Chapter 1: Captured
The wizarding world was at war. It wasn’t that surprising, it was a situation that had been developing for years, decades even, with one man stoking the fire of hatred. He wanted pureblooded witches and wizards to believe that muggles were an inferior species, and that muggleborns did not belong. To that end, he had formed the Death Eaters, a feared group of bigots who wanted to cull what they called “The Infestation of Mudbloods” in order to achieve total pureblood supremacy.
But of course, for every every push for hatred, there was an equally powerful show of strength and protection from witches and wizards who believed that everyone was welcome, and they were fighting to rid themselves of the Death Eaters. They fought as a group, an order: The Order of Merlin.
There was a bit of an irony to the entire situation. Whereas the leader of the Death Eaters showed his face to the world - a horrible and inhuman appearance due to the many years he spent getting distorted with power - his followers and lackeys all hid behind metal masks. The Order was the exact opposite, the fighters would proudly show their faces, while their leader hid under a hood and behind a mask. It was porcelain white, seeming like the wearer had lopped off the visage of a marble statue of Merlin, and stuck it on his face.
But Dumbledore had trusted Merlin, up until his dying day, and that was good enough for most of the Order. Though lately, things had been tense - with the war ramping up and both sides wanting to gain an upper hand - Merlin’s mysterious ways were being scrutinized by everyone. Charismatic he might be, which made it easy to trust him, but some could argue that the Death Eaters’ beloved leader Voldemort was charismatic as well.
Which was exactly what two wizards and a witch were currently arguing about.
“Come off it, Hermione, Merlin has his shady moments, and you know I don’t like him at all,” said the first person. Ron Weasley was a simple man, if someone were to ask him, he’d much rather be playing chess right now in front of a fire, rather than being outside in the middle of the night, freezing his arse off. Which might be a contributing factor for his foul mood.
Hermione, the singular witch in the vicinity, huffed. “I call it hiding your identity for everyone’s safety, and it’s not like he doesn’t come with a pretty glowing recommendation - from Dumbledore no less!”
The third person in the group, Harry Potter, cringed. “Yeah well, he’s conveniently dead, isn’t he?”
The trio fell silent. The Hogwarts Headmaster had been a staple in the wizarding community for what seemed like forever, even Voldemort had a grudging admiration for the man. Rumour had it that he had once gone to Hogwarts and asked Dumbledore to stand aside, to not participate in the war, with Voldemort’s guarantee that he would be spared. Dumbledore refused, of course.
“It’s not like it’s his fault he died, it was those bloody crazy Lestranges,” Hermione noted.
No one knows what really happened that night. Seventh year students were celebrating their graduation, the festivities spilling out from the Great Hall into the courtyard. As far as the official story goes, Rodolphus and Bellatrix Lestrange had gone to talk to Dumbledore, presumably about Merlin, trying to get him to divulge the identity of the blasted Order’s leader. But one of the Lestranges didn’t want to come back empty-handed, and killed Dumbledore with a swift Avada Kedavra and threw him off the Astronomy Tower onto the courtyard below. Bellatrix Lestrange escaped, but Rodolphus Lestrange was found dead, also killed with the same curse. Who killed who was still up for debate, but the guilty party for at least one killing curse was obvious.
“No matter, he can’t vouch for him anymore, and that doesn’t mean he’s not shady, or maybe he’s changed his ways, pressure can do that to a person.” Ron countered. “How much longer? I swear if this intel is wrong-”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “And this is what happens when we go off books. Sirius is great and all, but you can’t really expect him to have better intel than Merlin.”
The boys had to agree, and Hermione sighed. She never would have thought she’d find herself here. She was so excited to go to Hogwarts all those years ago, learn everything about magic, and then once she graduated, work her way up the Ministry ranks to become Minister for Magic. But the saying about best laid plans was true for a reason. Seven years after her graduation had found Hermione fighting for her freedom and right to live as a muggleborn in the Order, with little time for a job or career aspirations.
Thankfully she didn’t have to worry about money, between the Order’s funds and staying at Sirius’ place, she was set. At least for the time being. Surely she wasn’t expected to be part of this war for her whole life.
And yet, for some, it had been. Like Harry, whose parents were the first casualties in this war, and had birthed the fire in him that saw him fight for most of his life, even while in school.
The mission was simple: Sirius had overheard a discussion about a meeting. He had been disguised as an animagus, currently being a persona non grata in the wizarding world, and rather than taking the intel to Merlin, he took it to the trio.
“All you have to do is go there, and see who is meeting,” Sirius had said, leaning back on his chair, until he was balancing it on the back two legs; he had put his hands behind his hand, the total picture of nonchalance.
Hermione had bitten her lip. “Isn’t it a bit dangerous? I mean, what if it’s a trap? Shouldn’t we send it to Merlin first? See what he says?”
“Sod it all with Merlin and his cheeky greetings.” Sirius had sat up and jabbed his finger onto the table. “This is happening tonight, and I’m bloody sure that by the time Merlin gets the note, the meeting will be long over. This is our chance to see something new, not just follow after Merlin like obedient house elves, waiting for our next interminable list of tasks.”
Hermione had been very reluctant, but agreed, if only because Ron and Harry were going, and she knew they would be a disaster without her. Not that she was an excellent fighter, because she definitely wasn’t, but because the two of them shared one brain cell and more often than not were incapable of being subtle and thinking about strategy. Now, that she was good at.
So here they were, hidden under Harry’s invisibility cloak, crouching behind a dumpster in a dark alleyway across the street from where a meeting would be presumably taking place.
“There!” Harry pointed to where two men were talking and walking across the street. It was Yaxley, if the photos were correct. The other man was unknown. They were whispering as Yaxley fumbled for a key.
“This must be a safe house,” Hermione commented. But they couldn’t hear anything from all the way there. “We have to listen in.”
“Oh!” Ron fumbled as he fished something out of his pocket. “Fred and George gave me one of their extendable ears.”
For all his frantic searching, he accidentally smacked his elbow on the dumpster, which made a dull thunk.
“What was that?” They had gotten the Death Eaters’ attention, whipping out their wands as they began to walk towards the alleyway.
“Who’s there?” the unknown man said, casting Lumos to light up the alley.
Both men were at the entrance, and Ron, impulsive and ready to fight as he was, pushed himself out of their hiding spot, casting a knockback jinx.
“So much for recon,” Hermione muttered. But it fell on deaf ears as Harry also pushed himself away from their hiding spot to fight by Ron’s side. Hermione swore. Was it impossible to do a simple mission? Staying under the cloak, Hermione watched as the fight now had moved to the middle of the cobblestone street. Thankfully they were in a wizarding neighbourhood, otherwise this would be very awkward. She edged closer to the action, staying hidden. Perhaps she could serve as backup if things began to go sideways.
She saw that Yaxley was losing ground, and like Death Eaters were wont to do, he decided to cheat. Hermione saw him Disapparate, and then appear behind her friends without Harry and Ron noticing.
Hermione had to do something. She couldn’t very well run out with the cloak, she’d trip most likely, so she shed the piece of fabric, shoving it into her expandable bag with one hand, and pulled her wand out of her sleeve. She had to warn her friends. “Behind you!”
As a last minute thought, she quickly sent a jinx out towards Yaxley, hoping it’d stop him.
Meanwhile, Harry and Ron both turned around and that’s when things really went from bad to worse.
As everyone else was focused on Yaxley, the other man used this time to send a quick Flippendo towards Hermione. At the same time, Harry had cast a Protego to bounce whatever jinx Yaxley had sent back towards him, but the latter quickly erected a shield that bounced not only his own spell, but Hermione’s, and he directed it right back to Hermione.
It all happened too quickly. Much too quickly to erect a shield of her own. All three spells hit her in the chest at the same time, sending her flying back onto the dumpster, hitting her head against the metal edge before she collapsed on the floor. The last thing she could recall was her friends calling out her name, scared. And then everything faded to black.
When Hermione came to, she felt way too many things all at once. The pain all over her body was immeasurable, the searing discomfort in the back of her head was making it hard to concentrate, and if she tried to open her eyes, the bright light above her was blinding.
“Hermione!” she heard Ron’s shrill screech and cringed.
Her throat was dry as she ground out, “’m right here, no need to yell.”
She honestly wasn’t sure if that’s what actually came out of her mouth.
“Oh thank Merlin,” Ron breathed.
She heard Harry’s voice. “Hermione, are you okay?”
“Not particularly…” she managed to say.
“You’ve got to get us out of here,” Ron said, panicked.
Hermione groaned. “What?”
Harry sought to explain. “They took us to this compound, and we’re locked up, but you’re not. We have to get us out of here before they come back.”
She cracked her left eye open, squinting against the light before she slowly managed to turn her head to the left to see her friends suspended by their wrists against the wall. She could barely move her arms, but felt the loss of her wand. “I can barely move and I don’t have my wand.”
“Can’t you do wandless magic?” Ron asked, aghast. Then, seemingly asking Harry. “D’you think she hit her head a bit too hard?”
Hermione groaned and gasped as she responded. “I have a banging headache, so…. attempting a wandless spell would be disastrous, and I will remind you that wandless magic-” The sentence dropped off because Hermione did not have enough energy to explain that wandless magic was far from reliable.
“So how the bloody hell are we going to escape?” Ron asked. He was afraid, that much was obvious. Gone was the bluster he had displayed in the alleyway that had gotten them here in the first place.
Hermione used as much energy as she could to try and sit up, but the pain that shot up from her right shoulder quickly ended that attempt. Clearly she was in such a state that the Death Eaters hadn’t even found her to be worth the trouble to lock up.
Before anyone could try to come up with any ideas, they heard sounds of approaching footsteps. “What the hell is it that you wanted to show me Yaxley? I have important things to do for the Dark Lord…” could be heard from outside the doorway.
It was muffled a bit, but the voice was unmistakable. Bellatrix Lestrange. Voldemort’s most trusted Death Eater. Just as unhinged as he was, and with the same convictions and ideas, but more volatile if the stories were to be believed. Hermione felt her heart drop. Their chances of escaping just evaporated.
The door opened and presumably Yaxley and Lestrange strode inside. Hermione couldn’t be sure of the fact - her body was growing tired and she felt weak, she couldn’t move her head to find the door and look.
Then, a figure stepped into view, decked in a black cloak, hooded and wearing the typical Death Eater mask. Try as she might to school her features, the mask had been a frequent visitor in her nightmares, and thus seeing it brought a visceral fear to the pit of her stomach. She tried to move away, but once again found that her body was of no help. Even flinching and the sharp breath that followed caused her pain.
The figure, who Hermione surmised must be Lestrange, regarded her for a moment before looking at Ron and Harry. Once she spoke, her voice confirmed her identity. Shrill and mocking, there was no doubt who it could be. “And here I thought you were going to show me your bones collection again. The Dark Lord will be pleased. Potter and his allies, caught. He might actually forgive you and Carrow after your last fiasco.”
Yaxley chuckled and added, “Yeah, I figured it’d be worth something.”
Lestrange hummed and with a flick of her wand, removed her mask. She lowered the hood and regarded Harry and Ron.
Ron, ever the confrontationalist in the face of a Death Eater, had regained his bravado. He gritted his teeth and looked Lestrange right in the eye, straining against the shackles holding him to the wall. “Leave them alone Lestrange.”
Lestrange narrowed her eyes. “Incredible, I muder my husband and yet people still think that I kept my married name.”
“I don’t give a damn what you call yourself, leave them alone.”
With a rich, albeit unsettling laugh, Lestrange responded, “And why would I do that? I could kill the three of you right now, you have no way to fight.”
“You’re a spineless lot, thinking you’re better than everyone. I’m one of you lot aren’t I? Pureblood? Doesn’t that grant me a chance to fight you or something? Some ancient honour code?”
Lestrange whipped her wand to point it at Ron’s neck. Harry made an exclamation of surprise tinged with fear, but Lestrange didn’t waver, and instead smirked wider. “You think you’re so clever, don’t you? We are better than everyone. But because of your ideals, you are nothing more than a simpleton, which is why you align yourself with blood traitors. The Weasley name fell out of favour many generations ago, and look where you are.”
“Better blood traitor than purist,” Ron ground out.
“You can claim all the supposed moral high ground Weasley, but we will be victorious, rest assured. Now, as much as I enjoy chatting with the hoi polloi, I have things to do.” She regarded the three of them in turn, eyes lingering on Hermione’s prone form last. “It seems that she’s at death’s door.”
Yaxley piped up, “The mudblood won’t last long.”
Lestrange rolled her eyes. “That is literally what I just said Yaxley, try to keep up.”
Hermione watched as Lestrange approached her. “Yes, I suppose I can torture her for information until her body gives. Then we can see what the Dark Lord would like to do with Potter and the blood traitor.”
“Leave Hermione alone!” Ron yelled out.
Harry also tried to get Lestrange’s attention. “It’s me you want, get away from her!”
Lestrange paused and turned back to the boys, and for a second they both thought that she was reconsidering. Hermione waited with bated breath. “I’m not sure what is funnier, the fact that Potter thinks he’s important enough to save his…”
“Mudblood?” Yaxley supplied.
Lestrange glared at him. “I was pausing for dramatic effect Yaxley. Anyway, Potter, you are nothing more than a nuisance. Your parents might have been the first casualties in this war, but let me assure you: you are not important enough to use yourself as a bargaining chip. The only reason the Dark Lord wants you is so he can tamp down on the Order’s inane ability to hope that you’ll defeat him. You have no value, and certainly not enough to save your little friend.
“And Weasley, maybe next time don’t blab someone’s name? A name can give us a lot to go on.”
“Now.” Lestrange used her wand to cast levitating charm on Hermione, but the resulting screams of pain at being lifted without support was enough for Lestrange to end the spell. “Change of plans. As I’d rather not lose my hearing via those banshee yells, we’ll do this the old fashioned way.”
Hermione was sure the old fashioned way would be something horrible. Instead, she was surprised when Lestrange picked her up, bridal style.
Yaxley looked like he wanted to say something, but wisely curbed his tongue.
Lestrange turned so Hermione was looking at her friends. “Now, take a long last look because it’s the last time you’ll be seeing each other.”
Harry and Ron’s yells and pleas fell on deaf ears as Lestrange carried her away. The door to the cell closed behind them, drowning out her friends’ screams. Yaxley quickly excused himself, leaving Hermione alone with the Death Eater.
As they made their way to their destination, Hermione was sure she was growing delirious. Because that would be the only way to explain why being carried by Bellatrix Lestrange wasn’t filling her with absolute fear. Maybe it was the pain. Maybe she had accepted her fate.
No matter what it was, she didn’t have much time to dwell before Lestrange was turning around to push a door open with her back, kicking it closed with her boot. Hermione felt the other woman shift as she held her hand out. Hermione turned her head and looked at the wooden table where she was sure she’d be placed on, bracing herself for discomfort.
When Lestrange put Hermione’s legs down, the latter was surprised that it seemed that her captor had cast a wandless Molliare, cushioning the table. Without looking at her, Lestrange gingerly lowered Hermione to lie down by holding her shoulders. Hermione was sure she was a bit out of it, because once she was set down, she was sure that one of Lestrange’s thumbs made a soothing sweeping motion from where it rested on her unhurt shoulder. But she probably imagined it.
Without saying another word, Lestrange summoned her wand, seemingly materializing it in her hand. She pointed it at Hermione’s shoulder, and the latter squeezed her eyes shut, preparing herself for the inevitable pain.
Except, she didn’t feel pain. She felt relief from the pain. If she didn’t know any better, she was getting healed. When she opened her eyes, she saw Lestrange now pointing to Hermione’s forehead. Her headache was subsiding, though the confusion at her current predicament wasn’t helping to get rid of the headache entirely.
“Where else are you hurt?” Lestrange asked softly, a far cry from the almost maniacal voice she had heard in the other room.
Hermione gaped, unsure if she should answer.
“Come on, we don’t have enough time,” Lestrange pressured.
“Are you serious?” Hermione asked.
“You cannot possibly be Bellatrix Lestrange.”
“Again, murdered husband, so I’ve dispensed the Lestrange name. There’s no way I’ll continue playing the weeping widow. It’s Bellatrix Black.”
Hermione nodded slowly. Le- Black regarded her without blinking, forcing Hermione to do so as well.
“Injuries?” Black prodded.
Hermione pointed out a few other points, especially in her back and her cranium. She watched as Black healed each point in turn, gingerly turning her to get to her backside. Once again, she felt the soothing motion of the thumb on her shoulder. She only felt the back-and-forth motion twice, but it still made her pause.
“I’m assuming your ribs are in a poor state too,” Black commented once she was done. She headed to the other side of the room. “I don’t have time to heal everything, certainly no time to get rid of the blood, so you’ll have to get someone else to do the rest. I did just the bare minimum to make sure your health doesn’t continue deteriorating.”
As Hermione looked around the room properly, she saw that she was in an infirmary of sorts, though it could arguably be construed as a torture chamber with the right motivation.
Black returned with a cup of a murky liquid. She placed it down to the side and helped Hermione to sit up and swing her legs to the side so she was sitting facing Black. Grabbing the cup again, she held it out to Hermione “Drink up.”
Hermione eyed the cup wearily. It was bad enough she was still very much out of it, and was practically seeing two cups in front of her. Hell, the whole thing seemed surreal. Bellatrix Black, one of the most ardent blood purists, was helping Hermione heal. And being soft with her. Surely she must either have lost all of her marbles, or she was hallucinating.
“What is this?” Hermione timidly asked, eyeing the contents of the cup.
Black sighed. “Well there’s two options here. Either it’s Skele-Grow, or some dreadful poison. Take your pick.”
Hermione took the cup. It smelled horrible, and she held her breath as she downed the contents. She returned the cup once she was done and made a face. It was Skele-Gro.
“Now, can you stand up?” Black asked.
Gingerly, Hermione tried to stand up by sliding off the table. She stumbled and nearly fell, getting Black to rush forward to catch her by slipping her arms under Hermione’s, holding her up.
They were close now.
Way too close.
Hermione could see every detail in the other woman’s face. The dark, almost black eyes, some errant curls that flew to the front of her face. She looked young, much younger than Hermione would have imagined. But that wasn’t the most puzzling thing.
She was expecting vitriol from Bellatrix. She would have understood seeing a glint of maliciousness in the Death Eater’s eyes, followed by harsh words and actions. She was sure Black would push her away and mutter about dirtying her robes with her mudblood hands.
But she was not at all prepared to look into those eyes and see worry. To hear a soft “Are you okay?” To feel once again a thumb brush twice on her back where the other witch’s hands had come to rest.
“Yeah,” Hermione breathed. This could not be Bellatrix. Black, Lestrange, or otherwise.
“Right. Now, for your escape.”
Bellatrix stepped back as Hermione used the table to hold herself up. “Escape. Surely you don’t want to stay here? You need to rescue your friends and get away from here.”
Hermione just stared blankly at Bellatrix.
“Oh for the love of-'' Bellatrix let out a weary sigh. “Listen to me. I want you to pay attention because I’ll only say this once. On that box over there-'' Bellatrix pointed towards an open box beside where the Skele-Gro was “- is your wand and your friends’ wands. You then can Apparate into the cell, but to Disapparate out of the compound, you have to exit the cell. Do you think you can do that?”
“I-” Hermione tried to take a step forward but fumbled, getting Bellatrix to once more step closer in order to keep Hermione standing by holding on to her upper arms. After she was sure she wasn’t going to collapse. She looked back up at Bellatrix’s eyes, trying to find the trick. “What?”
“You really are out of it, aren’t you?” Bellatrix remarked. “You must be concussed.”
Hermione’s surprise that the woman in front of her had knowledge of such a muggle condition was making her head spin. Sure, wizards could get concussed, but for the other witch to call it that just seemed so out of place.
“I know it won’t fix it, but for now, you need a rush of adrenaline.” After a few soft pats on Hermione’s cheeks that did nothing, Bellatrix moved forward…
And kissed Hermione on the lips.
That definitely kick-started Hermione’s senses. She had to get out of here fast.
The kiss was chaste and didn’t last for more than a few seconds, but once they parted, Bellatrix smiled victoriously. “Seems that did the trick.”
There was no malicious smirk, no snarky comment about her status or infatuation. Hermione couldn’t waste any time though. She braced herself against the table with one hand, and the other used her entire energy to concentrate and held out her hand towards the box. “Accio wands!”
All three wands flew to her hand, and Hermione barely had time to catch Bellatrix’s proud smile and wink before she Disapparated.
She wished she could say she had a smooth landing, but the fact was that her hand had been on the table when she left, and thus she took the table with her. Once she arrived at her destination, the table made a loud clanking noise, splintered and out of shape.
That caused Hermione to promptly collapse against the table that had originally been there. She braced her arms against the tabletop while her legs practically became jelly.
“Hermione!” came the twin surprised shouts of Harry and Ron.
Hermione, for her part, was trying very hard to stand up rather than holding on to the table for dear life in order to not crumple to the ground. She managed to twist around enough to see her friends, transferring the other two wands to her left hand as she used her right to point her wand at the wall shackles. A quick Alohamora opened them and the boys sprang into action, rushing towards Hermione. They grabbed their wands from her before they each grabbed one of Hermione’s arms to sling over their shoulder and carry her. “We need to leave the cell in order to Apparate out of here,” she instructed.
Harry and Ron nodded, unlocking the door easily. When they were in the hallway, Harry Disapparated the three of them out of the compound.
Chapter 2: Healing
A note because I forgot to mention in the last chapter: this is an AU. Things will be revealed in time as to what the changes are, but a lot of things happened differently as you will soon see.
The trio Apparated in the foyer of Number 12, Grimmauld Place, and Harry immediately called out “We need help!” as they made their way down the hall towards the staircase, with both boys carrying Hermione still by her arms over their shoulders. Ron kept glancing at the witch, noting that she was dragging her feet, and her head lolled a bit.
There was a cacophony of sounds as the whole house seemingly rushed from where they were situated. Walburga’s picture came to life as she screamed in the commotion, but was thankfully silenced just as quickly.
Sirius was first to appear. He took in their appearances and blanched. “What happened?”
“Mission went sideways, Hermione’s badly injured,” Ron explained.
Cursing under his breath, Sirius ushered them further in the house. “Let’s take Hermione up to her room. Remus, send out a contact for a Healer.”
Remus, standing in the kitchen doorway, nodded and headed to the study. The other trio in the house, Ginny, Neville, and Luna, were standing on the second floor landing, and they backed away as Harry and Ron passed through with Hermione.
Ginny flinched at seeing her friend’s state. “Who did this to her?”
“She took three spells to the chest,” Harry began as he continued climbing, Sirius and the others trailing behind. “Then she smacked against a dumpster-”
“Those are the metal containers where the garbage goes?” Sirius asked, unsure about the muggle terminology.
“Yeah. Then Bellatrix Lestrange was there-”
As they reached Hermione’s room on the third floor, Harry finished giving a very brief explanation. Ron pushed the door open and they got Hermione on the bed. They did so gingerly, hoping to not hurt her more.
“She looks a right mess,” Neville commented. “I hope she recovers okay.”
Sirius nodded solemnly as they all looked at Hermione. “She’s a fighter. I just hope whatever my dear cousin did didn’t cause excessive psychological damage.”
They stood in silence for a moment before they heard Lupin bounding up the stairs. “Sent the message out over the network. Got a response right away. Didn’t catch a name, but they said they’d be here in a wink.”
Hermione blinked slowly, trying to keep up with the conversation. She was conscious, but her body was very tired, her muscles ached from the activity, and she likely did have a concussion. She heard that a Healer would be coming soon, and she sighed in relief. At least she was finally safe from the bizarre world she found herself in in that compound.
“What in the blazes happened?” thundered a voice from the doorway.
“Merlin’s beard!” Ron exclaimed, jumping out his skin at the new voice. Merlin was standing in the doorway, clad in his getup, head turning to gaze at everyone in turn.
“And the rest of me is here as well, and I’m just dying to hear why I received an urgent message for a Healer in the middle of the night when I know I didn’t assign any missions.”
Ginny’s group and Remus subtly shifted back. In this, they were innocent.
“Please, Hermione’s hurt-” Ron began.
Merlin sighed. Priorities. “All right, all of you out. I’ll tend to Ms. Granger’s injuries and then I will go to the kitchen where you will hopefully tell me exactly what happened.”
“I actually called for a Healer-” Remus began, holding his hand up.
“Yes, and I answered. I have training as a Healer, and can tend to her injuries.” Merlin’s response left no room for further discussion, and thus everyone filed out silently. Once they were all gone, Merlin closed the door. If Hermione didn’t know any better, she thought he might have casted a spell at the room, probably to keep eavesdroppers away, and made his way to the bed.
Hermione regarded the leader of the Order. The mysterious aura that surrounded Merlin meant that his mask remained perennially on, and at this point, Hermione was somewhat tired of masked individuals.
Merlin laid a hand on her shoulder, and Hermione glanced at it, thinking she felt a familiar gesture, but quickly dismissed the thought from her head. “Now, let’s see if we can’t get you healed.”
“Funny story,” Hermione began, “Some of my injuries are healed, at least partially.”
Merlin’s head tilted slightly to the side in confusion. “Did Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley heal you on the way here?”
“Not exactly….Bellatrix Black did?”
Merlin’s expression was obviously unreadable behind the mask. Even the eyes were covered, so Hermione didn’t have a chance to gauge how he took the answer. But the silence was enough. He merely took out his wand and silently began to work.
After a moment, he said, “If you’re feeling up to it, I’d like to know what happened.”
“Wouldn’t you rather hear it from Sirius and the others?” Hermione asked. “They might know more. I was out of it for a good part.”
“Perhaps, but not about her. And I have a feeling that Mr. Black will be yanking my wand around trying to justify what I am surmising was a very poorly thought out plan.”
Hermione had to chuckle. She began to recount the events leading up to their capture, and Merlin was a rapt listener. He didn’t interrupt, and if he had a question, he’d slowly raise his free hand a bit to indicate. It also spoke to his skill that he was able to listen, ask, and heal her.
Once she reached the part about the compound, Merlin paused for a bit to listen more intently.
“She took me in her arms, something about my screaming being a nuisance for her, and she took me over to an infirmary of sorts. Then it was like I was with a totally different person. She was…comforting and kind and careful. Do you think someone Polyjuiced themselves to become her?”
Merlin sighed, magicking a cotton pad and alcohol into his fine leather gloved hands to wipe the blood from her forehead. “It would be at great cost to them if they had. But no; inexplicably, from the mannerisms you described, and the knowledge and context of Yaxley’s comments make me think that it could really be her.”
Hermione bit her lip in thought, or maybe it was for the sting of the pad against her sensitive skin. “But why heal me? I mean, if anything, I thought I’d be at the bottom of her list of people she’d help. I was expecting her to make things worse.”
“That, I cannot answer right now. But I would like to see how it plays out. Does anyone else know about this?”
“No, I haven’t gotten a chance to tell anyone else, they all think I managed to muster up enough energy to escape from under her nose.”
Merlin nodded once. “Then let’s keep this between us.”
Hermione agreed. Despite everything that Ron, Harry, and even Sirius thought, she trusted Merlin. Sure, she was curious about the complete need for secrecy, and the clandestine methods that they did things sometimes, but he seemed to have his heart in the right place, even if his sense of humour regarding people’s exclamations when it involved his moniker were a bit ‘dad-joke’ style.
“Now, let’s see if we can’t heal your head a bit. I think you might have a concussion.”
“Yeah, funny enough, she said the same thing.” Hermione continued to explain everything that happened, the Skele-Gro, and the instructions to escape. She left out the part about the kiss, enough was going on without adding that into the mix. “And here we are.”
At first, Merlin just hummed and continued pointing his wand at her head. She hadn’t heard any spells, but knew that as a Healer, he’d be armed with a lot more to help her get better. “Well, whatever her reasons, I’m glad she decided to spare you, Ms. Granger. Now, I hope you feel a bit better. I’d like for you to rest for the coming week. As it stands, I’ll be ordering Mr. Black and your cohorts to remain in the house, benched I believe is the muggle term.”
He gave her some potions to drink periodically to help finalize the healing. “Now, rest. If you’ll excuse me, I must speak to the rest of your team. I’ll be coming by to check in with you when I can.”
Hermione nodded. “Thank you for your help - I feel a lot better.”
Merlin nodded and stood up, leaving without another word. He left the door open, and eventually the voices filtered through.
“What were you thinking?! Oh that’s right, you weren’t thinking, were you, Mr. Black? You nearly got Ms. Granger killed!”
“I had actionable information! If we hadn’t used it, it would have been for naught!”
“And how did you get this information?” Merlin asked.
Sirius’ response was too low for Hermione to hear, but the subsequent reaction was heard loud and clear.
“Are you daft? You are wanted! The Ministry knows you’re an animagus.”
Harry’s voice piped up to add, “But he’s innocent.”
“We know that, but the facts remain, Mr. Black is wanted in the murder of your parents, and nothing short of an arrest and time in Azkaban will satisfy Scrimgeour, and you know that. Innocent or not, the mere fact you have evaded arrest for 15 years is enough to get you sent there.”
Hermione didn’t hear the response, or maybe no one could come up with an adequate justification.
“As such, I am ordering your team to remain in the house for the following week, as consequence for what happened, and you, Mr. Black, are to continue remaining in this house for the foreseeable future, and you’re not to go out, neither as a human or dog. Am I clear?”
There was a chorus of begrudging agreement. As Merlin took his leave, Hermione felt her eyes grow heavy, and she promptly fell asleep.
The following days Hermione spent sleeping resting through the exhaustion and pain. As far as anyone was concerned, Hermione thankfully had been able to escape from Black’s clutches in a brief moment of distraction while the Death Eater’s back had been turned, and Merlin had been the only one who healed Hermione up. Everything had gone back to normal, or well, mostly.
What irked Hermione beyond measure was that everyone was walking on eggshells around her. Sure, it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility that Hermione would have endured some trauma, but despite her many assurances that she was fine, they still treated as if Hermione would break at any moment. They were even going easy on her when they played board games, and Hermione was beginning to feel suffocated.
“I’m going out,” Hermione called, shrugging her jacket on. Her body notified her that the movement wasn’t exactly welcome, and she flinched.
“You’re under house arrest as much as we are,” Harry said as he stepped out of the study. She glanced behind him and saw that he had been poring over their maps and intel, an attempt to keep himself busy.
Hermione huffed. “I need some fresh air.”
Harry put his hands up placatingly. “Hey, you don’t have to tell me. It’s Merlin who ordered it.”
“Right, but I’m assuming we are allowed to stretch our legs?”
Sirius came out of the kitchen, decked in an apron and everything, preparing dinner. “Unless you’re me, then I suppose he won’t lose his pantaloons if you were to go out for a bit. You, more than any of us, deserve it.”
Hermione nodded once and made her way down the hallway towards the door, before Disapparating and heading to the heart of London. She needed to feel like herself for a moment, even if it was among the dull humdrum of muggle life. She walked aimlessly about, gazing into shop displays and browsing some bookstores.
As was expected, she found a few titles that piqued her interest, and she bought them. She cursed as she recalled that she had left her expandable bag in her room, and had to carry the plastic bag with her books. Thankfully they weren’t heavy, but it still was uncomfortable, seeing as she was used to being able to stuff everything in the magically enhanced bag. Plus, despite the magic and potions, her body was still tired from the ordeal.
When she stepped outside, she saw that the sun was setting, and figured she should head back. She was waiting to cross the street in order to go to a designated Apparition location, when she spotted none other than Bellatrix Black on the other side, starting to cross the road. Thankfully not towards her, but rather in the perpendicular direction, and thus the other witch hadn’t seen her.
The opportunity was too good. Hermione wasn’t sure if she wanted to follow her to get information on the Death Eater and perhaps get back into Merlin’s good graces - it was her weakness, she couldn’t bear disappointing someone, nor even believing she had done so - or if she also wanted to accost Black into telling her what the hell was that game she had played the other day.
Hermione scoffed as she watched Black cross to the other side, keeping her eye on the other woman who was still oblivious to Hermione’s presence, and she wanted to keep it that way. There was no way that Hermione would be able to overpower the other witch, nor was she stupid to try. So she would just follow. A reconnaissance mission. What the other day should have been.
The good news was that Black didn’t seem to be in a hurry to get to where she wanted to go, as she kept on browsing the shops, meaning that Hermione was able to keep an eye on her as she finally made it to the same sidewalk that the other woman was on.
The bad news was that, as she wasn’t in a hurry, Hermione kept having to find ways to quickly blend in when Black would randomly stop and look at something. It led to a very awkward moment where Hermione was left staring into a store that sold fishing equipment.
Thankfully, Black hadn’t seemed to notice her, and Hermione kept her distance as she followed her out of the busy commercial district. Night was beginning to fall, and it’d be harder to hide without crowds to hide behind.
Suddenly, Black changed course and headed into a dark alleyway, lighting up her wand in the process. Hermione gulped. She had her wand, sure, but she couldn’t very well light it up for fear of being seen, and instead just pulled up her jacket hood and followed behind, keeping an eye on the other woman’s lit wand. There was no hiding here, if Black turned around, she’d be spotted. The brief anonymity that her hood provided would do in a pinch, but she’d surely be recognized, and Black would likely not take too kindly to being followed.
And then, she was in the dark as Black turned a corner, taking the light with her, and Hermione cursed. She continued advancing, remembering the layout from when the wand was still in her sight. Her eyes were slowly adjusting to the dark, and as she turned the corner, she was able to see that she was facing an enclosed courtyard that led nowhere. It was empty. Where did Black go?
Next thing she knew, she had the wind knocked out of her as someone pushed her up against the wall none too gently, and a wand lit up below her chin, illuminating Bellatrix’s relatively deranged face. “And who do we have here?”
The voice was the mocking tone that Black was well-known for. Hermione squirmed, unable to press back against the bodily weight on her chest, nor the arm steadfast against her chest. She couldn’t even reach for her own wand, hidden in her sleeve.
The wand moved up to her face under the hood. Recognition dawned. The mocking tone was gone as she said, “You, from the other day. I can see you made a fantastic recovery.”
“No thanks to your pals,” Hermione huffed.
Black let out an indignant huff. “And no thanks spared to me who healed you a bit, thus allowing you to escape in one piece?”
“About that, why did you let me go?” Hermione asked. Since she was here, she might as well ask.
Black let out a chuckle. Not derisively, but as if she was actually amused. “Would you have preferred to stay? That would be a first.”
“No! Just- you- you know what I mean!”
“Oh yes, that clarifies everything perfectly,” Black quipped. “Any other illuminating statements you’d like to share? Such as why you’re following me?”
“I wasn’t following you!” Hermione vainly tried. But the wand tip that pressed closer to her neck and the raised eyebrow said otherwise. “Okay fine, but it was an accident, sort of. I was just out and about and I spotted you. I wanted to see if maybe I could get some answers and here we are.”
That seemed to satisfy Black’s curiosity, or at least enough to retract her wand a bit. “Yes, I can see you dropped some books. I hope one of them’s about fishing, judging by how engrossed you were by the window display at the bait shop.”
That got Hermione to blush. It seems that despite her best intentions, she did not fool the other woman.
“As for why I let you go, I have my reasons.”
“Care to share?” Hermione asked, hoping to get more than that.
“No, actually, I do not.” Seemingly changing the subject, she continued, “Now, I’m no expert, but I thought concussions took more than a few days to heal, even with magic. Don’t tell me you escaped from your caretakers.”
Of course Black managed to find some way to chastize her. “I didn’t escape, I needed some fresh air.”
“Oh yes, the air is so fresh here.” To punctuate her point, Black moved once more dangerously close, so that their noses were almost touching. “But I will make you a deal. I’m not feeling very murderous today, so I will let you go, on the condition that you go back to your home and finish healing, and if you do spot me again, you do not follow me. Is that clear?”
Hermione couldn’t believe her luck. Meeting and getting away from Bellatrix Black twice in a week? Surely that must be a record.
“Y-yes, deal.” For some reason, Hermione felt she had just made a deal with the devil.
“Good. So remember, healing, and no following.” Black removed her wand and then, just before removing the arm across her chest, Hermione was sure she felt Black’s thumb brush in the same gesture from the other day on her shoulder.
But it was so quick she could have imagined, and next thing she knew, she was alone. She picked up her bag, and Disapparated back into Grimmauld Place.
Thankfully she was better at fooling her friends than Black, as she stayed mum on her unexpected meeting.
“So, how was the walk?” Sirius asked with a smile as she passed by the study.
“Good,” she said with a smile, turning towards him.
“You look a bit flushed, did you run?”
“A bit, was about to miss the crossing signal and well,” Hermione said, the excuse flying off her tongue as she shrugged helplessly in a ‘what was I supposed to do?’ gesture.
She spotted Remus behind him still sitting on a chair, wringing his hands. Harry and Ron were near him, but they were looking at her.
“Are you guys planning something?” Hermione asked, suspiciously. They better not be.
“No, no, we’re waiting with Remus, his group isn’t back yet and they’re a bit behind schedule,” Sirius explained. “But, why don’t we head to the kitchen? I’ll heat up some food for you.”
“Oh, it’s alright, I can do that, if you want to stay with Remus…”
Sirius waved dismissively, closing the door behind him and headed down to the kitchen. “No need. I’m sure they’re fine, but it’s hard not to worry, you lot have become our children really. There’s nothing we can do other than wait.”
She sat down at the long table as Sirius got her food ready, still talking about Ginny and co’s mission. However, her mind was furiously working on trying to figure out whether she should tell Merlin about what had happened to her earlier. On one hand, she’d be admitting she left the house, but on the other, it could be valuable intel to explain that once more, she was able to get away, further proving that Black was truly acting differently. At least towards her.
“Here you go,” Sirius said, serving her a plate of shepherd’s pie. “Do you want some company?”
Hermione shook her head. “It’s okay, go be with Remus.”
Sirius gave her a thankful smile as he bounded up the stairs. And Hermione continued to weigh the pros and cons of telling Merlin.
In the end, she decided to bite the bullet and send the message once she reached her room.
Just as she was heading up, Ginny, Neville and Luna had Apparated, grinning widely in their success. Everyone was in a celebratory mood, but Hermione excused herself, saying she was going to leave her newly bought books and change into something more comfortable before heading back down. Once she reached her room, she wrote a quick message before sending it off with a flick of her wand towards the fireplace, muttering “Merlin” as she did so.
Their communication system sort of worked like the floo network, with their messages travelling from fireplace to fireplace. It felt like only minutes had passed since she had sent the message before she heard Sirius loudly exclaim, “Merlin’s most baggy Y-fronts!”
Hermione rushed to the landing to look down to the ground floor where Sirius looked like he’d had a nice fright at seeing their leader show up suddenly.
In typical fashion, Merlin responded, “Now that you mention it, I do wonder what happened to those, they were quite comfortable.”
“What are you doing here?” Sirius asked, tone edging on combative.
Then Merlin glanced up right at Hermione. “Two purposes. I wanted to debrief Mr. Lupin’s group on their mission, see how things went, and I came to visit Ms. Granger. It has been a while since I checked up on her, and I wanted to see how she was doing. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll go check up on her first.”
Hermione headed back inside her room as she heard Merlin climb the stairs. She left the door open and went to sit on the edge of her bed. The message had been merely a vague ‘I have an update, meet me to discuss’, and clearly Merlin had nothing better to do.
Once Merlin reached her door, she beckoned him inside, and he closed the door behind him, casting a spell. Once he saw Hermione’s curious look, he said, “This house has a lot of ears, and I think privacy would be good.”
She couldn’t argue with that, and waited as Merlin sat down in the comfy chintz chair by the bed. “I was quite curious when I received your message. It was vague, but an update from you could only mean one of two things. Either your injuries had gotten worse, which from a glance doesn’t seem to be the case, or it has something to do with Ms. Black, which would be curious as you were supposed to be staying here recuperating, and I cannot possibly fathom how you would have anything to add.”
Hermione bit her lip. “Right, it’s a funny story…”
“I’m sure it’s a riot, I can’t wait to hear it,” Merlin snarked, leaning back on the chair to cross his arms.
So Hermione set to recount the tale of her needing to get out, going window shopping, even showing him some of the books she had purchased. “And then, imagine my surprise when I see Bellatrix Black on the other side of the street!”
That got Merlin to sit up. “Wait, she was out in muggle London ?”
Hermione nodded. “Yep, looking like a regular muggle for all intents and purposes. And she was window shopping too.”
“And you managed to tail her without her noticing you at all?”
“Not really. I thought I was being subtle, but she had clocked me quite far back.” She finished telling the story while Merlin just listened. “I honestly don’t know what her plan is…it’s been twice now that I’ve gotten away in one piece after meeting her.”
“Well, I wouldn’t make it into a habit, it could get you hurt,” Merlin cautioned.
Obviously Hermione hadn’t been planning either of these meetings, it’s not like she actively sought the Death Eater, it just happened. But once more, she nodded and said she would not be finding herself alone with Bellatrix Black. It was almost like a promise now, one that she had made to two people.
Too bad she didn’t keep it.
Chapter 3: Mad
Within the Order, everyone was split into groups of three in order to allow each person to form a camaraderie and learn their team’s unique skills, rather than working with a rotating medley of people who might rush out at inopportune times or not work too well together.
For Hermione, when she had joined the Order, she knew she wanted to be with Harry and Ron, that much was certain. She’d been with them through thick and thin even before they had joined, dismantling some of Voldemort’s plans through sheer luck and youthful determination while they were at Hogwarts.
Each trio had its own leader, someone who was older and more experienced. In Harry’s case, Sirius had been his first choice, as he had been one of Harry’s guardians growing up. And since Harry and Ginny were dating, it made sense that when she graduated from Hogwarts, she would team up with Luna and Neville, and they’d work under Remus’ tutelage. As Harry’s other (and officially only) guardian, as well as one time Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor, Remus knew them all and was more than happy to be their leader.
It at least provided the six young witches and wizards for a more diverse group dynamic, especially when they were playing Monopoly. Their current game had been going on for a month, ever since Hermione had been injured and the other 5 had tried to think of ways to keep her entertained. Remus and Sirius were more than happy to leave a room for them to use so the board could remain open and in place for the 6 to continue their game when they had free time.
The past month had been quiet, Hermione thankfully hadn’t seen Black again, and their missions, albeit small, were successful. Merlin hadn’t spoken to her again in private, and for that she was thankful. She didn’t enjoy keeping secrets from her friends, though what kept her from spilling the beans was that she had an inkling that if she had shared what had happened, all hell would break loose. So she kept her meetings with Bellatrix Black to herself.
The radio fritzed and Ginny sighed. “Blasted thing can never stay still.”
She adjusted the antennae and Lee Jordan’s voice came through once more. He was the official correspondent for the Order. If any well-meaning witches or wizards had a tip they wanted to submit, all they had to do was write to him, anonymously if they so wished. He would also relay updates on the Order’s missions once they were over, as a way to boost morale.
Currently he was talking about a successful destruction of a Death Eater hideout, and Hermione tuned him out, ready to roll the dice.
“Breaking news - the Knight Bus has apparently just been hijacked by Death Eaters.”
Everyone stopped at that, the dice in Hermione’s hand clattering onto the board in a deafening silence. Harry called for Sirius and Remus, and soon enough, everyone was crowded around the radio.
“According to eyewitness reports, a group of Death Eaters flagged the bus down, and took the passengers, as well as Stan and Ernie, hostage. At this time, we were not able to confirm how many passengers were on board, as the Death Eaters used the bus to escape.”
As they continued to listen, they all practically jumped when a voice behind them said, “Well then, I suppose that makes my briefing a tad shorter.”
“Merlin’s beard!” Ron exclaimed as he jerked in his seat in surprise, banging his knees against the table making the boardgame rattle and some pieces to fall over.
Merlin, standing in the doorway, reached up to stroke his mask’s engraved beard. “Perhaps one day I should shave it, maybe that will get everyone to use some other exclamation.”
“We need to install a bell on you, mate,” Ron muttered, rubbing his knees.
