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Toujours Pur

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A gaunt, yet fair beauty. A dark woman with heavy-lidded eyes and thick, shining black hair. The epitome of a Black just like her sisters, even after all her time in Azkaban. That was the description given to me when I asked Professor Lupin about Bellatrix Black. I knew she was dangerous, of course she was. You don't wind up in Azkaban for all those years unless you were dangerous. And again, Voldemort would have left her there had she not had such reputable skills.

Everyone was on edge. Harry was on a chase for Sirius Black, the man responsible for Voldemort finding and ultimately killing his parents. Ron would be helping him at any chance that arose while I did whatever I could to assist Professor Lupin. Not many knew of his predicament and besides someone who could corroborate his alibis for being an absentee for several lessons I thought above all else he could benefit from someone to talk with about it. We even came up with several proposals for the betterment of ministry policies regarding magical creatures.

We tried to settle some sense of normalcy among ourselves. Of course, it seemed to work, everyone tried to be as calm as possible when together. Speaking only of Quidditch and school work, but at night Ron tells me that Harry is out with his invisibility cloak, chasing a ghost on the Marauder's Map. Professor Lupin told me of Peter Pettigrew, not much other than he, Sirius Black, and himself were all close friends with Harry's father and that he was a timid boy. The wizarding world presumed him to be dead when all that was found of him was his finger. After that Professor Lupin went into deep, reclusive thought and refused to share further. Although it was not hard to guess what he was thinking.

As it turned out his summation was correct. Peter Pettigrew was hiding in plain sight for over a decade. Lupin and Sirius explained that only two people knew of the place Harry's parents were hiding, Pettigrew and himself. It had been Pettigrew who sold-out the Potters to Voldemort and framed Sirius for his own murder. Ron was floored to find that his beloved pet was a transfigured fugitive all this time and Harry got his closure with Sirius. Although we could not clear his name due to Pettigrew's escape, he and Harry seemed to form a bond Harry had been craving his entire life.

Sirius went into hiding and we thought the war ahead would be an evenly matched one. Until the day of the mass breakout from Azkaban. Several high-profile dark wizards were freed and among those wizards was the notorious Bellatrix Black. Voldemort's most loyal servant and most dangerous ally. After that, we were playing a waiting game which made us uneasy. Professor Lupin moved on from Hogwarts and it seemed that with his departure a certain darkness followed. We were sitting in tension, waiting for something we could not plan for. That was an oddity in itself. Lupin told us that all others who were broken from Azkaban had become active within 2 weeks of the day, while no one had so much as heard a whisper of Bellatrix yet and it was closing in on 2 months. The only explanation we have is that she and Voldemort were planning for something big and disastrous. Something the public could not ignore. Harry had begun to take Occlumency lessons from Professor Snape as Dumbledore believed Voldemort had been planting false memories and thoughts into his head. Even still, we were in the dark about anything to do with Voldemort or Bellatrix.

A breakthrough came the night of Sirius' death. Finally, our fears were confirmed. Following a false vision to the Department of Mysteries resulted in a face-off between the Order, Dumbledore's Army, and the Death Eaters. Bellatrix finally made her first appearance since leaving Azkaban, every ounce as crazy and beautiful as I had been told. There was a certain madness about her that was inhuman, almost as if she were brainwashed. She fought with no concern for life, taking joy in whoever fell at her wand. That is until the wizard on the receiving end was Sirius Black, her cousin. There was a moment, a beat so short you could miss it, where everything stilled and held its breath. Sirius looked at his chest, not believing he'd been struck and Bellatrix seemed just a surprised as she watched him fall behind the veil. For that one moment, you could see Bellatrix almost regret casting that spell. Although I doubt anyone else would have noticed.

We'd gone back to Grimmauld Place save for Dumbledore and Professor Snape for safety and to mourn the loss of our beloved friend. Harry locked himself in Sirius' room as soon as we arrived and refused to speak to anyone. There was a shocked silence among us all, even the painting of Mrs. Black could not be heard. It was late, no one checked the time, we just knew it was too late for any muggles to be out. A figure completely covered in a dark cloak appeared just outside the boundaries set on the house. They made no move, only faced the space where the house was hidden as if they knew that it was there. Then they pulled the hood of their cloak back ever so slightly, just enough to let the moonlight illuminate their face.

Bellatrix Black.

Everyone except Harry made their way to the lawn ready to defend our safe house, but Bellatrix didn't move. We supposed she was waiting until she had our full attention when she felt she had it she raised her hands as if in surrender and spoke, "I am going to remove my wand, place it on the ground, and take two steps back. I do not come to fight." She moved slowly and followed her instructions precisely.

"We can't possibly let her in. This is obviously a trick to gain access to one of our only remaining safe houses." Mad-Eye raved to no one in particular.

"Of course not, although this is a very risky move on her part. Surrendering to the Order and relinquishing her wand. She doesn't seem to have a mind for leaving and she knows that we are here. I think our only option is to parlay." Shacklebolt pointed out. There was a pregnant pause where we waited for one of them to come to a decision that we would ultimately follow. Eventually, Shacklebolt won out over Mad-Eye. "I will go out and speak with her. You all stay here and be ready for anything."

We watched as he slowly walked out of the protective wards, Bellatrix didn't so much as blink at his sudden appearance. "Shacklebolt." There was a curt nod of her head.

"Black." Shacklebolt was his ever-kind self, his hands were held behind his back, no wand at the ready. The ultimate submission. If Bellatrix had come here to fight he stood no chance, she was far too quick.

"I expected to be apprehended, but you don't even have your wand out. I take it you are not alone." She didn't sound afraid, she seemed perfectly at ease. As if she belonged here. Completely engulfed in pureblood air.

"No. Why have you come here? You've left yourself highly exposed. Not to mention the earlier events. Many wizards here would like to have your head." Shacklebolt spoke with her as if speaking with an associate at the Ministry.

"I have something I would like to say. A proposal really. But not out here. For what I am proposing I need complete protection."

"And what is it that you want to propose?" Shacklebolt asked.

"To tip the scale in your favor."

Chapter Text

*Bellatrix*

Shacklebolt eyed me cautiously, "Tip the scales how?"

"You meet my terms and I will gladly tell you." I countered, being sure to keep my temper in check. The more time we played footsie out in the open the more likely I was to be summoned before even making my offer.

He stared at me in silence for what seemed like eons in that unhurried way of his before finally speaking again, "One moment, I'll need to discuss this with the others."

"Take my wand and my knife for good measure. This is not a trap. I'll even make an unbreakable vow if it comes down to it, but you must hurry with your decision. I don't have all night." I hoped that he and whoever else were no doubt waiting just on the other side of the wards would understand my urgency and sincerity despite the circumstances.

Taking a step backward Shacklebolt disappeared and I waited impatiently for a response.

*Hermione*

When Shacklebolt returned he was immediately bombarded by a flurry of "no's" and "absolutely not's". He held his hands up in front of him until all those gathered in the yard were silenced.

"I will admit that I am wary of her intentions myself, but to voluntarily surrender her wand and knife. This sounds urgent." Shacklebolt attempted to reason.

"Urgent my ass! If this isn't an elaborate way to gain access inside the wards, I'll be a monkey's uncle. Mark my words this is a trap." Mad-Eye was more than riled up.

"I don't see why she can't just say what she needs to say from where she is. There's no need for her to come inside." Ron argued further.

The others joined in again to add their agreement and Kingsley was having a hard time to corral them this time. All the while Bellatrix was standing unseeing and growing more and more impatient. It was obvious this was getting us nowhere.

"I think we should listen to what she has to say." I spoke calmly and with every ounce of conviction I could muster.

Immediately the arguing ceased and all eyes were on me.

"Hermione, are you out of your mind!?" Mrs. Weasley asked incredulously.

"What reasoning do you have? Although she shows remarkable vulnerability by relinquishing her weapons, I am inclined to agree with the others. Whatever needs to be said can be done from outside the wards." Kingsley eyed her cautiously, although it was evident he was thankful for the break in the disruption.

Taking a breath, I steeled my resolve, preparing to argue in favor of a Death Eater. Hoping against all odds that I was making the right decision. "Well, look at her. She seems like she's not supposed to be here and she's waiting to be found out. She's willing to give up her weapons. She didn't attack you, Kingsley! Whatever it is she has to say must be important and it must put her life in danger. Who knows how long it would take to fully explain…whatever it is she wants to explain. She's putting herself at more risk by even coming here tonight, most of you want to kill her. She might as well have walked straight into the Ministry itself!"

There was a long silence as everyone contemplated what I said, looking at each other as they came to a silent decision.

"Tick tock! I did mean that I didn't have all night! I could be summoned at any moment and the Dark Lord is not kind to those who keep him waiting. I wish to give you the upper hand, but not at any risk to my person." An impatient Bellatrix growled into the empty night.

"See, I think she's in just as dangerous of a situation as the rest of us." I added, sure that they could clearly see the severity of the situation.

"I suppose you have a point, Hermione." Mrs. Weasley began warily.

"As always." Ron added with a defeated slump of his shoulders.

There were similar sentiments shared all around until Mad-Eye was the only one left that hadn't answered. Kingsley ready to go with whatever plan the general populace agreed to.

Another silence fell over us as all eyes shifted to Mad-Eye. Mad-Eye's movements were as erratic as his magical eye as he was fighting a war within himself. No doubt his instincts were screaming TRAP! across his mind, but he couldn't deny the truth in my words. In any case, he was outnumbered.

Finally, his face red with frustration, Mad-Eye came to his decision. "Bloody hell. Fine! But this will come back and bite us in the ass, believe me! We should ask Potter for his input. He's got just as big of a grudge against her as anyone else."

"I'll go ask him. Kingsley, let Bellatrix know that it will be a moment before we've come to a decision." I said, already making my way back inside before I'd finished talking.

Standing in front of what was once Sirius' door was a surreal experience. Although we hadn't spent much time together, Sirius had become a welcomed part of our family and it was hard to believe he was gone. I knocked on the door softly and had to suppress the sadness I felt realizing that there weren't a pair of smiling eyes waiting on the other side.

Harry opened the door in a flurry, his eyes red from crying. "What is it, Hermione?" He asked only slightly harsh. He'd been wound tightly ever since leaving the Department of Mysteries. When we asked Harry if he was alright afterward he said nothing and pushed past us. Dumbledore said he would need to be alone for a while. Of course, we understood given everything that happened, but we were still worried.

"You should come downstairs. Bellatrix is here, and she has an offer." I stated simply, not wanting to overwhelm him with all the details before seeing how he would react to the situation itself.

He was silent for a moment too long, presumably trying to process the fact that the woman who had killed his Godfather mere hours ago was now making offers at his doorstep. "What kind of trick is she playing at? What type of offer?" He asked, growing angry quickly.

"She only said she would like to 'tip the scales' in our favor. She won't elaborate until she is fully protected within the wards. We've had a vote and we're missing your input." I continued carefully. Watching his face as he took in every word for any sign of how he would react when he saw his Godfather's murderer face-to-face again.

"A vote? Is there even a question? We can't let her in here! She should have been captured on the spot! We might as well drop the wards completely and let Voldemort in himself, Hermione! Did you ever think she'd just come to finish the job off? To rub out more members of the order and maybe even us in the process?" He was seething as I predicted he would. Of course, his vote, while important, was really more of a formality seeing as he too was outnumbered.

"Harry no, this is different. She relinquished her wand and her knife. Even offered to take the Unbreakable Vow if it came down to it. This is serious. We need to hear what she has to say. Why else would she come here, tonight of all nights, if it weren't important? She took a tremendous risk and doesn't have much time to spare as she puts it. The others agree so this is happening whether you want it to or not." My heart was racing. It was important to parlay with Bellatrix, I knew that without a doubt, but it was equally important that Harry didn't do anything rash. "Harry, I know why you refuse to see her, but this is urgent. There's nothing she can do here without her wand and if Kingsley or Mad-Eye feel that she can't be trusted she will be bound by the Unbreakable Vow to keep her word, whatever that may be."

