. And the rules say that only students with permission can visit Hogsmeade.”

“Ok, I understand Professor.” Hermione said in a small voice, her shoulders hunching in shame slightly at having tried to deceive the woman she respected so greatly. “I’m sorry.”

Mcgonagall smiled despite herself at the girl’s downcast demeanour and shook her head; she pulled a small roll of parchment out of one of the inside pockets of her robes. She unfurled it and Hermione could see her name, well Hermione Ross, penned neatly across the top of the document. She produced a quill from another pocket in her robe and scrawled her loopy signature along the bottom of the scroll. “Since I am now your legal guardian, I am able to give you that permission.”

Hermione reached out slowly to take the offered parchment from Mcgonagall, she looked up at the woman with a warm smile. “Thank you Professor.”

“You’re welcome, but in future Hermione.” Mcgonagall said, a hint of hardness creeping into her voice again as she caught the girl’s eye. “Anything that you want, you need only to ask.”

Hermione nodded her understanding before turning away and heading over to where Bellatrix was waiting for her. The Slytherin was impatiently picking at some moss on the side of the boulder that she was sitting on, a frown creasing her brow. When she heard Hermione approaching she jumped to her feet and demanded, “What did she want?”

“She signed my consent form.” Hermione beamed as she held out the parchment for Bellatrix to read.

Bellatrix hummed as her eyes scanned the scroll that Hermione had rammed in her face, she looked past it to smirk devilishly at the other girl. “Something isn’t quite as fun about all of this now that we aren’t breaking any rules.”

“Oh shut up Bellatrix.” Hermione shoved the black haired witch’s shoulder, causing her to chuckle and smirk even wider. “Now come on, show me this wonderful village I have heard so much about.”

Bellatrix had begun her tour of the village at the ruins of the Hengist Fortress, named after the founder of Hogsmeade; it had been the Goblin’s stronghold during the Rebellion. What was left of the building seemed to stand in spite of itself. One wall was all that remained complete; the rest of the brick work had crumbled away over time leaving only a scar on the floor to show where it once stood. Hermione had noticed that the ruins were in exactly the same position that the Shrieking Shack would inhabit during her time at Hogwarts. Of course the building was not there now, Remus Lupin was not attending Hogwarts yet so it was not required to hide his monthly transformations into the werewolf. They spent some time there while Bellatrix explained how the Goblin’s had taken control of the fort and barricaded themselves inside using powerful wards. She also revealed a rumour that the Goblins had begun to tunnel under the Fortress and towards Hogwarts grounds, but so far evidence of this tunnel had not been found.

Their next stop was a Goblin war cemetery, Hermione had no idea it even existed but then that wasn’t surprising considering the effort it had taken to get there. It had taken a great deal of convincing to get the bushy haired witch to creep across the Hogwarts Express tracks, Bellatrix had assured her that no trains travelled the line during term time and she had been unable to deny the spark of excitement in the Slytherin’s eyes. The girl seemed to be enjoying herself a lot more now that they were doing something that broke some rule or another. After risking the railway track they then had to scale a small fence in order to get into the neighbouring field before scrambling up a steep and somewhat damp slope. Hermione had slipped so many times that Bellatrix had eventually taken hold of her hand and dragged her, rather unceremoniously, to the top of the little hill. Once at the top the girls found themselves in a small copse of trees that looked rather unremarkable until Bellatrix uttered a few words in a harsh guttural language that Hermione assumed was Old Goblin. When she had finished speaking the trees seemed to disappear around them as if they had always been a mirage. In their place stood rows upon rows of white slabs each with a collection of runes intricately engraved into them. Bellatrix hadn’t spoken while they stood amongst the graves; she had simply allowed them to take in the poignancy of the setting and think about how right it felt to stand there with their bodies so close and their fingers interlocked. After they had left the Goblin Cemetery Bellatrix explained to Hermione that the people of Hogsmeade had buried the dead Goblins on the hill as a mark of respect. Some of the surviving Goblins had come along later on to add the headstones and the protective enchantments around the little woodland.

The final place that Bellatrix had directed Hermione to was the Three Broomsticks, the location rumoured to be the wizard headquarters for the Rebellion. The Slytherin pointed out as they entered that there was no actual proof of this anywhere but it was one of the only buildings in the village that was old enough to have been around in 1612. Hermione’s eyes scanned the paintings on the old walls as she slipped into one of the pub’s cosy booths opposite Bellatrix. She slid one of the goblets of Butterbeer she had just purchased across the table to the Slytherin. “Thank you for today Bella, I had so much fun discovering Hogsmeade with you.”

Bellatrix’s heart fluttered at the other girl’s use of her nickname, it slipped out so infrequently that she found herself cherishing the times that it did somehow. “You’re sure you wouldn’t have enjoyed looking around the shops more than this?” The Slytherin asked with a hint of nervousness in her voice as she fingered the condensation on the side of her glass.

The vulnerability that Bellatrix seemed to show around her intrigued Hermione greatly, this was a side of the girl that she was sure few people got to see. She seemed to fight so hard to make the world believe that she was cold, as she had put it once before, so why was Bellatrix so free with lowering her defences around her? They didn’t know each other that well really and yet they seemed to share so much with one another. Bellatrix even seemed able to pry information out of Hermione that she didn’t intend to share at all. Where did their connection come from? Was it because they were both so academic? Was it because the Slytherin matched her fire and passion rather than mocked like the boys had always done? Was it because the brunette was always on the lookout for a hint of the other Bellatrix within this girl? Or was it because of Dumbledore’s theory on destiny? At times like these where Bellatrix’s mask of indifference seemed to slip and she looked at Hermione as though she was pleading with her for reassurance, there was simply no trace of the Death Eater what so ever. What was most worrisome for the bushy haired witch though was the reaction this open Bellatrix seemed to elicit within her. It made her heart feel like it was swelling in her chest and all she wanted to do was pull the girl to her and… do what she didn’t know, or didn’t want to think about. She settled for reaching across the table and laying her hand reassuringly on top of Bellatrix’s. “I have been in those shops more times than I can count, being with you was…lovely.”

Bellatrix smiled for a second but her expression quickly changed to a dark scowl as her eyes flickered over Hermione’s face. “How have you been to those shops more times than you can count? You have barely been here two months.”

Hermione’s mouth went instantly dry and she retracted her hand from on top of Bellatrix’s as though she had been stung. She had been so consumed with thoughts of the raven haired witch that she had totally forgotten where she was or more prudently when she was. “I didn’t mean I had been in these shops.” She scrambled, shaking her head to clear the panic. “But I have been in countless shops just like them. They do have sweet shops in France you know.”

Bellatrix’s scowl lightened slightly but she still seemed to be scrutinising Hermione, it felt as if she was actually looking for chinks in her armour. “Why don’t you have a French accent?”

“My parents are British but moved to Liechtenstein when I was a child; my Dad got a job in their Ministry. We have moved around Europe my entire life.” Hermione lied smoothly, she had thought about this little hole in her tale, thankfully, and had a good excuse in her back pocket. “We only moved to France when I started attending Beauxbatons.”

“What does your Father do in the Ministry?” Bellatrix continued her line of inquisition, taking full advantage of the fact that for some reason Hermione seemed willing to talk about her life for a change.

Hermione smiled softly as, again, she was asked a question that she was prepared for and she knew would kill this conversation dead in the water. She didn’t want to talk about herself, she hated constantly having to lie to Bellatrix. “He’s an unspeakable.”

Bellatrix hummed in surprise, obviously impressed by Hermione’s imaginary father’s job. “That must be such an interesting job.”

“I wouldn’t know.” Hermione shrugged dismissively as she smirked a little. “As an unspeakable he doesn’t really speak about it much.”

Bellatrix snorted and flicked some of the moisture that was on her fingers from her Butterbeer glass in Hermione’s direction. “Shut up Ross.” Her face was alight with mirth and that smirk that drove Hermione crazy settled on her features.

Hermione scooped some of the froth from the top of her own drink and flicked that at Bellatrix in retaliation. The girl shrieked as the foam landed on her brow and threatened to drip into her eye. “Ooops” The brunette mocked as she tried unsuccessfully to control her laughter as Bellatrix wiped furiously at her face with the sleeve of her robes.

Bellatrix looked up as she heard Hermione’s hearty bell like laughter peel through the air towards her. She wanted to throw one of her signature glares at the girl for daring to throw the froth in her face but the sound of her laugh stopped that in its tracks. Bellatrix had heard Hermione chuckle and giggle, but never laugh this fully. She noticed how the brunette’s cheeks glowed an appealing soft pink, her eyes twinkled with life and her nose scrunched up adorably when she laughed like this. As far as she was concerned, right now, the girl was as close to perfection as she had ever seen. “Hermione I…” she began, Merlin only knew what she was going to say because her mind seemed to have run away with her mouth, when she was interrupted by someone clearing their throat.

Both girls looked away from each other, any laughter dying as they noticed the arrogant looking Gryffindor boy stood at the end of their table. He had dark copper hair that could almost pass for brown in the right light and a long face that some could think was attractive if they were so inclined. “Hello.” he grinned lecherously at Hermione as he spoke, the word almost oozing from his throat. “I’m Bilius Weasley. I don’t think we have had the pleasure of meeting yet.”

Hermione’s eyes widened as the boy revealed his name; this was Ron’s uncle, the man he would be named after. She had heard funny tales about the person he would become, but right now he just seemed like a total creep and she wanted him to leave… quickly. “Hermione Ross.” She informed him simply, hoping that her reluctance to engage with him would be enough to get rid of him.

“You haven’t been here long have you?” Bilius continued, he was seemingly unaware of Hermione’s discomfort and Bellatrix’s simmering anger. Hermione couldn’t believe that this conceited boy could possibly be the younger brother of the laid back and unassuming Arthur Weasley,

“No, I only started at the beginning of the school year.” Hermione answered as she smiled tightly and turned her attention back to Bellatrix who raised her eyebrows incredulously at her.

Bilius nodded as if he was approving of the answer that she had given, the action caused a flicker of anger within Hermione that she couldn’t explain. Perhaps it was because the boy reminded her of Cormac McLaggen. “And you’re a seventh year aren’t you?”

Hermione snapped her head back towards the boy, a frown creasing her brow delicately. “You seem to know a lot of information about me already.” She snapped, Bilius’ smile faltered for a millisecond but he managed to keep his composure. “So why did you need to come over and ask me questions that you already know the answer to?”

Bellatrix chuckled softly at Hermione’s response but this was a mistake. “Shut up Black.” Bilius’ smile finally dropped as he snarled through his teeth in a voice filled with venom. He transformed from a seemingly harmless, if not annoying, boy into something much more vicious. “I don’t know what you’re laughing at. I came over here to rescue this poor girl from you and all of your… pureblood poison.”

Hermione was absolutely livid; Bellatrix had been sitting there minding her own business, doing absolutely nothing wrong and this boy was attacking her. He had come over here to their table and acted like a smarmy prat, Hermione was the one who had been rude to the boy, she was the one who had dented his ego and yet Bellatrix was the one that he had gone after. Well if he thought that the Slytherin was an easy target because of who she was and the general consensus around the school that she was this evil being then he had another thing coming. She was not going to let anyone speak to Bellatrix that way again. She deserved respect as much as anybody else; no family name changed that right. Yes, Hermione knew what Bellatrix was capable of; the anger, the vindictiveness, the evilness. In that state it was easy to make her into the hated villain of the tale. But here she sat; calm, composed…innocent. “Who the hell do you think you are?” she growled as she stood up out of the booth seating so that she was almost nose to nose with the boy. “How dare you come over here, where we were having a perfectly lovely time, and insult Bellatrix for no reason.”

Bilius took a small step backwards but the anger in his features remained. “You have no idea who she is.” He spat as his eyes flicked over to a thoroughly shocked Bellatrix who was trying to wrap her mind around the fact that Hermione had jumped to her defence so quickly.

“You have no idea what I know about her.” Hermione countered as she fought the urge to reach into her robes and hex this idiot into next week. “And your notion that I would somehow need rescuing from the wicked witch of the west over here is pathetic. Why don’t you go and find some other girl who might actually find your stupid knight in shining armour act impressive.”

Bilius shook his head as his lip curled into a look of disgust. “Do you know what? You should continue to spend time with Bellatrix. You two are suited to each other, you are both huge bitches.”

“Thank you for your suggestion.” Hermione replied with a voice dripping with sarcasm. “I think I will stick with Bellatrix now that I know, thanks to you, how tragic my other options for companionship are.”

Bilius muttered something that sounded distinctly like ‘fuck you’ before spinning on his heel and marching back to his fellow Gryffindors, who had been watching the exchange with rapt interest. He flopped back down into his seat looking defeated and a round of laughter rang out amongst his friends. Hermione slipped smoothly back into the booth and picked up her Butterbeer to try and hide the shaking of her hands and to give her somewhere to focus her attention other than on the other witch. She couldn’t help but feel embarrassed about the way she had reacted to that boy, but the second he had gone after Bellatrix she had lost control. She had been filled with a desire to protect the girl. To stand up and try to shield her from the ugliness in the world that Hermione feared would change her from the determined, driven and at times gentle person in front of her into the heartless Death Eater

Bellatrix hummed as if she was considering something important causing Hermione to look up cautiously from her careful examination of the bubbles in her Butterbeer. “The wicked witch of the west.” The girl said with a smirk pulling at the corner of her mouth. “I have been called a great many things in my time, but that is officially a first.”

A smile slipped onto Hermione’s features and she breathed a heavy sigh, relief washing over her that Bellatrix didn’t seem mad at her reaction to the Weasley. “You’re only missing the green skin.”

Bellatrix laughed lightly as she reached across the table and gently took Hermione’s hand, giving her fingers a reassuring squeeze. “Thank you for standing up for me.”

“I’m sorry, I know you don’t need it Bellatrix. I know you can stand up for yourself. I didn’t mean to offend you or anything but…” Hermione’s ramble was cut short by Bellatrix releasing her hand and instead reaching up to cup her cheek gently.

“I don’t need you to be sorry Hermione.” Bellatrix spoke softly as her thumb absentmindedly caressed the other girl’s skin. “People aren’t normally kind to me, it’s a nice change.”

“I hate that.” Hermione said with a broken voice as she covered Bellatrix’s hand with her own and leant into the warmth of her touch. “You don’t deserve to be treated that way.”

“We don’t always get treated the way that we deserve.” Bellatrix replied sadly as she revelled in the comfort that being near to Hermione afforded her. “Do you want to head back to the castle?”

“Yeah.” Hermione nodded as she reluctantly let Bellatrix take her hand back and moved to climb out of the booth.

Despite having spent the entire day together Hermione still found herself on her way up to the Astronomy Tower to meet Bellatrix once she was done with dinner. She traipsed up the winding staircase to the top of the tower slowly, exhausted from her day venturing around Hogsmeade. She knew that the sensible choice would be to get an early night so that she could be up promptly tomorrow to catch up on her homework. But the allure of spending just a little bit more time with Bellatrix was just too great. A smile slipped onto her face as she reached the top of the staircase and looked out of the doorway, the Slytherin was sat on the edge of the turret with her legs crossed engrossed in a book. Her finger glided across the page at as it guided her reading and Hermione had to suppress a shiver as an errant thought about other things her fingers could glide across filled her mind. The girl’s hair was loose now, having been released from its topknot, and it fell in waves across her shoulder and down her back creating paths across her body for amber eyes to follow. The inky blackness seemed to absorb the light from the stars above her so that it shone like a celestial beauty all of its own. The sight was captivating and Hermione almost didn’t want to disturb it, but knowing she couldn't play voyeur all evening she cleared her throat gently to make her presence known.

“Hermione.” Bellatrix almost jumped out of her skin as she fumbled with the book she was holding, slamming it shut before placing it on the floor next to her and subtly covering it with the fabric of her robes. “I didn’t hear you come up.”

“Of course you didn’t, you were too lost in your book.” Hermione smiled warmly at the girl before settling next to her making sure that they were close enough that their knees touched. “What were you reading?”

“Nothing” Bellatrix snapped as she snatched the book away from Hermione when she reached for it and placed in on her other side so that it could not be seen.

Hermione frowned at Bellatrix’s sudden caginess and a sense of anxiety rose unchecked within her. What could she be reading that she wanted to keep so private? Was it something she shouldn’t be reading, something dark? “You were obviously reading something.”

“Ok, maybe I was.” Bellatrix replied haughtily as she raised her chin and refused to look at Hermione. “But not everything I do is your business you know?”

“Bellatrix.” Hermione almost chastised as she tried to get her head around the version of the girl that she had walked in on. She had been warm and engaging all day, keeping her close, holding her hand and now she seemed like the last thing she wanted was to be around her. “I only asked you about a book, there’s no need to be so…mean.”

Bellatrix sighed heavily as she finally looked at Hermione with heavy, guilt filled eyes. “It was only this.” She picked up the book that she had tried so hard to hide and handed it to the bushy haired witch. “I was just embarrassed that you had caught me reading it. We both know I am shit at dealing with my emotions, I never intend to be mean.”

Hermione nodded and smiled softly at the Slytherin, accepting that an acknowledgement was as near to an apology as she was going to get. “Edgar Allan Poe.” She read the name that was embossed in gold letters into the black leather of the book. “But why do you need to be embarrassed about reading this?”

“Well you know, because it’s…muggle.” Bellatrix shrugged as she looked away from Hermione again and began picking at her nails, her trademark nervous tell.

“What does it matter if it’s muggle?” Hermione barked, Bellatrix’s insinuation that something muggle was anything to be ashamed of angering her. She had spent all day being slowly persuaded that the pureblood ideals that Bellatrix Lestrange prided were not something that young Bellatrix even considered. She had almost convinced herself that those stupid beliefs didn’t exist in this girl at all, the realisation that she was wrong stung.

“Most witches and wizards don’t respect muggle literature, they think it is pedestrian.” Bellatrix said calmly, ignoring Hermione’s riled demeanour all together as her focus remained on her nails. “Plus my parents would kill me if they ever found out that I had spent their money on something muggle.”

“But you don’t care that he was a muggle author?” Hermione asked, wanting to fan the spark of hope that had flickered to life when Bellatrix had not mentioned any distaste of her own towards the muggle world.

Bellatrix shook her head and watched tentatively as Hermione thumbed the well-worn leaves of the book, pausing when she reached the page with the corner turned over. “That’s my favourite poem.” She supplied before she could be asked, the girl’s eyes swept over the words on the page and a light crease appeared between her brows. “The best part is the beginning; let me read it to you?”

“I’d like that.” Hermione replied as she handed the book delicately to Bellatrix, feeling a tremor as their hands brushed against each other inadvertently.

Bellatrix smiled timidly and cleared her throat before beginning to read from the book in a calm, clear and practiced voice. “From childhood's hour I have not been as others were; I have not seen as others saw;” She looked up at Hermione shyly through her dark, thick lashes and her cheeks had taken on a very slight pinkness. “I could not bring my passions from a common spring. From the same source I have not taken my sorrow; I could not awaken my heart to joy at the same tone. And all I lov’d; I lov’d alone.” She paused the poem there, closing the book over before slipping it safely into an inside pocket in her robes. Her gaze fluttered back up to Hermione who was watching her as if she was the most fascinating thing in the world, as though she were some puzzle to unravel. It made her feel nervous and giddy all at once. “From the first time I read those lines I have loved that poem. I remember during my childhood feeling the loneliness that it talks about. Despite the fact that I had my parents and my sisters around me I have never felt like I fit in with them, I thought it was something that was wrong with me. But when I read that poem I realised that it’s not that at all, it’s because I have always seen the world differently to them.”

“How do you see the world?” Hermione asked as she covered Bellatrix’s hand affectionately. She wasn’t sure whether the action was to reassure the black haired witch or to ground her in preparation for the answer, she had no idea if she was going to like it.

“I see the world as this cage that I’m trapped in, held captive by stupid pureblood societal rules and my parents expectations of me.” Bellatrix revealed as she squeezed Hermione’s fingers trying to draw some strength from the action. She didn’t know why this girl made her feel so safe or why she was being so open about her feelings with her, but something about her just made it all so easy.

Hermione thought about what Bellatrix had just said; there was no freedom for the girl really, she was only ever faced with constant obligations. Hadn’t it only been this morning that she herself had been feeling exactly the same way; that she was trapped by all of the responsibilities dropped heavily on to her shoulders? Both of them lived in a reality where their happiness had to come second to what everyone else wanted. “Maybe you are not so alone in the way that you see the world Bella. I may not have the same problems as you but I certainly don’t feel free.”

Bellatrix turned so that she was facing Hermione more fully; there was a fiery intensity in her eyes as she spoke. “I’m going to protect you all, my sisters and you, from the unfairness in this world. There has to be another way to live this life.”

Again, like so many weeks ago, the innocent surety of Bellatrix’s words made Hermione’s heart flutter with a sudden wave of affection. She looked at the girl in front of her with her mouth set in determination and her eyes defiant and the word beautiful bubbled to the forefront of her mind. Hermione had heard tales of Bellatrix’s beauty in her youth, but part of her had believed that a monster like Bellatrix Lestrange could not be beautiful. But this girl was more than beautiful, she was radiant and she was enthralling. Hermione found herself desperately wanting to reach out a touch the girl, wanting to get her hands lost in the silky mess of curls, to trace her fingers across the girl’s sharp jaw line; to feel the cushiony softness of her pink lips under the pad of her thumb. “Ho…how are you going to protect us?” Hermione stuttered in a voice barely above a dream like whisper, her gaze flicking from Bellatrix’s eyes to her lips.

“Well, I’ve already made a start.” Bellatrix replied quietly as she subconsciously shuffled closer to Hermione. “My parents send my sisters and I to elocution and etiquette lessons once a month. They teach us how to talk properly, how to reach for a wine glass correctly when at the dinner table, how to make sure that you gain attention when you enter a room. All of it is done so that we can show that we are women of good breeding. All of it is done to make us appear that we have a few brain cells in our heads but not so many that we might threaten the male ego. Essentially all of it is done so that when the time comes we will attract, what our parents deem to be, the right kind of man.”

“Why couldn’t you choose the right kind of man for yourselves?” Hermione asked angrily, she couldn’t believe that pureblood parents groomed their children for marriage from so early on in their lives. She only realised how angry this had made her when Bellatrix wiggled the fingers that were held too tightly in her hand.

“Because there can be no risk of love in a pureblood marriage. That would muddy the waters far too much.” Bellatrix laughed humourlessly as she dipped her head and began picking at bits of lint on her skirt with her free hand. “As the oldest sister it is my job to ensure that Andie and Cissy behave in a way that is fitting for a Black when they are outside of my parents watch. But instead of telling them to sit up straighter at the dinner table and reminding them that they should only ever laugh gently behind their hand, I tell them to be women that people will fear.”

A prickle of worry crept up Hermione’s spine at the idea that Bellatrix might be coaching her sisters into something dark. “How do you want people to fear them?”

“I have been teaching Cissy Occlumency and Legilimency, she has a real talent for it. Mother feared for a time the she may be telepathic but she is just so naturally skilled at Legilimency that she cannot control when she hears people’s thoughts. She has been able to read mine and Andie’s minds since she was about three but I have been teaching her how to control it.” Bellatrix smiled softly as she talked about her little sister and Hermione noticed the hint of pride in her voice when she mentioned her talents. “Cissy can now slip into your mind without you even knowing she is there and she is closed off like a steel trap if you try to use Occlumency on her. She will either be someone’s biggest ally or their biggest threat because nothing is more terrifying than someone who knows more than you."

“So you’re teaching her how to protect herself?” Hermione questioned rhetorically as she observed Bellatrix, the girl really did amaze her with her thinking sometimes. “I like that idea.”

Bellatrix looked away from Hermione felling a little bit self-conscious under the girl’s gaze again. She tried to tuck some hair behind her ear to give her something to do but of course her feral curls wouldn’t behave and they just slipped back into her face. She jumped a little when Hermione reached out to re-tuck the fallen lock behind her ear more successfully; the girl’s hand lingered in her hair for a few seconds and then retreated. Bellatrix took a shaky breath before she attempted to speak. “I have arranged duelling lessons for Andromeda with Professor Jigger. She is a truly incredible duellist, the best I have ever seen. But she needed some help to tighten things up. Now she can beat Jigger himself, he thinks she should become an Auror.”

“Why is it so important that she can duel?” Hermione asked with a hint of worry. Even though she knew there was no chance that Andromeda would side with the Death Eaters, the thought that she may at one point have been trained up for their use was unsettling.

“There will come a time when Andie will leave our family, her heart is too good to be trapped with us lot.” Bellatrix said in a sad tone, her gaze slipping from Hermione’s face. She didn’t want her to see just how much the thought of having to live without Andromeda broke her heart. “My father will go after her when she leaves, his reputation will demand he do so, but if he ever finds her he will not stand a chance against her. She will be a force to be reckoned with.”

“And what about you?” Hermione reached out and slipped two fingers under the other girl’s chin, forcing her to look at her. She noticed how Bellatrix’s eyes were shimmering with tears she had fought to contain. What was it about this girl that made her want to fix her when she looked so broken? Hermione fought the urge to pull the girl into a hug and tell her that everything was going to be ok because she was going to protect her. She knew it would be a lie anyway because if she went along with Dumbledore’s plan she would just be another person placing obligations in front of her, another person keeping her caged.

“I think I will just have to take the hit.” Bellatrix tried to shrug off the comment as if it was nothing but she knew it looked half hearted. She could feel her emotions getting the better of her and she hated it, she felt smothered by the weight of them. She extracted herself from Hermione’s hold on her hand and the closeness of her body to stand up and lean over the railing of the turret. She took large gulps of air to try and quell her sadness and replace it like she always did with anger before snapping. “I’ll attend all of the balls where I have to parade around in a fancy dress that shows off my assets and I will smile sweetly in all the right places. Then I’ll be auctioned off by my father and I will get married to someone that I will never be able to love.”

Hermione stood up cautiously and approached the railing too not getting to close to Bellatrix just yet, knowing that the girl needed a second to have some physical space. “Why do you have to do any of those things though?”

“I have to do it because it will distract my parents long enough to allow my sisters to escape.” Bellatrix revealed, her voice levelling out somewhat. “I can live that life if I know that my sisters are free from the same fate.”

“Do you really think that you could be happy living with someone that you despise as his housewife and the mother to his heir?” Hermione, asked. She couldn’t keep the disgust out of her voice, not at Bellatrix being a housewife or mother but at the thought of her being married to someone else. If this had been any other time, if the girl wasn’t stood so close and looking so broken, she would have over analysed that thought. But right now the only thing that mattered was Bellatrix. “That life would drive you crazy.”

“I don’t believe that I will be happy, I would be a fool to think that I could be. But I realised a long time ago that I would have to sacrifice my own happiness so that my sisters never have to.” Bellatrix answered, she finally felt like she had composed herself enough to look back at Hermione again. She couldn’t figure out the look that was in the other girl’s eyes, it was almost like longing. Or maybe that was just in her own mind. “They have spoken about having their own families and their own children since we were children ourselves. I could not live with myself if I didn’t do everything in my power to make sure that they can have that, even if it means that I will miss out on that chance.”

Hermione thought about what the girl had just said, she had always assumed that Bellatrix had never had children because she was too busy with her work for Voldemort. It had never occurred to her that the woman’s lack of children could have been out of choice, a choice she had made as a teenager. “You don’t want children at all?”

“I will not bring something so innocent into a life like mine, subjected to unrealistic expectations every single day. I will not bring my own children into a loveless, dysfunctional marriage. Children are supposed to be a creation of love not a symbol of someone’s wealth and status; I will not be part of perpetuating that bullshit.” Bellatrix spoke passionate as she stared fiercely into Hermione’s eyes, taking a subconscious step closer to her. Needing the comfort that being near to her afforded. “In a dream world I would like to have my own children. I have spent my life so devoid of love from anybody but my sisters and yet I feel as though I have so much of it pent up inside me. It would be nice to have somebody to share that with, to finally feel….wanted.”

Chapter Text

The days all seemed to bleed into one as Hermione rushed from one class to another and back and to from the library. Before she knew it, it was almost the weekend again and she hadn’t seen Bellatrix since the previous Saturday evening. Hermione had begun to think that perhaps the Slytherin was avoiding her after her quiet confession in the dark a few nights ago. She could understand why the girl might be embarrassed but really she had no reason to be, Hermione had enjoyed getting a glimpse into Bellatrix that other people didn’t get. She struck her as the type of person who kept people at arm’s length but she hadn’t really been keeping her walls in place around Hermione. She couldn’t help feeling a sense of pride that she was the one to have scrawled over those walls, even if she had only remained on the inside for a short time.

Hermione shifted around a little uncomfortably, she was currently sat cross legged on her bed while reading a heavy tome she had collected from the library that afternoon. She had lost feeling in one of her legs from how she was sitting, her arms were aching from holding the book and her eyes were itching from the length of time she had been scanning the tiny words. She closed the book with a thud and dropped it off the edge of the bed before flopping backwards and pushing her fingers into her temples. She was pretty sure she was starting to get a headache and she felt like she could do with a really good night’s sleep. Although she hadn’t been having nightmares over the last few weeks something had been niggling at the back of her mind that was keeping her awake at night.

She checked the clock on her bedside table, it was only 8.30 but she decided to call it a night anyway, she wouldn’t gain anything from forcing herself to stay up any longer. She grabbed her wash bag and shuffled to the girl’s bathroom to get ready for bed, once her teeth were brushed and her face was washed she headed back to the dorm. She pulled back the sheets and closed over the curtains that surrounded her bed. When she was sleeping in her Gryffindor common room she never drew her curtains. But now that she had so many nightmares, she didn’t want anyone to see how fitful her sleep could be or how little of it she actually got every night. She slipped into her bed and sighed in relief as she sank into the pillow, the darkness of her closed off space a welcome relief. She rolled onto her side and closed her eyes as she let her mind wander to thoughts, yet again, that centred on a certain black haired Slytherin. She hadn’t seen the girl in nearly a week, hadn’t even caught a glimpse of her in the corridors. She wondered how the girl got away with missing so many classes but she knew, from her own experience with the Time Turner, that Hogwarts had a habit of creating bespoke experiences for those they considered gifted. She wondered where Bellatrix spent her time when she wasn’t in lessons, perhaps she knew about the secret passageways into Hogsmeade. The Marauders can’t have been the only ones to discover them and if anyone was going to find them she was pretty sure it would be Bellatrix. She wondered whether the Slytherin found her mind wandering to her as much as she found herself lost in thoughts about raven hair and porcelain skin.

A rustling sound interrupted her thinking and her eyes snapped open, the curtains to her bed had been parted an inch and a wedge of light was invading her darkness. She sat up a little to investigate what had interrupted her sanctuary and nearly screamed when a grinning Bellatrix popped her head between the two pieces of fabric. Hermione took a deep breath of relief and went to berate the girl for sneaking up on her again, but when she looked up she realised something wasn’t right. Bellatrix’s hair was wilder than normal, her eyes seemed harsher than normal and she wasn’t grinning at all she was sneering at her. This wasn’t the warm, kind Bellatrix she was used to; she was more like the manic version that usually haunted her. She tried to scramble away only to find her back hit the wall so hard it almost knocked the air out of her.

“Not so fast.” Bellatrix croaked. “I thought we could have a little chat. Girl to girl.” As soon as those words slipped passed the girl’s lips Hermione’s blood turned cold. Logically she knew that Bellatrix wouldn’t hurt her, but she didn’t seem like her Bellatrix tonight. Something was off with her, she seemed mad, almost crazed. A thousand scenarios reeled through Hermione’s head. Had she done something to annoy her that she wasn’t aware of? Had Bellatrix not been sleeping because she had lost track of time when she was studying like she usually did? Or worst of all had she found out the truth about Hermione? Although she was doing well with pushing her secret down, she was still terrified every day that someone would figure out that she was hiding something. How they would figure out that she was from the future she didn’t know, but fear was very rarely rational. While Hermione was lost in her own mind Bellatrix put one knee onto the bed and loomed over her, the usual scent she had begun to associate with the girl, of Jasmine and cedar wood, was gone. It was replaced with the stench of mildewed robes that had hung in a wardrobe for too long, fifteen years too long.

“St…stop.” Hermione stuttered. “You’re scaring me.”

Bellatrix pouted that mocking pout she would become renowned for. “Oh I’m not the one that’s scaring you pet.” Her voice had taken on the haunting childlike quality that she remembered from before and it sent a shiver down her spine. “You’re feelings are the things that are scaring you. You’re scared that no matter how hard you fight it you will still fall for me. You’re scared that you already have.”

“Fall for you?” Hermione questioned shrilly. “How could I… I’m not… I don’t even like girls.”

“Oh of course you don’t.” Bellatrix laughed humourlessly. “You can’t lie to yourself Hermione, you know what this is.”

Hermione squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep breath to try to steady herself, she tried to think of a comeback that would silence the girl but none came to her, the realisation that she was right was almost crushing. When she opened her eyes the Slytherin was looking at her with her head cocked to the side observing her smugly before she moved swiftly and fluidly to straddle her waist. For the second time that evening Hermione almost screamed but no sound would have come out even if she wanted it to, all of the moisture had fled from her mouth. The weight of the girl on her hips felt odd, whenever this happened in her dreams it made her feel trapped and suffocated; tonight she couldn’t deny the rush of pleasure that danced up her spine. Hermione swallowed thickly and turned her head to the side so that Bellatrix wouldn’t see in her eyes the feelings she was trying desperately to hide. She felt a hand slip up her chest and against her throat. This was how it usually went in her nightmares too; just like that night on the Malfoy’s drawing room floor the black haired witch would mock her and crush her throat until she woke up gasping for air. But the fingers only squeezed delicately, just applying enough pressure to gain her attention. Hermione peeked out of the corner of her eye to see a subtle smirk slide on to Bellatrix’s ruby lips seconds before the girl leant forward and the hand was replaced with those lips on the column of her throat. The Slytherin left a trail of open mouthed kisses down the side of her neck stopping at her collarbone where sharp teeth bit into her flesh, Hermione gasped but the pain was quickly soothed by a warm tongue swirling over the same spot.

“Bella.” Hermione whispered breathlessly as she squirmed a little to break the girl’s contact with her skin. “We shouldn’t be doing this. We shouldn’t be doing this here, someone could come in.”

“We shouldn’t be doing this or we shouldn’t be doing this here?” Bellatrix chuckled lowly as her teeth closed around one of her earlobes and tugged gently. She sat up to look down on her flushed companion with a sly smile. “Because there’s a distinct difference between those two things pet.”

“I…I don’t know.” Hermione stuttered, she tried to lift her arms to touch the Slytherin’s face but something was restricting her movement. It should have bothered her but her mind was a little cloudy and she wasn’t sure why. “We should talk about this.”

“Talk?” Bellatrix said the word slowly, Hermione was mesmerised by the way that her lips formed the word, she really wanted to kiss her. “You’re such a Ravenclaw, all logic. When this is about action, action we should have taken a long time ago.”

Hermione nodded her consent mindlessly as Bellatrix’s hand ghosted over her breast and her thumb flicked over her nipple causing a moan to escape from her throat. She arched her back to try and get more contact which earned her a chuckle from the witch on top of her. She wanted to care that she was being mocked but when a thumb brushed her nipple a second time more roughly this time that thought was quickly lost. She wanted to reach up and touch Bellatrix’s body but again she couldn’t seem to get her body to respond to her will and again there was that haze filling her mind when she tried to focus on it.

“You see, I’ve been waiting a long time to do this.” Bellatrix crooned as her hand trailed a slow path down Hermione’s body and her finger’s brushed the bare skin of her thigh. Hermione thought this was odd as she was sure she had been wearing shorts when she went to bed. None of that mattered when Bellatrix spoke again “So I don’t intend to take my time.” She punctuated her point by cupping Hermione’s centre none to gently, both girls moaned in unison at the contact. “And it doesn’t seem like you want me to take my time either.” Hermione knew she should feel embarrassed about Bellatrix’s insinuation about the readiness she had felt when she touched her but all she had space for in her mind was how much she wanted the girl. She lost control of her breathing when the Slytherin’s finger dipped between her folds but her pants quickly turned to a groan of frustration when she realised that Bellatrix was determined to touch her everywhere but where she really needed her. She screwed her eyes shut and lifted her hips in subtle, or not so subtle, encouragement for the girl to just get on with it already. Bellatrix growled and leant forward sinking her teeth into Hermione’s neck as her fingertip finally came into contact with her clit. Hermione’s eyes flew open and she found herself lying alone in her bed staring at the fabric ceiling of her bed. As her senses returned to her she realised that her forehead and her back were drenched in sweat and her hand was buried rather firmly between her legs.