Both Ginny and Hermione exchanged glances of amusement.
Sirius and Remus stood up. The latter spoke first. “I’m surmising that we are going to be leading the rescue of the kidnapped Knight Bus passengers and crew?”
Merlin nodded. “Precisely. A source told me where they were held, and this plan requires two groups. One to rescue the people who are being held in one compound, and the others to get the bus back.”
“The bus?” Ginny asked, confused. “What are they doing to the bus?”
“According to my source, those neanderthals are trying to install some kind of pureblood detection mechanism. I don’t think I need to remind you what happened the first and only time one of those inventions was inserted?”
The room fell silent. That’s how Harry’s parents had died, fifteen years ago. They had gone into the Ministry for some paperwork, using the telephone booth entrance. Voldemort’s group, then a meagre lot, had apparently created a contraption that would only allow purebloods passage. However, the machine malfunctioned, killing James and Lily in an explosion that destroyed the phone booth.
To make matters worse, the previous passenger of the elevator had been none other than Sirius, hence the Ministry’s belief that Sirius was behind the attack and thus the culprit. Sirius’ guilt was immense. He had crossed paths with the Potters when he came out of the booth, had spoken to them, cracked a couple of jokes, said he would wait for them, and not five minutes later, had fallen to his knees in horror when he saw the exploded booth.
Merlin cleared his throat. “Which is why, in the interest of getting this assigned, I’m assigning Mr. Lupin’s team the bus, and Mr. Black’s team will rescue the passengers and the crew. Now, if we can push the Monopoly board to the side, we can get started. Time is of the essence.”
No one disputed the decision, but everyone looked towards Harry and Sirius, who were singularly focused on Merlin’s briefing. Though under their concentration, you could see their anger, their guilt, their pain. Once Hermione moved the board away with her wand, Merlin spread out maps.
Once everything was explained and there were no more questions, Merlin took his leave while both teams got ready. Remus and Sirius were accompanying their respective groups for support, and before each group Disapparated, the two men shared a kiss for good luck.
When Hermione looked around after their arrival, they saw that they were in the countryside, in the vicinity was a thick stone enclosure keeping what looked like a relatively dilapidated barn very well-guarded.
“A lot of security for an abandoned hovel eh?” Sirius said as they peeked out from a bush a ways away. They were looking with omnioculars to get a lay of the land. These models had been enhanced by Fred and George, meant to allow the Order to use it on missions in order to amplify sound and images without risking their necks - an idea they got after the extendable ear fiasco nearly got Hermione killed.
Harry zoomed in on two Death Eaters who were standing guard just inside the gates. “Those are the guys from last time! Yaxley and what was the other guy’s name?”
“Carrow,” Hermione supplied, shuddering at the memory.
Ron turned a knob. “Let’s hear what they’re saying.”
Through the tinny speaker, the four heard Yaxley and Carrow’s voices.
“How much longer do we have to do this for? It’s getting dark soon and I’m hungry,” Carrow complained.
Yaxley smacked the other man upside the head. “Suck it up will ya? We’re in enough shit as it is. Lestrange is coming, and we have to look competent, otherwise she’ll report us to the Dark Lord, and you know what comes after.”
Carrow paled at that. Whatever it was, it was bad. Hermione guessed it was probably the Cruciatus curse, knowing the lot of them.
She felt eyes on her and turned to see the three men looking at her. “What?” she asked.
“Lestrange is gonna be there,” Ron said, as if that explained everything.
Hermione sighed. “I distinctly recall her saying she wanted to go by Black.”
Sirius groaned. “What a jumped up toadstool she is, her blood purism has gone to her head. One rumour comes out that Lestrange might not have been completely pureblood and she offs the man. No love lost, but come on.”
“Anyway,” Hermione said, not wanting to dwell. “We’ll be fine, let’s just get everyone out before she gets here.”
Everyone nodded. Sirius put away his omnioculars. “Right. What’s the plan?”
They looked at Hermione expectantly. Despite Sirius being the one who would supposedly call the shots, they had long ago realized that Hermion had more of a knack to this. Sirius might come up with the broad strokes, but the minutiae was entirely up to Hermione. “Let’s set up the Portkey here. Harry, Ron and Sirius, you will distract those two, as well as anyone else who comes by, and I will free the passengers, deal?”
The men nodded. Her reflexes were not as great as they should be for the amount of duelling that they frequently did, so she was glad to just sneak around and get everyone out.
They made their way closer to the compound, thankful for the thick blades of grass that kept them out of sight. Once they were close enough, the men took off towards the entrance while Hermione continued hiding in the grass, inching closer to the compound, but still far away so the next part wouldn’t hurt her.
Harry and Ron shot a “Bombarda” towards the gates, loosening the lock slightly, and Sirius hurled a “Bombarda Maxima!” to really blow the gates clean off. Carrow, Yaxley, and two other guys rushed out to meet them, leaving the gate unguarded. Hermione slipped inside, and made her way to the barn. She pushed the door open, and cast a lumos.
The barn was mostly empty, save for a metal transport container that clearly had to be housing the passengers. It was made of metal, and had a big and shiny lock on it. It seemed too easy.
“Homenum Revelio,” Hermione whispered, pointing her wand at the container. Well, there was clearly a group of people in there. It rested to see whether they were the Knight Bus’ occupants or a group of Death Eaters lying in wait to attack.
Well, she had to at least try to rescue them. She approached the container and pointed her wand at the lock.
“I wonder…” the new voice from the far side of the barn made Hermione whip around in surprise. There, leaning against another doorway, arms crossed, was none other than Bellatrix Black grinning at her. Shit.
Hermione gulped. She would at least try to engage in conversation, if only to formulate a plan. “What do you wonder?”
Black pushed herself from the frame and looked behind Hermione towards the container, her Death Eater robes swirling at her movements. Her hood was down, letting her wild black hair out. “Do you always go around opening locks without any regard for your own safety?”
That was…very much not what Hermione was expecting. Granted, it was on par with Black’s curious new approach to acting around her, but she was still drawing a blank on how to respond.
She opened her mouth a few times, not able to form an adequate response. When Black began to approach her, she found her voice and pointed her wand towards the Death Eater. “Stay back.”
Black raised her hands up lazily as if Hermione’s show of bravado was beneath her. She was wearing the standard Death Eater’s black leather hide gloves, making it a bit hard to see her hands in the semi-darkness. She tutted. “Such little trust for someone who was yet again about to save your life?”
Hermione frowned. “What are you talking about?”
Black nodded her head towards the lock. “It’s jinxed. You try to Alohomora that thing and it’ll send you and those poor sods in there to teatime with the Hogwarts founders, if you know what I mean.”
Yes, she did - it’d kill them, plain and simple.
“Why are you telling me this?” Hermione asked, warily. For all she knew, Black had jinxed it herself.
“Oh for the love of- your sense of self-preservation is really not on par with the rest of you Merlin lovers,” Black explained, exasperated.
“Oh yes, because your lot have a tendency of helping us muggleborns rescue the very people they capture, you know?” Hermione bit back. “Besides, you’re mad, for all I know, you want me to do something stupid and blow us all to kingdom come.”
Black rolled her eyes. “You know, I really don’t like that word: mad . I find it to be a word that wizards use when there’s a witch they can’t explain. When she’s too smart, or too cunning, or brave, I’m sure you’ve had someone call you mad when you didn’t deserve it?”
Hermione faltered. She had been called mad many times. But then she steeled her resolve. “If you’re trying to distract me, you’re wasting your time.”
“Far from it, I’d rather you be the smart one here and see that that lock is jinxed. Besides, if anyone here does look to be a few gobstones short of a set it’s you, as you’re the one currently pointing your wand at a defenceless witch who is trying to help you.”
“Defenceless? You know wandless magic, you could disarm me before I even have the chance to cast a spell at you.”
“And yet, we’ve been having this lovely conversation with your wand still in your hand.”
If Black was trying to play mind games, Hermione wasn’t going to let her. Except. She hadn’t realized that Black had been taking small steps towards her for the past few minutes they had been talking, and was now standing barely a few metres away from the tip of Hermione’s wand.
“Do you think I’m stupid enough to fall for your tricks?” Hermione asked, narrowing her eyes.
“Not at all. I did some research on you, Brightest Witch of Her Age,” Black said, “And you seem far from stupid. But I do think you need some more training if you can’t spot a jinxed lock.”
“Is that so? Are you offering?” Hermione bit back.
Black grinned. “Maybe some other time.”
The grin infuriated Hermione. It was playful! Like this was all a game for her. “So if you’re so altruistic, then are you at least going to tell me how to open this lock?”
“Generally keys open locks,” Black responded, whipping out a keyring with a singular key on it and hooking it at the tip of Hermione’s wand as if her wand was a keyholder. She had moved so fast that Hermione didn’t even have time to react.
Hermione moved her wand, no longer pointing it at the other witch. The ring slid down her wand, and she examined the key. It looked like it could fit the lock.on the container.
“Now, if you’re done looking at the key, I’ll be off. Oh and, how about we continue to keep these little meetings to ourselves hmm?” Black asked as she stepped back towards the other doorway that she had come from. “I appreciate your discretion with this, otherwise I won’t be able to help you anymore.”
Hermione didn’t even have time to process it. She didn’t even check to see if Black was still there. She grabbed the key, putting her wand away, and headed to the lock. Inserting the key, it let out a satisfying click that allowed her to unlock the container. There, to her happiness, were Stan and Ernie, as well as six other people, including a child.
Stan recognized her face and beamed. “We’re saved!”
“Keep your voices down! Head towards the barn door, but stay inside,” Hermione instructed. The eight hostages did so without another word, while Hermione quickly thought about what to do. She took the lock still in her hand and placed it on a bay of hale. She looked back towards where Black had last been standing, and saw that the other witch was still there, hidden in the dark, her Death Eater robes and hood hiding her well. She nodded and winked at Hermione with a grin from under her hood before magicking her mask on and Disapparating.
Hermione shook the image from her head and headed back to the Knight Bus group. “Now, we need to get to the gate, but try to keep out of sight. Once we’re out of the compound, I want you to keep going straight and run over the hill. You’ll find a tree with a Portkey that will take you to the Ministry. Don’t touch it until all eight of you are there, got it?”
“Aren’t you coming with us?” one of the passengers asked.
She shook her head. “I’ll be Apparating, now, any other questions?”
There were none, and Hermione watched the group approach the gate, Hermione turned back towards the farm, and pointed her wand at the bay of hale, sending a quick Alohomora at the lock, before booking out of there.
She heard the explosion before she felt the rumbling, debris flying behind her as she cast a Protego charm at her back to keep her safe.
The Knight Bus group was looking at her and the explosion in awe. “Keep moving!”
They didn’t need to be told twice, before they rushed out of the compound, away from the fighting, and towards safety. Hermione briefly paused to look at the fighting, making eye contact with Sirius who immediately grinned and whistled.
“Come on gents, let’s leave this sorry lot to have to explain that mess to their fearless leader,” Sirius said, holding his arms out for Harry and Ron to grab onto one before he Disapparated with them in tow.
Hermione was about to do the same when the Death Eaters looked towards her.
“Well,” a shrill voice called out, getting everyone’s attention. Bellatrix Black was sitting on top of the stone wall of the compound, decked out in her full regalia, the picture of unhinged. “It’s a good thing I didn’t Apparate right into the compound otherwise I’d have been charred! Anyone care to explain?”
Hermione took the moment to be the perfect distraction tactic, forcing the other Death Eaters to stumble to try to justify their failure to the supposedly recently arrived Death Eater, and she Disapparated back home.
The mission had been a roaring success, and certainly cause for celebration at the Burrow, where Molly and Arthur welcomed everyone, including the Knight Bus folks, for a large party, enjoying the crisp summer air. Harry and Ron were entertaining the crowd with a retelling of them taking on four Death Eaters at once, after they had heard Ginny, Neville and Luna tell the story about how they had driven the bus right out of the compound like a group of deranged maniacs, nearly running over all the Death Eaters, and kicking out the ones who tried to get in.
Sirius and Remus watched the retellings with a smile on their faces, the former’s arm around his husband. They were technically still not officially married, as the fateful day at the Ministry had been to submit the paperwork on the marriage certificate, but it had been denied after the Potters’ deaths.
Hermione was looking on at the party from the tent’s entrance, content with being by herself and away from the crowds. As far as anyone knew, she just rescued the people and escaped right as Bellatrix Black had arrived.
But in her mind, she was still trying to put together the puzzle that was her recent interactions with Bellatrix.
“Knut for your thoughts?” a voice asked from behind her. Merlin.
She smiled. “You really are quiet on your approaches.”
Merlin chuckled. “Perhaps, but you at least don’t scream out like Mr. Weasley has the tendency to do.”
Hermione shared the laughter. Once it died down, she sighed and said, “As for my thoughts…I met our friend again.”
“Oh?” Merlin’s tone didn’t really give any indication of his thoughts, and he gestured for them to move further away to talk.
And talk they did. She told him everything that had happened in the barn, and even the seeming distraction tactic to allow her to get away.
Merlin walked in silence beside her for a few moments as he thought.
“Do you think,” Hermione ventured to ask, “That she’s doing her own thing? Sabotaging Voldemort’s crew for some reason?”
“It’s possible, though whatever her reasons might be, this shows that she’s clearly not Voldemort’s dedicated puppet and enforcer. At least that’s how she’s appeared to you.”
Hermione recalled something as she heard Merlin’s tone. “I know this must be hard, I know how much you hate her.”
“No more than any other Death Eater,” Merlin responded airily.
Merlin paused to turn and look at her. “Yes? What gives you the idea otherwise?”
Hermione shrugged as she stopped too. “I heard a rumour that Black had ruined your life, which was why you had requested once that no one kill her, because you wanted the honour of doing so.”
Although Merlin’s face was hidden, the way his head jerked back made Hermione think that she was off the mark.
“I don’t believe in killing, and will avoid it at all costs,” Merlin explained. “And as for her ruining my life, perhaps there is some truth to that. I know I said it once, back when I started this whole thing and she was being a pain on my side. But if she has changed sides, I will welcome having one less Death Eater to deal with. I appreciate you telling me this, Ms. Granger.”
Hermione muttered her thanks, and then figured to also add, “May I ask why you’re always referring to us by our last names?”
Merlin shrugged. “I suppose it’s out of respect, plus I’d rather treat everyone the same rather than have someone think that I show favouritism to one person by how I refer to them. Or perhaps an enemy might think we are closer, and try to mine them for information.”
“And it keeps them at arm’s length?” Hermione supplied.
“I suppose. It’s a dangerous business that we’re in, and while many of you have bonded and forged friendships and relationships, we are still at a great risk, and we have lost good people during this war.”
Hermione nodded solemnly. It was one thing to be in a small tight knit group, and another thing entirely was to be Merlin and have seen so many people come and go.
“If I may change tracks for a second, I’d like to ask you something,” Merlin said. They were still standing a ways away from the tent, not having moved since they stopped.
Once Hermione nodded for him to continue, Merlin outlined his idea. “I’d like for you to come to work for me in this endeavour. Full time. I understand that you, along with Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley, have all been quite instrumental in dismantling some of Voldemort’s operations, so this is a bit of a departure for you. But I’ve heard that you are a brilliant strategist, and I’m often busy enough that I don’t have much time to be at my study and see all the reports that come in, very often not timely enough.”
Hermione frowned. “You’re demoting me?”
“What? Far from it, I’m saying I trust you enough to work with me on this,” Merlin clarified.
“But… it sounds like I’m being taken to a desk job,” Hermione said, crossing her arms. “Is it because of Black? Because we’ve been crossing paths?”
Merlin sighed and rubbed the tips of his gloved fingers against the mask’s forehead. “Not in the least. This is meant to be a step up for you. You’d be taking the smaller reports and outlining strategies and delivering them to other groups, as I do. Missions such as the one from today would still be under my purview, but things like the botched mission from last month, had it been properly submitted, would have been planned and executed by you.”
Hermione was intrigued. “Can I think about it?”
“Of course, I have only asked you, so there’s no pressure that someone else will be offered this instead.”
“Why me?” Hermione wanted to know. “You said I’m a good strategist and all, but surely there are other good strategists among the Order?”
Merlin chuckled. “Yes, we have plenty. But you intrigue me, Ms. Granger. You persevere, and you have a good head on your shoulders. I truly feel like your talents are meant for more than just running around the country after those yahoos or being hounded on by Ms. Black. I believe that you and I would make a great team. And most importantly, I trust you.”
And Hermione felt that Merlin’s words were true. This wasn’t meant to castigate her, but to let her shine in what she was good at.
Maybe she should do it.
“Are you mad?” Ron asked, flabbergasted.
A few days had passed, and Hermione was ready to share the opportunity she had been offered. In the back of her mind, the word mad triggered the conversation she’d had with Black about the word, and used the shaking of head no to Ron’s question to hide the smile that was threatening to come out. Once she composed her features, she gave a verbal answer. “I’m not mad Ron. This could be a great opportunity.”
Ron scoffed, sitting across from her. “Great opportunity? To sit around in a danky old apartment with Merlin? It’d be worse than living here! No offence mate.”
Neither Harry nor Sirius answered beyond a hum. Harry was pensive as he sat beside her, while beside Ron, Sirius had his eyes closed as he leaned back on his chair so it was resting on its hind legs, a classic pose for him.
“Tell me, Hermione,” Sirius said, sitting up to look at her from across the table. “Are you dissatisfied with things here currently?”
“Does this have to do with the mission that went wrong?” Sirius pressed.
“No, it really doesn’t,” Hermione firmly reassured. “I had nothing to do with this, Merlin sprung this on me out of the blue. At first I thought it was punishment for everything that happened-”
“But then we’d be getting the same thing, wouldn’t we?” Ron countered.
She couldn’t very well mention that he hadn’t been face to face with Bellatrix three times and lived to tell the tale, so she just hummed and continued, “- but he reassured me it was due to my talents, apparently word of my strategic skills got to him.”
Sirius cursed under his breath. “Ted Tonks and I had a wager going on who had the best strategist, everyone was pitching their own, but in the end, you won out. Merlin had arrived just as we were finalizing the tally and he had us continue and announce the winner.
“I guess since then you’ve been on his mind, and he wants you.”
That made Hermione recoil. This couldn’t have romantic undertones, could it? She hoped not. Her affinity was solely towards witches.
Even Ron picked up on Sirius’ wording. “Eww, isn’t Merlin hundreds of years old?”
“Not really Merlin, Ron,” Harry countered, finally speaking. “But I doubt Sirius meant it as a romantic or sexual thing, right?”
Sirius shrugged. “I didn’t, but what the man wants is beyond me. What’re your thoughts Harry?”
Harry took a moment to collect his thoughts. “I’m a bit torn. You’ve always been our rock, Hermione, and while you know that I’ll always support whatever you decide, I’m weary as to what Merlin wants you for. Rumours are running around that he’s not really on the up-and-up. Not entirely.”
Sirius nodded. “Agreed. I’ve heard whispers that more people are beginning to mistrust Merlin, wondering about his cryptic sources that he never names, among other things. Putting a muggleborn witch as his second would certainly be virtue signalling to everyone that he can be trusted.”
Ron huffed. “Or he’s trying to get into Hermione’s trousers.”
Neither option seemed particularly enticing for Hermione, with the latter particularly making her wince and frown in disgust at the crassness.
Remus and his group had just arrived at the kitchen at that moment and saw everyone’s faces.
“Is everything alright?” Remus asked, going to sit beside Sirius. As everyone got settled, Hermione once more told the offer she had gotten.
“I’m not getting any weird vibes from him,” Hermione noted as she concluded her explanation. “But everyone here seems to regard the man with paranoia, especially lately, so now I’m not sure.”
Ginny, much like her boyfriend, was pensive. “He’s shady, that much is true. The mystery and intrigue only work for so long before you start wondering who you’re following.”
Neville nodded. “My Gran’s still not convinced he’s as altruistic as everyone claims he is. She’s never met him, but says there’s a dark aura around him.”
“Funny,” Luna commented, “Professor Trelawney used to say the same thing.”
No one knew what to say to that, especially since the majority of the room had a very low opinion of Trelawney's thoughts.
Luna continued, “But I don’t see it myself. Merlin has a right to protect his identity, for his own reasons, and he probably would benefit from having Hermione’s brains around to help.”
Hermione smiled at the compliment.
Remus hummed. “Tell me, Hermione, before you had sat down, what had you chosen?”
Sirius was about to answer for her, but a quick and soothing hand to his arm from Remus quieted him. The latter prompted her to answer by giving her an encouraging nod.
“I had decided that I did want to go. But I first wanted to ask Merlin if I can change my mind later on, come back here if I wish,” Hermione said.
“Yes, you can,” said a voice from the doorway.
Ron, predictably, jumped up and began, “What in the name of Merlin’s saggy left-”
“Mr. Weasley,” Merlin interrupted. “As much as I often appreciate your more creative greetings towards my surprising entrances, I’d suggest, both for the sake of present company and for my own sake, as well as decorum, that you do not finish that sentence.”
Sirius stood up and marched up to Merlin. “Convenient that you came here just as we were discussing you.”
Merlin didn’t flinch at the proximity, and just calmly responded, “Actually, I was here to hear how Mr. Lupin’s mission went. It’s serendipitous that Ms. Granger was speaking at that moment about my offer.”
At that, Sirius deflated and stepped back a few paces, but still looked upset. “About that offer, are you daft? Breaking up a golden team such as they are?”
“I’m not breaking anything up. I offered Ms. Granger a unique opportunity, which she can turn down if she so wishes. And when I came down here, I overheard her say that she wanted to ask if she could change her mind, so I answered, anything else is purely your own imagination.”
Remus spoke up, “Sirius, come sit down.”
And he did, but not before giving one final glare at Merlin. As Ginny, Neville, and Luna recounted their last mission, Hermione tuned them out and just continued to think. She sneaked glances at the man sitting at the head of the table. She was sure that Merlin sitting there was undoubtedly making Sirius upset.
Despite not knowing who was underneath the midnight blue hooded robes or the marble-like mask, she got the sense that she could trust him. Of course, she was no idiot, some people were very good at hiding their true intentions. But the quiet and careful mannerisms, his assurances and short conversations gave her the feeling that if push came to shove, she could trust Merlin with her life.
Soon enough, they were finished. Truth be told, she didn’t notice until Merlin looked right at her. Despite having no eyes to connect with, she knew he was boring his eyes into hers. She made up her mind at that moment.
“Actually, Merlin, could I have a quick word with you?” Hermione asked, standing up.
Merlin nodded in deference. He allowed her to pass around the table behind him before he stood up and followed her up to her room. She closed the door behind them and this time she was the one who put up spells to ward off inquisitive ears.
Before Hermione could speak, Merlin did so. “I apologize if my offer has brought problems to the group. I only had good intentions when I offered it, and still do.”
Hermione sat down on the edge of her bed, while Merlin once more went to the chaise. “Your idea intrigues me, I won’t lie. I never felt quite right heading into battle, with my lackluster duelling skills, and I’m sure that if Black was a little less merciful, I probably wouldn’t be here right now.”
Merlin let out a hum, stroking the mask’s beard as if it were real. So maybe there was a real beard under there, and the force of habit took over. “Focusing on the what-if and the perhaps of a situation will never do you much good, Ms. Granger. If Bellatrix Black showed mercy, then I would take it as it is. As for duelling skills, that can always be improved.”
“Doubtful, I’ve been practising with Harry and Ron for years and I’m still not even marginally as good.”
“Perhaps it’s about the instruction style. From our brief meetings, you strike me as the sort of person that learns more from books than by someone telling you to move your wand this way or that way just because.”
Hermione smiled. “That may be, but you can’t learn duelling through books.”
“No, that is true, but books provide a how and why, which I’m sure Mr. Potter, albeit a duelling prodigy, wouldn’t be able to explain to you how to make your reaction times faster, or how to pay more attention to your surroundings to use those items in a duel.”
It made so much sense in Hermione’s mind, and it made her wonder.
“Would you be able to teach me? If I go with you that is.”
“When we both have time, yes. Also, as is the nature of this position, I’d also be giving you occlumency lessons, as guarding your mind is paramount.”
Hermione bit her lip in thought for a moment. Was she going to do it? “Okay, I’ll do it.”
She caught the slightest hint of a surprise in Merlin’s voice. “You will?”
“Yes.” Hermione figured that this would be a good opportunity to do something different and meaningful. And of course, if she changed her mind, she could always return.
Merlin stood up. “Well then, when would you like to go?”
Truth be told, Hermione didn’t really want to spend more time in Grimmauld Place. She knew that her friends would continue trying to find reasons to convince her to not go, or to cast doubt, and she had no interest in hearing that. “Would now be too soon?”
“Not at all. Are you all packed?”
Hermione waved her wand. The drawers opened and clothes flew out, heading to a couple of suitcases which opened at her wand’s command. “I will be, in a few minutes.”
Merlin chuckled. “Very well, I’ll go and inform Mr. Black and the rest of your decision.”
“Oh…they won’t take it well.”
“It’s not my first time being at odds with Mr. Black,” was all Merlin said before he left. He once more left the door open, and Hermione heard the voices filtering through.
“I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing Merlin, but these children’s parents trusted me to take care of them, even if that means from you.”
“I think nostalgia is clouding your judgement. No one in this house is a child, and I believe Ms. Granger has the right to make her own decision, doesn’t she?”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Completely. And I do wonder. If you are all so weary of me, why do you continue being part of the Order? Why is it convenient for you that we are allies when we’re rescuing the Knight Bus passengers, but when I am trying to make it so our growing base can rescue more people with the aid of Ms. Granger, you act like I’m Voldemort himself.”
Remus piped up, “He has a point.”
Sirius grudgingly answered, “I trust you well-enough, but for all I know you are Voldemort, trying to play both teams.”
Merlin let out a rich laugh. “Oh Mr. Black, I can safely assure you, I am very much not Voldemort. Think of anyone else, because that is not me underneath this mask.”
“If you removed that blasted mask then we wouldn’t need to have this conversation.”
“Alas, for me to continue doing this, I cannot do that. You’ll just have to trust me. Ms. Granger does, at least well-enough to accept the offer. And wouldn’t you agree that she is a highly intelligent woman? If you don’t trust me, at least trust that between her and Dumbledore, people do find ways to trust me.”
Harry spoke up. “You’ll take care of her?”
“With my life, Mr. Potter.”
Neville also asked, “And you’ll let her return at any moment if she feels uncomfortable?”
“On my honour, you have my word.”
Hermione was brought out of her listening session by hearing her suitcases click shut, so she missed the rest of the conversation. “Locomotor trunks,” she said with a wave of her wand, and her trunks floated up in a line, ready to be taken. When she exited her room, she nearly smacked into Ron.
“Hope you’re happy with your new husband,” he ground out before heading into his own room and slamming the door shut with a resounding slam.
Harry came rushing up, and gave Hermione an apologetic smile. “Sorry, you know how he gets. But keep in touch, yeah?”
Hermione nodded, giving him a quick hug. She went downstairs, suitcases trailing behind her. When she got to the main floor, she had a procession of people to hug her. Remus was second-last. “You’re always welcome for a spot of tea, alright?”
“I’ll be back soon to take you up on that,” Hermione said, hugging him.
Sirius, the last one, cleared his throat. “Look Hermione, despite my opinions on the matter, if this is what you truly want, then I will support you.”
Hermione appreciated it, and said as much.
“And don’t worry about Ron,” Ginny said with an easy smile. “He’s a prat, but we’ll make sure he understands.”
With a nod, Hermione finally turned to face Merlin, who merely said, “I can take one suitcase and you take the other?”
Hermione nodded, and ended the spell so that Merlin could grab a suitcase. They made their way down the hall to the doorway, and got into position. They turned to face one another, and Merlin held out his hand.
She took it, and he pulled her closer. “Off we go.”
With a last look to the side, she smiled at her friends before she headed into the unknown.
When she landed, she found herself standing in the middle of a foyer. She unlinked her hand from Merlin’s and looked around. The wood panelling that covered the room made her think she was in an old, turn-of-the-century house. It looked lived in, cozy almost.
“Welcome to my humble abode,” Merlin said as he stepped forward, opening his arm as if he was a showman about to present a spectacle.
“You live here?” Hermione breathed. “I never would have guessed.”
“Oh? And what were you expecting?”
Hermione nodded towards the mask on her companion’s face. “The British Museum would have been my first guess.”
Merlin laughed. “Sorry to disappoint.”
She smiled. “I prefer this.”
“Good. Now, before we begin the tour, I’d like to set some ground rules. First, this place is yours to roam around as you please. Most of the rooms are available to you at any time. All that I ask is: if you come across a locked door, do not try to push your way through. I do believe in privacy, and I think that we can afford that at least?”
“Which leads me to my next point. My room is off-limits at all times for much the same reasons. Third, I’d ask that you do not try to find out who I am. I do not have anything here that would point to my identity, so please believe me that I say it’d be a moot point. Lastly, please feel free to tell me if you’d like to end this. I have no desire to keep you here against your will, and the minute that you feel you have changed your mind, we’ll make arrangements to get you back to Mr. Black and Mr. Lupin. Deal?”
“Deal,” Hermione agreed, holding out her hand. Merlin shook it.
“Excellent, now, for the house tour. “This is the foyer, as you might have surmised. Now, if you look at the floor, you will see a circle.”
Hermione stepped back, seeing the bright blue circle on the dark parquet floor. Merlin waved his wand, and the circle shifted to another point in the foyer.
“In the interest of keeping curious minds away, I change the location of the circle every day at midnight. Within that circle is the only place in this house that you can Apparate from, and the only way to enter the house. Everywhere else has been blocked, including the doorway.”
Hermione was fascinated. “A moving zone? That’s very advanced magic.”
“As you can imagine, I don’t lead much of a social life, so reading kept me company. I didn’t choose Merlin as my moniker for his good looks.”
At that, Hermione had to chuckle. At least the bad jokes would keep her entertained. “So then what happens if I’m out after you change the zone?”
Merlin shook his head. “If you are out, I won’t move it. But if you should be stuck…actually, that does raise another point. I was thinking of creating some sort of system of communication that we can call on each other if the need arises.”
“Such as a fake Galleon?” Hermione offered. She had created them in the past.
“Yes, but something you can keep on hand. If you’re in trouble, you can’t very well pull out a coin inconspicuously.”
Hermione thought about it. “Perhaps a necklace? Easy to reach and not too obvious?”
Merlin pondered that. “I believe that would be a feasible idea, but I’d be remiss on having anyone thinking that it might cause a stir if word gets out that I gifted you a necklace. Especially Mr. Weasley. He is quite protective of you, and was offended at the idea that I might, how did he put it, ‘try to get into your trousers like a common git’, before he stormed off.”
She flinched at the crass words. “I’m sorry, Ron usually means well. He’s kind of like an overprotective brother in that way. But that was uncalled for.”
“Yes, well, I’d have imagined that he did this because he fancies you.”
Hermione shook her head. “He did, but I fancy witches, not wizards.”
“Ah. I see. Nonetheless, the move might come across as sending mixed messages.”
In Hermione’s mind, there was a simple way to rationalize it. “I mean, I can understand giving me an item with a Protean charm in a handy necklace, there’s no need to add any other value. And after all, no one would have to know the necklace is yours in the first place.”
Merlin nodded. “Excellent, then I will go find us something and prepare it as soon as I can. Shall I show you the house and your room?”
“Lead the way.”
He showed her a drawing room near the entrance, before taking them down to a dining room that looked like it hadn’t been used in years, and towards the kitchen, which clearly had seen a lot of use. “Now, as you can imagine for obvious reasons, I won’t be able to dine with you, but if you would like company and I am available, please feel free to ask. I am handy around the kitchen, so when I have the time, I can cook for both of us.”
Hermione nodded, smiling. “That’s very kind of you. And maybe when you’re busy, I can do some of the cooking?”
“That sounds like a fair trade.” Merlin conceded. Back in the foyer, he led her up the grand staircase, and they stopped in front of the second floor landing. Right in front of them were a set of double doors.
He pushed them open to reveal one of the grandest private libraries Hermione had ever laid eyes on. There were so many bookcases, filled to the brim that she had to wonder how many books were there, and how many might be texts she had never read. The shelves seemed to stretch upwards so much higher than she could have imagined.
“I can see I should have opened the tour with this room first,” Merlin noted with a humorous tone in his voice.
Hermione laughed. “Or perhaps last, you’ll be hard-pressed to get me out of here.”
“Excellent, because this room connects the study where most of the planning happens.” Merlin beckoned her to follow him further inside. “Now, as you can tell, this is the library. I have amassed a lot of books over the years, on any subject imaginable. Naturally, the room has been magically expanded because somehow I keep finding more and more books to add, and the original library could only house so many books.”
“I know the feeling,” Hermione said, thinking of her portable library stuffed into a box in her luggage. She bit her lip. “Would…I mean, am I allowed to read these books?”
Merlin did a double take as he stopped walking, before he turned around and stepped up to her. “Ms. Granger, this entire house is just as much yours as it is mine. Barring my room, everything you see here is at your disposal. In fact, if you’d like to add your books, I will add a shelf just for you.”
Hermione had to admit that in that moment, she could see why Ron thought Merlin had romantic inclinations. If she were attracted to wizards, she would definitely be feeling her heart flutter at being given a free library to share. “I’d like that.”
“Perfect. Now, let me lead you to the study.” He led her down the rest of the library and off to the side, where there was a door which led to a spacious study. There were more bookshelves here as well as a fireplace, but the most prominent thing in the room was a wide table with a large map spread out. There were pins, connecting strings, and post-its marking things. Merlin took the time to explain how everything worked. He pointed towards photographs of known Death Eaters, hideouts both known and suspected, as well as key wizarding locations that could be potential targets. All in all it was a very thorough operation.
She even got the chance to see how the communication system worked as the fireplace spat out a report just at that moment. “We can go over it again another time if it’s a bit overwhelming.”
Hermione gave a grateful smile. “I’d appreciate that.”
“The system has grown complex over the years,” Merlin admitted, walking towards the door.
Much to her chagrin, Merlin led her out of the library. “You can rest assured that the library is always open for you. I might lock myself up in the study, but the library will be there.”
She gave an appreciative nod.
Merlin leaned over the bannister to Accio the suitcases up, before getting them to float behind him. “Now, let’s go visit your room.”
He led her down a hallway off to the side, and opened the door to another room.
“Here we are,” Merlin said, letting Hermione go inside first. As she took in the suite, Hermione noted that it was definitely larger than her room in Grimmauld place, overwhelmingly so.
Hermione gaped. “This is my room?”
“Er…yes? Is there a problem?” he asked as he pointed his wand at the floating suitcases, which were neatly placed on some luggage racks placed near the door.
“Not at all, I’m just shocked. I didn’t expect it.” Hermione saw that she was in a living room of sorts, with its own couch and fireplace. The actual bedroom was through one doorway, with an en-suite bathroom and walk-in closet. She’d explore the room in more detail later; right now she felt Merlin’s stare boring into her, probably nervous.
“Well, I’ll leave you to get settled?” he said once she turned to face him. “That about concludes the tour anyway, and I’m sure you’d like to freshen up.”
“Thank you, Merlin, truly.” Hermione didn’t know what to say, to convey her gratitude, but hoped this would be a start.
He bowed his head. “Of course. One last thing. As I mentioned, I would like to tutor you on Occlumency, and we briefly spoke about duelling classes. Would that be okay?”
Hermione nodded with a smile. “Perfect.”
Hermione spent the next few days getting the lay of the house. Merlin was busy with some things that he’d not disclose, so Hermione was often on her own. She ate by herself, and spent time in the library whilst keeping an eye on the study. If anything came, she’d take a look. But thus far, there was nothing.
So Hermione was content to just curl up in one of the comfy armchairs, engrossed in a new book.
On the third day, she woke up to a knock on her door. She shuffled out of bed and shrugged on a robe over her pyjamas before opening the door.
Merlin stood on the other side, already dressed. He was never wearing anything else. “Good morning. I’m heading out, but I finally got some time to get a necklace for you. It works by touch. Once you clasp your hand around the medallion, it’ll notify me that you’re calling me.”
Hermione took the box and barely had time to say thank-you before Merlin was off.
He called back, “And you don’t have to stay holed up here all day you know!”
She closed the door behind her and looked at the box. It was made of a bright emerald felt that looked like it had come from a high-end jewellery shop.
She opened the box and on a plump pillow was a silver necklace with a pendant. It was a simple round medallion, slightly larger than a galleon, devoid of any designs or inscriptions, and Hermione smiled at the simplicity. She put the necklace on and as she dressed, she thought about Merlin’s words, and decided she should go out for a bit.
Hermione wanted to drop by Grimmauld Place, see how things were doing, and perhaps mend some of the drama she had left. It had been a few days, so hopefully tensions would be low. After all, Remus had told her to drop by for tea. She guessed breakfast counted too.
When she popped into Grimmauld, she belatedly wondered if maybe it was too early to show up unannounced. But when she passed by the doorway of the study, she found Ginny standing there, poring over some maps while occasionally sipping some tea.
Hermione knocked on the open door, getting Ginny to look up. The younger woman immediately brightened at seeing her friend and made her way around the table to hug her. “I know it’s only been a few days but I missed you!”
“Me too!” Hermione responded, returning the hug with gusto. “I wanted to come by and see how things were going…is anyone else up?”
Ginny shook her head. “It’s Sunday, everyone’s sleeping in. Plus after yesterday…”
Hermione waited expectantly, but it seemed that Ginny thought better about continuing, and instead just turned around and headed back to the table.
Then Ginny asked, “Do you want some tea?”
“Ginny…” Hermione began, narrowing her eyes as she walked closer to her friend. “What happened?”
“Oh, nothing serious…it’s nothing really,” Ginny reassured her, waving dismissively.
“Come on Ginny, was there another row over my leaving?”
And just as she guessed, Ginny let out a deep sigh, splaying her hands on the table to brace herself.
Hermione sat on a chair nearby, and took out her wand to enchant the teapot to serve her some tea as she waited for her friend to say something.
“Ron has been…difficult since you left,” Ginny began, pulling up a chair and sitting down across from her. She leant forward and clasped her hands. “But I don’t want to ruin your Sunday with this.”
“I came here hoping to finally put the matter to rest once and for all,” Hermione explained as she grabbed the saucer that floated to her. She spun the spoon a couple of times, letting it clink around the teacup, before taking a sip.
“Yeah well, you might not find it to be so easy. Sirius is apparently coming around - it seems that the paranoia is stemming from Fawcett’s group. They’ve been talking to Fudge, who is vying to be the new Minister for Magic you know?”
“Well apparently his campaign is all about transparency. Rumour has it that at one point many years ago, people were saying that Merlin should become Minister once this is all done. So Fudge has been running a counter operation to try to curb Merlin’s popularity. I guess he wants to be seen as the real hero of the resistance. And you know how fast word spreads around in the Order…”
“Yeah, way too quickly, which can be good and bad,” Hermione remarked.
“Exactly. Anyway, Remus has been talking to Sirius, and they agreed that, despite the fact that Merlin isn’t always straightforward about everything, they’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt if you trust him.”
“I do. He’s a good host, all things considered.” She told Ginny about the library, and that got her friend to laugh.
“Why am I not surprised? Show Hermione Granger a library and she’ll be smitten!”
“I am not smitten!” Hermione countered in mock offence. “You know I don’t fancy wizards.”
Ginny flinched. “Right, which leads us to Ron.”
“What about Ron?” Hermione asked, trepidation creeping into her voice.
A new voice spoke from the doorway. “He still fancies you.”
It was Luna, who sauntered in with way too much energy for having just woken up. She served herself some tea as well.
Hermione groaned. “What? But I thought we had nipped that in the bud years ago?”
Ginny looked remorseful at having to explain. “Apparently he thought maybe things were changing? Or that you might be bi at least. Because according to him, you seemed friendlier to him up until Merlin came in.”
“But I’m not interested in either of them.”
Luna perched herself on the table. “Nonetheless, it seems that the Wrackspurts might have gotten into his ears, because he believes it once more. And he seems jealous that you went with Merlin. He never liked Merlin, but he went along because of Harry and you.”
Hermione cursed under her breath. “And that’s why he’s so against me having gone there?”
Ginny nodded. “He’s been in a foul mood since you left, and when we all sat down to speak to him last night, he spilled his guts. Took both Neville and Harry to calm him down, he was about ready to fight Remus at one point.”
It must have been bad if he was willing to physically fight someone else. Hermione groaned. “Did anyone manage to convince him otherwise?”
Both women shrugged. Ginny said, “The boys went with him and last I heard, they stayed up very late. Harry came to bed at 2 in the morning. I tried asking him how it went but he just groaned and said he’d tell me tomorrow. Or well, today.”
Hermione nodded. “Perhaps I should leave.”
Ginny shook her head vehemently. “No, please don’t. Ron’s a prat, you shouldn’t let that ruin your time here.”
“But that’s just it Ginny. The moment he wakes up and sees me, he’ll try to get me to change my mind.”
“Change whose- oh hello Hermione,” Remus greeted from the doorway, Sirius beside him rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
“Whose mind are we changing?” Sirius asked, voice rough from sleep.
“Ron’s,” Ginny responded.
Both men hummed in understanding. They briefly exchanged a glance, and Remus gave Hermione a nod before heading down to the kitchen to whip up breakfast while Sirius beckoned for Hermione to follow him.
She did so after a quick smile to her friends. They went towards another room, and she saw the Monopoly game still there, off to the side. It seemed like such a long time ago since they had last played. Certainly quite a bit had changed.
He sat down on a chair and Hermione across from him. Sirius began, “I understand the situation with Ron isn’t easy, and I’m ashamed to say that I might have perhaps cast an unknown Incendio on the situation.”
Sirius shifted in his seat. “It’s true, you’re all adults, even though I still see you lot as the bright-eyed young idealists that used to spend summers with Harry when we lived in our other place.”
Hermione recalled the other house, it wasn’t too far from the Burrow and had plenty of space for Sirius to stretch his legs. Unfortunately it had burnt down some years back, thanks to some Death Eaters; they had been upset at finding out a werewolf had taught their kids. Although no one had been home at the time, it was devastating to see what had happened.
“But, as I’ve been reminded recently, we need to treat you as adults. Your decisions are your own, and you should be free to make them. I suppose that being cooped up here, a place with so many horrible memories…it might have soured my opinion on old Merlin, to the point that I felt he might have been trying to do something untoward to you. I made a promise to your parents before they went into hiding - mind you they were very against the idea of you being involved with this in the first place - but I promised them that I’d keep you safe.”
“And you have…barring that ill-advised mission.”
Sirius nodded. “Yes, I suppose I won’t live that one down. But my anger was ill-placed. Me being framed for Harry’s parents’ murder has nothing to do with Merlin, and while I would think knowing who the bloke is could help us, I can’t fault him for hiding. Having seen how those pesky cowards have gotten, attacking people’s families, I can’t imagine how his family would sleep at night if everyone knew who he was.”
Hermione didn’t mention that as far as she knew, there didn’t seem to be any indication that Merlin had any family. She merely nodded.
“Which is all to say that I came around, and I’m sure that Ron will too. With Fudge stirring the pot, it’s not helping. And although we’ve explained to Ron ad nauseum that his crush on you will never come to fruition, he doesn’t seem to be willing to listen right now. I suppose that first crushes are persistent like that. He, like me, was using Merlin to excuse his behaviour. ”
“It’s not my fault I don’t like him,” Hermione responded, eyes flashing dangerously.
Sirius put his hands up placatingly. “And I’m not saying that. I’m saying that, for him, it’s easier to blame Merlin for seemingly taking you away. To buy into the grab for glory speech that Fudge is trying to sell. I’d just try to give him some time.”
Hermione sighed and nodded.
“And if it’s seeming like it’s taking him too long, we’ll send him to Molly, she’ll set him right.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Hermione said with a grin.
She nonetheless didn’t know how to respond when Sirius asked her if she’d like to stay for breakfast.