"So you're saying I don't have a choice then? I'm outvoted?" Harry asked face flushed red with anger.

"Yes." I answered simply.

"Well then, why are we wasting time? Let's see what she has to say. I'd like to know why she killed the closest thing I had to a father. Maybe that will be in her spiel." Harry shuffled out of the room and slammed the door in annoyance. Taking a calming breath, I followed him back downstairs.

"Well?" Kingsley asked when we made our way outside.

"Well, what? I've been outvoted. Let her in." Harry answered in a clipped tone.

Kingsley only regarded him for a moment more before stepping outside of the wards again. If his sudden return startled the dark witch she didn't show it. Without a word he picked up her wand from the ground and held his hand out calmly for her knife. The exchange happened without a word and, using his own wand, Kingsley lowered just enough of the wards to allow Bellatrix entrance. Bellatrix went from unseeing and staring at blank space to focusing on each individual member in attendance. Lupin, Tonks, Mad-Eye, and Mrs. Weasley all glared at her but made no move against her while Ron, Ginny, Fred, and George refused to make eye contact. Harry was shaking with rage but had enough restraint not to immediately berate or attack her and I was desperately hoping I'd made the right decision.

"We'll speak inside." Kingsley said to no one in particular. He led the way and the rest of us fell into step behind him. When all were settled in the kitchen in an uncomfortable silence, all eyes fell on Bellatrix Lestrange.

"Why are you here? Why shouldn't we ship you straight to Azkaban right now? After all you've done. You have the nerve to come here just hours after murdering Sirius, your own blood!" It seemed Harry's ability to hold back only went so far.

"I didn't mean to kill him you little whelp! I would never try to cause harm to my family." Bellatrix answered back. Defensive anger bubbling below the surface.

"You've tried to kill me multiple times." Tonks pointed out bitterly.

"I kept you busy. While those who wouldn't think twice about ending your life were otherwise occupied. If I had tried we wouldn't be having this conversation which, I remind you, is wasting my precious time. Sirius was…" The dark witch left the statement hanging in the air as if she couldn't explain it herself.

"Your deal then?" Ron asked trying to harden his resolve and stare her down, but the quiver in his voice was a dead giveaway.

"Information, plans, more worthless criminals to fill up those cells in Azkaban. I have the influence to make it so a few choice idiots found themselves wandering into places Aurors just so happened to be stationed. The Dark Lord has plans, traps even that sniveling worm Severus is not privy to." Bellatrix sat languidly in her chair, legs crossed and so relaxed one would think we were the ones come to seek her hospitality.

"Snape's no Order member." Mad-Eye immediately interjected, only to be overpowered by the madwoman.

"Oh please, spare me. He may be able to fool the others, maybe even the Dark Lord, but not me. The only thing Severus is good for is covering his own ass. Of course, he'd come selling his secrets." She waved a dismissive hand and that seemed to finalize the subject.

"Why now? Why not after Voldemort was defeated the first time? Why switch sides after killing Sirius?" Anger was radiating off of Harry in droves, fists tightly clenched at his sides.

"That's personal." Bellatrix snapped, voice low and icy.

"Well, then I suspect our business here is done." Mad-Eye gathered himself to deposit Bellatrix on the blindside of the wards once more, probably gearing up to wipe her memory in the process.

"Wait, wait! Fine, if you really must know." Not willing to chance that the old wizard was bluffing the dark witch had no choice but to show all her cards.

"Look, it's not the same this time." She began quietly, straining each word as if saying them was like pulling teeth from her mouth. There was a rigged energy settled in the Death Eater's skin. Like the calm before a large storm where you can feel the coming rain and lightning on your fingertips in the air. Everyone was waiting for the first drop of rain, the first spring in the attack. "The Dark Lord he is…changed. Not quite here. The things he speaks of doing…to pureblood's even! Needless to say, loyalty means nothing to him anymore, especially not if you stand in his way. War is ahead, whether you like it or not." There was a look in her eyes, like that of an animal just before it is caught by its pursuer.

Kingsley glanced at Mad-Eye who looked displeased. Although, whether that was due to the fact that he didn't believe what Bellatrix was saying or because she made a compelling argument I couldn't tell.

"In any case, I happen to know something that you lot would definitely want to know." Bellatrix added, clearly nearing the bottom of her bag of tricks.

"Albus, Minerva, and Severus should be here any moment. I've already sent a Patronus informing them that their presence is urgently requested." Kingsley informed in that ever diplomatic way of his. It still amazes me that he isn't the Minister for Magic, but then again maybe the wizarding world wasn't quite ready for his brand of level-headed justice. In time, maybe when all this was over.

"'Urgently requested'? That's a polite way of saying get your ass here now." Bellatrix snorted.

As if on cue, there was the distinct sound of three apparition pops heard near the front door. With an air of importance around them, in came Headmaster Dumbledore closely followed by Professors McGonagall and Snape. The latter sporting his trademark sneer.

"You know if he wanted us to think he was one of the good guys, he could try smiling more. I mean what else am I supposed to think when he makes that face all the time?" Ron, who had silently made his way from behind Harry on the other side of the room, whispered in my ear. His sudden presence more than startled me.

"Ron, this is not the time! There are more important things that require our attention." I snapped, causing him to flinch away at my harsh tone.

"You and Harry aren't in the best mood." The statement wasn't accusatory, but it still rubbed me the wrong way.

"I wonder why, Ronald! Could it be because there's a Death Eater less than ten feet away from us offering to switch sides?" I didn't have to turn to see the hurt expression on his face, but he seemed to finally grasp the severity of the situation.

"You're right, this is important. I'll just, head back over to Harry, make sure he keeps his wand away." He sounded disappointed for reasons I doubt I'd ever understand.

Kingsley and Mad-Eye were busy relaying all the details to the newcomers while the rest of us stood around making awkward chatter. It seemed like any other day at Grimmauld Place, except Sirius wasn't here to tell one of his stories about his mischievous school days and the thing on everyone's mind was the woman making a show out of ignoring everyone. It was too early to tell whether or not we were going to accept her offer, but we couldn't ignore the fact that she did have the upper hand on Professor Snape. How big of an upper hand would be decided by Kingsley, Mad-Eye, Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall, and Snape himself.

Deep in thought, I didn't immediately notice the sensation. But as it became more intense and soon overtook all other thoughts. It was a prickling on the back of my neck as if someone were staring at me. A quick survey of the room showed everyone still engrossed in their whispered conversations, all except for one.

To say it was unsettling to be the center of the dark witch's attention would be an understatement. Dark brown almost black eyes held you captive as her smirk, that infuriating smirk, made you feel as though she's already learned all your secrets. Judging by the fact that she was sporting a smirk that threatened to split her face, she obviously knew something I didn't know. Should I ask what she wanted? Would that be wise? It didn't exactly seem like she was giving me much of a choice. She didn't dare force me with words, not with all the Aurors around and given the delicate situation she was is, but her body language almost demanded I come over.

Deciding it was better to act than to think of all the horrifying possibilities of what could happen I found myself sitting a comfortable distance across from Bellatrix Black. Silently trying to assure myself that there was nothing she could do to hurt me without her wand or knife. "Um, hello."

"'Um, hello'? Is that how you greet murderers?" She sat leisurely, twirling runaway strands of hair through her fingers.

What else are you supposed to say? 'Hi, how are you? Lovely weather isn't it?' I didn't exactly even know what I wanted to ask if anything at all, even less so now that I was face to face with the 2nd most terrifying person the wizarding world has ever known. Second only to Lord Voldemort himself. Thankfully she spared me the embarrassment of further floundering for a response.

"I suppose it doesn't matter. I am the one who wanted to talk with you. I assume you suspected as much. Otherwise, you would be avoiding eye contact like the rest of your band of idiots." She was smug without any right to be.

"That's bold talk for someone come seeking amnesty." Whether or not my words carried a punch to them I'd never know. Her face was an impenetrable mask of smug haughtiness and self-righteousness. Not so much like Draco's insufferable arrogance, but a certain sense of confident entitlement that came with an earned aura of fear. From building such a reputation that no one dared challenge her in any way.

"What makes you so sure I'd want that? Maybe I'd like to help simply out of the goodness of my heart." She countered in a sickeningly sweet tone, sounding very much like a child.

"There wouldn't be a need for all this pomp and circumstance if that were true." The banter was dry and tentative, but with every traded response I felt a little less on edge about being around the dark witch.

"Perhaps. I saw you talking with the boy Weasel, or should I say snapping. Lover's quarrel perhaps?" The most disturbing smirk twisted her features. A cackle plainly written on her face without the need to utter a sound. So that's what she wanted then? To mock me over a meaningless disagreement with a friend?

"Ron sometimes forgets the severity of certain situations. Granted I may have snapped, but I'm irritable. This is a stressful time." There was no reason for me to explain myself to her, but the need for self-preservation was strongly felt. Not to mention the uneasy feeling in my stomach brought on by thinking of Ron in that way. "And Ron and I are just friends." I added hurriedly, feeling the burn of embarrassment creep up my cheeks.

"Are you sure that's wise? He may not come from a well-respected family, but he is still a pureblood. Marrying him would make your life easier. Not much, mind you, but there would be a slightly noticeable difference." Was she serious? Could she possibly be serious?

"Excuse me, unlike your backward pureblood ideas, I plan to marry for love, trust, respect, and the like." Glancing around I noticed my rising voice was attracting the subtle attention of those around us and I adjusted my volume before continuing, "So, is this how you pass time when you aren't murdering or torturing? Considering the lives of lower families and muggle-borns?"

"Of course not, I like to enrich my life. Although I take a small particular interest in you. Curious how a mudblood came to be called the brightest witch of her age. It would seem my former colleagues and I have not done a successful enough job in propaganda." She'd crossed a leg over the other and began to draw pointed circles with her foot. Completely at ease with the way the conversation was being led.

"Hard work and talent can't be denied solely due to blood status. How would we advance?" I asked, indignation dripping from every word.

"Just fine. I don't know if you've noticed, but the wizarding world has made little progress in the last decades. Does it matter what the brightest wizards and witches do? I was the brightest witch of my age and I've done nothing but awful things to the wizarding world."

"So you admit that your acts are atrocious?" I asked, more confused now than before I'd come over.

"The things I did were just a means to an end. You would have done the same thing as me in my position." She nodded her head in a matter-of-fact way as if she knew for certain how my mind works.

"I would not. Torture, murder. Who am I to decide who is worthless and who should sit atop the world?" It was rhetorical and I didn't expect to get more than a sneer in response anyway.

"You'd be smart to put yourself and your kind atop the world. And worry less about those at the bottom so long as it's not you." She answered quietly and I felt that this was the first serious response I'd gotten from her. Although I didn't want to, she made me think about how much different my life would be if in some absurd reality muggle-borns were the so-called "superior" race of magical beings. Power wasn't something I overtly desired, but it wouldn't be truthful to say that I'd never wanted to experience its benefits. Even in school my superior marks and diligent work made me weaker and even more of an outcast among my peers. What was the point of all this again?

Before I could muddle through a confused response Dumbledore's wise voice brought stillness to the room, "Mrs. Lestrange, the Aurors other members here would like to hear the other bits of information you have to offer. We'll decide where we go from there. Children, Mrs. Weasley, we'll be handling this privately if you don't mind."

"I want to hear it. Whatever it is she has to say I want to hear it." Harry had not yet calmed.

"Harry, while I'm sure you have your reasons, it would be unwise to stay given your current condition and circumstances. I would personally rather you get some much-deserved rest." Dumbledore didn't so much as raise his voice; such was his peaceful way.

"I don't need rest; I need to hear-" Harry's retort was effectively cut by the stern voice of McGonagall.

"That is the end of this discussion, Mr. Potter. Off with you."