Hermione leapt out of bed like a cat that had been scalded, she threw herself out of her room and through the Ravenclaw common room at breakneck pace. She reached the bottom of the spiral staircase quicker than she ever thought possible but she needed to escape the suffocating feeling of her dorm room and her sweat soaked bedsheets. A breeze blew into the corridor from the courtyard and Hermione took large, grateful gulps of the cool air. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to clear her mind a little but as soon as her eyes closed she was confronted with the image of Bellatrix looming over her with that smirk and that look in her eyes. A shiver ran down her spine, she wasn’t sure if it was out of pleasure or uneasiness or a mixture of both. She moved towards one of the open archways that looked out into the courtyard and stuck her head out in order to get access to more fresh air.

A movement caught her attention; someone with a mop of curly hair piled haphazardly on top of their head was rushing across the courtyard while trying to tug their robe around them to block out the winter chill. For a second Hermione thought it was Bellatrix until the moonlight caught the tresses and she realised they were not dark enough, it was Andromeda. Hermione heaved a sigh of relief, she wasn’t sure she was up to facing Bellatrix right now after the dream she had just had. But spending so much time with Harry must have rubbed off on her and she couldn’t help the pull to figure out why Andromeda would be sneaking around in the middle of the night. Her internal question was answered pretty quickly though when a second movement drew her gaze and she caught the outline of a teenage boy wearing a Hufflepuff scarf fleeing in the opposite direction to the girl. She had always known that Andromeda and Ted had met at Hogwarts but she hadn’t realised they had been together when they were so young. The knowledge filled her with a strange warmth that didn’t make sense to her, she had never been much of a romantic but there was something sweet and pure about their love that struck her. With a smile on her face she moved away from the window and headed in the direction she had seen the young Slytherin hurry off.

“Andie?” Hermione called as loudly as she dared and squinted into the darkness.

“Merlin Hermione, you scared the life out of me.” Andromeda whispered back as she whirled around to face the other girl, pressing her hand over her frantically beating heart. “What are you doing out of bed so late?”

“I had a…weird dream and I just needed to clear my head.” Hermione answered a little hesitantly as she closed the gap between the two of them. Thankfully it was dark enough to hide the blush that had crept upon her cheeks as she thought about the content of her dream and what she had just imagined doing with this girl’s sister. She cleared her throat awkwardly before going on the defensive. “But I could ask you the same thing. Isn’t it a little late for you to be out of bed too?”

“Oh well…yeah. I guess…” Andie stuttered, looking at the floor and kicking at a crack in one of the grey tiles with her toe. “I was just…erm… getting some air.”

“Yeah, of course. Getting some air.” Hermione snorted as she raised an eyebrow at the younger girl and smirked.  “And were you on your own in your desperate midnight quest for fresh air?”

“You’ve been spending too much time with Bellatrix.” Andie sighed in response to Hermione’s comment but a good natured smile tugged at her lips. “She’s quite taken with you, you know? You’re all she talks about.”

“She’s intriguing…I’m enjoying trying the figure her out.” Hermione swallowed thickly, she felt a little uncomfortable at the Slytherin’s comment. She knew that Andie wouldn’t mean any malice, she was too kind natured for that. But she felt like the girl was trying to get at something and she wasn’t quite sure what it was. “But you’re trying to change the subject, how’s Ted by the way?”

Andromeda’s shoulders shook a little as she tried to contain a laugh; she looked at the bushy haired witch with a twinkle in her eye. “He’s fine…fully aired.”

Hermione’s hand flew up to her mouth but it was too late, a peel of laughter escaped her throat and echoed through the empty corridor. Both girl’s froze and looked at each other in horror before breaking out into matching smirks when no one came rushing out to dock house points from them for being out of bed after curfew. “Come on, let me walk you back to your common room.”

Andie stepped around the older girl and bumped her shoulder as she passed. “My, aren’t you chivalrous?”

“I do try.” Hermione jested, shrugging as she fell into step and the two girls walked towards the Slytherin common room.

“Hermione” Andromeda broke the comfortable silence cautiously. “I’m really glad that Bella has found you, you’re good for her.”

“I don’t know about that.” Hermione replied shyly as she fiddled self-consciously with her hair.

“I do.” Andromeda stated adamantly. She gently gripped Hermione’s wrist to draw her attention and smiled genuinely at her. “You said it yourself; you’re trying to figure her out. Not many other people bother to do that.”

“She’s prickly but once you get past that she’s a softy really.” Hermione couldn’t help the goofy grin that slipped on to her features when she thought about Bellatrix. “But don’t say that I said that.”

“So she’s like a hedgehog?” Andromeda asked, throwing Hermione a wink.

Hermione shook her head. “Definitely don’t say that I said that.”

“I think it suits her.” Andromeda shrugged as she stopped in front of a blank stretch of wall.

“I guess so.” Hermione chuckled as she looked around her and realised they had descended to the dungeons already without her really noticing. “Defensive, reclusive, can regularly be found snuffling around in people’s gardens.”

Andromeda’s jaw dropped open. “Is that an innuendo?”

“Oh my God! No!” Hermione almost shrieked, her voice taking on a shrill quality.

“I just thought you know, with Bellatrix’s preferences.” Andromeda tried to explain, but she noticed the confusion flitter across Hermione’s face. “She likes girls, I erm… I assumed you knew.”

“I… well I suppose…” Hermione stuttered, her body heating up for a reason she didn’t quite want to try and rationalise right now. “I’ve never really thought about it.”

“It doesn’t change anything does it?” Andromeda asked quickly looking slightly panicked. She wasn’t ashamed of who her sister is and she knew that Bellatrix wasn’t embarrassed about it either, but she was also aware that this wasn’t her news to share. She had well and truly put her foot in it.

“No, of course not.” Hermione assured the younger girl, tilting her head to catch her eye and smiling. “She’s still as irritating as she always was.”

Andromeda sighed in relief and finally caught Hermione’s eye. “I’m glad she has you.”

Hermione thought about how difficult her time here should be, how much she should be missing home. But in reality she rarely felt lonely or lost or out of place and that was because of how much Bellatrix challenged her and occupied her mind in one way or another. She should be miserable and falling apart and desperate to get back to her time but she felt like she belonged here somehow. She belonged here with Bellatrix. “I’m glad I have her too.”

Transfiguration seemed to creep up on Hermione, she liked to be on top form when she encountered Mcgonagall but she was just going to have to settle for being off the boil today. If she was honest it wasn’t just today, she had felt off ever since her dream about Bellatrix. She heaved a sigh, climbed on to her stool and started to unpack her equipment. She became distantly aware of the sound of the stool next to her scraping back but didn’t think too much of it, until warm breath caressed her ear and a voice husked. “Hey Ross.”

She jumped at the sound of the voice and promptly dropped the ink well she had just retrieved from her bag, she watched in horror as the black liquid seeped into the desk. “Merlin Bellatrix, don’t do that.”

Bellatrix chuckled as she watched Hermione frantically search through her bag for something to clean up with, she waved her wand and silently fixed the mess. “You’re jumpy today.”

Hermione watched as the black mess retreated out of the wood and her ink well refilled. “Well I was hardly expecting you to show up, you never come to transfiguration. Plus I haven’t seen you all week.”

“What’s up Ross? Been missing me?” Bellatrix mocked as she bumped Hermione’s shoulder. The bushy haired witch just shook her head and turned away from her slightly, seeing that her attempts to keep the situation light were not working Bellatrix took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to avoid you or anything. I just needed a bit of space… to think.”

“I understand that.” Hermione said softly. “But don’t let me in and then shut me out again.”

Before Bellatrix could respond Mcgonagall’s voice cut through the din of the classroom and called for silence, she took the register quickly and then informed the group that they would be moving on to conjuring today.

“Today we will be practicing ‘Avis’, the bird conjuring charm.” Professor Mcgonagall announced. “Although usually studied in Charms class it is actually a branch of Transfiguration. We will be looking at it today as a simple beginning to natural conjuring. Have you all attempted the ‘Avis’ charm with Professor Goshawk?” The question was met with an unenthusiastic chorus of yeses, to which Mcgonagall nodded her head. “And have any of you had success with the charm?” Two hands shot into the air almost before the professor had even finished her sentence, the woman chuckled fondly. “Miss Ross and Miss Black, why am I not surprised? Well the rest of you, turn to page 246 and get practicing.”

There was a rustle of paper as twenty students began flicking through their textbooks, looking for the correct page. Professor Mcgonagall made her way slowly over to the desk the two girls were sat behind. “Ladies, I could use your help this lesson.” The older woman announced as she reached them. “I have a feeling that Miss Skeeter and Mr Bagman may struggle particularly with this task. Could I ask each of you to pair up with one of them and help them out?”

“Of course Professor.” Hermione answered enthusiastically as she pushed her stool away from the desk.

Bellatrix groaned in annoyance as she too stood up from her stool, muttering something under her breath as she collected up her things. “I’ll work with Skeeter.” She threw over her shoulder as she breezed across the classroom and flopped down unceremoniously next to the blonde girl who smiled at her coyly.

“I guess I’ll pair up with Ludo.” Hermione said, throwing an exasperated look at Mcgonagall who returned her look with a small smirk. She crossed the classroom in the opposite direction to Bellatrix and stopped in front of the hulking figure of Ludo Bagman. “Hi, I’m Hermione.” She introduced herself as politely as possible. “Professor Mcgonagall has asked me to work with you today.”

“Ludo.” The boy grinned as he extended his hand in greeting, Hermione shook his hand and then went to extract her own only to find the boy tighten his grip. “Mcgonagall must be in a good mood with me today if she has sent over such a beautiful assistant.”

“I have sent her over to help you with your conjuring Mr Bagman.” Mcgonagall called across the classroom. “Not for you to flirt with.”

Ludo laughed pleasantly as he winked at Hermione and pulled out the stool next to him. “Sit down, please.” Hermione perched awkwardly on the stool feeling a little uncomfortable as half of the eyes in the classroom were now on her, including Bellatrix’s. Ludo leaned close to her and whispered. “No offence, but I pretty much only said that to piss Bellatrix off. Look at her face.”

Hermione looked over at where the black haired witch was sat and sure enough she was throwing Ludo Bagman a death glare that would make most people quake in their boots. “You’re brave.” Hermione laughed gently. “Are you not worried about inciting her wrath?”

“Bellatrix and I go way back.” Ludo shrugged. “Annoying each other is just the way we work.”

Hermione picked absently at the corner of her textbook before she looked at the boy sat next to her. “And why would you think that flirting with me would annoy Bellatrix?”

Ludo grinned again and Hermione supposed a lot of girls would find him quite handsome. “I’ve seen the way she looks at you.”

The nonchalant response caught Hermione off guard and she could only respond with a quiet “oh.”

Ludo shook his head and blew out a deep breath. “I can’t believe she didn’t put up more of a fight when she was paired up with Rita.”

“She volunteered to work with Skeeter.” Hermione shrugged before she smirked across at the boy. “I assume to avoid your teasing.”

“Very funny.” Ludo mocked pulling a face good naturedly. “Seriously, I’m surprised she didn’t try to hex Mcgonagall when she forced her into working with her though.”

“I told you, she chose to work with her.” Hermione said firmly.

“Bellatrix? Bellatrix Black is working with Rita Skeeter through her own choice?” Ludo asked dumbly, looking at Hermione as if she was about to solve one of life’s great riddles. When the girl nodded in affirmation he let out a low whistle. “Well knock me over with a feather.”

“Why what’s wrong?” Hermione questioned. “Do they not get along or something?”

“Not get along? Bellatrix hates her.” Ludo answered incredulously as he shook his head. “I mean who could blame her after what Rita did.”

“Rita did something to Bellatrix?” Hermione demanded, her voice rising as the piece of information caused anger to flare up inside her.  She had hated Skeeter since her encounter with her at the Triwizard Tournament, but knowing she had hurt Bellatrix made her public enemy number one.

“Bella will say that Rita fucked her over.” Ludo said somewhat sadly as he raised a brow. “I’d say she broke her heart.”

“They were together?” Hermione practically shouted, her head spinning around so quickly that she almost cricked her neck.

Ludo shot a placating smile at the people who had turned to look at them again before leaning in closer to Hermione and talking quietly. “Yes they were together, in fourth year, it was pretty serious. Well serious for Bella. I think Rita was her first love, but… it wasn’t like that for Rita.”

Hermione could hear her heartbeat in her ears, she knew her face must be visibly flushed but she couldn’t bring herself to care. Those words; Rita was her first love were flying around in her brain, if she hadn’t hated the awful beetle before she certainly did now. The response this information had incited within her scared her; she shouldn’t care this much, it shouldn’t hurt this much. “Did they break up?”

“Well obviously they broke up.” Ludo replied with a frown. “You don’t see them sneaking off into broom cupboards anymore do you?”

Hermione almost growled at the mental image that the boy’s words called forth. “What happened?”

“Hmmm… I would have thought Bella would have told you all of this.” Ludo said pensively before shaking his head and ploughing on. “It turned out that Rita was only pretending to like Bella, she was using her to get close to her family. She was feeding information about the Black family’s businesses to her father, he was hoping to get some dirt on them so he could shut them down and get rid of some competition.”

“Eurgh, she is such a snake.” Hermione spat with absolute venom in her voice, she was so angry that the quill was shaking in her hand.

“You can say that again.” Ludo huffed as he picked up his wand and started twiddling with it. “She really is the worst kind of Slytherin.”

Hermione snatched her own wand up with a little more aggression than she meant to, she took a deep calming breath. “We should practice the Avis charm before Professor Mcgonagall comes over and finds out that you still can’t do it.” They spent the rest of their time working on the charm; to begin with Ludo could only manage to make bright yellow feathers erupt out of the end of his wand. But by the end of the lesson, thanks to a few corrections on his grip and pronunciation from Hermione, the handsome Slytherin managed to make a single bird appear. Ludo cheered and wanted to celebrate with Hermione but she couldn’t find any enthusiasm within herself. She had too many conflicting emotions within herself to make space for anymore, she was angry about what Rita had done to Bellatrix. She was upset that Bellatrix had her heart broken and probably dealt with it all on her own. She was confused about why Bellatrix had hidden all of this from her. And she was jealous that despite it all Bellatrix had chosen to work with her today. Did she still have feelings for her? Was she hoping that Rita had changed and they could get back together? Did she miss her and just really want to be near her? Hermione’s mind was racing at a thousand miles a minute and all of a sudden the walls of the classroom just seemed so oppressive. She wanted to escape, so it was to her massive relief that Professor Mcgonagall finally called an end to the lesson. She bid a hasty farewell to Ludo before haphazardly ramming her belongings into her bag and attempting to flee the scene.

“Ross” Hermione heard Bellatrix’s voice call out across the classroom but she was in no mood to talk to her. From the first time she had met Rita Skeeter she had hated her, the woman was insufferable and from the sounds of it she has never been any different. She couldn’t get her head around how Bellatrix could have been with someone like that and not just for a fling, if Ludo was to be believed, but in a fairly significant relationship. Hermione’s eyes stung with tears that she refused to let fall and she tried to fight down the flare of jealousy that ignited in the pit of her stomach with very little success. She had no idea why finding out that Bellatrix had been in a relationship at some point in her school career surprised her so much, the girl was beautiful. But for some reason it bothered her more than she would ever be willing to admit out loud; maybe that had something to do with her being so beautiful too. Hermione barged her way out of the room and tried to care about the people that she marched into and the grumbles she received but she really couldn’t find the space within her mind. She set off through the corridor with a pace that would rival even the Hogwarts Express, still in no time she felt a strong hand grip her wrist and pull her to an abrupt stop.

“What the hell is the problem with you Ross?” Bellatrix asked in a confused and exasperated tone as she pulled the other girl around to face her. She took in the redness in the bushy haired witch’s eyes and the flush in her cheeks and softened slightly.

“Nothing.” Hermione bit back in reply, despite the acidity in her tone she was compliant when the Slytherin began to tow her further down the corridor and willingly followed her into a rather dank storage room. To make sure that her bad mood was thoroughly recognised though she slammed the heavy wooden door closed behind her with a resounding thud.

“Oh yeah, of course nothing is wrong and I’m a mountain troll.” Bellatrix mocked with a frown as she wordlessly cast a lumos and bathed the small room in bluish light. “I’ve had kinder receptions from a bludger. What’s happened?”

Hermione threw her bag on the floor and kicked at a mop bucket mindlessly, jumping at the loud clang it caused to vibrate around the space. “Ludo told me about you and Rita.”

Bellatrix didn’t let the shock at Hermione’s statement register on her face and she tried hard not to get angry at the thought of the blonde girl. She didn’t want to think about Rita when she was with Hermione. She looked more closely at the other girl for a few seconds, taking in the defeated slope of her shoulders and the way she was fiddling with her sleeves nervously. She wanted to understand what was going on but she was at a total loss so she pressed a little more. “And? So what?”

“And….you should have told me.” Hermione snapped, as if this was the most obvious thing in the world, she folded her arms and leant back against the cool wood of the door.

Bellatrix huffed and shook her head, allowing some of her anger to bubble to the surface. “Why should I have told you?”

“Because I like…” Hermione began before stopping suddenly at the words that nearly tumbled from her mouth. “I thought we were…” She tried again but came to a blundering halt when she didn’t like her next comment either. She sighed heavily and squeezed her eyes shut as she attempted to compose herself. “It made me look stupid, that’s why. I’m supposed to be your… friend and I didn’t know about her.”

“Bullshit.” Bellatrix spat, laughing humourlessly.

“What’s bullshit?” Hermione bristled at the unexpectedly crass response.

“What you just said is bullshit, what do you want me to say Hermione?” Bellatrix knew that her statement was moot and that Hermione was more than bright enough to know what she was talking about when she called her out. But she was quickly losing her temper, she hated to be reminded of Rita and she hated the hidden suggestion that she herself had done something wrong here. “That I’m sorry that I had a…. thing with Rita? Well I’m not sorry, not one bit.”

“I don’t want you to be sorry but she’s just such a…. a bitch.” Hermione curled up her nose in disgust as she spoke, she knew deep down that she was being entirely unfair but there was just something about Skeeter that got under her skin like no other person ever had. “How could you have voluntarily spent that much time with her?”

“Because it was my choice.” Bellatrix shouted, having finally been pushed to her limit. She saw how Hermione flinched away when she raised her voice and took a few calming breaths. She ran her hands over her face and growled slightly before fixing her eyes on the bushy haired witch again and speaking more calmly this time. “School is the only place that I get to choose how I spend my time and who I spend it with. And it felt good to choose her, to choose to see her and talk to her and… flirt with her and kiss her. And then she fucked me over and I got to choose not to see her anymore and do you know what? Standing up for myself felt good too.”

Hermione shivered involuntarily at the thought of Bellatrix kissing Rita Skeeter, at the thought of that smirk that drives her wild being directed at somebody else, at the thought of the flirty banter that keeps her on her toes being used on somebody else. “I can’t believe you kissed her.” She said in a much shriller tone than she intended.

“All of that and the only thing you picked up on is that I kissed her?” Bellatrix said carefully, quietly, almost predatory as she took a small step closer to Hermione. She saw how the girl stiffened slightly and swallowed thickly as she raised her chin indignantly. It felt like a game of wills and she was determined to win. “I’ll let you into a little secret Ross….we did more than just kiss. So much more.”

“Stop it.” Hermione demanded weakly as she looked away from the chocolate brown eyes that were scanning her face almost excitedly.

“Why?” Bellatrix husked as she took another step closer to Hermione, she was so close now that she could feel the heat radiating from the other girl’s body. “Is it bothering you Ross?”

“No.” Hermione answered far too quickly for her response ever to be considered true. With a huff she tried to barge past Bellatrix who she only just realised was invading her personal space rather significantly. But the second her body came into contact with the Slytherin the other girl used her weight to push her back against the door and pinned her there. Hermione’s breath caught in her throat as their chests pressed together and their hips bumped in a way that could have been painful in any other circumstance.

“Is thinking about me with that bitch making you jealous, hmmm?” Bellatrix almost whispered as a smirk broke out across her face, she watched how Hermione’s nostrils flared and her jaw clenched. “Is thinking about me sitting close to her in some dark corner of the library bothering you? Is thinking about me sneaking into her room at night bothering you?” She leant in close to Hermione, so close that she could see every freckle scattered across the girl’s cheeks, she always found them her most endearing feature, taking a deep breath she pushed on. “Is the thought of my lips pressed against hers bothering you? Is the thought of my hands on her…”

Whatever Bellatrix was about to utter was cut off by soft lips pressed firmly against her own and the scent of vanilla that she had come to love so much enveloping her senses. Her mind toyed with the idea of pulling away; shocked that the other girl had the gall to make this move. But that thought quickly flittered away when she felt gentle hands slide up her neck and begin to play with the loose curls that had slipped out of her bun. The kiss was almost tentative, almost hesitant as if Hermione was asking a question Bellatrix was unsure how to answer, she was never unsure and she didn’t like it. Her hands found their way to Hermione’s hips and pushed her more forcefully against the door earning a small intake of breath from the girl’s mouth, she found her opportunity to deepen the kiss and try to take back control of the situation.

Hermione felt Bellatrix’s thumbs find purchase on the skin of her hips that was exposed when her shirt had become untucked at some unspecified point. She felt her back pushed more fully against the knots and rivets of the wooden door; they dug into her spine in a beautiful mix of pleasure and pain. And she felt the Slytherin’s thigh slip between her own; forcing their bodies to mould together, they seemed to fit so perfectly that she almost gasped. When she did Bellatrix changed the pace, where she had once been the one being kissed she now kissed back with an urgent fervour that made Hermione’s mind cloud over at the edges, the girl’s mouth was insistent against her own. Her whole body trembled and she tried to ground herself somehow, she wound her fingers into the soft locks she had been bothering for the last few minutes and tugged them none too gently. Bellatrix groaned low in her throat at the action and Hermione felt her smirk subtly against her lips, she didn’t know why but the smirk felt like a challenge and she could never find it within herself to back down from a challenge.

Bellatrix could feel the other girl melting in her embrace and it made her feel cocky somehow, she knew Hermione and she knew that the girl was not one to swoon easily. She knew that she kept control of herself and that she kept her impulses in check, so the thought that she was the one that had finally cracked her made her feel a little arrogant to say the least. That is until she felt Hermione’s tongue sweep across her bottom lip and it was her turn to melt, a gentle sigh slipped from her chest and all of a sudden the taste of honey erupted in her mouth. Hermione’s tongue caressed her own, it was delicate but purposeful and paired with the sting at the base of her scull where her hair was still being pulled she almost lost herself to the sensation entirely. She allowed the other girl to rule the kiss for a few moments before she reached up and tore the girl’s hands away from her hair to pin them above her head.

Hermione was caught off guard when she felt her hands clatter into the wood of the door and the bite of Bellatrix’s nails as they dug into the delicate skin at her wrists. She felt her tongue sneak into her mouth as the black haired witch fought to take the lead, she battled her for dominance for a few moments before succumbing to the inevitable and letting her win. The smell of the shampoo Bellatrix had used that morning was too strong, the taste of mint on her tongue was too much, the feel of her firm body in contact with every inch of her own was too perfect for her to do anything else. She allowed herself to be overcome by everything that was Bellatrix. The girl released her hands and she immediately buried them in her, now only partially tamed, curls again; enjoying their silkiness between her fingers. She appreciated the firmness with which strong arms encircled her waist and held their bodies together almost reassuringly. And she relished the feel of Bellatrix’s plump lips against her own, she hadn’t kissed many people in her life but she was pretty sure that kissing did not get better than this. Nothing had ever evoked something as deep within her as kissing Bellatrix Black did.

Bellatrix moaned appreciatively when she felt Hermione succumb to her will, she let go of her arms so that she could use her own hands to explore the other girl’s body. She went back to worry the patch of skin at the girl’s hip that had driven her wild since the second she saw it that morning before their trip into Hogsmeade. They quickly flitted up her body and she marvelled at her tiny frame, Hermione seemed such a presence when she was in the classroom but now beneath her hands she seemed so dainty. She was overwhelmed with a desire to never let her go, to keep the girl locked in the safety of her arms, to use her own body to shield her from the darkness of the world. She had no idea what it was about kissing this girl that seemed to awaken something within her chest that she had not been sure she was capable of feeling until this very moment.

The kiss began to slow down as both of the girls began to recover their senses, until it became just a series of lingering pecks broken up by gasps for air. They broke apart and amber eyes met chocolate, they stared at each other silently for a few moments, their chests heaving and their heads spinning. Bellatrix’s face broke into a warm smile that she wasn’t sure she could control even if she tried “Well Hermione, I think you finally found an effective way to shut me up.”

Both girls laughed breathlessly and Hermione pushed their foreheads together wanting to prolong their intimacy for as long as possible. “I’ll have to use it again.”

“You’d better.” Bellatrix replied softly as she pressed one last gentle kiss to Hermione’s lips.

Chapter Text

Andromeda flopped down next to Hermione at her table in the library with a grin on her face like a Cheshire cat. “So….you and Bellatrix?” She asked suggestively with a wiggle of her perfectly shaped eyebrows.

Hermione’s expression was somewhere between an eye roll and a coy smile but she refused to look up from the book she was reading. She knew that being evasive would annoy the direct and to the point Andromeda. Unlike Bellatrix who enjoyed a subtle game of cat and mouse, this Black hated it. “What about Bellatrix and I?”

“Oh don’t you dare.” Andie reached over and snapped the book Hermione was pretending to read closed. “Bellatrix is walking around with the most ridiculous smirk on her face all of the time and she has been distinctly less tense over the last few days.”

“Why do you think that has anything to do with me?” Hermione asked as she leant her chin on her hand trying to look nonchalant. She had never really had many female friends throughout her life, but one of her favourites of the few that she did have was Tonks. She had always enjoyed the young woman’s easy banter and her mischievous air, something that Hermione was quickly learning she had inherited from Andromeda. 

“She only ever acts like this when she is courting someone and you are the only person she has been spending any time with, so it must be you.” Andie said with a frown marring her features. She spoke as if this was the most obvious thing in the world; because of course Bellatrix could only be happy if she was seeing someone. “She was humming the other day. Humming Hermione!”

Hermione snorted and a genuine smile spread across her face. “She was not humming”

“Ok maybe I exaggerated there.” Andie admitted as she held her hands up in surrender, a smile finally breaking its way free. “It’s a funny thought though isn’t it?”

Hermione raised an eyebrow as she observed the younger girl in front of her. “And did you just say courting? Really?”

“I’m posh, sue me.” Andie shrugged nonchalantly, the surety and the acceptance of the person that she is was something else that she would pass on to her daughter in the future. “And you’re changing the subject. You and Bellatrix!”

“I’m sure if your sister wanted you to know her business she would tell you herself.” Hermione replied, shaking her head good naturedly. She had never had a sibling herself but she had spent enough time with the Weasleys to know that amongst brothers and sisters any piece of information could be used as fodder for future mocking. And she was not prepared to give Andie any ammunition, as funny as the repercussions could be.

“No she would not.” Andie spluttered, essentially proving Hermione’s thinking entirely correct. “She keeps me in the dark for as long as she can because she knows it annoys me to no end.”

Hermione smiled warmly at that thought, Bellatrix was a wind up merchant through and through and the more she saw of this side of the girl the more attractive she found it. “Well who am I to ruin her fun then?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen her this happy Hermione.” Andie said, sounding suddenly much more serious. This was another thing that Hermione found so endearing about the Black sisters, no matter how much they mocked and poked fun at one another their love for each other was clear to see. “So if you did have something to do with it, thank you. I’m glad, you both deserve it.”

“I’m glad too.” Hermione admitted with a dreamy smile as her mind drifted back to the ten minutes she and Bellatrix had spent together in the broom cupboard and the fifteen minutes on the Astronomy tower later that night. Oh, and the few other stolen moments they had found over the weekend when no one was looking.

Andromeda’s face broke into another huge smirk and she reached out to grip Hermione’s shoulders excitedly, giving her a little shake for good measure. “So something did happen?”

“Eurgh.” Hermione groaned as she rubbed her hands over her face exasperatedly, she felt like she had walked straight into that one.

“You don’t have to tell me.” Andromeda said, emphasising the word ‘tell’ earnestly. “I can just guess what happened and you can nod if I’m right.”

Hermione removed Andromeda’s hands from her shoulders and threw the younger Slytherin a subtle glare. “I’m not playing this game with you.”

“Too bad because I want to play.” Andie laughed, she looked more like Bellatrix than she ever had. She glanced up at Hermione, batted her eye lashes exaggeratedly and smiled at her with her best impression of a coy smile. “Have you held hands?”

“Is that what you and Ted were doing in the courtyard the other night?” Hermione countered as she narrowed her eyes at the other girl, trying to pretend that this was annoying her.

“Yes it is, he is particularly good at holding hands.” Andromeda winked at Hermione, earning herself a full eye roll this time when the girl didn’t take the bait and change the subject.Did she tell you she likes you? …Did you tell her you like her?”

“How do you know I like her hmmm?” Hermione shrugged trying again to throw Andromeda off this train of thought. “It could just be a one way street”

“Oh please. You swoon like a Beauxbatons' girl when she’s around.” Andie mocked and gave Hermione a soft good natured shove.

“I am a Beauxbaton’s girl.” Hermione chuckled, playing into the story she had put forward when she had arrived here. “I’m practiced in swooning, we had whole lessons in it.”

“Shut up.” Andie stated bluntly before she ploughed on with the game she was obviously enjoying a little too much. “Has she kissed you? …Have you kissed her?” She paused when she saw how Hermione’s eyes darted towards her and her cheeks started to colour at her last statement. “Merlin, you kissed her! Hermione, I didn’t know you had it in you. I have to admit I would have thought it would be Bella making the first move.”

Hermione swallowed thickly and tried to force down the memory of the feeling of Bellatrix’s lips against her own before she started speaking again. Gods, she wanted to be kissing her again right now. “Do you spend a lot of time thinking about your sister kissing people?”

Andie smirked and raised a conspiratorial eyebrow. “Narcissa and I have been taking bets on when it would finally happen, I have ten sickles riding on this.”

“You really are Bellatrix’s sisters aren’t you?” Hermione looked her up and down as if she was just now seeing her for the first time. “Betting on when a kiss will happen, really?”

“Mostly we just do it to annoy Bella.” Andie waved the comment away as if it was nothing. “Anyway, how was the kiss? Magical I assume?”

Before Hermione could respond to that sarcastic comment a deep drawling voice interrupted their conversation. “Who has been kissing who now?” Both girls’ heads snapped up to see the lecherous face of Lucius Malfoy sneering down at them. Although Hermione had never met Lucius in this time she would recognise him anywhere; lank white blond hair hanging around his shoulders and that superior look in those grey eyes that he shared with Draco.

“I don’t see how that is any of your business Malfoy.” Andromeda spat, showing a rare unkind side to herself. “Haven’t you got first years to intimidate or something?”

“Don’t be so cold now Andromeda.” Lucius grinned as he leant his fists on the desk they were sitting at and loomed over them. “You shouldn’t keep secrets from family.”

“You are not family.” Andromeda laughed, it came out as a patronising sound. “And before you start along the ‘your father has promised Narcissa to me’ line, I am well aware of the arrangements between our families. You will never be my family because if I have anything to do with it Narcissa will not be marrying you.”

“You and Bellatrix are exactly the same, like broken records.” Lucius smarmed, acting as though he hadn’t even heard the barbed comment that Andromeda had thrown his way. “If I didn’t know any better I would think your defensiveness was you trying to hide something. Like maybe it is the two of you who have been kissing. And how would your father react if he found out that you had a secret girlfriend hmmm?”

Hermione couldn’t stand by and watch him talk to her friend this way. Lucius was insufferable when she knew him in her own time, and it would appear that his attitude was an art he had perfected in his youth. “Are you threatening her?” she demanded in a harsh tone.

“He isn’t worth getting yourself angry over Hermione.” Andromeda pacified as she reached over to squeeze the bushy haired witch’s hand reassuringly before turning to address Lucius again. “And you may think that you have my father in your pocket, but don’t presume to know him better than I do.”

“You’re father loves me.” Lucius said through gritted teeth. “My union with your sister is the only chance he has of any of his daughters marrying up. People are aware that you and Bellatrix are…uncontrollable.”

“You have just said it yourself Lucius.” Andromeda laughed humourlessly, for the second time today she reminded Hermione distinctly of Bellatrix. It was in the harsh tone in her voice as she spoke to Lucius and the determined fire in her usually kind eyes. “My father is using you, using you to cement the Black family’s status into the future. He has no higher an opinion of you than Bellatrix or I do. If your family were to fall out of favour your engagement to my sister would be ended before you could say wingardium leviosa.”

“That’s not true.” Lucius hissed as he leant further forward and got into Andromeda’s face. “Narcissa loves me and it doesn’t matter about the statuses of our families, she doesn’t care about my name.”

Hermione was impressed that Andromeda didn’t back down as Lucius spat his scorn in her face. “This conversation isn’t about my sister though is it? Cissy may love you but if my father says no, she will not be marrying you. She will marry whoever my father tells her too, just like Bellatrix and I will.”

“It’s different between Narcissa and I.” Lucius demanded again, his face had started to redden and a vein had begun to appear at his temple. “She would choose me over your mess of a family.”

“You have no idea who Narcissa is.” Andromeda hissed as she leant forward getting in to Lucius’ face, he wasn’t the only one who could try to intimidate. “You may think that she is nothing like us, but she is a Black through and through. She knows exactly how to play the perfect little pureblood.” Lucius stared at the Andromeda for a few moments, his lip quivered with barely controlled rage, his Adam’s apple wobbled as if he wanted to say something more. But instead he just punched the table causing both girls to jump and stormed away in a billow of robes. Andromeda breathed a shaky sigh and looked at Hermione with a smug smirk. “Prick”

“I was just thinking the same thing.” Hermione chucked as she threw an arm around Andromeda’s shoulders and pulled her into a side hug.

By the time Bellatrix had finished towing Hermione up the staircase to the astronomy tower both girls were out of breath and panting a little. “What’s the rush?” Hermione asked with a chuckle as she allowed herself to be pulled close by the Slytherin. Since their first kiss the girls hadn’t really talked about what had happened, they had mocked each other about it of course. And wasn’t their mocking really just a form of flirting? This naturally led to further kissing, and less talking, because Hermione couldn’t seem to resist Bellatrix when she had that mischievous look in her eye and that damn smirk on her lips.

Bellatrix slipped her hands inside Hermione’s outer robes as she encircled her body with her arms, her fingertips savoured the feeling of the girl’s warm skin through the light material of her blouse. She leant in close to whisper in her ear, “I had to be near you.”

Hermione felt a shiver run down her spine as Bellatrix’s breath caressed her neck and she realised how close the girl’s lips were to her flesh. “Oh really and why would that be hmmm?” She teased as she leant away from the girl to look at her properly; she quickly regretted that decision when that infamous smirk appeared on the girl’s face.

Bellatrix couldn’t believe how beautiful Hermione was; her cheeks were pink from the run up to the tower which made all of her freckles stand out, as far as she was concerned the girl’s freckles were her best quality. She had found other girls beautiful before, of course she had, but there was something different about this girl. Her beauty wasn’t necessarily in her features, although they were beautiful, but it seemed to radiate out from somewhere within her. The compassion and understanding that made up her very soul was plain to see when you looked for it. She saw how Hermione’s warm eyes scanned her face and she knew that this girl saw what was inside of her too, she was one of the only people who had ever truly looked for what made her who she was. “Because you’re too beautiful.” Bellatrix confessed before her mind had time to catch up with what her stupid mouth had just said.

Hermione smiled at Bellatrix’s quiet confession and she felt her heart rate speed up as the other girl’s cheeks blazed red. “I’m not beautiful.” She whispered self-consciously as she marvelled, yet again, at how perfectly Bellatrix’s eyelashes framed her eyes and pulled you into their smouldering depths. She breathed in the scent of Jasmine and Sandalwood that was so indescribably Bellatrix and drew strength from it. “I’m not beautiful compared to you.”