Nor what to do when she was about to follow Sirius, and crossed paths with Ron as he was coming down the staircase from his room.
His face contorted into an unreadable expression, like surprise and anger rolled into one. She was thankful that the necklace was hidden underneath her jumper. She didn’t need him pointing it out.
“Back already?” Ron decided to say, by way of greeting.
Hermione bristled. She heard Sirius mutter a quiet excuse to go help Remus.
“No, I was just visiting,” she settled on saying. It was the most diplomatic answer she could think of.
Ron nodded. “How is he?”
“He seems fine? I didn’t get much of a chance to talk to him this morning, he left in a bit of a hurry.” From the corner of her eye, she spotted Ginny and Luna approach them from the study’s door.
“Not really what I was asking,” Ron muttered.
“Mate, maybe you should just leave it,” suggested Harry, who had just come down with Neville, and they were waiting a few steps above him, surveying the scene before them.
“Then what were you asking?” Hermione prodded, feeling her hands curl into fists as she strove to keep her composure, if only to keep old Walburga quiet. She didn’t need to be called a mudblood so early in the morning while also having to deal with Ron’s antics.
“No, Ronald, I couldn’t possibly guess.” Everyone knew that she reserved calling him Ronald when he was being particularly difficult or annoying.
Ron, for his part, sighed and rolled his eyes, coming down the last few steps to stand in front of her. “Is he as marvellous as everyone says he is?”
“You’ve met him, wouldn’t you know?”
Neville also excused himself, and last she saw, Luna was gone too. Ginny and Harry were standing by the doorway that led to the basement and the kitchen, but Hermione saw that they wouldn’t be going anywhere.
“Sure, I’ve met him, but I can’t say I’ve been to his place and spent time alone with him.”
Hermione huffed. “And he seems exactly the same no matter the location.”
“Yeah, sure. You probably got all nice and cozy with him these past few days, didn’t you?”
“What is your problem?” Hermione said with a huff.
Harry cleared his throat. “Guys, mind your voices because…”
She looked up at the covered painting in the second floor landing. Still quiet. But their voices had been getting louder. She should try to not let her voice get too loud.
Ron however, had no such reservations, and continued just as loudly as before. “The old bat can wail all she likes. I’m tired of letting Merlin dictate our lives in the name of stopping this war. Why did everyone decide to follow him? Because of Dumbledore? Fudge is right, we have no idea who we’re following, and him using Hermione to try to cement his way through is shady stuff.”
“He’s not using me!” Hermione huffed, keeping her voice just above an angry hiss. “Why must you be so quick to dismiss the good he’s actually done?”
“He hasn’t done anything though, has he?” Ron countered, voice growing louder. “He just comes and goes, but has anyone seen him fight? No! I bet he’s a Death Eater in hiding. Get us all to trust him and then he sends us all to our doom.”
“That’s an absurdly long con. And besides, you can stop acting like this is all something impersonal to you. They told me, Ron, that you still have feelings for me.”
Ron shifted uncomfortably. “Doesn’t matter anyway does it? You’re with him.”
Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose. “I’m not with anyone. Why can’t you accept that I like witches?”
“I’ve seen the way you look at him, how you defend him,” Ron explained. “We all have doubts about him, except you.”
“I do have doubts. I have plenty of doubts, but I trust Merlin.” Hermione had her own moments of doubt, sure, but she also had a hunch, a very dangerous and wild hunch. One that for the time being would remain in her head. “I trust him to get us through this. I don’t know anything else about the man behind the disguise.”
“Awfully convenient! Why did you even come back, Hermione?!” Ron asked, his tone growing to an accusing yell.
Harry and Ginny shushed him, but it was too late.
“FILTH! TRAITORS AND MUDBLOODS. VILE DEFILERS AND TRASH.” Walburga was up. “KILL THE MUDBLOOD, REMOVE THE TAINTED BLOOD AND ROTTEN TRAITORS.”
Hermione felt tears coming to her eyes. “Because I thought I could talk to you Ron, fix things, but clearly that was too much to ask.”
While Harry and Ginny tried to shut the painting up, still screaming about the mudblood in the house, Hermione turned to leave. She heard Sirius run up the stairs and try to call her back, but she headed to the doorway nonetheless. Without even turning around, she Disapparated out of Grimmauld Place, determined to not return.
This chapter was more to move things along, explain the situation surrounding Merlin, but I promise that next chapter will have lots more Bellatrix.
Chapter 5: Secrets
I'm surmising that a lot of people's questions will be answered by this chapter. Enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Seeing Merlin’s foyer come to view, Hermione felt a watery smile pulling at her lips; she had begun to associate this house with comfort, despite only having been there for a day. She felt safe, and it helped to soothe her nerves to see the quiet entrance.
She knew she should eat breakfast, her stomach was asking for it, but she didn’t have the motivation for it. So she climbed up the stairs, but paused on the landing, debating. She could just go to her room, burrow under the covers, and sleep the day away, or get lost in a book, sitting in front of the very cozy library fireplace.
A good book always did wonders to calm her mind, so rather than head to her room, she went to the library. She was openly sobbing now as she pushed the doors open. Hermione headed to her preferred armchair and sat down, grabbing the book she had left on the side table. She started trying to read, but her eyes were too blurry with tears. None of the words were legible.
Not wanting to ruin the book, she put it back down on the table and put the palms of her hands over her eyes, letting herself cry openly. Thankfully she was alone, so she didn’t have to worry about anyone hearing her.
Or so she thought.
“Ms. Granger?” she thought she heard.
She continued to cry.
Leather clad fingers reached out to touch her hands, and Hermione looked up.
Merlin was crouching in front of her. He took her hands in his own. “Are you alright?”
Hermione started to nod, but then shook her head with a sob. “No, not really.”
“Sorry, stupid question.” Merlin, who still had her hands in his, began to soothingly rub the back of her hand with his thumbs, and Hermione frowned. Could it be?
“What I meant was, do you want to talk about it?”
“Just Ron being an idiot, combined with Walburga Black yelling for the hundredth time just what she thinks of me.”
Merlin bristled. “I should find a way to rip that horrible painting out of there. Damned woman was the most hateful person.”
“You’ve met her before?” Hermione asked. Thumbs were still brushing the backs of her hands.
“At the very least, the painting makes you feel like you have,” Merlin responded, dodging the question. Hermione’s stomach chose an opportune time to growl. “Haven’t you eaten?”
“No, I had been planning to eat at Grimmauld, but plans changed.”
Merlin nodded. “If you want, I could make you something?”
“Oh, it’s alright, you don’t have to,” Hermione said, standing up, thereby making Merlin release her hands. She missed the comforting touch.
“No, I don’t, but I’d like to. You’re upset, and eating will do you some good.” Merlin walked to the door. “Come on now.”
Hermione followed, and once they began going down the stairs, she asked, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you when I came in.”
“I was in the study. I heard the door open and you crying, and went over to investigate.”
“Do you silence your footsteps?” she asked. She hadn’t heard a sound. Granted that she’d been crying so she wasn’t paying attention, but she never heard Merlin’s footsteps.
“Not now, but I used to. I learned that I had to move with purpose but staying quiet had its advantages.” Merlin reached the bottom of the staircase and turned to face her. “Even if it does lead to me surprising everyone showing up unannounced.”
Hermione bit her lip as she reached the foyer. Despite the myriad of things running through her mind, one kept coming to the forefront, and it compelled her to broach the topic. “Can I ask you something?”
Merlin tilted his head slightly. “You can, whether or not I can answer it is another thing.”
This was it. She honestly didn’t know how this would go, and what this might mean. “Did you know you have a tic?”
“Oh? I wasn’t explicitly aware of the fact.”
“Yeah, when you’re comforting someone, you tend to reach out and rub your thumb soothingly,” Hermione explained.
“Ah,” Merlin said. “I apologize, I hadn’t noticed. If it makes you uncomfortable I’ll-”
“No,” Hermione interjected. “It’s…nice. But the thing is. I noticed that someone else does the exact same thing.”
She was just a hair’s breadth away.
The room was silent. Merlin was stiff as a board. Was there going to be a denial? A lie? Was Hermione going to get kicked out?
Did she even want to stay if it was true?
Then, a hand reached out to grab the mask, and pushed it and the hood out of the way, Hermione imagined that they were probably stitched together somehow.
Hermione’s suspicions were confirmed when she saw Bellatrix Black looking back at her.
“I should have known it wouldn’t take you too long to figure it out,” she said with an actual smile.
But Hermione didn’t respond. She just took a careful step back, slack-jawed.
Bellatrix put her hands up placatingly. “I won’t hurt you, I promise.”
“You’re a Death Eater,” Hermione noted.
“Who has saved your life at least twice by my count,” Bellatrix added, moving one of her hands to make a two, wiggling the outstretched two fingers.
“You…you hate me, my kind-”
“Hermione, listen to me,” Bellatrix stated, dark eyes boring into hers. Honest eyes, pleading, wanting her to hear her. “I don’t hate you. I would never hate you, or muggleborns, or anyone based on their family or heritage. Please, just give me one hour. One hour and you can ask anything you want, no restrictions.”
Hermione pondered that.
“Even if you want to leave now and never come back, I won’t stop you. I just beg you to understand what I’m doing.”
Unbelievably so, Bellatrix let out a sigh of relief, putting her hands down. “I honestly wasn’t sure that was going to work.”
Hermione raised an eyebrow. “Then why let me see your face?”
Bellatrix sighed once more. “Despite my hidden identity and general bending of the truth, I do my utmost to be honest. You had me figured out and I wouldn’t be trustworthy if I lied to you. Though you took it better than I thought you would.”
“I’m sure it’s the shock, mixed in with the curiosity. I want to know what’s going on.”
“Of course. Now come.” She led Hermione towards the dining room, where Bellatrix pointed to some chairs. “Sit, I’ll prepare some food.”
As Hermione did so, she thought to ask, “So where do your allegiances lie?”
Bellatrix froze at the doorway to the kitchen, and turned around to Hermione. If she had just asked what her opinion was on space travel, she probably wouldn’t have gotten such a ludicrous stare. “The Order, I thought that was obvious?”
Hermione shrugged. “You’re working for both sides as far as anyone is aware.”
“Yes well, I thought that my actions would show that I’m really not subscribed to the Death Eater way of life,” Bellatrix explained as she made her way to the kitchen.
“Why did you do it though? Why pretend to play for the Death Eaters? I’m sure you could have done as much good work as yourself, being the leader of the Order.”
“That’s on Dumbledore,” Bellatrix explained from the kitchen. “I…I was in my last year of Hogwarts, the Potters had just been murdered, and there was a rally. I found out about it, and reported it to Albus, because I couldn’t trust anyone else. I wasn’t sure who might be secretly sympathetic, or worse. But I trusted the old codger, and I didn’t even realize at the time that he was playing me like a violin, positioning me to become Merlin like some grand machination of his.
“On the day of my graduation, we spoke at length. The Death Eaters and the spineless rot leading them weren’t exactly advertising themselves, and I could have a distinct advantage. As a pureblood, I’d be immediately given an in. As a Black, I’d be assuredly granted a high honour as a Death Eater. It was too good of an opportunity to pass by.
“But, I couldn’t just undermine the effort as myself, it just would make no sense, and look suspicious, especially because people could spot me, and thus put me and my sisters at risk by being associated with me. So I became Merlin. It allowed me to move in relative anonymity, and I could counter the Death Eaters’ efforts without risking my identity. Albus vouched for me, and soon enough, more and more people were joining.”
Hermione knew that Dumbledore had a tendency of doing things for the greater good - even though it ruined people’s lives over it. “So when you said that Bellatrix ruined your life…”
“I was being self-deprecating. I’ve had to play the public life of a horrible person. My own sisters probably despise me. Well, I know one does for sure.”
“Ted Tonks’ wife right?” Andromeda?” Hermione briefly recalled meeting the woman. She resembled Bellatrix a bit.
“Yes. As Merlin, I’ve seen her a few times over the years, though I try to avoid it if I can. The temptation to tell her the truth, to right the wrong, is too great. But the first time we met, she was trying to convince me she wasn’t a traitor, due to her blood relation to me. Can you believe that? She thought I wouldn’t trust her , because of the fact she was my sister. And to drive the point home, she called me despicable names, insulted everything I might be, in order to convince Merlin that she wasn’t like me.”
Hermione’s heart broke at hearing that. She didn’t really have a very large family, nor any siblings, but she couldn’t begin to imagine the pain that must be. She stayed silent for a moment, trying to process everything that she’d learned thus far.
Bellatrix came back, and smiled when she saw Hermione was still there. “Oh, you’re still here, I thought you had escaped or something, you were so quiet.”
“Sorry, didn’t mean to worry you. I was just thinking that it must be rough to have to hide who you are like that. Would your sisters understand? That you did what you had to?”
Bellatrix hummed, flicking her wand so the food would continue preparing itself. Then she crossed her arms and leant against the doorway. “Did you know, I almost became a Healer? I had all the training. At the time, the apprenticeship program didn’t exist, so I studied with Madam Pomfrey, and Madam Pince had given me an advance list of all the books I’d need to become a Healer at St. Mungos. But in reality, I was actually going to run away.”
“You were? Why?” Hermione sat up, intrigued. She figured Bellatrix was dodging her earlier question, but her curiosity won out. She would ask again later.
“I knew my sister was dating Ted. They kept it secret. Bad enough for a Slytherin to be dating a Hufflepuff, but then you have the whole pureblood and muggleborn thing going. But I was going to protect my little sister from the wrath of our family by letting them stay with me. I had it all planned out. Get certified as a Healer, get my own place, become a small town Healer, and thus shield Andy from my family by giving her a place that she could get on her feet. But that was not meant to be.
“I was invited to become a Death Eater the day after my graduation. But before I joined up, I had to publicly denounce them. To really drive the point home, I even insulted my other sister, Narcissa, calling her a coward for not aligning herself. So no, I don’t think they’d understand. Nor forgive me.”
Hermione let out a soft gasp. “I’m sure they’d-”
Bellatrix held up a hand, and shook her head. “It’s alright, I’ve made my peace with it. I’m content with watching my niece from a distance, and my nephew, well, I’ve only seen him in pictures. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but my singular focus is ending that bloody fascist.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re on our side, I’m not sure what we would do if you weren’t.”
There was a chuckle as Bellatrix made her way back to the kitchen. “I’d have decimated you lot.”
“Someone’s confident,” Hermione remarked with a smile.
Bellatrix returned, floating a tray with food and tea behind her. “Well I’ve been managing to lead the Order for fifteen years while fooling those idiotic Death Eaters, so I think I’m somewhat capable.”
Hermione took the offered plate and began digging in. “Why me? I mean, why did you choose me to help you? I know you told me, but is that all there is to it?”
“Yes, there’s no trick to it. As I had told you,” Bellatrix continued after she swallowed a bit of toast. “I think you’re trustworthy and have a good head on your shoulders. Many of the others are either too impulsive or too courageous, looking for glory or ready to make their last stand. You’re a strategist, everyone agrees. And with the way things have been going, I need to have someone that can help me plan things.
“Thus far we’ve been doing a lot of defence. I’ll be wanting to go on the offence soon enough, really cull their numbers and for that, we need strategy.”
“Were you going to tell me who you were if I hadn’t asked?”
Bellatrix pondered the question for a moment. “I don’t know. Maybe not directly, but I knew you were very intelligent. I wasn’t going to be able to keep the secret to myself for much longer.”
“So you were fine risking it?” Hermione asked, surprised.
The older woman shrugged. “I think in this case, it was more beneficial to me to have you know me, and thus showing you that you can trust me. I just didn’t expect to be done in with a hand gesture of all things.”
“To be fair, I thought maybe I was imagining it.”
“Well, it’s not like I do it very often, as either of my selves. It was lucky that you happened to experience it as both parts of me. Though granted, you do get yourself into all sorts of trouble.” Bellatrix paused for a moment before looking at Hermione. “Can I ask you something?”
It was unexpected, but Hermione nodded, wondering what she had to ask.
“What happened at Grimmauld this morning?” Bellatrix asked. Then, seeming to think about it for a moment, she added, “If you want to.”
Hermione let out a deep breath, and her shoulders sagged. “I wanted to see if I could make amends, but Ron is still stuck in the idea that I have a thing for you, because apparently he still has a thing for me and can’t stand that he might have lost me to another wizard. Despite the fact that I’ve told him I don’t like wizards.”
Bellatrix let out a hearty laugh at that. “He’d go mad if he knew my true identity, because now you can’t even hide behind your sexuality for that.”
That made Hermione blush. Merlin being a woman was not something she had considered. “Which begs the question, how did you hide your voice?”
Bellatrix undid the clasps at her front and pulled the long robe away from her to show Hermione the hood and the mechanism behind the mask. “Magically enchanted it to change my voice. I figured it was best to have as little chance for someone to find out who I was. Plus men are more willing to listen to other men, a painfully sexist reality we live in.”
If there was one thing that Hermione wasn’t expecting, was talk about sexism in the wizarding community. But she had a point. “So you picked Merlin then. Why him?”
“Why not him? He’s seen as a wise man, plus clearly dead beyond any possibility so it’d deter crazy conspiracies, like those that believe that Uric the Oddball is still alive somewhere.”
Hermione let out a rather undignified snort. “That’s fair. Plus he’s a tad more trustworthy than Uric.”
“Yes, though lately that has been changing, and it’s more than just Mr. Weasley’s paranoia that I’m encroaching on his misplaced affections.”
“That’s actually Fudge’s doing.” Hermione explained what she’d learnt at Grimmauld, much to Bellatrix’s shock.
“But I have zero interest in being Minister. Never mind the fact that once the war is over, I’ll be lucky if I’m not thrown into Azkaban, not to say even luckier if I’m still alive!”
Hermione tutted. “Don’t be so dramatic. You won’t go to Azkaban, I’ll vouch for you.”
“I appreciate the sentiment, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find many to vouch for my good actions, and way too many people would be more than happy to tell them all the horrors that I perpetuated.”
“And what exactly would constitute as horrible things you’ve done?” Hermione asked. She knew Bellatrix was feared, she’d heard some of the stories. Could the woman in front of her be a murderer? A torturer?
“Let’s see,” Bellatrix made a show of Apparating a scroll and letting it comically unfurl to the floor. Hermione saw it was blank but Bellatrix still made like she was reading from it. “I have obliviated a group of muggles that had stumbled onto an operation, told everyone I killed them. I had to torture some people, did the tickling charm. Was supposed to torture a muggleborn for information until she died because she was already on the brink of death, instead healed her and saved her - which I still haven’t received a proper thank-you for by the way…”
Hermione cringed. “Thank you?”
Bellatrix shrugged. “It’s a start. Now where were we? Ah yes, I have also betrayed my family, my allies, all in the name of blood purism and more rot. I have cast destructive spells at random objects to create chaos while laughing like a hyena. And the list goes on.”
“Doesn’t really sound all that bad, though from what I can tell, you did a lot of help in secret.”
“Perhaps, but the one real thing I did do was murder my husband, the lecherous fiend.” That really was pretty open and shut, and as Bellatrix later murmured: “He deserved it.”
“May I ask what happened?” Hermione ventured to ask.
Bellatrix took a sip of her tea before responding. “Rodolphus, said lecherous fiend, was always looking for ways to improve his standing in the organization. He saw it as a great honour to carry out tasks, no matter how horrible they were, and would do anything he could. Even things he shouldn’t.
“Which is why he had confided in me that he had found a weakness in the Hogwarts security. Dumbledore’s infamous non-Apparating shield didn’t protect the top of the Astronomy Tower turret.” Here Bellatrix had to roll her shoulders, clearly growing uncomfortable.
“We can stop if you’d like,” Hermione said with a frown.
Bellatrix shook her head. “No, I promised you an hour of truth.”
“Not at the expense of your comfort.”
The older witch flashed her a smile. “It’s fine, I think it’ll do me good to talk about it. We arrived in the outskirts of the castle, and I quickly sent off the most incorporeal of patronuses to Albus to try to warn him. Of course the dunce didn’t want to waste any time and practically yanked me with him to the tower. When we managed to get our feet onto solid ground, there on the balcony was Albus.
“It seemed that despite my warning to get away, he decided to come and meet us right at the tower. I’d later find out that Trelawney, the old meddler, had apparently given Albus a prediction where he would die, so he met us knowing it would be his final stand. The spineless rot tried to convince Dumbledore onto his side, but Albus stuck to his beliefs, and despite me trying to diffuse the situation, I made it worse.
“He found it strange that I was trying so hard to save Dumbledore, and then it dawned on him. He figured out who I was. He had his wand out already, and there was no way for me to get a spell fast enough to stop. The Avada sent Dumbledore’s way made him topple over the balcony.
“I was angry. I thought I was done for. He was taunting me, taunting me with my secret. But then he realized that getting back up on the turret wouldn’t be so easy. It certainly was a two-people effort. And in no time at all, judging by the screams and yells, there’d be a contingent of Professors on our asses.
“I tricked him into boosting me up, claiming that if we both wanted to live, we had to work together for a few moments more. Once he lifted me up to the roof, I shot him with an Avada of my own, and then climbed the turret. I left just as the first Professors arrived.”
Hermione was speechless. She remembered when Dumbledore’s body practically crashed in front of them, and how pale McGonagall looked.
“So, even if I am exonerated from the faux terrible deeds I did these past 15 duplicitous years, I am very much responsible for Rodolphus’ death, no matter how much the worm deserved it.”
They fell into silence, both of them finishing the last of their tea.
Bellatrix spoke first. “Any other burning questions?”
Hermione scoured her brain. She had so many questions, but she didn’t want to overwhelm the other woman. So she bit her lip and thought about it.
“To clarify, you can ask me more questions once the hour is over,” Bellatrix began, fidgeting with her now empty teacup. “I just wanted you to give me one hour to explain before you took off, running for the hills.”
The older woman was nervous, Hermione was sure of it. So she set her own cup down and cleared her throat. “I will admit that seeing you here looking so relaxed is a bit jarring, and after hearing so many stories about the fearsome Death Eater who had no mercy for…” Hermione’s words failed her. She knew the odious term, knew that Death Eaters threw it around like nothing, but Hermione couldn’t bring herself to say it.
“Muggleborns,” Bellatrix supplied. When Hermione looked at her, she added, “I have no desire to use that other term ever. It’s bad enough that I have to hear that term when around other Death Eaters, but to not be able to say anything and hold my tongue…”
That made Hermione relax. Just the fact that Bellatrix was loath to use the bigoted term made her feel… safe. That was the only word that would come to her mind. “ The point is that…as surprised as I was, I know I can trust you. You healed me, helped me, even when you were supposed to be on the other side, and I can’t thank you enough. I know the risk you go through every day, and if I can help ease the burden a bit, then I will help you. I want this war to end as much as you do, and if together we can get the Order to eradicate those foul idiots, then I for one am more than willing to help.”
If Hermione could, she would have taken a picture of the absolutely awestruck look on Bellatrix’s face. She was slack jawed, eyes wide, and the teacup was in danger of falling to the floor.
But just as quickly, the expression was gone, controlled back to a brief nod. “I…appreciate it.”
“You know,” Hermione began, not wanting to let the matter go so quickly, “I’m surprised that you show so much restraint in your expressions. Considering the amount of time your face is hidden, you’re surprisingly composed.”
Bellatrix let out an undignified snort. “That is more the Black upbringing than anything else. My mother wanted us to be the perfect children so she could marry us off to worthy pureblood families.”
Hermione’s stomach churned. Arranged marriages were so archaic, it was hard to believe that this is the reality that Voldemort wanted to bring back.
“Yes, I know, it’s horrible to think about,” Bellatrix added, correctly surmising Hermione’s thoughts. “But I got away from it, something that I hope is making the old crone roll around in her grave.”
“I hope one day you’ll be able to marry for love,” Hermione said with a soft smile.
“I won’t hold my breath. Between my duties and clandestine lifestyle, there’s not a lot of room for romance,” Bellatrix mumbled with a shrug as she put down her cup. “Not to mention that my reputation precedes me so I doubt anyone would fall for the ‘fearsome Bellatrix’.”
Hermione hummed. That would put a damper on things. But she had hope that Bellatrix would find someone.
Deciding to change topics, Bellatrix chuckled before saying, “I’m realizing that I’m glad you now know. It was so hard seeing you try to puzzle out why I, the enemy, was helping you out, and at least now you’ll know why I’m constantly coming and going.”
Hermione joined in with a laugh. “You feigned confusion quite well as Merlin, but as yourself, you were being so uncharacteristic to what I had heard.”
Bellatrix shrugged. “Stories often end up spinning out of control. Either that or I apparently blanked out and went round the bend to the point I dangled a group of muggleborns over the Tower Bridge.”
“Well good to know that-”
Bellatrix suddenly hissed as she bent forward, clutching her arm.
Hermione grew worried and stood up, rushing to get closer. “Are you alright?”
“Fantastic,” Bellatrix ground out through gritted teeth. “Just getting an invitation from the bastard.”
So it was true, Voldemort had branded all of his Death Eaters so he could keep them all in line.
Hermione hovered, unsure if she should get closer, but then she thought about how Bellatrix hadn’t had such reservations towards her earlier, and she crouched down in front of the woman, putting her hands over Bellatrix’s, the one that was painfully clutching her left forearm. That seemed to relax the other woman, especially when Hermione began to rub soothing circles with her thumb.
Bellatrix let out a breathy laugh. “Using my own tricks against me? You’re more devious than I thought.”
Feigning innocence, Hermione just said, “I have no idea as to what you could possibly be talking about.”
“Fine, if that’s how you want to play,” Bellatrix said, before she winced again. “Later. Bloody hell, does the man expect us all to be at his beck and call? What if I was in the middle of a crap?”
Hermione laughed heartily at the coarse question. That got the edges of Bellatrix’s mouth to curl upwards before she excused herself.
“Can’t exactly show up wearing Merlin’s finery.”
Hermione quickly gathered the remains of their small breakfast, and once she left the kitchen, she froze as she saw Bellatrix rushing back down the stairs, clad head to toe in her Death Eaters robe.
She pushed the lingering nightmare out of her mind. Behind the mask, dark eyes noticed Hermione’s expression and widened. Bellatrix used her wand to remove her mask, not daring to come closer. “It’s just me.”
Hermione let out a shaky breath and a nod, looking down. “I know, I just…”
Deciding that the jerk could wait a few minutes more, Bellatrix slowly approached Hermione. “Who hurt you?”
Hermione looked back up to find Bellatrix close, the anger in her eyes not aimed at the woman in front of her, but to the correct assumption that someone had made Hermione afraid. But now was not the time. “It’s a long story, you should go.”
Bellatrix didn’t have a good enough argument to fight against it, so she replaced the mask on her face and walked over to the circle. “When I return?”
The younger woman nodded, and Bellatrix left.
Yep, as I think everyone guessed, Bellatrix's been playing Merlin.
Now, I'm well underway with writing this fic, I believe it won't be longer than 20 chapters, I've already got up to chapter 11 written so at least you know that there will be plenty more coming in.
Chapter 6: Protection
I'm happy to see everyone's enjoying this thus far and hearing about your vindication at being right.
This is a shorter chapter, but it's to set up a longer chapter for next week.
Hermione spent the day poring over lots of reports, noting that the weekly aggregates that everyone had sent in had details that, when put together, created a bigger picture of the situation. She could easily see plans forming in her mind’s eye, and she smiled. Maybe Bellatrix did know what she was doing, bringing Hermione in to be her strategist.
What did worry her was that many of the reports were hinting that the quietness after the Knight Bus failure meant that something big would be going down soon. She wondered if that was what the other woman had been called for.
She was so engrossed in her note-taking, coming up with potential strikes, that she barely registered someone plop down on the empty chair beside her, and let out a muffled groan.
“That bad?” Hermione asked without looking up, recognizing Bellatrix’s voice.
Bellatrix magicked the mask away and leant forward, running her hands up her face and through her hair, pushing the hood back until she was bent over, hands clasped behind her neck. She let out a sigh. “He’s lost it.”
Hermione put her pen down, and turned slightly to face the other witch. Well, the top of her head at least. “What happened?”
“I went in there, acting my part, doing my thing, and then he strolls in. Did you know he shaved his head completely now? Even the eyebrows. Looks like the angriest toddler in the world. Anyway, he begins his posturing, going on and on about how we can have the world we all dream of ,” Bellatrix’s voice turned mocking at the last few words before she made a face of disgust.
Then she continued in her normal voice. “Next thing I know, half of the group is getting Crucio’d - I’m fine, don’t worry, I wasn’t Crucio’d,” Bellatrix added, seeing the fear in Hermione’s eyes. “Then he started babbling about the failures that had been cropping up. The Knight Bus was going to be some sort of masterpiece in his eyes. But when that went up in smoke, he thinks the entire Wizarding World is mocking him - which, yes we are - but this has made him desperate.”
“Desperate?” Hermione repeated, trepidation in her voice.
“Yes. Apparently he had one of his lackeys pay a sympathizer in the Ministry a handsome fee to turn over a record of muggleborns in Britain.”
“And, he plans on ‘kicking off’ this show of power by getting every single one of his followers to intimidate or torture, but not kill, one muggleborn next Saturday.”
Hermione was about to be sick. She was frozen to her seat, her hands gripping the arms of the chair in a vice grip as her eyes stared off to the distance.
Bellatrix sighed and then saw how Hermione looked. She shucked off her leather gloves and scooted the chair forward so she was right in front of Hermione before gingerly bringing her hands to cover Hermione’s, and began the now familiar soothing motion of her thumbs.
Once she felt the warm hands cover her own, Hermione began to break out of her stupor. Her eyes met Bellatrix.
“Who hurt you?” Bellatrix asked once more, her voice barely above a whisper.
“Another time,” Hermione said, trying to brush the matter off. “We have to do something about-”
“We have the time now,” Bellatrix countered. “If you feel up for it, I’d like to hear the story.”
Hermione considered insisting on not talking about it. But she looked at Bellatrix’s face. The woman had bared her entire soul, life and then some to her without any reservations, answering her every question. She would have to share it one day, and right now, it would be cathartic.
She’d already had it on her mind after hearing Walburga calling her mudblood, and technically, Bellatrix would know about it, since she was there too.
It was when Harry, Ron, and Hermione were in their seventh year. They were in Hogsmeade playing with some of Fred and George’s new inventions, the extendable ears. They wanted to see how far they could listen, and Harry had caught on to a conversation about a compound with plans to systematically take down the Order. Naturally, they couldn’t wait, and foolhardy as her friends were, Hermione had to go with them. She had misgivings as to the rush that Harry felt to get there now, but she quelled those worries in favour of helping her friends.
Harry had his invisibility cloak, but when it came time to Apparate, they were stuck. They had no idea where this compound was. They had found the person that Harry had overheard, but they would need physical contact to Apparate. Just when they were about to let the matter go, Ron stupidly grabbed the person’s arm and sent all of them reeling into an old manor: The Lestrange Manor.
Now it was Bellatrix’s turn to go pale. “I had been on a mission, but I’d heard…heard that Rodolphus and his brother had managed to trick Mr. Potter and-”
Hermione grimaced and nodded once. “There were easily a dozen of them, they took our wands and had us surrounded. They kept on attacking us, with spells and even with their fists. They separated us, and I was so alone. They were right up in my face. They….they kept calling me names, taunting me, and they wouldn’t stop. Calling me…”
Bellatrix knew. She’d heard.
Bellatrix had just finished a mission where the only thing she had to do was burn down some old abandoned buildings. Apparently the spineless creep thought it would incite fear. But no matter, it was a welcome change to her precarious situation of finding ways to not out herself.
Now, she had returned to the Death Eaters headquarters to see if maybe she could glean some more information to help the Order.
But when she’d arrived at the headquarters and heard whispers of something happening at her ‘house’ - technically it was where she lived, though she barely went there - her heart sank. She couldn’t Apparate there fast enough, muttering something about needing to check something. Trying to be strategic, she Apparated to the place with the best vantage point that would also keep her out of sight: a mezzanine located on the third floor of the house. When she arrived, she looked down to the ground floor and found a gang of Death Eaters yelling a jeering in the middle of the foyer. She recognized a few voices from the mob, like Rodolphus and his brother. They were crowding around what she saw was a group of teenagers.
Her stomach twisted into knots as she heard them yelling: “MUDBLOOD! Make her bleed more! Need to have the filth ready for the Dark Lord!”
She’d heard enough. She was away from prying eyes and thus could transfigure herself out of her Death Eater robes. It wasn’t perfect, and anyone looking too closely might notice things weren’t quite right with Merlin’s attire, but most Death Eaters weren’t too bright. Once changed, she apparated to the top of the grand staircase, looking down from the second floor at each of her targets. She began firing Stupefy after Stupefy, catching them unawares. Some of them started to notice her presence and dodged out of the way, but she was a damn skilled dueller, they didn’t have a chance. Soon enough, she was the only one standing. The other Death Eaters were now littered all over the foyer’s floor, and the teens….
Harry Potter and his friends had collapsed in a heap, unconscious. When she approached, she saw that they were all bloody and battered, making her curse under her breath. She had to get them out of here. She brought them together so their hands could link up, then she held three of their hands in her own and Disapparated.
Hermione gave a brief nod, tears in her eyes.
“I never realized that that was you….I was in so much shock, and there was so much blood, I couldn’t recognize who it was, and at the time I wasn’t infinitely familiar with you lot other than the headlines in the Prophet.”
Bellatrix still remembered landing with a loud thump at Grimmauld place, yelling for Sirius, not caring that she used his first name. Walburga was screaming her head off but she was swiftly ignored for practicality.
Hermione just recalled waking up a few days later, and saw that she was at St. Mungo’s, with what seemed like half the Order there standing guard.
With a shaky breath, Hermione said, “I remember everyone being grateful we were alive, while also trying to figure out whether we had lost our collective marbles to think we could take a contingent of Death Eaters all on our own. Once the story was set straight, Ron got the thick of the anger. I’d never seen Mrs. Weasley so mad.”
“Yes, I’d heard. I spent a lot of time talking to Sirius those few days, he had been terrified to think he had been so close to losing Harry. Remus was beside himself and wouldn’t dare leave Harry’s bedside, so I was left to keep Sirius company. And when I reported to Albus, even he had been shocked to hear of everything that happened. It had been a horrible moment for the Order. Our only winning card was that my interference infuriated the spineless bastard, as well as the worm that I was legally married to.”
Hermione sniffed and nodded once more. “Yeah, not one of our finest moments.”
Bellatrix hummed, and stood up, gently pulling on their still entwined hands. “Come on.”
As Hermione stood up, she wondered where they might go.
But Bellatrix didn’t lead them anywhere. Instead she let Hermione’s hands go and held her arms out a bit. “I’m not much of a hugger, but you seem the sort to be, so come on.”
And Hermione didn’t need to be told twice, burrowing into Bellatrix’s shoulder as the older woman wound her arms tight, pulling the witch close to her. She felt Hermione shake slightly as she cried.
“I’m sorry for bringing up those bad memories,” Bellatrix murmured against Hermione’s hair. “I didn’t think…”
Hermione, after a moment to compose herself, said, “No, I needed to talk about it. It was such a horrible moment and… after fighting Death Eaters for so long…”
“It’s hard to see one who isn’t trying to actively harm you,” Bellatrix completed when Hermione’s words failed her.
Hermione could only nod against her robes.
They stood in silence for a few minutes more, and when they parted, Hermione looked towards the other woman’s shoulder and apologized. “I’ve got your robe all wet.”
Bellatrix brushed it off. “I consider it an act of rebellion. Dressed in the Death Eater robes comforting my friend-”
“The muggleborn,” Hermione added with a chuckle.
“Exactly. Spineless bastard would have a fit, and I say: tough tits.”
Bellatrix left to get changed before joining Hermione back in the study. They had to come up with a plan to stop the upcoming renaissance Voldemort wanted, and a way to inform the Order.
After a while, they had the base of a plan thought out. Bellatrix looked at the papers spread out and commented, “We should ask Mr. and Mrs. Weasley to use the Burrow. It might be best to inform everyone at once.”
“True, when do we want to do this meeting?”
Bellatrix looked at the clock. It was still relatively early. “Tonight?”
“Should be doable. Want me to pop by and ask?”
“If you don’t mind? I need to start preparing the letters to send to everyone. You being here hasn’t been formally announced, so if they see your handwriting, they might think we’ve been breached. I’ll join you once the letters are sent out. You can use the necklace to let me know if they’re okay with hosting. Just a simple tap will do the trick.”
Hermione nodded, standing up. “Okay, then I’ll be off.”
Once she got to the doorway of the study, she paused and turned around. “I’m curious, how do you disguise your handwriting?”
The other witch waved both her hands. “Taught myself to be ambidextrous. Andy would surely recognize my handwriting otherwise, so I can write with my other hand. It’s chicken-scratch, but legible.”
It was a small fact, but it still made Hermione smile. She left the library and grabbed her cloak before heading over to the Burrow.
Chapter 7: Chaos
Just a tiny warning for mentions of PTSD.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When Hermione arrived at the edge of the Burrow’s property, she made the short walk down the dirt path, towards the front door, and knocked.
Fred - or maybe it was George - answered. “Hey Hermione! Long time no see, what’s the word?”
Hermione smiled. “Are your parents home? I need to ask them if they can do a last minute hosting for the Order.”
The other twin popped up, seemingly out of nowhere. “They’re here. Mum will say yes, but you know she’ll go ballistic with preparations.”
Hermione winced apologetically. “Sorry, like I said, I know it’s last minute but it’s important.”
The twins moved to either side of the door and beckoned her inside.
Mrs. Weasley was reading Witch Weekly while a pair of knitting needles were magically putting something together, probably some jumpers, Christmas was only a few weeks away after all.
Mr. Weasley meanwhile was trying to figure out how a remote control worked by taking it apart.
Mr. Weasley spotted her first. “Hermione! Good to see you! Come, sit down, is everything alright?”
Hermione smiled, going to sit on the couch across from Mrs. Weasley. “Yes, I just wanted to talk to you-”
“Is it Ron?” Mrs. Weasley asked, pursing her lips as she looked up. “Ginny told me what happened. Just say the word and I will remind him that that’s not the way we raised him.”
“I appreciate that, Mrs. Weasley, but it’s a favour for Merlin. We need to do a last minute meeting, and well, your place is the biggest one around so-”
“Say no more!” Mrs. Weasley practically jumped out of the sofa, pulling out her wand. “Arthur! Start setting up the tent! Take the twins with you, they’re being too quiet. Percy! Charlie!”
“Right away, Molly,” Mr. Weasley said with a grin and a wave before dashing off to find his sons.
Hermione quickly went to touch the medallion on her necklace, and got a faint vibration in return. Clearly it worked both ways.
“How can I help?” Hermione asked, approaching the kitchen.
She heard someone bounding down the stairs, and turned to face Percy. “Hello Hermione.”
“Percy! It’s been ages, how’s Audrey?”
“Good, we’re about to have our first child,” he said, beaming. The usually stoic Weasley was grinning from ear to ear. It was an infectious smile. Then he turned to his mother. “What do you need me to do, mother?”
“Start helping me heat up some food. And Hermione dear, you don’t have to help, I actually wanted to talk to you for a moment” Molly said, motioning for her to wait a minute as she got her son settled in with the food preparation. When Charlie arrived, she put him in charge of grabbing plates and cups.
Then Mrs. Weasley beckoned Hermione to follow her back to the living room. “Now dear, I’ve heard that a lot has been happening over the past month or so, ever since that botched mission.”
Hermione bit her lip. A lot really had happened. Between nearly dying, the Knight Bus, Merlin’s offer, and Bellatrix’s reveal. “Yeah, it’s been a roller-coaster.”
Mrs. Weasley hummed, enchanting the knitting to start again. “If you want to talk about it…I know Ron is a bit hard-headed, but I can have Arthur speak to him, you should be able to visit your friends at Grimmauld.”
“I appreciate the offer Mrs. Weasley, but I think the best thing for me is to leave Ron to his own devices for now. I’ve tried to talk to him, everyone at Grimmauld has tried too, and if he won’t listen, I don’t want to be an additional source of stress. We all already have enough on our plates.”
Mrs. Weasley smiled kindly. “Whatever you prefer dear. Just know that we’re here to help should you need it.”
She knew that the Weasleys would talk some sense into their son no matter what. They’ve done it every single time since he did something reckless or stupid, and even at 25 he’d still get an earful, or a Howler, depending on the situation.
“Now, I’ve heard you’ve moved in with Merlin, are you settling in well?”
Hermione nodded, a smile spilling onto her lips. “Yeah. Merlin’s great. It’s a very different dynamic than the one at Grimmauld, but I’m getting the hang of it.”
Unconsciously, Hermione began to fidget with the necklace as she continued to talk.
Next thing she knew, Merlin had Apparated in the middle of the living room, giving Mrs. Weasley quite a jump. “Oh! Merlin’s hat, I wasn’t expecting you so soon.”
Bellatrix, clad in her Merlin attire, cleared her throat. “I apologize Mrs. Weasley, I didn’t mean to frighten you. Neither did my non-existent hat.”
Hermione saw Merlin turn towards her and subtly tap her sternum, and it was then that Hermione realized that she had been touching the necklace and prompted the other woman to come running. She let go of the necklace and gave a brief apologetic smile, which thankfully went unnoticed by Mrs. Weasley, who was currently untangling some yarn and chuckling at the brief joke.
“No worries at all dear, but I am curious as to what this is about.”
Merlin sat down beside Hermione, their knees brushing, and Hermione felt a sense of calm wash over her. She wasn’t sure why she had been nervous, but felt it dissipate within minutes.
Meanwhile, Merlin was explaining the situation. Although the plan was to tell everyone later, she clearly figured that Mrs. Weasley, the unofficial matriarch of the Order, should be in the know.
She looked towards Hermione once Merlin was finished, and said, “Now, Hermione, I trust you’ll be careful on Saturday? I would ask you to stay at home, but I’m sure you’d vehemently disagree.”
“Mrs. Weasley has a point,” Merlin added, thoughtful, stroking the mask’s beard.
Hermione huffed. “I can take care of myself!”
“We have no doubt of that,” Mrs. Weasley said with a kind smile that told her that she wasn’t belittling the younger witch whatsoever. “But from what I understand, you escaped from right under Lestrange’s nose. She won’t take kindly to that, believe me, and will be looking for you for revenge.”
“Again, point to Mrs. Weasley,” Merlin commented, which just made Hermione glare at her.
Before she could come up with a reasonable retort, there was a crash from the kitchen.
“Excuse me dears,” Mrs. Weasley said before she flitted off to see what had caused the commotion.
“Whose side are you on?” Hermion said in a hiss as she turned to face her companion.
“I do think she has the right idea, it will be dangerous.”
“Oh yes who could forget, and the part about you wanting revenge on me?” she added, making sure they weren’t in danger of being overheard.
Merlin shrugged. “You must have confused me with someone else.”
Hermione heard the humour behind the feigned confusion and gave a playful shove, and it earned her a chuckle. “You are impossible. Also, sorry for calling you in like that. I wasn’t aware I was fiddling with it.”
“It’s alright, I don’t mind. I had just finished anyway and was about to head over here. I actually enjoy spending time with you.” The last part came out so quiet Hermione barely heard it. But it made her smile. Merlin stood up. “Right, I believe I hear people arriving, and from the sounds of it, the illustrious Weasley inventors left a prank amongst the plates, so we best get to the tent before we’re stuck on Reparo duty all night.”
Hermione grinned and nodded. Merlin held out a hand to help her up and she took it, commenting, “And they say chivalry is dead.”
To which Merlin responded, “Or perhaps my intentions are not so noble.”
And Hermione flushed. Was Bellatrix really flirting with her? Here? Now? No, clearly not, they were just colleagues laughing at an inside joke. Or better yet, friends. But nothing more.
Surely nothing more.