A wave of disappointed grumbles washed over the room as those who were not invited to stay all headed upstairs. Harry retreated to Sirius' room with a slam of the door, Fred and George headed to their shared room whispering animatedly with each other, Mrs. Weasley said her good nights and made for her room, while Ginny, Ron, and I settled in Ron's room.

Almost immediately after closing the door I was accosted by Ginny, an excited Ron in tow. "What did you talk to Bellatrix about?"

Started by the abrupt interest I found it hard to disclose the gritty details to them. Of course, I trusted them, they were some of my closest friends, but I couldn't possibly tell them we'd discussed the finer points of marriage and status? Oh and not to mention the fact that she insinuated there was something more between Ron and I. No, I'd best keep the details to myself. "I don't know really. I get the feeling she was pulling my leg the whole time. Some kind of mind trick. Who knows."

"I'd say. I've never seen you that worked up. Even after the polyjuice fiasco." Ron commented with a laugh that was not appreciated. That was still a sore spot.

"What do you think she's telling them?" Ginny asked, staring longingly at the floor as if she could will herself to hear through the wood.

"A load of rubbish no doubt." Ron went on with a grimace.

"You don't think she's telling the truth?" I asked.

"What and you do? You can't really think she suddenly wants to help do you?" Ron asked, clearly he had already made up his mind.

"I don't know, but I stand by what I said. She took too big of a risk coming here for this to be some sort of trap." I was firm, hopefully conveying that I would not be swayed from this.

"It doesn't matter what either of you thinks though, does it? They'll be making the final decision without us." A disgruntled Ginny lamented.

A defeated slump of Ron's shoulders meant the conversation was laid to rest. Thankful, I left the siblings to each other's company and went to my room. Fully taking advantage of Ginny's current absence. Trying and failing at getting a jump start on my reading for school I found myself lost in a tangle of thoughts about the words Bellatrix had spoken.

What exactly was she playing at? Nothing most likely, just a mind game to pass the time. But, what exactly did she mean by putting myself and "my kind" atop the world? Things would be so much better if we would finally realize that notions such as "noble birth" had absolutely no effect on the ability and worth of a witch or wizard. All that twisted mindset managed to accomplish was setting up walls that separated us all and kept us from advancing as a whole. Wizards and witches above all others and purebloods above all other witches and wizards? What did we gain from such bigotry? Nothing positive, surely. 'Worry less about those at the bottom, so long as it's not you.' How could I? How could I forget about the disadvantages and struggles of those at the bottom of the food chain when I was so close, could see the problems with my own eyes, and on more than one occasion affected by them?

I wouldn't care at all if I was the one at the top.

That was it. Why worry about problems that don't affect you when your life is so comfortable? Even being so blinded they can't see how awful it is to treat their house-elves like objects. Did most purebloods even know what all their house elves looked like? Their elves were only allowed in their presence when they were needed for specific instructions and even then they weren't really acknowledged. Out of sight out of mind, I guess. Exhausted, I fell further and further down a twisted rabbit hole of thoughts I'd rather not have until they transformed into fitful dreams.

The next day was made of tension-filled silence and awkward conversation. Everyone generally avoiding the black elephant in the room. The decision made about Bellatrix. She'd left during the night as well as the Headmaster, Professor McGonagall, and Professor Snape. Harry was the first to ask about it. Actually, no one else had a chance. Before even fully entering the kitchen to join the rest of us for dinner Harry was already asking.

"I suppose we had to discuss this at some point. Better now that you're all here. We've decided to agree to certain terms. Bellatrix may be mad, but she has very useful information. The situation was…more grave than we first thought. Without her, we might have been blindsided. Ultimately defeated." Lupin took up the question with a sense of dreaded responsibility.

A raucous uproar of disapproval and shocked spit takes went up around the table. Lupin shook his head in frustration.

"So what now? We just, wait for her to drop in again? What if she just brings others inside the wards?" Harry asked.

"She's been made a Secret Keeper." Lupin stated plainly. The look in his eyes said that he didn't quite believe that was enough precaution, but held his tongue.

"Peter Pettigrew was a Secret Keeper, too." Harry's voice was steel cutting through the atmosphere and leaving only cold realization in the wound. Suddenly the danger became uncomfortably real. How far could you trust a Death Eater and their word? Even given the circumstances. Especially, given the circumstances. Had I just created an open doorway for untold harm to enter this safe haven? Could Harry be right? But then, why waste so much time waiting and talking with the Aurors? Trying to convince us to let her…help? Was that the word for this? No, that didn't seem quite right. Trying to convince us that her word was genuine. Why go through all of that if all you wanted was to gain access to the wards. She could have done that as soon as she stepped over the threshold. No, it didn't make sense.

"In any case, she's supposed to report in once every two weeks. Or immediately if the situation is dire. But, she was summoned in the middle of fully explaining the extent of…" Lupin grasped for words for something he could not willfully explain but failed, "She'll be speaking with Dumbledore here tonight."

"It's getting a bit more sinister hear. What with the shrieking lady on the stairs, Kreacher grumbling around, now we get to have a demented Death Eater roaming around. Great." Ron sulked over his eggs. No one replied, but we all agreed with the sentiment.

It was late that night. I was reading by the fire in the living room, so engrossed that I didn't hear her enter.

"Do you always have your nose in a book or do you occasionally put that full head of knowledge to good use?" She sounded bored.

"You're just…wandering about?" I fell over the words, my heart was still pounding from her sudden arrival.

"I'm waiting for Dumbledore. Do you always read?" Obviously irritated that I hadn't just answered her question she crossed her arms in a huff of black cloth.

"Reading keeps the mind sharp." I replied simply and it was true. Reading always felt like a nice workout to me.

"What are you sharpening if you never use your weapon? Are you of any use?" She asked in an offhanded way, but it still felt harsh.

"Of course I am! I may not be an extraordinary duelist, but there are other ways to apply yourself. I keep a level head in situations where others would panic or run in blindly. I'm the one who convinced the others to listen to you."

She relaxed like a cat relaxing from a pounce and didn't look so much surprised, but more curiously satisfied by the answer. Then she was crossing the room and dropping excitedly on the couch cushion next to me. "So I suppose we're teammates now!"

"I suppose." I answered wearily, not sure where she was headed with that statement and if she was genuinely excited. Most likely not.

"Oh come one. You're not even going to question what I said or what I might get from this? I know your friends can't believe it. I'm only out for blood to some." She seemed proud of the fact that most people knew her as a terrorist.

"I will admit I've thought about it. The most obvious motive is amnesty and I have no real reason to believe anything else. Some of the others think you'll bring Death Eaters directly inside and kill us all, but if that's what you wanted you would have done so already. So amnesty. Occam's Razor."

"Occam's Razor?" She was confused and I realized wizards, especially pureblood's like her, didn't know muggle philosophy.

"The simplest explanation is usually the correct one." I explained, feeling an odd sense of pride for having stumped the Death Eater. Former Death Eater?

"And you assume you're correct?" She asked, a smirk pulling at her lips.

"Must you always speak in riddles and questions? Is it so hard for you to just give a simple answer? Oh yes, I forgot you're mad!" I retorted, fed up with being pulled along by a string for this mad woman's apparent entertainment.

"Calm down, Muddy. You're turning redder than the Weasel's hair!" She had her legs crossed again, twirling that maddening circle with her foot. A metaphor for this conversation. Just question after maddening question, but it got me nowhere.

"You know, I thought about what you said yesterday. About being on top of the world and all that." I don't know why I brought it up, but it seemed to fit into this stilted conversation of riddles. "It is easy to forget about those below you. But, it's also lazy and quite cowardly. Safe at the top while you crush those below you to keep your lifestyle. You have so few worries at the top. No one can touch you. Why give that up for someone inferior."

She stared at me in silence. Her eyebrows slightly furrowed in confused thought. Had I made sense to her? Maybe gotten through some of the madness and fanaticism and touched someone real? But, just as quickly as it appeared the expression changed back to the perfect porcelain mask of haughtiness. "Wrong as ever. The hierarchy is as it should be."

Before I even had a chance to press the issue, Headmaster Dumbledore came briskly into the room. "Ah, Bellatrix. Would you be so kind as to follow me?"

Without a word, she was gone and I was left with more questions than when I started.

Chapter Text

*Hermione*

I did my best to avoid the dark woman after that night. Not wishing to be bombarded with ridiculous questions. I was lucky enough never to run into her at Grimmauld Place again, and soon we returned for another year at Hogwarts.

It went on as usual after the first few weeks where my mind was plagued by a certain Death Eater, but as classes began in earnest, I found myself too busy and my mind too occupied to dwell much longer. Then there was Ron. Ron, who was acting strange around me now, even more so than before. It was evident to me what caused the change, but that didn't mean I liked it. We were all the closest friends! What would it do to us if Ron and I were to date? Or even worse if it didn't work out. I wouldn't be able to look him in the eye for who knows how long and what would that mean for our friendship? Not just Ron and I's, but Harry's as well. Would we slowly grow apart?

I wasn't even exactly sure if I reciprocated his feelings. More often than not it felt like I was just falling into an atmosphere that was expected of me. Harry had his romance with Ginny and everyone just assumed Ron and I would be the next couple out of the group. Don't get me wrong; Ron had his charms, but I couldn't talk with him like I wanted. The conversations we had were simple in a way. Mostly about our day, what we thought would happen next in the war on Voldemort, and what we thought Harry was going through. Other than those things he only talked about wanting my help with his school work, Quidditch, or weak attempts at capturing my affection. He wasn't interested in most of the things I wanted to talk about or had no real input. It wasn't stimulating conversation. It wasn't enough. When he began dating that airhead Lavender I wasn't hurt, just thankful that they distracted everyone from making aggravating assumptions about Ron and me.

It was best not to think about it. Not now when a full on war was looming on the horizon. Especially now with Dumbledore gone. Harry saw what happened with his own eyes, and even he couldn't believe it. Draco's cowardice, Bellatrix' presence, and Professor Snape's ultimate act of betrayal. It was…devastating. Without Dumbledore, it felt like we were lumbering through the dark without a light. Harry knew what we had to do, find and destroy Voldemort's Horcruxes. He just didn't have the faintest clue on where to begin. Wandering through the dark.

Leaving Hogwarts was nothing but bittersweet. Had I known that would be my last time seeing the beloved castle in its glory I would have savored the beauty of it more.

Moving Harry was a disaster. They had to have known that we were planning to move Harry that night and how. The stench of betrayal was in the air, but no one took notice immediately. Not with the death of Mad-Eye still so vivid and shocking. He was so invincible to those around him I don't think any of us thought it was possible for him to die let alone be killed at the hands of those he was trying so desperately to defeat. Much like Dumbledore. Eventually, we all came to terms with the loss and agreed that if Mad-Eye had to go out, he'd want to go out fighting.

It was only a few days later that Lupin came to speak with us. Harry and Ron were engrossed in a game of wizard chess of which Ron was handily beating Harry. Ginny and I were sitting and talking with Fred and George, who had not stopped making variants of "ear" and "hole" jokes all day. You would think that the joke would have lost its grandeur by now or that they would have at least run out of material, but this was Fred and George we were talking about.

"Hello, all. Having a good evening, I see. I don't mean to interrupt I'd just like to borrow the Golden Trio for a moment." Lupin was all pleasant smiles, but after hours of conversations with the man, I could see by the bags under his eyes that what he wanted to talk about had been troubling him for a while and that it was not as pleasant as he let on. Judging by the look Harry gave Ron he knew as much.

"What is it, Lupin?" Harry asked almost immediately upon sitting. We were in the shed Mr. Weasley used to store all of his Muggle artifacts.

"Forgive me; I don't exactly know where to begin. I suppose with you, Harry. I trust that Dumbledore told you about…certain things before his untimely demise?" He was pacing slowly; I guess to keep his thoughts moving instead of crashing all at once in his mind.

"The Horcruxes, yeah he told me, but how do you know? He made me swear not to tell anyone except Ron and Hermione, and he was just finding out about them himself." Harry asked wearily.