Bellatrix extracted a hand from inside Hermione’s robe and cupped her cheek gently, allowing her thumb to caress the girl’s smooth skin. “You’re right, you’re not beautiful. You’re radiant.” She breathed, she didn’t want to get ahead of herself or let her mind run away with her but she couldn’t remember feeling this way about someone. She had been in relationships and cared for people, she had even believed that she had loved Rita Skeeter for a short time. With Hermione though it was something different, there was something different to her. She felt like she could trust her. She had no idea why but she felt safe with Hermione and that was not a feeling she could say she was afforded often. “If only you could see yourself through my eyes.”

Seeing this softer side of Bellatrix was a privilege and Hermione knew it, which was why when the girl uttered those words her mind drew a blank. She wanted to keep up this flirty back and to, it was exciting and exhilarating and new. Ron hadn’t really chased her this way; he hadn’t played this subtle game of cat and mouse with her, he hadn’t challenged her. They had kissed in the heat of the moment, yes that had been nice and fun and sweet, but then it felt like everyone had just assumed they were together and that was the end of it. It felt good to be pursued, to feel like she was someone’s first choice rather than just their best option. She wanted Bellatrix to know how she was feeling but she couldn’t really put voice to her thoughts. So, after a moment of hesitation, she closed the distance between them and pressed their lips together gently.

Before Bellatrix had really registered what was happening Hermione had kissed her and had begun to pull away from her. The kiss was soft and barely there, just the shadow of the kisses they had shared before. But this time it felt like it meant something more, it was affectionate, there was a different kind of emotion behind it. All of their other kisses had been fuelled by a hunger, a need to be near each other, a need to bring to life the frustrations that flirting around each other for weeks had created. That small, gentle, barely there kiss felt like it said more than any of the others had come close to saying. It said that they understood each other, it said that they were on the same page but most of all it said that Hermione felt the same as she did. She used the hold she still had on the other girl’s face to pull them together again, this time with a little bit more force.

When their lips met again Hermione felt that all too familiar stirring in the pit of her stomach that she had begun to associate with being near to Bellatrix. The way that the girl kissed her was tender, moving her lips against her own slowly yet purposefully. The hand that still rested at her waist squeezed ever so slightly, a silent invitation that was quickly accepted as she pressed her body more firmly against Bellatrix’s.

Bellatrix sighed as she felt Hermione’s slight frame rest up against her, to have this girl trust her so much, to surrender to her this way made her feel powerful and weak all at once. To feel her softness between her hands made her feel like maybe her heart wasn’t doomed to the blackness that she thought was its curse. Hermione’s hands wove into her hair, this had become their usual resting place when they kissed, her stomach flipped a little at the thought that her hands had a usual place. Kissing each other was becoming normal for them and that meant that this incredible person wanted her back. She smiled into the kiss and felt Hermione do the same.

Hermione pulled away a little when she felt Bellatrix smile and let her eyes dart across the girl’s face. Taking in how perfect she looked when she lit up like this, when she looked so free. She felt an odd pride that she was the one that had incited that look. She ran her finger nails gently across Bellatrix’s scalp and smirked as the girl’s eyes fluttered shut and she shuddered faintly. She crashed their mouths together roughly, their teeth clashed together but they quickly recovered when Bellatrix bit her bottom lip and groaned low in the back of her throat.

Bellatrix had been aiming for sweet and passionate with this kiss to begin with, to show Hermione that she was serious, that she wanted more than just physical. And yet here she was with her tongue battling Hermione’s for dominance. But how could she do anything else when the girl was everywhere; pressed up against her body, wrapped up in her arms, invading her senses and creeping into every corner of her mind.

A tidal wave of warmth washed through Hermione’s body when Bellatrix’s tongue brushed over her own. Her kisses were always so unwavering, like everything that she does she is determined and prevailing. And it felt good to surrender to somebody’s will the way that she could with Bellatrix, to trust her with her being and know she will respect it. When she was kissing Ron she felt like he was angling for more and she was constantly having to bat his advances away. Bella though always seemed to know just how far to go, she pushed her just far enough out of comfort zone for it to be exciting but not too far to make her feel uncomfortable. Everything was different than kissing Ron, he always smelled like smoke from the open fires of the burrow rather than the soft floral scent of Bellatrix’s shampoo. Ron’s chin was lined with stubble that rubbed her skin when they kissed where Bellatrix’s porcelain skin felt perfect under her fingertips. Ron’s hands were clumsy and rough when Bellatrix’s were delicate and enticing.

Bellatrix felt Hermione’s fingertips slip from her hair and trace the line of her jaw, the contact made her shudder. The other girl’s parted lips pressed more firmly against her own and it stole her breath for a brief moment before the space was filled by the quiet moan that slipped from Hermione’s mouth. The sound almost drove her crazy, her grip on the brunette’s body tightened as she tried to bring her closer, pulling them flush together. Desire flickered deep within her, searing her body and clouding her mind. She had felt an echo of this every other time they had kissed but nothing of this magnitude. When she heard that small sound escape from Hermione it felt like all of her secret desires; of how she wanted to touch the girl’s body, of the places she wanted to explore and things that she wanted to do to her, suddenly became a burning need. The intensity of it scared her, like when she duelled with Andromeda and lost control of her magic, it felt like she was on the verge of losing her control in an entirely different way.

Hermione felt a sudden wave of cold air hit her body a few seconds before she realised that she was no longer being held and no longer being kissed. Bellatrix had jumped away from her as if she had been burned. Her eyes snapped open and she blinked at the other girl a few times, registering her flushed complexion and her chest heaving as she attempted to catch her breath. The Slytherin looked back at her like a deer caught in the headlights and pressed her fingers to her swollen lips.

“Shit, I’m sorry.” Bellatrix rushed out from between her fingers, she wasn’t entirely sure what she was apologising for. For ending the kiss so abruptly or for thinking all of those salacious things about the girl. She felt like she had betrayed her trust somehow by wanting to turn their kiss into something else. The sound that Hermione had made played again through her mind and she thought about all of the other sounds she could draw from her. She had to squeeze her eyes shut to stop herself from imagining what the girl stood in front of her would look like stripped of her robes.

Hermione observed Bellatrix as she seemed to struggle with something, she didn’t really understand what had happened. One minute they were embracing, the next she was stood on her own and there was far too much distance between them. Had she done something wrong? But then Bellatrix had been the one to apologise. Had she done something to make the Slytherin think she didn’t want the same thing? Hermione tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and breathed out a small self-conscious laugh. “Do you usually end a kiss like that with an apology?”

“Yes. I mean… no.” Bellatrix shook her head and ran her hand over her face before composing herself and trying again. Her heart was still pounding from being so wrapped up in Hermione and she still felt a little bit shaky. “I’m not sure that I’ve ever been kissed like that before.”

Hermione made to reach out for Bellatrix’s hand, she wanted to reassure her, but she stopped when she saw the girl draw back a little. “Did I do something wrong?”

“Merlin, no. You didn’t do anything wrong.” Bellatrix replied as she closed the gap she had created between them and took Hermione back into her arms. She took a deep breath; she didn’t want to admit that her thoughts had been so firmly in the gutter. But she couldn’t stand to see that sad look in the other girl’s eyes when she thought she had done something wrong. “I just…my mind ran away with me and if I hadn’t stopped kissing you then I don’t think I would have been able to stop myself from pushing for more.”

Hermione grinned at Bellatrix’s confession and let her forehead drop onto the girl’s shoulder. She breathed in the scent of the girl’s perfume on her robes. “I still don’t understand what the apology was for.”

Bellatrix laughed softly as she let her fingers run through Hermione’s bushy mane and pressed a gentle kiss to her temple. She was glad that the other witch couldn’t see the blush that crept on to her cheeks or her mortified expression. “You have no idea the thoughts that were going through my mind.”

“I imagine they were similar to the things going through my mind.” Hermione said, she let the tip of her nose run up the side of Bellatrix’s neck, she let her lips brush against the shell of her ear as she whispered. “Bella, it’s ok to want me. I’m not like the other girls you’ve been with, you’re not going to chase me away.”

“Fuck” Bellatrix shuddered as felt Hermione’s sweet breath ghost across her skin, she moved her face away from her quickly before her body reacted without her minds permission. “Come on, let’s go and sit down before I get entirely too carried away again.”

Hermione leant in slowly and gave Bellatrix a lingering kiss on her cheek as she laughed gently. “I think I could do with some air myself.”

Bellatrix took Hermione’s hand and led her over to the railings where they sat down and dangled their feet over the edge. They remained sitting closely together, holding hands as they stared into the abyss for a few minutes and both attempted to recover their sensibilities. It should have felt awkward to sit there and not talk after a kiss like the one they had just shared, but actually it felt natural and safe. They were letting the moment breath, rationalising their thoughts and committing the important parts to memory.

Hermione’s attention was drawn by two figures running across the grass toward the Forbidden Forest hand in hand; it was Andromeda and Ted. Even from up her you could tell they were laughing together. Ted pulled Andromeda to a halt and spun her around like a dancer, the girl’s chestnut hair and full skirt swirled around her. She looked so innocent as they played around happily in the moonlight, so carefree and unrestricted by the concerns that obviously plague Bellatrix’s mind. Andromeda stumbled a little but Ted caught her and pulled her against him, they laughed together again before she kissed him chastely. She twirled out of his grip suddenly and took off into the treeline of the forest; Ted hesitated for only a moment before he followed after her. Watching their exchange made Hermione’s heart feel light; their love was pure and easy even in amongst all of this turmoil, even against all of the odds. She hoped that she and Bellatrix could find a small part of the peace that Andromeda and Ted had found. It shocked her that she had begun to categorise Bellatrix and herself in the same box as the obviously in love Andromeda and Ted. But that was something to obsess and worry over at a later date. Realisation dawned on Hermione; Ted… they had just seen Andromeda with the muggle-born Ted Tonks. Her head snapped over towards Bellatrix who was simply watching the spot where her sister had disappeared with a gentle smile on her face.

“Andie is going to be a mess without him over Christmas.” Bellatrix said in a voice that she hoped would sound scathing but was far too soft to come across that way. She would mock Andromeda unmercifully about her relationship with Ted but really she was happy that she had found somebody that made her so content.

“She does see a lot of Ted.” Hermione replied, a smile evident as she spoke. Bellatrix mood had changed and she couldn’t quite gauge where it was at; she hoped that giving her some gossip on her sister would break the tension. “Not so secret evening rendezvouxs  seem to be their favourite, I caught them sneaking around a few nights ago.”

“She needs to start being more careful.” Bellatrix stated with a subtle shake of her head, her expression still unreadable. She sighed and looked down at where hers and Hermione’s hands were linked. She began playing with the girl’s elegant hands, comparing the length of her fingers to her own. She analysed the little scars that littered her palms, turning her hand over she noticed that her knuckles and the back of her hand were marked too. There were so many, more than seemed normal, she wondered where on earth they could all have come from. But something told her that this was a question for another day. “My father would lock Andromeda away forever if he even heard a whisper about her spending time with a ‘mudblood’.”

Hearing that word come from Bellatrix’s lips, lips she had just been kissing only moments ago made her feel like she had just been punched in the stomach. She forced the thoughts racing around in her brain to slow down, forced her breathing to even out. As she was counting down from five like her councillor had told her to do if she felt an impending panic attack, her mind registered something. The mocking voice Bellatrix had used when she had said that word, the way she had rolled her eyes as it slipped from her tongue. She had been reading the works of Edgar Allan Poe all of those nights ago, she hadn’t even flinched when she saw her sister with Ted. Bellatrix didn’t believe in it! Just like she didn’t believe in any of the other vitriol that her parents spewed. The relief hit her like a sledge hammer. “You would find a way to protect her.”

“I hope that I could.” Bellatrix said quietly, she wanted to believe with everything inside herself that she could protect her sisters if the time should come.

“I know that you would.” Hermione countered in earnest, giving Bellatrix’s hand a squeeze of reassurance. Because she did know it, she knew this girl would move heaven and earth to protect those she loved.

Bellatrix sat quietly for a moment as she mulled over Hermione’s comment and she thought about how much she always hated going home to her parents. She was dreading it even more this time around because it had the added element of being away from Hermione for two weeks. Their relationship, or whatever it was, felt so new. She was scared that being apart for that long at this point might set them back to square one. She always enjoyed ridiculing her sisters about pining over their boyfriends during school holidays, but she knew she would be just as bad this time. “What will you do for the Christmas holidays?” She asked quietly, as she gently traced the lines on Hermione’s palm with her fingertips.

“I’ll be staying here.” Hermione muttered sadly as she shuddered a little under the other girl’s touch. Until Bellatrix mentioned it she hadn’t really thought about how quickly Christmas was creeping up on her. She couldn’t believe that she had been here over two months already, it seemed like she had only just arrived and had been here forever all at once. “I…erm… I have nowhere to go so I will just join the feast here at Hogwarts.”

Bellatrix looked up at Hermione and saw how she was avoiding her gaze and she knew that no matter how much the girl was trying to play it down the thought of being stuck here was upsetting her. “I know that you don’t speak to your parents but do you not have any other family that you could visit?”

Hermione sighed but tried to smile reassuringly at Bellatrix she was hoping to hide just how difficult she was finding this topic but she knew that the other girl could see right through her. She wanted to block out the sadness no matter how unhealthy she knew that was. She didn’t want to think about how she usually spent Christmas with Harry and Ron, swapping silly gifts that they had picked up in Hogsmeade and taking bets on which colour jumper Mrs Weasley would have knitted them this year. She didn’t want to think about how much she would miss that as she woke up alone on Christmas morning. “Professor Mcgonagall is the only family I have now.”

Bellatrix stopped her ministrations on Hermione’s palm and reached up tilting the other girl’s chin so she could catch her eye. She could see the sorrow swirling in the molten caramel of her eyes, she wanted to take it away for her but she knew the girl had to feel it. She spent so much time shutting down and blocking out what she was really feeling, slipping the mask back into place. “That’s sad, it’s ok to be sad.”

“Yeah, it is sad. But that’s just the way it is, I can’t change it.” Hermione sighed, she could drive herself insane focussing on how unfair everything was. But she would much rather think about how good it felt to have Bellatrix’s warm hand of her own skin and to feel the girl this close to her. She couldn’t believe that even when lost in thoughts of home the Slytherin could bring her such comfort.

Bellatrix swallowed thickly and let her thumb gently trace the line of Hermione’s jaw. Something tightened low in her belly when the girl’s eyes fluttered shut and she sighed at her touch. She knew that Hermione was being evasive about this topic that if she kept pushing the girl might just shatter but she could feel herself pressing up against the girl’s walls. She knew that although they were getting closer everyday there was one last barrier, she knew that Hermione was hiding something from her. “Do you miss your family?”

Hermione’s breath came out in a sound just like a sob, she squeezed her eyes shut and reached up to cover the other girl’s hand with her own. She drew strength from Bellatrix’s warmth, she wanted to ignore the question but this was one of the only times she felt like she could be honest about who she was. Even if it was only in a round about sense.  “All the time.” She admitted in a whisper.

“Could you not speak to them and try to work things out?” Bellatrix reached up and tucked a piece of hair behind Hermione’s ear before enveloping the girl’s face between her hands. She looked at her intently, her eyes were flecked with gold and for some reason she wanted to commit that fact to memory. She smirked in that way that she knew always made Hermione’s cheek flush. “Tis the season, after all.”

“Things aren’t as simple as that for my family and I.” Hermione tried to smile but it slipped from her features almost as soon as it appeared. She looked at Bellatrix who was studying her face in a way she never had before and she knew that something was changing between them. She wanted to share things with this girl; she wanted to talk about her thoughts and her feelings. Hermione loved the boys more than anything in the world, but Harry and Ron had never cared about her deep musings or her emotions. They just weren’t wired that way. But here Bellatrix sat in front of her desperate to listen and yet she had to hold back. This was the closest they had ever come to an honest conversation. “There’s no way for me to reconnect with them.”

“Is it to do with your Father’s job?” Bellatrix asked and she noted how Hermione’s jaw clenched at the question. She assumed it was from years of having to bite her tongue whenever she was asked about her father’s profession. She knew how difficult it could be to keep secrets for your family, it placed a heavy weight on such young shoulders.

“Yes and no.” Hermione answered evasively, an image of her father’s kind, smiling face flickered before her eyes. In her vision of him, he was wearing the expression he always did when he saw her step off the Hogwarts Express, she imagined him opening his arms for her to run into. She could almost recall his smell and exactly how it felt to be in his arms. It felt like a lifetime ago that he held her on platform 9 ¾ as she snuggled into him like a child. She remembered how she had always loved that she could feel his deep, joyful chuckle rumble through his chest before she heard it. Then she thought about her mother and how she could never wait until her father had released his daughter from his embrace before she was coming in for her own hug. She would first try in vain to smooth down her wild hair with a gentle hand, looking for any contact she could get. Before long she would lean down and kiss any part of Hermione’s face that wasn’t buried into her father’s jumper and whisper ‘You can’t imagine how much I have missed you Darling’. At the time, her mother had been right; she really didn’t understand what it meant to miss somebody so deeply. But now she did and broke her heart. A tear slipped from the corner of her eye, she didn’t try to stop it. “Can we not talk about my parents Bella?”

“Yeah of course, sorry.” Bellatrix assured gently, she reached up and wiped away the lone tear that rolled down Hermione’s cheek with the pad of her thumb. She marvelled at how someone could be this beautiful when they were falling apart and how one single tear could have such a profound effect on her. Her chest had tightened and her throat felt like someone had gripped it, cutting off her air supply for a second, as she watched the evidence of Hermione’s grief slip from between her lashes. A feeling she had never felt before flared up within her, was it protectiveness? Pity? Empathy? No, it didn’t feel like any of those things, it was something else that she didn’t have a name for yet. Hermione had asked her to stop talking about her parents, it was obviously causing her great sorrow. But the girl had never been this open with her before and she was loath to let this moment slip by, she tried a safer topic, hopefully a happier topic. “Ok so…what do you miss most about your old school?”

“This will sound stupid.” Hermione muttered as she looked up at Bellatrix shyly from under her lashes.

“I hear stupid things around here all of the time, you would just be following the current trend.” Bellatrix mocked, she wiggled her eyebrows in a way that Hermione thought was very Andromeda-ish.

Hermione chuckled in spite of herself and shook her head at the Slytherin, how could this girl pull her out of her own mind this easily. “I miss my cat the most. I miss having company in my dorm room in the evenings and I miss having something to snuggle up with and keep me warm on cold nights. I used to tell him all of my secrets too, he always listened and I was pretty confident he wouldn’t tell anyone, although I did wonder sometimes.”

“I could do those things for you y’know?” Bellatrix winked, she had let her voice drop a few octaves as she spoke. She enjoyed watching how it made Hermione squirm and her cheeks blaze with colour. She couldn’t help but laugh out loud, earning herself a gentle back hand to the shoulder. “What’s your cat’s name?”

“Crookshanks.” Hermione beamed, her cheeks still featuring a pink hue. “I loved him. I found him in a menagerie when I was in my third year and I just had to have him. He’s half kneazle, he’s huge and ginger and… Merlin he is so ugly, but I loved him as soon as I saw him. The owner told me that he had been in the shop for almost a year because nobody wanted him. As soon as I heard that I knew I wouldn’t be leaving without him.”

Bellatrix reached out a picked up a lock of Hermione’s untameable mane, she rubbed the surprisingly soft hair between her fingers as she mulled over her next words carefully. “You seem to make a habit of taking on things that nobody else wants.”

Hermione could tell from the sadness that glimmered in Bellatrix’s eyes that she was referring to herself when she spoke of things that nobody else wanted. At night when she was plagued by nightmares of Bellatrix Lestrange, her eyes were like black bottomless wells, lifeless and consuming. But in reality Bellatrix’s eyes were never the same twice. When she got lost in tales of magical history they were almost black, but never lifeless, they glowed with excitement. Other times they were the deepest brown and they danced with a mischievous glint as she flirted with her or mocked her. And then there were the times that she looked at her, like she always did just before she kissed her, when they were softer, almost as chocolate brown as her sister’s but not quite. She smiled as she realised yet again that she was one of a very select group of people who was allowed this close to Bellatrix. “Well, so far that habit has served me pretty well.”

“Oh is that so? And why is that?” Bellatrix muttered as she leant in towards Hermione ever so slightly. And there was that change in her eyes again, right now they seemed to flicker with flashes of orange, warm and intense like smouldering pieces of coal.

“Because it helped me to find you.” Hermione admitted softly as she licked her lips slowly and subconsciously before leaning in too and closing the small distance between their lips and kissing the girl with a small contented sigh.

Chapter Text

Hermione looked down at the tartan rug beneath her feet, it was exactly the same one that graced the floor of Minerva Mcgonagall’s office in her own time. Granted she remembered it being a little more threadbare and the colours looking distinctly less vibrant but the passage of thirty years will do that, still it felt comfortingly familiar to see it there. Often times when she was in the library or enjoying a quiet moment by the Black lake she would find herself forgetting all together that she had been displaced. She would forget that she wasn’t in her own time because everything looked so similar, everything felt just like it always had. Then she would see a professor that she didn’t recognise or Bellatrix would find her and it would all come rushing back to her. She felt like she was constantly losing her equilibrium, like her mind was in a perpetual state of disorder.

That feeling only intensified when she thought about the relationship she now found herself in, if she could call it that. She didn’t really know what she and Bellatrix were, they kissed… a lot and they spent all of their spare time together but they hadn’t put a label on anything. Did she need to have a label on it? That would only make it all more real, she would have to deal with the things she was forcing to the back of her mind every day. In her head two Bellatrix’s existed now; the death eater Bellatrix Lestrange and Bellatrix Black. They could give this a name, she was pretty sure they were exclusive. Well she certainly wasn’t seeing anyway else and she doubted Bella had time to either. But did she want to be more than whatever they were right now anyway? When Bellatrix wasn’t around she would sometimes get this tightening in her chest and she would start to panic at the thought of how close she was letting the girl get to her. And her mind would question what exactly it made her if she was prepared to be something more with someone who would go on to do the most despicable and disgusting things. Despite her efforts to silence the little voice in the back of her mind it still managed to whisper ‘but you could change that’.  She had become so lost in her thoughts that Hermione almost jumped out of her skin when something solid bumped into her temple. She looked around to see a cup and saucer filled with steaming tea floating right next to her face.

“Shortbread?” Professor Mcgonagall asked with a smirk.

“Yes please.” Hermione replied as she plucked the cup out of the air and smiled as a Scotty dog shaped shortbread slid its way delicately onto her saucer. “Thank you Professor.”

“Now you don’t need to look so worried Miss Granger. I asked you here for a social call, not because you are in any trouble. ” Mcgonagall said lightly as she slid into the chair on the opposite side of her desk and sighed as she settled back into it. “The Christmas holidays are approaching, as I am sure you have noted, and I wanted to discuss your plans.”

Hermione hastily chewed on the piece of shortbread in her mouth, the older woman had paused as if she expected some input from her but she was unsure what she could really say. Mcgonagall knew she had no family to go to and she didn’t think she would be allowed to just disappear off somewhere into 1969 all on her own. “My plans?”

“This is a little unethical, but I am going to propose it none-the-less…we are family after all.” Mcgonagall paused and Hermione noticed how the professor ran her pointer finger and thumb around the rim of her tea cup almost as if she was nervous. Her stern grey eyes observed the contents of her cup for a few moments before she shook her head a little and swallowed before continuing. “I have a, rarely used, cottage off the coast of Caithness in the Scottish Highlands. I wondered if you would like to spend a weekend there with me over the holidays?”

Hermione was taken aback by the offer, one because of its unexpectedness and two because she had never thought of Mcgonagall having a home other than Hogwarts before. In all of the conversations she’d had with the older woman she had never mentioned this cottage, but then that didn’t really surprise her. Minerva had always been an incredible private woman, she never spoke of her family or her childhood or her past at all. Hermione had always got the impression that the world had hurt Mcgonagall somehow, that it hadn’t treated her fairly and so she had built these walls to ensure that she could not be hurt again. But this Minerva seemed more open, still strict in the classroom, but more relaxed at other times. She didn’t seem quite so battle worn or as hardened as the woman Hermione had met when she was eleven. It made her heart clench painfully in her chest and tears spring to her eyes as she thought of what the future had in store for the woman she had grown to love in her own time. “You don’t have to do that.”

Minerva put down her cup and saucer carefully to one side before leaning earnestly across the desk towards her companion. “I know I don’t have to Hermione, I want to.”

Hermione set down her cup too and self-consciously tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. She was conflicted; she had started to feel a little bit stifled in the castle and would love an opportunity to be somewhere further away than just Hogsmeade. But would being alone with Minerva for a weekend be awkward? Her mind whirled for a second before a realisation dawned on her, this was not the sixty odd year old Professor that she knew. This was a thirty four year old woman, a woman barely older that Bill Weasley, surely they could find something in common.  And it seemed as though she had worked up a lot of courage to ask her at all, she didn’t want to appear like she was throwing that back in her face. “It would break up the monotony of the castle a little bit.”

“Good, I know how lonely Hogwarts can be at times.” Minerva beamed as she reached across the desk and squeezed Hermione’s hand briefly. She observed the bushy haired witch with her perceptive grey eyes for a second, her brow furrowed before a smirk broke out across her face. “Albus was correct. You really do think incredibly loudly.”

Hermione chuckled lightly and rubbed her fingers over her eyelids in an attempt to try and rid some of the pressure that seemed to have taken up a permanent residence inside her head. “The habit of a lifetime I’m afraid.”

“Not necessarily a bad one.” Minerva replied as she tilted her head to try and catch Hermione’s eyes again. She could see that the girl looked distinctly more tense than the last time they had sat down together to talk. “Is there something you need to share Miss Granger?”

“Well… I suppose I...” Hermione stuttered, she laughed internally because there were a thousand things she actually wanted to get off her chest so to choose just one seemed impossible. Plus none of her teenage angst seemed important enough to burden the busy professor with. “No, there’s nothing that I need to share.”

“Allow me to rephrase that question.” Minerva said as she stood up from her chair and walked around the desk, she stopped in front of the younger witch before perching delicately on the corner of the wooden surface. “Is there something you would like to talk about Hermione?”

Hermione took a deep breath and leant back into the chair, yes there were many things she wanted to talk about; the future, her future, Bellatrix, her classes. It was which one she should bother to bring up, which would Mcgonagall be able to actually help her with. “Professor Dumbledore said something to me a few weeks ago and I have to admit it has been playing on my mind.”

“Yes, he has a way of planting a seed of something and giving it enough space to grow.” Mcgonagall said with a good-natured roll of her eyes as she crossed her arms across her chest and settled in to listen to Hermione’s woes. “What is it that he said to you?”

“He said that he didn’t think me coming here was an accident, that maybe it was always meant to happen.” Hermione rushed out, almost in just one breath, she felt ridiculous now she was starting to put voice to this particular worry. Dumbledore’s comments sounded like fantasy, it seemed like a fairy tale to imagine that she was always meant to be here. That perhaps she was always meant to be here with Bellatrix.

“Let me guess.” Mcgonagall chuckled softly and raised an eyebrow at the slightly blushing younger girl. “He spoke of destiny.”

Hermione’s head snapped up incredulously, she was used to Dumbledore’s ability to apparently read minds but not Mcgonagall’s. “How did you…”

“I have been on the receiving end of many of Albus’ discussions about destiny.” Mcgonagall cut in as she leant across her desk to reach the tin of biscuits she had discarded earlier and plucked one out. “So what is it that he believes you are destined to do?”

“He believes I’ve been here before, that I’m stuck in a loop where I come back and… fix something every time that I do.” Hermione felt the flush of anger rise within her as she thought about the unfairness of it all. Why did it have to be her that ended up here? Why couldn’t it just have been someone else for once? Why was she always the one with all of the responsibility? She swallowed hard and attempted to control her voice before she spoke again. “Which seems about right, fixing everyone else’s messes seems to be my role in life.”

Mcgonagall chewed pensively on her shortbread for a few moments, affording Hermione the time she needed to calm down. She could tell as soon as she spoke to the young girl for the first time that she had clearly experienced a lot in her life, she seemed so much older than her years. “How so?”

“I’ve never spoken to anybody about this… but before I was born my parents lost a child, they were heartbroken naturally. All of their hopes gone and they could do nothing about it, they always said that when I came along I fixed some of that hurt. When I was three my Grandfather was in a car accident and he broke his pelvis, he had an operation to fix it but he was in pain all of the time. It affected his outlook on life, he was angry a lot of the time but my Grandma said that I could always fix his mood.” Hermione took a shuddery breath and picked at the skin around her thumb nail so she didn’t have to look at Mcgonagall. She didn’t know what she would hope to see on the woman’s eyes, she didn’t know if she wanted sympathy or to be told to snap herself out of it. “Then when I began at Hogwarts I made friends with two insufferable, irritating…. incredible boys and spent seven years fixing everything for them. Harry’s glasses, Ron’s robes, Harry’s transfiguration essays, Ron’s potions homework, their blundered spell work or the stupid situations they constantly got themselves into. And then somehow I got roped into fixing the entire bloody wizarding world. I thought I was done. I thought it was finally someone else’s turn to fix things. The life I left behind was such a mess, I thought that maybe somebody might finally come along and start to fix things for me instead.”

Mcgonagall leant forward and squeezed Hermione’s shoulder reassuringly; she hoped that it would show the girl that she understood. She understood what it was like to feel pressured to appear a certain way, as a child her mother had pressured her to hide her magical abilities from her father. She had felt pressured by her professors to perform and be the best, she had felt pressured to give up part of her identity to marry Dougal, she had felt pressured in her first job to think a certain way. Everybody wanted her to be something she was not; thankfully she had always had the strength of character to be true to herself. So she could relate to the way Hermione was feeling, but that was a conversation for another time, this was not about her. “What is it that Albus believes you should be fixing this time?”

“Bellatrix.” Hermione answered simply as she finally looked back up at the older woman, the ghost of a smile tugging at her lips.

“And what exactly is wrong with Miss Black?” Minerva asked sceptically, shaking her head a little bit in what seemed like despair. “She seems… distant and disenchanted with the world at times yes, but that is not too dissimilar to many girls her age. I have known many much worse.”

“There is absolutely nothing wrong with Bellatrix, granted she is brash, pig-headed and infuriatingly stubborn at times. All that aside though she is also intelligent, caring and…well quite brilliant really. But I don’t think it’s about helping her now, it’s about the future.” Hermione revealed as she slumped back into her chair, this whole topic just exhausted her. These thoughts were constantly whirling around and around in her mind. Questions no one could really ever answer were constantly on the tip of her tongue. “Bellatrix becomes a deplorable and terrifying human being, so different from the person she is now. And Professor Dumbledore hopes I can stop that somehow.”

Minerva looked over her glasses at Hermione, scrutinising the girl and her defeated posture. There was still something she was leaving out. “You don’t want to stop her from becoming that?”

“Of course I do, selfishly I would love her to stay this person that I know now and care about so deeply.” Hermione said passionately; her mind instantly conjuring up the image of Bellatrix stooped over a book, her slender finger tracing over the page, her eyes alight with enthusiasm as she discovered something new. “But that’s just it; I would be doing it for me or for the damned greater good. Would it really be for her? I’m not prepared to be the one to take her right to choose away.”

“Quite right Miss Granger.” Minerva agreed with a stern nod as she crossed her arms over her chest. “The future for the three Black sisters has been pre-ordained from birth; carry on the family tradition of ‘Toujour Pur’, nothing more and nothing less. I can see why you would be conflicted about taking more of Bellatrix’s choices away from her. And I think it would be a fool’s errand to try and fight against her loyalty, she may not agree with her family’s way of thinking but she is a Black through and through.”

“So you agree with me?” Hermione asked, sounding almost hopeful in her desperation. If Minerva agreed with her thinking then it meant she was making the right decision. She had been so torn about which route made her the most selfish, if she went with her heart or her head it seemed like she would be making the wrong choice. “I should let Bellatrix choose her own path?”

“Yes, although do keep in mind that Bellatrix does already seem to have chosen you.” Minerva confirmed with a sure tone, she peered at the girl for a few moments over her spectacles again. “And Hermione about what you said earlier. I saw how alone and lost you seemed when you first arrived here but that seems to have gone away as of late. I can’t help but suspect that Miss Black has had a lot to do with that. Perhaps destiny really did give you the fix you were looking for, it just delivered it in the most unconventional package.”

“Are you going to be alright on your own?” Bellatrix asked quietly as she subtly cupped Hermione’s cheek for a second. They were on the platform in Hogsmeade while the Black sisters were waiting to board the Hogwarts Express to head home for the Christmas holidays. It was still early so the platform was rather empty for the time being, meaning they could be a little less cautious than usual. It wasn’t like they were trying to hide their relationship but they weren’t shouting it from the rooftops either. For one it was their business and for two Bellatrix was acutely aware of how many children of her father’s associates attended Hogwarts and she didn’t want the news getting back to him just yet. Not that he would really care, he had always been glad of her preference for women, it meant that ‘she remained unsullied’ in his bigoted mind. No, she wanted to keep Hermione away from him because the girl was just too pure to be polluted by her Father’s bullshit.

“Of course I’ll be alright, I’m spending some time with Professor Mcgonagall remember so I won’t be so alone.” Hermione laughed endearingly as she brushed her fingers against Bellatrix’s lightly, enjoying the thrill that always came with being in contact with the girl’s skin. She saw how the darker girl’s eyebrows pulled together a little at her words and knew she had been hoping to hear something else, even if she would never admit it. “I’m still going to miss you so much though.”

“Eurgh…I can’t believe I have spent the last few years mocking my sisters for pining over their boyfriends during school holidays and now I’m about to spend this Christmas doing exactly the same.” Bellatrix pouted adorably as she took a step closer to the bushy haired witch, the girl’s vanilla scent invading her senses immediately.

“Oh you have a boyfriend?” Hermione smirked as she stepped closer to Bellatrix, their chests now only inches apart.

“Shut up.” Bellatrix rolled her eyes good naturedly as she reached up to gently tuck a lock of hair behind Hermione’s ear.

Hermione slipped her hand onto the Slytherin’s waist to pull her closer. “No really, I had no idea.”

“Even when you’re being annoying I don’t want to leave you.” Bellatrix whispered as she leant in to capture Hermione’s lips.

“Woah there!” Andromeda called from a few feet away, the girls jumped apart before their lips could touch. Bellatrix glared and Hermione looked sheepishly at the younger girl who was smirking like a Cheshire cat and covering Narcissa’s eyes with her hand dramatically. “There are children around.”

Narcissa huffed, dragged Andie’s hand away from her eyes unceremoniously and slapped it away from her face. “I am not a child Andromeda.”

“Last time I checked you were fourteen.” Andromeda drawled, her tone causing Narcissa’s jaw to clench and her nostrils to flare. “I hadn’t realised that made you an adult.”

Narcissa closed her eyes and took a few calming breaths in a practiced manner before she schooled her features back to their normal haughty expression. “I’m a young lady now.”

“Oh I am sorry your highness.” Andie mocked and pretended to bow to the younger blonde.

“Why do you always have to be such a… such a cow.” Narcissa spat with as much venom as she could muster. The look of comical indignation on her face caused Andromeda to snort out a laugh and Bellatrix to stifle a smile.

Andromeda opened her mouth to ridicule her little sister for her ridiculous insult but was cut off by a barked command from Bellatrix. “Andie, stop.”

Andromeda turned a murderous gaze on her big sister and spluttered a little in disbelief. “Since when are you on her side?”

“Since we have to spend 7 hours on a train with her today and I don’t want her in a foul mood.” Bellatrix replied with a raise of her eyebrow at Andromeda, effectively silencing the girl. She turned her attention to Narcissa. “Cissy say goodbye to Hermione and then I’ll give you a hand on to the train with your trunk.”

Narcissa nodded at her oldest sister’s request, she fixed a somewhat forced smile upon her face and stuck her hand out to shake the bushy haired witch’s formally. “Goodbye Hermione, I hope you have a lovely Christmas.”

Hermione smiled a little awkwardly and reached out tentatively to shake Narcissa’s hand, she couldn’t help but feel a little uncomfortable. She’d had very few interactions with the youngest Black sister, even at this young age the girl seemed cold. Granted she wasn’t quite the ice queen that Narcissa Malfoy would become but still she could see the beginnings of it. “Bye Narcissa, have a good Christmas.”

Bellatrix waved her wand at Narcissa’s trunk and it began to float a few inches above the ground, the blonde girl trotted over to her and looped her arm through her sisters. The black haired witch shook her head good naturedly but walked towards the train with her little sister attached to her side, helping her up the high steps and into the carriage.

“It’s ok Bella, I don’t need help with my trunk.” Andromeda called after her sister sarcastically, earning herself a swift middle finger through the window from Bellatrix.