They walked outside where there were many witches and wizards coming in from around Britain. Some had only sent in a representative or the group leader, others had everyone in their group travelling with them. Hermione saw in the distance Remus and Lupin along with her friends walking towards the tent, and she hesitated when she spotted Ron talking to Harry.
“I’m sure he won’t make a scene,” Merlin whispered, as if reading her mind.
“Right, it’s just hard. Today’s been a long day.”
“That it has. Now, let’s- shit.”
Hermione looked back out to see what had made her friend react like this. Merlin was currently trying to look as inconspicuous as possible, a hard thing to do considering her clothes.
“What’s wrong?” Hermione asked, not seeing what the problem was.
And then she saw. Bellatrix’s younger sister, who bore a distinct likeness to the woman beside her, was currently making her way to them.
“Merlin!” Andromeda called, waving.
Merlin turned around and awkwardly waved. “Mrs. Tonks.”
Andromeda made a face. “You really need to stop calling me that, makes me feel ancient. Andromeda, or even Andy is fine.”
Seemingly ignoring what she just said, Merlin asked, “How can I help you, Mrs. Tonks?”
“I was wondering if you got my report,” Andromeda said. “I wanted to sit down and talk to you about some strategies because-”
“Actually,” Merlin interrupted, and Hermione got the sense that Bellatrix wanted to get out of this conversation as quickly as she could. She felt a hand on her back as if trying to get her to step forward. “Have you met Ms. Granger?”
Andromeda blinked at the interruption, and then looked at Hermione. “Oh! Yes, Harry’s friend right? I think I’ve seen you around. How’re you?”
“Fine, thank you,” Hermione cordially responded. She felt the hand press a bit, and she chanced a guess at understanding what Merlin wanted. “Actually, if you want to talk about strategy, I’m the one mainly dealing with that now.”
“Oh!” Andromeda looked surprised, looking between the two of them. “Interesting. Okay.”
“If you’ll excuse us, Mrs. Tonks,” Merlin began, “I think we’re about ready to start. You can ask Ms. Granger questions afterwards, does that sound fair?”
“...Yes, I suppose it does.” If Hermione didn’t know any better, Andromeda wasn’t at all satisfied with the idea, but bit her tongue.
They excused themselves and made their way to the tent. Merlin muttered once they were out of earshot, “I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Is that the longest you’ve spoken to her?”
“Since starting the Order? Yes. Now come on.” They entered the tent, which was already filled with people. Some were sitting around circular tables, and others were milling around. Merlin led her to the side and headed to the front. Continuing in hushed whispers, Merlin said, “I’d like to make it formal that you’re working with me, is that okay?”
“Of course,” Hermione responded, keeping pace with the other woman.
“Excellent, then you’d be okay with presenting the plan and fielding questions?” Merlin stopped and looked back at her. She couldn’t see the dark eyes behind the mask, but the slight head tilt gave her the impression that Bellatrix didn’t want to present, still shaken by having to talk with her sister.
“Yes, don’t worry,” Hermione said, placing a comforting hand on Merlin’s arm and flashing a smile.
Unbeknownst to them, a few people caught the gesture.
Merlin nodded and then walked towards an open space that served as a stage. She cleared her throat.
Hermione noted how Merlin could command the room. She watched from the side, leaning against one of the tent’s poles, and just surveyed the place. Everyone stopped talking, and some people rushed to their seats. She saw Molly and Arthur bring up the rear of people who had been outside, and once everyone was seated, Merlin put his hands together, a muffled clap resounding.
“Excellent, thank you very much for coming on such short notice, I realize that many of you are curious as to what this is about, and this is actually a chance for me to take care of three things.
“First, I’d like to address some things that have come to my attention these past few days. I’ve seen that there’s a rise in scepticism towards me, from my secret identity to how I do things, and I want to reiterate that I have my reasons for doing what I do. My identity remains a secret to protect all of you. I know it’s not the best explanation, but let me reassure you that this isn’t me just wanting to be mysterious for the sake of it, or to make witty greetings at the expense of the actual Merlin. This movement needed a figure, and I felt it was easier to rally behind a well-known one. You all knew this when you signed up, and I’d ask for you to hold on to this knowledge until we can finally defeat those bigots.”
There were murmurs all around the audience, but Hermione didn’t manage to catch any discernible comment of opinion.
Merlin continued. “Second, I’d like to let everyone know that I have asked Hermione Granger to join me as a strategist. She has proven herself to be an excellent planner, and I am hoping that with her, we’ll be able to turn the tide to take on more missions that see us on the offensive, rather than just reacting and being defensive or doing rescue missions.
“With that, I’d like to ask Ms. Granger to join me here.”
There was some applause as Hermione made her way to stand beside Merlin, who gave her an encouraging nod before moving to the side.
“Hi. I’m sure you either know me or have at least heard of me. What I’d like to talk about is a mission we’ll be taking on. There has been chatter that the Ministry’s registry of muggleborns has been acquired by the Death Eaters.”
There were now loud gasps and murmurs.
Speaking over the din, Hermione continued, “With that, we believe that there is a plan to attack muggleborns in what is probably an intimidation tactic.”
“When?” someone asked.
Hermione looked out towards the crowd. “From what we heard, on Saturday.”
“Heard from whom?”
Merlin stepped up. “A source.”
“Oh right, the mysterious source,” said another voice.
Merlin sighed. “When Mr. Jordan brings us anonymously sourced intel, you all accept it without complaint. What you don’t know is that I dutifully check everything to make sure it’s not a trap. I’m sure we all know what happens when there are off-book missions…”
Hermione bit her lip, knowing her part in two missions of that kind, both of which ended horribly.
“So trust me, this is credible.”
“That’s the problem isn’t it? We don’t trust you,” said the second voice.
“Look, I didn’t ask for any of this. I was perfectly happy waging a war against the Death Eaters by myself. But it was Albus Dumbledore who said that he had heard from people who wanted to help fight. Who had been inspired by my actions and wanted to join. To form the Order of Merlin.
“So, what happened? If this is because of Mr. Fudge’s comments, you can rest assured that I have no interest in politics. Once this evil is defeated, I plan to live the rest of my life in peace and far away from everything.”
There was no response to that, and Merlin gave a brief nod before looking at Hermione, prompting her to continue.
“Right. This means that we have until Saturday to do all we can to protect the muggleborns in our life. Warn them as best as you can. Get them to safe houses or put up protection charms around their homes. From what we know, the registry lists home addresses, so they’ll go there. There are a lot of ways we can go about this, because we do not know how the Death Eaters plan to attack, or what they even plan on doing. All that we know is that they want to make sure we haven’t forgotten that they are there, and they want to instil fear.
“We can’t let them do that. We have to be the louder voice reminding the people that any magical being is welcome in our world, no matter their parentage or where they came from. On Saturday, we have to be ready to protect our friends and family. We’ll be dispersed, yes, but I’m sure that we can make sure this mission of theirs is an absolute failure.”
There was a loud round of applause and cheers, encouraged by Hermione’s words. Everyone was energized, yelling both messages of strength - plus a few jeers against Death Eaters.
She looked towards Merlin, who was now standing to the side, away from prying eyes. Hermione watched as the other witch reached up to briefly tap her sternum. She felt the tap through her necklace, and smiled. She wasn’t sure if it was meant to be a congratulatory tap, or an encouraging one, but for her, it was better than all of the applause combined.
Hermione had intended to go talk to Merlin, but got swept up in conversation with other members of the Order.
Eventually, Hermione was able to excuse herself, and she headed to where food had been served. After loading up a plate, she found Merlin, just watching everything from the doorway.
“Join me?” she asked, gesturing for them to go outside.
Despite the December weather, the Burrow was blanketed by a warming charm which held the temperatures of a mild Autumn night. Once they were out of earshot, Hermione said, “I think that went relatively well?”
“Better than I expected,” Merlin murmured. “But there are still those who want to find fault in how I’m handling things.”
Hermione harrumphed. “I’d like to see them try to lead and do everything that you do, see how they handle it. Anyway, do you want to grab some food from this plate? I served a bit more so that we could share.”
Merlin chuckled and pointed to her mask. “Tiny problem.”
“I foresaw that, we can head over there, where there are some trees to hide behind and you can eat there. I’ll keep a lookout. I know you’ve barely eaten since this morning.”
There wasn’t any logical reason to turn down the offer so together they walked over to where there was a canopy of trees. They went behind one of the trees, and there Merlin raised her mask a bit, revealing Bellatrix’s face. She stood with her back against the old oak tree, while Hermione stood in front of her holding the plate and keeping an eye forward on the tent to see if anyone would approach.
“Truth be told, I’m starving,” Bellatrix mentioned before grabbing the plate and digging in.
Hermione kept looking towards the tent as she asked, “Do you think this will convince people to let the matter go?”
Bellatrix didn’t need to ask for clarification. She swallowed and hummed. “I don’t think so. Some, perhaps will be reminded of what they signed up to fight for, but I think that Fudge has done a bang up job of sowing a division among us. If that was his goal, then he can count that as a success.”
“Do you think Fudge is working for him ?”
“No. I think he, like most of the pureblood families, are waiting to see where the power balance hangs. My other sister and her husband are one such example.”
“The Malfoys?” Hermione asked, turning to look at her.
“Yes. I firmly believe that Lucius does subscribe to the mentality of pureblood supremacy, but right now it’s not beneficial for him to associate himself with the Death Eaters. So he remains neutral, neither approving nor disapproving of either side. But certainly when the chips fall where they may, then he’ll take a stance, thereby absolving himself of any crime, but assuring that he will have a position of power, no matter who wins.”
“Surely that’s a risky gamble? What happens if the Death Eaters don’t buy into it?”
Bellatrix shrugged. “He’s pureblood and continuing the bloodline, he knows that he has an in.”
Although Hermione had many more questions, they would have to wait, as a little ways away, someone called out, “Merlin? You there?”
Swiftly, Bellatrix pulled her mask back down and gave Hermione the plate. She hissed to Hermione, “Who is it?”
Hermione looked towards the sound. “It’s just Tonks.”
“Him or her?”
“Him - Ted.”
Breathing a sigh of relief, Merlin emerged from the shadows. “Mr. Tonks, how can I help you?”
Ted Tonks approached the duo with a smile. “Sorry if you were having a meeting, we just saw you coming here earlier and my wife wanted me to talk to you.”
“Oh? What about?”
“She thinks you’ve been-” Ted paused as he looked towards Hermione.
Merlin followed his gaze. Catching the drift, she said, “Ms. Granger, thank you for your company. If you’d like, you can head back to the tent while I speak with Mr. Tonks and I’ll come join you once I’m finished.”
Hermione nodded, and said a curt goodbye. If she had to hazard a guess, Andromeda caught on to the fact that Merlin was avoiding her. But in her mind, Andromeda probably thought that this was due to her familial ties making her untrustworthy, rather than the truth that Bellatrix was guilty about what she had publicly done to her sister, and it was eating her up.
As she trudged back to the tent, she wondered if maybe she should stay outside. Ron was probably inside, and she didn’t want to risk the chance of running into him. She chanced a glance inside and saw that indeed, Ron was around nearly everyone that Hermione might know.
“Ah! The woman of the hour.” Hermione jumped as a voice sounded next to her. A woman in her forties was looking at her with a thorough displeasure gracing her face. “I don’t believe we’ve properly met, Priscilla Fawcett.”
Hermione looked at the outstretched hand and shook it, moving the plate to her other hand. “Hermione Granger.”
“Yes, I’m aware. I’ll admit, I had you pegged more for a reckless sort with Potter and his gang of lawless ruffians. Especially considering your track record.” Priscilla said.
“I beg your pardon?” Hermione responded, aghast.
Seemingly not recognizing her question, the other woman continued. “Yes, growing up with a wanted murderer probably instilled the boy with some need to do things outside of the boundaries of the law.”
“Sirius is not a murderer.”
“Yes, of course. As if the Black family isn’t as tainted as their name. Shames the rest of the wizarding community. No matter. Strange bedfellows and all that.”
Hermione was sure the woman was more than a bit inebriated, and she wondered how to get out of this. Just as she was about to excuse herself, she found herself looking at the business end of a wand pointed to her.
“Mrs. Fawcett, what are you doing?” Hermione asked, aghast, taking a step back. But the other woman just took a step forward. She pointed her wand at Hermione’s plate first, and vanished it.
“There, now we can talk. Merlin has been having his fun from the shadows, but I don’t believe for a second that he’s not hiding something. And I’m sure you’re privy to this knowledge. I won’t risk my family so that a bunch of pureblooded rot can play chess with us half-bloods and muggleborns. So, as civilized people, I’m offering you a choice. Veritaserum, or Legilimency?”
Priscilla Fawcett rolled her eyes, as if she thought Hermione’s confusion to be beneath her. “I wish to know Merlin’s identity, and I am giving you a choice on how you’d like to do it. Veritaserum is the more painless option, though it lasts longer, whereas Legilimency is quicker, but more painful if you try to resist it. So, which will it be?”
“Neither! Because I don’t know anything!” Hermione countered, a bit louder. She wildly looked around but by now she was out of sight of the tent’s entrance, and due to the jovial sounds of music and dancing, no one had heard her.
“Now, now, there’s no need to look so stricken. We’re all allies here,” Fawcett grinned and it made Hermione very unsettled.
She tried to reach for her wand in her sleeve, but Fawcett spotted her and tutted, pointing her wand at Hermione’s hands. “There’s no need for violence, just some girl talk. Now, it seems that Veritaserum will be a bit harder to get you to ingest willingly, so we’ll go the quick way.”
Hermione willed herself to concentrate on her wandless magic, tamping down on the rising panic, the traumatic memories this was bringing up. The hand that had been reaching out for the wand in her right sleeve was now in position for her to thrust her arm out and-
Fawcett went tumbling backwards and into the tent, clattering onto a table and knocking over some chairs.
The music stopped and there were yells of action as a motley of people rushed out to the tent’s entrance, their wands out, while a few others headed to Priscilla Fawcett who was moaning in pain.
When people saw Hermione, arm still outstretched, chest heaving, they frowned. They had been expecting an attack from the enemy, not her. Hermione struggled to form words. She hadn’t intended for the spell to be that strong.
Footsteps ran towards her and suddenly Ted Tonks and Merlin were in front of her.
“What happened?” Ted asked as Merlin looked between the tent and her.
More people approached her.
Hermione found her voice. “Mrs. Fawcett tried to…she wanted to know Merlin’s identity, and gave me a choice: Veritaserum or Legilimency. When I wouldn’t let her use either, she got upset and said she was going to use Legilimency. So just as she was about to cast the spell, I sent her backwards. But my wandless magic…”
Murmurs went out amongst the group.
“She attacked me!” Priscilla shrieked from inside the tent, robes askew and looking decidedly worse for wear.
The group from the tent rushed to follow after Priscilla after she stalked over to where everyone else was standing.
“Well?” she yelled, standing in front of the large group. Hermione noticed that, with how some people were standing, they seemed to be protecting her.
Merlin gently pushed through the crowd to stand in front of Priscilla. “Mrs. Fawcett, did you, or did you not, try to force Ms. Granger to divulge my identity?”
Priscilla floundered. But then she squared her shoulders and jutted her chin out. “We have a right to know.”
“You don’t,” Merlin uttered. “Not to mention that I categorically prohibit the use of force or trickery to force anyone here to do something they don’t wish to.”
“Oh yes, how convenient!”
Hermione was just watching everything numbly, as if she were merely a spectator watching a play which she was not part of. A hand touched her shoulder, getting her to flinch. It was Ted. “Come along. Mrs. Weasley wants you to come inside, you’re shaking.”
And Hermione noticed that she was. She followed through, and she faintly noticed a few people trail behind her.
In the Burrow, Mrs. Weasley peeked her head out of the kitchen when she heard the door open. “Perfect, Ted, I’ve left some blankets on the couch. Andy, could you start a fire? Poor Hermione looks stricken.”
Hermione felt hands guide her to the couch, but by now she was on auto-pilot. She felt two blankets being wrapped around her shoulders, noted that Harry and Ginny sat on either side of her on the couch, and that Andromeda was using her wand to light a fire.
Neville and Luna were sitting by the end of the kitchen table with Lee Jordan and Percy.
She glanced out and saw that the twins were standing by the door, glancing out, wands out. Charlie approached his brothers from the kitchen and they began to talk.
Mrs. Weasley approached with a tray of tea and set it down on the coffee table in front of them. “I’ve made more than enough for everyone, help yourselves dears.”
Hermione was handed a cup and a saucer, which she took with a faint thanks. She saw Arthur at one point approach the door from outside and speak with the present eldest children crowding around the entrance. Ron had accompanied him, and he glanced at Hermione. They locked eyes and he seemed to give her a smile, a reassuring and comforting one. A far cry from his expression earlier that day.
They left again and Charlie went to talk to the Tonkses and his mother who were sitting nearby relaying a message. She caught scattered words of ‘argument’, ‘power play’, and ‘rallying behind Merlin’, so she surmised that at least things seemed to be going their way, not the Fawcetts’.
Harry and Ginny wouldn’t leave her side, and spoke around her. About quidditch of all things, but she was thankful for what they were trying to do.
Ginny kept an eye on the teacup, refilling it whenever it started to get low. She was sure Mrs. Weasley made a very potent calming tea, and thus wanted Hermione to drink lots of it.
“Thank you,” Hermione murmured after Ginny refilled her cup again.
Her friend smiled. “Welcome back. I wasn’t sure if you had fallen asleep with your eyes open.”
Hermione smiled and shook her head. “No, I was too engrossed in the quidditch talk.”
Harry beamed at that. “Maybe we’ll make a quidditch player out of you yet.”
“No way, I like my feet firmly on the ground.”
Mrs. Weasley noted the conversation and made her way over, pulling up a chair to sit in front of her. “How are you feeling dear?”
“Better, thank you. The tea really helped.”
“Good. I have experience with soothing nightmarish experiences, and you seemed like you needed it in spades.”
No one mentioned it, but Hermione could tell that everyone knew - after the ambush at the Lestrange manor, Hermione had been dealing with PTSD. It was clear that when Priscilla Fawcett began crowding around her and pointing her wand, she was triggered by the memory of that horrible night, and as magic was powered by emotion, the need to just get her away from her made Hermione cast the powerful spell.
She hoped she hadn’t hurt the woman too badly, but she supposed if the argument outside was still going on, she was probably still in fine shape.
“What’s going on outside?” Harry asked.
Mrs. Weasley debated on telling, but when she saw Hermione’s eyes also silently asking, she said, “There seems to have been a stand-off. Priscilla and her husband are trying to parrot the Fudge propaganda, along with a few like-minded folks, but between how she practically attacked Hermione, followed by her antics, no one else is being sympathetic. If anything, it seems to be strengthening Merlin’s position and he’s reclaiming some of that lost confidence.”
The door opened, and the Weasley guard let Sirius and Remus inside. Everyone looked at them for updates. “Still on-going,” Remus explained.
“The woman is drunk and dense, not a good combination,” Sirius added.
Mrs. Weasley tutted as she stood up, heading to the doorway to have a look.
The two men took the opportunity to sit by Hermione, Ginny, and Harry, with Remus taking the chair Mrs. Weasley had left, while Sirius sat on the coffee table, pushing the tea tray off to one side.
“How’re you feeling, Hermione?” Remus asked. He magicked a bar of chocolate onto his palm. “Have they given you something to eat?”
Harry responded, “Hermione’s just been drinking Mrs. Weasley’s calming tea.”
Remus gave a brief nod, and he broke the chocolate into pieces. “Come, all of you, take a few, I feel like we all need it.”
The three took two pieces with thanks, and Remus left to distribute more around the house. Sirius remained, and if she had to hazard a guess from how everyone kept looking towards the door and clutching their wands, they were expecting some sort of magical confrontation to happen.
Then, there was quiet. The din of an argument outside was gone, and a few minutes later, Mr Weasley opened the door. Ron and Bill behind him, followed by some members of the Order, and lastly by Merlin.
Merlin immediately spotted her and just brushed her finger over her sternum for a brief moment. Hermione felt the gesture and smiled softly. She saw that Merlin was getting questions and figured she wanted to wrap up things there before going to her.
Sirius had stood up to go see what was going on and Ron came and sat down in the now vacant chair. Ginny stiffened, and Harry made a brief noise as if he was about to say something but was hesitant to voice it.
“I’m not here to pick a fight,” Ron began quietly. He looked at Hermione. “I acted like a jerk, and you don’t deserve that. I really am sorry.”
Hermione nodded. “I appreciate it, but right now Ron, I’m really not in a state to properly deal with this.”
Harry sensed that he should intervene and he stood up. “Come on mate, you can tell me what happened out there.”
Ginny looked at her boyfriend and brother walk away, prompting Hermione to say, “I’ll be okay, you can go with them.”
“I don’t mind staying,” Ginny said with a shrug. “I’m sure I’ll hear all about it in the coming days. You’re my friend and you need the company.”
Hermione flashed a grateful smile. “Yes, and someone to fill up my cup…did your mum put you up to this?”
“Oh yes, if your cup is empty for too long I’ll get the full name treatment.”
“That bad huh?”
“To be fair, when you came in you looked like a soft wind would knock you down.” Ginny let out a soft sigh. “I know it’s hard…”
“I wish I wasn’t so weak,” Hermione murmured, hunching her shoulders.
“You’re not weak, look at how powerful your spell was,” Ginny pointed out. “And I mean it. You’re smart and resourceful. I think that makes you a damn powerful witch.”
“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” a new voice said. Merlin. She took the empty seat on Hermione’s other side on the couch. “Ms. Weasley, could I have a minute to speak to Ms. Granger alone?”
Ginny nodded. “Of course.”
It seemed that everyone had moved out of the living room and had gone into the kitchen. Once they were alone, Merlin asked, “How’re you feeling?”
“Shaken,” Hermione responded, taking a sip from her cup. “Though I wouldn’t be able to tell you if it’s from Mrs. Fawcett’s hysterics, or from the spell. I didn’t mean to hurt her.”
“Hermione,” Merlin murmured, reaching out to stroke Hermione’s arm. “You went through a traumatic experience. It’s evident that Mrs. Fawcett’s antics brought you back to that moment. You reacted from instinct, and you were well within your rights to do so. And for the record, she wasn’t badly hurt at all - in fact I’d wager she was perfectly fine. At least, she had no problem arguing with me for this entire time.”
“Well that’s one weight off my chest.” Hermione sighed. “Still, I’m sure it’s not what you expected when you asked me to join you.”
“My expectations were towards your skills in strategizing, and I can safely say that you have met and exceeded all of them. If you think I’m in any way regretting having asked you to join me, you’d be sorely mistaken. Please believe me.”
And she did. Hermione couldn’t connect with the eyes behind the mask, but the voice, distorted as it might be, didn’t leave a single room for doubt. She trusted Bellatrix to be telling her the truth. “Thank you.”
“There’s no need to thank me,” Merlin said. She still hadn’t let go of Hermione’s arm, and frankly, Hermione hoped that she wouldn’t. “Now, Mrs. Weasley and some of the other folks are worried about you, and they’re all volunteering their homes if you’d like to stay with them. Which isn’t to say that you can’t return home with me if you’d like. But they are aware that perhaps you might feel more comfortable around your friends.”
“I’d actually like to go home with you.”
“Very well, then let’s go home.”
Most of the Order had left, leaving only the Weasley family, the Tonkses, as well as the residents of Grimmauld Place.
Hermione smiled at the crowd gathered around the kitchen table. “Thank you, for everything.”
Mrs. Weasley waved it off. “You’re family dear. If Priscilla tries anything like that again I will remind her of a few choice hexes in my repertoire.”
Everyone laughed at that. They knew Molly Weasley was not someone to be trifled with.
“We’ll be taking our leave now,” Merlin said. “Ms. Granger has elected to come with me. Thank you to you all for your support tonight. I appreciate it immensely.”
After everyone said their goodbyes, Hermione and Merlin Disapparated from the Burrow.
When they landed in the foyer of Bellatrix’s home, the latter pushed her mask upwards and out of the way as she lit the lights on with a flick of her wand. She looked at Hermione intently. “I want you to know that I am sorry. I know that Priscilla was the instigator, but for whatever culpability I might have in this: whether it’s by having you stay here, introducing you to everyone, letting you know my identity, I am sorry if any of that caused any harm to you.”
Hermione said nothing, but just launched herself into a hug. Bellatrix was stiff for a second, probably taken by surprise, but then relaxed into the hold, and brought her arms to hug Hermione tight.
“I don’t blame you for any of this,” Hermione murmured.
“Good, then please extend yourself the same kindness,” Bellatrix said. “Don’t beat yourself up over it. You defended yourself, and you were brilliant at it.”
A bit of a longer chapter with a lot happening, I hope that it was enjoyable.
Changing subjects for a bit, as I mentioned I am well-underway with this fic and have a few ideas ruminating (and somewhat started), and I'd love some feedback on which story you'd like to see posted next:
Soulmate AU - it'll be a very slow burn, like put on simmer in the backburner for the entire day slow
Reconciliation story - mostly canon after the books, except Bellatrix survived as in wizarding rehab and more of a journey at healing and whatnot
Chapter 8: Fear
Sorry for the delay folks, been a bit busy, which left little time to look over this chapter as it's somewhat longer.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When Hermione woke up the next morning, she paused as she reached the top of the stairs. The foyer had been transformed. Where previously there was an open room, now were pieces of furniture, some standing tall, others fallen over in odd angles.
“Bellatrix?” Hermione called out, confused, slowly descending the stairs.
“In the kitchen!” she heard, and she breathed a sigh of relief.
Hermione headed to the kitchen to find her companion sitting on the counter drinking some coffee. “What happened to the foyer?”
Bellatrix smirked. “I set it up for duelling practice. Begins as soon as you finish your breakfast.”
“Duelling practice?” Hermione repeated. “So early?”
“Yep. Remember that you asked for lessons?”
Hermione floundered as she tried to think of a proper answer. “Yes, but I thought I’d get-”
“Nope. No thinking. Remember, duelling can happen at any time. You can’t think, just react. I left you some food over there. Is half an hour enough time to finish up?”
“Well, yes, but I don’t even have my wand with me.”
Bellatrix winked. “Then you better practise your wandless Accio.”
Hermione looked between the two of them before digging into her breakfast. “We’re in pyjamas.”
“All due respect, Hermione, but a Death Eater isn’t going to give you time to change. They play dirty, and that means they’re perfectly willing to cheat. Now, your problem is that you think too much. You have an impressive repertoire of spells in your head, but it won’t do you any good if you can only duel in a specific situation.”
Hermione nodded. The other witch had a point
“Excellent. I’ll be waiting in the foyer. The minute you walk out of here, the duel begins, so if you need your wand, you know what to do.”
And with that, Bellatrix left Hermione to finish her breakfast. She took all thirty minutes, making sure to give herself enough time to digest a bit.
Once she walked out, she heard Bellatrix call out to her, “Finally! I thought for a moment that you had tried to sneak away or something!”
“Accio wand!” Hermione yelled, hiding behind an empty bookcase.
“First lesson! Don’t let your enemy see or hear where you hid! Bombarda!”
Hermione dodged out of the way and behind an upturned couch just as the bookcase splintered into dozens of pieces. Her wand whizzed past the wreckage and Hermione barely caught it.
“Next lesson! Be aware of your surroundings! Wingardium Leviosa!”
The couch flew up, leaving Hermione exposed. She whipped around and threw out a Depulso at Bellatrix, who was standing on top of another bookcase. The latter deflected it, but had to drop the couch, giving Hermione time to find cover under a table.
“Good, use your opponent’s moment of weakness. You knew I would be faced with a choice, drop the couch or deflect the spell. Now, are you ready for lesson four?”
Hermione didn’t respond, and instead peeked out from under the table. It sounded like Bellatrix had moved to the other side of the foyer, and she got out from under the table.
Suddenly, she found strong arms hugging her from behind. Bellatrix’s soothing voice whispered in her ear, “Don’t assume all enemies will be loud, and expect that some might trick you.”
She let Hermione go, who spun around and sent an Experlliarmus flying.
They began to duel in earnest, trading spells. Hermione got a few shots in, but she was no match for Bellatrix, who eventually captured her wand.
“Alright, I think that’s enough duelling for today,” Bellatrix said with a smile, chest heaving.
Hermione let out a laugh. “Yes, only after you bested me so many times.”
“Don’t sell yourself short, you held your own pretty well against me, and that’s no easy feat. And I can assure you, I did not go easy on you.” Bellatrix held Hermione’s wand out. “Now, let’s clean this up, shall we? It’ll be good to wind down, and get us ready for Occlumency.”
They cleaned up the debris from their duel, and once the foyer was clear, they stood on opposite ends of the room.
“Now, Occlumency, as you well know, is learning to block your mind from an unwanted attack. The other person, the Legilimens, will be trying to get information from you by any means necessary. Generally, if someone tells you to not think of something, you start to think of it. Your job is to not let me get the information that I want.
“Now, I want you to clear your head. Under no circumstances are you to tell me what your favourite colour is. Legilimens!”
Hermione braced herself for the spell, and tried to think of anything else. Books she had recently read. The way the wood of the foyer looked shiny and pristine despite the mess that had been there earlier. Or maybe-
“Periwinkle?” Bellatrix asked, stopping the spell.
Hermione sighed. “Yes, I like that shade of blue.”
“It’s good for a first try. You need to try to focus on one thing though. You kept on hopping from one thing to another. Whoever is trying to get information from you will try to coax the answer from you, use tricks to get you to think about it. Word association is very popular. But I think that’s more than enough for today, we should continue planning for Saturday.”
The rest of the week went mostly the same way. Hermione now went to breakfast prepared for any impromptu duelling sessions, and by Friday, she had actually managed to disarm Bellatrix, which left the younger witch to feel euphoric. Though it was short-lived as Bellatrix managed to extricate yet another trivial piece of information after their duel - this time it was her favourite book.
As they sat down in the study, Hermione looked at Bellatrix. “How do you do it?”
“Do what?” Bellatrix asked, poring over the new reports that had come in.
“Close your mind off to fend off those attacks. I know you’re going easy on me, but even then I’m not able to eventually slip up.”
Bellatrix sat back, putting the report on the table as she thought for a moment.
Right then, Hermione thought Bellatrix looked absolutely beautiful. The soft fire playing with the shadows on her face, her curly mane framing her face, and the pensive expression she wore.
“Training I suppose,” Bellatrix responded after a moment. “That and this soul-crushing fear of knowing what will happen if the truth were to come out. Which isn’t to say that you don’t also have that fear, but I sincerely doubt that knowing your favourite food or book or colour will sway the tides of this war one way or another.”
Hermione laughed. “That’s very true. Plus you don’t cut a very imposing figure.”
Bellatrix raised an eyebrow, mirth tugging at her lips. “Is that so? Not very menacing am I?”
“Well there goes my reputation I suppose,” Bellatrix said with a dramatic sigh.
Now it was Hermione to raise her eyebrows. “Giving up so easily? I’d have thought you’d be a bit more defensive over the idea that you’re not that dangerous.”
That made Bellatrix laugh. “All part of the act. I couldn’t give a flobberworm mucus what others actually think of me, but as a Death Eater yes, I have to be fearsome and hateful.”
“Is it hard?” Hermione asked. She really didn’t know how the other woman could stand it.
“Yes,” Bellatrix answered. Since the first day, pretending to be this horrible and hateful person was soul-crushing. Having people look at her in fear, to be around people with such hateful thoughts and opinions, it made her long for the moments where she could be Merlin. There she was just a nameless nobody who could help people, make a real difference.
Though now, she supposed that being able to spend time with Hermione as herself, her real self, was such a welcome change that truly, it made her want to spend the rest of her days with Hermione, sharing so many moments with her and perhaps one day-
“Bellatrix?” Bellatrix looked up with a start. Hermione was looking at her, puzzled. No, worried. She had learned to decipher Hermione’s expressions in a short time - the younger woman really wasn’t good at hiding her reactions or schooling them - and she was touched by the worry there.
“Sorry, I was just thinking about tomorrow.”
Hermione nodded solemnly. “Do you know what you’ll be doing?”
“No. The dung beetle has been paranoid about the Order’s ability to suss out his plans that he won’t reveal anything until the day of. Not even I’m privy of his plans, and I’m supposed to be his most trusted.”
With the way that Bellatrix had said it, Hermione voiced her confusion. “Isn’t that a good thing? That we keep on thwarting his plans?”
Bellatrix sighed and dragged her hands over her face. “It should, but I’m just worried that not knowing could leave us at a disadvantage. I don’t like sending the Order out to missions where I can’t know if they’re safe, and it…it makes me afraid.”
Being afraid wasn’t something that Bellatrix admitted to. Certainly not easily. Hermione pulled her chair to sit closer to Bellatrix and leant forward, hand going to rest on the other woman’s forearm, thumb brushing lightly. “We’ll figure it out.”
“I don’t suppose…” Bellatrix began, before looking up to lock eyes with Hermione, her voice so soft. She continued, “Would you consider not going out tomorrow?”
Hermione sighed. Then she shook her head. “No, I want to be there with everyone.”
“I understand, it’s just that the Death Eaters are looking to cause fear and mayhem, and if any of them set their sights on you and try to hurt you I-”
She couldn’t even voice it, but Hermione still understood, and gave a light squeeze with her hand. “I’ll have everyone there to help.”
It went unspoken, but the real worry was Hermione’s lingering trauma. It was clear that despite the years of therapy and the fact that for all her faults, Priscilla Fawcett was definitely not a Death Eater, the incident the other day flared up the traumatic event in Hermione’s head and left her more vulnerable. Which meant that tomorrow, anything could happen.
But Hermione wouldn’t let that deter her. Whether it was for her own sake, or to appear strong in front of others, Bellatrix knew there was no point in trying to convince the younger witch to stay in the safety of the house. She’d already tried a few ways and none of them stuck. So she left it at that, choosing to just think up potential strategies, sending them out to the Order via their network.
The next day came with a sense of foreboding. Neither Hermione nor Bellatrix spoke much during breakfast, and nothing beyond some perfunctory questions.
By the time they parted ways to get changed, they’d barely exchanged ten words altogether. Hermione sighed. They had no idea what the day would hold, and barely any way to communicate with one another, at least not in a meaningful fashion.
She put her robe on and closed the clasp. She’d be heading to Grimmauld and join the group there. The Order had decided on splitting up areas for best coverage. Everyone would go to a key location where they could keep an eye out. If they found danger, they’d use their enchanted galleons to summon others in the group. Though they had to be careful to not leave any area unattended.
In fact, one of the ways that Bellatrix tried to convince her to stay was to run logistics from the study. While the idea had merit, they eventually saw that in order to be successful, they’d need to have all hands on deck, and thus no one would be at home to receive plan changes or communications.
Fred and George had tried to create some sort of communications system to help resolve that issue, but distance was a factor that they hadn’t been able to resolve in time. They couldn’t even use Lee Jordan’s radio, because it was public and Death Eaters could catch wind of something.
Once she reached the foyer, she waited by the Apparition circle. She wanted to wish Bellatrix good luck before she left.
She turned once she heard steps coming down the stairs, and noted that this time, Bellatrix had her hood down and wasn’t wearing her mask. With how nervous she felt, it helped to see a friendly face, at least for now.
“Now,” Bellatrix began as she cleared her throat. “Please be careful. If at any point you’re in danger or those pesky buggers are about to attack, use the necklace, I will find you and find a way to help you, okay?”
Hermione nodded, not trusting her voice to give a vocal answer.
Neither of them knew that they were both avoiding looking at the other.
But then Bellatrix got the strength to look up, and she reached forward to hook a finger under Hermione’s chin, getting the latter to look at her.
When their eyes met, Bellatrix gave an encouraging smile. “We’ll get through this, don’t fret.”
Hermione tried to seem reassured, but when that didn’t work, she launched herself into a hug, surprising the older woman.
But Bellatrix quickly recuperated, wrapping her arms around Hermione. They said nothing, they didn’t move. They weren’t in a hurry, since there wasn’t a specific timeline, and Bellatrix hadn’t been called yet.
There was a deeper connection building between the two women, but now wasn’t the time to explore it, or even try to speak about it. They broke from their hug and just shared a look. A look that, when they would later reminisce, would be one that both would describe as love .
Hermione Disapparated, leaving Bellatrix to run her hand over her hair. She had to get into character.
Once Hermione arrived at Grimmauld, it felt like she hadn’t had one second to catch her breath. Everything was in constant motion. Sirius and Remus were talking to one another and trying to figure out who would go where, Walburga was being particularly stubborn that day, and it meant Neville and Luna had been trying to shut her up for the last half hour.
Ginny, Harry, along with Ron, were practising their spells, trying to fend each other off. At Hermione’s arrival, she was first recruited to shut Walburga up, though the constant screaming about her “filthy mudblood casting spells” did nothing for her morale.
Once that was done she elected to hang around Sirius and Remus, having a bit more knowledge of the strategic side meant that she felt more acclimated to that discussion, rather than joining the duelling group. She wanted to conserve her energy for the actual mission.
Ginny and Harry eventually joined her to iron out the final bits of the strategy, and soon enough, they were ready to go.
Hermione was sent to a little hamlet. There were only two muggleborn families there, and after speaking with them for a moment to check everything was alright, she set herself up with a local newspaper and sat on a nearby bench.
She kept pretending to read the paper, but secretly was watching the street. There was no one there, and after an hour, she briefly wondered if she had been placed in the most humdrum place imaginable. But she didn’t mind all that much. It’d be easy to dismiss this little hamlet as not worthy of protection, and Hermione was ready to defend this place.
Suddenly, the galleon in her jeans pocket began flaring up. She fished it out of her pocket. Luna.
Hermione discarded the paper and headed to the designated Apparition location. Luna had been stationed near a more industrial area. Lots of abandoned factories, and if Hermione recalled correctly, there was quite a concentration of muggleborns living there.
When she arrived, there was pandemonium all around her. At least a dozen Death Eaters were circling overhead, the dark billowing clouds trailing behind them. She had her wand out and ready to fire.
She spotted Luna, firing spells, with Neville alongside her. She ran towards them, but hadn’t even made it halfway there when was thrown to the side by a spell, landing on the ground with a dull thud. She scrambled to her feet to find a Death Eater walking towards her, aiming a spell.
“Expelliarmus!” Hermione yelled, and it hit the Death Eater right on target. With their wand gone, she fired off a volley of spells that incapacitated them in a quick fashion.
But her victory was short-lived. She saw Ginny Apparate and get immediately accosted by two Death Eaters. Luna and Neville were fending off at least five, and before Hermione could try to help anyone, she found herself with two Death Eaters of her own.
“Oh look, it’s Potter’s mudblood!” one of them said. He had a deep voice, gravelly like nails on a chalkboard, and it chilled Hermione to her bones.
“Confringo!” Hermione yelled, taking a step back. She willed her panic to stay locked in its box. This was one of the Death Eaters that night…that horrible night.
No dice, the Death Eater on the left deflected it, while the one on the right fired a particularly strong Petrificus Totalus that hit her right before her Protego shield had gone up.
Her body locked up and her wand slipped from her grasp, clattering to the asphalt beneath, but before she herself could fall to the ground, the Death Eater on the left cast an Arresto Momentum that kept her suspended.
She looked around wildly towards her friends, but all three of them were busy fending off their own Death Eaters, and they weren’t faring too well.
“So what should we do with it? Can’t let it escape like last time…”
“We should take her with us, but first, I still want to know if they bleed mud…”
Hermione was doing a fine job of not freaking out up until that point, until the one on the left began to brandish his wand as he cast a Diffindo on her arm.
She couldn’t yell out, but the pain was immeasurable. And to make matters worse, she felt her heart hammer against her chest, her breathing more ragged and fast. She tried to recall some relaxation techniques to keep her mind at bay, but it slipped from her mind just before she could grasp it.
Next thing she knew, the two Death Eaters were moving aside to let another Death Eater approach.The newcomer had said something that she couldn’t hear, the pain in her arm and the panic running through her veins was making her unable to focus on the conversation.
Then, the third Death Eater sent a silent spell towards her, and the Petrificus Totalus spell ended, making her fall to her hands and knees.
Oh she was sure the Death Eaters would be enjoying having her like that. She tensed, and felt her wand by her fingers. Could she pick it up and attack them without them noticing her?
Footsteps approached her, but before she could enact her plan, the third Death Eater grabbed her by the shoulder of her robe and pulled her up. She barely had time to pick her wand up before the Death Eater was flying off with her.
The dark smoke billowed around her, but she’d be damned if she wouldn’t go down without a fight. The change of scenery provided a brief surge of adrenaline to snap her out of it. But with the close proximity, the best she could hope for was physically smacking the Death Eater. She managed to get a few hopefully painful smacks in, though she didn’t have a contingency plan if this Death Eater would drop her.
“Hermione, it’s me!” she heard Bellatrix’s muffled voice and paused, looking up.
She didn’t get time to process until they were now inside an old factory and on solid ground. The Death Eater let go of her robe and Hermione stumbled back, suspicious. It sounded like Bellatrix but…could this be an imposter?
It seemed that the person in front of her could tell her thought process enough to touch the area of their sternum.
Hermione’s necklace vibrated softly. It was Bellatrix. She sighed and sagged backwards onto a nearby pillar, putting her wand away.
Bellatrix slowly approached her. “Hold out your arm, I can heal it.”
She did so, closing her eyes. Bellatrix was now standing beside her, grabbing her arm carefully to hold it steady, and Hermione willed her body to relax. She was safe.
“Did they hurt you anywhere else?”
“No, you got here just in time,” Hermione murmured. Her heart was still racing, and her feeble attempts to ground herself were interrupted by the sounds of fighting outside. The process of healing her arm wasn’t exactly painless either, eliciting quite a few winces and hisses.
She opened her eyes to look towards Bellatrix, mask still on her face. Clearly in her state of almost-panic, her expressions were easily readable. “Too risky to show my face, but it is me.”
Hermione gave a grateful smile and was about to close her eyes again when she noticed a figure by the doorway.
“Wh-” Hermione began, pushing herself off from the pillar, only to find herself spun around and now being held in a vice grip, Bellatrix’s left arm snaking around her body, pinning her arms to her side while Bellatrix’s wand was pointed at her neck.
“Let go of her!” Ginny had her wand trained on them. She was alone, and while she clearly had seen better days, it seemed she had had no problem subduing the Death Eaters she had been fighting earlier
“Shit,” Bellatrix murmured, low enough for her to hear, but not Ginny.
Hermione felt her panic rise once more. “Ginny, please, I’ve got this-”
“Yes,” Bellatrix yelled with a cackle. “We’ve got this handled, run along now!”
At that very moment, in the midst of her panic and of the situation, she truly began to doubt Bellatrix. Her voice sounded mocking…evil and heartless. Her heart plummeted as a singular worry began to grow and fester inside of her. All of the things that she had calmly and logically concluded in the past were crumbling in her mind. Had she been an idiot? Trusting a Death Eater, and not just any Death Eater - Voldemort’s right hand, what was she thinking?
Why did she believe the stories and the notion that Bellatrix was somehow not the bigot she was currently dressed and acting as so easily? She should have asked more, prodded for more info, tried to poke holes to see if it’d all fall apart, but no, she believed her in the moment. Why? Well she knew why, even though she was loath to think about it…
She faintly heard that Ginny and Bellatrix continued trading verbal spars, but she couldn’t focus. She began hyperventilating. She had to get out of there.
Hermione tried to see if she could wriggle her way out, but either Bellatrix was doing a very good acting job, or she truly had no intention of letting Hermione go, now that her false allegiance had been discovered. The thought made her blood run cold.
She had to get out of here.
Bellatrix huffed at the exertion. Hermione had suddenly begun to jerk around in her arms and she held her tighter. What was she doing?
She used her wand hand to gently move Hermione’s chin to angle it to the side towards her. What she saw made her heart sink. Hermione looked positively terrified, eyes wide and distant, as if she wasn’t really there.
After a quick glance at Ginny, Bellatrix mentally cursed. To hell with it, Hermione was more important. She let Hermione loose only to grab her by her arms. “Hermione, what’s wrong?”
