Hermione followed the blonde witch as though her life depended on it. She hadn’t even considered not doing as she was told. Lucius and Draco were already seated at the table, looking happy and lost in conversation. The pair stood respectfully at the entrance of the females, as was deeply ingrained from their upbringing.
“Miss MacCarthy, I trust you had a pleasant day,” Lucius said, bowing slightly with a distinctly mischievous look in his eye.
“Picture perfect from beginning to end,” she replied, returning the formal greeting.
“Wonderful. Then I suppose those rumors of you kicking the arses of my son and wife are just fodder?”
Hermione winced, looking towards Narcissa and was once again filled with guilt. She was so consumed with gauging the youngest Black sister’s reaction to the statement, that she missed the approach of the oldest. It wasn’t until Bella calmly placed her hands on the girl’s shoulders, that Hermione realized her lover had entered the room.
“Don’t be mean, Lucius. Just because my witch wiped the floor with them, doesn’t mean you should tease. Fortunately, I was there to intervene. Perhaps you and I will need to spend a bit of time with her over the next few days. Your style is a bit different from mine, but I still think she will disarm you within 5 minutes.”
“What are you willing to bet?”
“Absolutely anything you want, Lucius. My lover won’t lose.”
Seeing that the interaction was quickly turning into a pissing contest, Narcissa interjected herself and asked the two to sit so that dinner could be served. Lucius took the hint of his longtime companion and abandoned his line of teasing. He was lucky to share his life with such a clever woman. He had tremendous affection for Narcissa, even warming her bed from time to time, but he learned early in their relationship not to attempt to exert control over her. There were ways in which she would always be a Black and belong to Bellatrix. The love that Lucius had for his wife transcended traditional boundaries. There was nothing that would truly ever tear them apart. Who frequented their beds didn’t affect their relationship. He was free to do as he pleased, and certainly did, and expected no less of his wife. The symbiotic relationship fit them both from day one. Jealousy had no place. They had the public persona they wanted and found fulfillment wherever they could. Hermione bravely spoke up, inserting herself in the conversation,
“It was an eventful day to say the least. The Dark Lord shared a great deal of information. It seems as though I am both desired and feared. I’ve been betrayed, though not by this family.” She looked slowly at Bella, seeing only forgiveness and love, she pressed on. “Those in the innermost circles of the Order of the Phoenix have targeted me since my parent's death. They hid my past and changed my identity for their own gain.”
“And how are you coping?” the blonde wizard interrupted smoothly.
“Struggling. I’m angry... really angry. I took it out on those most dear to me in the form of a duel. I had no idea I had so much power.”
“Then you were the only one uninformed,” Draco chimed in. “You’ve been the most accomplished witch of your age, regardless of what your blood status was believed to be.”
“I truly didn’t mean to take it out on you,” Hermione said, looking at her only and longest friend. “You have been so generous in your time and expectations of me.”
“Stop. Don’t apologize. I have to be strong enough to protect you. Fighting someone with as much power as you will only enable me to learn faster. If I am to carry out the Dark Lord's orders, I will need to be able to take on someone with your skill. Even if I lose, I will need to give you enough time to get away. You are the one of us that is important.”
“That means more than you know, but I will need you around to keep me on track.”
“I don’t believe Hermione will deal with her outbursts in this way going forward. Will you, Love?” Bellatrix said leadingly. Her voice conveyed every bit of sexual energy that had passed between the two less than an hour before. The girl nearly choked on the wine she was drinking.
“No. We are crystal clear," she answered easily. “The Dark Lord shared who he thought had removed me from a loving family. But did you find something different at the Ministry?”
“Not exactly. The Dark Lord sent me in search of some very specific knowledge. He knew we specifically needed to know the date of the termination of the trace on your wand, the date of your forged birth certificate, the date of its creation, and who could have possibly affected the magical quill’s date of your birth.”
The four others at the table stared at him as though he held all the of answers in the entire universe. Recognizing the begging looks he continued,
“The trace on your wand confirms that you are eighteen.”
Hermione tensed. It wasn’t that she doubted the truth in his words, only that they confirmed her deepest fears. She reached out and grasped Bellatrix’s hand under the table, hoping that the contact would ease her rising anxiety.
“You are free to use magic away from school without any danger of being traced. You can even learn dark magic. I was able to finally put my hands on the two different birth certificates. They are waiting in the library for you. The British forgery is brilliant, nearly undetectable. In my opinion, it looks like Dumbledore’s magic. Though at this moment, I don’t have specific proof.”
“Does the birth certificate control the invitation to Hogwarts?” Hermione asked quietly.