“Do you three ever stop bickering?” Hermione asked with a laugh, no matter how many times she saw Andromeda and Bellatrix interacting it never ceased to amaze her how close the sisters were. She couldn’t imagine how these two girls could become enemies or how they could end up having no contact at all for decades.

“No not really.” Andromeda winked at Hermione in the easy way that she always did and smirked in that way that was so similar to Bellatrix. “So how much are you going to miss me?”

Hermione rolled her eyes but couldn’t help her smile as she replied mockingly. “Oh, more than life honestly.”

“I knew I was your favourite.” Andromeda shrieked dramatically as she threw her arms around Hermione’s neck.

“Am I really that obvious?” Hermione asked, keeping up the joke as she circled her arms around Andromeda’s back in return.

Andromeda nodded her head and grinned. “Totally transparent.”

“I really am going to miss you though Andie.” Hermione said suddenly serious, she was struck again by the depth of the friendship she had established with Andromeda. The girl brought a certain light to what could have been one of the darkest times of her life; alongside Bellatrix she almost made it all worth it. “It’s easy to be around you.”

“That’s sweet Hermione.” Andromeda replied, she pulled the bushy haired witch into a real hug and held her close for a few moments. “I’m going to miss you too.”

“Well well well, if it isn’t my favourite couple.” A snide voice drawled from over Andromeda’s shoulder, the two girl’s broke apart slowly and turned to watch Lucius swagger towards them.

“Don’t you just have a knack for ruining all of our lovely moments?” Hermione said with a heavy sigh, her light mood considerably darkened by the appearance of the blond Slytherin.

“I can’t help it if you two repeatedly kiss in public places.” Lucius smarmed as he crossed his arms over his chest. “Not that I’m complaining, it is not the worst of sights I can assure you.”

Andromeda groaned and cast an exasperated look at her future brother-in-law. “Exactly how much of your time do you spend creeping around hoping to catch us kissing?”

“Not that much.” Lucius laughed, his features set into a superior expression, the same one Hermione had seen on his face many times in her own time. “Your sister fills quite a bit of my time.”

“Disgusting.” Andromeda balked, she crossed her arms too and allowed the repulsion she felt for Lucius to roll off her in waves. “She’s fourteen, which is underage in case you’d missed that fact.”

“You want to talk to me about being disgusting?” Lucius spat his taunting tone entirely gone now. He took a step towards Andromeda, invading her personal space; the action caused Hermione’s hand to twitch towards her wand. But she held herself back; she didn’t want a repeat of the Draco incident that had brought her here. “How do you think your father would feel if he heard about your little relationship?”

“You spend a lot of time talking about my father Lucius.” Bellatrix laughed as she walked over to the trio that had gathered and barged the boy’s shoulder to move him away from her sister. She stood face to face with the boy who visibly withered at her presence. “Are you sure it isn’t him that you fancy? Perhaps I should warn Narcissa.”

“D.. don’t be ridiculous.” Lucius replied a little hesitantly as he rushed over to collect the trunk he had abandoned, all of his previous swagger gone. He turned to look at Bellatrix, he couldn’t meet her eyes but he attempted to seem composed. “Where is Narcissa anyway?”

“I just got her settled in a carriage at the very front of the train.” Bellatrix smiled in a sickly sweet kind of way and Lucius scuttled away towards the front of the train. He snarled at a few first years that got in his way, the group parted to let him through but as soon as he was past them they all began laughing. “If only his reputation was as big as his opinion of himself.”

“You didn’t take Narcissa to the front of the train, you took her to the back.” Hermione pointed out with her eyes narrowed suspiciously at Bellatrix.

“Ooops.” Bellatrix shrugged, the corner of her lip pulling up into a mischievous smirk that made Hermione’s cheeks darken a shade. They stepped toward each other again as if they were a pair of magnets that were drawn together whenever they were near. Bellatrix reached out for Hermione’s hand, entwining their fingers together gently.

“Well I’m going to stop third wheeling.” Andromeda called, feigning awkwardness as she saw the way her sister and her friend were looking at each other. “Have a lovely Christmas Hermione, I’ll see you in January.”

“Have a good Christmas Andie.” Hermione smiled as she accepted the kiss to the cheek that Andromeda offered before the girl set off towards the train with her trunk floating next to her.

“I should get on the train too.” Bellatrix said reluctantly as she looked up at Hermione from under her eyelashes. She stepped forward until she was invading Hermione’s personal space but wasn’t touching her. “But I really, really don’t want to.”

“I really, really don’t want you to either.” Hermione whispered as she slipped her wand out of her sleeve and flicked it. She subtly cast a silent disillusionment charm over them so they could disappear from view for a just a few moments. Before Bellatrix vanished she grabbed the girl by the collar and dragged her towards her, crashing their lips together. It was harsh and desperate, as if both girls were trying to get their entire two weeks’ worth of encounters out of this one kiss. Hermione sucked Bellatrix’s bottom into her mouth and was rewarded with a low groan from the other girl.

The Slytherin slipped her hands into bushy hair and tugged sharply knowing how much the other girl enjoyed it and how much it usually distracted her. When Hermione gasped she took her opportunity and slid their tongues together. She felt Hermione untangle one of her fists from the front of her robes and slide it down and around her waist, pulling their bodies flush together. She was sure that the feeling of kissing this girl would never get old, that she would never get used to how good it felt to have her body pressed against her. Bellatrix didn’t ever want to let her go but slowed the kiss down reluctantly when she felt the tell-tale tickle of the disillusionment charm wearing off, nipping at Hermione’s lip as she did. “I’ll write to you.” Bellatrix whispered as she attempted to catch her breath, pushing their foreheads together to keep them close for a few seconds longer. “Everyday.”

“You better had.” Hermione replied as she pecked Bellatrix’s lips chastely now that they were unfortunately visible again. She stepped back out of the Slytherin’s embrace and breathed out a shaky sigh, she hadn’t expected it to be this hard to leave the girl. She watched as Bellatrix swallowed thickly and knew she was finding this as difficult as she was. She decided it was best to just rip off the plaster, get it over and done with rather than draw it out. “Bella, you need to get on the train.”

Bellatrix nodded and waved her wand at her trunk ready to direct it towards the train; she reached out and squeezed the bushy haired witch’s hand softly. “Bye Hermione.”

“Bye Bella.” Hermione muttered sadly, she couldn’t stand to watch the girl walk away so she turned her back on Bellatrix’s retreating form. With a heavy feeling in her chest she headed towards where Professor Mcgonagall was waiting for her at the top of the stairs that led from the castle to the platform.

Mcgonagall watched as Hermione approached with her forlorn expression, she looked down at the girl with a subtle smirk upon her lips as she settled next to her. “That was some impressive spell work Miss Ross.”

“Thank you Professor.” Hermione muttered, she felt the blush creep up her neck and she refused to make eye contact with the older woman instead letting her eyes dance over the platform below.

“Are you ready to leave?” Minerva asked after a few moments of watching the students file onto the Hogwarts Express.

Hermione sighed as she allowed her eyes to scan the carriage windows at the back of the train hoping to see a flash of pale skin and black hair. But the sun was hitting the glass at the wrong angle stopping her from seeing into the train at all. “Yes, I just need to go and get my bag.”

“I have already had it sent ahead with a house elf. I hope you don’t mind.” Minerva smiled as she held out her arm for Hermione to grasp. The bushy haired witch just shook her head solemnly not even having the energy to care about the use of a house elf. She gripped onto the professor’s wrist and allowed her to pull her along into apparition.

They popped into existence again on a snow covered stony beach, just outside the perimeter of a crooked little cottage. It had white washed walls, a thatched roof and a deep maroon front door sporting a lion’s head knocker. The dwelling was nestled into a rugged cove, set back from the wild waves and protected by a low dry stone wall. It could almost look uninviting if it wasn’t for the plumes of smoke that billowed from the chimney in the roof, suggesting the welcoming warmth they would find once inside. Hermione closed her eyes and breathed in the sea breeze, the bitter air burned her nostrils and she could taste the salt in the back of her throat. Her world had been so small for so long now, trapped inside the castle, that it seemed almost surreal to be out here in the real world. She could hear the gulls in the distance, smell the conifers that littered the mountain tops and feel the sting of the frigid air on her cheeks. She felt like a caged bird that had just been freed as she stood on that little shale beach, she spread her arms out to the side to feel the wind whistle between her fingers. It reminded her of holding her hand out of the car window as a child imagining she was flying and a small smile slipped onto her lips.

Minerva cleared her throat, pulling Hermione from her moment and inclined her head in the direction of her home, a silent invitation. The pair began walking towards the little gate that led into the property, as they got nearer to the cottage a true smile bloomed across Hermione’s face. Pushed into the flowerbed that lined the path to the front door were little light up candy canes that twinkled merrily in the crisp white snow. Minerva caught her expression which she met with a shake of her head and a roll of her eyes, but the younger girl noticed the smile that was fighting at the corner of her lips. “They were not my idea.”

The older witch waved her wand at the front door, it swung open with a creek and the two women observed the living room with identical horrified expressions. In one corner of the room stood a monstrous Christmas tree that was at least a foot and a half too tall for the room. The top of it curled along the ceiling, its upper branches fanning out as if it was attempting to make its escape from its cramped surroundings. Every inch of it was covered in the most horrendously mismatched decorations all in varying shades of red, gold, blue and silver. The entire roof had been messily swagged with criss-crossing lengths of tinsel in every colour imaginable and lights had been strung around the fireplace and both of the windows. Random ornaments had been hung from any part of the living room that it was possible to hang them from. It looked like someone had taken a box of Christmas decorations and simply thrown it into the air with a hope for the best. There was not an inch of the room that wasn’t decorated; even the cushions on the small couch were sporting snowflakes.

“Well this is… festive.” Hermione said carefully as they stepped cautiously into the house and closed the door behind them to keep in the heat.

Minerva growled something unintelligible as she slowly turned on the spot observing the whole room with a deep frown. When she had adequately taken in the monstrosity that was her living room she took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of her nose. “I knew I shouldn’t have told her we were coming.”

“You didn’t do this?” Hermione asked quietly, a hint of hope in her voice. Seeing the sheer amount of decorations had made her question the woman’s sanity just a little.

“No, I most certainly did not.” Minerva snapped, the outraged expression on her face forcing Hermione to stifle a laugh. “It must have been Aggi.”

Before Hermione even had a chance to ask who Aggi was a little house elf popped into being in front of her eyes. Immediately she could tell that this wasn’t any normal house elf. The creature didn’t look twitchy and nervous like most of her kind; she looked composed although a little eager. And she was wearing a neat tartan skirt paired with a tiny Christmas jumper with Rudolph’s face on the front.

“Hello, Mistress Minerva.” The little elf greeted in her high pitched voice, she looked as if she just about fought the urge to bow to the witch, she then turned her large purple eyes on Hermione. “And you must be Mistress Hermione; it is so wonderful to have a guest.”

“Hello Aggi, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Hermione smiled as she stooped down to gently shake the little elf’s long fingered hand. “But please just call me Hermione, the mistress part really isn’t necessary.”

“You’re fighting a losing battle there I’m afraid, I’ve been asking her for years to drop the mistress, to no avail.” Mcgonagall laughed a little as she dropped onto one knee and opened her arms, Aggi stepped forward somewhat sheepishly and embraced the witch like an old friend. “And am I to assume that you are responsible for the decorations in here?”

“Yes.” Aggi beamed up proudly at the two witches as Minerva stood back up and looked around again at the room in despair. “Do you like it?”

“Well it’s a little…” Minerva began, she was clearly torn between being honest with the little creature and sparing her feelings.

“Beautiful.” Hermione cut in with the warmest smile she could muster, she couldn’t stand the thought of disappointing the sweet elf after she had gone to so much effort just for her. “Thank you so much for going to so much trouble.”

Aggi let out an excited little squeak and bounced on the spot. “I usually only use Gryffindor colours, but after I found out you were a Ravenclaw I bought some blue and silver decorations.”

“That’s very sweet Aggi.” Minerva said with a sigh, evidently deciding to not push the issue of how truly awful the room actually looked. “Now is there any chance of some tea? My fingers are frozen stiff.”

“Of course Mistress Minerva.” Aggi replied as she hastily disappeared from the room with a loud crack.

Mcgonagall nodded her head towards the couch, inviting Hermione to sit down. “That was very kind of you, to be so sweet to Aggi.”

“Everyone deserves respect.” Hermione said passionately as she made herself comfortable on the soft couch. “Although I have to admit, I didn’t expect you to own a house elf.”

“Well I don’t really.” Minerva defended, she sunk back into the arm chair with a familiar smile. “I inherited her from a dear friend. I instantly freed her from servitude naturally, but it wasn’t what she wanted. She felt useless and without purpose when she didn’t have tasks to do and a house to tend, she was miserable at Hogwarts. I couldn’t stand to see her that way so I bought this little cottage, that way she would have something to take care of.”

“That’s amazing. That you would do that for her is just incredible.” Hermione beamed, her respect for the older woman growing ten-fold. She couldn’t help but wonder if the Minerva of her own time still owned this cottage and if Aggi was still around.

Minerva picked invisible lint off her robes and avoided Hermione’s eyes. “Well she is some of the only family that I have.”

Hermione felt a sudden kinship for the woman sat across from her, they were both lonely in their own ways. Both were stuck without any real family to turn to. Both were trying to carve a place for themselves in a world that had treated them unfairly. Neither of them truly fitted in with the people that were around them.  “I guess I’m part of this strange little family now.”

Aggi reappeared in the middle of the room with a beaming smile on her face and three steaming cups of tea floating in front of her. One made its way to Hermione, the second to Minerva and the third settled itself on the little side table next to the couch. The little elf rushed over to the couch and scrambled into the space next to Hermione, her face alive with joy as she picked up her tea cup and sipped from it happily.

Minerva chuckled gently as she sipped her own tea. “And what an odd little bunch we make.”

“Odd can still be good.” Hermione said as she smiled contentedly, for the first time since she arrived in 1969 she actually felt like she was home.

“It certainly can be Hermione.” Minerva said carefully as she placed her head back against the seat cushion and closed her eyes serenely.

It was a few days after Christmas and Hermione had spent the last couple of hours in the library reading up on a particularly complicated branch of human transfiguration. Mcgonagall had mentioned while they were at the cottage together that this is what they would be moving on to study once the new term began. She told herself that she had spent the afternoon studying because she wanted to get ahead but she knew deep down she was really doing it to keep her mind off a certain black haired witch. It had worked for a little while; up until Bella’s beautiful eagle owl had begun wrapping insistently on the library window clutching a letter. True to her word the Slytherin had written to her every day, and it made Hermione’s heart swell with an emotion she didn’t have a name for yet. Currently she stood before the enchanted door knocker that marked the entrance to the Ravenclaw common room with said letter held tightly in her grasp, she always liked to read them in private. She reached up with her free hand and brushed her fingers lazily over its brass surface, the eagle shook its head looking as if it was attempting to clear the last remnants of sleep from its brain. Then it began to speak in its usual croaky voice, "I'm looking for five items of an everyday source all of which can be found in a tennis court."

Hermione thought over the knocker’s words for a few moments, trying to assess the riddle from a variety of angles. First she thought about actual items, but no items that would be considered everyday would be found on a tennis court. Next she tried something a little more abstract and considered the surface of the tennis court and the shapes the lines created, again nothing came to mind. Then she began thinking about the words of the riddle itself, and suddenly it all clicked, maybe she should have been in Ravenclaw after all. "Vowels." She finally announced to the knocker. "All of the vowels are in the words 'a tennis court' and we use them every day."

The eagle nodded subtly and began to close its eyes again as the door swung open slowly to allow Hermione to wander through. The common room was empty; this wasn't a surprise as it was only her and four other Ravenclaws who had chosen to stay over the Christmas holidays. She debated staying in the common room to read Bellatrix’s letter considering it was so quiet for a change, but she couldn't bring herself to sit down. She always found the tower too quiet and too open, the room’s domed ceiling made her feel too exposed, it was just too unlike the Gryffindor common room for her liking. So instead Hermione started a slow tromp up the stairs to her bedroom, she pushed the door to her dorm open and sighed at the comfortingly familiar smell. Although she felt out of place in many parts of the castle she had been able to create a sanctuary in her room, her dorm mates were quiet and kept to themselves which suited her down to the ground, she was happy here.

"I was wondering how long I was going to have to wait for you." A familiar yet unexpected voice spoke from the direction of her bed.

Hermione jumped and whipped around to face the source of the noise, there sprawled out on her bed in all of her glory was a grinning Bellatrix. She thought for a second that the girl was a mirage. She had been dreaming about her so much lately that this could well be just another time that she would wake up lonely and disappointed in her bed. But something felt different, everything was too normal for it to be a dream and the smell of the girl’s perfume had begun to invade her senses in a way that filled her with a tentative hope. "Bella, what are you doing here?"

"Surprising you… obviously." Bellatrix mocked, her smirk turning into a warm smile as she rose from the bed and gathered a still stunned Hermione into her arms. She pulled her close and buried her nose into her bushy hair inhaling her reassuring scent and revelling in the feeling of Hermione’s hands creeping up her back and returning her embrace.

 "Bella." Hermione whispered the girl’s name like a gentle prayer as she pulled away from the darker haired witch just a little so her eyes could dance over every inch of the girl’s face. She couldn't believe that she was really here, that she really had her in her arms, she had been craving this moment since the second the Hogwarts Express had pulled away. "I've missed you so much."

Bellatrix leant forward and captured Hermione's lips, they moved together for a few moments as the darker witch subtly tried to lull the other girl into submission. When the bushy haired witch sighed into the kiss she couldn't help but smile in victory at the reaction she was always able to elicit. She dragged her lips across Hermione's cheek and began to kiss along her jawline, moving down to nip at her throat before soothing the sting with her warm tongue. "You have no idea how much I've missed you."

Hermione groaned and somewhere in the back of her mind she heard the letter she had just been holding hit the floor, completely disregarded now she had the real thing. She had never felt like this before when someone kissed her. No matter how amazing the kiss was she wanted more, needed more. She had never craved somebody this way, she wanted to feel Bella’s hands on her skin her lips on other parts of her body. And now after being without Bellatrix for so long she was finally prepared to ask for what she wanted. "Show me. Show me how much you missed me." She felt the Slytherin bite down more fiercely at her throat in response to her huskily whispered plea. She knew it would mark but covering up the evidence of Bellatrix's passion had become a bit of a kink for her. She wove her fingers into dark locks and began to push the girl backwards towards the bed, she used her hold on Bellatrix’s hair to pull her lips away from her neck and into another searing kiss. Their tongues met instantly and the usual fight for dominance ensued, but Hermione was not about to let her win this time. She sucked on the tip of the other girl's tongue, causing a loud moan which was all the motivation she needed to give Bellatrix a strong shove that sent her tumbling backwards onto the bed.

Bellatrix landed heavily on the mattress of Hermione's bed causing the gift box, she he long forgotten about, to wobble and threaten to fall. The present sounded as though it whimpered as the Slytherin rolled on her side to grab it hastily and stop it toppling off the bed with a muttered "Shit, shit, shit."

"What is that?" Hermione asked as she spat some of Bellatrix’s hair out of her mouth, she had followed the girl down on to the bed hoping to carry on their kissing. But instead she found herself half lay across the dark witches back and much further away her lips than she liked. Her eyebrows raised in surprise at the good sized box wrapped in red and gold striped paper that Bellatrix held between her hands. How had she not noticed it before now? Oh yeah, she had been far too distracted by the beautiful creature beneath her. "And did that box just make a noise?"

"That is your Christmas present." Bellatrix answered as she wiggled a little, encouraging Hermione to climb off her. Both girls rearranged themselves on the mattress so that they were now sat next to each other and the Slytherin secured the gift box on her lap. "And I cannot confirm nor deny whether it made a noise."

"Bella you didn’t have to get me anything." Hermione swooned as she leant over and cupped the darker girl's cheeks to pull her into a sweet kiss.

Bellatrix pushed their foreheads together and looked into Hermione's eyes with a serious expression on her face before she whispered. "Great I'll take it back then."

"No you won’t." Hermione smirked as she leant in again and nipped Bellatrix's bottom lip playfully before pulling away and snatching the box off her lap hastily. Something rattled heavily inside and the other girl quickly grabbed the box carefully back from her.

"Open it." Bellatrix said softly, gesturing with her head to the box she now had secured…again. "Carefully though."

Hermione got up from the bed and stood in front of Bellatrix, she reached for the lid of the box slowly before pulling her hands back sharply. "Nothing is going to jump out and bite me is it?"

Bellatrix eyeballed the box for a second as if she was seriously considering the question before answering. "Erm…I hope not."

Hermione's eyes widened for a second as a thousand thoughts on what could be in the box whirled through her mind. Her thoughts rushing back to the Weasley twins and all of their weird and wonderful pranks. But when she caught sight of the slight blush that had crept on to Bellatrix's cheeks she realised this wasn't a joke, the girl had done something sweet. She could always tell when Bella was about to say something or do something sweet because all of her usual bravado would slip away. She would stop being able to keep eye contact and her cheeks would take on that lovely pink hue. Hermione swallowed thickly and slid the lid delicately off the gift, sat in the bottom of the box on a little pink cushion was a slightly worried looking kitten. It was all black except for a little tuft of white on its chest and its eyes were different colours, one was blue and the other yellow.

"Bella you got me a kitten?" Hermione whisper shrieked as she reached into the box and scooped the kitten out gently, holding it close to her chest and rubbing her nose through the soft fur on its neck.

“I remembered you telling me how much you missed your old cat." Bellatrix replied quietly, her heart swelling as she watched the expressions that played out on Hermione’s face as the kitten settled its head on her arm and began purring softly. "I know she could never replace him but..."

“I love her.” Hermione cooed as she touched the tips of the little kitten’s ears and watched how they twitched lazily.

"She only has three legs." Bellatrix said quietly causing Hermione to hold the kitten away from herself for a second and sure enough the little creature was missing one of her front legs. "She was hit by a spell, she lost the leg and it turned her eye on that side blue."

"Where did you get her from?" Hermione asked as she lowered the kitten onto the bed gently and watched as she walked unsteadily on the soft surface.

"We went for dinner at a friend of my father's house, his wife breeds cats and she was part of her latest batch." Bellatrix revealed as she caught the little cat before she could wander off the edge of the bed. She kissed her little head, between her ears, and set her safely on the ground where the kitten walked around much more confidently now that she was on solid ground. "They were planning to kill her or set her loose because no one would buy her. As soon as I saw her I knew I had to have her for you, you always find a way to love the things others seem unable to see the value in."

"How could you not love her?" Hermione asked incredulously, she felt her cheeks flush a little at Bellatrix’s warm words. But she was able to hide it behind the smile that was created by watching the tiny kitten clumsily play with a loose piece of thread on her blanket. "She's perfect."

“Cissy certainly thinks so.” Bella smirked as she reached down to tease the kitten by pulling the thread out of her reach so she had to jump to catch hold of it. “You might need to establish visitation rights with her.”

Hermione crouched down and scooped up the kitten again, holding her to her chest possessively. “She can look after her one weekend a month.”

“I think she’ll need more than that.” Bellatrix chuckled as she stood up and made her way over to where Hermione stood so she could fuss over the kitten too. “I have been hiding this little thing in my room for the last few days and I must have caught Cissy in there playing with her at least twenty times.”

Hermione laughed lightly at the thought of Narcissa crawling around on the floor with a cat, it didn’t really fit with her image of the imposing Malfoy matriarch. “Somehow I can’t imagine her cooing over a kitten.”

“Why not?” Bellatrix asked with a slight frown, her hand stilling on the kittens fur. She knew her sister tried to pretend that she was grown up, but anyone with eyes could tell she was really still just a child.

“I don’t know, she just seems… cold sometimes.” Hermione replied carefully, she didn’t want to offend Bellatrix, she knew how protective the girl was when it came to her sisters.

“I guess she can come across that way.” Bellatrix agreed, but a pensive look crept across her features. People often judged her and her sisters too harshly, usually because they were intimidated either by their name or their abilities. “I think that’s just a defence mechanism though, she really has the biggest heart.”

“That must be a family trait.” Hermione smiled as she leant in close to Bellatrix, drawing comfort from her close proximity. It felt like it had been far too long since she had felt the warmth from the other girl’s skin like this. “Thank you so much for getting her for me, you’ve made me so happy.”

Bellatrix scooped the kitten out of Hermione’s arms and held her up in front of them; the little creature squirmed a little and meowed softly. “We need a name for the little lady.”

Hermione turned and pressed a gentle kiss to Bellatrix’s cheek, it felt strange to think that they somehow shared this little life now. That they shared a responsibility and love for this little creature. “Did you have one in mind?”

“I did actually, but it seems silly now.” Bella answered as she set the kitten on the floor again so that she had both hands free to embrace Hermione again.

“No tell me, I have no ideas.” Hermione pushed as she ran her nose up the Slytherin’s pale neck, inhaling her scent and letting her eyes flutter shut.

“Nyx.” Bellatrix breathed out shakily, before swallowing thickly to try and compose herself. “She is the goddess of the night and the only goddess Zeus was ever known to fear.”

“I like it.” Hermione whispered and pressed a gentle kiss to Bellatrix’s lips. “Little yet mighty. It sounds like someone else I know.”

“Hey, I’m not little.” Bellatrix shrieked as she pulled back from the other girl looking aghast.

“You’re not tall.” Hermione laughed as she stood up to her full height to emphasise her point, like this she stood about three inches taller than the darker haired girl. “But luckily I believe that the best things come in small packages.”

Chapter Text

The great hall felt incredibly empty with only a scarce number of students scattered across the four long house tables. A few people had returned in the days after Christmas but still it wasn’t enough to fill the room with its usual hustle and bustle. Hermione sat at the Ravenclaw table with Nyx curled up contentedly snoozing next to her on the bench. She was pushing the last mouthfuls of her breakfast around on her plate distractedly as she scratched the little kitten’s head and waited for Bellatrix to arrive. She looked up towards the staff table and caught Professor Mcgonagall’s eye, the older woman gave her a warm smile and a little wave which she returned earnestly. She’d really enjoyed the weekend she had spent at the cottage with Minerva and Aggi; they’d taken cautious walks down to the frozen beach to enjoy the chilled spray on their faces, they had picked dirigible plums from the small, but incredibly well tended, back garden.  And Hermione had even taken an excited Aggi outside to build a snowman that Minerva had charmed to do a little jaunty jig across the lawn every now and again. She was busy smiling to herself at her memories when she felt a warm body slide onto the bench next to her, resting their side against her own; the smell of the familiar perfume permeating her senses.

“Hi Andromeda.” Hermione beamed as she swivelled her head to look at her new companion, the chestnut haired girl grinning back at her in that mischievous way that she had. “When did you get back?”

“Mother and Father sent me back via floo last night.” Andromeda answered as she reached over and stole the last sliver of bacon from Hermione’s plate and popped it into her mouth.

Hermione shook her head and moved her plate out of Andromeda’s reach as the girl went to grab her last piece of sausage too. She inclined her head pointedly towards the mountains of breakfast items sat steaming in the middle of the table. “You know the stuff on the platters stays warm, it refills itself and you know…isn’t mine.”

“I know but eating that is nowhere near as satisfying as taking yours.” Andie winked and reached over to pluck a fresh piece of toast from the centre of the table, taking a big bite pointedly.

Hermione rolled her eyes and bumped Andie’s shoulder with hers playfully. “I really have no idea why your parents were so desperate to get rid of you.”

“It was my decision thank you very much.” Andie replied with a mock outraged expression that softened quickly as her eyes drifted down to the toast she was holding and her cheeks tinged with pink. “If you ever repeat this to her I will kill you…but home is pretty dull without Bella, I asked to come back”

Hermione threw her arm around Andromeda’s shoulder and pulled her affectionately against her side. “Did you miss her Andie?”

Andie whined as she attempted, half-heartedly, to break out of Hermione’s embrace to no avail, instead burying her face in to the girl’s shoulder. “Shut up.”

“Awww, you did.” Hermione beamed down at the mass of chestnut curls that was currently attempting to disappear entirely into her side. Clearly the whole ‘emotions making you uncomfortable’ thing was a hereditary trait between the Black sisters. “You totally missed her.”

Ever with the perfect timing, Bellatrix chose this exact moment to saunter over to the pair, she stopped behind her sister who had just managed to wiggle out of Hermione’s arm and was looking down sheepishly. “Who missed who now?”

“No-one.” Andie snapped as she shoved the last bite of her toast into her mouth as if that would effectively end the conversation.

Hermione looked up at where Bellatrix was stood, the girl smirked at her in that way that always made her heart melt and a smile tugged at the corner of her mouth against her will. “Andie missed you.”

“I told you not to tell her.” Andie shrieked, as she swatted at Hermione’s arm with the back of her hand.

Bellatrix reached down and wrapped her arms around Andie’s chest from behind and pulled the girl’s back against her front in a tight embrace. She kissed the top of her sister’s head as she chuckled endearingly at her mortified sister and whispered into her hair. “I missed you too ma crevette.”

The French term triggered something in Hermione, it was odd but familiar. When she was young her parents had owned a second property in a little rural town in southern France and she’d spent all of her school holidays there before she began at Hogwarts. Her parents had been strict about them all being able to speak French in order to get along with the locals, it was now unintentionally incredibly helpful with her cover story. “Did you just call her a shrimp?”

Bellatrix laughed as she released her sister with a swift kiss to the cheek and a little playful shove. She wandered over to sit on the other side of Hermione and picked up Nyx, nuzzling the little kitten’s fur. “It’s what our grand-mère used to call her; I always thought it was hilarious, so naturally it stuck.”

Again Hermione was struck by the use of French, she thought back over what she knew of the Black family and her evenings spent studying the tapestry at Grimmauld place. She remembered how Sirius had explained to her that the family had started to marry their sons off to pureblood families from the continent in order to diversify their bloodline. In her lightbulb moment she forgot herself and almost shouted. “Of course, your mother was a Rosier.”

Bellatrix’s eyebrows knitted together in a frown as her eyes studied Hermione’s face suspiciously. “How do you know that?”

Before Hermione had chance to come up with whatever stuttering excuse she would have been able to blunder out Andromeda cut her off. “Oh come on Bella, out families are pretty infamous. It would be weirder if she didn’t know that.”

“True.” Bellatrix shrugged her face smoothing back out and her attention turning to the kitten she still held against her chest. “And how has this little lady been this morning?”

“I’ve been fine thanks, a little tired…”Andie spoke with exaggerated enthusiasm and a mischievous smirk bloomed across her face as she leaned around Hermione towards her sister before letting her voice drop back to normal. “….oh you were talking to the cat.”

“You are so hilarious my sides are splitting.” Bellatrix rolled her eyes as she pointed at her waist mockingly. “Can’t you see it? That’s my liver right there.”

“Your liver is way higher up than that you idiot.” Andie shot back as she threw a toast crust from Hermione’s plate at her sister where it bounced off the girl’s shoulder harmlessly.

“I am truly sorry.” Bellatrix said sarcastically as she leaned around Hermione too, her eyes set in a death glare at her younger sister. “I don’t pretend to be an expert in anatomy.”

“Oh is that right Hermione?” Andromeda asked, turning an eager face towards the bushy haired witch and wiggling her eyebrows suggestively. “Is Bellatrix lacking in her knowledge of anatomy?”

“Shut up Andromeda.” Bellatrix shrieked her voice rising in pitch and cracking, her cheeks had begun to colour just a little. “You know that’s not how I meant it.”

“I do apologise.” Andie replied with mock sincerity as she placed her hand over her heart and gave her sister a simpering look. “Is that a touchy subject? Or you know….maybe not.”

Hermione raised her hand and cut off whatever Bellatrix’s response was going to be before giving both girls a gentle push to move them out of her personal space and further away from each other. “Is there any danger of us going back to a civilised breakfast?”

“Sorry.” Both Black sister’s said in unison as they readjusted themselves in their chairs so they were sitting up properly again.

“Clearly you two needed another couple of days away from one another.” Hermione rolled her eyes; she couldn’t help but be distinctly reminded of the times she had spent stuck in the middle of Harry and Ron’s arguments. It filled her with a bitter sweet feeling of nostalgia, already her time with the boys was starting to feel like a lifetime ago.

The trio sat in silence for a few moments; Hermione sipped at her pumpkin juice, Bellatrix played with Nyx and Andromeda watched her sister’s gentleness. It was the youngest Black who broke the silence with a little unrestrained laugh before she started speaking. “Has Nyx thrown up on any more priceless heirlooms?”

“What?” Hermione demanded harshly, her head snapping between the two grinning Black sisters.

Bellatrix laughed too as she gently passed the little kitten over to Hermione, a smile lingering on her lips as their hands brushed together. “Narcissa accidently let her out of my room and she found her way onto one of my mother’s Persian rugs and proceeded to be sick on it… in three different places. The thing is woven out of medieval warlock hair or something, ridiculously expensive naturally.”

“Oh no!” Hermione all but shouted, a look of horror plastered across her face as she lifted up the little kitten she was holding to give her a stern look, Nyx just meowed innocently. “Nyx, you naughty girl.”

“It was ok.” Andromeda shrugged nonchalantly. “We blamed it on Mother’s favourite elf so everyone got off without a punishment.”

Hermione’s head snapped towards the youngest Black sister, her heart filled with concern over the little creature. She knew the disregard that many purebloods paid to house elves, well not just house elves really, anything that they deemed lesser. “She didn’t hurt the elf did she?”

“Mother loves that elf more than us.” Bellatrix replied with a snort of derision that she hoped would cover up the hurt that clouded her comment. “She wouldn’t allow any harm to come to her.”

Hermione was about to comment when a commotion from above drew the entire room’s attention, a huge flock of owls had just emerged through the window in the vaulted ceiling. There had been trickles of post arriving over Christmas for the few students that remained but nothing like this. Each owl was carrying a large silver envelope; it looked as though there were as many birds above as there were people sitting in the great hall below. The owl at the front of the flock gave a loud squawk and the rest began to descend towards the table, sure enough one owl landed in front of each student. The birds sat still long enough for the slightly shocked students to detach the letter before they took off again in a flurry of feathers. The whole room sat in silence for a few seconds before the sound of ripping and shuffling paper began echoing around the space.

The three girls looked at one another for a moment, each holding the silver envelope as if it was a howler ready to explode. Bellatrix huffed as she looked around the room and saw the other students already readying the contents of their letter. She slid her nail under the edge of the seal and twisted her finger to break it, the wax splitting and falling away as she did. She slid out the heavy card that was inside and a frown slid onto her features as she read the neat writing. “It’s an invitation. It says; the staff of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry request the pleasure of your company for a celebration of the New Year. It is to take place at 7pm on 31st December in the Great Hall. Food and, age appropriate beverages will be provided. We hope to see in the New Year in style so please dress accordingly.”

“Oh I love a party.” Andromeda squeaked excitedly as she tore into her own envelope and read through the invitation herself. “It’s a shame about the age appropriate beverages though.”

“Not for me.” Bellatrix piped up in a sing song voice, grinning maliciously at her younger sister. “I turned eighteen a month ago.”

“It was your birthday a month ago?” Hermione asked incredulously, she and Bella had most definitely been friends at that point and she had heard nothing of a birthday.

“She wanted to keep it quiet.” Andie grumbled, still a little stung at the idea that Bellatrix would be able to drink at the party while she couldn’t. She had become quite the expert in stealing booze during her parent’s soirees but something told her the protection charms could be a lot tighter here than at home.

“Why would you want to keep it quiet?” Hermione pushed, Bellatrix was hardly a retiring wallflower so it wasn’t as though she would be self-conscious with the attention or anything. “I owe you two presents now, I didn’t get you anything for Christmas or your birthday.”

“You don’t’ have to get me anything.” Bellatrix smiled at Hermione as she reached out to squeeze the bushy haired girl’s hand reassuringly. She had meant it to be a small gesture but the bushy haired witch had entwined their fingers and she was enjoying the warmth of her touch too much to retreat just yet. “As soon as the pureblood families find out I am of age I will have their son’s smarming all over me and I simply don’t have the energy.”

Andromeda snorted at her sister’s comment and rolled her eyes. “You clearly have the ego though.”

“I don’t mean for my looks, I mean for our name.” Bellatrix tutted and rolled her eyes back at her sister with exaggerated sarcasm.