"In truth, that was a lie. The night Bellatrix came to us she told us of the Horcruxes. It took us all by surprise of course, but Dumbledore took it with a grain of salt. Wise I suppose, but he wouldn't let us mention it or even give the impression that we knew of them for whatever reason. It doesn't matter now. Dumbledore was a secretive man even to those closest to him. He had an idea about the Horcruxes and you, Harry. How the two are connected is lost to me, and he didn't disclose that to anyone. All we could get out of him was that it must be you who destroys them. Please tell me he told you that night." Finally coming to a stop directly in front of Harry, Lupin looked like a man who hadn't slept in weeks., perhaps he hadn't with everything that was going on. Harry shook his head "no," too shocked to answer. "Did he give you even a hint as to where to begin?" Again, another shake of the head. Lupin sighed, "I feared as much. I'm afraid to say that the other Order members and I will be of little help to you in your hunt. Not only because of Dumbledore's orders but with things unfolding the way they are. The Aurors and the Order are stretched thin. Not to mention Bellatrix has tipped us off about a flush of infiltration to take place in the Ministry. Things are looking grim."

"So, what are you saying? 'Hey we know nothing, you're on your own, happy hunting!'" Ron asked. His sentiment was shared at least.

"No! Well, yes. Yes and no. We won't be there to hold your hand through everything, but if you really need help, we will do all we can." Lupin was getting exasperated and why wouldn't he? He must feel useless.

"Well, what if we get captured by Death Eaters? What then? Send a Patronus, and you'll be on your way?" Harry asked, well he was closer to yelling now.

"You forget you have allies on the other side." Lupin stated simply.

"You mean Snape? After what he's done? I'm sure he told them about moving me as well, and you want me to trust him with my life?" Harry roared.

"You may have to. If it comes down to life or death, you may have to try to appeal to the side of him that was an Order member. But, there is another, less pleasant, option." He left it hanging in the air for us to grasp. Harry and Ron wore faces of puzzlement, but I knew immediately who he meant.

"Bellatrix." One simple answer. If we found ourselves in unfriendly company, we may have to rely on Bellatrix. A mad woman.

"Like it or not, her survival is tied into your freedom. All of you." Lupin looked us in the eye in turn.

"That's what she wanted then? A get-out-of-jail-free card. After everything she's done!" Harry roared. The year had not softened his opinion it would seem.

"Among other things." Lupin answered quietly. What else could there be?

"So trust her then? What other choices would we have in a situation where we had no other allies?" It was more than obvious that Harry didn't particularly like the idea of his life resting in the hands of Bellatrix no matter the situation, but he grudgingly accepted the possibility. Seeing as Ron and I went wherever Harry did it somehow felt important that he came to this conclusion.

"If it comes down to it." Lupin looked to be standing on thin ice, pleading silently that Harry actually did trust the Death Eater to save us.

"What other choices would we have then? Are we done?" Harry waited for Lupin to give a satisfied nod before storming off, Ron hesitantly followed behind him.

"Remus, could I ask you something?"

"Of course, anything." He crossed his arms and relaxed only a little bit.

"Do you trust Bellatrix? The things she's been telling us? I've been trying to convince myself I did the right thing by convincing the others to listen to her, but every day since then I've felt like I've opened the door to a horrendous trap." It was a feeling that had built over the year, and I tried desperately to bury it deep within myself, but it hadn't worked.

"Well, I trust her a whole lot more than I trust Snape that's for sure. Not to mention all the information she's given to us has been correct and useful. So, yes. I do trust her as should you. For whatever reason, she decided on this new path on her own. Well, I know the reasons, but I don't understand the moral rights or even if there are any." He was confident in his conclusion, but that did little to calm my racing conscience.

"Do you…do you think there are any moral reasons?" I asked, grasping for something overtly positive about this situation and the dark woman that caused it.

Lupin sighed and wrapped his arms tightly around himself, something he often did before giving very insightful advice. "Honestly, I can't say for sure. There isn't always a deeper meaning for other's actions. Sometimes people just act on impulse and sometimes there is a conscious choice with reasons we will never know. Only time will tell if there is or is not a deeper meaning behind Bellatrix' actions."

I felt deflated; I'd built myself up for some grand, elaborate, and enlightening piece of information only to find out it may not even exist. "Of course, thank you anyway. Get's some rest Remus, you look exhausted."

"Looking out for others as always, Ms. Granger. Thank you." He gave me his signature smile. A look and gesture so friendly it was hard to think he'd seen a bad day in his life, but Sirius had the same disposition. Smiling back, I left him to his thoughts, not knowing that would be the last time I saw him or the Burrow for a long time. After that, the hunt began in earnest.

*Bellatrix*

The Dark Lord was back in control. I had no doubts, without Dumbledore the wizarding community lost their symbol of hope. Now with Potter on the run, they don't believe they have a fighting chance. Who could blame them? Kidnappings, murders in broad daylight, blatant corruption in the Ministry, and now their last fighting chance appears to be running like a coward. I was beginning to lose faith as well, not that I had very much to begin with for the group of incompetent children. Without Dumbledore's old, wrinkly hand guiding them they were equivalent to chickens running around with their heads cut off.

A more foolish part of me screamed to help them, push them in the right direction so as to "get the ball rolling" so to speak. But, as I mentioned, very foolish. The Dark Lord was more omnipresent than ever now and the only genuine moments of solitude I could ever grasp were the few hours at night when I was meant to be sleeping. It was maddening. Watching the things I said even with just Narcissa, one could never know if the room you were in was enchanted to re-tell your secrets. Everything was so different this time. The Dark Lord was driven not by ideology, but by pure madness. Madness I no longer recognized or could empathize with. Even referring to Him as "The Dark Lord" was done now out of obligation rather than truth. How could you rule over men and women and expect them to stand and fight for you; all the while murdering purebloods with the same indifference as if they were muggle born? Loyal wizards like Rodolphus and Rabastan were cut down in a fit of rage or disappointment, some even offhandedly out of boredom.

I'd never too much cared for my husband, but he was loyal from the beginning. Even after The Dark Lord disappeared, his loyalty never wavered. Even in Azkaban, his commitment never wavered. He was rotting in a grave he did not yet earn for simply not having answers that would suit The Dark Lord about the whereabouts of "The Boy Who, Unfortunately, Lived."

Things would have been so much easier had he just…not lived. The Dark Lord would not have vanished, purebloods would be in absolute power, and I would not have wasted so many sobering years in Azkaban. Maybe it was wrong to blame the boy; he was no more than an infant when these things took place. Maybe it would be better to say things would have been easier if The Dark Lord had not risen to power in the first place. Would I have been stuck in a loveless marriage still? Forced into dreaded motherhood like my sister? That life would have driven me just as mad as this one.

When The Dark Lord began his campaign, I saw an opportunity, unlike any other I'd ever known in my life. The chance to be free for the first time in my life. To expand my talents and showcase what I was capable of to the world. I dove head first and completely into the war, not realizing how lost I was getting or the consequences of my actions. As long as I was free.

A fat lot of good that did me.

Now all I could do was pace and hope for something to happen that would require my assistance, either from The Dark Lord or the Order. Just anything to cut the monotony of Malfoy Manor. I was looking at the many tomes and volumes in the library when a flustered Narcissa suddenly appeared in the doorway.

"What is it, Cissy?" I asked, hoping that my wish would be fulfilled.

"The Snatchers, they think they've found Potter. They have his friends, but we can't clearly identify the third one." The words fell with her exhale out of her chest quickly. I do believe this was the first time I'd seen her composure broken.

"Has anyone called for Him?" I asked, hoping no one was dim enough to call The Dark Lord without knowing for sure who they had.

"No, we need to be sure first. Come." I followed a trail of blonde to the main entrance hall where everyone gathered.

It was almost too coincidental. Two of the Golden Trio traveling outside of the magical world with a third boy. I had to give them credit for at least trying to hide the true identity of the boy, but even without Draco's help, it was evident they had finally caught Harry Potter.

My mind was racing with escape options immediately. This could not and would not end like this before it even began. I did my best to keep my usual mask of contempt as Fenrir went on about how they found them, but my interest was actually peaked when the glimmering steel of the Sword of Gryffindor was shown.

"I thought I'd keep it for myself." Fenrir claimed with that nauseating smile of his. He stared greedily at the shimmering sword one of the Snatchers held. He planned to pawn off the only thing present that could help the Mudblood and her friends destroy the Horcruxes. A sword that was supposedly locked safely away in my vault at Gringotts as well as one of said Horcruxes.

"No!" The protest came fiercer than I thought it would. "Give it here."

The Snatcher, I forget his name, held the sword closer to his chest and wore a face of pure disdain and indignation. With a quick flick of my wand, he lay unconscious on the floor. I took the sword from him as he fell.

That didn't go over well with the others, but they met the same fate as Imbecile Number One. I cast spell after spell until Fenrir was brought to submission on his knees in front of me. "Where did you get this?"

"They were traveling with it! If I'd known it'd bring this much trouble I would've left it there to rust." Fenrir grumbled.

With a swift flick of my wand, Fenrir lay unconscious like the rest of them. "Draco, take them outside. If you don't have the guts to kill them I'll do it myself later! Pettigrew put them in the cellar. Except for her," I said looking piercingly at the Granger girl, "I'd like to have a little chat with this one. Girl to girl!"

The look of terror on the other's face was only slightly amusing. If I didn't figure out a plan to get them out of here quickly, all our hopes of life anew would be extinguished. When we were alone I cut directly to the chase.

"Where did you get it?"

"I-I don't know. Harry found it in the woods somewhere." She stammered.

"You expect me to believe that you found that sword in some bloody wood? Is that what I'm supposed to tell the Dark Lord?" I was in her personal space. Physically imposing my authority and conveying my urgency.

"It's true! Harry found it in a pond or lake or something while we were camped out somewhere." She was close to hysterics now. That was good, the more likely the truth would accidentally slip out. And yet…

"I don't believe you!" I wonder if she could hear the uncertainty in my voice or worse see it on my face.

"I swear it! Ron had to pull Harry out; they should still be wet! I couldn't believe it myself but I give you my word! How else would we have found it? We thought it to be in the Headmaster's Office in Hogwarts, not at the bottom of a pond! We thought we had no chance of getting it, we had no clue what to do next." The girl was utilizing every free breath she could muster, no doubt wondering if these would be her last. Quite sad that she would think that, although understandable. I was the big bad wolf after all. Although out of all the bleeding-heart morons in the Order and the Annoying Trio I found her to be the most valuable. Or at the very least the most interesting.

A pause set to burst, you could hear her heart hammering in her chest, almost see the organ pumping like a runaway train. She was wild with fear. That meant one of two things, either she was flying by the seat of her pants and had just told the quickest lie she'd ever formed in her life, or she was telling the truth and had no idea if she had convinced me or not due to the absurdity of it all. What happened next was my decision.

"The locket?" I asked. A wave of breathless relief washed over her visibly.

"Destroyed it then and there. It tore us apart for weeks." She sounded almost distant. Like she was coming back from teetering on the edge of an abyss and was overcome by the security of solid ground. I suppose extreme fear would do that to a person.

"Good. What about the others?" I pressed, keeping a cold formality to my tone. I didn't want her to relax too much. We were nowhere near safe.

"Harry has ideas of what they might be, but we aren't sure where they are or how we would get to them."

"If I gave you a few definite answers are you confident you lot could get the job done?" I asked, watching her face carefully as she answered.

"We've accomplished things that I couldn't imagine when I was eleven. I'm confident we can do this." She left a phrase noticeably unsaid but tried to recover with a defiant raise of her chin. It was a faltering attempt.

"Or die trying I presume."

"What other choice do we have?" That was good, that was the answer I was looking for. When faced with only two choices, one of which being rather permanent and most likely very painful, people tended to give everything they had to succeed.