“No. It's not that simple. Changing that magical ledger requires access to the magical quill and the knowledge of how to control it. To our knowledge, a change on this level has never been executed before. It's a powerful piece of magic.”
“Who,” Bellatrix said darkly. She felt the anger bubbling up in her.
“I’ve confirmed our suspicions. The only one with the access and skill was McGonagall, even back then.”
“They will be after me, even at Hogwarts then,” Hermione said, realizing the gravity of the situation. She had been watched every day since she entered the gates of the castle by the very people who took so much from her.
“Yes and no,” Lucius said thoughtfully. “First of all, they don’t know the full extent of your association with us. And we will be carefully limiting the flow of that information to the best of our abilities. Secondly, they couldn’t possibly understand the full extent of the implications of Bella’s prophecy. They will likely still think you can be won to their side. You will need to exercise caution, but you won’t be alone.”
Hermione took in the expressions of the other four as they continued to talk about what they had learned. She marveled that they were all so adamant about her safety and the fact that she wouldn’t betray them. They were right, of course. Her earlier activities with Bella temporarily satisfied her anger, but did nothing to erase it. Hogwarts had always been her sanctuary, but no longer. School would be very different in the spring.
“The Dark Lord shared that my parents, the Grangers, won’t stay safe. That in choosing to stay with you,” she looked only at Bella, “I make them a target.” Her blunt statement froze the tongues and hands of her dining companions. Draco knew that the others could easily misstep if they were to approach the topic, so he decided to take the lead,
“How would you like to protect them?”
“I’m not leaving Bella,” she answered. The mere thought of leaving the older witch tore at her heart. It just wasn’t a viable option.
“I didn’t expect you to. I don’t think any of us did. So how are we going to protect them?”
“I don’t think we have many options, honestly.” Hermione looked carefully at Lucius, Narcissa and Bellatrix. She would need their support, both magically and emotionally to do what she needed to do. “I need to erase their memories and relocate them far from England. The powerful magics that have been used against me for the last 16 years will detect any other shield we might create around them.”
“If it's what you want, then we will all support you,” Narcissa said gently.
“I don’t want them to die for me, but I would like to say goodbye.”
“And so you shall. Am I correct in assuming that we will be doing this soon?”
“Tomorrow. Waiting is too dangerous,” Hermione concluded sadly.
A few hours of planning later, an exhausted Hermione leaned against her lover.
“Mione, love, I can see whatever you are thinking about is making you increasingly upset. What’s going on?”
“I’m just a bit confused. I thought your... all of your views on muggles would have prevented you from helping me.”
“I have quite the reputation, don’t I,” the Death Eater said, preening. “I can’t say that I’ve ever had cause to interact with many muggles. Strictly speaking, the ones that don’t attempt to steal magic concern me little. They are a lesser species, but they have their uses.”
Hermione stiffened at the racism of her lover. In response, Bellatrix tightened her hold before continuing, “I would never wish harm on those you love. I’m not likely to want to sit down for Christmas dinner with them, but I will do everything I can to protect them. I know you love them.”
“For years they were the only ones who loved me. They treated me as their own, since they always believed I was. Sending them away is going to hurt so much.”
“I know, love. And while I understand it isn’t the same, you will have us.”
“You’re right. It isn’t the same, but it's no less valuable. Being with you all has been so effortless. I’ve never seen a family as... close as you all seem.”
“Are you referring to my sister? You must be,” Bellatrix concluded, chuckling under her breath. “I am guessing she’s become increasingly forward?”
Hermione nodded slightly, not knowing how to approach what she really wanted to know.
“You have to understand that traditional pureblood marriages are different than what goes on anywhere else. They are largely still arranged, however, Narcissa and Lucius are lucky. They care for each other deeply, but there will always be an undercurrent that the marriage was a business transaction. The vows they took don’t demand fidelity. Having other lovers is extremely common, and from what I’ve seen of their relationship, it doesn’t upset the balance. But that's not all you wanted to know was it?" Bella asked suddenly, noticing the hesitant look of the young witch. Hermione simply nodded again, still having not quite found the words to broach the subject.
"The Black sisters have always been a particularly close group. We were raised under such pressure that we learned early on to cling to one another. My baby sister has a very special place in my heart. She was the only one I’d ever loved until I met you. To some extent, I imagine she feels a shade of the same kind of claim over you that I do. We have shared everything our entire lives. I am pleased that the two of you have grown so close.”
Stunned at the open discussion of the intimacy of the sisters, Hermione turned her head to bury her blushing cheeks into Bellatrix's dark curly locks. Affirmation that she hadn’t been reading the blonde witch’s signals incorrectly was both comforting and confusing. She was unaccustomed to being wanted, much less by more than one beautiful woman.