But Hermione didn’t answer, her eyes now focused on a point beyond Bellatrix’s head. She felt Hermione’s legs go weak as she fell to her knees, and Bellatrix let herself be led down alongside her.
She heard Ginny gasp and make her way closer. Meanwhile she was just trying to rub Hermione’s arms soothingly. “No one’s going to hurt you, Hermione, it’s just us.”
No dice, Hermione was breathing heavily and practically shaking.
Ginny fell to her knees beside Hermione, hand landing on her friend’s shoulder. “Hermione? Talk to me, what’s going on?”
“She’s having a panic attack,” Bellatrix answered.
The young witch looked at Bellatrix incredulous as her hand slipped from Hermione’s shoulder in surprise. Whether it was from the fact that she had answered, or that she even knew what Hermione was going through, remained to be seen.
Bellatrix waved her wand over her face to remove the mask, and then pushed her hood out of the way before putting her wand away. She cupped Hermione’s cheeks with her hands, willing the younger woman to look at her. “See? It’s just Ginny and I, you’re safe, no one’s going to hurt you.”
That seemed to do the trick as Hermione’s eyes focused on hers. Bellatrix smiled encouragingly. But it fell just as quickly. She was no stranger to people looking at her in horror, disgust and in apprehension. She had learnt to not take it to heart. But Hermione’s stricken fear shot through her heart deeper than any curse would do.
“Hermione, it’s just me,” she tried to reassure, but she felt Hermione try to move her body away, pulling her face out of Bellatrix’s hands.
Ginny was there to wrap her arms around her. She looked at Bellatrix, confusion maring her face.
Bellatrix stood up. She heard the battle outside continue and directed her next words to Ginny. “Take Hermione back to Grimmauld.”
She put her hood back up and magicked her mask on her face. She hated leaving Hermione, but knew that right now, Ginny would be more help to her.
Ginny watched as the Death Eater left. She shook her head. It was not the time nor the place.
“Can you stand up?” Ginny asked.
Hermione nodded. Together they stood up. The galleon didn’t have nearly enough space for her to convey a message to Neville and Luna that she was leaving.
As luck would have it, Neville and Luna came rushing to meet them. They were tripping over each other to speak, but stopped once they saw Hermione.
“Is she alright?” Neville asked.
She looked at her friend. Hermione seemed to be deep in thought, but thankfully was aware enough to glance at them and apologize. “Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.”
“Nonsense,” Luna said. “You provided ample distraction to help Neville and I defeat quite a few Death Eaters.”
“Speaking of which, we should get back to it in case more come,” Neville said. “Are you taking her back to base?”
They wouldn’t speak of Grimmauld by name. The old Black family house was probably a recognizable name among the Death Eaters, so they wouldn’t risk it. Though Ginny’s mind was niggling with the fact that Bellatrix had said it. How did she know?
Ginny nodded. “I’ll come back later. Call for Ron or Harry if you need help, or contact Sirius.”
With that, Ginny held her arm out for Hermione to take, and once the latter’s hand was firmly clasping her wrist, they Disapparated.
There's the slight possibility that next chapter might come on Saturday as well. It's another long one.
Chapter 9: Truths
To help understand, italics are stuff in a memory/the past.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The house was empty when they got there, and Ginny led them down to the kitchen. She waved her wand to get the tea going, and then sat down with Hermione at the table.
“So, do you want to tell me what the bloody hell happened?” Ginny asked, none too succinctly. The moment the words left her lips, she figured that perhaps her tone was a bit combative. Hermione didn’t need that vitriol from her. “Sorry, just…what is going on? Why is Lestrange acting so…”
“Black,” Hermione said, breathless. “Her name is Bellatrix Black.”
Ginny opened her mouth as if to counter that her last name really wasn’t important, but then something clicked. “She…she’s Merlin isn’t she?”
Hermione nodded, rubbing her hands over her face to calm herself down.
“Bloody-” Ginny sat back and ran her hand through her hair. “So all this time-”
“Yep, she’s been running this whole thing,” Hermione admitted. “The thing is…when she first told me- or well, when I first figured it out and asked her about it, I had no doubt in my mind that she truly was just using her position as a Death Eater to get intel to help the Order.”
“But today, when she was taunting you and holding me, I…started to wonder if maybe this whole time she’s been playing me. Using me like everyone said Merlin was doing, grabbing the first muggleborn who was gullible and trusting enough to use as a buffer to get everyone to trust her.”
Ginny took a moment before she answered. “Look Hermione, I know very little of what’s going on here. I’d say the bare minimum but that might be giving myself too much credit. So if you had come to me yesterday, or even this morning, with this theory of yours, I’d have believed you from the get go.
“But after what happened earlier… I mean, I have seen Death Eaters plenty. And I know two things are true for them: one is that I’m sure any Death Eater worth their salt would rather Avada themselves rather than touch you like she did.”
That was true enough, and a brief smile appeared on Hermione’s face as she thought about it. “And the second?”
“I have never seen any enemy of mine look at me with as much care and worry for me as she did.”
Ginny left Hermione as she pondered those two points and went to serve their tea.
Once she sat back down, she asked, “What would you like to do?”
Hermione looked up and blinked. “About what?”
“Her. Your concerns I mean.”
She didn’t answer right away. Between getting some time to get away from the madness and hearing Ginny, she had a lot to ruminate. “Please don’t tell anyone just yet. I…I want to give her the benefit of the doubt with this. She’s been keeping this secret for so long, I don’t want to destroy everything just because I had a panic attack.”
Ginny nodded, though she felt that Hermione had more than just a simple panic attack. “Mind you, I will want to talk to her at some point because this is absolutely bonkers. She’s a double agent?”
Hermione was about to answer, but stopped once she heard footsteps on the stairs. It was Merlin.
“Are we alone?”
Bellatrix pushed her mask up and stayed standing in the doorway. She looked at Hermione. “How are you feeling?”
“Better.” Hermione was looking at her teacup, biting her lip slightly.
There was a brief pause as it seemed the Bellatrix tried to figure out what to say, or even whether to approach. Ginny took this opportunity to look at Merlin’s robes. They were different, probably transfigured her Death Eater robes in a hurry.
She figured she should diffuse the tension. “I’m surprised we heard you coming down the stairs.”
Bellatrix shrugged, a brief smile tugging on her lips. “I figured that this time, it might be good to make myself heard.” Turning to Hermione, she said, “Look, the reason I came here is to say that if you need time and space, I perfectly understand. I’m not sure what happened out there, but I won’t force you to come home with me. When you’re ready, if you want to talk-”
“No,” Hermione said, looking at Bellatrix. “I’d like to go home, and talk to you, if that’s alright?”
Ginny watched Bellatrix attentively, and what she saw would have shocked her a few hours ago: her shoulders sagged in relief, and a small smile blossomed.
“It’s more than alright. I have to go meet the worm first, but afterwards?”
Hermione nodded. “Afterwards.”
Bellatrix nodded too, almost as if she were reassuring herself that Hermione hadn’t gone running for the hills. Then she turned to Ginny. “Ms. Weasley. I’m sure you have many questions, and if you’d like, I’ll extend a similar courtesy to you - if you’d like to, please let Hermione know and we can meet to discuss this? Perhaps not today but, the offer stands.”
Ginny schooled her surprise, though she was sure the other woman caught it, by the way she chuckled. After finding her voice, she said, “Yeah, I’d like that.”
“Excellent, I must be off.”
Once Bellatrix had left, Ginny turned back to Hermione. “It’s like seeing a whole other person!”
Hermione nodded. “Welcome to my world.”
Once they finished their tea, Ginny and Hermione parted ways, the latter heading back home while Ginny headed back out to see if anyone needed help.
Once Hermione landed in the foyer, she breathed and headed to the library. She quickly sent status updates to all the bases, figuring she might as well distract herself with work.
It helped to also focus her mind on figuring out Bellatrix’s allegiance. The more she thought about it, the more she went back to her very first conclusion: she could trust Bellatrix. She chastised her mind for playing such a foul trick on her to think otherwise.
Bellatrix had saved her a handful of times, and today she risked exposing herself to Ginny to make sure Hermione saw her, not her Death Eater mask.
She figured she would just explain what happened and talk. It had worked for them thus far, and she was sure it’d work again.
“FAILURES!” Lord Voldemort, the self-titled fool screamed, pointing his wand at yet another Death Eater, and casting the Cruciatus curse. “It was a simple mission, so simple it could almost be considered boring. And yet many of you weren’t able to complete it!?”
They’d all been given a shot of Veritaserum when they entered the meeting hall. Then one by one, Voldemort asked his Death Eaters if they were successful. Scare one Mudblood, that had been his orders. Show the wizarding world that despite their failures, they were still a force to be reckoned with.
Bellatrix hated the fact that the word “Yes” slipped from her lips. The bile in her throat would not go down. She wished that her inadvertently scaring Hermione hadn’t happened. She would spend the rest of her days apologizing if need be. She was beginning to understand what exactly had triggered Hermione to look at her so afraid as she mentally worked on that conundrum in her mind, a thankful distraction while Voldemort continued to torture every single failure.
When she was finally allowed to go home, she barely finished apparating to the foyer before she ran to the kitchen and barfed over the sink. She coughed and clutched the base of the stainless steel basin as if her life depended on it.
Much to her surprise, she felt a hand rubbing a soothing circle on her back, while the other hand pulled her hair back out of her face.
“What happened?” Hermione asked softly from behind her.
Bellatrix let out a shuddering breath, not trusting herself to turn around. “The ignoramus was particularly angry today, seeing so much failure.”
“He hurt you?”
She could have laughed at Hermione’s worry. If only she knew. So she voiced it. “No, because I was one of the few that actually did the task. To scare a muggleborn, and I was the winner that, despite not planning for it, wound up doing it.”
Now she turned, and saw Hermione standing in front of her, eyebrows furrowed. Bellatrix saw worry in Hermione’s eyes, not fear, and relief flooded her system.
“Hermione, please know that I never, ever would hurt you. I don’t know what happened that triggered the traumatic panic attack, but I saw the fear in your eyes, and how you were afraid of me. But please, I beg you to listen, I would have gladly taken the Cruciatus if it meant that I wouldn’t have caused the horror in your face.”
Hermione floundered, unsure how to answer, how to understand that Bellatrix would prefer the torture over what happened. After all, preferring the Cruciatus curse was no simple claim. They had both been on the receiving end, they knew the pain it caused.
Bellatrix bit her lip. “Take out your wand.”
“What?” Hermione did a double take, certain she’d heard the other woman wrong. Surely she wasn’t going to demonstrate it?
“Go on, take it out.” She knew what she wanted to do. How she’d show Hermione that she needn’t fear her.
Hermione did so. Though her apprehension was building.
“Good, now point it at me.”
“W-why?” Hermione’s voice faltered in confusion and a tinge of worry. Whether for herself or for Bellatrix was a mystery. She kept her wand at her side.
“I’ve been teaching you Occlumency, and you asked me how I kept my thoughts guarded. So now I figure the best way for you to learn how this all works is to let you be on the other end of it. So when you’re ready just cast Legilimens.”
Hermione’s mouth opened and closed a few times, wand still by her side. “I won’t do that.”
“Hermione, please. Trust me.”
“I do , but I don’t see how this-”
“It’ll help you see that I’m not the Death Eater that made you cower in fright.”
“I’m not afraid of you.”
Bellatrix raised an eyebrow sceptically. “All due respect but your reaction earlier says otherwise. Please, I’m giving you permission to go through my mind. To let you see how we wound up here. And that above all, you can trust me.”
At first, Hermione didn’t move, and just kept looking at Bellatrix. The latter kept eye contact, barely blinking, meeting the searching eyes head on.
Hermione found herself in the Hogwarts library. She looked around and immediately spotted messy black curls amongst a stack of books perched on a table.
A younger Bellatrix was studying ferociously, poring over books and working on an essay, quill scratching against parchment as if her thoughts were coming at her faster than she could write.
Except, there was a faint giggling sound which kept interrupting the flow of her writing. Whoever it was, they were trying to be subtle, but Bellatrix could hear them, and it was distracting her. If someone wanted to snog, there were better places to go than a library. Certainly somewhere where neither the librarian nor its students would bother them. She surfaced her head from behind the fortress of books to look around, trying to pinpoint the source.
Bellatrix didn’t consider herself to be a fearsome person, but she had a reputation of having a very intimidating presence, and she would unleash the full power of her glare and scathing words on whoever this couple of horny teenagers were.
There, amongst the stacks behind her to the right. She narrowed her eyes. There was a gap between some books, giving her a window through which she saw-
She turned back to her books and pretended to continue studying, but she had seen enough to have lost her concentration.
Bellatrix wasn’t an idiot. She had seen the quick furtive glances across the Great Hall, the brief blushes when they crossed paths.
The three Black sisters had grown up being told by their parents about blood status and pureblooded supremacy. The entire Black family knew that their goal in life was to advance the breeding of more pureblood children, and those that strayed from it were cast away from the family, shunned pariahs. Like Sirius, her older cousin.
In fact, it had been due to him that, many summers ago, Bellatrix and her sisters had first discovered that her parents couldn’t be more wrong about muggles. They weren’t dirty lowlives. They were brilliant and their world held so many wonders. It had been a magical day, despite the lack of magic, but once they returned, Cygnus Black had been irate.
He himself was responsible for punishing Sirius, beating him within an inch of his life. After that, Sirius ran away from home, and Walburga soon after passed away. Some say it was shame that did her in, now that she was childless and husbandless, with the latter having passed away a few years prior.
The three sisters were also punished, and Cygnus later revealed that they were going to be betrothed to wizards to help continue The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, married as soon as they graduated Hogwarts. Husbands had already been picked, all that was left was for the girls to come of age. It was barbaric and archaic, and she hated it.
So she knew that, despite knowing that muggles were no different from her, she had to act as if they were beneath her. Which was why she said nothing about Andromeda’s hidden romance with Ted Tonks.
In fact, it was why she was studying so hard. She had a plan. A plan that would ensure she and her sisters would be able to live out their lives as they wanted, without the fear that they would serve as nothing more than housewives birthing children.
Bellatrix, being the older sister, had it all figured out. She was an accomplished witch, and she decided that becoming a Healer was her best option. It would allow her to set up a clinic anywhere in the world that she wanted, and it would pay well enough that she could support her sisters until they could live on their own.
But the world would have other plans for her.
Bellatrix’s seventh year had been a nonstop rush of essays and exam preparation, on top of her secret studying to become a Healer. Usually Healers took a year to learn the material and pass their entrance exams to enter St. Mungos, but she wanted to take it the day after she finished her Hogwarts classes.
When Andy and Cissy practically begged her to go to Hogsmeade, she figured she deserved the break. After all she wouldn’t do anyone any good if she wound up losing her marbles.
Oh how she wished she hadn’t gone.
Hermione trudged on behind the three sisters. Bellatrix, the adult version, kept pace with her, but said nothing, and instead just watched the three sisters interacting, a wistful look in her eyes.
“Do you miss them?”
“Every day,” Bellatrix said, voice thick with emotion.
Hermione pondered on how to say the next part. Eventually she settled for, “I understand this isn’t easy for you, having to share this…”
“No, it’s not easy, but you had to see this.”
“Bellatrix, if this is about earlier-” She was interrupted by Bellatrix holding a finger to her lips and then pointing to where the younger witches in the memory had arrived at Hogsmeade.
“Come on Bella, let’s get some butterbeer, the trip here has been way too cold,” Andy muttered with a shudder.
“And yet you insisted on coming here,” Bellatrix remarked.
Cissy, not one to be outdone by her older sisters in the sass department, countered, “And you agreed. So come on, to the Three Broomsticks.”
Bellatrix gave in without an argument but paused at the doorway, while holding the door open for her sisters to enter. Something caught her eye and she looked down the street. Rodolphus, her husband-to-be, was standing with some other Slytherin boys, but what caught her attention was the stark white sheet of paper in their hands. None of them were known for their intelligence, so to see five boys all huddled around a sheet of paper made about as much sense as seeing a troll practise ballet.
“Oy, the Three Broomsticks isn’t looking to become an outdoor patio!” Bellatrix turned her head back to see Madam Rosmerta looking at her from the counter, arms raised, incredulous.
Her sisters were looking at her curiously from inside the establishment. “Bella, are you coming?” Cissy asked.
“Yeah, give me a minute, get me a butterbeer and I’ll be right in.” Bellatrix let the door close, giving the briefest of apologetic waves to Rosmerta. Then she walked up the street to where the Slytherin boys were huddled.
Hermione was following the younger Bellatrix, but noticed that the older woman had stayed in front of the doorway. This was a memory, nothing could be changed, she couldn’t go inside the building. There would be nothing there as it wasn’t part of the memory, but Hermione could tell without a doubt that present Bellatrix wanted nothing more than to go into the Three Broomsticks with her sisters. She regretted this past decision immensely.
“What’s all this then?” Bellatrix asked, standing a few feet away, arms crossed.
The boys froze for a second, thinking they’d been caught, but relaxed once they saw it was Bellatrix.
Rodolphus, the brainless git, held out the flyer with a shit-eating grin. “The movement’s picking up speed.”
Bellatrix took the flyer in her hand. It was made of expensive paper, clearly this wasn’t something that was being widely distributed.
OUR MOMENT IS NIGH!
Bellatrix regarded the header of the flyer with disgust, that she disguised with a well-placed smirk. She’d read about the Potters’ demise in the paper only a few months ago, and how her cousin was being sought out for answers. Bellatrix knew Sirius would sooner have gone into the elevator in the Potters’ stead than murder them, but the deed was done. The flyer claimed responsibility for the explosion, and welcomed all purebloods to come to a meeting before the summer holidays began, for a ‘show of strength and power’ that would leave everyone pledging their allegiance to this illustrious leader calling himself Lord Voldemort. The flyer went on for a bit more, talking about the usual pureblood supremacy points.
“Bit pretentious, isn’t it?” Bellatrix asked, turning the paper around to just see what she’d eventually recognize as the Dark Mark on the other side. It was faint, as if someone had blotted it, but she had to admit it looked menacing.
Rodolphus shrugged. “He’s right though, we need to get in on this if we want to shape the world to reflect our supremacy.”
“Are you going?” Bellatrix asked.
“Of course. My father is close friends with the leader, and gave me some flyers to spread around to the right people,” Rodolphus responded, puffing his chest out slightly, clearly feeling self-important.
Bellatrix had to take a flyer for herself. She had to show someone. She had to warn people against this. She decided to play along with it for now. “And I’m sure, as your future wife, and bearer of your future legacy, I would be part of this list of people?”
The other boys, silent till now, whooped and jeered at the retort, smacking Rodolphus on the shoulder. Teenagers, you mentioned anything involving sex and they’d all become incoherent messes.
But it did the trick. Said future husband, now not so smug but certainly more red-faced, nodded. “Of course Bellatrix dear.”
“Excellent, do you mind me taking this flyer to show my sisters? Cissy might be a bit young for this but Andy might join me.”
Rodolphus allowed it with a nod, and she tucked it into her robes before going to meet her sisters.
“Let’s skip to the next part,” Bellatrix mumbled. Hermione hadn’t even noticed that the older Bellatrix was now standing next to her. Clearly, despite her initial longing to go to the Three Broomsticks, she was now wanting to move the story along.
Hermione knew for a fact that Bellatrix had never shown her sisters the flyer, and got her confirmation when she now found herself in Dumbledore’s office.
“This is definitely troubling,” Dumbledore was saying, stroking his beard with his free hand while the other examined the piece of paper. “However I’m a bit puzzled as to why you’ve brought this to me. As you can imagine, I have no interest in this event.”
Bellatrix cracked a small smile from her seat on the other side of the large ornate desk. “Neither do I, Professor. But we can’t let this movement grow!”
“I share your worries, Ms. Black, but I am at a loss. I have no power to stop them from meeting.”
“Surely you know someone that you could send this to? Someone that does have the power to stop this? Or a group of people?”
Dumbledore hummed. “Alas, my connections with the Ministry have always been exaggerated. Half of the Ministry would gladly see me gone, and I have no doubt that even those more sympathetic to me wouldn’t know what to do.”
“Surely some Aurors could…do something?” Bellatrix asked. She clenched her teeth, willing herself to not lose her patience. Here she was, with a document that could stop the rise of these bigots, but she couldn’t do anything about it?
“Ms. Black, I sense your frustration and I will strive to speak plainly. This document, although worrisome and troubling, is nothing more than words on expensive paper. As much as we might hate the words printed here, there is no crime for like-minded people to gather, even if their views are bigoted and wrong; they unfortunately can still meet.”
“But the Potters…”
“As far as anyone is concerned, your cousin is being sought for those murders. The wording here is very vague, purposefully so in case this document falls on the wrong hands, as this one has. ‘The incident at the Ministry was the first step’, yes it’s clear they’re referring to the Potters’ untimely demise, but they could claim that this could mean any number of things. This also does not provide Sirius’ innocence. As upsetting as it may be, there is nothing I alone can do about this.
“Truth be told, I’m sure you could do more sending this to the Aurors,” Dumbledore said, handing the flyer back to her.
Bellatrix took the paper back. “I couldn’t. My father has a lot of friends in high places, and that’s especially true of the Ministry and the Aurors’ office, if he found out about me reporting this…”
“Then, Ms. Black, I suggest another plan of action might be needed, and I will help however I can. Any ideas come to mind?”
Bellatrix had no idea, but this much was certain, “I will take them down myself.”
“And how do you plan on doing that?”
“For now, I have a rally to get to…”
The present Bellatrix sighed. “And thus the vendetta began. Let’s skip forward a bit more.”
Hermione watched as scenes flashed. “Bellatrix, I meant what I said, you don’t have to do this.”
The older witch paused the search for the next scene. They were standing in total darkness, the only light coming from a memory, as if they were in a dark movie theatre and the scene had paused. It showed Bellatrix sitting at breakfast in the Great Hall. Her sisters weren’t happy with her.
“I do, Hermione. Earlier today…”
“Bellatrix, I was having a panic attack,” Hermione sought to explain. “One of the Death Eaters, the one that made the cut on my arm earlier… he was there that night. His voice made me go back there, to that night. And when you took me, I was in the middle of trying to handle all of that. While you were healing me, I was trying to calm down, but when Ginny got there…all my efforts crumbled.
I was worried for you and…yes a part of me doubted you. Your voice…the one you use when you’re a Death Eater, it made me wonder if maybe you had been pulling my leg all this time. But now, all these hours later, I can see it was just my fears trying to make me connect dots that weren’t there. I know the real you. You would never hurt me.”
Bellatrix, for her part, was practically shaking. At first Hermione wondered if she was angry at her, but the next thing she knew, she was swept into a fierce hug. “Never,” Bellatrix murmured, holding her tight.
They stayed that way for a few minutes, the only light coming from the frozen memory. Hermione didn’t want to let go. This was real, this moment with Bellatrix, where she could feel the other woman relax in her arms, holding her tight. She smelled of the library, of old books and wood. Everything about her screamed comfort.
And Ginny was right. If Bellatrix truly had been a card-carrying Death Eater, no matter how much she wanted to trick Hermione, she’d never stoop to letting herself be in such a warm embrace with Hermione. That was proof enough.
“We can end this, if you’d like,” Hermione murmured, not moving from the embrace.
“No…I want you to see this,” Bellatrix said, as she pulled back slightly to look Hermione in the eyes. “I know you say it was just your panic attack, but I want you to know, without a shadow of a doubt. This determined girl who is there in my memories, this is who I am. I know that out there, there’s all kinds of smoke and mirrors and it’s easy to get lost trying to figure out who is an ally and who is your foe. But I am an ally. Now, since we’re in this scene, we might as well start here. This is the morning of the meeting.”
“Come on Bella, why have you been so standoffish lately?” Andy asked, brows furrowing.
“I haven’t been standoffish.” Just the answer itself was recalcitrant.
Andy clearly wasn’t in the mood. “Well, if that’s how you’ll be, then fine. Enjoy sitting alone, I have no desire to spend my time dealing with your antipathy.”
With that, she stood up and left with a huff. Cissy, the poor and quiet girl, barely 14, didn’t say a word, but clearly agreed with Andy, as she too took her leave.
She’d been pushing her sisters away, that was true. It was all part of her plan. She just hoped that her sisters would one day understand.
Later that night, she joined Rodolphus and the other boys. It was a Hogsmeade weekend, one of the last before the end of the school year, so it was safe to be out and about. They made their way to Hogsmeade, and went into a dingy old house. Its owner accepted the bag of coins Rodolphus handed him.
“We’re using the Floo Network,” Rodolphus explained. “Just head to the Lestrange Manor.”
Everyone stood in a single file, and headed off to the manor.
Once Bellatrix arrived, she handed her robe to a House Elf who crumbled underneath the weight of the rich fabric. She paid it no mind, as much as she wished otherwise, but she had a part to play, and this was her first performance. The first of many.
She followed the crowds and found herself in an elegant ballroom. Chairs were placed all around the edges of the room, looking inward. Bellatrix spotted so many familiar faces, society balls among the wizarding world were compulsory for anyone that wanted to remain in good standing in the community, so she learnt everyone’s faces quickly enough.
“Welcome everyone!” Voldemort, then a much younger and less grotesque man, flashed what could be considered a disarming smile, still with a boyish charm that would help to pull people in to join his cause. He beckoned everyone to take a seat.
Hermione and adult Bellatrix remained by the doors, and as the Death Eater leader began to give his speech, Bellatrix bristled as she recalled. “Fair warning, he…says some very grotesque things about muggles.”
And he did. There was one point that he spoke about mudbloods in such a way that Hermione walked through the door and out of the room towards the darkness outside the memory, sick to her stomach.
“I’m sorry,” Bellatrix began, cursing herself for having forgotten about how the vile things Voldemort had said truly had been. “We can skip over this part, and I can give you a brief summary?”
Hermione nodded, hugging herself. “Please?”
Bellatrix nodded. “He goes on for a while about how he wanted purebloods to rise up and take what was ‘ours’. Just disgusting drivel. He wanted soldiers, a show of force, and establish the Death Eaters as a feared group, with reputable purebloods. The end part is what’s important.”
Gesturing back towards the ballroom, Hermione once more walked through the door and saw that the scene was slightly different. People were once more milling about, and an intrigued crowd had formed around Voldemort.
“Yes, this is the time to join us. Be part of history!” Voldemort was saying.
The younger Bellatrix walked up to Voldemort. He immediately locked eyes with her and grinned. It made her skin crawl. He knew who she was.
“Bellatrix Black! I am beyond honoured that you graced me with your presence.” He bowed his head in deference.
“I couldn’t miss it, it was quite illuminating,” Bellatrix said with a tight smile.
“Excellent! I trust that I will have the support of the Black family?” he asked, eyes glinting. “It would be magnificent if one of the most - to not say the most - important pureblooded families would pledge allegiance to me.”
“Of course,” Bellatrix said, hoping she sounded enthusiastic. “You mentioned a vetting process?”
Voldemort waved his hand dismissively. “I wouldn’t dare make you go through that. You can consider yourself already a Death Eater, my dear.”
Nearby, Rodolphus was watching the exchange, furious. Both at the attention that Voldemort was giving to his bride-to-be, and secondly that Voldemort saw the Black family as more important than the Lestranges, to the point that he wouldn’t vet her, even though he himself had to undergo the process.
The present Bellatrix looked at the scene with disdain. “The rest of the night eventually turned into a wand-measuring contest between Rodolphus and Voldemort. They both vied for my affections, but Rodolphus had a claim on me due to our arranged marriage. And the other git couldn’t peddle about the importance of our heritage and traditions and then try to steal me.”
The whole concept was bizarre for Hermione. “Was there ever anything between you two? You and Lestrange I mean.”
Bellatrix made a face, letting the memory die, casting them once more in darkness, with the remnants of the memory providing their only light. “No. We both knew it was a marriage of convenience. Unfortunately for everyone, I wasn’t…able to provide an heir, and we just kept the marriage going for appearance’s sake.”
Hermione understood the meaning beneath the words. She reached out to put a hand to Bellatrix’s arm, the latter accepting the gesture with a watery smile.
“Anyway, as you can see, the git was only more than happy to offer me a prestigious position among his most trusted, but the same couldn’t be said for the rest of the flobberworm-for-brains. So I had to prove myself publicly.”
Bellatrix gestured to a new memory. They were once more in the Great Hall. It was the final day of school. Bellatrix had gotten O’s in all her NEWTs, and was smugly shoving it in everyone’s faces. But Hermione noticed a shift. Where before Bellatrix would be celebrating with her sisters, she was now surrounded by faces she recognized from Voldemort’s meeting.
The sisters in question were seated at the table, playing Exploding Snap, largely pretending that their other sister wasn’t there.
The feast was about to begin, and Hermione watched as everyone sat down. Her companion, the present Bellatrix, was standing much further behind, staring out the window, clearly not wanting to relive this memory.
“Do you want us to stop?” Hermione asked, walking towards her and away from the Slytherin table. Dumbledore was droning on about how proud he was of the graduates, giving the two women time to talk. “You can just summarize it like you did the meeting.”
Bellatrix shook her head. “As much as I would love to, I told you I wanted you to see how this all came to be. And while I have no problem skipping over the idiot’s speech, you have to also see that I made mistakes…I’m not some flawless beacon of good fighting as Merlin. I hurt my sisters, I pushed away those that meant the most to me in order to fight this.”
They turned back to the feast, where Dumbledore had wrapped up his speech.
The feast of food had appeared, and the whole hall broke out in a din as everyone began to pile food onto their plates.
The mashed potatoes were just a tad too far away for Cissy, and she noticed her sister was closer. “Bella, can you pass me the mashed potatoes?”
Bellatrix looked to her youngest sister with a look of disdain. “Seriously? Do it yourself. You’re a witch, Accio it.”
“What the hell is your problem?” Andy hissed, glaring daggers at her sister from across the table.
“My problem is that Cissy keeps acting like a spoiled, spineless brat. She’s a pureblood witch with powers beyond what half of this school could ever hope to accomplish, she needs to start acting like it.”
Andy let out an indignant laugh. By now the vicinity of their Slytherin table was paying attention to the exchange, and some students from other tables had turned to look too. “Merlin’s beard, don’t tell me you’re actually going for that claptrap that’s going around. I thought you were smarter than that.”
“Oh you’re one to talk, filthy traitor !”
The hall was mostly quiet now. Even some of the Professors were looking to see if they needed to intervene, half standing up from their seats.
“Traitor?” Andy retorted, incredulous.
“Oh don’t play innocent, I know you’re knocking wands with Tonks!”
Andy’s face was beet red, a combination of embarrassment and absolute fury as murmurs began to break out among the other students. “Tell the whole castle why don’t you?!”
Bellatrix let out a mirthless guffaw. “As if they don’t already know? You try to keep it subtle but the entire castle knows you’re fucking him! The library isn’t exactly a private room, you know”
Cissy found her voice, watching everyone looking at them. “Stop this! We’re sisters, we don’t behave like this!”
“No,” Bellatrix ground out, standing up and looking at both Andy and Cissy in turn with a malicious glare. “That’s just the thing. I don’t have any sisters. Certainly not a blood traitor, nor a spineless coward that is comfortable acting like a filthy muggle rather than using her power as she should. Rest assured, once I become head of the House of Black, I will make sure neither of you are part of it.”
Hermione heard a strangled sob from beside her, and she hugged the woman beside her. “Come on, let’s end this, I’ve seen enough, Bellatrix.”
“One more,” Bellatrix said, after taking a gulp of air to steady her voice.
They were in Dumbledore’s office. Judging by Dumbledore’s robes, it was the same day as the incident in the Great Hall.
She looked towards the younger Bellatrix who, to any unsuspecting onlooker, would appear to be the perfect picture of poise and control. But Hermione saw the tenseness in her hands, her pursed lips, shoulders too far back.
“It was quite the dramatic show you had earlier today,” Dumbledore was saying. “You left everyone quite worried.”
“I’m fine, it had to be done,” Bellatrix said.
“Ah yes, your plan to go to the rally. We’ve both been a bit busy since you returned from the meeting for me to ask, what happened?”
“It went better than I expected, that arse Voldemort practically begged me to join him, so I have an in.”
Dumbledore shifted in his seat as he regarded the young woman in front of him. “I see, and is this how you plan on going about this? Infiltrating the Death Eaters and taking them out from the inside?”
Bellatrix had thought about it long and hard. “I suppose that would be the most effective way. I would play both sides. To the discerning wizard, Bellatrix Black would now be a Death Eater, but in secret, I would use my knowledge of their plans to undermine their efforts.”
“A most intriguing idea, but might prove difficult in the long run, if someone spots you. You are relatively well-known in the wizarding world, thanks to the society pages. Perhaps an ally would be a worthwhile endeavour to invest on?”
“That’s just the thing. It’d have to be a secret for it to work. I’ll conceal myself, the ‘heroic’ me; if that arse can call himself Lord Voldemort and have people treat him as such, then I’ll become a symbol for good. Only you will know who I am. My sisters, the wizarding community at large, everyone will think what they will of me - an evil Death Eater, but it must be done. I have to keep everyone at a distance. Any connection might be seen as a hint towards my real identity, and could put them in danger.”
Dumbledore stroked his beard, pensive. “I see the logic behind your decision, though it still seems like it could be very risky. Have you chosen an identity?”
The office was filled with objects and knick-knacks that were both familiar and foreign. One such item in the vast collection, which Bellatrix had seen in her own home as well as so many others', was a bust of Merlin’s head. The white marble depicted the great wizard’s face in life-like detail. “I think I have.”
“And thus Merlin was born,” Bellatrix said with a sigh. “Now you may end the spell.”
Hermione did so, and they were once more in the kitchen. She regarded the older witch, she looked very tired. “I know this was hard but, thank you for showing me all of this.”
Bellatrix nodded. “I have many faults and many regrets in life, especially for what I said to my sisters that day, but one thing is certain, I stick by my convictions. I’m not some hateful Death Eater, and if the past fifteen years have taught anyone anything, it is that I will do what it takes to bring Voldemort down.”
And Hermione believed her whole-heartedly.
The rest of the conversation would have to be shelved, as Bellatrix’s arm began to throb in pain in summons. “When will this fucker learn that some of us have lives?”
Before she left, Bellatrix turned back to face Hermione. Her expression was unreadable as she said, “We can continue this afterwards?”
Hermione nodded. “I’d love to.”
I figure next chapter will be one people will look forward to.
Chapter 10: More
I know, I know, it's Sunday.
In my defense, this is a very long chapter.
Also I should note, because I forgot to last chapter, as this is an AU, ages have shifted, as some of you noticed.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The next few days proved to be quite busy for both women. Voldemort was running Bellatrix haggard, to the point they would only communicate through notes left in the study.
After a week of notes, Hermione tried to stay up to talk to Bellatrix, but for all her efforts, she fell asleep on the armchair.
When she awoke the next morning, she found that someone had draped a comfortable blanket on her, and the list of suspects only consisted of one person. Beside her, on the table, she found a note.
She picked it up and recognized Bellatrix’s handwriting.
I didn’t find a note from you last night, and judging by the fact you were sleeping here, I think you were hoping to catch up with me in person. I apologize for disappointing you, but I came back at 5 in the morning and had to leave soon after.
This situation, the scare-a-muggleborn failure, ironically really seems to have scared the ignoramus the most, enough so that it’s put me in a favoured position, and the others less so. He’s having me check everyone’s plans - I left some stuff in the study for you to use for counter-measures - beyond that, it really has been crazy.
My arm hurts like hell because every time I try to leave, he calls me back with that blasted mark, hence why I’ve been sticking around him, to try to avoid more pain. I probably look like death warmed over, and then some.
Hope you can find some useful stuff to plan out strategies.
Hermione smiled as she finished reading the letter. The fact that Bellatrix always signed it with ‘yours’ made her heart flutter.
But now wasn’t the time to dwell. She made herself some breakfast, and then got to work preparing strategies and sending them out to the groups closest and best prepared to counter the upcoming plans Voldemort had been planning.
By the time the afternoon rolled around, Hermione was deep in her work when a letter came out of the fireplace. It was Ginny’s.
She knew what it would be about before she opened to read the contents. Ginny still needed answers, so it was about time that they got together.
She looked over at the table. The most pressing stuff was out of the way, so she could quickly go to Grimmauld and pick Ginny up. Then she could continue working and answer Ginny’s questions, and she surmised there would be more than a handful, her friend rightfully deserved to know.
She headed down to the foyer and Apparated to Grimmauld Place. Once she made her way down the entrance hall, she ran into Remus.
Remus immediately brightened when he saw Hermione, engulfing her in a hug, as he was wont to do. “Ah! Hermione, how’re you?”
Hermione gave a friendly smile as she returned the hug. “I’m fine, Remus, how are things here?”
“They’re going well,” he began, and when they broke from their hug, his brow furrowed. “But I actually was asking because…well, Neville, Luna, and Ginny told us what happened. The…well, the panic attack.”
“Oh.” Hermione had hoped it wouldn’t become a thing, but she knew word had gotten around, Ginny had told her as much. “Yes, thankfully Ginny was there to blast Black away, otherwise who knows what would’ve happened…”
In her letter, Ginny explained that she’d had to give some excuse to explain what had happened, and felt that it would be prudent to inform Hermione what the excuse had been so that they would be on the same page.
Remus sighed. “Yes, well, I’d rather she not have been there at all. The woman is as dangerous as they come. Anyway, let’s not darken the day with her. Are you here to take me up on the offer of tea?”
Hermione shook her head with a smile, grateful for the subject change. “Not quite. I was here to get Ginny, we had agreed to hang out for a bit, it has been a while and we’re overdue for a day out.”
“Ah, of course. Another time then?”
“Yes, I’d love to.”
“Excellent. I believe Ginny is up in her room-” They heard footfalls and Remus chuckled as he amended his statement. “Actually, she’s coming down the stairs now.”
The youngest Weasley gave Hermione a big grin as she came to a stop beside her friend. “Hey!”
Hermione returned the greeting with a smile on her own and then gestured her head towards the door. “Ready to go?”
“Definitely, lead the way.” Thankfully, Ginny didn’t ask where they were going, but rather just followed the other woman back down the entrance hall and took Hermione’s arm.
In one of her earlier letters that she’d exchanged with Bellatrix, Hermione asked if it was alright to eventually bring Ginny there to their home. Bellatrix wholeheartedly agreed, believing that having a conversation with her regarding the entire operation was best had in a safe place, and there was no safer place than the house that she shared with Hermione.
When they arrived, Ginny looked around in bewilderment. “Whoa, you live here?”
Hermione shrugged, suddenly self-conscious about the situation that had led her to living in that house. “I’m sure it’s temporary.”
Ginny made a face, confused.
“I mean, once the war is over, I’m sure that Bellatrix won’t want me to stick around.”
At that, Ginny let out a laugh. But rather than clarifying what she found so funny about Hermione’s reasoning, she merely walked around, peeking her head into some of the rooms around the foyer.
As Hermione was unable to keep her mouth shut when it came to a nagging question, she followed after Ginny and asked, “What’s so funny?”
“Hermione,” Ginny began, turning to face her oldest friend. “You know I love you and I think you are one of the most brilliant and capable people I have ever met…”
“But please don’t take offence to me asking: are you daft?”
That was definitely not what Hermione was expecting. She blinked and faltered as she said, “Uh…I-I don’t think so, why?”
“Have you not noticed that that woman is head over heels for you?”
Hermione was sure she heard wrong. “Bellatrix? With me ?”
Ginny sighed and deadpanned, “No, with me. Yes, with you!”
“She’s not-” Hermione vainly tried to counter. But Ginny wasn’t going to let her finish.
“Look, it bears repeating that I was there when your panic attack came to a head, and you know what I saw?” Ginny waited for a second before continuing, “I saw her facade fall away the minute she saw you were panicking. Gone was the evil witch trying to goad me into taking a shot at her. When you fell to your knees, she went right down with you. Like I said the other day, the care with which she looked at you, how she acted around you, that is love. Whether she realizes it or not, she cares about you a lot. The question is, do you feel the same way?”
Hermione thought about it for a moment, and the truth of it was, she did. “Well, yes, but it’s not that simple!”
“Why, because she’s moonlighting as two people in warring sides of a decades old conflict?” Ginny riposted. “I know love’s not easy. Hell, Harry and I had our moments before we finally confessed our feelings…”
“It’s not just that,” Hermione said with a sigh. “It’s just…I don’t even know how to explain it.”
“Then why don’t you start from the beginning? After all, I’m dying to know how this whole thing came about.”
Ginny was entranced. As Hermione recounted everything, from that day in the compound where Bellatrix saved her - and kissed her - all the way to the Knight Bus rescue, Ginny listened attentively, with plenty of running commentary.
“Seriously? Every new thing you tell me about her, and it’s all so ridiculously obvious that she’s head over heels for you that I’m surprised you haven’t noticed.”
They had migrated to the study, with Hermione having long finished her reports, and they were now sitting in front of the warm fire. “I’m not sure Ginny, I mean, yes, listening to everything put together, I understand where it might seem that deeper feelings are involved-”
“Might seem?” Ginny repeated, incredulous. “Sure, and getting run over by the Hogwarts Express might leave a bruise.”
Hermione faltered. “I know, I know. It’s just…with everything going on…I can’t jeopardize everything with a silly little crush.”
Ginny made a face. “What you two have is way deeper than just a silly little crush. She risked herself, outed herself to me, just because you were going through something. She had no reason to do that. She could have just cut her losses and left you for me to deal with. Not to mention how she went to bat for you against that Fawcett woman for what she did to you.”
The thought made her smile. “You really think she feels the same way?”
“If she doesn’t, I will tattoo a hippogriff on my chest before smacking her upside the head for being so dense.”
That made Hermione laugh. “Okay, okay, I get it, you think this is all meant to be.”
“Of course it is. This is straight out of a novel, or a movie. I’m surprised that you two haven’t confessed yet.”
“We’ve both been kind of busy,” Hermione noted wryly. “In fact it’s been days since I’ve seen her.”
Ginny frowned. “Really?”
“Yeah, apparently Voldemort has been running her haggard because he desperately needs a win and thinks Bellatrix is the only Death Eater who isn’t a complete failure.”
“If only he knew.”
“Indeed. She’s been sending me plans, so I’ve been spending all this time forming reports and counter-plans. Which is also why I haven’t had time to talk to you. I promise I wasn’t avoiding you, it’s just been very busy.”
Ginny nodded in understanding. “It’s alright. I understand. But now, we have to get to the important stuff, so what’s the plan?”
“Plan? For what?”
“To confess your feelings! The holidays are coming up, and there’s nothing more romantic than a holiday confession.”
Hermione made a face. “That’s way too cliche.”
“Again, from what you’ve told me, everything about this entire story is already screaming cliche, why not add one more to the mix?”
“Because I don’t want to jeopardize everything by adding romance to the mix.”
“I mean, it seems like there’s already some romance in there,” Ginny pointed out. “Or is it that you’re worried what might happen if you do put your feelings out there?”
Hermione hated the fact that Ginny seemed to be way too attuned to how Hermione was feeling, and she just crossed her arms, refusing to dignify her friend with an answer.
But Ginny only gasped and laughed gleefully. “You are! Okay, how about this: Why not talk to her? You two are good at that! Sit down with her during the holidays, and then when she admits her feelings for you, you can magic some mistletoe in there if you catch my drift!”
“That’s a horrible idea!”
A new voice piped up, “What’s a horrible idea?”
Both women turned around to find Bellatrix standing by the entrance in her Death Eater robes, looking a little bit worse for wear, the toll of the nearly nonstop running around clearly evident on her haggard face.
Hermione wildly tried to think of an excuse to justify it without revealing what they had actually been talking about. “Uh- just…we were…”
Bellatrix, seeming to realize Hermione’s discomfort, placatingly put her hands up and said, “I promise I wasn’t eavesdropping, I just came in, and heard you say something was a horrible idea.”