Now to feed the information. "In my vault in Gringotts, there is an indiscriminate cup. It belonged to Helga Hufflepuff once upon a time."

"How are we supposed to-." It was a reasonable question, but in this game of chest, I was already three moves ahead.

"In the struggle that will lead to your escape tonight, you managed to disarm me and retain a few of my hairs, enough to brew a polyjuice potion. There's a goblin in the dungeons who knows Gringotts like the back of his grubby, little hands. He should be able to walk you through the identification process." The actual escape would be messy indeed.

"Similarly, a tiara that once belonged to a Rowena Ravenclaw stashed somewhere in Hogwarts, lost for many decades. It would seem no one has ever been able to find it." Hopefully, she could read between the very clearly drawn lines there.

"Why would we be able to find it it's been lost for centuries. Where would we even start?" I could see the gears spinning in her head, good.

I rolled my eyes in exasperation because of course, I would need to spell it out, "Well, you'd just need to look where all hidden things end up I suppose."

"The Room of Requirement."

"You realize you can't just tell Potter all of this at once, don't you? He'd ask how you came by this information and I doubt he would trust it's validity if he knew it came from me. Drop helpful hints here and there to keep on track. No more of this aimless dilly-dallying. We've lost enough time already. End this madness." I don't know why I said it. The stress was causing me to behave desperately and recklessly. That was the only plausible explanation.

Skepticism overtook her features. "Why are you telling me this now? Why didn't you tell us before?" She asked.

"I did! I told the old bat everything before he took his fall, but he refused to tell anyone else. A lot of good that did anyone. He had this insane idea that The Boy needed to figure this all out by himself. Like a ridiculously blind journey! Then you three disappeared and it was impossible for even the Order to reach you!" It was no small task to keep my voice low enough so the others couldn't hear me, or hopefully, couldn't hear me or I and all hope were already dead.

There was no response. She still eyed me with undeserved suspicion. I was the one who should be skeptical, I had much more to lose. If everything went to shit they could run and hide anywhere in the wizarding or Muggle world, but I was already trapped within the clutches of fate and so much more than doomed. If they could not succeed and my plot was revealed there would be no cell waiting for me in Azkaban. I'd be put to death in a way befitting someone who has done the things I've done. Never mind why I did them, they don't care that I didn't have a choice. That I did what I did to survive in a life where you either concede or are forgotten until your death. For families like mine, there was rarely an alternative. Andromeda was lucky she found someone who loved her more than status and found a purpose and place in life without the notion of blood status restricting her company or opportunity. She had friends, family, purpose, and love. I wasn't fit for motherhood or domestication, I couldn't mingle with the rest of the world as she did. As if I would ever have the opportunity.

"Well…we can't accomplish anything if we die here." I suppose that was as close to trust as I could hope for. Which was good because for what I was about to do to her she would need to trust me quite literally with her life.

That's how I found myself pinning the little mudblood to the ground, knife in hand.

"You're not actually going to cut me with that are you? You can't actually cut me with that!" Her face was fear-stricken and her body tense.

"I'm afraid this is how it has to go."

"But can't you just-"

"I can make it so it doesn't hurt, but anything else would be too suspicious." I couldn't appear to show any amount of sensitivity or consideration on the girl. If I appeared to have been any amount of cautious The Dark Lord would become far too suspicious and I'd find that my days were now closely numbered. The point of the knife sat heavy and sharp on her forearm. Just the slightest amount of pressure would break the skin, but I waited. I don't know why or even what I was waiting for, but the action was paralyzed. As if I needed some form of permission or admission of trust. It was completely absurd. Yet…It was there. It took a moment to settle and take over the overwhelming amount of fear, but there in her eyes there was trust. Not the kind that The Dark Lord had shown me full of expectations and wild, manic eyes. Not like Cissy placing the burden of all her hopes on my shoulders with the expectation of protection that I wasn't certain I could give. This was something different that I could not place. No, it was dangerous. Dangerous and wrong to many degrees. Hurriedly I looked away, steeled my resolve, and began the incantation almost silently.

I felt her stare burning into the side of my face before she even spoke. "You can do wandless magic?" The question was practically breathless and my eyes tore away from the knife instantly. I stared at her. Her eyes were wide with fear and wild unsated curiosity. Brown.

I refocused my attention back to the knife. "It has to be this way. I'm going to be yelling at you every bit as maniacal as you would imagine me. Answer how you would if this were real, it will feel real afterward. You'll scar…and you won't like it."

There was only a hitch of breath in response before I made the first cut. I chanced one last look at her face. She still looked absolutely terrified which was expected, but she met my eyes and took a deep breath before giving the slightest nod. I did the same and filled my lungs until they burned before I started screaming like a fanatic.

Chapter Text

*Hermione*

Mudblood

There it was right there in angry, grotesque, raised scarring. It has been a week since the terrifying encounter at Malfoy Manor and it was hard to keep my focus on much else for longer than an hour. Whenever I tried to help Harry and Ron coordinate the next step I found myself regressing more and more into my head and becoming painfully aware of the markings. Eventually, I would just be stuck staring into space looking absolutely mortified. I was no help and they eventually stopped including me.

I just can't get out of my head. I want to shed my skin and start over again. It was hard to rationalize why it was necessary. We were captured insects waiting for the vicious spider of course for appearance sake it was necessary. Honestly, I got off extremely easy. If things had gone the way I'm sure Bellatrix had planned I would be a lot worse for wear with a lot more than just a psychologically damaging scar. This is the woman who tortured the Longbottom's to insanity so she had a bit of a standard of practice to live up to.

Of course, I'm unequivocally grateful that Dobby showed up precisely when he did. This was the second time the free elf's loyalty to Harry had given us the upper hand. I personally dubbed him our very own Dues Ex Machina. There was barely any time to mourn. I already miss him.

Again, I found myself feeling the jagged lettering as I seemed to do most of the time now. I wondered why the dark witch chose this particular scar first. Of course, I have more than enough less cohesive scars to show for the encounter, but this was the single most defining one. Did she come up with the idea on the spot? Or was this an idea that played in her mind more than a few times before? The thought was disturbing. Even more disturbing is my ability to seemingly forget all the evil this woman is capable of in favor of falling victim to her twisted charm and nefarious way of functioning. She has killed and tortured many. This mark was absolutely in her capabilities.

Just then Harry enters the tent. I must have looked an absolute sight to him. Staring, unseeing, at the sleeve that was hiding the grotesque mark on my forearm. He came silently and sat at the opposite end of the four poster.

"Ron has first watch tonight." He stated simply. It wasn't necessary. I barely looked at him in response. "Hermione, you've barely said anything since we escaped. I'm worried about you." He kept his voice quiet and level.

Sighing, I knew there was no easy way out of this. "It's been a lot to think about. I've been marked in a way that will make it plain for all to see what I am. To make things worse it was done by someone who is our ally. Forgive me for needing a bit more time to process it all."

He was silent for a moment, his face washed in derision. "Why do you call her that? She is no ally the events of that night should have made it clear. She's a traitor and she's absolutely mad. You have to stop this unhealthy obsession with her! There is no good in that woman. Never was."

He called himself being sensible. There was no possible way Bellatrix Black would ever leave the Dark Lord's side. She is his most loyal servant and proudly so. This was all just an elaborate rouse of some kind. I, however, saw something different. He found himself in much the same situation not too long ago.

"Harry, do you not see the similarities here?" He stared in confusion so I elaborated. "When you found out about Sirius you had one thing on your mind at any given moment. You were utterly obsessed and when you found that he was innocent you defended him. You were ready to go to the Minister himself."

"That's different." He interjected. "Sirius was innocent. Let's not forget that he would still be here if that madwoman hadn't murdered him!" His face grew red with anger.

I was taken aback by the outburst. Clearly, he didn't mean to get that emotional. "Don't you think I know that?" I couldn't make the words any more than a whisper. "Don't you think I considered all of this as I lay on the floor being carved up like a ham? Or being held with a knife at my throat? Or when I was getting this filth carved into my arm! It didn't physically hurt, but I am trying to deal with the consequences of having faith in a madwoman! I can't explain it and I don't know why I'm fighting you on this so hard, but I have faith that something good will come out of this." Tears were threatening to fall, but I refused to let them. It seemed inappropriate. I wasn't fighting on behalf of a disgraced friend or a spurned lover. I was defending a stranger, a criminal at that. Even as the months dragged on I forgot that everyone else, especially Harry, didn't have this bizarre need to give Bellatrix a chance beyond helping us win the war. I was the only one that strangely didn't want to see the witch crucified and burned. But, these were strange days. My parents had no clue they ever had a daughter. The wizarding community was in absolute chaos. We were hunting for pieces of a man's soul. Anything seemed possible. "I didn't mean to upset you, but you didn't know a single thing about Sirius until you came face-to-face with him and found out the truth. I just mean that there are two sides to every story and we only know one side of Bellatrix'."

"Would you be saying the same thing if it were Him who had shown up that night?" Harry asks sullenly.

"Perhaps. It would be dependent on the circumstance. I believe anyone is capable of change; some for better and some for worse. Of course, I'm always wary and cautious, but everyone deserves the opportunity." It sounded delusional even to me. The atrocities were impossible to ignore, yet here I sat once again defending a woman that lacked a single redeeming quality. To someone who has just recently been on the receiving end of her malice. The only way to make this situation any worse would be to replace Harry with Neville.

"It's just hard to believe. Why after everything she's done? Does she want leniency? Why, of all people, does she deserve a new life?" His voice is steely but this was a start. Him asking these kinds of questions, even if they were saturated in bitterness, meant that he was thinking about the possibility.

"We'll need to win this war to find out."

*Bellatrix*

Hogwarts.

The final battleground.

How I dreamed of this night.

We were silently aware that Hogwarts would be the last stand. The Ministry was our front, but Hogwarts was where we built our stronghold. The Dark Lord knew that Harry would eventually find his way back, unable to stay away from the place that was his home for so many years and unable to leave his friends behind to suffer in his stead. He did not expect it to take this long, but once he knew for certain what they were doing, what they were hunting, he knew this was where he needed to be.

He was not happy. Make no mistake, as the days stretched into weeks and the weeks morphed into months The Dark Lords temper worsened. As he felt each Horcrux die his torture methods grew more gruesome in turn. His perfect plan was falling apart and he could do little to stop it.

The disaster at Malfoy Manor only made him worse. Everyone felt the strength and fire of his wrath, but I bore the brunt. I let him down the most. I was expected to fill his robes in his absence and I failed him. I regretted it as he took out his anger on me. Wished I had just forgotten this delusion and complied as always, but I hadn't and everything seemed to fall apart the moment I decided to disobey. It felt like a curse. To be quite frank, if it weren't for that damned house elf I'm not sure if I could have gotten them all out alive with the plan I had lined up. Not without giving myself up and taking a few imbeciles out along the way.

The Dark Lord showed no mercy that night. It would have been merciful to finish me off. No, The Dark Lord hit me with everything he could imagine and some things that had yet to be named. It was agonizing and more creative than anything I could have done to the Longbottom's in my worst state. He pushed me to the very edge of my breaking point time and time again. There was no clear line between the spells, the damage more like a stream of consciousness. Starting with the nerve-rattling pain of the Cruciatus Curse then my veins were pushing fire and needles instead of blood and magic making me scream until my throat was raw and my head woozy with the lack of oxygen. My skin burning morphed into a bombardment of spells that knocked me off my feet leaving me bloody and battered. It worsened from there and by the time he was done I was a bloody nearly unrecognizable mess. I don't remember how I found Narcissa, but I'm thankful that I did. Thankful that she took to healing when The Dark Lord settled in her home. She hasn't stopped staring at me with those haunted eyes ever since. Unable to see anything other than the dying monster she saw then. That was far from the first time I had been on the receiving end of The Dark Lord's wrath, but the memory has stuck with me the most. I could only compare it to my time in Azkaban. The memories of what I sustained there were forevermore a part of me and were one of the many flames under my hindquarters that kept me moving forward with this insane plan.

