The two witches landed on a gravel drive nestled between two high hedges. The massive house beyond the golden gates towered above them. Hermione froze at the sight of the imposing structure. It was obscenely big for a single-family domicile and could not be more different than the modest middle-income house she grew up in. The self-doubt came flooding back, threatening to overcome her. She wasn’t like these people. The irrational fear that the wards of the manor would reject her blood kept her as still as though a body bind had been cast.
A soft hand rested on her waist as Bellatrix stood behind her to whisper in her ear, “It won’t reject you. You are as pureblooded as I am.”
“Reading my mind is creepy. You know that right?”
Stepping back to look at the rather forward young witch, Bellatrix cackled darkly. She loved a challenge and was relieved the girl had spirit. It would have been unfortunate to be destined for a pushover.
“As though you aren’t trying to read mine, little witch. You are surprisingly subtle about it, but I’m better.”
“Only because I am untrained,” came the easy response.
Bellatrix had to hand it to her sister. Narcissa did a remarkable job of teaching the girl the cultural haughtiness in such a short period of time.
“Come. Neither of us wants to face my sister if we are tardy. Everyone believes I am a fearful witch, because they’ve simply never seen Narcissa angry.”
Hermione giggled. She was certain Narcissa could be a handful. She witnessed enough of Draco’s public behavior to realize how well behaved the three had been in her presence. She wondered how long the good behavior would last, not out of fear but out of curiosity. She knew that curiosity could be her undoing while keeping company with an extremely powerful magical family. But they were a mystery to be unraveled, which she couldn’t resist. And they had rare books. Resisting had never been an option.
Narcissa loomed in the doorway of her home, watching the two women approach. Her breath hitched when she saw Hermione’s body stiffen with uncertainty, but whatever Bella said obviously worked. The laugh that bubbled out of her sister was a pleasant sight. That particular laugh signaled the sheer happiness of the witch. It also happened to be why the world believed her mad. And she was a bit. Bellatrix loved thrill and had no conscious about how she sought it. For the first time Narcissa found herself questioning if Hermione was capable of coping with the darkness. Bella’s sensuality would be enough to draw her in, but it wasn’t enough to build a foundation on.
Greeting them at the door, Narcissa took their cloaks and handed them to the waiting elf leading them into the dining room. She watched Hermione pause again in discomfort and Bella tenderly approach and put the girl at ease. She found it vaguely disconcerting to see sister take on the role of caregiver for someone outside of the Black family. She’d always been fiercely protective of her younger sisters, but it never extended further. This was going to take some getting used to for everyone.
The four gathered at the far end of the large table to eat. After pleasantries were exchanged, Draco shifted the conversation to begin executing against the plan dreamed up by his mother and aunt.
“Hermione, as glad as I am to see you. I am surprised you finally came to our manor. How many times have you been invited? What did my aunt do?” Bellatrix hissed in response. The boy was to start the conversation, not frighten the girl away. He turned his head to her, throwing his best impression of her own look that dared others to challenge her. During the exchange, Hermione subtly touched Bellatrix’s knee under the table to reassure her that she was fine. Bellatrix barely contained her reaction, as a pulse of intense energy spread across her leg and up her body. The touch was in no way unwanted, but the assertiveness was pleasantly surprising.
“I lost count of the number of invitations after a while. And she made an offer she knew I couldn’t refuse,” Hermione paused to allow the boy’s imagination run for a moment. “Books, Draco. She offered me the use of your extensive library.”
“And you have never been one to pass up a book.”
“No. Not even once.”
“And what is it that you are looking for? There are many other books in the world. This tends to be a rather specialized collection.”
Hermione turned to face Bellatrix looking for permission. Though they told each other many things about their lives, they never directly broached the subject of what was going on between them. The invitation to do research at the library in Malfoy Manor had been the only recognition of their unique situation.
“There are no secrets here, Hermione. Tell them whatever you like,” Bellatrix said, answering the question that hadn’t yet been asked. Hermione raised her eyebrows in surprise and turned back to Draco and Narcissa.
“I’ve… we’ve experienced changes in our magic when we are in each other’s presence for one. And then there is the ability to view each other’s minds with almost no effort. Aside from that, I don’t know how to explain it. I feel a constant connection to her, but it’s more than….” Hermione said her voice trailing off.
“It’s more than even a new courting relationship could account for,” Bellatrix finished. Though she genuinely longed to hear how Hermione wanted to finish the sentence, she hoped it was a conversation better served in a private setting.
“I can see why she would offer our library. It has extensive titles on both the dark arts and ancient magic. Have you decided where you want to start?”
“Draco, did you just ask if I had a plan?”
“Yes, I suppose I did. Allow me to rephrase, where do you plan to begin with your research?”