And Hermione believed her. She was sure that, if Bellatrix had heard, they’d be having an entirely different conversation.
Thankfully, Ginny seemed to have no problem spinning something together. “Actually, I was talking logistics about the Burrow’s holiday dinner, but Hermione and I were going back and forth on how you’d deal with the eating portion, and I suggested that you could eat in another room, and Hermione said it was a horrible idea, presumably because you’d then be by yourself.”
Not the strongest lie that Hermione had heard so far, but either Bellatrix believed it, or was too tired to press as she magicked an armchair next to them and collapsed into it. “Not to worry. While I’ll go to the dinner, if just to play the polite leader, you can tell Mrs. Weasley I won’t be eating, so she needn’t worry.”
Ginny nodded and saw the time, giving her a convenient exit from this awkward conversation. “Shoot, I should get going. I guess I’ll see you both at the Burrow in a few days?”
Bellatrix nodded with a hum, closing her eyes and offering a lazy wave goodbye.
“Come on, I’ll walk you to the foyer,” Hermione offered, standing up.
Once they were heading down the stairs, Ginny whispered, “That was close!”
“Yes, which is why I’m hoping you’ll drop the subject?” Hermione responded just as quietly. They were out of earshot, but she wanted to be cautious.
Ginny sighed dramatically as she headed to the circle. “Fine, fine. I’m sure with your chemistry, you two love-birds will be admitting your feelings to one another soon enough.”
Hermione could only roll her eyes and cross her arms. “You are impossible.”
“Comes with growing up with my brothers,” Ginny said with a shrug. Before Disapparating, she said, “See you in a few days!”
Once Ginny left, Hermione made her way back up to the study. She saw that Bellatrix looked to be sleeping, so she began to tidy up as quickly as she could. Once finished, she figured she’d return the favour from this morning, and was about to go fetch Bellatrix a blanket so she could sleep more comfortably when a voice made her pause.
“You know,” Bellatrix drawled from her seat, “I can appreciate that you and Ginny talk about private matters, but don’t think for a second that her fib was believable.”
Hermione whipped around to look at the other woman. Her eyes were still closed. In fact, she couldn’t be faulted for believing that Bellatrix was still asleep. “I-”
Now Bellatrix opened her eyes, full of mirth. “I’m an expert at deducing lies, Hermione, and that was not the best lie I’ve heard, though it did have some kernels of truth to it, which helped to sell it.
“I know that the Weasleys are hosting an enormous gathering this year, and from what I recall, the RSVPs were already returned well in advance, because Mrs. Weasley would not leave such a thing last minute, much less dinner preparations. And thus, I don’t believe for a second that that’s what you two were talking about, as it would not have elicited such a reaction from you about it being a horrible idea.”
“Right, I’m sorry, it was an entire thing and I suppose it was a spur of the moment fib that Ginny whipped up,” Hermione began to explain.
Meanwhile, Bellatrix had stood up and walked up to stand in front of Hermione, seemingly enjoying watching Hermione fumble around.
The younger woman noticed Bellatrix’s expression and she said, “Well I’m glad this is at least proving entertaining for you.”
“Immensely so. But no matter, I assure you that I did not hear a word, nor will I coax or otherwise force you to reveal what you two were talking about,” Bellatrix stated, her tone growing serious by the end of the sentence.
“I promise it’s nothing bad…we were just talking about…”
Bellatrix was now impossibly close, and Hermione was having a hard time trying to focus, or even trying to wrench her eyes away from Bellatrix’s. “You don’t have to share it if you don’t want to.”
“No, I just…are you sure you didn’t hear anything?” Hermione managed to ask, wondering when they had gotten so close…
That made Bellatrix frown and take a small step back to move away. “No, I wouldn’t lie to you about that…”
“I didn’t mean…I’m sorry, this is coming out all wrong,” Hermione felt the proverbial ship sinking before it even left port, and she reached out to grab Bellatrix’s hands in hers to stop her from moving too far back. It was now or never. “I like you!”
Bellatrix blinked, tilting her head slightly as if she hadn’t heard properly. “What?”
Hermione found that her shoulders were too tense and she willed herself to relax. “I like you, Bellatrix, a lot.”
There was silence. Bellatrix couldn’t process anything to say. Her mouth opened and closed a few times. “You-”
“Yes, I like you.” Hermione felt bold enough to say, more assured this time, “We were actually talking about whether it was possible you felt the same way about me.”
There was too much space between them, and Bellatrix moved ever so closer, their hands still joined. “And if I did?”
Hermione’s eyes were wide as saucers. “Then…”
“Yes?” Their noses were practically touching, and both of their eyes had fluttered shut.
“Kiss me?” Hermione asked, their lips already a breath away.
Bellatrix’s answer was to close the distance and kiss Hermione soundly on the lips. She slipped her hands out of Hermione’s in order to run them up to cup the latter’s cheeks.
Hermione’s hands moved to Bellatrix’s waist, pulling her impossibly closer, as if she wanted the two of them to meld together.
Their kiss deepened with a moan, but neither of them would be prepared to admit whether they were the one that let the sound escape. Bellatrix kissed her with a fervour, as if she couldn’t get enough of Hermione, and the latter returned the kiss with as much vigour and passion as she could.
When they broke, they were both panting, smiles blossoming on their faces.
“That was…” Hermione breathed.
But Bellatrix wasn’t quite done, and moved to Hermione’s neck, where she began to place kisses that made her feel all kinds of wonderful. Now she truly did moan, especially when Bellatrix rocked her hips against Hermione’s.
“Bellatrix,” Hermione said in a whisper, unable to form more words.
Mercifully, Bellatrix pulled her head back to look at her. “Does that answer your question?”
Hermione nodded, and she bit her lip.
Bellatrix pressed a kiss to her lips to stop the bite. “Are you still nervous?”
“No, I’m just surprised, a good surprised, mind you,” Hermione explained, her hands steadfast on Bellatrix’s waist. “I thought maybe you would have been too focused on this, being Merlin and whatnot. Or perhaps your interest didn’t run in my direction.”
There was a soft chuckle coming from the older woman. “I can see why you’re a good strategist, you think very thoroughly.”
That made Hermione duck her head, but Bellatrix just hooked a finger under Hermione’s chin to get their eyes to meet again. “I don’t mean it in a bad way. I understand that it’s hard to admit you have feelings for someone, and I can see why you thought I might have overheard. Now, let’s sit before you collapse.”
Now that she mentioned it, Hermione did feel like her legs had turned to jelly. Bellatrix took one of Hermione’s hands in her own, and led her out of the study and towards the library, to where the other fireplace was. There, they sat down on the sofa, each one on one side. It wasn’t a very large sofa, so when they sat facing each other, their knees were practically touching.
“Now, with that out of the way, what was the horrible idea that you two were discussing?”
Hermione blushed. “Ginny was trying to give me ideas for me to confess my feelings to you during the holidays.”
“Oh, I have to hear this,” Bellatrix’s grin was wicked, and she leant forward.
“The idea involved mistletoe,” was all Hermione said, fully aware that Bellatrix would tease her about it.
Bellatrix crossed her arms in a dramatic huff. “And here I was expected to be wooed off of my broomstick.”
“Sorry to disappoint,” Hermione playfully retorted.
“You could never disappoint,” Bellatrix said with a wink. “So, how long have you been nursing this crush on me?”
Hermione thought about it for a moment, and fidgeted as she tried to figure out how to answer. “I mean, that’s a bit of a complicated question, because I fell for you as a person at one point, but the reality is that I met you before knowing you were Merlin…”
“So my allure predates meeting me as Merlin? How does that work?” Bellatrix was full-on teasing by now. The blush that blossomed on Hermione’s face was worth it, in Bellatrix’s opinion.
“You’re an attractive witch! I mean, I don’t think I need to remind you about the kiss at the compound, but you very intimidating when I thought you were a bigoted nutter, like a mad librarian from hell.”
Bellatrix chuckled. “Oh really? Of course a bibliophile like you would say that.”
Hermione was nearing red pepper levels of redness.
And of course, Bellatrix had to continue her musings. “I’m sure I could give ole Pince a run for her money. Only, rather than shushing all the students, the students would all be shushing me! What do you think?”
“You’re enjoying this way too much.”
“Immensely. Now tell me more about how you think of me as a sexy librarian.”
Hermione spluttered. “I said mad! From hell! Where did you get sexy from?”
“It was implied by the way that you’re blushing!” Bellatrix quickly countered, pointing to Hermione’s flushed cheeks.
“I wasn’t implying anything.” Hermione huffed, crossing her arms.
“So you don’t find me sexy?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Then it was implied. Now, you found me irresistible but unattainable, kissing you to kickstart the adrenaline that would help you escape.”
Hermione knew that Bellatrix would claim victory on that point. “Well…yes, fine. But it was actually after the Burrow incident, when you came to reassure me, and when we hugged after coming home…that’s when I started to realize that my feelings for you were romantic.”
Bellatrix was deep in thought and she smiled as she recalled the moment.
“Now, your turn,” Hermione said, leaning back and crossing her arms.
“Funnily enough, it was that day too. When you had been fiddling with the necklace, and I showed up? Just the way you spoke to me, and then when we were bantering-”
“So you were flirting!” Hermione exclaimed triumphantly. “I had been wondering about that.”
“Yes, yes,” Bellatrix admitted with a laugh. “I’m a bit rusty in the flirting department, but I tried. Though I think my feelings for you really solidified the day after that. We were sitting in the study after our lessons, and I just got to thinking about how much I enjoyed being in your company. No one had ever made me feel like that, and it was absolutely surreal how much I craved getting to spend time with you, and how I’d want nothing more than to have that be a long-term thing.”
Hermione thought her heart would melt.
“I do want to make something clear,” Bellatrix said, looking down as she smoothed her black robes. It was such a far cry from her blue Merlin robes that even Hermione was momentarily transfixed. “Despite what many might think, I never sought you out to use you, and never intend to do so. Neither to improve my standing in the Order, their perception of me, nor to make myself more trustworthy. Not even to get into your pants, as Mr. Weasley might claim. My attraction to you came after, when I started to get to know you, and it’s for who you are as a person.”
Now Hermione was sure her heart had melted. “For the record, I never thought you were using me.”
That got Bellatrix’s shoulders to sag in relief, and a soft smile to blossom on her face. It made Hermione sit up from her side and scooch over until she was closer to Bellatrix. She leaned forward and deposited a soft kiss, hands moving to cup the older woman’s cheeks. Bellatrix’s arms snaked up around Hermione’s waist, and her legs intertwined with Hermione’s.
This kiss was much softer, but still just as lovely. When they parted, Hermione slid down and rested against Bellatrix’s chest. The older woman moved her arms so that she was hugging Hermione to her, and they just lied there, enjoying each other’s company.
Bellatrix hummed. “I could get used to this.”
And get used to it they did. For the next few days, every moment that they could, they would share kisses and be in the other’s proximity. Whenever Bellatrix had to leave, she would steal a kiss from Hermione before taking off, and when she returned, Hermione would grin and practically tackle her as she went to get a kiss.
It had become so easy to be comfortable in each other’s company, as if they had been doing it for years. But despite that, they hadn’t taken it farther than just kisses and the occasional exploring hand, both of them having come to the agreement that they should take their time, rather than skipping straight to jumping each other’s bones.
But there were some moments when Bellatrix didn’t want to do away with that unofficial agreement. Especially when Hermione looked even more attractive than usual.
Like at that moment. They were headed to the Order’s holiday gathering at the Burrow, and while Bellatrix’s choice for clothing was somewhat limited - she had a fancier robe that added gold accents to the usual dark blue, Hermione had no such qualms.
So, as she watched Hermione make her way down the stairs, Bellatrix was finding it very hard to not meet her halfway up the steps and lead the younger witch to her bedroom and do away with her for the rest of the night, the Order be damned.
Hermione had her hair up in a bun, with a few wayward strands loosely falling down, and the dress she was wearing was of a dark blue silk, with what looked like golden stars scattered around.
“We match,” Bellatrix said with a grin, deciding that simple conversation would keep her wilder thoughts at bay.
Hermione laughed as she looked down at her dress. “We do!” And then she paused as she looked back up to Bellatrix, smile fading. “Do you mind?”
Bellatrix frowned. “Why would I mind?”
“You know,” Hermione said as she finished coming down the stairs, and made her way closer. “It might get people talking.”
“Let them,” Bellatrix said, pulling Hermione close and depositing a kiss on Hermione’s lips. “It’ll be hard enough to not be able to kiss you, nor to take you back here and have my way with you all night. Or hell, not going anywhere but my bedroom.”
Hermione’s smile returned. “As enticing as that might be, you are the central figure, you have to go.”
Bellatrix let out a very dramatic sigh. “I suppose. But just know that I’ll be trying very hard to not abscond with you to kiss you senseless.”
It was corny, cliché, and Hermione wouldn’t have it any other way. So she kissed Bellatrix’s lips, before reaching behind the other witch and pulling her hood up and mask down in front of her lover’s face.
Bellatrix sighed from behind the mask. “Drat it, blocked by Merlin.”
Hermione chuckled. “As much as I’d love to kiss you, if we don’t leave now, we’ll never get there.”
“I suppose. Shall we?” Bellatrix extended her hand, and Hermione took it, letting herself be led to the Apparition circle.
When they arrived, it was to the sounds of a party in full swing. They were quickly separated as Merlin was asked to join a group deep in jovial conversation, and Hermione headed into the tent.
Despite the autumn weather in the bubble of the Burrow, she was wearing a dress and she was beginning to feel cold. She found Ginny easily enough, and when she got closer, she saw that both Harry and Ron were there as well, sitting at a table. The latter looked sullen, nursing a glass of firewhiskey, though Hermione figured that it wasn’t his first one, judging by the colour on his cheeks.
Ginny spotted her and quickly got up, pulling Hermione away before she got closer.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Hermione asked, letting herself be led away. The boys hadn’t noticed her, and soon enough they were out of sight from them altogether.
“My brother’s being a mopey idiot, what else?” Ginny said with a huff. “You know how he gets around firewhiskey. Started moaning about not having anyone to love and whatnot. He had just started to breach the topic of you when you showed up. Thankfully he didn’t see you, but I’d rather not ruin your night.”
Hermione gave her friend a grateful smile. “And I appreciate it.”
Just then, Merlin walked in, still accompanied by a throng of people, and Ginny grinned. “Oh, matching, are we?”
“It was purely coincidental,” Hermione tried vainly, and although it was the truth, it sounded flimsy even to her ears.
“Right, because Merlin’s wardrobe consists of robes that aren’t midnight blue.” Then Ginny’s grin turned sly. “Have you thought about how you’re going to confess your undying love?”
Hermione blushed hard at that, saying nothing, and Ginny gasped. “Hold on a minute! You told her?”
When Hermione nodded, Ginny looked positively ecstatic. “And I’m guessing she feels the same way, otherwise you two wouldn’t have come matching?”
For that, Hermione gave her friend a playful smack on the arm. “Again, not on purpose, but yes, we’re…together.”
Ginny looked like she was going to burst with happiness, and even more so when she spotted something from behind Hermione’s shoulder. “Speaking of…”
Someone sidled up next to Hermione, and the latter smiled when she saw Merlin now standing beside her.
“Merry Christmas, Merlin,” Ginny said, much too jovial to be innocent.
“To you as well, Ms. Weasley,” Merlin responded, while she sneaked a hand to rest on Hermione’s back. “If you don’t mind, I need to steal Ms. Granger away from you for a moment.”
“Take all the time you need,” Ginny said with a wink and a very wide grin before she sauntered off.
They watched her go away and Merlin commented, “It feels like everyone’s a bit punch drunk tonight. Ms. Weasley is certainly acting peculiar.”
Hermione let out a rather undignified snort. “More like she found out about us and is acting like the cat that ate the canary.”
“Ah, that explains it a bit more.” Merlin moved to stand in front of her. “Also, the reason why I need you is because many people want to talk to you as well, and I can see the Tonkses are nearby, and I’d rather not be with them by myself.”
“Of course,” Hermione immediately said. She then felt bold enough to add, “Though I can’t say I’m slightly disappointed you didn’t want to steal me away for other things…”
Although Bellatrix’s face was hidden, she let out a strangled gasp of surprise. After a beat, she ground out, “I wouldn’t discount that possibility quite yet.”
But before their double entendres could go any further, they had to mingle, and after Merlin held her arm out for Hermione to take, she led them to chat with the other guests. Quietly, Hermione heard the other woman say, “If you get overwhelmed, please feel free to take a breather, okay?”
“Okay,” Hermione responded with a soft squeeze of the arm she was holding.
It felt like the Order was growing bigger every time she saw it. Hermione got the chance to meet many new group leaders that she had been corresponding with but never got the chance to interact outside of letters.
Andromeda and Ted Tonks were actually quite painless, except for their teenage daughter, Nymphadora, who looked positively ecstatic at getting to meet the Merlin. Hermione felt her companion stiffen a bit at getting unofficially introduced to her niece, but acted the part.
Afterwards, Merlin was asked to present a speech, and Hermione stood off to the side as she watched and listened.
“Thank you everyone for coming, and thank you to the Weasleys for delivering an excellent event, as always. I realize that this year has had its ups and downs, our victories and losses, but I’m confident that we’re coming out of this year in a better position than last year, and my hope is that next year, we’ll finally claim victory and bring peace to the wizarding community.”
There were cheers and clapping, allowing Merlin to pause. She glanced over at Hermione, who tapped the necklace prominently on display against her chest, and got the briefest nods.
Once the excitement died down, Merlin continued, “I don’t have much more to say, except I hope everyone has a lovely time and I look forward to working with all of you in the coming year.”
Once she finished, Sirius clambered up to the stage and took the mic from Merlin before saying, “Dance time! While dinner is being served, I invite everyone to join me in some traditional wizard waltzing.”
Everyone rushed to the dance floor, while Merlin came to join Hermione.
“Would you like to dance?” the older woman asked, holding her hand out, palm up.
Normally, Hermione would say no, claim that she wasn’t good at dancing - because she really wasn’t - but she wanted to indulge Bellatrix, and just nodded before putting her hand in the other woman’s, and letting herself be led once more, this time to where there were already a few couples dancing.
They danced for a bit, Hermione stepping twice on Merlin’s left foot, and once on her robe, before she gave up. “I’m sorry, we can stop…”
“Nonsense,” Merlin murmured as they continued to move. “It’s only my foot…again.”
Hermione sighed. “I’ll make it up to you later?”
“I was hoping you’d say that,” Merlin said, and Hermione was sure the grin behind the mask would be making her blush even more than the flirting tone already was.
But, there they were, surrounded by other people who seemed to be very keen on Hermione’s close proximity towards Merlin. Although the two lovebirds only paid attention to one another - partially to try to avoid stepping on toes, literally - the Order worked fast.
The rumour mill was swirling, though some of the rumours began to die as they saw that Hermione was causing more pain to Merlin rather than setting the mood.
Bellatrix found it exceptionally endearing that Hermione just did not know how to coordinate her feet.
After a few more rounds, and a few more squeezed toes, the couple walked out of the dance area, and nearly walked right into a floating plate. They glanced to find the source and saw Mrs. Weasley, who was magically distributing the plates.
Merlin glanced over to see where Mr. Weasley was, and found him also helping to distribute the plates. She turned to Hermione. “Want to help me?”
Although Hermione didn’t know what Merlin’s plan was, she still nodded. “What do you need?”
“Get Mr. Weasley to stop what he’s doing and bring him here.”
Hermione did as asked, and found that Merlin was trying to convince Mrs. Weasley to let her and Hermione finish distributing the food. “You two deserve to have this night as well. Go, dance. Ms. Granger and I will finish this.”
Mr. Weasley bowed and held his hand out. “What do you say, Molly?”
“Well, I suppose so,” Mrs. Weasley said with a soft smile, sparing a wink towards Merlin and Hermione as she took her husband’s hand. “I appreciate your help, both of you.”
They watched the Weasley couple get on the dance floor and began to move in sync.
“Maybe one day that can be us,” Hermione murmured.
“Moving that synchronously? Nope. That would require a miracle beyond my abilities,” Merlin riposted, getting a smack in the arm for her jest.
“Smart arse. Now, let’s get these plates distributed.”
Hermione headed over to where Mr. Weasley had been distributing the plates, neatly labelled with name tags on the plate cover. Once she finished, she went to join Merlin, who was wrapping up her pile.
While she waited, she looked towards the dance floor, everyone still in full swing, having now progressed to a more modern dance beat. She spotted her friends dancing, having dragged Ron too, who was dancing with absolutely no rhythm whatsoever and she smiled sadly, wondering if Ron would ever truly accept that he would never be with her. She thought he had finally understood, but it seemed the firewhiskey was bringing back old desires.
She let her thoughts wander to how much things had changed recently, until she felt a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“Knut for your thoughts?” Merlin asked softly, rubbing her thumb over the spot it was resting on Hermione’s shoulder.
“Just wondering how much everything has changed,” Hermione said with a wistful sigh.
“Do…do you have any regrets?”
Hermione turned to look at Merlin. “None whatsoever.”
“Good. Anyway, I believe I should be off, dinner will be starting soon and I’ll otherwise look peculiar being the only person not eating.”
“And we can’t have that,” Hermione said with a grin. “I’m ready to go when you are.”
Merlin did a double take, her head tilting slightly in confusion. It was really quite endearing. “You’re not staying?”
Hermione shook her head. “I told Mrs. Weasley I had other plans, and if you don’t mind the company, I’d like to spend the rest of the night with you.”
“I believe I can accommodate that. Shall we then?”
I did say you'd be looking forward to this chapter. We're making the turn now, and heading towards our eventual conclusion, though we still have a few more chapters to go.
Chapter 11: Shocks
The next few weeks were blissful heaven for Hermione. From the minute they returned to the house - “Come here you tease,” Bellatrix had said the moment they Apparated, pushing her mask away to crash their lips together in a hot kiss - all the way to the moment they rang the new year - “We have to start the new year off right,” Hermione explained, before grabbing Bellatrix by the front of her shirt and pulling her in for a deep kiss just as fireworks broke out - they had spent nearly every waking moment together. And some sleeping moments too.
In the wizarding world at large, there seemed to be an unofficial temporary armistice for the holidays, as Voldemort hadn’t called Bellatrix once, nor had there been any sightings of wayward Death Eaters, so Bellatrix was more than happy to indulge Hermione with her company.
“You’re all mine,” Hermione said one morning after they woke up in each other’s arms.
“Indeed, I wouldn't want to be anyone else’s but yours,” Bellatrix responded with a sincere look in her eyes.
They shared countless kisses, couldn’t keep their hands off of each other, and oh yes, plenty of sex to keep them sated. Bellatrix couldn’t get enough of Hermione’s more raw impulses, and Hermione was enamoured by how Bellatrix could make her feel things she had never experienced before.
It was pure bliss, simply and purely.
But of course, it couldn’t last forever, could it?
The week after the new year had led Bellatrix to once more be at Voldemort’s beck and call, leading to long hours and very little time to spend with Hermione. But Bellatrix always returned at some point in the night, and always gave Hermione a wake-up kiss in the morning before she left.
Except for this very morning. It had been over a day since Hermione had last seen her lover, and hadn’t received any kiss that morning, and that made Hermione nervous, to say the least.
So she decided to focus her efforts in the study in order to keep her nerves at bay. Surely nothing had gone wrong? Otherwise she would have heard about it. Or perhaps not. Voldemort’s underhanded tricks were nothing new. In her opinion, Voldemort was being particularly ridiculous, he couldn’t think that making Bellatrix his gofer would actually turn the tide back in his favour, could he?
Then, the fireplace came to life as a message arrived, and Hermione caught it in her hand before it landed on the table. During the holidays, when Hermione and Bellatrix weren’t kissing each other senseless or having mind-blowing sex, they spent that time practising their duels, and Hermione’s skills had vastly improved, to the point her reflexes were sharper too.
However, the brief moment of satisfaction at having caught the letter quickly turned to confusion as she read the letter.
It was from Andromeda.
I have a relatively time-sensitive and delicate matter that requires your immediate attention. Please come by to my house as soon as you are able.
It was curt and very vague, though Hermione supposed she couldn’t judge, she had sent her fair share of cryptic messages, and working for the Order meant that some things were best left outside of written notes in order to prevent sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands.
But it definitely piqued her interest. Although it was addressed to Merlin, Bellatrix had told her that she was more than welcome to check the correspondence herself, especially since it might include information which had to be dealt with promptly. Such as this.
So Hermione got up from her chair, and walked to the foyer, Accio-ing a cloak to her hand as she made her way down the staircase.
Taking a deep breath, she put the cloak around her shoulders and Apparated to the Tonkses residence.
In hindsight, Hermione realized she should have sent a message ahead to explain the situation, because when the door opened and Andromeda saw who was standing outside her door, she frowned. “Erm…Hermione was it?”
She nodded. “Yes, you sent a message-”
“To Merlin …” Andromeda interjected.
“Right, but Merlin’s busy so he told me it was fine to take care of incoming messages,” Hermione tried to explain.
Andromeda scrunched her nose in a grimace, unsure of how to voice her thoughts. She settled with, “I see, well, I’m sorry for bringing you all the way here. I believe it’s best if I just wait until he can come.”
“But you said it was urgent?” Hermione countered. She had no idea why Andromeda was being so reluctant to let her inside. “Is something wrong? Is there a contingent of Death Eaters inside ready to attack Merlin?”
The quip seemed to have done the trick, for Andromeda relaxed the slightest bit, and a brief smile tugged at her lips. “What? Oh! No! No, sorry, nothing so dramatic. Well, no, actually, that’s not quite right, but it’s- it’s a bit hard to explain.”
“I can tell,” Hermione said, crossing her arms. The gibberish she had gotten as an answer did nothing to clarify what in the world was going on.
Seeing as Hermione wasn’t budging, Andromeda stepped aside to let Hermione in with a world-weary sigh.
Hermione went inside and saw that the Tonkses lived in a fairly muggle-looking house. Compared to the Burrow, which had a magical aura and contraptions aplenty, Hermione would have totally believed that regular muggles lived there.
Andromeda led Hermione to the kitchen, where a woman with silvery blonde hair was standing, nursing a cup of tea. She looked familiar, though Hermione couldn’t pinpoint where she knew her from.
“Andy, what’s going on?” the other woman asked, eyeing Hermione up and down as if she were appraising Hermione’s worth just through looks alone, and she wasn’t impressed.
“It seems there has been a change of plans,” Andromeda muttered. “Merlin’s not coming.”
Hermione had had about enough of this act. “I am trying to be patient, but I’m seriously beginning to wonder what in the world is going on. First of all, who is this?”
Andromeda pinched the bridge of her nose before answering. “My sister, Narcissa Malfoy.”
“Pleasure,” Hermione politely said with a nod. Well that was one piece of the puzzle that clicked. She was older than the woman in Bellatrix’s memories, and certainly more grown into her own person.
“Likewise,” Narcissa responded, her expression not agreeing with the sentiment voiced at all.
As none of the sisters were being particularly forthcoming with their explanations, Hermione sought to try and decipher why Andromeda’s sister was there with them. “Is she interested in joining the Order?”
Narcissa looked like she’d rather dance with a werewolf. “Not at the present moment,” she said with a haughty sniff.
Back to square one then. “Then what’s going on?”
“Everyone keeps asking me what’s going on as if this were simple to explain,” Andy muttered, massaging her temples. She turned to Narcissa. “This is Hermione, Merlin’s…apprentice I suppose?”
“Not quite,” Hermione corrected. She didn’t know exactly what her role was, but apprentice didn’t sound completely accurate.
“Yes well, the point is that I was hoping Merlin would have come, because something has happened and I’m just…” Andromeda’s voice faltered and she ended the sentence there, choosing to pace.
“Just what?” Hermione pressed, hoping she sounded encouraging. “Mrs. Tonks-”
“Please, Andy is fine,” Andromeda insisted, and in that moment, Hermione figured she could comply, despite Bellatrix’s proclivity for formality.
“Very well, Andy, if you’re in trouble…”
It was Narcissa who said, “Quite the opposite really, but she’s worried about how it might look.”
That did absolutely nothing to clarify the situation and Hermione began to wonder if all Black sisters had a genetic trait to be vague and mysterious. At least Bellatrix had dropped the act after Hermione found out the truth, but these two were impossible to get a read on.
“And why’s that?”
Narcissa once again decided to answer, sighing dramatically first. “I think it’s better if you just show her Andy. Otherwise we’ll be here all day and I can already see the girl’s face is about to turn purple from all this back and forth.”
Well, at least what Narcissa lacked in kindness and decorum she more than made it up in observation and practicality.
Andromeda glared at her sister. “Whose side are you on?”
“I think it’s very established that I’m not anyone’s side, by design of course.”
“Yes, of course, how could I forget: perennially not-involved. How lovely of you to have that option, that luxury,” Andromeda shot back, glaring daggers at her sister.
Before the sisters could continue bickering, Hermione said, “Uhm, can I please just know what it is you want to show me?”
Andromeda turned to face Hermione and took a deep breath. “This way.”
She led her out of the kitchen, heading through another hallway and arriving in front of a door. Andromeda took out her wand and cast a silent spell at the door. It unlocked with a click and she opened it, allowing Hermione to see that through the door there were stairs heading down.
“You have a cellar?” Hermione asked. It wasn’t too common to see it in England.
“Yes, the perks of an older home. Now come along.” Andromeda continued to lead the way as they headed downstairs, Hermione in the middle and Narcissa bringing up the rear.
As she went down the stairs, she heard Narcissa close the door behind them, and the distinct sound of a spell locking the door. She probably should have gotten more information before following the sisters, but she trusted Andromeda.
Well, she trusted that Bellatrix trusted her, and that was enough for her.
The cellar wasn’t that large, and it was pretty bare, with a few shelves lining up the walls, and odd pieces of furniture left forgotten making up the decor.
“Before we continue, there are some things we need to talk about.”
Narcissa sighed. “Now the girl will think you brought her here to murder her.”
“The girl,” Hermione ground out, turning to face Narcissa. “Has a name, and it’s Hermione Granger.”
The youngest Black sister bristled at being talked back to.
Andromeda haltingly began, “Look, Hermione, I’m not sure how much Merlin’s told you about me.”
Hermione floundered a bit. She knew quite a bit, but that was due to the trip down Bellatrix’s memories, so she stuck with the basics. “You’re married to Ted and your daughter’s Nymphadora, why?”
Narcissa scoffed. “Anyone with eyes could have told you that. Has she said anything about her…family?”
“You’re her sister, if I remember correctly.” Hermione hated to play dumb, but it was the best she could do. Why did they have to discuss this in the cellar in the first place?
“Right,” Andromeda added, fiddling with the wand in her hands. “But this is about my other sister…”
“Oh yes, Bellatrix, right?”
Andromeda flinched at the name. “Unfortunately. The thing is, I’ve been trying to prove myself to Merlin for years to show that despite the fact that one of my sisters is the notorious Death Eater at Voldemort’s side, and the other one prefers to stand on the sidelines, I can be trusted.”
“And Merlin doesn’t doubt that,” Hermione added, unsure where this was going.
Clearly, Andromeda wasn’t convinced. “But that’s the point! I do think he has doubts. I’ve spoken to other members of the Order, he talks to them more, and he even somehow manages to talk to Ted coincidentally whenever I’m not around. It’s like he’s avoiding me, and I’ve been wanting to prove myself.
“Which is why this morning, I captured a Death Eater.”
Hermione was sure she had misheard, and did a double-take. “You what?”
“I captured a Death Eater. See, in order to prove myself, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the known hideouts, and patrolling them nearly every morning for the past five years to see if there’s any activity. I haven’t involved anyone, not even Ted knows about this. Then this morning during my patrol, I found one in a hideout not far from here. Stunned and then brought them here.”
Narcissa felt the need to add, “Single-handedly, I might add.”
Hermione nodded, as things started to become clear. But she still didn’t understand one thing. “And what does this have to do with Narcissa?”
“Oh I’m here by chance. We meet up every weekend,” Narcissa explained.
“I promise, I don’t tell her the Order’s plans,” Andromeda clarified.
Hermione made a mental note to tell Bellatrix later to find a way to meet with her sister more often because Andromeda seemed about ready to lay her life on the line to prove her allegiance to the Order.
“So let me see if I understand. You’ve been running these surveillance operations under the radar by yourself for years, and this morning you bagged a Death Eater single-handedly?”
“Yep. I should add that this surveillance has helped a lot in the past with a lot of good intel,” Andromeda felt the need to further showcase her allegiance.
And Hermione had no doubt about it. In fact, it pained her to think that Andromeda felt so slighted by so many around her. “It’s impressive. Highly risky, but I commend you for the successful capture. So where’s the Death Eater?”
“Through that door there.” Andromeda led them down to where a very non-descript door stood. This time, Hermione brought up the rear, following the two sisters. “A few notes. First, I put up a ward to block magic, to prevent escape, and secondly…”
Andromeda took out a key and she turned around, unlocking the door and pushing it open.
“Oh good! Back for more then?”
Hermione’s blood chilled at the voice. The voice that she normally loved hearing and falling asleep to, that made her weak at the knees with sweet words. That voice was now talking from beyond the door, in a mocking tone reserved for when she was putting on an act.
“Not quite the Black family reunion you were hoping for, unfortunately” Andromeda spat back, moving to the side to allow Narcissa to go inside, and then Hermione, before she closed the door once more.
When Bellatrix and Hermione made eye contact, the former’s reaction was miniscule, almost imperceptible, but Hermione had spent the last few days getting used to the smallest of reactions from her lover. The way her skin paled, eyes went just a tad wider and eyebrows furrowed just slightly.
Hermione wrenched her eyes to see that Bellatrix was sitting on the ground, hands wrapped around a wooden post in the middle of the room and bound behind her back.
“Ah, a guest! I do believe we’ve met before,” Bellatrix said, mouth moving to a smirk that did not reach her eyes.
“Yes,” Hermione found her voice, hoping she sounded convincing, despite the internal panic flowing through her. “We’ve met, briefly.”
“Such a lovely time,” Bellatrix wistfully recalled, then sneered. “Until you escaped! But we can rectify that right now.”
“No one,” Andromeda interjected, “is doing any rectification. At least not you.”
“Pity,” Bellatrix pouted.
Andromeda rolled her eyes. She turned to Hermione. “The plan originally was to show her to Merlin and to perhaps let him interrogate her for information.”
Hermione nodded, hoping her racing heart wasn’t betraying her by beating too loudly. She had to figure a way out of this. “Right.”
Narcissa had turned away from her captured sister to look at Andromeda and Hermione. “Since he can’t be here, I suggest that something else must be done.”
Chancing a glance at Bellatrix, Hermione saw her flash a comforting smile since no one else was looking at her.
The very basic bare bones part of a plan was coming to her head. “I’ll interrogate her.”
Bellatrix frowned. “I think not!”
Both of the other sisters echoed the sentiment.
Andromeda sighed. “As loath as I am to agree with Bellatrix, I think it should be me.”
“How about no one interrogates me?” Bellatrix countered to deaf ears.
Hermione shook her head. “No. Interrogations shouldn’t be done by family members. There’s too much drama and emotions here for this to be effective.”
Narcissa rounded off on Hermione. “And how would you know about any drama concerning us?”
“Seriously?” Hermione asked, gesturing to the room. “If all of this doesn’t scream family issues, I don’t know what does!”
“She has a point,” Bellatrix cheekily commented. “We are pretty fucked up.”
“And I wonder whose fault that is!” Andromeda bristled, turning to Bellatrix.
“Well, seeing as I’m the one locked up-”
“Because you’re a fucking Death Eater!” Andromeda roared.
“Such anger. Is that any way to talk to your sister?”
“We’re not sisters,” Andromeda bitterly commented.
For the first time since she arrived, Hermione saw Bellatrix’s nonchalant facade crack.
Andromeda decided to continue digging the knife in a little further. “Or do you not recall the day of your graduation when you decided to ridicule Cissy and I before leaving to become Voldemort’s fucking lapdog?”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Hermione decided to intervene before things got too out of hand. “Look, this is exactly what I was talking about. We all know magic is tied to emotions, and what do you think will happen when those emotions get even more volatile?”
Narcissa, clearly the sensible one of the group, said, “It would likely destroy the ward…”
“Exactly, and give Lestrange here her magic back,” Hermione said.
“Oh for the love of- it’s Black!” Bellatrix thundered. “What do I have to do? Resuscitate the man to serve him divorce papers and promptly kill him again once he signs them?”
Andromeda scoffed. “Right, that’s another thing, killing your husband because of those half-blood allegations? How many gobstones has that mind of yours lost?”
Bellatrix groaned. “Andy, how about you stop commenting on things you don’t understand? I’ll take the interrogation with the girl, it’ll be less agonizing.”
Andromeda bristled, but huffed in resignation. “I don’t know why I even bother.”
“I still think the best idea is to lock her up in the cellar of the Malfoy estate.”
“Still with that, are you?” Andy bit back. “And I already told you, here is perfectly fine. I even silenced the entire cellar so she could scream herself hoarse and it wouldn’t matter.”
“Or,” Bellatrix interjected. “You can let me go? No hard feelings.”
“NO!” chorused the two sisters.
“I really think that arguing right now isn’t the best course of action,” Hermione cautioned. She needed to get Andromeda and Narcissa out of the room.
“Hermione’s right,” Andromeda said with a sigh. She turned to Hermione. “Look, I don’t imagine you have experience interrogating-”
“This is going to be like being interrogated by a puppy,” Bellatrix snarked.
This time even Hermione levelled a glare at the captured witch. She felt compelled to say, “Merlin trained me in some tactics.”
“Did he now?” Bellatrix commented with a wry chuckle. “Now I’m curious to see what the old geezer has taught you.”
Hermione huffed. “Must you comment on everything?”
“Of course, it’s what makes me charming.” And Bellatrix had the gall to add a wink.
“Anyway…” Andromeda interjected. “If you feel you’re ready, Hermione.”
Andromeda nodded. “Very well, Cissy and I will be upstairs.”
“I’ll get you when I’m done,” Hermione said.
Andromeda handed Hermione the key and gave her an encouraging smile. Narcissa merely looked at her and muttered a terse, “Good luck,” which, considering her impression of the woman so far, was almost friendly.
Once she heard both doors close she turned to face Bellatrix. “What the hell were you thinking?”
Bellatrix looked flabbergasted at the accusatory question. “It wasn’t exactly my choice! Andy took me by surprise!”
Hermione scoffed and just rushed forward to fall to her knees in front of Bellatrix and hugged her tightly. “I know, I just-”
Bellatrix chuckled. “If these are your interrogation tactics then I dare say that you still have a lot to learn.”
That made Hermione let out a laugh of her own. “So sue me, I had no idea you had been captured and I missed you.”
“I missed you too,” Bellatrix murmured softly, letting her head rest on Hermione’s shoulder.
Hermione moved her head to capture Bellatrix’s lips with her own, prompting the latter to let out a surprised gasp before sinking into the kiss with a very content hum.
When they parted, Bellatrix said, “Let me amend my earlier statement: If that’s what I’ve been teaching you as interrogation tactics, I really want to know what I’ll teach you for kissing.”
“As much as I’d love to continue bantering with you, we have a bigger problem,” Hermione said, leaning back to sit on her knees in front of Bellatrix.
“And what would that be?” Bellatrix asked.
“What do you mean- this!” Hermione said incredulously, pointing towards her. “Or are you enjoying being held captive by your sisters, who hate you more than I thought they did?”
“You mean this isn’t some really complicated foreplay you’ve cooked up? Because-”
“Bellatrix! I’m being serious!”
“I can tell! And I’m trying to reduce the tension before you start to hyperventilate.” At Hermione’s confused stare, Bellatrix explained. “When you’re really nervous, you get really pale, and right now you’re whiter than a bleached sheet.”
Hermione rolled her shoulders in an attempt to ground herself. “I’m fine.”
“Right, and I’m the Minister for Magic,” Bellatrix countered with a scoff.
“Careful, don’t want Fudge or the Fawcetts to hear that.”
That got Bellatrix to let out a hearty laugh. “Oh yes, I nearly forgot about my secret political aspirations.”
Hermione flashed a smile, but then she grew serious as she said. “I should probably untie you.”
“As much as my arms would love that, my sister has unfortunately perfected quite a knot, and unless you want to be mimicking that knot afterwards, I suggest we leave it.”
“Lovely. I don’t have any ideas about how to get you out of here, you?” Hermione said with a groan.
“Not particularly. I certainly wasn’t expecting to have a Black sister family reunion on this fine Sunday.”
“I bet…I could just say that I’m taking you to Merlin?” Hermione tried.
Bellatrix frowned, clearly not convinced. “I don’t think that will fly. As paranoid as Andy is about all of this, she’ll insist on a face-to-face.”
“Except you’re Merlin and that will never work.”
“Yes…unless you were to be Merlin.”
“Me?” Hermione did a double take, sure that she heard wrong.
“Sure. You have my robes, you can just don the persona for a bit and take me,” Bellatrix theorized. “We’re about the same height, you’d know my mannerisms…”
Hermione was about to respond when she heard the stairs creak. She jumped back to stand away just as the door flew open, revealing a very angry Andromeda, followed by a slightly more irate Narcissa.
“Is this a fucking joke to you?” Andromeda huffed, stepping right up to Bellatrix and pulling by her robes up to stand before jabbing an accusing finger at Bellatrix’s chest.
Bellatrix, for her part, looked genuinely confused as she stumbled to stand, and even looked to Hermione, who was just as lost. Was she trying to play bad cop?
“Did I miss something?” Hermione asked, turning to look at Narcissa, who thus far was pretty good at answering questions.
“My question as well,” Bellatrix murmured, leaning against the post she was tied to as she gained her footing.
Narcissa continued to deliver answers. “It seems our earlier argument created some chinks in the silencing ward, and we heard Bellatrix let out a laugh. This led to Andy surmising that the interrogation wasn’t going well. I tried to convince my dear sister to not let it get to her, but as you can see, I was unsuccessful.”
From what Hermione had seen from the two sisters thus far, Narcissa probably didn’t want to be successful. Granted, with the way that Andromeda was standing, now with both fists clenched and arms taught, perhaps Narcissa really did try but was no match for the steamroller that was Andromeda.
“What’s so funny about this then?” Andromeda retorted, getting Bellatrix to look once more towards her sister.
She seemed at a loss to answer, and she looked towards Hermione for help once more.
That was the wrong thing to do as Andromeda moved to stand in Bellatrix’s line of sight, effectively cutting her off from any help. “Hermione’s not the one under interrogation, you are. So I ask you, what’s so funny?”
Bellatrix settled her face once more into a mask of careless mirth with a touch of insanity. “That you lot think that this will get you anywhere. I’ve been doing this for fifteen years, you think a round with the witchling there will get me to spill my beans?”
Hermione huffed, indignant, even though Bellatrix had a point. She was not versed in prying answers from others, though she supposed she had sussed out Merlin’s real identity, so that was one point for her.
“Of course, the great Bellatrix is too good to admit she’s been defeated and captured, especially by the disgraces that we are, right?”
The words stung, and Bellatrix looked away as she mumbled, “You’re not a disgrace.”
“No, of course not. Easy for you to say now, huh? All these years later?” Andromeda retorted none too kindly. “But despite that, your newly minted Death Eater pride had to humiliate me and traumatize poor Narcissa all those years ago in front of all of Hogwarts. Mother and Father obviously heard about it and they were so disappointed, they gave me an ultimatum, leave Ted or leave home. You can imagine which one I chose.”
“No…” Bellatrix looked stricken, and Hermione knew this was hard for the older woman. She knew Bellatrix wasn’t perfect, and had her regrets about how she acted, but the way her eyes had widened broke her heart.
“No? You think this is hard for you to hear about?” Andy wasn’t done, adding a kindle to the fire. “I lost two sisters that summer. Oh yes, our lovely parents then proceeded to turn Narcissa against me. It took us years to get back together, and we’re still working through our things. You might find this all to be a grand old comedy, but for me it’s a heartbreaking tragedy, and I despise you for what you did. Because of you, this is my life now, and I’ll be damned if I let you arses take my family from me.”