The icy voice of The Dark Lord roaming over the grounds brought me back to the present. He was calling them out now. This was the moment. This was the last chance. After tonight I would either die, my secrets dying with me, or everything would change by the morning. Either way, my heart was pounding away in my chest ready to take flight if it weren't trapped in its cage. I already knew my plan of attack. Go in raging and take out as many deadly threats to the others as I can without being too obvious. It sounded easy enough, but it would be chaos down on the ground. Who knows what will happen or who will find out what I've done.

However, before the chaos started there was someone I needed to speak with first. Breaking away from The Dark Lord's side I pushed my way off to the side where the trees were casting dark shadows. It didn't matter, her porcelain skin stood out against the black.

"Bella." Narcissa was waiting fretfully, away from the sickening fanaticism. Her eyes kept flitting nervously to something just over my shoulder. I turned to see Draco standing tall and proud, however, the spark was missing from his eye and the smirk from his lips. Just a boy doing what he was told, not at all ready for the consequences.

"I'll try my best to keep him safe. You know I will."

"And who will watch over you!" The reply was barely contained to a whisper. Not that it mattered, most others were focused on the school and going over plans of attack.

Turning away from the others I faced Narcissa so only we could see each other. "This is my last stand, Cissy. I either die here or become undesirable number one by morning light. This is my only chance to do something right! I'm trying to take back my freedom, but there are too many stakes. I've played all my cards, now I wait."

"Everyone on that ground wants you dead. Am I not supposed to worry? Draco is a boy with few allies, but you…" She let it hang, it did not need to be said.

"I expect you to worry thrice as much as you normally do, but not many down there can match me for power or skill. I'll be alright and if I'm not, well that's the end of this business." I'm resigned to this fate. There was no turning back now. Now, all that was left was to jump head first.

Things were steady. If you can call being in the middle of a battleground with spells meaning to maim or kill flying by your head every second steady. I don't know how we found ourselves locked like this, but I suppose it was going to happen eventually. I'd been picking off my supposed dark allies with a few discrete and well-placed spells. Nothing too drastic, just enough to take them out of the fight and be rounded up by the others. There was no set pattern to my method I just sent spells where I saw fit, moving almost seamlessly through the massacre. Somehow, by some act of chance, I roundabout gearing up to throw one nasty stunner only to come face-to-face with my niece Nymphadora with her little pup in tow. They block what was meant to be a merciful relief from this nightmare with ease. Realization of who we were meant to be dueling hit us simultaneously. I would not make the first move. Although the wolf hadn't been hostile with me as our meetings grew more frequent, he'd been amicable even, my niece was still slow to trust. What is to be expected of any Black, especially with these circumstances.

I was trapped. I could not run for fear of exposure as neither side was making any headway. If I dueled then they or even other members of the Order might happen upon the scene and get the wrong impression. Surely, standing here dumbstruck would be just as suspicious.

Perhaps it was a vote of confidence, a gut feeling, or maybe he could read the fear in my eyes. For whatever reason, the wolf, Lupin, was the first to cast with only the slightest nod of acknowledgment as a warning. It was nothing serious, easily reflected, but it was enough. Tonks picking up on her lover's play joined in shortly after. I figured I would keep them occupied for a few moments before apparating to another part of the school. Just enough to make the struggle seem real. That plan burned to ashes as a familiar figure appeared in smoke beside me.

There wasn't enough time to process it all, to react.

"Lestrange!" Dolohov's voice cut through the air as a ray of green light left his wand. There was no scream. No last shout of awe as the witch was struck by surprise. Just the dwindling of light as it left her eyes as she collapsed.

I stared in disbelief as Lupin did the same. Dropping to his knees in silence as he clutched his wife's limp hand. Time seemed to slow. The deep mournful sobs raking his body morphing into a primal scream of rage. Still clutching her hand he pointed his wand at Dolohov every ounce of his contempt and unbridled rage at the tip. Before he even had a chance to utter a word Dolohov had pulled his card. The unforgivable hit him squarely in the chest. The anger instantly melting into disbelief. The same empty gaze as his wife entering his eyes as he collapsed next to her, hand-in-hand.

This was not how it was meant to go. No one was meant to die, she was supposed to keep them all safe. Every one of them. To prove to the Ministry that I could be relied upon, and to prove to myself that it wasn't too late to change things. That death and destruction didn't follow me like a shadow. But this…They were barely wed with an infant son waiting for them to return. I approached them warily, unsure if this was real or some elaborate hoax at my expense. Not ready to believe what I already knew.

Nymphadora lay flat with her head toward her companion. The last sign of her life leaving as her hair, once vibrant and lively like the witch I neglected to know for so long, returned to its natural black. In the end, she was the spitting image of Andromeda. Andromeda, who would never see her daughter again. Andromeda who would be waiting for her daughter to come bouncing through the door even after the Aurors informed her of the news. Who would never see her son-in-law again. Poor Lupin. Who held his wife even in death, unseeing eyes alight with a longing smile as they settled on the mother of his child.

This could not be.

"Hey! Lestrange!" I'd forgotten Dolohov was even there as I mourned for family I did not know.

"My husband is dead." It was cold and disconnected, but he wouldn't know the difference. Just take it as more mad ramblings. What else was I to say to him? Leave me a moment to mourn. That was too personal and Dolohov was a rat. He'd have me captured within the hour I believe.

"Like you'll ever marry again. Oh and a thank you would be nice for the man who helps you out by dropping two Aurors." Was the snide reply.

"Look around you idiot. Aurors are dropping everywhere. Taking two by surprise is no feat." I leveled, pushing past him.

"Push off! What the hell has gotten into you?" His self-righteous indignation was showing in his demeanor. Turning on the spot I did not speak as I placed my wand directly between his eyes and the last thing he saw was a flash of green.

I did not linger to see who saw the encounter deciding instead to try and uphold a promise I made to someone. It seemed that the more desperately I wanted to find Draco to ensure that he was still alive and breathing, the more blonde students seemed to streak across my peripheral. Never the one I wanted. I was on autopilot, deflecting and sending spells as I searched for the tall boy who wanted to be a man and never catching sight of him. Fear began to nibble at my neck. What if I was too late? Draco was lying dead somewhere and I failed to protect him. Failed to protect again.

"Hey!" The scream pulled me from my search. It was the Girl Weasel.

"What do you want Weasel?" I asked, my limbs were antsy with the need to keep moving, to keep searching.

"I saw you. I saw what you did to them. You and that Dolohov killed Lupin and Tonks!" She was altogether red and absolutely enraged. I did not have time for this. I couldn't explain that she had it all wrong, not when Draco was still unaccounted for.

"No. I did not kill them. I need to find Draco." It wasn't enough to deter her.

"Bullshit!" She threw a hex that I deflected with ease. The duel was unavoidable.

I did not want to fight. This was pointless, there were people wanting to do harm and kill and I was stuck with the child who got everything wrong. I let her work out her anger, deflecting everything she threw without breaking a sweat, but it was clear she had remarkable stamina. A side effect of war most likely. I felt the anxiety and fear rising in me, threatening to overflow.

"I need to go!" I pushed her hex back with surprising force, knocking the witch off balance. I raised my wand again preparing to push her back so that I could escape when another awfully red figure appeared in front of her. Mama Weasel.

"Not my daughter you bitch!" With a twist of her wand and surprising speed, the matriarch sent something nasty my way which I deflected at the last second.

"She killed Tonks and Lupin, mum. She has to pay." The lie was unintentional, but it still stung. I was angry. Angry that she did not know the entire story, angry at Molly for being such an adept duelist and keeping her longer from her search, and angry at Dolohov for killing them in the first place.

I let the anger flow through my wand with each spell. Coating my words with conviction. "I. Did. Not. Kill. Them." Each spell knocked the witch back a few feet, but she remained standing. "If you had been there, if you had seen, you would know. Dolohov killed them, and I killed him in return."

Both witches slowly lowered their wands, staring at me in uneasy disbelief.

"If you'd spied long enough you would have seen three murders, not just two." My voice was steel and coated with annoyance.

"I-I saw you dueling and I just…Why were you dueling then?" The Girl Weasel asked.

"To keep them occupied. Dolohov was unexpected." I didn't want to relive the memories still fresh in my mind.

We stared. It was maddening as time ticked by. They couldn't decide whether to trust me and I was beginning to think that I didn't want it either way when an explosion and the screams of young ones ran out. They both glanced behind me where the commotion came from. Torn between helping or staying trapped in this stalemate. Eventually, their conscience won out and with only a passing glance they were off down the corridor.

"Wait!" I called after the young red-head. She turned, curious. "Draco?" I was desperate and it was obvious.

"I saw him going up the stairs with Crabbe and Goyle. I think he's following Harry." Was the direct response before she took off again.

Relief washed over me. If he was with Harry he was safe. Harry would never kill. Hardening my resolve I refocused my efforts. Vowing that no other incidents like Dolohov's would happen while she stood.

He came. The foolish boy actually came. Alone and outnumbered, he came.

The Dark Lord called for a temporary retreat and ceasefire. Both sides tended to their wounded or dead. Narcissa busied herself with healing in order to keep her mind off Draco's absence. I felt guilty. He should be here, I should not have assumed. I should have gone after him and made sure he returned to his mother. Now I can only make hallow platitudes and hope that he was alive.

The camp grew quiet as he emerged from the trees, utterly at peace it would seem. Ready to embrace his fate. We watched and listened as the Dark Lord won his longest battle and final beat The Boy Who Lived. There was stillness when he fell. None of us believed it. No battle, no trick, no spell to keep him safe. It didn't seem real. It was almost anticlimactic.

"Ms. Malfoy." The raspy voice of the Dark Lord was loud in the silence. He motioned toward where the boy lay motionless on the ground. "If you would."

She stared at him for a moment in shock. She had not meant to be close with him afterward. He was just a boy after all. A boy so much like her son whom she could not account for. Lucious gave an impatient push with his cane and with a respectful tilt of the head she slowly crossed the field to him. She bent over him, checking closely for vital signs, I assume because she still could not believe that he was dead either. Her face was turned away from us as we waited and when she finally stood she nodded.

"He is dead."

A raucous uproar sounding around me, but I only noticed the look in my sister's eye as she locked with mine. She held my gaze longer than necessary to make sure that I knew. That I picked up on the deceit. A finger pointed down at the boy and she shook her head almost imperceptibly. Everyone else was too caught up in their celebration, but I read the signs she was sending me. Harry Potter was not dead. The Boy Who Lived simply would not die.

*Hermione*

I was the first to see the body hanging limply in Hagrid's hands. The early morning light glinting off his glasses as his head jostled against the half-giant's chest. I'd never seen Hagrid cry so heavily. Yes, for Griphook he mourned and Harry told me what he was like after Aragog, but this was the first time I saw him truly weep.

Hot tears ran down my face. I could not believe it. My stomach fell to the ground and my body with it. Ron saddled up beside me, a protective arm wrapped around my back as I cried for my fallen brother. We failed. We failed to kill the snake and end this Horcrux business and we failed to stop Voldemort.

Voldemort stepped forward, his face taunting. "You see? He is dead. Your great hero is no more! It is time to end this fighting between magical beings such as we. It is time to choose a side. Those who would join me may do so now, with no consequences. Those who choose to defy me will pay the cost."

No one moved, not even dared to say a word. All ready to die for the same cause Harry gave his life for. Not seeing a better option. That is until Draco pushes pass, limping, bloodied, and covered in soot. That was expected, in fact, I'm surprised he was hesitant at all. I watched as he fell into his mother's embrace, a sense of longing tearing away at my insides. I would never see my parents again. At least they would be safe, living a long happy life without ever knowing they had a magical daughter. So many lives were affected and lost by this war in other ways than death.