“I’m sure it would be for your looks too.” Hermione butted in, turning her full attention to the older Slytherin, she reached up with her free hand to tuck a stubborn curl behind Bella’s ear. “I think you’re beautiful.”

Andromeda made a slightly awkward noise as she watched the two girls interact; it wasn’t often that she got to see the softer side of her sister. And as vaguely uncomfortable as she felt intruding on a moment like this she liked that her sister finally had someone who cared about her the way that she deserved. “Oh Merlin, I don’t know if you two are sweet or sickening.”

“Jealous?” Bellatrix chuckled as she finally broke away from Hermione’s touch and turned some of her attention back to her sister.

“Yes actually.” Andie replied seriously before a smirk started to fight at the corner of her lips. “I wish Hermione would say sweet things like that to me sometimes.”

Hermione bumped the younger Slytherin’s shoulder and smiled at the girl softly. “I think you’re beautiful too Andie, I mean you two are practically identical anyway.”

“I resent that but I don’t have the time to tell you off about it, we have more important things to discuss.” Andromeda beamed and rubbed her hands together conspiratorially. “What are we going to wear to the party?”

Bellatrix groaned and reached into Hermione’s lap to retrieve the forgotten Nyx so she could distract herself from the topic she had no interest in. “This conversation is getting far too girly for me.”

Andie leant around Hermione to glare at her sister. “Not all of us just go with the ethos of tight and black will do.”

“I have nothing to wear.” Hermione said a little dejectedly as she began to fiddle with the invitation she was still holding in her hands. “I only have school robes and casual clothes.”

“I’ll take you to Gladrags in Hogsmeade to buy something.” Andromeda squeaked excitedly, the girl practically jumping up and down in her seat in excitement. She grabbed hold of Hermione’s arm and gave the girl a little shake to emphasise her eagerness. “Please, please, please. Please let me.”

Hermione sighed and threw the invitation dejectedly down onto the table in front of her, yet again the universe was finding a way to mock her. “I don’t… I don’t have any money.”

“Ladies.” A voice with a distinct Scottish lilt spoke from behind the three girls, who turned around to see Professor Mcgonagall smirking down at them. “Are you looking forward to the party?”

“Yes professor.” All three girls said in unison, although Hermione’s answer was a lot more lacklustre than the other two girls.

“Miss Ross, could I have a word?” Mcgonagall asked, Hermione nodded and climbed over the bench using Bella’s shoulder as a support. The professor led them away from the table and towards the front of the room where they would have a little bit more privacy.

When they stopped in a darkened corner of the Great Hall Hermione watched as Minerva fiddled with a small pouch almost nervously. “Is everything ok Professor.”

“I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation you were having with the Black sisters. And I wanted to give you something.” Minerva said as she reached out and placed the pouch she was holding into Hermione’s hand, closing the girl’s fingers around it gently. “There should be enough money in there for you to get yourself a suitable dress and maybe a nice pair of shoes.”

“Professor that’s incredibly kind.” Hermione replied breathlessly, her heart clenching with love for the woman stood in front of her. She took a deep breath and held the pouch of coins back out to Minerva. “But I can’t accept this.”

“Hermione, I am a single woman who works all of the hours that Merlin sends.” Minerva said as she reached a hand out and squeezed Hermione’s shoulder gently. “My money is no use to me sat in a vault doing nothing. I would like to see it spent and enjoyed.”

Hermione sighed, she looked up at Minerva’s warm smile and she felt a lump form in her throat at the woman’s kindness. Before she could think better of it she stepped forward and embraced the older woman firmly, she felt Minerva hesitate for a moment and then her hug was returned. “I’ll pay you back as soon as I can, I promise.”

“Don’t be silly.” Minerva spoke softly as she rubbed Hermione’s back in reassurance. She had often wondered what it would be like to have a daughter of her own and what kind of person she would create if she ever were to become a parent. As she thought about the time she had spent with the bushy haired witch over the last few months, she found herself hoping if she ever did have a daughter they would be like Hermione. “You just go and buy yourself something that will turn heads…especially Miss Black’s.”

Hermione and Andromeda strolled through Hogsmeade their arms linked and their feet crunching in the winter snow that covered the cobbled street. Andie had not stopped talking about this trip for the last few days, so Hermione was quite glad it was finally here so that they might actually have a new topic of conversation. The New Year party was tomorrow and she was equal parts excited to see what the festivities would be like and nervous about having to get all dressed up, it was a lot of pressure.

“So have you thought about what colour you might like to wear?” Andie asked for what Hermione was sure was the tenth time.

Regardless Hermione smiled at the younger girl indulgently. “I don’t know exactly what colour I would like but I know I want something dark, it is winter after all.”

“Good, you’ll match Bellatrix that way.” Andie beamed as she towed Hermione into Gladrags Wizardwear, the little bell tinkling cheerily as the door opened.

A small witch with a harsh bob of black hair and thick rimmed glasses perched on the tip of her nose appeared from a room in the back of the shop. She threw the tape measure she was holding around her neck and removed the few pins she had clenched between her teeth. “More Hogwarts students wanting clothes for tomorrow night?”

“Yes ma’am.” Andie answered the little, yet slightly intimidating, woman’s question politely. She tried to smile charmingly but it slipped from her face when the woman simply frowned at her in return. She gestured with her thumb to her bushy haired companion. “Well only Hermione needs a dress.”

“All of the women’s formal gowns are on the left.” The woman waved over in the direction of the rows upon rows of dresses that took up a whole half of the store. “Choose a few that you like and try them on in the fitting room at the back, once I have finished with my current customer I’ll be with you. I can resize all of the dresses and recolour most of them.”

“Thank you.” Hermione replied but the woman was already making her way back towards the changing room she had emerged from when they had entered.

“Come on.” Andie squeaked excitedly as she grabbed Hermione’s hand and dragged her over to the dresses. Both of their eyes went wide as they realised how many gowns were actually crammed into the small space.

“Oh Merlin I don’t know where to start.” Hermione sighed; she remembered how much of a stress it had been to choose her dress for the Yule Ball in fourth year. But this time she felt like there was more pressure to choose something spectacular, of course she had wanted to look good for Victor at the time but she was fourteen. There was more gravitas now, she had noticed the way Bellatrix looked at her, how her eyes lingered on her body sometimes and how her hands wandered more now when they kissed. She didn’t just want Bellatrix to think she looked beautiful, she wanted her to think she was sexy too.

“You start at the back wall and I’ll start at the front.” Andromeda suggested as she wandered further into the rows of dresses, running her fingers through the material as she passed. “We’ll each choose two for you to try on.”

Hermione had to admit that only having to wade through half of the dresses seemed much less daunting, so she nodded her head in agreement. “Ok, that sounds like a good plan.”

The two girls spent the better part of forty-five minutes searching through the dresses before they had settled on the four that they wanted Hermione to try on. They made their way to the changing room that the store owner had pointed out earlier and the bushy haired witch slipped inside. Andromeda followed her in and hung up the two dresses she was carrying before locking the door behind her and looking at the other girl expectantly.

“Erm… What are you doing?” Hermione asked as she stared at Andromeda with a questioning look.

“Helping you into the dresses.” Andromeda answered as if it was the most obvious thing in the world but her face quickly fell when she saw the look of horror on Hermione’s. “Oh come on, I have two sisters. Believe me, I have seen it all before.”

“That’s not…I mean… I don’t want…” Hermione blathered in a blind panic, she hadn’t expected anyone to be in the changing room with her, especially not Andromeda. She couldn’t let the girl see her body, not when it had been so badly ravaged by the war. Her hands were bad enough, covered in a smattering of small scars from her time living in the tent and then her part in the battle of Hogwarts. She had caught Bellatrix examining them on many occasions and she knew the girl held back questions about them. But if Andie saw more of her body the girl wouldn’t be able to stop herself from questioning her, she knew her skin was marred beyond anything that was normal. She had a rather significant scar across her chest courtesy of Dolohov in the Department of Mysteries in her fifth year. And her torso was pock marked from the burns caused by the Flagrante charm placed on the items in the Lestrange vault. Her arm was what worried her most though, she could possibly explain the rest away, but not the word ‘mudblood’ scrawled across her flesh. “I’m self-conscious of my body.”

Andromeda laughed and lifted one of the dresses off the hook to hold against the other girl’s body, cocking her head as she tried to imagine her in it. “Don’t be ridiculous, you’re gorgeous Hermione.”

“I’m not being ridiculous.” Hermione snapped as she snatched the dress out of Andromeda’s hands before hanging it back up and folding her arms across her chest defensively. “I’ve asked you to leave.”

“Ok.” Andromeda said softly as she turned around to unlock the changing room door, she looked back over her shoulder at Hermione. Her eyes flittered over the girl’s face taking in the girl’s harshly furrowed brow and angrily flushed cheeks. She had never seen her this way and she all of a sudden felt like she didn’t know the girl in front of her at all. “I’ll wait outside, just call me if you need anything.”

As soon as the angry words had left her mouth she had regretted them, if there was anyone in the world that she didn’t want to hurt it was Andromeda. She could see the confusion in her eyes, like when a beloved family pet turns on you unexpectedly. She reached out and grabbed the darker girl’s bicep to stop her from leaving the changing room. “Andie, I’m sorry.”

“No Hermione, you were right.” Andie replied as she turned to face Hermione again, she knew she should be a little bit angry over the way the girl spoke to her. But with the defeated look gracing her friend’s face and the tears brimming in her caramel eyes she couldn’t bring herself to punish her any more than she was clearly already punishing herself. Andie reached out and cupped Hermione’s cheek, wiping a tear out of her eyelashes with the pad of her thumb before it had chance to fall. “You told me you didn’t want me in here with you, I should have respected that. But I’m a Black, we struggle with boundaries sometimes.”

Hermione leant into the warmth of Andromeda’s touch for a second before moving herself away from the other girl. “I shouldn’t have snapped at you.”

“Oh please.” Andromeda chuckled light heartedly as she pinched Hermione’s cheek playfully making the other girl smiled lightly. “My sister is Bellatrix, I have a pretty thick skin.”

Hermione stepped forward and gathered the younger girl into her arms and pulled her securely against her body. Andie returning her embrace quelled some of the panic that had bloomed in her chest. She buried her face in the curls that smelled so similar to Bellatrix’s and found that it stemmed the last of the anxiety that had built up in inside her. “Thank you.”

Andromeda stepped back and held Hermione at arms-length away from her; she grinned goofily at her friend eliciting a small laugh. “What are you thanking me for?”

“For being you.” Hermione sighed as she cocked her head to observe Andromeda, the more time she spent with her the more differences she noticed between the girl in front of her and Bellatrix. Everyone talked about how identical they were and in many ways they were right but really they were like night and day. Bellatrix was fiery and defiant but she had a degree of naivety that Hermione hadn’t expected, while Andromeda was warm and seemed to possess a deeper insight into the world than her older sister. “For always… understanding.”

After Andromeda finally vacated the changing room Hermione managed to struggle into the dresses they had chosen; secretly she was pleased that she’d eventually only had to try three on. She had been forced to reject a sleeveless number the other girl had picked out. Of course she knew she could cover her scar with a glamour, but really that took far too much energy and concentration to keep up over a long period of time. The whole process would have been significantly easier if Andie had been in there to help her with the fiddly zips and twisted straps and hidden eyelets but with a little grunting and a few well-chosen swear words she had about managed. She had just finished wiggling into the final dress, a black ball gown that was her favourite by far, when a sharp knock sounded at the door to her changing room. She unlocked the door to find the small shop owner and Andromeda looking at her expectantly.

“Fuck me… you look amazing.” Andromeda said when she saw her friend stood there in her dress; it was skin tight on the top half, with long sleeves that hugged the length of her arms and a high scooped neckline that afforded just a glimpse of her defined collarbone. It was fitted at her waist and then tumbled away in a full skirt that fell in layers to the floor with a small train at the back.

The shop owner cleared her throat and raised an eyebrow pointedly at Andromeda’s choice of words causing the Slytherin to blush and the bushy haired witch to attempt to choke down a laugh. “Although I do agree with the sentiment, I may have phrased it slightly differently.” She turned her full attention to Hermione, slipping her glasses up her nose she observed the girl with critical, expressive green eyes. “Come out here and spin around.”

Hermione stepped out of the changing room and into the larger space just outside, the shop owner and Andromeda stepped back both letting their eyes wander over her body in a way that made her sweat just a little. She tucked some of her hair behind her ear self-consciously, she had never been confident about her looks so being the centre of attention made her feel distinctly uncomfortable. She spun around slowly in front of the two women, the material rustled as she moved, when she was facing them again she swallowed thickly and clasped her hands together in front of her stomach nervously. “How does it look?”

“Beautiful.” Andromeda said as soon as the last syllable of Hermione’s question was out of her mouth. “So unbelievably beautiful Hermione.”

“With a few adjustments you will be breath taking.” The shop owner announced as she stepped towards Hermione and slipped her wand out of her sleeve, muttering incantations under her breath as she did. The neckline of the dress shrank a little so that it lay flatter across her chest and with a flourish of the woman’s wand the waistline cinched in showing off the girl’s slim figure. She placed her hands on Hermione’s shoulders so that she could see the back of the dress. The waistband was tied with a large bow, which the woman shrank down so that it fit her frame better, and it was cut into a deep V to the centre of her back. The older witch cocked her head to observe Hermione again, she tapped her wand in her palm and narrowed her eyes. “Do you have a date for the ball?”

“Yes.” Andromeda bellowed before Hermione even had chance to answer, earning herself a glare over the shoulder from the bushy haired witch. “She most definitely has a date.”

“In that case I just have one last adjustment.” The shop owner said and a small smile slipped onto her face. She waved her wand at the dress one last time and the V cut out of the back of the dress that had previously stopped at the centre of Hermione spine extended until it dropped all the way to the waist band. “What do you think?”

It was a daring alteration and Hermione would usually balk at the thought of showing that much skin, but even she had to admit that she looked good. She took a few cautious steps over to the large mirror on the back wall of the shop and turned so that she could see the dress from every angle. Stood in front of her was not a school girl, not the know-it-all best friend of Harry Potter, but a young woman. “I love it.”

Andromeda wiped the back of her hand across her forehead delicately attempting to dispel the few beads of perspiration that had appeared without ruining her makeup. She was dressed in an emerald green strapless gown with kitten heels and had tamed her hair into loose ringlets that cascaded down her back elegantly. The young Slytherin was almost glowing with excitement over the ball that they would be attending in less than an hour. “Merlin Hermione, I thought mine and Bella’s hair was difficult but yours is a bloody nightmare.”

“We could have just left my hair down.” Hermione winced as Andromeda tugged particularly roughly at a strand of hair she was attempting to wrestle into a complicated up-do. Her fingers drummed on the dressing table she had been sat at for what felt like the last three hours now. The younger girl had turned up at her door early that evening and had set about plucking and preening her within an inch of her life.

“No way.” Andie replied her tongue slipping out of the corner of her mouth as she concentrated; her fingers working efficiently through Hermione’s bushy locks. “You need to show off as much skin as possible.”

“What if I don’t want to show off as much skin as possible?” Hermione grumbled, she loved the dress she’d purchased but as the day wore on she had got more and more nervous about wearing it. What if Bella didn’t like it? What if people laughed at her? What if she was over dressed? What if she was under dressed? What if she tripped in her heels?

“Then you would have chosen a different dress.” Andromeda laughed and caught the bushy haired witch’s eye in the mirror; she threw her a challenging look and raised her eyebrow cockily. “Anyway you can stop being grumpy now, I’m done.”

“I was not being grumpy.” Hermione defended as she turned her head left and right to examine the work of art Andromeda had managed to create with her hair. “That looks incredible Andie, thank you.”

“Oh please.” Andromeda smirked in that very Bellatrix type way and stepped back to examine Hermione from a distance. “Bella didn’t complain as much when I did her hair.”

“You did Bella’s hair too?” Hermione couldn’t imagine Bellatrix sitting there for the better part of an hour while her sister tugged and dragged at her hair. But then, Andromeda really did have a talent for convincing the older girl to do things.

“Yeah.” Andromeda said nonchalantly as she leant over Hermione’s shoulder to check her lipstick was still in place. “And her makeup.”

Hermione’s eyes widened as she thought about how much time the girl had spent getting her ready, and then to think that she had also got herself and her sister ready too. “Merlin, you must have been working all day.”

“Pretty much.” Andromeda shrugged as she stepped away from Hermione again and readjusted her curls so that they fell over her shoulders in just the right way. “But believe me, when you and Bella see each other it will all have been worth it.”

Hermione stood up and stepped back away from the mirror so that she could see all of herself, the dress looked beautiful but she still couldn’t help feeling self-conscious. “Are you sure I look ok?”

“Hold on a second.” Andromeda said as she riffled through her makeup bag with intent, emerging a few moments later holding up a lipstick. She stepped towards Hermione and gripped the girl’s chin gently, angling her face towards her so she could sweep a deep red across her lips. “There, now you look perfect.”

Hermione looked at herself in the mirror again; she had to admit the red lipstick really did set off her dress and the smoky eye makeup Andromeda had applied. She barely recognised herself, she looked elegant and sophisticated in a way she never had before. “I don’t think I’ve ever been this nervous in my life.”

“You don’t need to be nervous Hermione.” Andromeda chuckled as she looped her arm through Hermione’s and began pulling her towards the door. “Come on Bella will be waiting for us, I told her to meet us at the bottom of the west tower.”

“Shit.” Hermione breathed out shakily as she and Andie began carefully making their way out of Ravenclaw tower.

It felt like a lifetime before they were finally on the last spiral staircase that led down to the ground floor where Bellatrix would be waiting for them. With every step that Hermione took she could hear her heart beating louder and louder in her ears. She had no idea what was wrong with her; she had been on the run for months, she had invaded the ministry, she had fought in a war, she had been catapulted back in time. And yet she had never felt as scared and nervous as she did now, attending a party of all things. She knew deep down that she was being absolutely ridiculous, that she should just get a grip of herself and hold her head high. But it felt like there was a different kind of pressure on this, as she had been dwelling on the party all day she had realised that at every step she’d had Bellatrix at the back of her mind. When she had decided to attend and Bellatrix had agreed she had wondered if the other girl really wanted to go or whether she had just settled because she had been excited about it. When she had chosen her dress she had wondered if Bellatrix would like it. Would she think she looked beautiful? Would she think she was showing too much skin or not enough? When she’d chosen her heels she’d wondered if Bellatrix would wear heels too or would she mind that she was now going to be a good few inches taller than her. When Andromeda had done her makeup she had wondered if Bellatrix would like that she looked so different to how she normally looked. It was such a foreign feeling for her, to care so much about what another person thought of her. She had lived her whole life governed by her own instincts but now she was factoring in somebody else’s thoughts, somebody else’s feelings. And it dawned on her that this was what a real relationship should be like, you should factor that other person into your decision making, you should care about where that other person fit in. Relationships are a partnership after all, they’re about give and take, compromise. When she had been with Ron she didn’t really care that he wanted her to move to London with him, she didn’t want to so she didn’t do it. When she had decided to go back to Hogwarts for her seventh year she didn’t care that Ron didn’t want to come too, that she wouldn’t get to see him every day. When Ron had mentioned that it felt like she was pulling away from him in the weeks before she had arrived here in 1969, she had brushed him off. She’d felt suffocated by him and had continued to keep him at arm’s length, never caring about his feelings about it all. She hadn’t been a partner to him and he hadn’t been a good fit for her. Hermione found it entirely terrifying that the first relationship she had ever had that felt right and felt real was with Bellatrix Black, a future death eater. But she knew, with the way that her mind was constantly drawn back to the girl and the way her heart fluttered when Bellatrix entered a room, she knew she was falling in love with her. There was something in the air about tonight, something that felt like it was preordained by the gods, which would push them one way or another. She would either abandon her fear and accept that no one had invaded her soul the way that Bellatrix had and surrender to it. Or she would give in to her rational brain that told her constantly that if she continued down this path she would end up with her heart shattered. She would be betrayed by the only person that had ever really seen her, seen her and wanted her anyway.

Before Hermione was totally prepared for it she and Andromeda rounded the last curve in the stairs and she could see into the corridor below. Her heart jumped in her chest as she saw Bellatrix stood there, the girl had her back to them but the midnight curls that had been styled to fall over one of her shoulders couldn’t belong to anyone else. She was wearing a deep purple dress with a Bardot neckline, corseted bodice and full skirt that stopped at her ankle. She turned when she heard the two pairs of heels clicking on the stairs and Hermione felt a shiver run down her spine when she saw how the v shaped neckline of the girl’s dress paired with the corset emphasized her ample cleavage. She didn’t even realise she had stopped walking until she saw that Andie had reached her sister’s side, not that the older girl seemed to have noticed her. Bellatrix’s eyes hadn’t strayed away from Hermione from the second she had turned around.

“Close your mouth Bella, you look far too elegant to be drooling.” Andie mocked her older sister, effectively ending the girl’s trance and earning herself a death glare. “Although I can’t blame you, she does look beautiful.”

“Beautiful.” Bellatrix whispered the word as if it was foreign to her, a slight frown pulling her eyebrows together. She turned her attention back to Hermione and slowly walked towards the stairs to meet the girl who had finally continued her decent. Bella reached out her hand to gently help Hermione down the last step, a smirk forming on her face as her eyes flickered over the girl’s body appreciatively. She caught her eye again, noticing the insecurity and uncertainty there. She used her hold on the other girl’s hand to pull their bodies together, her other hand slipped around the brunette’s waist. She just about stifled a low moan when her fingertips encountered the soft, bare skin of Hermione’s lower back. She leant forward and ran the tip of her nose up the exposed expanse of the other girl’s neck before whispering in her ear. “You look exquisite Hermione.”

Hermione closed her eyes at the sensation of Bellatrix’s breath ghosting across her skin. “Really?”

“Merlin, yes.” Bellatrix assured as she stood up straighter so that she could catch Hermione’s eye. She had intentionally chosen to wear her highest heels, so for the first time she was slightly taller than the other girl. “You cannot imagine what that dress is doing to me right now.”

Hermione let out a nervous giggle, some of the tension she had been feeling all day disappearing in Bellatrix’s presence. “You look incredible too Bella.”

“I mean, I know you guys have forgotten I’m even here, but I’m going to leave.” Andromeda mocked as she cut through the evident sexual tension in the air. The two girls separated a little, Hermione looked at the floor clearly embarrassed, Andie winked in the pair’s direction before beginning to walk away. “Find me in the Great Hall when you’re finished groping each other.”

Bellatrix chuckled and turned her full attention back to Hermione; she slipped two fingers under the bushy haired witch’s chin delicately and lifted her face so they were eye to eye again. She loved the colour of the girl’s eyes, they were like molten caramel and their depths always seemed to swirl with intrigue and compassion. The smoky eye makeup accented with gold that Andromeda had applied made them look even more beautiful than normal. Bellatrix leant forward and captured Hermione’s lips softly and delicately, she tentatively ran her fingertips up the girl’s exposed spine before trailing them back down again. She smiled into the kiss when she felt Hermione shiver at her touch, her mind was a mess, she had never seen anything as beautiful as this girl. She had never felt this way about anyone, she’d never felt this drawn to someone before. Being around Hermione made her feel hopeful for the future for the first time, she felt like she had spent her life floundering in a dark sea and the girl had become her speck of light on the horizon. She pulled away from the chaste kiss and reached up to cup Hermione’s cheek, a genuine smile gracing her features. “You smell different.”

“What do you mean?” Hermione asked quietly a small frown creasing her forehead.

Bellatrix nuzzled her nose just behind Hermione’s ear and inhaled slowly, before pulling back and smiling. “You smell like perfume, you usually smell like ink.”

“I think that’s a sign that I spend too much time in the library.” Hermione laughed as she placed a careful kiss to Bellatrix’s palm where it still cradled her face.

Bellatrix ran the pad of her thumb across Hermione’s cheek gently where a small blush had begun to bloom. “It’s one of my favourite things about you.”

“Why?” Hermione asked, the smile still gracing her face. Her heart felt light, for the first time in as long as she could remember she truly felt like a teenage girl. No huge responsibility on her shoulders, no immanent doom lurking in a dark corner, just like a young woman excited to go to a party with someone that she was beginning to develop genuine feelings for.

“Because now whenever I smell ink I get to think of you.” Bellatrix’s smirk turned flirtatious as she leant forward and pecked Hermione’s lips chastely again. “I mean it can be pretty distracting, but I can live with it.”

“Hmmm distracting, how so?” Hermione hummed in a low voice as she stepped closer to Bellatrix, her body responding as it always did when she began to feel the nearness of the other girl.

“Well because I think about kissing you.” Bellatrix raised an eyebrow, not at all ashamed to admit to the amount of time she spent imagining all of the things she wanted to do to Hermione. “And then that inevitably leads me on to thinking about where I would like to touch you.”

Hermione’s breath hitched a little bit, she had to admit that she had spent a fair bit of time thinking about similar things. But unlike Bellatrix, she would never be bold enough to put voice to her desires. Almost subconsciously she moved closer again to the other girl, their bodies now almost touching. “And where would that be?”

“Here.” Bellatrix whispered huskily as she slid her left hand around from Hermione’s waist to her back before sliding it down to cover her backside confidently. The usually bushy haired witch breathed out a sigh at the contact and Bellatrix felt a thrill rush through her, Hermione must be wearing a thong as she felt bare skin under the material of the dress. “And here.” Bellatrix continued in a shaky voice as her right hand slipped up over Hermione’s rib cage, she made eye contact with the other girl as she let her thumb lightly and slowly run over the swell of her breast. Hermione’s eyes fluttered shut for a moment and Bellatrix had to stifle a moan when she felt the girl’s nipple harden under her caress.

Hermione’s hand came up to grip the back of Bellatrix’s neck as she pulled the girl more firmly against her and captured her lips in an urgent kiss. Her free hand slipped around the black haired witch’s waist and marvelled at what the corseted bodice of her dress did for her small frame. Hermione felt like electricity was building up inside her as Bellatrix’s full lips moved against her own, as always she felt the girl attempting to control the pace of the kiss. She caught the Slytherin’s bottom lip between her teeth and bit down on it playfully before succumbing to the girl’s will and letting her slow the kiss down.

Bellatrix began to kiss Hermione slowly and deeply, she ran her hand back up to the small of the girl’s back and closed the already almost non-existent space between their bodies. Her entire life she had been searching for something to make her feel free; she thought she would find it in her education, in her research or in her total disregard for her parent expectations of her. But where she’d actually found it was in being around Hermione, it was if the girl had been dropped into her life for that specific purpose. Bellatrix felt the bushy haired witch’s fingers grip her neck a little tighter and she responded by running her tongue along her bottom lip, begging her for entrance into her mouth.

Hermione parted her lips to allow Bellatrix’s tongue to meet her own, she was sure she would never get used to the feeling of kissing this girl. It always started an inferno deep inside her that she had no idea how to control; it begged her to touch the Slytherin in places that made her blush to think about, it begged her to let the girl touch her in the places she touched herself on the nights after their most intense kisses. Hermione felt Bellatrix slip her fingertips under the material of her dress right at the bottom of her back, she felt the girl’s hum of approval as she found the lace of the thong she had chosen to wear. She let out a shuddery gasp when the Slytherin’s hand slipped lower still and she began to gently palm the warm, firm flesh of her backside.

Bellatrix moaned involuntarily as she felt Hermione’s hips roll against her own, the contact caused something to tighten low in her stomach. She wanted to take Hermione, she so desperately wanted to take the final step with the girl that was making her feel things she didn’t think she was ever capable of feeling. She trusted the girl implicitly; with her secrets, with her future, with her heart. She wanted to show the girl, in the only way she knew how, just how perfect she thought she was. And not just tonight in this dress with her hair and makeup done but every day. When she was working in the library and she had a smudge of ink on her cheek she was perfect. When she was in potions class leaning over a cauldron and her hair began to frizz out of control she was perfect. When she was in transfiguration and totally absorbed in her note taking with the tip of her tongue sticking out of her mouth she was perfect.

Hermione’s hand slid up Bellatrix’s body, taking a similar path to that of the darker haired girl’s earlier, stopping just under the wire of her bra. She hesitated for a moment but when Bellatrix’s hand gripped her flesh a little more firmly she allowed her hand to continue up to cup the girl’s perfect breast. She groaned as she felt the weight and softness of it in her hand and she couldn’t help but imagine how much better it would be without the fabric of the dress in the way. She felt Bellatrix’s lips falter and her breathing change at her bold move, she felt the girl’s nipple stiffen under her dress and she was overcome with a wave of confidence as she pinched the hardened peak between her thumb and finger. Hermione felt her cheek flush with colour and a rush of wetness flood between her legs at the delicious sound that was ripped unrestrained from Bellatrix’s throat.

A woof whistle echoed through the corridor causing both girls to break their kiss and their hands to leap to much safer zones, both of them only now registering that they were still in the corridor. Bellatrix threw a dangerous look over her shoulder at a grinning Ludo Bagman; he was looking incredibly handsome in his perfectly tailored dress robes and styled blonde hair. “Shouldn’t you two get a room?”

“Shut up Ludo.” Bellatrix growled, her displeasure at being interrupted evident in the venom in her voice. Ludo laughed heartily and saluted his irate friend as he headed off towards the Great Hall again.

“We should really head into the party too.” Hermione said breathlessly as she cupped Bella’s cheek and turned her head to press their foreheads together. She couldn’t will her heartrate to slow down when she could still feel the girl’s warm fingertips dancing across the bare skin of her back. “People will begin to talk.”

“Let them talk.” Bellatrix whispered in reply as she kissed Hermione’s lips languidly and let her fingers dip beneath the fabric of the girl’s dress again.

“We can continue this later, I promise.” Hermione said softly as she reluctantly pulled away from Bella’s lips and out of her embrace. She caught the Slytherin’s disappointed gaze and linked their arms together so she could tow them both towards the Great Hall where she could already hear music beginning to play. She smirked at the Bellatrix’s pout as she leant in to whisper in the girl’s ear quietly. “I cannot go another night without knowing what it feels like to touch you.”

Bellatrix’s face snapped towards her and she pulled them both to a stop, her eyes asked the questions that she knew she didn’t have the courage to ask aloud. Did Hermione realise what she had just implied? They had kissed more times than she could count; they had got carried away many times but they were always in control, they never let it go too far. And yet she was sure that Hermione had just promised something else, something different, something more. She raised her eyebrows hoping that Hermione would understand what she was asking, when the girl nodded subtly she was sure the world stopped turning for just a millisecond. “Oh fuck.” Bellatrix growled lowly in her throat causing the bushy haired witch to giggle and kiss her softly one last time before they crossed the threshold into the Great Hall together.

Chapter Text

The Great Hall was decorated entirely in black and gold and looked very stylish indeed; the ceiling had been charmed so that fireworks erupted amongst the stars every now and again. On the stage where the teacher’s table usually resided were four large, sparkling numbers spelling out 1970. The four long house table had been replaced by smaller round tables that took up the back half of the room; they reminded Hermione of the yule ball. In the centre of each table were supersized champagne flutes that were filled with a glowing golden liquid that emitted wisps of white smoke and threw small stars into the air. The front of the room had been left clear as a makeshift dance floor; the usual plain stone floor had been covered with black and gold tiles that pulsed subtly along with the music.

“Wow.” Bellatrix breathed, her eyes flittering around the space as she and Hermione walked slowly into the room. They subtly dropped each other’s hands and took a small step away from each other as they joined the party. “This place looks incredible.”

“I know.” Hermione agreed as she too looked around the room, she inadvertently caught Mcgonagall’s eye and smiled as the woman raised her eyebrows at the sight of her in her dress. She smiled shyly at the professor’s nod of approval and self-consciously ran her hands over the non-existent wrinkles in her skirt. “And look they have a dance floor. Am I going to get to see your dancing skills?”

“Oh Miss Ross.” Bellatrix smirked as she grabbed Hermione’s hand and twirled the girl around effortlessly before pulling her firmly against her body. She dipped her head forward and whispered seductively into the other girl’s ear. “You are not at all prepared for my dancing skills.”

Hermione giggled as she gripped Bellatrix’s bare shoulder with her free hand to steady herself, the cocky smirk on the Slytherin’s face making her stomach flip a little. “I have to admit that was pretty smooth Miss Black.”

“If you want smooth you should see me dance.” Andromeda butted in, announcing her presence as she wandered over to the couple. She unexpectedly grabbed both girls by the chin and tilted their faces this way and that as they eyed each other confusedly. “I’m glad to see the anti-smudge charm I tried on your lipstick worked.”

“Good to know we made effective guinea pigs.” Bellatrix said sarcastically as she attempted to pull her face out of her sister’s vice like grip, she let go of Hermione’s waist reluctantly and moved away from the warmth of her body.

“I knew I could count on you two to have a good smooch.” Andie replied with equal sarcasm, she slapped both girls’ cheeks playfully as she beamed across at them.

“An easy bet to make with Hermione looking as beautiful as she does.” Bellatrix said unexpectedly, the raven haired girl was free with compliments when she and Hermione were alone. But she was often more reserved when they were with others, her comment caused Hermione to blush, she always loved making her blush. The Slytherin reached up to run her thumb gently over the bloom of colour that had erupted on the girl’s cheek.

Andromeda cooed and fluttered her eyelashes teasingly as she looped one arm through Hermione’s and the other through Bellatrix’s. “Let’s go and find somewhere to sit before you two end up slinking off to a broom cupboard together.”

The three girls found a table on the edge of the dancefloor, over the course of the evening a few of Andromeda’s friends and their classmates joined them in dribs and drabs. They enjoyed the delicious food that appeared in front of them, they helped themselves to more than a few drinks, they shared raucous laugher and danced until their feet ached in their high heels. As the night wore on Hermione and Bellatrix found it harder and harder to focus on the conversations the others were having as gentle touches got bolder and fleeting glances lasted longer. Eventually Hermione, having restrained herself as much as she could, had grabbed Bellatrix’s hand and dragged her to the dancefloor. There at least they would have an excuse to touch each other and hold each other, a fact they had certainly taken full advantage of.

A fast song was playing and the dancefloor had become crammed with bodies, people were crashing into each other as they jumped around and Hermione could hardly hear herself think. She could feel that familiar sensation of panic start to creep up her spine as she realised she couldn’t see an escape route anymore. They had been forced in to the middle of the dancefloor as more and more people had piled on. She grabbed Bellatrix by the back of the neck and pulled her close as she tried to shout in her ear that she needed some air, but the raven haired girl just looked at her confused, clearly unable to hear her. The paler girl cupped Hermione’s cheek and her dark eyes danced over her face with concern, clearly she was looking as pale as she felt, she mouthed ‘are you ok?’. Hermione shook her head a little frantically as she pointed towards the doorway to the left of the dancefloor that opened out on to a patio overlooking the Black lake. Bellatrix caught on quickly and clasped her hand, beginning to tow her between the warm bodies. She roughly shoved people out of the way as she carved a safe path for Hermione through the boisterous crowd. She didn’t release the bushy haired witch’s hand until she had pulled them to the periphery of the, thankfully deserted, patio. The breeze was the strongest here and they could feel the light spray being blown off the surface of the lake.

Hermione squeezed her eyes shut and took a few deep breath of the cold night air, she felt her heartrate begin to settle when a cool hand cupped the back of her neck and a forehead pressed against her own. She could feel Bellatrix exaggerating her breathing to help her to calm her own, she hadn’t even realised she was on the verge of hyperventilating until now. The Slytherin’s scent surrounded Hermione and a smile tugged at the corner of her lips, she hadn’t registered before this moment just how much comfort the she drew from the presence of the other girl.

“Are you back with me?” Bellatrix whispered, her lips gently brushing Hermione’s in a chaste kiss.

“Yeah” Hermione nodded gently with a sigh, she wrapped her arms around Bellatrix’s waist and pulled the girl closer to her. “Thank you for getting me out of there.”

“Oh you’re welcome.” Bellatrix smirked slightly as her free hand crept to the bare skin of Hermione’s back like it had countless time that night. She couldn’t get enough of exploring the other girl’s smooth flesh. “You know, because getting you alone is such a chore for me.”

“Well almost alone.” A voice with a distinct Scottish accent cut through their moment, the girls jumped apart as though they had been burned. Bellatrix’s smirk slid from her features and Hermione’s face took on a distinct fuchsia shade. They turned in the direction of the approaching professor; she was being closely followed by a handsome older gentleman with combed back salt and pepper hair that sat on the collar of his stylish black and gold dress robes.