It proved to be too much for Bellatrix, who sunk to her knees and leant as forward as her bound arms allowed her, until she was bent over and quietly sobbing.
Hermione wanted nothing more than to go to Bellatrix and give her a comforting hug, but used every ounce of self-control to keep her distance. But she still found that she had to say, “Perhaps this is a bit much?”
Andromeda looked to her, and there was a flash of something, guilt perhaps, that was gone before Hermione could analyze it. “Trust me, it’s exactly what she deserves. She has no remorse, what you’re seeing is theatrics, crocodile tears, as it were.”
Still, Hermione noticed that Andromeda crossed her arms, and hunched her shoulders as if she were hugging herself and trying to find comfort within her own arms. Narcissa was off to the side, expression unreadable as usual.
Hermione noted in the silence that Bellatrix wasn’t just sobbing, but also muttering something. She made her way closer.
“Careful Hermione, she’s-” Andromeda tried, but it fell on deaf ears.
As Hermione got closer, she noted that Bellatrix seemed to be trying to formulate an apology.
“To hell with it,” Hermione said under her breath, once more falling to her knees beside Bellatrix, and she carefully placed her hand on Bellatrix’s back. The older woman stiffened for a second, before she slowly moved to look up.
Once she saw Hermione, she moved to burrow herself against Hermione’s chest.
There was a strangled sound from one of the sisters, but Hermione paid them no mind, and just hugged her lover closer.
“I fucked up,” Bellatrix breathed.
“You can still fix this,” Hermione reassured. “Just tell them the truth.”
“Truth? What truth?” Narcissa asked, finding her voice sooner than Andromeda.
Hermione moved her head slightly to regard both sisters. They were both standing in the same position as before, eyes wider than before. Andromeda’s mouth was slightly agape, but she could tell that both of them were very surprised, not only by the fact that Bellatrix had allowed herself to be hugged by Hermione - a muggleborn - but that Bellatrix seemed to sink into Hermione’s hug and revel in the proximity. The youngest witch in the room could see how that might be disconcerting and jarring to see, but she couldn’t just stand by.
Bellatrix let out a strangled laugh as she pushed herself further up and leaned back to rest her head against the pole. “Oh what the hell, why not. Can you help me up?” Bellatrix asked Hermione.
Hermione gingerly helped her lover to her feet, only letting go when she was sure the older woman had found her balance. She took a few steps back, to give Bellatrix some space.
Then, Bellatrix nodded and let out a breath. “This is a lot more daunting than I was expecting.”
Andromeda’s patience was wearing thin. “I have about a multitude of questions, namely what the fuck is going on, but I sincerely doubt that anything you say, or any truth that you could reveal, might possibly make up for all the hurt you caused.”
At that, Bellatrix looked away. “No, you’re right. There’s no excusing what I did all those years ago. But it might explain why I had to do it.”
“Had to?” Andromeda retorted. “What, was someone holding a wand to you and made you say all that?”
Narcissa huffed. “Enough with the half-answers. Either tell us what’s going on or…”
The sentence died then, and Bellatrix chuckled. “It’s generally a good idea to have an ‘or’ prepared in advance, Cissy. But very well: I am Merlin.”
Whatever reaction Hermione had been expecting, incredulous laughter wasn’t it.
Andromeda clutched her side. “Right, and I’m the Minister.”
“I’m serious!” Bellatrix vainly tried to insist, to no avail as her sisters were caught in a fit of laughter. “Hermione, tell them!”
“It’s true. She is.”
Hermione’s assurance sobered both sisters up, and morphed their humour into shock and disbelief. “That’s not possible,” Andromeda stated.
“It is,” Bellatrix insisted.
“No!” Andromeda thundered. “You cannot be Merlin, because Merlin is fighting for good, something your selfish ass would never be capable of.”
Narcissa also sought to add, “And the Death Eater robes you’re sporting tell a vastly different story.”
“I’m playing both sides!”
Andromeda gasped. “So if that is true, and I’m not saying I believe you…then that means that you are using the Order to help Voldemort’s cause…they were right!”
“No! For the love of…just ask Hermione if you don’t believe me,” Bellatrix huffed.
“No,” Andromeda intoned. “Don’t try to use her as a shield. If you have something to say, find the words yourself.”
“How can I? You keep twisting everything I say!”
“Perhaps,” Hermione interjected, “you can start at the beginning? Like you told me?”
Andromeda looked Hermione in the eye, as if trying to find what Hermione’s angle was in all of this.
Hermione took the silence as an opportunity to affirm, “She’s telling the truth Andy. She’s not fighting for the Death Eaters, she really is Merlin.”
“She just said she was playing both sides,” Narcissa pointed out.
“Yes,” Bellatrix confirmed. “Because I am pretending to be a Death Eater, but secretly using that information to help the Order with their missions and all that.”
Andromeda looked like she was a breath away from collapsing in shock. Narcissa, who wasn’t much better, was closer to the door and stepped out of the ward’s non-magical zone to Accio two chairs for her and her sister, prompting Andromeda to collapse onto it without any decorum.
“It’s impossible,” she finally said. “I’ve met Merlin and you’re not-”
“I’m not?” Bellatrix asked, raising an eyebrow. “Why? Because Merlin avoids talking to you?”
Andromeda’s eyes widened. There was no reasonable explanation that Bellatrix would know about Merlin’s avoidance, unless- “You overheard us when I was talking to Hermione outside earlier, didn’t you? I knew the silencing charm wasn’t strong enough. That’s how I heard your cackles from upstairs.”
Bellatrix groaned. “Have you ever thought about joining the Olympics? With the hoops you keep jumping through, I’m sure you’ll win a gold for sure.”
Narcissa made a noise that sounded like she was trying to cover up a chuckle. When Andromeda turned to glare at her, Narcissa then sobered. “Why must you keep turning everything into a quip?”
“Because you’re not taking me seriously. And for the record, Andy, it’s not that I don’t trust you to be part of the Order, because hello, I’m Merlin, but it’s because every time I saw you, the guilt to set things right and tell you the truth would eat at me.”
Hermione figured that it was best to keep quiet for now. This was between the sisters.
Andromeda scoffed. “Right, guilt. A likely story.”
Bellatrix let out a long-suffering groan. “What will it take for you to believe me? Should I call you Mrs. Tonks? Oh wait, that’s right, you hate being called that!”
Looking at Andromeda, there were chinks beginning to show in her resolve. The furrowed brow and dangerous glint in her eyes that spoke of years of anger were dulling, and the retort that had been ready on her lips was left unsaid. Instead, she tried to ask, “How- but your handwriting…”
“Ambidextrous. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get anything past you, Andy,” Bellatrix said, attempting a smile. “I’m sorry I had to do what I did. At the time I thought it would be the right way to go - to protect you and Cissy from what I was trying to do.”
“You thought you would single-handedly take down the Death Eaters?” Andromeda asked, but gone was the bite.
Narcissa sniffed. “Noble, but altogether stupid, do you know that?”
“What’s that muggle saying? Hindsight is 20/20?” Bellatrix riposted. “I thought it was only going to be a few years, I wasn’t expecting this to be a long-term project. Anyway, any chance you can untie me? My wrists are starting to hurt.”
Andromeda hummed. “Perhaps, but first, what’s your connection to Hermione here?”
Hermione’s eyes widened, and she blinked. She had honestly thought they’d forgotten about her.
Bellatrix had no such surprise on her face as she simply looked towards Hermione and said, “We’re in a relationship, assuming the two of you haven’t scared her off by showing how crazy the Black sisters can actually get.”
Hermione chuckled, meeting Bellatrix’s eyes with a fond smile.
Andromeda stood up and walked over to Bellatrix. “Hard to do that, you’ve been hogging all the crazy with your theatrics. If that hasn’t scared her off, then you’re not in danger of losing her.”
Bellatrix conceded the point just as Andromeda released the ropes with an expert tug at key points to undo the knot.
“Don’t make me regret trusting you,” Andromeda murmured in a quiet voice as she walked back to face her sister. Bellatrix rubbed her wrists to get some feeling back into them.
And then, giving Hermione a wink, she swept forward to gather Andromeda in a big hug that had the latter letting out a very undignified yelp of surprise. Haltingly, as if she were afraid that moving would reveal it to be a figment of her imagination, Andromeda returned the hug, holding her sister tightly. Bellatrix let one arm go and looked to Narcissa, who was still sitting on the chair by the door, hesitant, but still keeping a dignified composure. “Come on Cissy, it’s just a hug.”
That seemed to do the trick, because before Hermione could blink, Narcissa had taken great strides to burrow into Bellatrix’s other side.
“I’m still mad at you, you know,” Andromeda’s muffled voice filtered through. Narcissa made a noise of agreement.
“I know, I’ll spend the rest of my life apologizing to you both if that’s what it takes,” Bellatrix murmured quietly.
Eventually, the sisters ended the hug, and Bellatrix smiled. “Excuse me for a second, there’s someone else I need to give my attention to.”
Without more preamble, Bellatrix strode over to Hermione, and then pulled her close before kissing the younger witch.
Hermione melted into the kiss with a very satisfied and content hum.
Once they parted, Andromeda commented from behind Bellatrix, “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.”
Bellatrix turned back to her sister, taking Hermione’s hand in hers. “What, me kissing someone?”
“You know that’s not what I mean.”
“Because she’s another witch?”
“You’ve got me beat,” Bellatrix sighed dramatically.
“I believe,” Narcissa began, cutting through Bellatrix’s act, “it’s because she didn’t think it was possible for you to fall for a muggleborn, after your treatment of her relationship with Ted.”
Bellatrix at least had the good sense to look repentant.
Andromeda sighed. “Let’s go upstairs, shall we?”
The four women slowly made their way upstairs, staying quiet. Bellatrix hadn’t let go of Hermione’s hand, and she was grateful. She felt like a bit of an intruder in what was clearly a very critical and private moment in the sisters’ connection. But the thumb brushing comforting circles on her skin told Hermione that her presence was appreciated.
Still, once they were all in the kitchen, Hermione asked Bellatrix, “Should I leave?”
Bellatrix turned to face her. “Leave?”
“You know, so you three can talk?” Hermione clarified.
Thankfully, Bellatrix got the idea behind Hermione’s question. “I don’t think our conversation will be very long, at least not today. If you’d prefer, you can wait in the living room? Once I’m done we can head home together.”
“I like that idea,” Hermione said, leaning forward to deposit a quick kiss on Bellatrix’s lips. “Now behave.”
Bellatrix let out a joking scoff. “I always behave.”
Hermione took a cup of tea that Narcissa gingerly offered, and she headed back out of the kitchen, leaving the three Black sisters alone.
“So…”Bellatrix said, crossing her arms in front of her. “Where would you like me to start?”
“How…” Andromeda began, trying to keep her expression level. “How could you think that what you did was a good idea? Did you not trust us?”
Bellatrix sighed, going to sit down on one of the chairs. This was going to be rough. “It’s not that I don’t trust you. I trust you both with my life-”
“But this is where you drew the line?” Narcissa’s words held some bite, and Bellatrix winced slightly. Her youngest sister had a right to be upset, but still didn’t lessen the hurt of the words.
“No. It’s just…the Potters had just been murdered. Voldemort was recruiting, and I knew I had to do something.” Bellatrix continued, taking a deep breath. “I was afraid of what might happen if they tried to use you against me. If there was any inkling-”
“You could have told us beforehand, Bella,” Andromeda countered. “You could have explained your plans…you know Cissy and I are just as dramatic and theatrical as you are, we could have done a decent job pretending to be hurt, rather than the reality.”
“Right…at the time, it hadn’t crossed my mind. I mean, I entertained the idea, but thought that a real reaction would be the best way. I knew I had to keep you two safe.”
“Like I said, noble, but foolish,” Narcissa said over her own cup of tea.
“And I’m sorry, once more. Like I said, I thought authenticity would be the best course of action.”
Narcissa hummed. “Then why not come to us after? We had already been unwilling participants in your little charade…”
“Well, at the time you were still in school, I could hardly explain what I was doing, and then afterwards, I thought you had gone off to Lucius and I wasn’t sure about Andy’s inclinations. By the time I did know, she was yelling vile things about me to Merlin, and I knew that the window had closed.”
Andromeda was just staring down at her cup, processing everything in silence.
“So you have always been Merlin?” Narcissa asked.
“Yes, since the day of my graduation.”
Andromeda nodded, and finally spoke. “And who else knows about this?”
“Currently, you two and Hermione. Albus knew first, as I told him the plan from the start, and he took the secret with him to his grave.”
“And what made you tell Hermione?” Andromeda continued.
“I didn’t plan it…it happened by chance, if you’ll believe it.” Bellatrix recounted all the unexpected events and meetings that led Hermione to figuring out her identity.
By the end of it, Andromeda had a smile blossoming on her face, and even the usually stoic Narcissa was finding her lips were forming an almost imperceptible smile.
“So you’ve been crushing on her to the point where you let your cherished secret slip?” Andromeda teased. While the sisters still had a while to go before they could fully reconcile, there was no rule that teasing Bellatrix about her lover was off the table. And Andromeda was fully planning on taking advantage of this.
Bellatrix groaned. “You’re not going to let this go, are you?”
“Nope,” Andromeda said, lips widening to a grin. “Consider this to be part of the reparations for the last 15 years of anguish.”
Hermione had left the sisters to their own devices and had found a rather comfortable armchair where she could drink her tea and wait. Truth be told, after the earlier ordeal, the warm tea in her belly, and the way the sun was hitting the room just right and warming the room up, she gave in to temptation and closed her eyes to rest.
Next thing she knew, someone was gently touching her shoulder. Her eyes fluttered open to find Bellatrix smiling softly at her.
“Had a good nap?” Bellatrix quipped.
Hermione hummed as she stirred. “Yeah. This armchair is really comfortable.”
A laugh sounded from behind Bellatrix. “It’s a popular opinion that I’ve been told over the years.”
Bellatrix moved a bit to the side to show an amused Andromeda looking at the two of them. Hermione would later find out that Narcissa left a short while ago, not wanting to be suspicious to her family about being out of the house for too long.
Andromeda added, “Oh don’t mind me, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that you two are not only friendly, but also in a relationship.”
Both Hermione and Bellatrix blushed and suddenly found other parts of the room - the floor and the wall, respectively - much more interesting. They had never truly defined what they were to one another, with the implication that after this was all done, then they could talk about that.
Andromeda noticed, and snickered. “Wow, you’d have thought I’d have called you a married couple with the way you’re reacting.”
Bellatrix huffed. “You’re impossible.”
“Like I said, you owe me, fifteen years to be exact. So I will say what I please.”
Hermione found the entire situation very endearing, and she saw that Bellatrix was having a very hard time keeping the smile from her face.
But the moment didn’t last long as Andromeda glanced at the clock on the wall and sighed. “Ted will be coming back soon, you should leave before he gets here.”
Bellatrix nodded. It was one thing to let her sisters find out the truth because she was backed into a corner, but it was another thing entirely to have more people find out. Bellatrix was a firm believer that the less people that knew about her secret work, the better.
Hermione thanked Andromeda for her hospitality and then joined Bellatrix to Apparate back home.
Once they were in the safety of the house, Bellatrix didn’t waste any time before kissing Hermione, her arms wrapping around her waist.
And a good thing too, because Hermione let out a soft moan and her knees buckled slightly at the intensity of the kiss; she was sure that if the strong arms weren’t helping her stand, she would have stumbled.
Bellatrix broke the kiss for a moment to say, “I missed you,” before returning once more to kissing her lover deeply.
Hermione felt very much the same way, bringing her hands to cup Bellatrix’s cheeks, not wanting to stop. Bellatrix’s hands began to wander, unclasping the cloak Hermione had been wearing.
They did stop kissing once they realized that they needed more, and that just kissing wasn’t going to cut it. Hermione gave the other woman a small devious smile before grabbing one of Bellatrix’s hands and leading her upstairs.
The older witch followed behind, keeping pace as they went up to Bellatrix’s bedroom. Well, by now it was unofficially both of theirs, with Hermione having taken to sleeping there every night.
It didn’t take long for Bellatrix to flip the script once they were in the bedroom, returning to a deep and languid kiss and leading Hermione backwards towards the bed, pushing a bit more to get the latter to fall backwards onto the bed.
With a soft oof, Hermione landed squarely on the mattress, barely getting the reaction out of her mouth before Bellatrix was once more kissing her, climbing onto the bed on top of her.
Both women lost themselves to the moment, the sensation of the other’s body against theirs, in sync as they pleasured one another, choosing to ignore the responsibilities of the world beyond this magically hidden house, of the war going on, and the rollercoaster of a day.
There would be time to talk, to come crashing back to reality and the changes that would be coming, but for now, they were content; they were together, and through their actions, conveying their hope for the future.
A few hours later, they were lying in bed, Bellatrix on her back with Hermione curled up on her side, and she could tell that there was something in Bellatrix’s mind.
“You know, you’re quite loud when you think,” Hermione commented with a murmur.
Bellatrix chuckled and said, “Sorry, I’m just trying to think of the best way to tell you…”
That got Hermione to raise her head a bit to look her lover in the eye. “Tell me what?”
“I…he’s scared, and his paranoia has gone through the roof. So he’s getting us all to move into the Lestrange Manor, full time. He gave us two days to get our affairs in order, but he’ll be keeping a close eye on us from now on. He thinks he’ll be able to suss out how his plans have gone horribly wrong once and for all, as well as claim his victory.” Bellatrix gave a world-weary sigh. “I know, it’s not exactly how I wanted the day to end-”
Hermione leaned down to deposit a soft kiss on Bellatrix’s lips. “We knew things were going to get a bit more tumultuous, what with the string of successes we’ve been having, and how quiet the holidays were. You do what you have to in order to stay safe, I’ll hold down the fort while you’re gone.”
“Would you also…potentially consider…to act as Merlin in my absence?” Bellatrix asked. “I admit, it’s a strange request, but it has been on my mind. That’s why, when I mentioned it earlier…it wasn’t completely out of the blue.”
That got Hermione to withdraw a bit, uncertainty marring her face. “Me? I don’t know, I’m not sure I’d be good at it.”
“Of course you would. I mean, it wouldn’t be all the time, but you have the skills to lead Hermione, all you need is someone that believes in you,” Bellatrix explained, reaching up to cup her lover’s cheeks in order to bring their lips together once more.
“You drive a hard bargain,” Hermione conceded once they parted. “No promises I’ll be able to make it as good as you though.”
“I’m sure you’ll be excellent.”
Hermione had gone two weeks without seeing Bellatrix. She didn’t want to seem clingy, but after spending the last few months seeing the other witch every day, it felt bizarre to wake up in the empty house. It felt bigger and colder without Bellatrix, and it made her feel out of sorts.
She considered maybe moving back to Grimmauld, but she had no idea as to how she’d explain that one, plus now she had to do double duty, so that was out of the question. Though thankfully she hadn’t had to make an appearance as Merlin. Yet.
Though today was shaping up to be a complicated day. It started simply enough, with the toaster that refused to work for her. Then Hermione got a message from Sirius requesting Merlin’s help on something, and she groaned.
She figured that she couldn’t go as herself like she did with Andromeda, so she grabbed Merlin’s stuff that Bellatrix had left, fastened the mask over her face, and headed over to Grimmauld.
When she got there, she heard voices coming from nearby, and quieting her steps, she made her way to the nearest doorway that led to the planning room.
“What seems to be the problem?” she asked.
It was very hard to not laugh when half of the room jumped up at Merlin’s appearance. Hermione could see why Bellatrix enjoyed it so much.
“Merlin’s beard,” Ron muttered. “When’s your birthday? I’ll get you a nice bell to wear.”
“And miss your exclamations about my beard and other attributes? Not a chance, Mr. Weasley,” she quipped. She turned to Sirius. “What did you want to talk to me about?”
Remus answered. “Before you get upset-”
Hermione crossed her arms in front of her and sighed. “Let me guess, Mr. Black snuck out again?”
Sirius shuffled uncomfortably. “But this time I didn’t rush to prepare a mission for it at least.”
“I’m guessing I have Mr. Lupin to thank for that?” At Sirius’ subtle nod, she added, “Well, I suppose intel is intel, what did you hear?”
Before anyone could say anything else, Remus leapt up as if he were being burned. He fished out a galleon, and sighed. “Speak of the devil. The Fawcetts are reporting movement.”
“What?” Hermione asked, confused.
Remus tried to explain as succinctly as he could. “When Sirius went out, he met up with Edward Fawcett and they went to Diagon. Now don’t worry; the two of them are animagus, so Sirius was disguised. While they were out, they overheard a rumour about the Ministry outpost up North, and the Fawcetts-”
“-Are there now , and we need to get going!” Sirius interrupted, urgency in his voice.
Hermione felt her head spin. She could understand the timeliness of the situation, but knew they couldn’t go in without any preparation. And why the Fawcetts were there without any real backup escaped her reasoning. “Hang on, Mr. Black. If we all Apparate at once and uninformed, we will not be of any help to the Fawcetts. We must plan first. Is that clear?”
Sirius harrumphed, but stayed where he was.
Remus gave his husband a reassuring smile. “Merlin’s right. The Fawcetts aren’t in immediate trouble, they’re observing, and they’ve just noticed movement.”
A plan was already forming in Hermione’s mind, and she began to prattle off orders. “Now, Mr. Black, you get your team ready, do you know where the Fawcetts were going to be stationed?”
“Good. Then once you’re ready, head to the outpost, but be careful. Mr. Lupin and his group will be joining you shortly.”
Sirius left, with Ron and Harry in tow, the latter briefly giving Ginny a kiss and Merlin a nod. She knew that Sirius and her friends were antsy and nervous, much more interested in action rather than planning, so she figured that sending them out as an advance group would be a good idea.
Once they were gone, Hermione turned to Remus. “Now, Mr. Lupin, is there anyone else that knows about this?”
“No. We were debating notifying more people when I suggested that we consult you first,” Remus explained. “And I should warn you…the Fawcetts decided to do their own mission because they are still bitter with how things ended during that argument at the Burrow…”
Hermione sighed. “Of course. But we can’t focus on that now. If the Death Eaters are there, we must act. Unfortunately, there’s no time to call for more backup, explaining to anyone might take too long. As it is, it's pretty risky.”
Remus nodded. “Please understand, Sirius was trying to do the right thing-”
“It’s quite alright, we’ll figure this out. Do you know what the Death Eaters are looking for?”
Neville, who had been quiet until now, said, “It’s a pretty small office, mostly there to deal with accidental magic or magical creatures that have gone haywire, so we can’t figure out what they might want there.”
Luna added, “Actually, there have been rumours that a Crumple-Horned Snorkack might be near there-”
Ginny cleared her throat to stop her friend. “I doubt they might have much use for that right now.”
“Well, that’s up for debate, we don’t really know much about it.” At a look from Ginny, Luna got the gist and dropped the theory. “Should we go there now then? You’re coming too, right Merlin?”
And Hermione couldn’t figure out how to switch out of Merlin. She knew she was duelling better as herself after her training with Bellatrix, but as Merlin, she was afraid that she would not fare so well.
Ginny, the sole person who knew it was Hermione currently behind Merlin’s guise, seemed to notice the latter’s apprehension, and said, “Of course he will. Come on Merlin, I’ll apparate with you.”
The duo walked down the hall and towards the doorway, waiting for Remus, Luna, and Neville to Disapparate first, and they would follow.
Once they were alone, Hermione muttered, “I’m not sure I can do this.”
“You’ll be fine,” Ginny responded as they got into position. “Just remember, you’re Merlin!”
It had been too much to hope that things would be quiet when she arrived. To say it was pandemonium would be an understatement. Spells were flying everywhere, and Hermione barely had time to duck and pull Ginny down too before a spell aimed for her head whizzed past her.
“What in the world-”
They rushed to get behind the remains of a stone wall, and Ginny surveyed the landscape. “Did we take that long?”
Hermione huffed. “No, I dare say there’s something else going on here, this is wrong. Go find Sirius and the others, I’ll try to draw their fire away.”
Ginny nodded and rushed away, while Hermione stood up and walked towards the chaos.
It didn’t take long for the Death Eaters to spot her. “Oi! It’s Merlin!”
With everyone’s attention on her, she briefly sent out a few choice spells while she got a lay of the land, and the situation they were facing. She briefly saw where Remus, Sirius and her friends were huddled, fighting off a group of Death Eaters. And they looked like they were having a hard time fending off their attackers.
Hermione had been expecting a dozen Death Eaters at most, but here she saw much more than that, probably closer to thirty. There was something deeply wrong about this entire thing, but she couldn’t just stand there and analyze. She had to do something, fast.
Apparition was simple enough, but every witch and wizard was cautioned against Apparating too many times in rapid succession. It could cause a litany of problems like nausea, vomiting, and those were the more pleasant side effects.
But right now, she had to save her friends.
So she began to pop in and out, around the perimeter, firing off spells at every dark cloaked figure she could spot in the five seconds she took before Apparating again. She caught brief glimpses of what remained of the Ministry outpost, nothing but a pile of rubble where an antique stone lodge once stood.
Little by little, she was weakening the group. At first, she was moving too fast to let any of the remaining Death Eaters actually get a shot in. But as she kept Apparating, her stamina grew weaker, to the point where a spell clipped her left shoulder. It stung badly, but she barely registered it, and just kept on firing spells off.
She continued popping in and out, until she was sure no more Death Eaters were standing, having either been knocked down or had gone into hiding. More likely, many of them had fled, at least away from the general vicinity.
She briefly wondered where the Fawcetts were as she headed to where she spotted her friends checking to see if the coast was clear. Her stomach was doing somersaults in her body, and she knew it was an effect of the many Apparitions she had done.
“Blimey, what’s going on?” Ron asked, stunned.
Harry looked incensed. “This was clearly a trap. Where are the Fawcetts?”
“I was wondering that myself,” Hermione commented as she stood in front of the group. “Are you all alright?”
Everyone looked decidedly worse for wear, but they were all conscious and standing, for which she was grateful.
Their reprieve would be a short one, as a small group of five new Death Eaters descended on them. They barely had time to throw up Protegos to shield them from a volley of jinxes these Death Eaters threw out.
Hermione turned to face their new attackers, wand at the ready. But they couldn’t aim, as the Death Eaters were clouded by the smoke cover they used. As they landed, they dispelled the dark clouds. And then, one Death Eater stepped up.
“What an honour!” came Bellatrix’s mocking tone. “Merlin’s graced us with his presence!”
“Don’t flatter yourself, Ms. Lestrange, you’re not that important,” Hermione replied, knowing this would irk her.
As expected, that got Bellatrix to stomp her foot and angrily yell out, “It’s Black! Why is it so impossible for people to get that?”
Hermione responded by putting her hand on her chest, by her sternum, in a mock apologetic gesture. “Oh do forgive me, but I just simply do not care.”
“You dare disrespect me?” Bellatrix uttered quietly, like the calm before a storm. Then, jabbing her finger at her sternum, reciprocating Hermione’s signal, she repeated, now louder and angrier, “You dare disrespect me ?!”
“Depulso maxima!” Hermione yelled, using the moment to send a wide beam that knocked all five Death Eaters back, spread out in different directions. To the group standing behind her, she said, “You keep the other four occupied, she’s mine.”
Hermione made her way towards where Bellatrix was already standing up. Her mask and hood were off, and she looked livid. For a second, Hermione would have believed it to be real anger, but then she looked at Merlin, and she smirked, and gave a very minute wink. “I’m surprised you haven’t lost your touch, old man!”
“Or perhaps you’re not a sufficient challenge to truly test me,” Hermione readily responded, sending another spell her way.
But this time, Bellatrix was prepared and deflected it. “Oh, you will regret that.”
Next thing Hermione knew, Bellatrix was flying forward, trailing a billowing dark cloud of smoke behind her. She took Hermione by surprise and grabbed her by her robe, transporting them a bit further away from the madness.
Bellatrix let go of Hermione’s robes, and the latter stumbled backwards and fell with a groan. The movement was making her dizzy and her nausea was growing.
“Not so tough now that you’re on the ground, old man?” Bellatrix mocked. Hermione barely managed to focus enough to see Bellatrix point her wand at her. Her voice was softer as she said, “Now, don’t fight it, and this will go much easier. Legilimens!”
Hermione braced herself and when she opened her eyes, she found herself in the dark. Next thing she knew, Bellatrix was crouching by her side.
“Are you alright?” she asked softly, raising Hermione’s mask out of her face.
Bellatrix waved her wand and the darkness gave way to show them the scene outside of Hermione’s head. To anyone that might see them, Bellatrix was pointing her wand at Merlin, tearing through the latter’s thoughts with a maniacal glee. “Don’t worry, this gives us a few moments alone to catch up.”
Hermione let out a dry laugh. “So not much time, huh?”
“Enough to do this.” Bellatrix leaned forward to capture Hermione’s lips in a kiss. True to her word, the kiss didn’t last long, but it was good enough for Hermione to feel the butterflies in her stomach. “And to ask what happened to your shoulder.”
“Oh, one of your pals clipped me with a spell. Nothing serious,” Hermione brushed it off, glancing at her shoulder. Admittedly, the fabric was stained with more blood than she would have liked, but she felt fine.
“Too bad I can’t actually heal you, as we’re in your head and thus wouldn’t do a lick of difference. But please do so as soon as you can, that wound looks nasty.”
“I’ll be fine, I’m more worried about the nausea.”
“I might have chained Apparitions…”
Bellatrix spluttered, “Chained?! Are you out of your mind? That is extremely dangerous-”
“I’m well-aware, but I had to keep everyone safe. This was an ambush! Or is this not something you were privy to?” Her question came out a bit more accusingly than she would have liked, but Bellatrix took no offence to it.
With a sigh, the older woman dropped from her haunches to sit beside Hermione. “I wasn’t. My team was working on something else. A stupid mission really to grab some supplies. When I came back, the arse told me what happened. He found the mole.”
Hermione blanched. “Are you-”
“No, no, I’m fine. Turns out someone else was selling secrets. My ex-brother-in-law. Apparently, where Lucius Malfoy was sitting on the sidelines playing both sides, Rabastan was doing the same, but in the thick of it. He was telling the Minister details of the Death Eaters’ plans in the hopes for political favours and the like. After a nasty round of Crucio, he decided that rather than kill Rab right away, he’d take advantage and use it to get rid of part of the Order.
“Just then a bunch of Death Eaters returned, tails between their legs, much to the displeasure of the arse, telling him that Merlin himself was there, and drove them all back. He cursed them for their incompetence and here I am. Cleaning up the mess they left.”
“Wait, but how does this tie to the Fawcetts?” Hermione asked. At Bellatrix’s confused stare, Hermione explained what she’d been told a scant half-hour ago.
Bellatrix hummed. “So Fudge and the Fawcetts must be working hand in hand. I imagine this must be the former’s handiwork; for all their faults, I don’t see the Fawcetts working with a Death Eater, no matter how much they hate Merlin.”
“I don’t much care for the why right now,” Hermione murmured. Truth be told, she felt a bit woozy, and her head was starting to ache. “I need to find a way to get our friends out of here unharmed.”
“Agreed.” Bellatrix stood up and looked around them. In the distance, she could see the fight had seemingly ended, for the Death Eaters weren’t visible anymore. “I think we’re in the clear. Perhaps we should wrap this up. I think the arse will let us go now that he thinks he’s caught the mole. If I can, I’ll try to join you later and see what we can do.”
“Deal,” Hermione said, and when Bellatrix offered a hand to help her up, she took it. Using the momentum, she lurched forward to deposit a kiss on Bellatrix’s lips.
Bellatrix hummed as they parted. “You should know that I have been missing you something terrible these past couple of weeks.”
From beyond their little reunion, they heard calls for Merlin.
“Back into the fray we go,” Bellatrix murmured as she ended the spell.
Hermione found herself once more on the ground disguised as Merlin, with Bellatrix’s wand pointed at her. She winked at her. “I admit, you’re stronger than I thought you’d be. One day, I’ll find out who you are, old man!”
And then, Bellatrix Disapparated, leaving Hermione alone for a few moments. She heard voices from where her friends were, and made her way over.
Much to her surprise - or perhaps not too much of a surprise - Fudge was there with a handful of Aurors, pointing their wands at Remus, who stood in front of her friends, as if shielding them. She noted Sirius was in his animagus form, standing beside his husband, snarling at the Death Eaters.
“You have this all wrong,” Remus was saying.
“What seems to be the problem here?” Hermione asked, coming to stand beside Remus. Her wand was drawn, ready for anything.
Fudge pursed his lips as all the Aurors trained their wands at her. “The problem is you, Merlin. I just got a report that you and your jolly band of misfits here completely destroyed the Ministry outpost here!”
“All due respect, Minister Fudge, but this was quite the opposite. We were here to stop Death Eaters from destroying the place.”
“Stop them? Not only do I not see a single Death Eater here, but I’d like for you to see that the outpost has been completely destroyed!”
And much to Hermione’s chagrin, she saw that indeed, it was just as Fudge said. There were no Death Eaters, only charred furniture and broken walls remained. But she was beginning to connect the dots. “Yes, I can see. Though, I wonder, this outpost is active, is it not?”
“It was!” Fudge huffed. ”Before you hooligans destroyed it!”
Hermione nodded. “That aside, it was quite lucky that no one was here, on a weekday no less, wasn’t it?”
Fudge bristled. “What are you trying to get at, Merlin?”
She didn’t answer at first, but just shrugged her shoulders, and took some steps to the side, moving away from the group. She thankfully noted that the Aurors’ wands stayed trained on her, leaving Remus and the others to back away.
“I think you know quite well, Minister. There are some alliances that cannot be secret for long.”
The Minister was now turning a nasty shade of puce at that accusation, and he sent a silent jinx towards her. Hermione easily deflected it, but missed an Auror’s spell coming at her from a blindspot.
She bent over in pain on her side, sending a volley of Incendio to drive the Aurors back.
“If you keep this up, Merlin, I’ll have no choice but to consider you a fugitive! Surrender peacefully!”
Like hell Hermione was going to do that. From her side, someone approached, helping her to repel the Aurors who were trying to surround her. It was Ginny.
“We’ve gotta get out of here,” the younger witch said.
“You read my mind.” Hermione just had to get enough strength to stand up straight. Being hunched over in pain would make any escape attempt fizzle before it came to fruition.
“Give up Merlin! Give us your wand and remove your mask. Show us you mean no harm and we’ll work on resolving this peacefully,” Fudge attempted to negotiate, but it fell on deaf ears.
Ginny grabbed Hermione’s arm, helping her to stand upright. Together, they casted a litany of spells that created a cover of smoke and light.
By the time it cleared, Fudge and his Aurors were pointing their wands at thin air. Both Merlin and Ginny Weasley were gone.
Hermione and Ginny landed in the foyer of Bellatrix’s house none too gracefully, tumbling down onto the floor. The former barely had time to sit up before she was moving the Apparition circle so that no one could follow them and discover the house.
Once that was done, Hermione once more collapsed onto the floor, pushing the mask and hood out of her face.
Beside her, also lying on the floor, Ginny said, “Did we just become fugitives?”
“I suppose we did.”
We're getting closer to the end, I only have 3 more chapters left after this.
Chapter 13: Plans
I know, it's technically Monday, but I needed to fix some things with this chapter and next thing I knew, here we are, on a Monday.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“I’m sorry,” Hermione said after a moment. “I’m sure this isn’t how you wanted to spend your day.”
Ginny chuckled. They were still lying on the marble floor of the foyer of Bellatrix’s house, catching their breath. “No way, who wouldn’t want to become a fugitive with a mysterious emblematic leader?”
“You make it sound like it’s a thing Merlin does.”
“I mean, didn’t Bellatrix abscond with you?” Ginny playfully teased.
Hermione blushed at that and spluttered to answer, “She did not! She offered and I accepted, and certainly not under threat of the Ministry. Plus there was nothing illegal about it!”
“Methinks you protest too much,” Ginny countered. At Hermione’s groan, she added, “We’ll just say Merlin’s stepping up his game.”
The two women chuckled for a bit, and then Ginny turned to face her friend. “What happened out there?”
“Too much. We need to figure out what we’re going to do.” Hermione sighed. “But first, I need my entire body to stop aching.”
Ginny sat up and cringed as she took in her friend’s appearance. “You look a bit worse for wear.”
“No, by all means, don’t mince words,” Hermione sarcastically responded, achingly sitting up.
“Oh no, trust me, if I didn’t mince words, I’d have a lot more to say.” Ginny stood up and offered Hermione a hand to help her up.
Together, they walked up to Hermione’s room and towards the bathroom. Ginny helped Hermione out of the robe, which revealed that even her shirt underneath was stained red.
“I’m surprised you can’t feel it, it looks painful,” Ginny said as she examined the wound.
“Now it’s starting to sting, must’ve been the adrenaline rush.” Hermione muttered with a hiss. The wound on her shoulder was the worst, but thankfully the one on her side was mostly superficial.
Ginny was by no means a Healer, but she had picked up a thing or two after so many years fighting, and with Hermione’s instruction, they patched the wound up the muggle way. It wasn’t perfect, and Hermione’s relief wasn’t too noticeable, but for the moment, it would do.
“Now what?” Ginny asked.
“I don’t know. I imagine we’re now wanted by the Ministry, so we best keep a low profile.”
“Mum will have a fit when she finds out.”
Indeed, Mrs. Weasley would not be happy to hear that Merlin had roped her only daughter into being a fugitive. “I’ll try to smooth things over later.”
Ginny snapped her fingers. “That’s it! You’re not wanted. I mean, Hermione isn’t. You could go to Grimmauld and see what’s going on.”
Hermione raised an eyebrow, opting for sarcasm. “Yes, of course. Need I remind you that we left our friends with the Ministry? And thus it’s more than likely that Fudge will be grilling them for answers. So if I just show up, they’ll be happy to add me to the interrogation list due to my association with Merlin?”
“Right. Though I’m sure it’s not that bad. I mean, the Ministry can’t know that much, can they?”
“Unfortunately, yes.” Hermione briefly explained to Ginny that the Fawcetts had fed Fudge information, and that Fudge was essentially working with the Death Eaters for his own gains.
Ginny was shocked by the time Hermione finished. “We have to warn everyone.”
“Agreed, help me to the library, I have an idea.”
Over at Grimmauld place, the mood was gloomy. Most were sitting around the planning table, and where a few hours ago there was a lively conversation and debate, now everyone sat in their chairs in silence. Remus had spent the last hour assuring the Minister that their actions were not in any way to be construed as illegal. Thankfully, it seemed that the interrogation had been perfunctory, as they were more interested in finding and apprehending Merlin.
Sirius, now back in his human form, was pacing, unable to keep still. And frankly, it was beginning to irritate Remus.
“Sirius, do you mind?” Remus asked his husband, gesturing to his pacing with his head.
“I do, actually. What the bloody hell happened?” he asked, gritting his teeth. “Something went very wrong. And from the sounds of it, Merlin knew something we didn’t.”
“Yeah, and he took Ginny away,” Harry muttered.
Ron made a noise that sounded somewhat self-satisfied. “Now do you believe me that he’s a shifty git?”
Remus sighed. “Perhaps we shouldn’t jump to conclusions, after all, we don’t know what happened.”
Neville piped up. “I saw Bellatrix and Merlin fighting.”
“But did you actually see them fight?” Ron asked. “It could just be smoke and mirrors. I knew we shouldn’t trust him.”
Before the conversation could descend into further chaos, a letter arrived through the fireplace. Remus caught it and read its contents.
“What is it?” Sirius asked, trying to peek over Remus’ shoulder.
“It’s Hermione, she’s asking if Grimmauld is safe.”
“Is she okay?” Ron asked, perking up from his seat.
“She doesn’t say, but I suppose so, I don’t see any reason for her to be in harm’s way. I’ll just send this off…” Remus quickly drafted a response and sent it off.
Not even five minutes later, they saw Ginny and Hermione walking through the doorway.
“Ginny!” Harry beamed as he leapt up and practically bowled his girlfriend down. They shared a tender kiss while Hermione awkwardly shuffled further into the room.
“What’s going on?”
Those were the first in a myriad of questions that overwhelmed her before she could even say ‘Hello’. By now, Hermione’s head was beginning to hurt, and her shoulder was stinging something sore, so answering the barrage of questions wasn’t exactly possible.
Remus noticed this and beckoned everyone to calm themselves and sit down, which everyone did without another word. Hermione understood the offer extended to her and sat down on an empty chair unceremoniously. From seemingly out of nowhere, Luna deposited a warm cup of tea next to her.
When Hermione looked up at her friend, Luna smiled and simply said, “To help you feel better.”
Remus hummed. “Luna’s right, you do look a bit off, is everything alright, Hermione?”
“For the most part, it’s just been a long day,” Hermione answered. Truthfully, she hadn’t come up with more of a plan past them checking to see if the coast was clear in Grimmauld. She just knew that Ginny probably wanted to get back, and Hermione felt bad that her friend had been roped into this situation of being considered a fugitive.
Sirius looked at Hermione intently, as if studying her. “Earlier today, you were Merlin, weren’t you?”
The room fell silent. They were all looking at her. And then at Sirius as if he’d grown another head.
“I can see how you’re holding yourself Hermione, as if you have a wound on your shoulder, right about where the Death Eater earlier attacked Merlin.” Sirius then pointed at her face. “Plus you look very pale, as if you’ve lost a lot of blood, and you’re probably nauseous from chaining those Apparitions, don’t think I didn’t notice. It’s not the safest practice, you know.”
When Hermione didn’t say anything, still too stunned to figure out what to say or even whether to tell the truth, he added. “You did a pretty good imitation of Merlin, though I can tell the difference.”
Ron was looking between Sirius and Hermione, aghast. “Mate, what are you talking about? She can’t be Merlin.”
“I’m not,” Hermione began. “But today I had to be.”
“Had to be?” Harry repeated.
Sirius hummed. “So, it’s really her, isn’t it?”
Everyone else was puzzled, trying to figure out who this woman was that Sirius was talking about.
Hermione meanwhile, frowned, wondering. Did he know too?
As if sensing Hermione’s question, he said. “I only just put the pieces together in the past couple of weeks, to be honest. But I’d had some clues that never really fit in too much. Ever since that day that you lot were attacked by those Death Eaters and taken to St. Mungos, old Merlin and I had a long chat, longest I’ve ever had with anyone really, save Remus. And it was familiar in a way I couldn’t quite place.”
Remus smiled softly.
Harry turned to Sirius. “You know who Merlin is?”
“I have a clue,” he cryptically said.
“I never took you to be a detective,” a new voice said from the doorway. Merlin.
Hermione did a double-take as she turned to face the newcomer. What was Bellatrix doing here?
Ron and Harry were immediately on their feet, wands pointing at Merlin, who raised her hands in surrender.
“You have a lot of nerve showing up here,” Ron muttered.
Painstakingly, Hermione stood up, and she brought her hand up to touch the necklace. It was the easiest way to check if that was Bellatrix.
She watched for Merlin’s reaction, and the mannerisms. The way that Merlin immediately turned to face her when she touched the necklace was a point towards confirming that that was really Merlin, but the robes were transfigured. Did Bellatrix just come here and transfigure her robes?
Merlin began to move her hand towards her sternum, but paused when Ron tensed and ground out, “No movements. You have a lot of explaining to do.”
“All due respect, Mr. Weasley, but right now, my biggest concern is taking care of Ms. Granger’s wounds. And unless you suddenly developed the capabilities of a Healer, I’d suggest we put a pin on this conversation, and let me handle this.” To punctuate her statement, she put her hand on her chest when she referred to herself.
Hermione turned to her friends. “It’s okay, that’s Merlin.”
Harry lowered his wand and sat back down, but Ron remained right where he was. “I don’t much care who they are, but I’ve had just about enough of all of this lying and secrecy.”
“An unfortunate part of this war,” Merlin commented.