As I watched, I got the feeling of being watched. It didn't take long to find the reason. A certain madwoman was staring intensely at me, the slightest nod the only indication that, yes, she did intend to get my attention. She did something peculiar. Very softly, almost as if she didn't want anyone to suspect what she was doing, she tapped the tip of her nose twice and then slowly pointed to Harry's body which still lay dead in Hagrid's arms. I didn't understand. It was a signal of some kind, but what did it mean? Was she taunting me? Teasing me for foolishly believing that she came to us wanting to do good. Taunting me for trusting her as my best friend lay dead. I stared back confused and only slightly hurt. Her gaze intensified and she repeated the action, this time more deliberate.

My mind was racing with the possibilities, coming to the conclusion that I was indeed the butt of her joke once again. However, Draco, who was previously hiding in the safety of his mother's bosom, suddenly turned to stare at Harry's body in wild disbelief. He seemed unable to control his reaction as his mother tried to pull him away. I stared once more at the body wanting so desperately to see what they saw. I looked back to Draco only to find that he and his mother had now joined Bella in staring at me, only sending urgent glances to Harry. Then it hit me. What an absurd notion. Were they trying to tell me that he was not dead? It was hard to believe as I saw his body so lifeless. As I watched Hagrid fall to pieces over him.

The scraping of metal on stone brought me back to harsh reality. Harry was dead. There was no use trying to come up with some contingency. The proof was right before my eyes.

Neville limped forward, dragging the Sword of Gryffindor behind him. His face was covered in blood and it was clear that he was still bleeding elsewhere on his body. I listened to him make his stand. If only the scared boy from first year could see the young man he was now. A true Gryffindor. He was so sure of himself and his confidence was infectious. Needless to say, he surprised us all, including the laughing Death Eaters, when he beheaded Voldemort's beloved Nagini. His moment was short-lived however as Harry jumped from Hagrid's arms, the half-giant staring at the boy in watery shock. We were all shocked, The Boy Who Lived becoming The Boy Who Rose.

My heart wanted to leap from my chest. It was only Ron who kept me from running and wrapping Harry in a crushing hug. The war was still going. We still had a chance.

Neither side moved as Harry and Voldemort seized each other up, bickering, trying to draw the other to attack first. There was an audible gasp as Harry suddenly rushed Voldemort, the two wizards apparating from the side of the bridge. When they vanished there was a moment of bewilderment. Both sides staring at each other, unsure if they were to continue fighting now as well. Ultimately, an unknown Death Eater fired the first spell and the school was alight with magic once again.

Chapter Text

*Bellatrix*

The situation devolved into complete chaos. There was no plan of attack or formation, it was every witch and wizard for themselves. Some chose to abstain from fighting altogether. Those who'd had enough fighting and death. Those like Narcissa and my nephew.

Narcissa held Draco close to her heart, I'm sure vowing to never let him go again. The boy looked like he never wanted to leave his mother's embrace. They held each other like there weren't deadly spells flying in all directions. They thought they would never have this moment again. I was proud of Narcissa for raising such a fine young man. She nurtured him and gave him all the love he could ever want. I often joked that it was borderline coddling, but I secretly admired it. It would seem that two of the Black sisters had learned from our parent's choices.

At least he was safe. He was alive and able to relish the safety of his mother's bosom again. For so many others their parents were gone and for so many parents there were children who wouldn't be returning. I knew it was unfair. He fought for the deaths of many of those same children who would not be returning home. Why should he be allowed to see his mother, be protected by his family when so many others didn't even get a proper goodbye.

Amidst the fighting, there were those who instead chose that moment to escape while they still could. Mostly concerned adults taking frightened children from the destruction, but there were a few Death Eaters who chose to flee early as well. Not confident with the chances I suppose. I didn't blame them. If I hadn't already sold my allegiance I might consider bolting if I'd seen a boy take a killing curse unarmed and walk it off like a stunner. People disappeared all around until only the strongest duelists remained to take the battle to the bitter end. The two other members of the trio were, of course, among those who remained. They were holding their own, I was impressed. At least they knew clearly what they were to do, I was lost. With so few remaining I couldn't possibly continue my previous mode of attack without being completely exposed. What would happen if it were the Dark Lord who returned and not the boy? Would it be worth the risk? And what would be stopping the remaining Death Eaters from all turning on me once I revealed myself a traitor? I would have no protection and be forced to face them all at once, alone.

This was a defining moment.

Either I cower again or finally take hold of my own future and face the consequences. It all hung on who I cast my next spell at. I took a look around and weighed my options. Everywhere I looked there weren't targets, just clear-cut decisions and sides to choose. I looked to the know-it-all as she took on some bugger whose name I never bothered to learn. He underestimated her and was on the losing end of the defensive, backpedaling and nearly off-balance.

But something was off. A presence going unnoticed with malicious intent in his eyes. No one seemed to see him approach which meant that the girl would be blindsided if I didn't make a decision. Keep teetering on the edge or make the jump.

*Hermione*

The battle, the war, was not yet won. All around me the pop of apparating sounded off randomly, announcing the departure of someone or another. I didn't have the peace of mind to see who they were, not while a grizzled and deranged man was trying his damndest to send me flying into the rubble. I didn't get into full-on duels often, but I felt confident in this one. He wasn't exceptional and he left himself completely open to attack. I just needed to wait for the right moment… A hex hit him squarely in the chest and he flew backward, slumping against a mostly destroyed pillar. Relief washed over me as I had a chance to catch my breath and gain my composure.

Finally having the chance to take in my surroundings I saw that there were only a few who remained. Determined to fight until the victor was clear or none of us were left standing. Scanning those around me there were none that I could see who weren't already engaged with someone else. Ron and Ginny helping the remaining members of the Order round up unconscious Death Eaters to make sure they didn't escape. A mess of black caught my eye. The manic witch looked like an animal trapped. Not moving, not saying anything, but even the others didn't seem to pay her any mind. Our eyes locked for just a moment. It didn't mean anything, just an acknowledgment.

I don't recall seeing much of her in the fight, but I was preoccupied. Ron and I returned to the dreaded Chamber of Secrets to destroy a Horcrux in spectacular and wet fashion. We kissed and I wasn't sure if it was because I liked him or because we had just narrowly escaped death or a mixture of both. I knew I loved him like a brother just as I loved Harry, but was that all? It was probably the worst time to be thinking about it. The thought just kept nagging me and pushing into the forefront, even with the very real threat and the almost literal presence of death looming overhead. It took everything within me to push the thought away for now at least and try to bring myself back to the fight.

That's when I saw her. Really saw her. Staring, no, glaring at me with so much malice. Her eyes were steely and she pointed her wand without hesitance. I felt my stomach drop to the ground. I was routed to the spot, what was I supposed to do? I wasn't prepared for this although common sense says that I should have seen it coming. Of course, I should've! I was played for a fool and now I would pay the price for it. To think I trusted this woman. I trusted her to change and be decent, but she lied to us all and now this is how we would end. Because of my stupidity.

Quick as a snake she twirled her wand and threw a spell with deadly accuracy and force. The spell twisted and spun in on itself over and over as it hurled directly for me. I refused to close my eyes. Not wanting to hide from my end and who brought it. Wanting to die standing and brave not regretting a single thing. No, I don't regret anything. Not a single moment or decision. I absolutely don't regret trusting Bellatrix. I'll never regret giving anyone a chance that I thought they deserved. I invested in her, stuck my neck out when no one else would, I would not die regretting that. I accept that this is the outcome.

The beam of white light drew closer and closer and I felt the heat of the magic. The light was blinding and all I could see. I braced myself for the impact of whatever spell was thrown at me and my fear mounted with each second. It sailed past my head only barely brushing against my hair as it continued over my shoulder. I turned my head just in time to see the spell hit a man in the chest and send him flying into a wall with devastating force. Rubble came flying down over the unconscious wizard. Everything seemed to slow just then. Every duel took a pause as everyone took a moment to look at the fallen Death Eater amidst the pile of smoking rubble and then to the witch who cast the spell.

Bellatrix stood tall, breathing heavily and hair blowing erratically in the wind. A cross between fear and wickedness on her face. It was clear that no one knew how to react. No one moved to attack or resume their own duels. We all just stared in shock. There was no turning back from this. Fenrir Greyback was the first to make a move. He ran between Bellatrix and me, but it was unclear who he intended to attack. Before he could decide he was struck from both sides and he fell hard. Ron let out a shout of triumph when Greyback didn't get up again. Everything was shaken up after that. With Bellatrix seeming to have taken it upon herself to take out every remaining Death Eater with extreme prejudice most of them took to take down their most lethal threat. Hoping that what they lacked in prowess or power could be made up for in numbers. It was a hastily made decision and a large misstep that made it easier to pick them off while their attention was split.

It was amazing. She was immovable and struck with frightening speed. It was exhausting just watching her enemies throw everything they had at her only to fall shortly after. It actually seemed that the tide would turn in our favor even if Harry didn't succeed. At least not on his own. If he could just make it back here we could help and with the added skill of Bellatrix, we could overwhelm Voldemort. It could be done.

Before long the remaining Death Eaters were either incapacitated, surrendered, or fled at the last moment. When those who were captured were rounded up it was nothing but a waiting game which left plenty of time to talk.

*Bellatrix*

"So, you're really on our side then? This isn't some elaborate ruse?" The Longbottom boy sidled up to me. He stood tall and his shoulders were square, but his voice shook and gave away his fear.

"Word travels fast in the Order. How about you make sure that this travels just as fast. I meant what I said. If this doesn't prove my commitment then this is the end of the line for me." I tried not to be defensive that would be counter-productive. But there was still a large amount of uncertainty and I needed to be on alert for any changes.

Longbottom nodded solemnly and began to shuffle away, but I stopped him. "Wait, Longbottom." He turned back to me, curious. "Why did you come all the way over here just to ask me that? I orphaned you. I expected you to be one of the last people to speak with me civilly unless you were forced to. Right before the Potter boy."

He shrugged slowly, "You didn't orphan me. My nan made up for what I didn't get from my parents. I do hold you responsible, but my parents gave everything so that we got a few more years of peace. They suffered unimaginable pain in order to do the right thing. I suffered because they had the strength to do the right thing. Maybe your time in Azkaban helped you see the light, maybe you've felt this way all along. But I do know that for you to come from where you were and turn your back on everything and everyone that knows you and do the right thing now, that takes strength as well."

"I figured you would either be too afraid or too angry. It seems I was wrong. You are very brave, Neville Longbottom." I admitted.

He smiled sadly, "I have to be."

"I'm sorry. I was afraid and not level-headed. The things I had lost. I know this means nothing to you, but without...him...my life was a misery. The things expected of a pureblood, expected of a Black, are not freedoms and civil liberties. They are dark and spirit breaking." I don't know why I was telling him this, perhaps because of the way our lives intertwined, either way, it was a relief.

"I think I'd like to understand one day. After all of this is over." With that, he turned and shuffled back to his friends. I doubt anything will come of the conversation, but with the best of luck maybe some closure or understanding could be given. He seemed to be one of the few people left who wanted to understand why I did what I did. The old bat Dumbledore was one of those people. He always had a million little annoying questions and received the answers, however gruesome they were, with that infuriating knowing smile of his. He never judged, or never let on that he was judging. I wish I could have prevented what happened. Yet another regret.

"That's twice now you've saved my life and I never properly thanked you for the first time." The other person who seemed to want to know me.

"Muddy, yes you made a quick exit without so much as a thanks, very rude of you. But I scratch your back, you scratch mine." I said.

"What do you mean?" She asked.

I turned to face her fully and she did the same. All the other commotion was lost in the peripheral. "I mean if it isn't Harry that comes back...with everything I've done just today...I need someone to help me. I need someone to defend me and no one else will. If you believe that I am capable of any good I ask you to do this one thing for me. If it comes down to it."