Bellatrix managed to compose herself more quickly than her companion, reaching out and entwining her fingers with Hermione’s she gave them a reassuring squeeze. “I’m sorry Professor, we didn’t notice you.”

“No Miss Black, your attention was most distinctly elsewhere.” Professor Mcgonagall said in what would have seemed like a stern voice were it not for the hint of a smile on her face. Her eyes slid over to the still blushing Hermione and took her in, the smile finally blooming fully across her features. “And how can I blame you for not noticing us two old codgers when you have something infinitely more appealing to steal your interest?”

“I resent being referred to as a codger.” The gentleman butted in, throwing a conspiratorial wink towards the two younger witches.

“Oh hush you.” Professor Mcgonagall clucked as she good naturedly swatted the man on the chest. Her attention flicked back to Hermione and she gently placed her hand on the girl’s shoulder smiling warmly at her. “Hermione you look absolutely beautiful my dear.”

“Thank you Professor.” Hermione replied shyly as she brushed a non-existent hair behind her ear self-consciously. 

“Oh so you are the infamous Hermione I have heard so much about are you?” The gentleman asked, he had a gentle and kind demeanour that instantly put Hermione at ease. He had warm hazel eyes with deep lines around them that hinted at how freely laughter came to him.

“Yes sir” Hermione smiled as the man shook her hand gently, leaning forward to kiss both of her cheeks politely.

“None of that sir business.” The man said dismissively as he stepped back to Minerva’s side, grinning at her and earning himself an eye roll for his troubles. “I’m Elphinstone, Minerva’s…”

“Friend…” Minerva cut in quickly, she seemed a little flustered but recovered quickly as she began to explain the man’s connection to her. “Elphinstone was my boss when I worked for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.”

“Elphinstone Urqhart?” Bellatrix asked with a hint of wonder in her voice as she reached her hand out to shake the man’s enthusiastically. “You fought for goblin representation within the Wizengamot.”

“That I did, unfortunately with very little success.” Elphinstone chuckled as he ran his hand through his neat hair a little self-consciously. “I was almost laughed out of the ministry.”

“At least you had the bravery to try, I wish there were more people in the ministry like you.” Bellatrix defended with the usual fervour that she did when discussing anything even remotely to do with goblins. “I followed your progress in The Daily Prophet, I was disappointed when I read that your campaign had failed.”

“Oh you marvellous girl, you truly flatter an old man.” Elphinstone beamed as he clapped Bellatrix on the shoulder with a little too much fervour. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”

“Bellatrix Black” The Slytherin answered proudly, her breeding causing her to stand a little taller and lift her chin a little higher as she spoke her last name.

“One of Cygnus’ daughters?” Elphinstone asked with a raised eyebrow, when Bellatrix nodded a little reluctantly he laughed. “Yes, I have come across your father a few times.

Knowing exactly what that statement really meant Bellatrix cringed a little. “Yeah… sorry about that.”

“Well Elphinstone, who would have thought you would find someone who is as interested in Goblin history as you are.” Mcgonagall mocked as she looked between the eager pair with a smile.

“That’s a sign she’s bored of the conversation.” Elphinstone stage whispered to Bellatrix. “Should we go and see if we can source some drinks? That way we can carry on our discussion without the inevitable eye rolling from our companions.”

“Yes, lets.” Bellatrix agreed, letting go of Hermione’s hand and pressing a kiss to her cheek as she passed.

Minerva laughed lightly and gestured with her head towards a bench on the other side of the patio. She and Hermione made their way over and sat down in silence for a few moments before the Transfiguration professor cleared her throat pointedly. “So it seems your relationship with Miss Black is certainly flourishing.”

“Yes… we’re…” Hermione hesitated, unsure of how to categorise exactly what she and Bellatrix were. They hadn’t really had that conversation; the label didn’t matter to her because she was simply enjoying being courted by Bellatrix Black. “I like her very much.”

“It is clear that she likes you very much too.” Minerva replied as she bumped her shoulder gently with Hermione’s. “She lights up whenever you are around.”

Hermione smiled despite herself, thinking about Bella always made her feel a little bit giddy. She looked over to the drinks table where Bellatrix and Elphinstone were talking animatedly, the dark haired girl had that excited look in her eye that always made Hermione go a little bit weak in the knees. She looked back at Minerva who was watching the pair with the same smile Hermione was sure was gracing her face. “Mr Urqhart seems nice.”

Minerva was quiet for a moment as she watched Elphinstone and Bellatrix laugh together. “He wishes to marry me.”

“Oh” Hermione responded dumbly to Minerva’s quiet confession, she was struggling to get used to this more open version of her mentor. “You don’t want to marry him?”

“I’m not sure I know how to be somebodies wife.” Minerva said carefully, she sat back against the bench and looked up at the stars above her, addressing them rather than the girl sat next to her. “I am devoted to the school and my students, I don’t know where I would fit in being a doting wife. I enjoy my freedom and have never had to consider anyone else’s wants or desires. And as silly as it sounds I want…I want to keep my name.”

“I can understand all of that.” Hermione said sympathetically, she noticed Minerva’s was wringing her hands together anxiously. She decided to open up to the older woman a little, taking the rare opportunity to talk about her life in the future. “Before I came here, I was in a pretty intense relationship. We had been best friends for years before we got together and I felt like that put a lot of pressure on me to stay with him even when I knew it wasn’t right. I had…no…my parents were gone and the closest thing I had to a family was his and so I was very aware that I lost everything if I didn’t make it work. Ron knew we weren’t a good fit but pushed and pushed, forcing things because he was aware deep down I was trapped. He wasn’t a bad guy, he was good person, too good for me probably. But he had planned out our future in his mind and even though I didn’t fit the narrative, he wanted to force me into that box. He wanted what his parents had; a traditional family, but that isn’t necessarily what I want… I want more than that. So I appreciate your concern, I felt like I was losing myself to our relationship. But Mr Urqhart seems to understand you much better than Ronald ever understood me.”

“He is so patient with me.” Minerva replied quietly as her eyes flitted back over to Elphinstone. “Five times I have refused his proposal and he just smiles and says ‘well maybe next time’. He is such a good man with the kindest soul. He could have anybody that he wanted. He could have a woman who would have the time to love him the way that he deserves.”

Hermione smiled a little as she thought back to something Minerva had said to her a few weeks earlier when she had been conflicted about her feelings for Bellatrix. “Perhaps he could, but keep in mind that Mr Urqhart does already seem to have chosen you.”

After the conversation with Minerva and Elphinstone the music had begun to slow down again so Bellatrix and Hermione had re-joined the dancefloor. Andromeda flitted back over to them as Professor Dumbledore announced the countdown to the New Year was about to start. With a flourish of his wand a ten second timer appeared in the air above the crowd. Most of the people in attendance at the party began to make their way onto the dancefloor and Bellatrix slipped an arm around Hermione’s waist, pulling her securely against her body. The darker haired girl leant in and whispered softly in her ear “Don’t focus on anything but me ok?”

Hermione nodded and swallowed thickly as she pulled back and looked into Bellatrix’s eyes, she tried to focus on the colours she could see in their depths rather than the anxiety she felt at being so hemmed in. For what felt like the hundredth time she marvelled at the thick, black lashes that framed the paler girl’s eyes. Distantly she heard the people around her start to call out the countdown in unison…5…4…3…2…1. Before she could really register what was going on she heard the bang and crackle of fireworks overhead and the oohs and aahs of the surrounding crowd. She was about to look up at what she was sure was a magnificent spectacle above her but before she could a pair of soft lips were against her own. Hermione’s hands instantly gripped Bellatrix’s corset covered waist and marvelled at how it flattered her slight figure. The Slytherin’s lips pressed against hers more firmly as the mass of people around them pushed them even closer together, she let out a small breathy moan as their bodies collided.

Bellatrix felt something clench low in her stomach at the sound Hermione made, she drew back reluctantly and pressed their forehead together. “Happy New Year.”

“Happy New Year.” Hermione whispered back, sighing contented as Auld Lang Syne began to play and the crowd erupted into wild dancing again.

Bellatrix steadied Hermione as Andromeda crashed into them, being spun around by a Slytherin girl from her year and laughing her head off. She leant in to the bushy haired witch’s ear, taking it between her teeth playfully before whispering. “Should we get out of here?”

Hermione bit her lip attempting to hide the smile that tugged at her lips as she took in the barely veiled eagerness on Bellatrix’s face. Her promise from earlier in the night coming to the front of her mind, Bella had asked a simple question but she knew it had much wider repercussions. If she said no she was telling the girl that she wasn’t ready to take that next step with her. But if she said yes she was abandoning everything that she had believed before she arrived here in the past. She paused for just a second longer… “Yeah, let’s go.”

Bellatrix grabbed Hermione’s hand and shamelessly began dragging her from the dancefloor, they picked their way quickly between the tables and snuck out into the entrance hall. The girl’s looked at each other for a few moments before erupting into a fit of giggles, the Slytherin leant in and kissed Hermione chastely. When they pulled apart she gestured with her head towards the door that concealed the stairs down to the Slytherin common room. Without hesitation the other girl nodded and they took off at a sprint down the steps.  After muttering the password to the blank stretch of wall and rushing through the deserted common room, they burst into Bellatrix’s dorm room. Before the door was even closed they met in a flurry of lips, teeth and groping hands. Their kisses quickly became frantic and their breathing ragged, Bellatrix began walking Hermione backwards towards her bed.

Hermione gasped as she felt herself being shoved backwards harshly but before she could panic too much her back hit the soft mattress of Bellatrix’s bed. She sat up quickly and grabbed the darker haired girl around the waist and pulled her unceremoniously onto her lap. She looked up at the raven haired beauty that was currently straddling her thighs; she had never seen anything as magnificent in all of her life. Her previously immaculate curls were starting to take on their usual wildness, her lipstick was smudged despite Andie’s best efforts and her cheeks were flushed a pretty shade of pink. Hermione reached up and tucked a stray curl behind Bellatrix’s ear gently. “You are so beautiful”

Bellatrix shook her head, an uncharacteristic self-consciousness creeping up on her as she was being observed so intently by Hermione. It made her feel vulnerable in a way she wasn’t used to, she was used to being looked at but she wasn’t used to being seen. She leant forward and kissed Hermione again just to distract the girl, their mouths began moving in a practiced rhythm. She traced her tongue along the girl’s full bottom lip, drowning in her mouth once she was granted access. She rolled her tongue against Hermione’s and groaned deep in her throat as the girl’s fingers dug into the flesh of her hips in response.

Hermione felt Bellatrix’s hips roll subtly against her own, a heady sensation overtaking her as the girls fingers slipped into her hair, destroying Andromeda’s hard work. She could feel her body heating up and a frustration growing deep inside her over the amount of fabric between Bellatrix’s skin and her own. She trailed one of her hands up the raven haired girl’s back as they continued kissing, she found the laces of her corset and began clumsily untying them.

A thrill ran through Bellatrix’s body as she felt the bodice of her dress loosen and she registered Hermione’s nimble fingers working on the fastenings. She pressed a kiss to the corner of the other girl’s mouth before letting her lips trace across her cheek and her jawline, she pressed a lingering kiss to the tender flesh behind Hermione’s ear. She felt the girl’s breathe shudder a little at the action causing her to smirk against her skin before continuing to leave a trail of open mouthed kisses down the column of her neck. Hermione’s chest was heaving and pride fluttered up inside her at the reaction she was eliciting in this incredible person. She lowered her mouth to the girl’s collar bone, gently letting her lips map them. She growled when she encountered the fabric of Hermione’s dress, she reached up and slowly pulled the shoulder of her dress down, her mouth following in its wake, touching as much skin as physically possible. Bellatrix felt the swell of the other girl’s breast under her lips as well as a change in texture of her skin, it felt shining and tight rather than supple and soft like the rest.

“Bella” Hermione almost shrieked as she placed her hand on the darker girl’s chest and pushed her away a little roughly, her heart contracted at the worried look that flittered through the girl’s almost black eyes. She pulled the shoulder of her dress back into place before Bellatrix had the chance to see her scar, the cursed mark from the battle at the department of mysteries. She had been so caught up in thoughts of finally touching the girl that the fact she would have to be naked had somehow slipped her mind, she spoke again but more softly this time. “I just need a minute.”

Bellatrix climbed off Hermione’s lap carefully and crouched down in front of her; she took the girl’s hands in hers and gave them a reassuring squeeze. Her eyes danced across the brunette’s face and her heart broke just a little when she saw the beginnings of tears shining in her amber eyes. “Hermione we don’t have to do anything you’re not ready to do.”

“No Bella, it’s not that.” Hermione whispered as she looked down at the girl she had spent almost every waking moment, for the last few weeks, thinking about. She wanted this to go so differently, she wanted to be everything Bellatrix hoped she would be, she wanted to satisfy her. They should be kissing and touching and moving together but instead she was sat here on the verge of tears thoroughly destroying the moment. Hermione almost broke down entirely when Bellatrix caught her eye and smiled at her earnestly, telling her that whatever decision she made right now she would be ok with.

Bellatrix brought Hermione’s left hand up to her lips and carefully kisses across her knuckles, she didn’t understand why the sudden change in mood had occurred. But she knew that she wanted this moment to be right for both of them, she didn’t want Hermione to feel under any pressure or feel rushed. She knew she was more than ready to take this step, that didn’t matter though if they weren’t both in that place together. “It’s ok if you haven’t done this before, we can go slowly or we can wait.”

“I’ve had sex before Bella, well not with a girl but I have done this before.” Hermione squeezed her eyes shut and breathed out a shaky breath, she could feel a panic attack looming and she was trying her best to fight it back down. She was so angry at herself, she was so desperate to take the next step with Bellatrix but her insecurities were getting the better of her. This wasn’t something she’d had to worry about with Ron, he knew about her scars, he knew where they came from and she didn’t have to explain anything.

“Oh…I didn’t…” Bellatrix began but stopped herself, this wasn’t the time to question the girl on her past. A wave of jealousy washed over her, she had never imagined Hermione being with someone else but then they had never had this conversation before. She felt stupid because of course Hermione would have had sex before, she was beautiful, other people were bound to have noticed and wanted her. She knew she was being a hypocrite because she’d had sex before but the thought of someone else kissing and touching Hermione drove her crazy. The overwhelming urge to rush forward and claim the girl, to wipe any memory of anybody else from her mind took hold but she managed to just about keep it at bay.

Hermione saw Bellatrix’s eyes flash and she knew her mention of having slept with someone before had affected the girl. She could tell with how tense the other girl’s body had become that she was battling with something within herself but rather than act on it she was prioritising comforting her. She cupped the Slytherin’s cheek and ran the pad of her thumb across the soft skin before leaning forward to kiss her lips delicately. “Can I just have a moment alone?”

“Of course you can, I’ll just wait outside.” Bellatrix nodded as she stood up from her crouched position, she stooped down to kiss Hermione’s head softly before she walked towards the door. She threw one last reassuring smile at the other girl over her shoulder before she slipped out of the room and closed the door firmly behind her.

Hermione let out a sigh as she stood up from the bed and paced around the room a few times wringing her hands together nervously. As far as she could see she had two options. Call Bella back in, tell her she couldn’t do this anymore and disappoint the girl possibly ruining their relationship. Or call Bella back in and pick up where they had just left off but be faced with questions that she wasn’t capable of answering. Neither option was really a win, she ran her hands over her face and wracked her brain. She could possibly explain away some of the smaller scars but how could she come up with an excuse for the word ‘mudblood’ carved into her arm, according to her cover story she wasn’t even a mudblood at all. She stopped her pacing in front of Bellatrix’s full length mirror and looked at herself for a second; she took a deep breath and steeled her resolve. Slowly she began pushing her dress off her shoulders and shrugged her arms out of the material, she paused for a moment before shimming the dress over her hips and letting it pool at the floor around her feet. She allowed her eyes to travel across her marred skin and she felt that odd mix of pride and disgust invade her mind. After the war she had refused to allow the healers at St Mungo’s to clear the smaller scars from her body, she felt like it would be doing all of those who died a disservice. As if she was literally wiping the memory of the war and their sacrifice from her mind, the families who had lost loved ones couldn’t erase their scars so easily. Hermione wasn’t ashamed of the marks on her body but she was self-conscious of them and she didn’t want to have to lie to Bellatrix any more than she already did. She was about to reluctantly pull her dress back on and make her excuses to the Slytherin when she realised another thing that had completely slipped her mind. She was a witch! She bent down and hastily riffled through the material of her dress until her fingers closed around the wood of her wand, with the ghost of a smile she waved it over her body and cast a wordless glamour charm. She watched as the little marks and imperfections on her skin disappeared until she looked the way she had years ago. She twirled around in front of mirror to make sure that nothing had been missed, she was about to pull her dress back on but again she had a better idea. “Bella, you can come back in.”

“Hermione I’ve been…” Bellatrix began as she walked into the room but stopped abruptly when she saw Hermione stood in the middle of her room in just her black lace thong and heels. She felt her mouth go dry and all of the moisture rush elsewhere at the sight of the perfect specimen in front of her. “Holy fucking Merlin.”

Hermione laughed a little nervously at Bellatrix’s comment, she took a few slow steps towards the other girl and blushed a little at the way those black eyes followed her every movement. “Is that a good response?”

Bellatrix kicked the door shut behind her with a resounding thud, a fire sparked in the depths of her dark eyes as she strode across her bedroom with intent. She stopped a few inches in front of Hermione and let her eyes run over the girl’s body; up her shapely legs, across the curve of her hips and flat stomach, over the swell of her breasts and her defined collarbone. Finally her eyes landed on Hermione’s face, the girl’s cheeks were adorably flushed and her lips were slightly parted. She wanted to say something that would reassure Hermione but there was an inferno building in the pit of her stomach that was threatening to consume her. Bellatrix took a step forward and grabbed the brunette by the back of the neck crashing their lips together.

Hermione was surprised for a second by the ferocity of Bellatrix’s kiss, the girl was usually careful and measured but not now. Her heart pounded almost painfully in her chest but she forced herself to ignore it and instead focused on the feeling of the other girl’s lips moving against her own. After a moment she finally began responding to the kiss with equal intensity, her hand slipping into the inky locks she had been so careful not to interrupt all evening.

Bellatrix ran her tongue along Hermione’s bottom lip and almost growled in pleasure when she was granted access immediately, their tongues met languidly and moved together. There was no room for playing for dominance tonight, no time for games, they both had one goal in mind and they were going to work together to get there. She slipped her hand onto Hermione’s hip and moaned quietly at the feeling of her soft, bare skin under her fingertips, she squeezed the supple flesh gently and revelled in the way it made the girl squirm.

Hermione bit down on Bellatrix’s bottom lip causing a quite moan to slip from her throat, she circled her arm around the other girl’s waist pulling their bodies together. A disappointment invaded her as she felt the material of the Slytherin’s ball gown press against her skin, she slipped her hand from Raven curls to her chest and pushed her away gently. Hermione stepped away from the girl, her body screaming in protest and Bellatrix’s eyes flashing in confusion. She smirked and bent down to retrieve her wand again before turning her full attention back to the paler skinned girl. “You’re wearing too many clothes.”

Bellatrix saw Hermione flick her wand in her direction and felt the breeze hit her skin as the corset strings of her dress loosened completely and the material slipped from her body, falling in a heap at her feet. She smiled at the girl’s boldness and reached out a hand so that Hermione could help her step out of her dress, once she had both feet back on the ground she dragged the brunette against her roughly. Both girls moaned as their lips collided and their bare skin came into contact for the first time, she felt like every nerve ending in her body had come alive.

Hermione shivered as she felt Bellatrix’s fingertips ghost down her spine before cupping her ass and pulling her closer, her knees almost buckled as the paler girl’s bare breasts pressed against her own. She started to push Bellatrix backwards towards the bed making sure not to break contact with the girl’s skin or her lips. Now that she’d had a taste of her she wasn’t sure that she would be able to survive without this anymore.

Bellatrix felt herself pushed backwards on to the bed, she almost yelped in surprise as she had not even noticed Hermione leading her there. Her mind had been totally focused on the brunette’s lips and her body and all of the things she wanted to do with it. She was about to protest the lack of contact but before she had chance Hermione was back on her again. The girl straddled her hips and her lips began kissing a trail down the side of her neck. Bellatrix bit her lip to stop a whimper from escaping as the other girl paused for a moment to delicately suck on her pulse point before continuing on her original course. She squeezed her eyes shut as the girl ran her tongue along her collarbone and down between the valley between her breasts.

Hermione hummed at the taste of Bellatrix’s skin, she didn’t know what had come over her because she was never this daring during sex. She wasn’t usually the one who took charge and initiated things but then again she had never wanted anyone this badly. She pressed a kiss underneath Bellatrix’s breast and allowed her fingertips to trace over the girl’s ribcage and down her stomach before dipping them just a little under the waistband of her satin underwear.

Bellatrix gasped when she felt Hermione’s fingers inch dangerously close to where she needed them the most, she unexpectedly twisted her body unseating the girl on top of her and flipping their position. She was trying so hard to take this at the brunettes pace but as she felt their hips pressed together and watched as she panted through parted lips she could feel her self-control shattering. “You really have no idea the effect you have on me Hermione Ross.”

Hermione laughed softly as she looked up at Bella with her lips swollen from kissing her, she really never had seen anything as magnificent in her life. “It’s probably the same effect that you have on me Bellatrix Black.”

“Impossible.” Bellatrix whispered as she kissed down Hermione’s neck and across her chest. She looked at Hermione’s pert breast for a second before lowering her head and taking a nipple into her mouth. She smiled when she heard the girl moan and felt her hips grind against her thigh. She released the girl’s nipple with a pop and kissed down her body, dipping her tongue into her belly button for a second, she stopped when she reached another barrier. She hooked her fingers into the waistband of the girl’s thong and slid it slowly down her legs, marvelling at the expanse of bare skin as she discarded the piece of material.

Hermione sat up a little to grip the back of Bellatrix’s head and brought their lips back together in a smouldering kiss. They fell back against the mattress in a mess of limbs and tongues, she had meant to be slow, to take her time and enjoy Bellatrix’s body. But before her mind could catch up with her actions her hand was back in the girl’s underwear and she felt the wetness on the tips of her fingers and a moan vibrate against her lips. Slowly she ran her fingertips through Bellatrix’s folds marvelling at their silken feel and searching for her clit. The black haired girl bucked her hips into Hermione’s hand when she deliberately too delicately circled her bundle of nerves.

Bellatrix moaned loud and unrestrained as Hermione touched her for the first time, she ran her fingers into the still partially tamed locks and tugged to part their lips. Dark eyes locked with caramel and she wondered at the trust and longing that she found there, she’d never felt this way when she was intimate with anyone, her whole body was aching and tingling like the onset of fever. She let the fingertips of her other hand ghost across the smooth skin of Hermione’s thigh before gripping the flesh and lifting her leg up and around her waist. The heels the girl was still wearing cut into her flesh and it was the most delicious feeling she had ever experienced.

Hermione adjusted quickly to the slight change in position, continuing to explore the things that made Bellatrix bite her lip or roll her hips. She felt something brush the inside of her thigh seconds before sure fingers brushed against her clit causing her back to arch off the mattress like a bow. A sound she barely recognised as coming from her escaped her throat at the intoxicating feeling of touching and being touched by Bellatrix Black. She began to move her fingers with more purpose against the other girl, her actions becoming smoother as her body responded to her touch. Hermione let her other hand travel up the pale skin of the Slytherin’s ribcage before cupping her full breast. She rolled her nipple between her fingers as she dipped her others gently, almost teasingly into Bellatrix’s centre.

“Shit Hermione.” Bellatrix rasped as she felt just the tips of Hermione’s fingers enter her, the sensation was barely there before the girl was back to circling her clit in that infuriatingly incredible way. She used the grip she still had on her hair to crash their lips together again in a sloppy kiss, she was determined to take control of this situation. She could feel Hermione’s hips rolling, matching the pace of her fingers as they ran through her fold. The sensual movements were almost enough to send her over the edge, but if she was going over she was taking her with her. She tugged at Hermione’s hair harshly causing her to gasp, she slipped her tongue into the girl’s mouth at the same time as she entered her with two fingers.

“Fuck Bella.” Hermione cried out as she felt Bellatrix fill her, her movements stilled as she got used to the intrusion. She felt the Slytherin break to kiss and watched as she looked upon her with worried eyes, she began to withdraw her fingers slowly. She realised quickly what was about to happen.  “Oh Merlin don’t stop.”

Bellatrix didn’t need to be told twice, she thrust her fingers back into Hermione and allowed her thumb to brush against her clit. The sound that was ripped from the girl’s throat was one of the most magical she had ever heard in her life. She subconsciously rolled her hips in time with Hermione’s, the act seemed to spur the other girl back into action as she gently slipped her, previously still, fingers into Bellatrix’s centre. She had never imagined that touching someone could feel so visceral; it felt like all of her senses were on fire. She could see all of the freckles standing out on the Hermione’s cheeks, highlighted by the flush of her skin. She could hear Hermione’s ragged breathing as she pounded in to her. She could smell their arousal and perspiration mingling together in the air as they moved against each other. She could taste Hermione on her tongue from where she had explored her skin earlier. She could feel Hermione’s warm, wet centre enveloping her fingers in the most blissful way.

Hermione felt how Bellatrix’s hips had begun moving more erratically, she opened her eyes and saw the girl’s own eyes were screwed shut and her dark brow was furrowed as though she was concentrating on an Arithmancy  problem. Hermione looked down their bodies and groaned at the sight of Bellatrix’s pale fingers buried deep inside her. Her heart ached because she knew that no one else would ever be able to compare to Bella. No one would ever be able to make her feel this way, this alive and this free. She knew she would never be able to put voice to how she felt in this moment but she could try to show her. She redoubled her efforts to bring the girl over the edge, pushing a little deeper and curling her finger causing her to cry out.

“Yes, yes, yes” Bellatrix chanted like a wiccan prayer as her thighs began to shake, she knew she was close. She pressed her thumb more firmly against Hermione’s clit and was rewarded with a deep moan and a fluttering of the girl’s inner walls. Hermione’s body undulated and their hips crashed together harshly and both girls groaned together. Their movements became quicker, Bellatrix felt teeth cut into the skin of her shoulder and Hermione’s high heel cut into her lower back as she sought leverage. The mixture of pleasure and pain caused her building orgasm to crest and begin to wash over her.

Hermione’s felt her walls clench around Bellatrix’s fingers as the girl hit a particularly sensitive spot deep inside her. She raked her teeth across her pale skin and felt a thrill at the growl of approval the action received. She felt Bellatrix’s body stiffen and heard how her breathing had begun coming out in short pants. The thought that she was the cause of the Slytherin’s pleasure and that she was the one eliciting these moans and whimpers was all it took to finally push Hermione over the edge too. Her back arched off the mattress and her body crashed into Bellatrix’s, the darker girl wrapped her free arm around her and kept them pinned together as they shuddered and came together calling each other’s name.

“Merlin Hermione.” Bellatrix panted as they collapsed back onto the bed together in a tangle of limbs. She rolled off the girl and reached up to tuck a lock of bushy hair back behind Hermione’s ear, a soft contented smile on her face. “That was fucking incredible.”

Hermione laughed breathlessly, pressing a small exhausted kiss to the side of Bellatrix’s mouth. “Very eloquent darling.”

“Shut up.” Bellatrix laughed good-naturedly as she pushed Hermione’s shoulder playfully.

“Make me.” Hermione challenged, waggling her eyebrows suggestively and biting her lip.

“Oh I have a few very inventive ways to occupy that mouth.” Bellatrix crooned as she pushed Hermione on to her back again and straddled her hips in one smooth movement.

Chapter Text

Bellatrix and Hermione were enjoying a lazy Saturday together, most of the older years had headed off on the first Hogsmeade trip of the New Year so the castle was quiet and they could have some privacy. Their relationship had progressed significantly since their first night together. They no longer felt shy about showing their wish to spend the majority of their time together and so spent every day in each other’s company. They were much freer when discussing their feelings towards one another and one day Bellatrix had even admitted that she had begun to imagine Hermione in her future.  And they were much more forthcoming with their desires and now found themselves caught in a tryst after the most innocent of situations. Despite her past, Hermione didn’t consider herself to be a risk taker and she certainly wasn’t somebody that lost herself to her passions. But Bellatrix seemed to have this effect on her; she pushed her to not overthink the things that she wanted and to trust her intuitions more. She challenged her to not always think inside the rigid walls of the way that magic is taught at Hogwarts and to tap into the power at her core. Being with Bellatrix since their first time felt transformative, she felt more at ease with herself and she felt like she finally had a place here, a purpose.

But the amorous advanced had been forced to take a back seat because the girls had a Charms essay due next week and so were holed up in Bellatrix’s room studying the various uses of the ‘Aqua Eructo Charm’. They had recently been forced to move their study sessions to one of their bedrooms because of how increasingly difficult they found it to keep their hands to themselves when they were alone. Currently they were sat quietly next to each other on Bella’s bed leaning against the wall and reading a textbook each, occasionally they would share an interesting fact with each other but mostly they just enjoyed the quiet company.

Hermione reached the end of the chapter she was reading and let her eyes stray away from the page, she looked over at Bellatrix and a small smile tugged at the corner of her lips. She always loved the intense look the girl got when she was studying and the way that she spun her quill between her fingers. She watched how the girl trapped her lip between her teeth as she leant over to jot something down on the parchment that lay next to her on the bed. Her hair slipped off her shoulder and cascaded down her back exposing the creamy white flesh of her neck. Hermione felt her mouth go dry as she thought about all of the times over the last few weeks that she had pressed heated kisses across that neck or raked her teeth across it in the throes of passion. Her eyes traced the Slytherin’s defined jawline, her aristocratic nose and the perfect curve of her dark brow. The more time she spent looking at Bellatrix the more things she found beautiful, she felt like she could look at her forever and never get bored. “Bella” she called softly, to get the other girl’s attention.

“Mmmmh?” Bellatrix hummed in response as she continued to scratch notes on her parchment, too engrossed in their research to pick up on the change in ambiance of the room. She hadn’t noticed that Hermione had spent the last five minutes staring at her or the nervous tremor in the girl’s voice as she had spoken her name.

Hermione paused for a moment, she really wanted to talk to Bellatrix about where they stood but now that she was about to bring the topic up she was feeling a little bit nervous. She hadn’t really cared about defining what or where they were in the months they had spent getting to know each other, now they had slept together though that feeling had changed somewhat. She knew Bellatrix cared for her, it was clear in the way the girl treated her and she wasn’t worried that there was anyone else, she trusted her. But she was starting to develop some serious feelings for the dark haired girl; she was all she ever thought about anymore and the only person she really wanted to be around. Whatever they were didn’t feel casual anymore and she needed to know what that meant. “Can I ask you something?”

Bellatrix stopped writing and looked over at Hermione, the girl was wringing her hands together and she had learnt over the last few months that this meant she was feeling anxious. She decided this needed her full attention so she put her quill down and marked the page she had been reading in the text book before sitting up properly. “You can always ask me anything.”

“Are we…do you…erm…what?” Hermione rushed out the beginning of three questions all at once, this was not going exactly as she had planned it to go. Not that she had actually planned this at all, really she had just worried about it incessantly for the last few days and hoped it would work itself out. She noticed Bellatrix starting to smile at her blundering and covered her face with her hands to hide her embarrassment.

“No, don’t do that. Don’t hide away.” Bellatrix coaxed softly as she pulled at Hermione’s wrist to try and get her to look at her again but the girl’s hands would not budge. “I know something has been bothering you the last few days, let’s get that wonderful mind of yours settled.”

“What are we Bella?” Came Hermione’s muffled question from behind her hands, she wasn’t sure if Bellatrix had heard her when no answer was immediately forthcoming. She tentatively lowered her hands from her face and looked at the raven haired girl sat opposite her with a raised eyebrow and a gentle smile.

“We’re me and you.” Bellatrix answered as she took Hermione’s hands in her own and gave them a gentle squeeze. She didn’t really know how to put into words what they were because whatever they were just felt so all consuming. Hermione was one of the only people who really saw her for whom she was, she was one of the only people outside of her family that had ever really cared about her, she was her friend, her lover, her equal. She had been in relationships before, had girlfriends before, but none of them had ever really felt like this and so she was struggling to put a name to it that did it justice. “We’re…”

“together?” Hermione supplied hopefully as she saw the myriad of emotions that seemed to flash across Bellatrix’s face. The Slytherin was always so measured when it came to things like this, but this time she looked a little bit ruffled and Hermione worried that she had pushed too hard.

Bellatrix swallowed thickly to try to chase the emotions down, she knew that Hermione cared for her but she had never imagined that she would be the one to bring this topic up. That she would be the one to need the affirmation of where they stood. Bellatrix felt like she had nothing to offer Hermione; she was a loner with no friends, she got lost in projects and forgot about commitments she had made and she found it difficult to talk about her emotions. Whereas Hermione was captivating, she drew people to her like a magnet, she made people happy when she was around and all of her professors sung her praises. She was so much more than Bellatrix felt like she deserved. “Do you want us to be together?”

“Why would I not want us to be together Bella?” Hermione asked cautiously, she hadn’t been expecting Bellatrix to question whether she wanted her. She was pretty sure she had shown her that over the past few weeks. But Hermione quickly realised that the girl wasn’t questioning if she wanted her, she was questioning why she wanted her. All of those years of not being good enough for her parents had clouded Bellatrix’s view of what a wonderful person she really was.

“I don’t know.” Bellatrix replied dismissively as she looked away from Hermione’s face and down at their joined hands, her thumbs gently running across the girl’s scarred knuckles. “I fuck things up and the more I care about things the more I seem to fuck them up.”

“That’s not true. You care about your sisters and they adore you, you care about your education and you are top of the class in all of your subjects and you care about your research and I would guess that your knowledge would probably give goblin experts a run for their money.” Hermione reeled off hoping to reassure the girl sat across from her, she squeezed her hands and willed Bellatrix to look at her again. When dark eyes finally gazed up from under thick eyelashes she smiled. “We all fuck up sometimes Bella but we can work through that.”

“If we’re together.” Bellatrix said quietly, as she let go of one of Hermione’s hand in favour of cupping her cheek and bringing their foreheads together. “You are so much more than I ever could have wished for.”

“I’m not going anywhere.” Hermione reassured as she tilted her head and gently kissed Bellatrix soundly, hoping that the girl could feel how much she meant what she said.

Bellatrix ran her tongue along Hermione’s bottom lip, asking for the kiss to be deepened. The bushy haired witch had just opened her mouth to allow her access when a resounding bang echoed through the room. The girls jumped apart and their heads snapped towards the sound. Bellatrix growled in annoyance when she saw Andromeda come ambling into the room clumsily. She had one hand firmly gripped over her eyes and the other held out in front of her to stop her from walking into anything. “For fucks sake Andromeda, you don’t half have shit timing.”

“I’m not looking, I’m not looking!” Andie shouted at the top of her voice, her hand still clamped over her face as she wobbled closer towards the other two girls, following the sound of her sister’s furious grumbling.

The girl was getting perilously close to a trunk that had been left askew by one of Bellatrix’s dorm mates in their haste to get to Hogsmeade that morning. Hermione could see the accident that was about to happen and tried her best to intercept it. “Andie watch out for the…”

“Ow, shit.” Andromeda cursed as she caught her toe on the edge of the trunk and clattered around attempting to find something on which to save herself with.   

“Never mind.” Hermione laughed as she watched the girl steady herself on the bed post with her free hand, still refusing to uncover her face with the other. “Would you take your hand from over your eyes?”

“Not until I know it’s safe.” Andie answered dramatically, gripping her face even tighter to prove her point. “I don’t want a repeat performance.”

Hermione sighed and shook her head, last week Andromeda had unfortunately walked in on them in a rather compromising position on this very bed. Despite promising not to mention it ever again the girl had promptly brought it up at every opportunity since. “We’re fully clothed.”

“Not good enough.” Andie shook her head profusely, still clinging on to the bedpost for stability. “Last time you were fully clothed, you just had your hand up Bella’s skirt.”

“For Merlin’s sake Andromeda, we’re not fucking.” Bellatrix shouted at her sister, having had more than enough of the younger girl’s theatrics. She was mightily pissed off that Andromeda had stormed in and effectively ruined one the defining moments of their relationship. “Now uncover your eyes.”

“Bella!” Hermione shrieked at the crass comment that came from the other girl, hitting her across the arm with the book she had been reading before their conversation. “Can we not say fucking?”