“Ancient Pureblood Magic, I think. I haven’t been able to put my hands on anything on the topic at school or privately. I’ve been terribly curious.”
The lunch conversation wove through the topics Hermione managed to have read about, including the little she had been able to learn about the MacCarthy family. Even from most accounts it was clear that in order to get complete answers, she would need to go to the family library at some point in the near future.
Once the plates were cleared, Draco excused himself to go play Quidditch with a few of his housemates. Narcissa led Bellatrix and Hermione through the large house to the library. Instead of fear, Hermione’s reaction to the room was one of complete adoration. She’d barely stepped through the doorway before she was moving around the room gently stroking the spines of books as she skimmed the titles on the lowest shelves.
“Madam Malfoy, I had no idea your collection was so amazing.”
Narcissa chuckled in response. “Families like ours collect for generations. We use spells that preserve and maintain the books. So it is rather easy to find a 13th century book here. As there is so much to explore, I took the liberty of pulling a few books I thought might lead you in the right direction,” she said, taking them over to a table piled with at least 20 books. “I trust you can find your way from here. If you need anything an elf will be able to find me for you.” Narcissa quickly exited the room, providing her sister with the private situation as they’d carefully planned.
The night before they stayed up until 3 in the morning planning the day. They carefully constructed every detail of Hermione’s first visit. They attempted to keep as close to their general routines as possible, but chose to involve both Narcissa and Draco to make clear that Hermione had people she could talk to. Then there was the matter of getting the information of the prophecy into Hermione’s hands without telling her directly. After 3 large glasses of wine and as many hours lamenting the difficulty of making a prophecy appear on command, Bellatrix remembered the ancient Black family book. She’d seen it only once as a teenager. She could remember feeling the power of the book as she opened it for the first time. It listed members of the Black family and their particular powers or special circumstances. It was the kind of family heirloom that families strove to keep secret. There were peculiarities in its pages none of the descendants would wish to be known publicly. The magic with which it was constructed updated itself immediately as powers were discovered or prophecies uttered.
Having the prophecy in print was the first step. Getting it into Hermione’s hands in a room full of thousands of books was the next challenge and then getting it to the right page would be even trickier. Bellatrix wanted Hermione to discover it on her own without prompting. She tried to convince herself the reason was that she wanted the girl to be as invested as she was, but not directly speaking about the prophecy was a self defense mechanism. She feared rejection. It was rare that she put forth effort with new people or even noticed their presence enough to care their opinion about her. But she wanted Hermione with every fiber of her being. She wanted many things throughout her life, but every other desire paled in comparison to this.
After another glass of wine and nearly an hour of bouncing ideas back and forth between the sisters, Draco finally came home. It was his youthful and simple approach that Bellatrix believed would be their best chance. She would cast two spells over the book. The first would be to allow a non-Black to open the book and the second would cause Bellatrix’s page to open when the book was flipped through. Narcissa set about gathering other books of the same genre to reduce suspicion. She created neat stacks and after Bella finished with the spells placed the book at the bottom of the 2nd stack from the left on the waiting table. It was close enough to the front that it was likely Hermione would get to it in an afternoon but not so close to the top that it would look planted.
The most difficult part of the plan would be for Bellatrix to guard her mind against the girl. Whenever strong emotions were involved it seemed nearly impossible to keep her out, so that afternoon more than ever, she would have to remain in control.
Hermione reached out to the books on the table reverently. Each volume was clearly old and leather bound by hand. Even without the troves of hidden knowledge on each page they were works of art. She sat at the corner Narcissa led her to and began flipping through pages of the top book. Bellatrix sat directly across from her, doing the same thing. Occasionally they would find an interesting sentence or paragraph to read out loud to one another.
After several hours of searching the pages, Bellatrix stood to stretch out her limbs. Her joints were still healing so Cissy said, but Bellatrix doubted if after 15 years of cold they would ever stop hurting. After all of the other healing that had been done, she could hardly be bitter about the soreness. As she stood to reach her arms above her head, she saw Hermione reach for the book. She held her breath as she watched the beautiful young witch begin to turn the pages. In order not to ruin all of the careful planning she’d done, she quickly snatched up a book to idly flip through. Looking like she was busy would hopefully be enough to keep her nerves under her control during those critical moments.
She watched as the spell to open to the correct page work. She could see her name written in beautiful cursive script upside down from her vantage point. Snapping her eyes back to her own book, she waited for the girl’s reaction. Out of the peripheral of her vision, she watched the girl run her hand down the page and pause in the middle where the passage lay. She felt, rather than saw, the soft brown eyes lift to her face.
“Bellatrix,” the girl whispered, “I found something.”