But Ron wasn’t satisfied with the answer. “No. Hermione can know, and I imagine Ginny knows too. Even Sirius figured it out, which means Remus knows too. Why the bloody hell do the rest of us have to live in the shadows?”
Merlin sighed. “The more people that know my secret, the more danger they’ll be in.”
“So you’re fine risking Hermione’s life? Ginny’s?”
“Much to my chagrin, it was never in my plans to reveal myself to anyone, at least not at first. Necessity would have forced my hand for something like today, but I can assure you, this knowledge doesn’t come lightly.”
Hermione let out a breath. “Ron, stop this. We’re not getting anywhere, we have to focus on what to do about the Fawcetts.”
“I’m sorry, ‘do about the Fawcetts’? Why?” Remus asked.
“No,” Merlin intoned firmly. “First, I will tend to Ms. Granger’s wounds.”
“I’m fine, really,” Hermione said, trying to brush the matter off. It wasn’t that her wound wasn’t causing her pain, and the thought of it being magically healed wasn’t enticing, but she’d be remiss if she didn’t see what Ron’s anger was really about, and she didn’t want to exacerbate the situation by heading off with Merlin.
But Bellatrix had no such reservations, or at the very least, didn’t care much about sparing Ron’s feelings in the matter. “No, you’re not. Please Ms. Granger-”
“Really, it’s not a big deal…”
“You’re bleeding through your sweater, Hermione!” The fact, coupled with the use of her first name, got everyone to go freeze.
Hermione glanced at her shoulder, and the dark spot that was forming on her navy sweater.
“Please,” Merlin’s voice was pleading, and Hermione relented.
The two of them walked out and they went to that floor’s bathroom. It wasn’t large, but would afford them some privacy.
Bellatrix pushed the mask away from her face and let the hood fall behind her as soon as the door was locked. “Are you out of your mind?”
There was no malice in her tone, just extreme concern, and Hermione felt ridiculous as she tried to justify her insistence otherwise. “No, I just thought that Ron-”
“Bugger what he thinks,” Bellatrix interjected. “Now, I’m going to remove your sweater and shirt, this might hurt a bit.”
It did hurt, mainly because the blood had seeped through the bandage and it made the fabric stick to the skin. Hermione hissed and clenched her hands into fists.
“You didn’t heal it?” Bellatrix asked softly before she took her wand out and began to mutter incantation after incantation, first cleaning the wound of the blood.
“Couldn’t,” Hermione began in between sharp huffs. “The angle means that it’s impossible for me to properly aim my wand to heal it, and Ginny’s not proficient in advanced healing magic, so we made do with the muggle way.”
Bellatrix nodded, her left hand going out to Hermione’s right, and rubbing soothing circles with her thumb, getting Hermione to relax her hands. Then her lips curled into a grin. “So, Merlin’s now a wanted man huh?”
Hermione’s head shot up as she looked wide-eyed at her lover. “I am so sorry. I never thought-”
“Hermione, it’s okay,” Bellatrix said with a laugh. The wound was finished getting cleaned up, so she muttered other incantations which began to look for dark magical signatures - knowing Death Eaters were responsible for that wound, she wouldn’t put it past them to add some dark magic. While that was going on, she looked at Hermione. “Really, I’m just teasing. I mean, I would like to know all the details because the Evening Prophet’s just saying nonsense and gibberish.”
“Right. But perhaps later? It’s a long story and- wait, what are you even doing here? Isn’t he holding you all hostage or something?” Hermione asked, frowning.
Bellatrix looked at Hermione, concerned. “Do you not remember me telling you that Rab was selling secrets so the rest of us were free to go?”
“Oh, right. I do remember you saying that. With all the madness-” Hermione looked down, partially in shame, and partially because she felt responsible for how everything played out.
“It’s perfectly understandable,” Bellatrix commented. She found no dark magic, thankfully, and began the incantation to stitch the skin around the wound back up. “It was your first foray as Merlin…”
“And somehow I managed to make myself a fugitive, and maybe Ginny too by proxy.” Hermione closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I feel like I’m way out of my depth here.”
Bellatrix sighed, leaning forward to kiss Hermione softly. The latter melted into the kiss, letting her worries fade for the moment. She was here, with her lover, and things would work out.
Once they parted, Bellatrix looked at the wound. “Much better. How do you feel?”
Hermione grimaced. “I had better days, I feel like I got run over by the Knight Bus.”
That got Bellatrix to chuckle. “Fair enough, I suppose after everything that has happened today…but we can talk about that at home. For now we should head back, I think everyone there has had more than enough shenanigans for today and they’re rather cross with me.”
Hermione cast a quick Scourgify on her clothes and began to put it on. “Can’t imagine why. But I’m slightly disappointed that this wasn’t all a ruse to get me shirtless.”
Bellatrix’s cheeks reddened, and all her composure flew out the window. “I didn’t- that’s not- you are incorrigible!”
“Perhaps,” Hermione responded with a grin.
That did nothing to help Bellatrix’s inflamed face, who just said, “Even if I was, I’d wait to do it at home, there are too many eyes and ears in this house.”
“That’s true, which begs the question: why did you come here? I mean, it’s quite risky, especially if I had come here as Merlin.”
Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. “Because I can’t? I’m assuming you moved the Apparition circle?”
Hermione grimaced, the memory coming back to her. “Right, I completely forgot. I wanted to make sure those Aurors couldn’t follow us.”
“You know, you don’t have to justify your every action, Hermione,” Bellatrix said, going to kiss her yet again. “I was merely answering you. You did the right thing. Grimmauld was the best bet at me figuring out what was going on, so I figured I’d take my chances. Now, shall we go back and face everyone out there?”
Hermione nodded, and together, they walked back towards the other room, Bellatrix once more as Merlin.
“Took you long enough,” Ron muttered from where he was sitting on the chair from before.
Bellatrix sighed, and her tone was clipped as she answered. “Mr. Weasley, I hope you can appreciate that healing Ms. Granger’s shoulder wound takes time, and I’d rather do the job properly than risk her just because you wanted me to be done by a certain time.”
Ron stood up and made his way closer, brandishing his wand. Hermione tensed as she began to move as if she were going to stand between the two, but a subtle hand from Bellatrix had her pause.
“Oh cut the crap. We all heard you call her Hermione, don’t act like you’re being impersonal here and tell us the truth.”
“Very well, I admit that my emotions got the better of me at seeing Ms- Hermione’s wound and I was worried about her. Is that honest enough for you?”
Sirius cleared his throat before Ron could counter, and everyone turned to look at him as he stood up. “Perhaps it is time to divest of your mask, Merlin. I think that between myself, Remus, Hermione, and I’m assuming Ginny as well, more than enough of us know who you are that you can remove that facade and we can talk in earnest?”
Bellatrix took a moment to think silently. She looked at Hermione, who in turn was watching her. With a sigh, she realized that right now, Sirius was right, a rarity for him to be the voice of wisdom.
So she pulls the hood back and lets everyone see her face. There are gasps of surprise, even from Sirius, as if a part of him doubted his own conclusions.
Ron staggered back onto his seat, and muttered an incredulous, “Merlin’s beard.”
Feeling the need to diffuse the tension, Bellatrix quipped, “As you can see, no beard.”
Harry spoke up. “Hang on, so you’re on our side?”
Bellatrix nodded. “Been using my knowledge to help the Order all these years.”
“And,” Neville began, “You’re not this crazy blood purist who wants to…you know…”
“Kill everyone and burn the world down?” Bellatrix supplied. “No.”
Hermione noted that people were still coming to terms, but at that moment, she wanted to wrap this up in order to go home and rest - it had been a long enough day as it was, and her head was aching something fierce. “Now that that is out of the way, perhaps we should try to figure out what went down today and see if we can form a plan?”
Thankfully, everyone was amenable to the idea, and they spent the next couple of hours trying to decipher everything that had gone down that day. Sirius and Remus were appalled to learn about the Fawcetts’ alliance.
“Surely they don’t know…they might be recalcitrant towards Merlin after so many years, but they would never ally themselves with Voldemort.” Remus theorized.
Bellatrix frowned. “That may be, but the fact of the matter still stands. The Fawcetts, for all intents and purposes, helped the toad with his plan today.”
Eventually, the conversation turned towards Voldemort’s long-term plans. He had to be aiming for something. But what could it be?
“Perhaps,” Luna supplied, “he thinks there’s something up North that can aid him?”
Neville looked at the map on the table. “The outpost is pretty far away from any prominent magical communities. Unless he’s looking at creatures?”
Ginny, who was closest to a specific point in the map, tapped it. “How about Hogwarts?”
“With all its fortifications? Doubtful,” Ron said, shaking his head. “Voldemort would be done in a minute if he tried that. Then again, maybe he should, do us all a favour.”
As they continued their conversation, Hermione noted that Ron was really taking all of this in stride. She was expecting him to remain sour about the entire situation, but either he was pushing it all aside for the sake of the Order, or seeing who Merlin really was really did the trick at getting him to understand that his ill-placed resentment towards Merlin really had no future, and dropping it was the best way to get closure.
Returning to the conversation, Hermione stood up to take a closer look at the map. A particular name caught her eye. “What about Stonehenge?”
Ron frowned. “That pile of rocks?”
“A bit more than that. I once read that it was an ancient place of powerful magic.”
Remus snapped his fingers. “Yes! A specific ritual would bestow someone with powers beyond their imagination, or so the legend went.”
“Meaning there’s no real basis towards it?” Bellatrix asked.
Hermione sat back down. “Well, that’s where it gets tricky. There is one part that’s real. The one with Merlin. The original Merlin.”
“Intriguing. I think I recall something about it.”
“Legend goes that Merlin transported the rocks from Ireland, and with it, he constructed a ritual circle that would grant enormous power to the person who completed the ritual,” Hermione explained
Bellatrix hummed in thought. “And no one was actually able to recreate it, right?”
“None,” Remus added. “Which gives credence to this being a folk tale, and nothing more. But it could be that Voldemort seeks to see if he can do it. It is one of his goals, isn’t it? To be the most powerful wizard?”
“Unfortunately,” Bellatrix muttered. “Okay, so he potentially wants to do a ritual up in Stonehenge, gives us something to work with.”
Neville asked, “I know that rituals sometimes have specific times of days or months or a season…does this one?”
Remus Accio’d a rather thick tome, which thunked onto the table with such a sound that Sirius jumped up in surprise.
He began to search for the answer, but Luna readily supplied them with an answer: “During the next lunar eclipse.”
Everyone looked quizzically at Luna’s speedy response, and the young witch added, “We once did a piece about this on the Quibbler, it was quite a popular report.”
Bellatrix nodded. “I see. And when would the next lunar eclipse be?”
“About a week from today,” Sirius said, without looking up from where Remus was confirming Luna’s earlier statement. Not that they didn’t trust Luna, but knowing the Quibbler’s reputation with Crumple-Horned Snorkacks, it never hurt to check. When he looked up to find everyone looking at his apparent expertise of moon phases, he jerked a thumb over at his husband. “Sort of a necessity over the years.”
“Room full of hidden talents and knowledge,” Bellatrix remarked wryly, to chuckles around the room. “So now, to prepare for next week, since I’m certain we’ll need to make our final stand, and put an end to this once and for all.”
Not the longest chapter, but I figured I should leave the big showdown for one chapter, in order to not have any cliffhangers.
Chapter 14: Showdown
So when I originally started this story, I had a very different idea for how this battle would play out. It was a lot simpler, but then it all got rewritten.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
After spending the entire rest of the day at Grimmauld concocting a plan, then came time to execute it. They had to be careful to not let the Fawcetts know, lest they wanted the grapevine to ultimately inform Voldemort about everything.
As if that wasn’t complicated enough, Hermione, who had been tasked with spreading the word, also had to reassure everyone that Merlin’s arrest warrant didn’t change their mission. Privately, she knew that it was throwing a wrench into everyone’s morale, and questions were mounting.
It didn’t help that Ginny was also being sought out for answers. Although Ginny was being treated as a victim of poor timing for what had happened at the outpost, the Ministry were interested in talking to her to ask if she knew where Merlin’s hideout was. For that, Mrs. Weasley was less than happy at having Aurors poking in and out at odd hours, hoping to talk to Ginny.
“Just yesterday, I got up in the middle of the night to have a cuppa, one of those nights you know, and I just find one of them sifting through my papers in the den!” Mrs. Weasley was explaining to an exhausted Hermione. “You can imagine I panicked, sent him packing with a well-placed jinx, and a few choice words; woke up the whole house, but what was I supposed to do?”
Hermione nodded, cradling her own cup of tea in her hands. “I perfectly understand, it can’t be easy.”
“She doesn’t even live here anymore,” Mrs. Weasley added. “I saw they ransacked Grimmauld…”
The same day they concocted their plan, Bellatrix had suggested they all move into her house for the time being. She could magically add rooms, and figured that Fudge would be looking to find a way to claim some sort of victory from the fuck-up at the outpost.
As Grimmauld was publicly listed as Ginny’s place of residence, and it was Sirius’ old residence made it a strong contender for a target.
It had been a wise idea, since Grimmauld had been ransacked and torn apart half a day later. Despite the smoothing over that Remus had done the previous day, it seemed that Fudge had rescinded on his decision - or perhaps Voldemort wanted to take advantage of a unique opportunity to try to weaken the Order.
They read about it in the Prophet over breakfast the next day. No one had dared to go there and take full stock of the damage, but the pictures made Sirius sigh and tremble. The only saving grace was that it looked like the barbaric brute force of the Aurors had destroyed Walburga’s picture, for which Sirius and Bellatrix had shared a toast over.
“Yes, although Sirius had horrible memories about that house from his childhood, he said he’d miss it from the memories he had made with Remus and Harry,” Hermione said.
Mrs. Weasley nodded and smiled. “Understandable. I can’t imagine what I’d do if the Burrow came under fire like that. Lots of memories in these walls.”
She felt bad for Mrs. Weasley, who didn’t want to know where her youngest son and daughter were as it allowed her to sell the idea that she truly didn’t know where they were, but she still worried for them.
“But anyway,” Mrs. Weasley continued, “I appreciate you coming to talk to me dear. Though I should warn you, I believe the Ministry’s looking for you too, they know you and Merlin are…close.”
“Yes, others have warned me, I’ve been trying to be careful.”
Mrs. Weasley nodded and gave a weak smile. “At least we can rest knowing that soon, this will all be over, if everything works our way.”
“Hopefully it does.”
To say that Hermione spent the last seven days running herself haggard would be an understatement. Between acting as the official spokesperson for the Order, fielding numerous questions, while also avoiding Aurors, she barely had time to catch her breath.
The noise levels at the house didn’t help - everyone was busy preparing for the day of attack, preparing supplies, studying maps, practising duels. Not to mention that there were plenty of arguments about how they should approach different situations.
And although Bellatrix was no longer beholden to be at Voldemort’s side, he still demanded that she be at his beck and call, meaning that she spent most of the time out of the house as often as Hermione did. Which meant that their only time they could spend together was late at night, when they were much too tired by the day’s events to do anything other than sleep in each other’s arms.
Soon enough, and too soon for Hermione’s comfort, the day was upon them. The ritual wouldn’t happen until that night, but it didn’t mean they could spend the day lounging around. No, there were last minute preparations, communications to be sent out, changes to consider, contingencies to add, the just-in-cases, and what seemed like entire overhauls of parts of their plans.
“Sun’s going down,” Ginny commented while they all were working in the study.
Hermione looked up and frowned. She knew that Bellatrix would be heading out by now, but she hadn’t heard her leave, and she couldn’t possibly imagine that Bellatrix would leave without saying goodbye. Although she was holding out hope that everything would go their way, there was a very small part of her that was worried that everything would go horribly wrong. So just in case, she wanted to be sure she got one last kiss.
She excused herself and headed up to their bedroom. Now that the house was busier, they abandoned all pretence and were officially sharing a room. She found Bellatrix sitting on their bed, now dressed in her Death Eater robes, eyes downcast.
“Knut for your thoughts?” Hermione asked by way of greeting.
Bellatrix looked up, startled at first, but then the softest smile blossomed on her face. “Thinking about how we got here, actually.”
Hermione sat down on the bed beside her, her hands coming to rest on the edge of the mattress. “Us as in the order, or us us?”
“Both, but in the sense of how crazy it is that one led to the other,” Bellatrix answered, placing her hand over Hermione’s on the bed. “And how we’re so close to the end.”
“We are. Hopefully by this time tomorrow, we’ll be free,” Hermione murmured, grabbing Bellatrix’s hand and bringing it up to her lips for a soft kiss.
It wasn’t enough for Bellatrix, and she surged forward to kiss Hermione on the lips, it was at first slow and languid, and then grew feverish, as if she was worried that the time would come for her to leave way too soon. When they parted, Bellatrix hissed in pain, and Hermione saw her lover clutching her arm. The time had come, hence the urgency.
Hermione kissed Bellatrix once more, and kept her hands on Bellatrix’s cheeks as she said, “We’ll get through this. We’ve come this far, it’ll all work out.”
“I hope so,” Bellatrix said, much more confidently than she felt.
The plan, brought down to the barest essentials, was simple. Its execution however, left a lot of room for things to go wrong. And that’s what worried Hermione the most.
As Stonehenge was in an open area, they had to be careful, and wait at a distance for Voldemort to start the ritual, as that would be when he would be most vulnerable. The crux of this, as with any ritual, was that it had to be done precisely, lest everything be ruined. Voldemort would be too busy preparing everything to be watching what was going on around him.
This afforded the Order the opportunity to ambush the Death Eaters. Though he wasn’t coming unprepared, Voldemort had tasked his Death Eaters to essentially be bodyguards for the entire night - just in case.
Bellatrix had relayed what little Voldemort had shared of his plans, to satisfy the myriad of questions from his subordinates at the peculiar request: he was on the cusp of getting something that would forever change the balance of things in their favour by giving him immeasurable power. However, to get his plan to work, he required a complex ritual, and to ensure nothing went wrong, they would be tasked with making sure there were no interruptions whatsoever.
Of course, the Order knew what the plan was, they just had to wait until the time was right. With no moon in the sky, it would be harder to see what was about to go down, but that’s where Bellatrix and Hermione’s necklaces would come into play. Bellatrix would be there, gauging Voldemort’s distraction, and when she thought the time was right, she would use the necklace to warn Hermione. And then the battle of their lives would begin.
And yet, everything could go catastrophically wrong.
No, Hermione refused to entertain those thoughts, and shook her head.
“You alright Merlin?” Ted asked.
The other crucial element was that Merlin had to be there, which meant that Hermione had to don the cloak again. They just hoped that no one would report a Merlin sighting to the Ministry.
“Yes, Mr. Tonks, just keeping an eye out.”
Ted nodded. “Figured. I did want to say, thank you for talking with Andy.”
Hermione turned to look at Ted. “I’m not sure I follow.”
“Andy told me you had come by recently and that you’d sorted things out.”
“Ah, yes. And at this moment, we need allies we can trust, and I trust Mrs. Tonks with my life,” Hermions responded. She knew Bellatrix felt the same way about her sister, and could understand the relief Ted felt, even if he didn’t know the whole truth yet.
Suddenly, she felt the pendant against her sternum react to Bellatrix’s touch. “It’s time!”
She turned to where Neville and Luna were waiting, ready to use the enchanted galleons to warn everyone. They nodded in understanding and began to send the message.
Bellatrix heard the cacophony of pops as witches and wizards began Apparating all around them. A good number of them, Merlin included, landed high up on the stones. She glanced over at Voldemort, who was trying to concentrate and look unperturbed at the interruption. Though the square shoulders and gritted teeth told her that he was very well aware of what was going on.
“Stop what you’re doing and surrender!”
Voldemort huffed. “Bellatrix, stop them!”
Bellatrix pointed her wand upward. “On my mark!”
A beat. She made eye contact with Merlin and shot a magical red flare upwards. At the same time, Merlin sent a spell that turned the red sparks into a blinding display, which had even Bellatrix - who knew this would happen - blinking in confusion.
“Apprehend every last one of them! Don’t let them escape!” Merlin ordered.
There was a bang as the fight broke out with a litany of spells, lights and absolute chaos. Bellatrix looked around, trying to find Hermione and the telltale midnight blue robes. But she was accosted by some members of the Order before she could find her lover.
It was four against one, and they began to engage Bellatrix all at once.She was finding it hard to fend off the attacks, sending weak attacks of her own, while also keeping an eye out for Hermione. The search was put on hold when a spell hit her and she staggered back.
She grit her teeth and began firing back in earnest. They were still not very strong spells, but she hoped it’d drive them back enough for her to get away from this current fight. Bellatrix was successful for a brief moment, but then the universe decided to throw a curveball that decidedly torched any semblance of a plan that they had formed: The Ministry had arrived.
Before she was knocked to the ground, Bellatrix saw Fudge walking up towards Stonehenge with a veritable army of Aurors flanking him. The members of the Order she had been fighting hadn’t spotted the new arrivals, and instead just cast another spell at her. She felt ropes magically bind her arms, and the panic set in.
Things were not going according to plan.
Hermione watched as Fudge approached. The Aurors began to walk the perimeter outside the stones, effectively forming a barricade to close them all in. Fudge put a wand to his neck.
“Stop, this very instant!” he bellowed.
Warning shots went out into the air from the Aurors surrounding them, forcing everyone on both sides to comply with the order.
She looked towards the middle of the circle, where Voldemort had set up his table and was still working on the ritual, with six Death Eaters facing outwards, acting as a shield.
She hadn’t been able to spot Bellatrix, but hoped she was alright.
“Merlin!” Fudge called out.
Those nearest to her turned to face her, and moved out of the way, allowing her to make her way to the front where Fudge stood.
“So, Minister,” Hermione began, eyeing the man outside the circle with contempt. “Is this what it has come to? You’re willing to ally yourself to these purists, these lowlifes and terrorists, all because of your ego?”
Fudge bristled. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, sir!”
“Oh no, I think I do. See, this all started when people were saying that I’d be a better choice for Minister than you, and that made you afraid. And when the opportunity came along, you didn’t hesitate to ally yourself with the very people who will certainly hold no remorse for their despicable actions.”
“You are a criminal!”
“And he’s not?” Hermione briefly turned to use her arm to gesture towards Voldemort. “He’s killed people! My singular goal has been to end this ridiculous war! How can you possibly claim that he and I are alike? What did he promise you? That you’d stay in power once he got his way?”
Fudge pursed his lips, but his entire body shook with fury.
Hermione continued, “I can assure you that he has no intention of keeping to that.”
“Again, you should stay out of matters you don’t understand!” Fudge proclaimed.
“Actually, he’s right.” Voldemort had apparently finished the ritual and was now approaching them. Hermione briefly glanced at everyone else and saw her allies waiting with bated breath.
Fudge frowned. “You-”
Hermione watched, aghast, as Fudge fell to the grass, lifeless. There was no remorse in Voldemort’s eyes, in fact, he looked almost bored of this entire endeavour. In the darkness, his skin seemed almost grey, and truly all bald as he was, he looked like the before picture for a special effects monster.
Voldemort took in a deep breath, and he turned to Merlin. “After all this time, we haven’t ever been properly introduced.”
Under her mask, Hermione made a face with disgust. “Can’t say I was looking forward to this in the least.”
At that, Voldemort let out a mirthless laugh, clearly not finding any joy in this encounter. “That’s too bad, I’m really going to enjoy destroying the Order once and for all.”
With a snap of his fingers, the Death Eaters and even some Aurors had disarmed everyone who wasn’t on their side and began to shout orders.
“Now, Merlin, as honoured as I am, I must ask you to surrender to me. As you can see, it’s futile to try and fight it.” Voldemort looked at how all around them, wandless members of the Order and Aurors were lowering themselves to their knees. “I would also caution you against rebelling, or trying anything. As you can tell, I have no qualms about killing every last person here. Now, drop your wand.”
Much to her horror, Hermione realized that Voldemort had them all surrounded, and all she could do was sigh, nod, and let her wand fall to the grass by her feet.
The one thing that Bellatrix was thankful for, was that magic was sometimes very fickle. And the smallest loss in concentration meant that the strongest spells could be easily undone. So, while everyone was looking as Voldemort killed Fudge, the magical ropes on Bellatrix loosened, until she was able to break free.
All around her, the Order complied, and Bellatrix made her way closer to where Voldemort was standing in front of Merlin.
She saw with a pang that Hermione let her wand fall to her feet. She had to do something.
Just then, Voldemort spotted her and snapped his fingers. “Dolohov, Bellatrix, grab Merlin’s arms, would you?”
Bellatrix did as asked, also picking up Hermione’s wand, keeping it handy by putting it in her holster with her own wand, as she held onto her right arm, while Dolohov grabbed Hermione’s left.
“Now, I’m assuming by your presence here that you knew what I was planning, correct?” Voldemort asked.
“You mean your ludicrous attempt to use an unfounded and made up ritual to make yourself stronger?” Hermione responded.
In Bellatrix’s mind, Hermione was faring a lot better in the present circumstances than she’d have imagined. Not that she doubted her lover, but considering their entire plan had gone up in smoke, it was admirable.
“It’s very much real! And I will prove it!” He procured a vial of what was apparently the result of his ritual. “Behold. It’s missing one ingredient, but once it’s ready, I will assert myself as the most powerful wizard in the world!”
Hermione scoffed. “For five minutes.”
Voldemort growled. “What the hell do you mean?”
“The potion’s actually poison. I can’t speak to the powers it might or might not give you, but it will kill you.”
“And do you think me stupid enough to not have considered it?”
“I mean, you did prepare the potion and go through the ritual, so…”
It took all of Bellatrix’s willpower to not burst out laughing. As it was, she was thankful for the mask on her face that allowed her to grin without anyone noticing.
Voldemort was seething as he ground out, “Which is why I have a contingency plan. You see, I’m still missing the crucial ingredient, the reason why this entire potion must be made on a night like tonight: to extract the blood of a powerful wizard.”
Bellatrix’s hidden grin fell from her face as she connected the dots, and the horrifying reality came to her. They had read the requirements, but figured that Voldemort would use his own blood…
“See, what all those fools in the past did wrong is that they used their own blood. In the original manuscript, Merlin never notes whose blood he used, and I believe that the hidden ingredient of this is the admission that someone could be stronger than you. A dose of humility, if you will.”
“Impressive, that you’d admit that anyone could be a more powerful wizard than yourself,” Hermione said, voice very even, too even. But Bellatrix knew that Hermione had also made the connection, she could tell from the way the wrist she was holding was moving that she was nervous. She furiously began to think of a plan.
“Perhaps, but not for long.” Voldemort approached them. “Now, here’s how this is going to work. I’m a man of my word, and I promised my dear Bellatrix that tonight’s success would allow her to claim any prize she wanted. She told me that she desires you, for all your detestable meddling, to die a slow and painful death via her hand.”
Bellatrix let out a shrill giggle to keep up appearances. “You are too kind, my lord.”
“Of course. Dolohov, hold him steady as I draw some of Merlin’s blood,” Voldemort said, brandishing a knife from within his cloak.
“No!” Bellatrix yelled, the shrill sound making Voldemort flinch. At his stare, she added, “I want to do it, my lord, he’s my prize after all.”
Voldemort saw no fault in this and nodded.
Hermione was watching everything in trepidation, trying to come up with a plan. She briefly felt Bellatrix squeeze her wrist, and figured she wanted her to play along.
Bellatrix turned to Dolohov. “Let his arm go.”
Dolohov faltered at the order, but clearly feared Bellatrix enough to do so. Normally, Hermione would have taken the opportunity to fight, but stayed there, and when Bellatrix used her free hand to push her chest, Hermione allowed herself to fall back and onto the floor.
She watched as Bellatrix straddled her chest, pinning her left arm under her leg, while Bellatrix still held her right wrist in a vice grip.
From underneath the mask, Hermione saw Bellatrix’s eyes plead with her to trust her.
Bellatrix grabbed the knife from Voldemort, and pulled back some of the cloak on her wrist to make a small incision. Hermione let out a small hiss, but thankfully, it wasn’t as painful as she imagined it’d have been like if Voldemort and Dolohov had done it. Bellatrix had probably used her knowledge of Healer training to know where to cut that would cause her the least amount of pain.
“My, my,” Voldemort said as he knelt down to scoop some drops of blood onto the vial. “I admire your restraint, I was imagining that Merlin’s blood would have painted the grass and hallowed stones red.”
“Oh no, my lord, I have plans for this one,” Bellatrix said, raking the knife down Merlin’s mask, where the left cheek was, and giggled as the surface cracked just the slightest bit at the incision, and tinged the line it formed with some red from the blood of the wrist wound. “Oh yes, so many fun plans for the greatest wizard that ever lived .”
Clearly, it was perturbing enough that not even Voldemort said anything, but rather just nodded and stood up again. He put the stopper back on and shook it, watching as the contents swirled and mixed together. “Now, Bellatrix, before you abscond with your prize, I do have a final favour to ask.”
“Anything, my lord.”
In Hermione’s mind, Bellatrix was a very good actress. If she didn’t know the woman currently on top of her, she’d believe that her end was nigh, and that Bellatrix would enjoy torturing every last bit of her life away.
But she knew Bellatrix, she had seen how she had gone to great lengths to bring down Voldemort, and how she looked at Hermione with love and adoration. And she could see how right now, Bellatrix’s eyes were betraying the fear she felt at the situation they were in.
Voldemort held out a potion bottle. “This potion here comes with a high risk. I need to test it out, and I want Merlin to do it.”
Hermione wondered if Voldemort had lost it, and voiced as much. “What happened to humility? That it couldn’t be made using your own blood. Or did you forget your own words?”
Voldemort looked at her, unamused.
Bellatrix growled and brandished the knife close to her throat. “You dare speak to the Dark Lord that way?”
Hermione’s eyes met Bellatrix’s. They were pleading with her.
Before Hermione could retort, Voldemort said, “No, she has a point, Bellatrix. Which is why I made an identical potion with my own blood.”
Of course, Hermione wouldn’t leave well enough alone. “I thought it had to be from someone I find more powerful than I.”
“You dare?!” Bellatrix screeched. She grabbed the vial from Voldemort, and removed the stopper with one hand, the other still holding the knife near her throat. “I’ll make you rue the day you decided to start this crusade, you pathetic skrewt!”
Bellatrix leaned forward, impossibly close that their masks were almost touching, and a lot of things happened at once. Hermione noticed that, when Bellatrix moved forward, her cloak came along and covered Hermione’s free wrist. This also brought the wand holster at Bellatrix’s waist closer, and was now within Hermione’s grasp. With the cloak cover, she easily felt for her wand, and closed her hand around it and no one outside of the two of them were the wiser.
Meanwhile, Bellatrix used the knife to push Merlin’s mask up the slightest bit, just enough to reveal her mouth at that angle.
In the quietest voice, that made Hermione almost not hear it, she heard Bellatrix say, “Thrash.”
It could have been mistaken for trash, but Hermione understood as she felt the liquid from the potion dribble down her cheek and onto the ground next to her head. She began to jerk under Bellatrix, though with the latter’s bodily weight pinning her down, she didn’t move much.
Voldemort, though, looked satisfied. “Excellent, now we shall see. If the potion works, then all the better for me. If it doesn’t, well, Bellatrix I’m sure you won’t mind doing your torture post-mortem.”
“Not at all, my lord.”
While they talked, Hermione stopped thrashing, slowly pulled the wand out of her holster, and took a breath.
“I’m surprised you’re not unmasking him, “Voldemort was saying.
Bellatrix hummed, replacing the mask back into place. “Oh no, I plan to rip the mask off bit by painful bit.”
In a split second, Hermione brandished her wand arm up above her head. “Ascendio!”
She flew right up into the air, throwing Bellatrix back and away.
It was incredible what the mind could be tricked into thinking.
Voldemort, more than anyone, had had the wool pulled over his eyes in the most spectacularly embarrassing fashion.
He fully believed that his most trusted Death Eater Bellatrix was with him every step of the way, infallible in her loyalty, and just as determined as he was in eradicating the infestation that muddied the wizarding world.
He also believed that Merlin’s need to hide his true face spoke to him being a much more powerful wizard, whose mere identity could shake the wizarding world to its foundation. Which was why, when he saw Merlin shoot up in the sky, he grinned and hissed, satisfied in his victory. The potion had worked!
But of course, he didn’t know that he was being bested by a 24 year old muggleborn witch. Nor that the Merlin he had been undermining him for the past fifteen years was currently beside him, standing up.
And he certainly didn’t expect Bellatrix to fire a spell at him, while everyone watched Merlin fly up, and cast a spell to shower sparks around the area, lighting up the circle and activating all the Order’s members into action.
“Petrificus Totalus!” Bellatrix casted, brandishing her wand.
Voldemort, taken by surprise, could only watch in horror as his entire body froze, causing him to fall over like a plank of wood.
Bellatrix removed her mask as she bent down to grab Voldemort’s wand, and grinned. “Well Riddle, looks like your plan failed. Incarcerous!”
Ropes bound themselves around Tom Riddle’s body. His mind was racing to understand, to come to grips with what was going on, with how he could have been fooled.
“Don’t feel so bad. You were clearly never quite as skilled as you claimed, and your ego was so inflated you never bothered to actually think things through enough to see right through my act, from the first moment I met you. And now, you will enjoy the rest of your life, rotting in Azkaban.”
With that, she knocked him out, and stood back up.
She watched with pride as the Order and the unaffiliated Aurors alike apprehended and disarmed those allied with Voldemort, with the help of Merlin, who was Apparating in and out to lend a hand.
She watched with worry as her lover’s movements became more and more sluggish as the seconds ticked by, worn down by the exertion and the magnitude of the day’s events.
But, Merlin's actions helped the Order achieve their victory, and eventually all Death Eaters and corrupt Aurors were on the ground, bound and disarmed. Cheers and whoops broke out as everyone sought out their loved ones and familiar allies to check they were alright, the mood jovial and spirits were high.
A new era was starting right at that moment. And they all turned to their leader, who had led them through this battle and would surely offer words of wisdom and hope for the future.
But it was not to be.
Everyone watched in horror as all eyes turned to Merlin, only to be blinded by a bright green light. When the light subsided, Merlin was gone.
All that was left were the familiar midnight blue robes and the mask on top of it, with a scratch on the left cheek that was tinted red as if it were a wound that had been bleeding.
Did I say last chapter that I wasn't going to end things in a cliffhanger?
I better hope I don't take two weeks to update...
Chapter 15: Epilogue
Of course I wasn't going to make you all wait for two weeks.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
What in the world just happened?” someone asked.
“Is he dead?” asked another.
And the questions just kept pouring out.
“Who fired that spell?”
“Where did he go?”
And then… “It must’ve been her!”
Suddenly, everyone was looking at Bellatrix. Her mask was gone, but the Death Eater robes, as well as her face, were unmistakable.
“What the hell is she doing still standing?” Ted demanded, brandishing his wand.
“I-” Bellatrix floundered at the fury in Ted’s eyes. She hadn’t thought this part through quite as thoroughly.
“She’s with me,” Andromeda said, stepping forward and in front of her sister. “She’s been secretly working with me to bring down Voldemort all these years.”
Ted looked flabbergasted. He didn’t believe her. He knew how much his wife despised her sister. He’d heard every single rant for the past fifteen years.
“It’s true,” Sirius said, nodding as he approached.
Even after Sirius and Remus also vouched for her, Ted still didn’t look fully convinced. Later at home, Andromeda would tell him the truth, but for now, his genuine confusion and surprise helped to sell the secrecy.
“But perhaps,” Remus said, clearing his throat. “We should save this discussion for another time. The Aurors should probably take their prisoners before they escape?”
Everyone was in agreement, and together, they helped the Aurors manoeuvre themselves so they could Apparate and take away all the Death Eaters, rogue Aurors, as well as Voldemort himself. Although they were all currently unconscious, there was a lingering threat every minute that passed that one of them might wake up.
Once everyone else was all gone, the Order breathed a sigh of relief. It was just them in the middle of Stonehenge now.
A young man named Colin Creevey, who had been closest to what remained of Merlin, now approached the cloak and mask. “There’s a letter here!”
Peeking out beneath the mask, was a folded piece of paper, written in Merlin’s hand.
“Should I read it?” he asked.
There was a chorus of agreement. But Bellatrix had someplace else she had to be. She briefly notified Andy, who nodded in understanding and, using the skills she had gained over the past decade and a half of subterfuge, blended into the crowd and Disapparated without anyone else the wiser to her exit.
Bellatrix hadn’t even managed to fully open her eyes after Apparating before she was practically mowed down by someone with very bushy brown hair. Arms wrapped firmly around her in a hug, so tight she winced at the initial force.
“You’d think I was the one who had to pretend to disappear mysteriously,” Bellatrix said with a chuckle, muffled as she burrowed deeper into the hug.
Hermione chuckled as well. “Oh shut up, like you didn’t worry.”
“I was the picture of calm.”
“I saw your expression, you were scared.”
“I was wearing a mask.”
Hermione moved her head to look Bellatrix in the eye. “With eye holes. You might be able to fool everyone else, Bellatrix Black, but I know you.”
Bellatrix deposited a small kiss on Hermione’s lips. “I suppose you do know me quite well by now.”
“That I do.”
They eventually agreed to move away from the entrance, and decided that the best place to destress was in front of the fireplace in the library. Bellatrix enchanted the kettle to start brewing, while Hermione transfigured the two armchairs into a loveseat so they could sit together.
Once they were settled in with their cups of tea, they let the evening’s events fully process.
“I can’t believe that worked,” Hermione said after a moment. “Even after our initial plan was completely decimated.”
And truly, their original plan to take down Voldemort had been a lot simpler, without all the drama that ensued. But after Voldemort was dealt with, the plan needed to include a way to get Merlin away. And the group had pondered over how they could accomplish that.
Harry and Hermione, avid fans of old spy movies, figured a fake death would work best. While everyone was looking at Merlin, and potentially Bellatrix too, someone would shoot off some party magic that created the green light to blind everyone for a brief moment. With those few seconds, Hermione would then leave, but not before shucking off her cloak and mask.
“I still think it was a tad dramatic,” Bellatrix said now.
“Well I didn’t hear any better ideas,” Hermione pointed out.
They had debated revealing the truth, but they found it’d be too complicated, and perhaps too dangerous. Never mind the fact that no one would believe that Hermione was Merlin - unless she had started the crusade when she was nine years old - but many wouldn’t accept that Bellatrix had really been Merlin all these years, joking about his beard and reassuring everyone in the fight against Voldemort.
Bellatrix once more kissed Hermione. “And it turned out quite well, once again proving your prowess for strategy and planning.”
That made Hermione blush, but she didn’t counter the claim. “And now our future awaits us. Have you thought much about what that might entail?”
“To be honest, surviving was about as far as my concrete plans went,” Bellatrix quipped. But then she grew more serious as she said, “What I do know is that whatever comes next, I want you to be with me, if you’d like?”
Hermione snuggled closer. “There’s nothing I’d want more.”
The two women shared a sweet and languid kiss, taking their time now that there was no danger waiting around the corner.
In the years that followed, the legend and mystery of Merlin just grew. Had he really died that day? Everyone saw the telltale green light, but as many experts would be quick to point out, Avada Kedavra did not cause a body to disappear and leave part of their clothes. So what had really happened?
It led some to believe that perhaps Merlin had been resuscitated for this crusade, to defend the sanctity of the wizarding world, and then his time ended once the mission was over. Only a handful of people knew the truth, knew of Bellatrix’s great sacrifice and struggle to juggle both identities, and of Hermione’s heroic deeds that day.
It didn’t help that the letter they had found was vague, clearly written before the battle, and gave no indication as to whether Merlin had survived, or if the disappearance had been planned. For all anyone knew, the letter could have been a speech to give at their victory party.
Many people preferred to focus on the new reality, on their victory, and the new chapter for wizardkind. Justice prevailed, and all Death Eaters were sentenced to life in Azkaban. Although there had been an initial reluctance to accept that Bellatrix had been a double agent, her now public and blossoming relationship with Hermione helped to assuage their misgivings.
And truth be told, Bellatrix didn’t much care for all that kind of talk. It bored her and it was tiring defending herself over and over again. So, a couple of months after the battle, she and Hermione moved up North, where the Ministry outpost had been rebuilt.
As Chief Administrator of the area, Hermione had the privilege of living in the stone lodge, putting her strategy skills to good use, keeping peace in the area between humans and magical creatures.
As for Bellatrix, she got to open her Healer clinic there, and the residents of the area marvelled at her healing skills. Though most of her cases were thankfully benign.
“Kids and their toy brooms caused more problems than should be normal,” Mrs. Peterson was saying, watching as her son lay in bed, waiting for the Skele-Gro to work.
Bellatrix chuckled. “But it’s a thrill. I remember when I got my toy broom, I never could stop riding it.”
“That’s true enough, but my heart leaps to my throat every time my boy kicks up and floats a little bit in the air. And you see what happens.” Mrs. Peterson sighed. “Let me tell you, when you have kids of your own, you’ll understand.”
“I’m sure,” Bellatrix responded with a noncommittal hum. It wasn’t the first time some well-meaning resident suggested she have kids, especially considering that most of her patients were rambunctious kids, and in their words, she was fantastic with them.
Mrs. Peterson turned in her chair to face Bellatrix. “I sense some misgivings in your tone.”
Bellatrix opened and closed her mouth a few times, remembering that the woman she was speaking with made her living as a muggle psychiatrist. “I’m not sure it’s in the cards for me.”
“Is Hermione not open to the idea?” Mrs. Peterson asked.
“I never asked,” Bellatrix admitted. There were a multitude of reasons as to why she wasn’t super enthused about the idea stemming from things in her past, but decided to voice the simpler and more socially acceptable ones. “Besides, we’re still dating, and I’d rather not rush her.”
“Perhaps, but you never know what the future might bring.” Being a small town, secrets didn’t stay hidden for long. And Mrs. Peterson had heard that a certain someone was going to propose tonight to her girlfriend.
But Bellatrix, never one for idle gossip, had no idea about the surprise that awaited her that night: a dinner and a proposal.
And truly, that night, Bellatrix was floored by the magical preparations. It was quiet and intimate, she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“Is there a special occasion for this?” Bellatrix asked, relaxing on the couch with Hermione beside her. “Not that I mind, dinner was lovely, but it’s a Wednesday, and the date’s not particularly memorable to elicit the feast you prepared.”
Hermione chuckled. “True, it’s not exactly memorable. At least, not in the past.”
While Bellatrix looked puzzingly at her girlfriend, Hermione Accio’d a little box. But she didn’t open it right away.
“When we met, I can honestly say I would have never in a million years expected this to be the result.”
“Well, I am irresistible,” Bellatrix jokingly interjected, which got her a mock glare.
“Anyway, I took a chance and trusted you, and you did the same for me. These past few years have been amazing, in its simplicity and its charm, far away from the madness of London and all its politics. Which is why,” and here Hermione did open the box, and Bellatrix, having now watched plenty of muggle movies, connected the dots. “I was wond-”
Bellatrix grinned and nodded. “Yes.”
Internally, Hermione was elated, but she still did a double-take at the fact that Bellatrix didn’t even let her finish. “But I-”
Bellatrix chortled gleefully. “Marriage right? Then yes!”
“Such a romantic,” Hermione said with a smile, plucking the ring out from the box. “Will you at least let me ask the question?”
“So formal, but yes, let’s do the whole sappy formality.”
“I was wondering if you’d do me the honour of marrying me?”
A beat. Then two.
“Can I answer now?”
Hermione rolled her eyes, though she was unable to stop the laughter. “Now you can.”
“Excellent. Then yes, of course I’ll marry you.”
And that was that.
I left it more open in case I decide to revisit this world. I'm honestly surprised that people enjoyed this so much.
For now, I will be taking a small break, probably a month, as I work on getting more of my next fic, a soulmate AU, written. It's going to be a long and slow burn, like put in a pan on the backburner for the entire day slow.
I hope everyone enjoyed this.