Bellatrix laughed at Hermione’s strange prudishness, she was by no means retiring when they were in bed together and yet baulked at the work ‘fucking’. A mischievous smirk slipped onto her face as she rubbed the spot that Hermione had just walloped her with the hardback tome. “What would you prefer I say? Making love?”

“Oh god no, that’s no better.” Hermione cringed at the use of the term; making love just sounded so middle aged and boring. She could hardly say that the sex that she had with Bellatrix was slow and boring, it was passionate and rough and probably did fall firmly into the category of fucking.

Andromeda bounded over to the bed and threw herself on to her back between the two older girls, her hair splaying out on the duvet. She grinned up at Hermione with that expression that is almost identical to Bellatrix. “Screwing?”

Bellatrix laughed her true full laugh at the scandalised look that adorned Hermione’s face, she looked over at the other girl and wiggled her eyebrows. “Nailing?”

“Lady loving.” Andromeda smarmed, making a lewd gesture with her fingers that caused Hermione to make a squeak of embarrassment.  

Bellatrix leapt onto her knees on the bed and spread her arms like a pair of wings, she caught Hermione’s eye and winked. “Making the Hippogriff with two backs.”

Andromeda shoved Bellatrix so she fell against her pillows in a heap; she laughed and turned towards Hermione poking her in the side. “Buttering the biscuit.”

As much as Hermione knew the girls were joking and that this was probably a normal way for sisters to interact it didn’t make her feel any less uncomfortable. She turned a stern look at Bellatrix who was clearly readying herself to sprout another innuendo. “Come out with one more and none of those things will ever be happening again.”

“Oh wow, is she this bossy in bed Bella?” Andromeda chuckled as she sat up and wriggled her way backward until she was sat against the wall next to Hermione, she bumped the girl’s shoulder. “Because if you are, it’s fucking sexy.”

Hermione shook her head and slapped Andromeda on the thigh as she self-consciously tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “Was there a reason that you came in here, other than embarrassing me obviously?”

“No.” Andromeda replied with a deadpan expression before leaping off the bed again like an excited puppy. “I’m kidding, yes there was. So you know that it’s my birthday next Saturday?”

Hermione rolled her eyes, the girl had done nothing but talk about her birthday since the New Year celebrations had ended. They had gone over in microscopic detail all of the things she wanted to do with the weekend. “Yes you may have mentioned it…”

“At least a thousand times.” Bellatrix cut in and she scooted over to sit next to Hermione, taking the girl’s hand in hers and entwining their fingers, a silent apology for mocking her earlier.

“I’m going to be 17 Bella!” Andromeda shrieked, she jumped onto Bellatrix’s lap and grabbed her sister by the front of her shirt and shook her.  “17, that means my trace is breaking and I can learn to apparate.”

Bellatrix threw Andromeda off her knee with a laugh and attempted to straighten out the creases in her previously neat shirt. “I already taught you to apparate.”

“Yes but now I can do it legally and further than over the other side of our ballroom.” Andromeda replied with a roll of her eyes at her sister’s rather flat response to her excitement. All Bellatrix ever spoke about was freedom and all of things they could do once their trace was removed. The memory of the two of them sat cuddled together under her duvet a few years ago talking by wand light about the lives they could lead if they could get away from their family came to the forefront of her mind. “Bella, we could run away like we’ve talked about all of those times.”

Bellatrix smiled warmly at her sister she would love nothing more than for them to run away together, she had always dreamed of saving her sisters from their family. But she knew, despite all of their fantasies of what life could be like on the run that their parents would track them down eventually. She grabbed her sister’s hand and pulled her into a side hug by throwing an arm around her shoulders. “There’s one small blonde snag in that plan Andie.”

“Cissy would be fine on her own.”  Andie whined as she snuggled into Bellatrix’s side with a pout. “She is father’s favourite and she actually wants to marry that cretin Lucius.”

“I know, I thought we’d raised her better.” Bellatrix replied sarcastically as she shook her head at their failure to turn Narcissa away from Lucius.

“Anyway I actually came because…” Andromeda squirmed around as she tried to extract something from an inside pocket of her robes. Finally she pulled out a black envelope with ‘Miss Andromeda Black’ written in neat silver cursive across the front, Bellatrix’s face paled at the sight of it. “We have been summoned Bella.”

Bellatrix snatched the envelope out of Andromeda’s hand and stared at it as though it was about to explode like a howler any second. “Oh dear sister, say it isn’t so.”

“I’m afraid it’s true.” Andromeda said in a mock sombre voice, pretending as though she was delivering the most grave news. “Mother wants to have a family dinner to celebrate my ascension into womanhood.”

“She’ll have the sex talk with you.” Bellatrix laughed as she held the envelope back out towards Andromeda. “It was possibly the most awkward thirty minutes of my life.”

“It gets worse though Bella.” Andromeda sighed as she refused to take the envelope back from her sister. “Read the letter.”

Bellatrix slipped the parchment out of the heavy envelope, dreading to think what could be worse than a compulsory mid-term visit to Manor Black. Having to see her parents for the holidays was bad enough without having to add more days in their company to the tally. She unfolded the parchment slowly and began to read her mother’s letter.

À mon petit amour Andromeda.

I hope you are excited about your birthday next week, turning 17 is such a huge milestone, you are to become a woman and you should be with your famille as you take this step. I have organised a dinner and have invited your uncle Orion, aunt Walburga and your cousins too. Inform your sisters that I expect them to attend and tell Bellatrix that I demand her behaviour to be parfait, comprenez vous?

Now, I have heard that you have made a new ‘amie’ at Hogwarts, a transfer student from Beaubatons Academy, I believe her name is Hermione. Please invite her to the dinner as well, it is important that I meet her, I must talk to the two of you instamment.

Tell your sisters je les aime and that I am looking forward to seeing them.

Meilleurs vœux,

ta maman aimante.

Hermione noticed that Bellatrix’s gaze flicked in her direction a few times while she was reading the letter, she put the parchment down and looked at her with worried eyes. She waited for the darker girl to explain but she seemed to be lost in her own head. She looked at Andromeda hoping to get a little clarification on what was distressing Bella so much but she was refusing to meet her eye. “What is it?”

Bellatrix swallowed thickly attempting to try and choke down some of her anxiety. Why would her mother want to see Hermione? Andromeda had plenty of friends and her mother had never so much as asked about them never mind invited them to their home. And what could she possibly have to talk to Andie and Hermione about so urgently. Something really wasn’t right here but she couldn’t figure out what was going on. “She wants you to come too.”

“Why?” Hermione shrieked, her eyes darting between the two Black sisters waiting for one of them to come up with an answer. She had been invited over to the Burrow multiple times for one of the Weasley’s birthdays. It wasn’t that abnormal for families to invite their children’s friends over for birthday celebrations, but judging by the sisters’ behaviour this was clearly very abnormal for their mother. As far as she could tell the girls had as little contact as possible with their parents, she could hardly imagine them sitting down and having a jolly conversation about their new friend Hermione. “How does she even know who I am?”

“I don’t know.” Andromeda sighed as she took the letter back from Bellatrix, slipped it back inside the black envelope and then hid it again in the pocket of her robes. “But once my Mother has requested something only death will get you out of it.”

“That might be preferable.” Hermione whined as she dropped her face into her hands in despair.

Next Friday found the three Black sisters and Hermione stood in Professor McGonagall’s office waiting for the floo to Manor Black to become live at 7pm, the girls barely spoke and their nervous energy was palpable in the air. Hermione cleared her throat and anxiously smoothed out the front of her travelling cloak with her hands. After she had been informed of Lady Black’s request of her presence she had hastily sought out Minerva to ask her advice. The professor had been apprehensive about the invite too but had reassured Hermione and told her that she didn’t see any reason for her not to visit Manor Black as long as she was careful. They had slipped out to wizarding London one evening after classes had finished to pick up some appropriate attire for the weekend as all that Hermione owned were a few sets of school robes, some muggle clothes and one particularly lovely ball gown. Although the bushy haired witch had never been one to care about the way that she looked particularly she felt like her understated wardrobe might not cut it in this situation. She had always wanted to proudly show off her muggle heritage in her own time, so had never bought into the wearing of wizard robes in everyday life. But Minerva had convinced her that it was probably best if she adapted this way of thinking for this weekend, a choice she was quickly beginning to regret. She was currently wearing a set of midnight blue robes that had a small mandarin collar that was irritating her throat and a thick pleated skirt that felt heavy on her hips. The waistline of the robes were cinched in to her body so tightly that was not sure she would actually be able to sit down, the bodice was embroidered with an elegant silver pattern. The travelling cloak she was wearing matched and featured the same embroidery across the chest, it fastened at her waist with two large, ornate buttons. Hermione had to admit that the robes were impressive and they certainly showed off her figure in an appropriately understated way but she felt like an imposter wearing them.

The clock on the mantel over the fireplace chimed 7pm and the flames began to burn bright green, Professor McGonagall stepped forward holding a box of floo powder and offered it to Narcissa first. “Remember to speak clearly dear.”

“Thank you Professor.” Narcissa said politely as she took a pinch of floo powder and stepped into the fireplace, her face set into a determined expression as she threw the powder to her feet and called out firmly. “Manor Black”

Andromeda watched as her sister disappeared into the network as she too retrieved some floo powder from Mcgonagall. She waited for the flames to settle before stepping in, she sprinkled the powder at her feet and winked reassuringly at Hermione before calling out “Manor Black” and disappearing as well.

Bellatrix looked over at Hermione and took a deep sigh, she tried to smile at her but she knew it didn’t reach her eyes. She felt more like she was marching into the Valley of Death than going to spend a weekend at her own home, she just had an awful sense of foreboding that she couldn’t shake. “Do you want to go first or would you rather I did?”

“You go first.” Hermione nodded and tried to sound more confident than she felt, she knew Bellatrix was more stressed out about this weekend than she was prepared to let on. “I’d rather you were there waiting for me.”

“Everything will be fine.” Bellatrix replied, but even to her own ears it sounded hollow. She looked over at Mcgonagall self-consciously for a second before shaking her head and stepping over to Hermione and gripping her hands. She caught the girl’s caramel eyes and smiled more sincerely at her this time, she leant in and kissed her gently. “You look incredible by the way.”

Hermione laughed despite herself as she let go of Bellatrix’s hands and allowed the girl to walk away from her to take some floo powder from Mcgonagall. “Thank you, you don’t scrub up too badly yourself.”

“Stop it, I can barely resist your flattery.” Bellatrix mocked sarcastically as she delicately climbed into the fireplace and dropped the powder. “Manor Black.”

Hermione watched the flames engulfed Bellatrix and felt her heart rate quicken as she realised that she couldn’t put this off any longer. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Minerva chuckled lightly before putting the box of floo powder down on the mantel piece and smiling a half smile at the younger girl. “You don’t need to be nervous, just be your usual charming self and you will win Lord and Lady Black over in no time.”

“Just be charming.” Hermione sighed as she pinched the bridge of her nose and screwed her eyes up tightly. The constant pretending to be something and someone that she was not was starting to get a little wearing. When she spoke to Dumbledore in their meetings he always waved her concerns off with a chuckle as though they were nothing. But she spent so much of her time walking on eggshells and waiting for herself to slip up. “Oh yes, you know just don’t mention I’m a muggleborn to the pureblood fascist or don’t mention I’m from the future and try not to let it slip that I am sleeping with one of their daughters.”

McGonagall’s eyebrows raised and her lips pinched into a stern line at that last comment, she would usually chastise the girl but she didn’t think it would be particularly helpful at this moment in time. “I would try to avoid all of those topics if you hope to have a pleasant weekend.”

A look of horror slipped onto Hermione’s features as her brain caught up with her mouth and she realised why Minerva was looking so awkward all of a sudden. “Oh my god, I can’t believe I said ‘sleeping with’ in front of you.”

“That may have been a lapse in judgement, yes.” Minerva replied with a shake of her head but she couldn’t stop the smile that tugged at the corner of her lips. “Now will you please stop fretting, it’s causing your hair to frizz.”

“See I am already royally screwing this up and I haven’t even got there yet.” Hermione groaned as she patted her hair down where it had indeed begun to freak out.

“Hermione calm down, I have something for you that may help.” Minerva chuckled as she reached into a pocket inside her robes and pulled out a small box. She flicked it open to reveal a delicate signet ring with a Ravenclaw eagle embossed into it; she took the ring from the box and slipped it carefully onto Hermione’s little finger. “I have a matching one, with a Gryffindor lion on though naturally. If you feel like you are beginning to ‘royally screw this up’ just rub the ring and I will make an excuse to Lord and Lady Black and come to collect you.”

Hermione looked down at the ring and couldn’t help but be touched by the older woman’s constant thoughtfulness and generosity, she stepped forward and pulled her professor into an embrace. “Thank you so much Minerva.”

“You’re welcome. Now go.” Minerva replied sternly as she released the girl and pushed her none too subtly towards the fireplace. “Being late will not stand you in good stead.”

Hermione took a pinch of floo powder from the discarded box and stepped into the fireplace; she took a deep breath and threw the powder into the flames. “Manor Black.” She felt the usual uncomfortable feeling of being pulled backwards up a slide, she saw the non-distinct flashes of other fireplaces as they zoomed by and just as she thought she might begin to choke on the soot and ash in the air it all stopped. She took a moment to compose herself, straightening her posture and raising her chin before stepping out of the large fireplace onto the highly polished floor of a grand ballroom. The second her feet were planted a little house elf with a long face stepped forward and began brushing the soot from the bottom of her cloak and with a snap of thin fingers Hermione felt the ash disappear from her face and hair. She fought with herself not to smile down at the creature and thank it, instead she stepped passed the elf and further into the room.

 In front of her were the three Black sisters standing ramrod straight with their hands clasped at their waist demurely, next to them was a tall elegant woman wearing clearly expensive jet black robes that clung to every inch of her slim frame. The woman had platinum blonde hair, a shade lighter than Narcissa’s, which was twisted up into an elegant chignon. She had high cheekbones that she had evidently shared with all of her daughters, her eyes were an almost inhuman shade of blue and she held her lips in a harsh pout. She was potentially one of the most beautiful women Hermione had ever seen. She reminded her of a combination of Narcissa and Bellatrix from the future, she had the elegance and haughty attitude of Narcissa and the intimidatingly powerful aura of Bellatrix. The woman’s presence seemed to fill the cavernous ballroom despite her only being a couple of inches taller than Hermione herself.

The woman stepped forward and placed her hands on Hermione’s biceps, she stayed an arms-length away from the girl and observed her with those unnatural azure eyes. The corner of her mouth twitched as though she might smile but the expression was gone as quickly as it appeared. She leaned forward and delicately pressed her cheek to Hermione’s right before moving elegantly to do the same on the left, greeting her with the traditional French faire la bise. “Bonjour ‘ermione, tu es la bienvenue.” (Hello Hermione, you are very welcome.)

Hermione felt her palms go clammy, she knew Bellatrix’s mother was French so why did it come as such a shock that she had spoken to her in her own language? Hermione was supposed to have lived in France, to have attended Beauxbatons, so naturally the woman would speak to her in French. She mentally shook herself to clear the cloud of impending panic; she could actually speak French so why was she being so ridiculous? Why had every word she had ever learned slipped from her mind? She fixed a warm smile on her face that she hoped looked natural and forced her brain to function. “Bonjour Lady Black, merci de m'avoir invitée dans ta belle maison.” (Hello Lady Black, thank you for inviting me to you beautiful home.)

“Je ne connais pas la beauté” (I don’t know about beautiful) Lady Black replied harshly, she rolled her eyes before looking around the ballroom as if to prove her point. The room had an ebony wood floor that had been polished to such an extent that you could almost see your reflection in it. It gave you a sense that you were losing your balance. The walls were a bright white but were overlaid with an intricate filigree pattern carved out of wood almost as dark as the floor, it made it seem that the light walls were caged behind a thorn forest. There were no windows in the room and it was lit only by the false yellow light of the opulent chandeliers. The ceiling featured a fresco of the Black tapestry, the faces of the family’s ancestors gazing down at them with judgemental eyes. “Je le trouve plutôt oppressant.” (I find it rather oppressive.)

Hermione cleared her throat nervously, she had effectively been backed into a social corner here, if she disagreed with Lady Black she was being rude and if she agreed she was being insulting. Her eyes flicked quickly over to Bellatrix hoping for a modicum of reassurance, but the girl was looking at the floor with her jaw clenched so tight she could well have cracked some teeth. She looked at Lady Black again and held her eye for a brief moment; she caught something in them that felt all too familiar. The comment was a challenge, a challenge like Bellatrix used to bat her way when they first met, when the girl wanted to see how she would react to her pushing, when she wanted to test her metal. If the woman was anything like Bellatrix, and Hermione had a sneaking suspicion that she was, she wouldn’t appreciate her playing the part of the wilting wallflower. Hermione took an exaggerated look at the ceiling, allowing her eyes to scan the names for a short time, before she looked back at Lady Black with a small smirk. “Oui, la pièce pourrait certainement se passer des fantômes du passé de Noël qui nous regardent. (Yes, the room could certainly do without the ghosts of Christmas past looking down upon us.)

Lady Black laughed delicately, raising an eyebrow as she observed Hermione appraisingly. She spun on her heel and looked towards her children; she nodded almost imperceptibly causing all three to release a sigh of relief in unison. “Venez, asseyons-nous pour le dîner.” (Come, let us sit down for dinner.)  And with that she set off at a brisk pace, her high heels clicking on the wooden floor as she went.

Narcissa and Andromeda fell into step behind their mother, but Bellatrix lingered for a second to allow Hermione to catch up with her. She reached out and entwined their fingers, giving them a quick squeeze before leaning in close to whisper to her. “Shit, you did well there.”

“Yes she did.” Lady Black spoke unexpectedly in heavily accented English causing Bellatrix to drop Hermione’s hand rather abruptly. “And ‘ow many times do I ‘ave to tell you not to swear.”

“Désolé maman” (Sorry mother). Bellatrix muttered as she looked over at Hermione from under her lashes and smirked.

The small, unconventional group made their way through a set of ornate doors into a grand dining hall; this room had a large pair of windows at one end that stretched from the floor to the ceiling and allowed in a reassuring amount of natural light. The walls were adorned in a Slytherin green wallpaper that had clearly been custom made for the property as it featured a repeating pattern of Black family crests upon it. The room was accented with decadent white marble which stood in contrast to the black wood cornices that framed the top of the space. The room was dominated by a large ebony table that could easily seat twenty people comfortably; five places had been immaculately set at one end of the table.

Lady Black clicked her fingers and the seats smoothly slid out to make space for them to sit down, she elegantly took her place at the head of the table. “’Ermione, as our guest you can sit ‘ere to my right, Andromeda you will sit next to ‘er.”

“Merci Lady Black.” Hermione said stiffly as she slid into the chair she had been directed to as carefully as possible. Andromeda plopped down into the seat next to her and placed a calming hand on her knee under the table; Hermione looked across and smiled at her friend’s brief wink. Narcissa sat down across from Hermione while Bellatrix took the seat opposite Andromeda. The oldest girl made sure to scrape her chair noisily across the floor as she sat down, earning herself a stern look from her mother.

Lady Black clapped once and within a beat five house elves popped into existence each holding a bowl of soup aloft while looking at the floor with deference. They stepped forward in unison and delicately placed the bowls in front of each person, laid a cloth napkin on their laps and disappeared as quickly as they arrived. Lady Black swept her arm in front of her, gesturing to the food that had been presented to each girl, before picking up her spoon delicately. “Bon appétit.”

Narcissa observed her mother with a keen eye and attempted to copy her graceful gesture as she picked up her own spoon. She dipped just the tip of her utensil into the soup, just like her mother had, and began bringing it carefully to her lips. But with a mischievous smirk upon her lips Bellatrix nudged her younger sister’s arm causing the girl to slop the liquid onto the table. “Bella!” Narcissa shrieked in outrage and embarrassment as she whipped her napkin off her knee and wiped the slash of soup off the table.

Lady Black tutted at Bellatrix and Andromeda’s barely restrained laughter and reached over to cup Narcissa’s flushing cheek. She winked at her subtly in a way that reminder Hermione distinctly of Andie causing the young blonde to brighten significantly. “Bellatrix must you always be such a  douleur dans le derrière?” (pain in the arse)

“Yes.” Bellatrix replied cheekily to her mother as she delicately blew on her own spoonful of soup and eyed the woman from under her lashes, a subtle game of social chess being played. Lady Black’s jaw clenched and she drew a deep breath in through her nose; she still looked composed but as if she was desperately trying to keep control. Hermione worried what the woman’s response would be to her daughter’s insolence but her panic was quelled when a laugh broke free from Lady Black’s throat. It was if the entire temperature of the room had been turned up a few degrees as a result of the sound, Hermione smiled a genuine smile for the first time since she’d arrived.

“Where’s father?” Andromeda asked, Hermione was glad that the girl had enquired as she herself had been wondering at the absence of the lord of the manor.

“’e ‘ad a business meeting zat ‘e could not get out of.” Lady Black informed her daughters and Hermione, her expression turned stern again at the mention of her husband. If Hermione hadn’t been watching the woman so intently she might have missed the change in her demeanour, it was clear there was not a great deal of love between the two of them. “Not a great loss, I’m sure you will agree.”

“Will he be back at all this evening?” Bellatrix asked, sounding almost hopeful. In a normal household that tone could be interpreted as a young girl excited to see her father, but Hermione knew that the hope was that the man was not expected to return.

“Non.” Lady Black answered simply, choosing to tactfully ignore the smiles that had slipped onto the face of her two oldest daughters. “Miss Ross will be spared zat privilege until tomorrow.”

The rest of the meal continued on rather uneventfully, there were a few more mischievous jibes from Bellatrix and a few more stern words from Lady Black but the time had been rather pleasant overall. Hermione had learned that the relationship between the Black sister’s and their mother was a warm one and the woman clearly adored her daughters. Lady Black had taken a genuine interest in her life at Beauxbatons and seemed to have a clear grasp of the things that were going on in her children’s lives. Hermione hadn’t expected to find this dynamic when she arrived; she had imagined their relationship to be cool and distant. Bellatrix had always suggested that her time at home was almost unbearable but despite the ridiculous opulence of the setting this had been a lovely scene of a family reuniting. She looked around at the smiling faces of the Black women as they listened to Narcissa tell them the story of their cousin Evan Rosier being set on fire by a blast ended skrewt in a Care of Magical Creatures lesson. She couldn’t imagine why the girls seemed to loathe being at Manor Black so much; her eyes scanned the room and fell upon a large portrait that hung above the white marble fireplace. It featured an undeniably handsome man with neatly quaffed hair, as dark as Bellatrix’s, and black soulless eyes. He had a carefully trimmed beard and moustache that highlighted his superior smirk, even just scowling at her out of a portrait the man was intimidating. Her eyes dropped to the plaque below the picture, it read ‘Cygnus Black III’. It dawned on her that this was what was missing, or more pertinently who was missing, and this was clearly who changed the interaction of this family to such an extreme. She had already felt nervous about meeting Lord Black, but after getting a sense of his menacing presence from his portrait that had ramped up significantly. Hermione almost jumped out of her skin when a house elf appeared next to her to clear her place, the little creature squeaked nervously at her reaction and looked at her in horror. She smiled a tiny smile at the elf before looking away as it collected her desert bowl and used cutlery quickly.

Andromeda laughed and laid her hand over Hermione’s where it lay on the table, squeezing it reassuringly. “Lost in your thoughts for a change Hermione?”

Hermione smiled warmly at Andie, rolling her eyes at her mocking tone. “Not all of us can be as void of intelligent thought as you are.”

“Ouch, you wound me.” Andromeda bemoaned as she threw her hand over her heart in a dramatic gesture. “And in my own home too.”

Lady Black cleared her throat in such a way that it was evident that she was conducting the attention of the room, four set of eyes snapped towards the regal blonde instantly. “Narcissa, Bellatrix. Vous êtes excusé.” (You are excused).

“What? Me too?” Bellatrix asked, outrage clear in her voice as she glowered at her mother. Narcissa jumped up from her chair and looked down at her sister desperately but the girl refused to move. “I’m the oldest, I don’t get excused from the table.”

Lady Black fixed Bellatrix with a look that would make any other person wither, but Bellatrix just met it head on. The older woman’s eyes flashed at her daughter’s disobedience, she set her jaw and spoke slowly between gritted teeth. “Laisse nous” (Leave us.)

“But Mother…” Bellatrix almost whined, her demeanour slipping from fighting for control to almost that of a child being scolded.

“But nozzing.” Lady Black replied dangerously, she gestured with her head towards the door behind her. Clearly Bellatrix knew she was not about to win this argument as she got up from her chair bad temperedly, grabbed Narcissa’s hand and dragged the girl unceremoniously from the room. The older woman turned her azure gaze on the two girls that still sat in front of her, she picked up her wine glass and swirled the contents before taking a sip of the crimson liquid.

Andromeda drummed her fingers on the table for a moment but stopped quickly when she received an enraged glare from her mother. She slipped her hands on to her lap and swallowed thickly, glancing quickly at Hermione before addressing the older woman. “Is everything ok maman?”

Lady Black observed the two girls sat in front of her with a discerning eye, weighing them up for a moment before she drained the last of her wine in one swift motion. Hermione sat ramrod straight in her chair, her face had taken on a grey pallor while her daughter was looking back at her with a confused frown marring her dark brow. “I want to discuss your relationship?”

“Our relationship?” Hermione croaked nervously, her mind had been racing through a million different reasons as to why this woman had requested an audience with her. She had never imagined that she would care about something as trivial as her friendship with Andromeda. It was almost frustrating how much input people wanted in her relationships at the moment.

“Oui.” Lady Black said simply, her blue eyes holding Hermione’s caramel ones for just long enough to make the girl feel awkward, forcing her to look away. She looked at her daughter and raised a perfectly manicured eyebrow expectantly, but Andie shrugged and shook her head clearly unsure of what her mother was expecting from her. Lady Black sighed impatiently, she rested her elbows delicately on the table, threaded her fingers together and rested her chin on her hands. “Andromeda, are you… coucher avec elle?” (sleeping with her).

“Mon Dieu maman, sleeping with her?” Andromeda almost shouted, her head snapped towards Hermione who had visibly withered in her chair. She looked as though she was waiting for the ground to open up and swallow her whole. Andie looked back towards her mother who was watching their interaction with a discerning eye. “Where is this coming from?”

“Zat… garce (bitch) Constance Malfoy came to see me a week or so ago, she took great pleasure in telling me about ze rumours zat are sweeping through ‘ogwarts.” Lady Black snapped her fingers and her wine glass filled again with crimson liquid, as did Hermione’s and Andromeda’s. She watched how Hermione instinctively reached for the glass with a shaky hand before lifting it to her lips and draining half of its contents.

“Allow me to ease your mind maman.” Andromeda replied, shaking her head and pinching the bridge of her nose in despair. She’d had more than enough of the pure blood wives club rumour mill in her seventeen years to last her a lifetime. “There are no rumours sweeping through Hogwarts because Hermione and I are most certainly not… sleeping together.”

“Yes Lady Black, I can assure you that this is all just a figment of Lucius’ imagination.” Hermione added, making the assumption that Constance Malfoy had learned of their supposed relationship though her son. “He has accused us of it many times, we have simply never corrected him.”

“You ‘ave allowed ‘im to go on thinking you are togezzer?” Lady Black questioned, looking at the girls in front of her sceptically. “Pourquoi?” (why?)

“Well to distract him from what is really going on.” Andromeda chuckled, that mischievous smirk that she shares with Bellatrix slipping on to her face as she looked at Hermione. The bushy haired girl shook her head subtly, she could see it in the girl’s eyes that she was about to throw her and Bellatrix under the bus. The girl really was a true Slytherin at heart.

Lady Black sat up straighter in her chair, her face looking the least composed it had all evening. “Que voulez-vous dire?” (What do you mean?)

Andromeda slipped out of her chair and held her hands up in surrender as she smiled down a little at Hermione. “All I’ll say is you are having this conversation with the wrong sister.”

Lady Black turned as quick as lightening towards the doors that were behind her, Hermione had no idea where she had produced her wand from but it was held steadily in her hand. She cast a silent spell which caused the doors to blast open, behind them was Bellatrix who had just about managed to scamper away to avoid getting hit. She righted herself quickly and threw an angry look at Andromeda that said she had been listening in to every word of the conversation, just as Lady Black had assumed. “Bellatrix, entrez ici maintenant.” (get in here now)

Chapter Text

Bellatrix slipped into the seat Andromeda had just vacated and glared at her sister’s back as she scampered out of the room. She wasn’t mad that she had told their mother about her and Hermione but there were a thousand things that she would rather be doing than settling down for a lecture when there was a very private bed upstairs. She looked across at Hermione who looked like she could be on the verge of fainting so she took her hand and entwined their fingers in a show of support, a united force in front of her mother. Hermione met her eyes; she smirked at her in that way that she knew always incited a reaction and earned herself a subtle eye roll for her efforts.  

Lady Black slammed her hand down on the table causing both of the girls to jump and look at her with wide eyes, both of them gulped nervously in unison. Her jaw clenched as she caught her daughter’s gaze and held it intensely until Bellatrix shifted a little uncomfortably in her seat. Her nostrils flared as she compelled herself to remain composed; when she spoke it was clear she was forcing a calm tone. “Bellatrix, I ‘ad a conversation wiz you at Christmas about being careful, did I not?”

“Maman, we have been careful.” Bellatrix replied quietly, her fingers subconsciously squeezing Hermione’s a little as her anxiety got the better of her under her mother’s scrutiny. “No one knows about us.”

Hermione cleared her throat apprehensively; she really wanted to stay out of this conversation entirely because Lady Black was so very intimidating with all of her barely contained anger. But she had played a part in creating this situation so she should really help to smooth the whole thing over and not just throw Bellatrix to the wolves. “Yes the only person who has any idea at all is Lucius and he thinks I am seeing Andromeda.”

“Mon Dieu. I do not care about what a bunch of pathetic teenagers think. I do not care about what Constance Malfoy thinks or any of zose ozzer pureblood crones.” Lady Black ranted as she stood up from her chair agitatedly and paced a little, when she stopped and looked back across at Bellatrix her expression had softened. “Je me soucie de ton cœur, ma chérie.” (I care about your heart, my darling.)

“What about my heart, Maman?” Bellatrix asked as she stood up too, releasing her grip on Hermione’s hand to step in front of her mother and look at her earnestly.

Lady Black stepped closer to Bellatrix and cocked her head as she observed her, a small smile appeared on her lips as she reached out to tuck a stubborn curl back behind her ear. “’ermione is why you wanted to go back to ‘ogwarts so desperately after Christmas?

Bellatrix nodded gently, she looked over her shoulder towards Hermione and smiled despite herself at the blush on her cheeks. “Yes.”

“She is who you acquired ze cat for?” Lady Black smirked at Bellatrix’s frown of confusion, she had tried so hard to keep it a secret but she had her ways of finding things out. Especially things that were happening in her own home. “Yes I know about ze cat.”

“Narcissa?” Bellatrix asked with a sigh as her mother chuckled demurely and nodded, it turns out she couldn’t trust either of her sisters anymore. In a way she was kind of proud that she had taught them the sensitive art of self-preservation. “Yes, Nyx was for Hermione.”

Lady Black looked over at Hermione who was currently incredibly interested in her own hands as she picked at the skin around her nails nervously. “She is why you refused to return ‘ome for your birthday?”

“Partly.” Bellatrix answered a little petulantly, her face taking on a sour look as she set her jaw. “And partly that I didn’t want to hear Father discussing the families he had struck off the list of potential suitors that month.”

Lady Black expertly glossed over her daughter’s sullen comment with just the delicate raise of her eyebrow showing that she had registered it. “And she is who Narcissa is constantly complaining about you spending all of your time with?”

Bellatrix huffed and threw her hands up in exasperation. “I still spend plenty of time with Narcissa.”

“She gets very jealous.” Lady Black shrugged in a very French manner; she stepped around Bellatrix so that she was positioned between the two girls. She looked between them, observing how her daughter’s eyes held Hermione’s and how the corner of the other girl’s lip quirked in response. It was as if they were having a silent conversation, a deep understanding evident between the two. “You are falling in love with ‘er.”

“Maman…” Bellatrix shrieked in horror, she may have questioned that fact herself in her private moments and she may have somewhat come to accept it recentky. But it was entirely another thing to hear it said out loud…and in front of Hermione.

“It was an observation not a question.” Lady Black remarked, her attention now fully on Hermione. She scanned her face and noticed the way her eyes never left Bellatrix, how they held her daughter in their caramel depths. She noticed how she had trapped her bottom lip between her teeth in a clear effort to try and stop a smile, clearly she liked the sound of Bellatrix falling in love with her. “And ‘ermione, you feel the same?”

“I…” Hermione began but faltered as Bellatrix looked up at her from under her lashes, she had learned over the last few months that this meant she was feeling self-conscious and was trying to hide it. She knew what would be going through her mind; that she would be worried that her hand had been exposed and that Hermione now held all the power. She knew that Bellatrix was scared that she didn’t feel the same, she took a deep breath and answered with a sure voice. “Yes, of course I do.”

“You stupid girls.” Lady Black growled as she swept away from them in a flurry of skirts; she threw herself back into her chair, picked up her wine and drained the full glass in one gulp.

Bellatrix moved to stand behind Hermione’s chair and placed both of her hands on her shoulders, she smiled down at her when she covered one of her pale hands with her more tanned one. “I don’t understand how falling in love is so stupid?”

“’ow many times ‘ave I ‘ad this conversation wiz you Bellatrix?” Lady Black asked rhetorically. She clicked her fingers twice in quick succession and a small house elf appeared carrying a silver tray with a cigarette in a long holder, a crystal ash tray and a lighter upon it. She picked up the three items from the tray and the elf disappeared, she placed the ash tray on the table, put the cigarette holder to her lips and clicked the lighter. The flame illuminated her face for a moment, casting harsh shadows upon her features; once the cigarette was alight she threw the lighter onto the table harshly causing a loud clatter and blew out a plume of smoke. “It is fine to ’ave your flings, I don’t care if you ‘ave girlfriends. But I ‘ave always told you never to let yourself fall in love.”

“Why can’t she fall in love?” Hermione asked, she could see that this topic was really affecting the older woman but all she had done so far was talk around the subject. She could tell from the short time she had spent with Lady Black that she was incredibly protective of her children. She had been civil to Hermione but they didn’t really know each other, perhaps she didn’t trust her with her daughter’s heart. “I won’t hurt her Lady Black.”

“I am not concerned zat you will ‘urt my daughter intentionally ‘ermione.” Lady Black sighed as she took another drag of her cigarette; she allowed the smoke to curl between her lips slowly as she took in the two girls in front of her. “But you must know zat in a year’s time, maybe two if you are lucky, she will be married…to someone else.”

“I…I know that.” Hermione stuttered, her heart clenching in her chest at the thought of it.

Lady Black leant across the table, so her face was close to Hermione’s, it struck her that the girl didn’t move away but met her gaze more confidently than she had all evening. She was impressed. “Then you also know zat zis relationship is doomed to end in ‘eart break for you both.”

Hermione steeled her resolve, she knew that the woman was looking for a hint of weakness, a hint of uncertainty that she could use. Just like Bellatrix used to do when they first met. “Her being married won’t change the way that I feel.”

“Non, really?” Lady Black almost mocked a small humourless chuckle escaping her throat; she raised an eyebrow at Hermione, leant back in her chair and stubbed out her cigarette aggressively in the crystal ash tray. “It will not change when she cannot see you for weeks because she is expected to be at ‘er ‘usband’s side? It will not change when you can only meet up wiz ‘er for hours at a time in cheap ‘otel rooms? It will not change when you ‘ave to watch ‘er carry ‘er ‘usband’s child?”

“Maman, that is enough.” Bellatrix demanded firmly as she squeezed Hermione’s shoulder a little tighter. “You don’t know if that will be our life.”

“Oh you naïve little girl.” Lady Black snarled as she raised her chin in a way that was very reminiscent of Bellatrix. “I know zat zis will be your life because I ‘ave lived exactly ze same one.”

Bellatrix made an awkward noise in the back of her throat at the implications of her mother’s confession. Children often find it difficult to consider that their parents have a life outside of what they see. “You have a…erm…a…boyfriend?”

“I ‘ad a lover, oui. But not for a very long time now.” Lady Black’s eyes were downcast for the first time that evening; she spun her wedding ring around her finger with her thumb as she became lost in silent contemplation for a few moments. “’er name is Audrey. I think I was in love with ‘er from the very first moment zat I saw ‘er, it was on our first day at Beauxbatons. She was so different from all of the ozzer girls in our year, she was strong willed and determined and… simply magnifique. I am sure you are aware zat I… I wear a mask, I put up walls to keep everyone out. But no matter what I did Audrey would always take the time to scale zose wall, to figure me out. I’m not sure anyone in the world knows me better zan ‘er. The entire time I was at school I wanted so desperately to tell ‘er ‘ow I felt, I finally told ‘er zat I ‘ad been in love with her all those years in our final year at school. I could ‘ardly believe my luck when she told me zat she had always felt the same.”

“What happened?” Bellatrix asked, just about managing to not react to her mother’s confession that she had once been in love with a woman. She had always thought that her mother had been surprisingly understanding when she had found out about her sexuality but had assumed that it was because ultimately it didn’t matter. Bellatrix would marry the man her father had chosen and her preference wouldn’t matter.

“We were togezzer for five years. Even after I married your father we stayed togezzer, ‘e allowed ‘er to live wiz us for the first few years of our marriage and in return I was discrete about ‘is relationships wiz ozzer women.” Lady Black confessed quietly, her eyes drifting off to focus on a spot on the wall as she disappeared into memories of her lost love. “When ze Black family began pressuring us for an heir your father said Audrey ‘ad to go back to France so zat we could live like a true man and wife. I could barely get out of bed in the months after she left, I didn’t think I would ever recover. My ‘eart ‘urt so much that I was sure the pain would slowly kill me. But zen I found out I was pregnant with you and my life ‘ad purpose again, you were born, not long after I ‘ad Andromeda and then a few year later Narcissa. My life is so full now, I feel so lucky every day to ‘ave you three, but I still think of Audrey often. My ‘eart still yearns for ‘er.”

“Maman, I’m so sorry. I had no idea about any of this.” Bellatrix said past the lump in her throat as she stepped away from the comfort of Hermione’s presence to move closer to her forlorn mother, she crouched down in front of her and gently took her hands on her own. She didn’t think she had ever seen her mother cry; she was also so stoical, so immovable. This felt like the first time she had realised that her mother was human at all, that she had existed at all before her children were born. “Where is Audrey now? Do you still speak to her?”

“Three or Four years ago I went to Paris to see my sister, do you remember?” Lady Black caught Bellatrix’s eye again and watched as she nodded her head in response to her questions, she was clearly eager to know more about the life that she had spent years hiding away from her. “I knew zat is where Audrey ‘ad moved after she left England, I managed to track ‘er down. She works for the Ministère des Affaires Magiques de la France (the Ministry of Magical Affairs of France) and she is an Auror, just like she always dreamed of being.”

Bellatrix’s heart ached for her mother, for the love she had been forced to abandon, for the life she had given up. It seemed so unfair that all her mother had to fulfil her in her life was she and her sisters while Audrey was able to live out her dream. “Does she have a husband….or a wife?”

“Non.” Lady Black shook her head gently, she paused for a moment as she swallowed back the tears she could feel building behind her eyes. “’eartbreak like we ‘ave suffered ‘ardens your ‘eart. Zis is why I never wanted zat for you.”

Hermione cleared her throat gently drawing a set of black and glassy blue eyes to her. “Lady Black, forgive me if this is too bold, but do you regret your relationship with Audrey?”

“In my darkest moments I thought zat I did, I wished I ‘ad never met ‘er so I would not ‘ave to live wiz ze pain.” Lady Black spoke emotionally; she gave a deep sigh before carrying on. “But as time as gone by I ‘ave begun to think differently.”

“There is a mu… an old saying.” Hermione faltered, Lady Black seemed far from the pureblood supremacist that she had expected her to be. But she didn’t want to test that theory by being too obvious about the fact that she was quoting muggle poetry. “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

“Maman, you may have told me never to fall in love and now I understand why you would say that.” Bellatrix said as she got up from her crouched position and perched herself sideways on her mother’s lap, draping her arms around her neck. She stiffened for a moment, it was rare for Bellatrix to show affection to her mother now-a-days, but she quickly relaxed and strong arms slipped around her waist. “You have also always told me to grab hold of the things that bring me joy and Hermione brings me so much joy.”

“Oh my silly, silly girl.” Lady Black laughed sombrely as she tightened her hold on her daughter and pulled her against her chest, she leant forward and pressed a lingering kiss to Bellatrix’s soft cheek like she used to when she was a child. “You deserve so much better than zis life mon petit Guerrier.” (my little warrior)

Hermione had been pleasantly surprised to find that Lady Black, despite the manor having at least four guest rooms, had sent her belongings to Bellatrix’s bedroom. An extra bed had been set up in the room, but obviously that had not seen any use. It had felt very novel to wake up next to Bellatrix, even after their first time Hermione had scampered back to her own room amongst much protestation. Bellatrix, of course, had tried to convince her on many occasions since then to simply hide her behind the curtains of her four-poster bed and cast a silencing charm so that they could spend the night together. But Hermione was always too concerned with getting caught to grant Bellatrix her wish, the thought of being hauled in front of Dumbledore for that particular indiscretion was too repulsive to consider.  She couldn’t put into words how lovely it had felt to roll over and be met with Bellatrix’s mess of black curls, to be able to lean across and kiss the spots on her girlfriend’s body that she knew made her shiver. A sharp rap on the door and Lady Black’s heavily accented voice telling them they were expected down at breakfast in ten minutes had put paid to any more discoveries though. The girls had got dressed quickly, Hermione donning another new set of robes, and had joined the other Black women for a lovely Birthday breakfast for Andromeda.

They had excused themselves quickly afterwards, much to Narcissa’s chagrin, so that Bellatrix could give Hermione the grand tour of the estate. They had started in the perfectly manicured gardens where the Slytherin had pointed out the spot she had fallen from her broom at nine years old and dislocated her shoulder. They had carried on through to the stables that held the families small herd of Thestrals, Bellatrix had been surprised when Hermione had been able to see the beasts that still remained invisible to her. As she fed one of the foals a handful of hay she could sense that the other girl was itching to question it but held back out of respect for her. She smiled softly at her girlfriend as she took her pale hand and guided it up the Thestral’s nose, chuckling as she flinched as she touched its leathery skin for the first time. Once they were done in the stables they made their way back into the manor through the house elves quarters, even in the Hogwarts kitchen’s Hermione hadn’t seen so many of the creatures in one place. But she was happy to see that the elves seemed to be clean and taken care of, in comparison to how she had heard of some being kept, their quarters seemed quite cosy. The pair had wandered the corridors of the manor where Bellatrix had pointed out places she, Andie and Narcissa had caused havoc throughout their lives and she introduced her to some of the portraits of her ancestors.

But Bellatrix had clearly saved the jewel in the Manor Black crown for last. She stopped in front of two large black doors that were decorated with gold scrollwork and looked towards Hermione with a grin. “You’re going to need to prepare yourself.”

Hermione frowned as she looked at the smirk that had taken root on her girlfriend’s face and began to worry just a little. “Prepare myself for what?”

“I can’t tell you.” Bellatrix said dramatically in a way that was very reminiscent of Andromeda during some of her finest moments.

“Then how can I possibly prepare myself?” Hermione asked as she took a step forward, reaching for her hand to hold, any contact with Bellatrix always managing to sooth her.

Bellatrix entwined her fingers with Hermione’s and placed her other hand on one of the large golden door knobs. “Just promise me you won’t wet yourself when you see what’s behind those doors.”

“Bella wait.” Hermione said a little more shrilly than she had intended to, using her grip on her hand to pull her back. “Seriously, what is behind the doors?”

Bellatrix chuckled at her girlfriend’s predictably cautious attitude; she stepped towards her to kiss her quickly on the lips. “Calm down, it’s hardly going to be a hellhound now is it?”

“You’d be surprised.” Hermione muttered, her mind slipping back to the terrifying moment in her first year when she, Harry and Ron had opened that door on the third floor to find Fluffy’s three heads snarling at them.

“Ready?” Bellatrix asked, her face breaking into a huge smile as she reached for the door knob again, she twisted it and pushed the door open slowly.

Hermione gasped as she took in the incredible room and allowed Bellatrix to tow her further into the space. A giant library had been carved out of the centre of the house, clearly stretching through all floors of the manor. The ceiling was littered with skylights that flooded the room with shafts of natural light and there were rows upon rows of bookcases which stretched from the floor to the roof. Each bookcase had a ladder that slid along on rails to allow you to reach the tomes on the highest shelves. Hermione couldn’t stop her eyes from darting around the library, she estimated that there must be at least 100,000 books in there. It was possibly the most impressive thing she had ever seen. “Holy fucking Merlin.”

“Hermione, I think I’ve only ever heard you swear during sex.” Bellatrix chuckled at her girlfriend’s reaction, she began pulling her towards the back corner of the room where a work space had been created. A large mahogany desk with a luxurious midnight blue velvet armchair was nestled out of sight behind the bookcases. “But then again, I bet seeing all of these books brings you almost as much pleasure as sex anyway.”

“More if anything.” Hermione smirked, wiggling her eyebrows at Bellatrix before her attention was pulled towards some of the names written across the spines of the books on the nearby shelf. There were titles in this library that were almost mythological in their rareness and Hermione’s fingers itched to get her hands on them.

“Is that so?” Bellatrix purred as she advanced on Hermione predatorily, she reached up and gripped her jaw tightly, pulling her face back towards her and crushing their lips together into a short yet bruising kiss. “Well perhaps we can find a way to combine your two greatest pleasures.”

Hermione cocked her head and scrutinised her smirking girlfriend with narrowed eyes. She so wanted to hate cocky Bellatrix, but by Merlin did it make her heart race. “What exactly do you have in mind?”

Bellatrix reached up and cupped Hermione’s freckled cheek and ran her thumb over her plump bottom lip deliberately slowly. “You see I had this little…fantasy when I was studying here during the Christmas holidays.”

“Oh yeah?” Hermione breathed as she let her tongue peak out to wet the pad of Bellatrix’s thumb a little, the air between the two seemed to thicken.

Bellatrix leaned in and nipped along Hermione jaw until she reached her ear to whisper. “Yeah, it involved you, me and that desk over there.”

Hermione tilted her head to the side to allow Bella access to the column of her neck, sighing as she felt wet lips against her skin. “And what part did that desk over there play exactly?”

Bellatrix paused to graze her teeth over Hermione’s pulse point earning a gentle groan from her girlfriend. “I think it would be easier if I showed you.”

Hermione felt herself being pushed backwards until her backside hit the edge of the desk, Bellatrix’s mouth crashed against hers and her tongue ran across her bottom lip. As their tongues met she felt Bella’s hands grip her thighs and hoist her on to the surface of the desk. She quickly opened her legs to make space for her girlfriend and slipped her fingers into black locks.

Bellatrix smirked against Hermione’s lips as she felt her grip her hair, a sure sign that she was getting excited. She disconnected their lips and ran her hands around her waist, her robes accentuating her tiny frame. “Have I told you how amazing you look in your robes?”

Hermione laughed softly, her eyes held nearly black ones for a second as she delicately moved raven hair away from the paler girl’s neck. She leant forward slowly and pressed her lips to the tender skin underneath Bellatrix’s ear, she suckled at the flesh a little eliciting a breathy moan. She moved her mouth so she could whisper softly to the Slytherin. “Is that why you’re trying so hard to get me out of them?”

“Oh no my dear Hermione.” Bellatrix chuckled as she crooked her finger under Hermione’s chin and lifted her face towards hers. Their tongues met instantly in a passion filled kiss, Bellatrix leant against Hermione’s body forcing her to lie backwards across the surface of the desk. Her hand ghosted over pert breasts, across a toned stomach and gripped the flesh of Hermione’s thigh firmly. She broke away from her lips again earning a small whimper of disappointment from her girlfriend and pressed their foreheads together. “You won’t need to take them off for what I have planned.”

Bellatrix stepped away from the desk as Hermione propped herself up on her elbows, their eyes met as she dropped to her knees. She began bunching Hermione’s skirt up towards her waist and felt her lift her hips to make the task easier, her eagerness causing Bellatrix to grin. She fished around in her own robes for her wand which she flicked it once at the door to lock it and again to vanish her girlfriend’s underwear.

Hermione gasped as the cold air came into contact with her most intimate area, the chill was quickly quelled by Bellatrix’s warm tongue which rolled over her clit gently, too gently for her liking. A strangled sound escaped her throat at how quickly this situation had moved from gentle flirting to full on passion. Bellatrix flicked her tongue over her bundle of nerves again, more harshly this time before sucking it between her lips. The moisture of her own arousal mixed with the moisture in the her mouth making her movements smoother.

Bellatrix hummed approvingly when she felt Hermione’s fingers slip into her hair, her nails scratching indulgently against her scalp in time with the movement of her tongue. She circled Hermione’s clit again deliberately slowly and gently, her hips jerked forward looking for more contact and she heard the desk creak in protest at the unusual activity taking place upon it. Bellatrix felt her motions getting smoother as Hermione’s body responded to her touch and she took her opportunity to dip her tongue into her core. They moaned together in harmony, Hermione at the feeling of being filled and Bellatrix at the feeling of having her tongue enveloped in wet heat. She pumped her tongue in and out of her girlfriend a few times before running the flat of her tongue between her folds to circle her clit again.

Hermione’s back arched from the tables surface when she felt Bellatrix’s tongue on her clit again. She flattened her bunched up skirts against her body so that she could see past them, to watch her girlfriend’s head moving between her legs. Bella must have heard the rustling of fabric because she looked up from under her lashes and caught Hermione’s gaze. The black haired girl pulled her head further back so that she could see her glistening tongue working against her. Hermione groaned and let her head drop back with a loud thud onto the table’s surface.

Bellatrix chuckled lightly at Hermione’s reaction; she adjusted her position so that she could slip two fingers inside her girlfriend. She moved them slowly in time with her tongue; Hermione whimpered and lifted her hips again. Bellatrix knew this to be a sign that she was getting frustrated with her slow pace, she broke her mouth away from its contact with Hermione’s clit and looked up to catch her eye again before she whispered quietly to her. “Tell me what you need.”

“Fuck.” Hermione muttered as she cupped Bellatrix’s cheek, she turned her face to kiss her palm gently as she curled her fingers inside her at the same time. “I need…I need you to be… rougher.”

Bellatrix was all too happy to comply, she slipped down and took Hermione’s clit into her mouth and sucked on it harshly while she began moving her fingers in and out of her at a much quicker pace. If Hermione needed her to be rougher, then rougher she would be. She grabbed a tanned thigh and lifted her leg over her shoulder, wrapping her arm around it and gripping on so that her nails bit into the tender flesh.

Loud guttural moans were being ripped from Hermione’s throat in such quick succession that she barely had time to catch her breath and her vision was beginning to blur around the edges. Where Bellatrix’s pace had been painfully slow before now it was almost feral, her fingers were pumping in and out of her hard and fast and her tongue was flicking a ruthless pattern over her clit. She could feel a warmth building up in the pit of her stomach that ebbed and flowed through her body, but when she felt Bellatrix’s nails break through the skin of her thigh it crashed over her in a mind blowing orgasm.

Bellatrix slowed her pace, allowing Hermione to come down from her high before she gradually removed her fingers eliciting a groan from her girlfriend. She chuckled as she gently lowered a shaking tanned leg from her shoulder and back down to the floor. She stood up slowly while delicately wiping her mouth and chin with the back of her hand, she moved around to perch on the edge of the desk next to where Hermione lay panting softly. The prone girl rolled her head to look at her, a thoroughly satisfied smirk plastered across her face.

“Did reality live up to your fantasy?” Hermione asked in a raspy voice, her throat a little hoarse from the sounds her girlfriend had ripped from it moments ago.

“Better.” Bellatrix laughed as she brushed a curl from Hermione’s sweaty forehead. She cupped her cheek and leant down to kiss her gently, before pulling away to rub their noses together affectionately. “I’ve never felt the way I feel when I’m with you.”

Hermione leant forward to kiss her, she attempted to deepen the kiss but Bellatrix pulled away. She frowned and took her girlfriend’s pale face between her hands but she still would not look at her, her heart ached at the sudden rejection. She began to sit up a little and Bellatrix slipped from the edge of the table to help her right herself. She helped her to straighten out her bunched up skirt, flicking her crooked wand at it to remove the creases and return her underwear. Bellatrix pushed herself back onto the surface of the desk and began swinging her legs, she was looking down at her feet a little awkwardly. Hermione perched on the edge of the desk next to Bellatrix and bumped their shoulders together eliciting a soft smile but no eye contact. “What happened? Is everything ok?”

“Yeah, everything is fine.” Bellatrix answered, shaking her head but still refusing to look at her, that is until she felt a soft hand grip her chin and physically turn her face. Hermione didn’t say anything she just raised an eyebrow expectantly, as much as she wanted to she knew she wasn’t going to be able to wiggle out of this one. “It’s stupid.”

Hermione smiled softly and let go of Bellatrix’s face in favour of entwining their fingers. “Nothing you feel is stupid.”

“Did..Did you mean what you said to my Maman last night?” Bellatrix asked in a small voice, looking up at Hermione from underneath her eyelashes. “Do you really feel like you’re falling in love with me?”

“Bella, of course I meant it. I’ve never met anyone like you before.” Hermione replied earnestly, her voice raising an octave in her desperation to convince Bellatrix of the truth behind her words. She loved moments like this with her girlfriend, when she could be as close to completely honest as it was possible for her to be. “When I first met you I was sure I was going to hate you. You seemed snobbish and manipulative and so horribly arrogant. I thought you were so….”

Bellatrix laughed lightly at Hermione’s struggle for words, before she added with a raised eyebrow. “Slytherin.”

“Yes, definitely very Slytherin.” Hermione laughed too and lifted their entwined hands to kiss the back of Bellatrix’s knuckles softly. “I wanted to hate you so badly which meant I was constantly watching you, constantly looking for more evidence to justify me feeling that way. But what I started to see instead was that you are intelligent and diligent and ambitious and….and incredible.”

“No one has ever described me as incredible before.” Bellatrix said as she looked away again, giving her attention to her still swinging feet.

“Well I’m glad I could be the first.” Hermione stated in a sure voice as she slid from the table and stepped in front of her girlfriend, taking her face between her hands. When dark eyes finally flicked back up to her own she continued. “Bella, I’m serious. I wish you could see yourself through my eyes, I wish you could feel the way that I feel when I watch you do even the most mundane things. I love that determined look you get in your eye when you’re duelling in Defence Against the Dark Arts. I love how you twirl your quill while we study in the library. I love how your face softens when you speak to your sisters. I love how you can’t read without mouthing the words. I love the way you look at me from under your eyelashes when you’re nervous. I love that bloody smirk you get on your face when you realise I’m about to kiss you. I love how I feel safe for the first time in as long as I can remember when I’m with you. So to answer your original question; yes, against all of my better judgement I am falling in love with you.”

“Well…” Bellatrix’s voice broke as she spoke, she cleared her throat and swallowed the lump that had developed while Hermione was talking. “Well that answers that then doesn’t it?”

Hermione laughed at Bellatrix’s awkward response to her heartfelt ramblings, her chest filling with a deep affection she’d never felt for another. She stepped closer to her girlfriend and pulled her into a slow, deep kiss to try and back up her words with a physical action. Just as Bellatrix slipped her fingers into her hair there was a sudden banging at the door that echoed through the entire room. The girls jumped apart and looked at the library entrance door with matching panicked expressions.

“Bellatrix, why is this door locked?” A gruff male voice called through the door, Hermione’s head snapped back to look at Bellatrix’s face which had significantly paled. “Unlock the door this instant.”

“Shit, shit, shit.” Bellatrix chanted in a panic as she jumped off the table top and fumbled for her wand with shaking hands. She managed to clumsily pull it free from her skirt; she hastily cast a Scourgify on the table, on herself and on Hermione. She grabbed hold of her girlfriend’s arm, towed her into the middle of the room and quickly righted both of their hair and robes. Finally she flicked her wand at the door to unlock it.

No sooner had the lock clicked when the door swung open; filling the door frame was a tall, broad chested man that could be no one other than Bellatrix’s father. He had an exquisitely styled pompadour hairdo that looked like it could withstand gale force winds, a neatly trimmed beard and a moustache that was waxed to curl perfectly above his top lip. He was wearing a crisp white shirt that fitted his athletic figure faultlessly, a bottle green tartan tie and a grey double breasted waistcoat. Over the top he wore a tailored, heavy woollen black robe with sharp lapels and padded shoulders which gave him a powerful silhouette. Cygnus was an unarguably handsome man, perhaps the most attractive man Hermione had ever seen, he looked like he had wandered out of the pages of Vogue. But the stern scowl that pulled at his brow and the pinched line that he held his mouth in diminished his good looks considerably. He strode into the library, his presence filling the room to an almost suffocating degree. Following behind was a much thinner, but equally tall man; he had a slim, unnaturally pale face and thinning mid-brown hair that was parted at one side and combed over neatly. He was wearing bottle green hooded robes over a matching coloured suit with a white shirt and burgundy tie. Although he didn’t strut in with the same arrogance of Cygnus Black, a definite aura of power surrounded him. Hermione surmised he was a man who was clearly used to getting his own way. The second man’s eyes travelled around the walls of the library as if he was mentally cataloguing its contents before they settled on the two worried looking girls, a smirk pulled at the corner of his lips.

“Why on earth would you ward a library door?” Cygnus growled as he stepped in front of Bellatrix, invading her personal space, and observing her down the length of his nose in the most supercilious way. Hermione felt like she wanted to push the man away, outraged that he would show aggression towards his child, but she knew that action wouldn’t be well received by anyone.

Bellatrix fixed her jaw and lifted her chin, refusing to back down to her father’s intimidation tactics but still not quite able to meet his eye. “I wanted to make sure Andromeda and Narcissa couldn’t get in.”

“And what could you and.. this girl possibly be doing in my library that you do not want your sisters to see?” Cygnus barked, his eyes flicking to Hermione for the briefest moment, the look of disgust that overtook his features was enough to make her squirm on the spot. She had the distinct feeling that he knew exactly what they had been doing and why the door was locked and warded.

The other man stepped forward and Hermione’s eyes drifted to him, there was something unsettling familiar about the way he held himself with his shoulders rolled back and his neck tense. His lips were full but set in a firm straight line, his face spoke of careful control. But it was his eyes that filled Hermione with horror. His eyes were deep set and at first glance one would assume they were dark brown but when you looked more closely they were clearly red, the colour of fresh blood. Standing before them was undoubtedly Tom Riddle, even though he was looking much more human than she had ever seen him, those eyes could not belong to anyone else. His gaze slid towards Hermione and she looked away quickly, attempting to ward her mind as best she could. Minerva had begun teaching her Occlumency after the war. She imagines a labyrinth spiralling in her mind, each wall made of a different impenetrable material, her thoughts and memories safely stored in the inaccessible centre. 

Voldemort cleared his throat before speaking with an evident smirk as he spoke; that high, clear voice haunting to the ears. “Cygnus, perhaps it is best you don’t ask questions you wouldn’t like the answer to.”

Cygnus prickled at Voldemort’s obvious mocking; he clenched his jaw in a way that was very reminiscent of his oldest daughter when she was mad. His eyes held Bellatrix’s for a long moment, with an intensity that would have made even a grown man wither. Her face greyed slightly and the muscles in her neck twitched but otherwise she stood firm. “Bellatrix, I’m sure you are aware of who this is.”

“Of course, Father.” Bellatrix nodded at him, showing a degree of subservience, showing that she was prepared to behave. It was odd to see the girl beholden to another’s demands of her. The Slytherin turned to Voldemort and bowed low, looking at the floor, she held the pose long enough to show obvious deference. “It is an honour to meet you Lord Voldemort.”

 “And this is the girl that my wife invited to stay with us for Andromeda’s birthday, she’s related to Minerva Mcgonagall.” Cygnus said in a rush as he gestured nonchalantly with his arm towards Hermione. Annoyance prickled inside her at having been referred to simply as girl by Bellatrix’s father twice, but she swallowed it down. There were far worse things the man could be calling her she was sure, plus she was far too intimidated by the two men stood in front of her to correct him. Her eyes flicked towards Bellatrix, her nostrils were flaring in clear annoyance but she too had decided it was best to bite her tongue for now.

“Hello, I’m..I’m Hermione Ross. It’s erm… it’s a… pleasure to meet you both.” Hermione stumbled over her words nervously, a smirk tugged at the corner of Voldemort’s lips, she felt bile rise up the back of her throat. She couldn’t believe she was in the presence of Lord Voldemort and she was having to be nice and cordial with the man. But she daren’t show her hand too much, she knew he was smart so he would have figured out they were on opposing sides the second Minerva was mentioned. Perhaps that was why Cygnus had been so cold with her so far, maybe he didn’t agree with any relative of an Order member being in his house. Quickly she realised she was doing that thing she always did and was thinking too loudly around one of the country’s most skilled Legilimens. She squeezed her eyes shut, took a calming breath and attempted to clear her mind before turning her attention to Bellatrix’s father. “Lord Black you have a lovely home, thank you for hosting me.”

Cygnus’ lip twitched it what appeared to be irritation, his eyes dancing all over Hermione’s face before holding her gaze until it became uncomfortable. Just when she felt like she might have to look away before she melted on the spot he switched his glare to his daughter. Cygnus glared at Bellatrix in that pointed way, clearly communicating an expectation non-verbally, before speaking slowly. “Lord Voldemort has requested a meeting with you Bellatrix. I’m sure you are aware of what a privilege that is.”

Voldemort smiled at Bellatrix and Hermione could see that the man could have been considered handsome at one point in his life. Before he had begun to tear his soul apart and create Horcruxes that is. Now his skin was just a little too pale and there were purplish rings around his unnaturally red eyes.  “I have heard a lot about your extraordinary skills Miss Black.”

“Really?” Bellatrix asked without thought, the shock at Voldemort’s compliment clear in her voice. Cygnus’ head snapped towards her and her shoulders sank as she realised how inappropriate her response had been, she quickly tried to correct herself. “I mean… thank you My Lord.”

Cygnus’ attention turned back to Hermione; she had never seen eyes so black, it was as though they were just deep voids of bottomless darkness. The man’s brow furrowed as he looked her up and down, she had to fight to stop herself from attempting to smooth out her robes or fix her hair under his scrutiny. Hermione wasn’t sure she had ever been this intimidated by a person before in her life, everything about him was imposing. And that was saying something considering the other man in the room was Lord Voldemort. The corner of his mouth pulled up into a sneer before he pointed towards the door he had arrived through a few minutes earlier. “You can leave now girl.”

“Her name is Hermione.” Bellatrix snapped angrily at her father, her resolve with the man’s disrespect reaching a breaking point. Hermione had clearly told them her name not two minutes previously; it wasn’t like he didn’t know it. Nobody seemed to notice Cygnus move, it happened so quickly, but a resounding crack echoed through the library. Hermione looked towards Bellatrix who had barely moved but on her right cheek was an angry red mark, her lip had split and blood was welling from the cut. Hermione turned her attention to Cygnus who was adjusting the signet ring on the little finger of his right hand where it had slipped when he had back handed his daughter. She strode over to her girlfriend, not caring about the social ramifications, and delicately covered the red mark on her cheek with her palm. Bellatrix covered her hand with hers and moved it away from her face swiftly, she looked at her with panicked, tear filled eyes. “Don’t Hermione… please.”

Hermione whipped around to face Cygnus, a murderous look on her face. She hadn’t felt this seething anger since she had thought she heard Draco call her ‘Mudblood’ just before she arrived here. She knew she was at risk of losing total control of her temper and with these men around that could be very dangerous, but she just didn’t care. “How dare you? How dare you put your hands on her?”

Cygnus whipped his wand from its holder at his hip with a snarl, as quickly as he moved Bellatrix countered and in a flash she had pulled her girlfriend behind her. She puffed out her chest and spread her arms wide to further shield Hermione from her father, but she didn’t attempt to go for her wand. Cygnus begun to raise his arm slowly, his eyes zeroed in on Hermione where she was visible over his daughter’s shoulder. A pale, long fingered hand gripped his wrist and halted his motion immediately, Voldemort levelled a serious gaze at the dark haired man. “Cygnus, I think it might be best if you left us.”

“Of course My Lord.” Cygnus ground out as he reluctantly holstered his wand again, he turned a brutal gaze towards Hermione and gestured with his head towards the door. “Come girl.”

“Miss Ross will stay.” Voldemort cut in, he raised an eyebrow at the other man challenging him to defy him. Cygnus’ jaw clenched before he turned on his heel and marched from the room with his cloak billowing behind him. Voldemort turned his blood red eyes to the two girls again. It seemed like an eternity that he scrutinised them, he took in Bellatrix’s protective posture and how Hermione’s hand gripped her waist in an almost intimate fashion. His featured softened into a smile; although it may have been genuine it still appeared forced, almost foreign upon his features. “Heal her face please Hermione.”

Hermione hastily stepped back in front of Bellatrix and slipped her wand out of her sleeve. She cast a quick Episkey and watched as the red mark on her cheek faded and her lip knitted back together. She reached up and rubbed her thumb over the faint line that was the only evidence that remained of her injury. Bellatrix smiled at her softly and nodded in silent thanks before stepping around her to look at Voldemort. “Thank you My Lord.”

Voldemort waved the thank you away, his face returning to its previous neutral expression. “I’m impressed with your ferocity Miss Ross, it takes genuine bravery to stand up to a man like Cygnus Black.”

Hermione swallowed thickly and attempted to compose herself, she could feel her anger simmering in her veins still. She knew she needed to be in control of it, in control of herself if she was to make it through this meeting without destroying the future. She thought carefully about what she should say, she determined that the truth was a safe enough option here. “I cannot abide cruelty.”

“An admirable quality.” Voldemort nodded but left the topic there, he turned towards Bellatrix who had been watching the exchange between the two with rapt attention. “Bellatrix, I imagine you are curious as the why I have requested a meeting with you.”

Bellatrix looked down at her feet self-consciously for a moment, before seeming to remember her breeding and standing tall again. “Yes My Lord.”

“As I am sure you are well aware, over the last few years I have been gathering a group of exceptional witches and wizards to help me fight for a cause I am very passionate about.” Voldemort began, when Bellatrix nodded enthusiastically in response he continued. “I believe that the wizarding world has been led astray by weak leadership, there was a time centuries ago when wizards and muggles lived harmoniously together. But due to the muggle’s fear and misunderstanding we have been forced into a position of subservience, forced to hide and live in the shadows. I believe that it is time for a change in our current government, I believe it is the wizards time to rule.”

Fear prickled up Hermione’s spine, of all of the moments from the past she could be baring witness to it had to be this one. She had to be here for the moment that Voldemort attempted to recruit Bellatrix. What was she supposed to do? Should she attempt the stop this, or would that change the timeline too much? Should she just let this continue and let Voldemort get his claws into Bellatrix? But maybe this was the exact reason she was sent here, maybe this was the fate that Dumbledore had spoken of. Perhaps she was always supposed to be here, the thought didn’t make her feel any more comfortable though. Hermione could see Voldemort’s tactic, he was attempting to butter Bellatrix up, to stroke her ego. She could imagine it would work too; Bellatrix had spent so much of her life searching for approval, looking for someone who recognised her talents. She had tried to be that person for her girlfriend but she knew that her opinion wasn’t enough, she would always seek the validation of someone like Voldemort. She may be powerless to stop Bellatrix from being seduced by Voldemort but perhaps she could force him to be a little bit more truthful. That way her girlfriend would have all of the facts before she rushed into joining the Death Eaters. “How…How do you intend to put wizards back on top My…Lord Voldemort?”

“Well Hermione, by doing what I am attempting to do right now.” Voldemort replied with a charming smile that seemed more practiced than the one earlier, he gestured towards Bellatrix. “By recruiting the best and the brightest to my cause, by helping them into jobs within the Ministry so that we can begin to exact real change, change that is written into policy and law. I am sure you will agree that Bellatrix is a brilliant witch and could have any job that she wished within the ministry.”

“Yes, of course I agree.” Hermione replied, unable to argue with the logic that Bellatrix was brilliant. “I believe she would be capable of achieving employment with the Ministry without your help though.”

Voldemort narrowed his eyes at Hermione’s comment, it wasn’t often that anyone argued with his way of thinking. “Do you have aspirations to work within the ministry Bellatrix?”

“Yes My Lord, I would love to work in the ministry.” Bellatrix answered quickly, the hopefulness and excitement in her voice almost broke Hermione’s heart. This was clearly what Voldemort had offered to her in order to get her to sign her life over to him. She knew he had used manipulation to recruit many of his followers but seeing the process happen first hand was something else.

“It is just a shame that you are a woman.” Voldemort said with a false sympathy, Hermione could see the twinkle in his eye as he spoke. He knew exactly what he was doing, he knew exactly which buttons to press in order to get to Bellatrix. “Without my help you will be a broodmare for a man with half your intelligence.”

Bellatrix visibly bristled at the comment; she took a deep breath while she composed what she wanted to say in her head. “I am not promised to anyone yet My Lord.”

“No but your father is in talks with a few families, old families with old ideals.” Voldemort continued, he put his pale hand on Bellatrix’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. Hermione had to fight the urge to slap the offending appendage away. “I could guide his hand towards a family that is sympathetic to my cause, someone who would allow you to work any job that I would need you to.”

“Do you believe any pureblood man would be willing to let their wife have a job that is comparable to his own?” Hermione cut in, she could tell she was starting to push her luck with her comments now, she never had been good at knowing when to shut up.

“If I give an instruction it will be followed.” Voldemort snapped, his red eyes flashing in warning but he calmed quickly. He rearranged his features into the bland neutrality they had held for the rest of their meeting before he spoke again. “I could even find a husband who would be happy to allow your relationship to continue.”

“Really?” Bellatrix asked, that naïve enthusiasm that always made Hermione melt present in her voice like before.

Voldemort smiled that charming smile again and looked at Hermione subtly yet pointedly. “Yes, I have someone in mind who I think would be perfect.”

Hermione knew in her heart she should keep quiet, that she was probably one ill-advised comment away from being Avada Kedavra’d on the spot, but still she butted in again. “And what would Bellatrix have to do in return?”

“As I’ve already said, I need people I can trust within the ministry. I would expect her to work hard, get the excellent grades she is predicted and gain employment in the ministry.” Voldemort answered, the irritation he was feeling starting to show through a little in his voice now. “I would also like to tutor you personally Bellatrix, to train you in some of the more advanced types of magic that Hogwarts does not teach.”

“Like the Dark Arts?” Hermione questioned before she could stop herself, she mentally face-palmed, she was going to die tonight. You would think after lasting through a war she would have more survival instincts than this, but no, she was about to antagonise Voldemort into killing her.

“Hermione…” Bellatrix chastised her girlfriend, looking between her and Voldemort with a worried expression.

Voldemort laughed lightly and shook his head dispelling both girls’ worry that he was likely to launch an attack. “You do not see any value in having a deep knowledge of the Dark Arts Miss Ross?”

“I don’t see how using the Dark Arts could ever lead to anything positive.” Hermione answered in a small almost timid voice, attempting to do some damage control.

“Even the most mundane of spells can be damaging Hermione. Wingardium Leviosa can be used to kill if that was the person’s intent, Lumos Maxima has been used as an interrogation tool in the past, Alohomora has been used to break into people’s homes.” Voldemort spoke passionately, Hermione could see how people would be won over by his words. Even she couldn’t argue with what he was saying, any spell could be used with malicious intent. “I am hoping to incite real, significant change in our world. But change very rarely comes without conflict, and I don’t want to thrust anyone into the centre of a fight with no way to defend themselves. Believe me, those that will stand up against us will not do so peacefully.”

“I agree that right and wrong is not black or white, particularly when it comes to times of conflict.” Hermione said, the fact that she was being less fractious seemed to please Voldemort. “I believe a philosopher once said ‘war does not determine who is right, only who is left.’”

“I intend to be one of the ones that are left.” Voldemort stated confidently. “And I want to bring as many like-minded people along with me. Bellatrix, would you like to be one of those people?”

“I…” Bellatrix began, she looked at Voldemort and then at Hermione before reaching out the take her girlfriend’s hand and interlocking their fingers. “I want to work for the ministry, I want wizards to be able to live freely, I want to be with Hermione.”

“With my help you can have all of those things Bellatrix.” Voldemort said with the most sincere smile he had worn all night. “With my help you can be one of the most powerful witches this country has ever seen.”

Chapter Text

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.”