She was shocked, of course, she was shocked, this was a dangerous request. I will not fault her for saying no given her position and the consequences she would endure if I were to fall to the Dark Lord, but I had to ask. I'm not confident in my ability to take him on alone. I'm more skilled than any other witch or wizard here and he taught me spells that were unimaginable to anyone else, but he always kept his strongest spells to himself, he never showed me the true extent of his power. He preferred to keep those things to himself even from me.

"I'll do it."

"What?"

"I'll do it. If it comes to that of course, but I'm confident in Harry. Voldemort is 0 for 2 at this point. Harry is stubborn. He won't fall. Not today." She smiled and a look of almost relief came across her face.

"Let's hope that your confidence is not misplaced." A little bit of relief washed over me as well.

"Always bet on Harry." She said thoughtfully before continuing. "Could I ask what you and Neville were speaking about?"

That wasn't unexpected, but it was too familiar all the same. "That would require us to have a certain level of mutual friendship I think. Do we have that? You a mudblood and I a pureblood of the House of Black? That would be strange indeed." I countered for no other reason than to be irritating.

"Let's not forget that you just nearly begged this mudblood for her support. I think we have a mutual level of something. Maybe not friendship per se, but maybe trust?" She shot right back.

"Trust, eh? I can't argue your logic just yet. Quid pro quo. We talked of his parents and bravery. If he wants he can tell you the details, but I've opened up enough for one day. There is still a war going on."

"Well, not so much a war anymore. More like a battle, but I know what you mean. It feels odd just waiting here for one of them to get back. I feel so anxious. The magic is thrumming at my fingertips, my heart is racing. I want this all to be over now. It feels like the end of everything you know? But there's so much more to come. Rebuilding, elections, reparations. It's like the fighting will be replaced with a different type of mayhem."

"You seem to overlook how much worse it will get if the Dark Lord kills Potter. You'll be among the first to go. That should frighten you. That should be the only thing on your mind. Yet you chose the more optimistic view. I don't know what that says about your personality. Either you are endlessly optimistic or foolishly naive." I felt the familiarity growing between us and it was odd. Not at all friendship, but there was a lack of animosity. The things this must say about my personality in particular.

"Both, I think." She smirked, actually smirked. Like she was comfortable. Strange.

"Yes, a mix of both is healthy. I've had a lack of optimism in my years I guess now is as good a time as any to start seeing silver linings."

"I would not think you would lack optimism, albeit in your own, um, unique facets. I thought the great Bellatrix Lestrange exuded confidence and twisted optimism in abundance."

"Black. Bellatrix Black. The further I can distance myself from the Lestrange name and everything that comes with it following mine the better."

"Not sure if Black is a less threatening surname."

"I don't know. Besides being pureblood supremacists and regular scale criminals the Blacks before me were mostly all talk. All prominent figures who just happened to think lesser of their mudblood counterparts. Very humdrum. Even now, one daughter an exile for marrying a mudblood and the other trapped in a loveless marriage with a tyrant who nearly cost her her son's life. I'm by far the worst Black there ever was, but better to be the worst Black than another Lestrange." It was hard in moments like these to keep my personal feelings to myself. All the horrible things I've seen and done, sometimes they were so overwhelming that they just boiled over and spilled out of me before I could get the lid on.

She just stared at me, her eyes darting across my face searching for something. There was no expression, just her eyes staring almost as if she were having a hard time believing me. Like she was searching for any indication on my face that what I said wasn't true or it was all some big charade.

"I take it the Grangers were all lovely people then. Right, I forgot with whom I was speaking."

"My parents are dentists. They helped keep people's teeth healthy. Very far from evil." She finally said.

"Helped?" I asked.

"They live in Australia now. They probably found their way back to dentistry." She replied.

"What did you do to them?" I asked because it was obvious by the way she avoided the details.

She didn't reply immediately, still a fresh wound I suppose. "Before everything happened, I altered their memories so it would be like I never existed to them. I figured it would be safest for them. They didn't need to be crossed up in all of this."

"That was a very strong thing to do. Strategically, it was the best choice. They would have been your weakness and any weakness you or the boy weasel have is a weakness that would be exploited to get to Harry. Admirable."

"It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do." She said it as if she knew what it meant already. It was still a difficult decision to make.

I wanted to tell her that it was admirable that she did it for her parent's safety as well. Maybe make her understand that I don't only think about wars and strategy and horrible things. I understand why she did it. Understood it even before she explained her reason. It was a pre-emptive strike against the inevitable. I understand that. Before I got the chance there was the unmistakable pop of aparation that echoed loudly in the quiet space. The silence seemed to grow even quieter, becoming all-encompassing. Every conscious body snapped toward the sound, ready for attack if that was necessary.

Harry returned.

The battle was over.

The war was won.

Chapter Text

*Hermione*

It was finally over. Everything over the last few years, all the lessons, all the death, all the sacrifices culminated into this moment. Harry, Ron, and I walked the grounds as the teachers and Aurors cleaned up and began transporting the unconscious Death Eaters to some unknown location to await trials. The walk was mostly silent to accommodate whatever Harry may have been going through. He explained to us what happened when he entered the woods. From the ghosts of his loved ones to being in limbo to returning and being concealed by Narcissa Malfoy of all people! Everyone was busy with something except Bellatrix who could be seen in the distance brooding to herself. Largely being avoided and avoiding others.

"It's weird, isn't it. Everything seems so peaceful and quiet right now. It's weird, especially with her here." It was Harry who spoke up.

"It is rather odd, but how long will it last? There is so much that still needs to be done and decided." I mused.

"Yes, but I meant more specifically, Bellatrix. She hasn't acted as maniacal as I expected. The night in the Ministry she was everything you heard of. Raving mad, murderous, and lacking empathy. I don't understand how she can make this 180 flip in a matter of hours. Much less stick with it for this long." Harry explained, staring across the grounds at a Bellatrix shrouded in the shadow of the Whomping Willow.

"I've been wondering that myself." I agreed.

"I've got a theory. Maybe she's just a raving psychopath and we shouldn't question that? I mean, you know the things she's done. I assume she can turn that type of thing on and off otherwise anyone who came in contact with her would be either dead or in St. Mungo's." said Ron from his perch on the bridge.

"I thought for sure that when I was the one to come back and not Voldemort she would snap and this whole joke would be over. I expected one last battle when I returned, but instead she looked . . . relieved." Ron's statement didn't seem to affect Harry's line of thought at all. I think that's progress. Maybe not to forgiveness, but maybe to the beginnings of understanding.

Harry has been very much within himself over the past few months since Sirius' death. He rarely talked about anything other than the hunt and the war, this was the first time he openly talked about Bellatrix as something other than his enemy and his godfather's murderer.

"You're starting to sound like 'Mione, Harry. Let's get back and see what we can do to help. You know, besides what we've already done, huh?" Ron joked as he hopped down and wrapped Harry into a tight side hug as they led the way back.

When we finally returned to the commotion Kingsley set upon us immediately. "Harry, Ron, some of the Aurors would like to speak with you two and I believe they would like your help with the prisoners." At the mention of the other Aurors, the duo perked up immediately and hurried off in the direction where most of the commotion was coming from. Excited to be a part. "Ms. Granger, could I have a word with you?" He gestured toward the path that led back to the bridge and I fell into step with him, wondering what could be so important that he would need to speak with me alone.

"What are your plans for after all this is sorted out?" He asked as turned to glance at all the commotion and disarray that once was Hogwarts.

"I don't know, really. I thought I might track down my parents, but the more I think about it the more I think that's useless." I replied.

"It may be best to leave them where they are. They won't remember you despite your best efforts. I see no point in reopening the wound." Kingsley said. It was obvious that it wasn't just caring advice though he tried his hardest for it to come across that way. More of an order with the cheerful overtone of an informal request. I nodded in response.

We walked on in silence for a few minutes. The sounds of yelling and stone being magically rebuilt were slowly replaced by the sounds of birds chirping and the wind rustling through the trees to accompany the light of the early morning sun. It was surreal. To think that just a few hours ago so much death and destruction was made under the cover of night only for the sun to rise and bring with it a new day. As if the night before never happened. If it were not for the smoking rubble and foliage closer to the castle itself one may not even know what went on here last night.

"I was hoping," Kingsley started again, pulling me back to the matter at hand, "that you would be able to help the Ministry in a very delicate matter." This was the first time I've ever seen the man unsure of himself or his words. He was always confident and collected and seemed to be several steps ahead of everyone else. Always ready to guide the conversation of plans in the direction that they need to go. "It is in regards to Mrs. Lestrange, or rather Black as she has corrected me so many times already. You may recall the night she first appeared outside Grimmauld Place with her proposition there was a divide between what should be done with her. A divide that you ultimately turned. Now that the war is over and she has more than fulfilled her part of the agreement it is time that we held up our end." He explained much to my confusion.

"I don't see how I tie in with all of this. Are you saying that she asked something of me as part of her agreement?" I asked truly mortified at whatever request the witch could have made of me.

"No, of course not, Ms. Granger. We would never have agreed to anything of the sort. I tell you all this because the number of people who made the original agreement, those who would have ultimately carried out our end, have dwindled seemingly overnight." He explained solemnly.

It dawned on me then all those who were not experiencing this new morning with us. Among the dead were Lupin, Tonks, Moody who we lost before the night even started; Professor Snape whom I could still see bleeding out in the boathouse; Fred whom I couldn't think of without a large lump forming in my throat; and of course Dumbledore. Those were just those who were connected to the Order, not mention the countless others.

"So, what is it that you need my assistance with?" I asked, now fearing exactly what he might ask.

"Understandably, the Weasley's have stepped away from any Order duties so that they may grieve and prepare. So, ultimately the decisions regarding Bellatrix have fallen to myself and Headmistress McGonagall. We agree that we will hold up our word to keep Bellatrix out of Azkaban and pardon her for escaping and the death of Sirius Black who himself was an escapee. However, we can't just let her roam free." He stopped there knowing that I would connect the dots.

"You expect me to be her keeper? How exactly do you figure that will work?" I asked because it seemed ridiculous to me. If there were any way that he could explain it that would make this make sense then I would consider it.

"You're the only person she is consistently non-hostile with. It is bizarre given that you are not a pureblood, but nevertheless she seems the most comfortable with you. You wouldn't be her keeper so much as a liaison. We hope that by sending you she will be more willing to accept our terms and cooperate with the interest of both parties in mind." He explained, but I got the feeling he was going around an important piece of information.

"What aren't you saying? I doubt I would be just a messenger between you." I asked and waited for his response. The longer he remained silent the more fearful I grew.

"This would require you to give up at least a year of your life and any plans you may have made with that time. I won't lie to you this will be an emotionally draining experience solely due to the nature of Bellatrix. While she can't do any serious damage, I wouldn't put it past her to cause you some kind of physical harm as well." He said without looking at me.

"And?" I pressed.

"You would need to be with her at all times to relay any misgivings or misdeeds she may do while in her probationary period. You would live with her and her sister Narcissa." I stopped walking then and turned to look at him.

I was in shock. How did they expect me to agree to anything like this? Then I thought back to how he started this conversation. He brought up that night so many months ago and how I was the deciding factor then. Of course.

"Because I was brave enough to speak up at Grimmauld Place you think I'm insane enough to actually live with her?" I asked and it was rhetorical. I was done listening to his reasons.

"I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't at least ask. You have every right to refuse, but at least think about it. I would never have asked if Minerva and I didn't think you were capable of handling this." Kingsley replied as he began walking back to the castle.

Upon returning, Kingsley departed to help the Aurors in their tasks and I let my feet carry me closer to the castle, eventually finding my way in through the rubble. The halls that I knew as home for so long were unrecognizable to me now. It was hard to imagine any magic that could restore such damage to its once glorious form. Wandering aimlessly felt normal. It was something I often did whenever I had the free time to explore the castle and think. Now was no different. The stairs no longer functioned as they once did, but it was not too difficult to find my way to the Gryffindor common room through the rubble. Finding the Fat Lady missing from her portrait and the door open I carefully stepped inside and was hit with a sense of sad nostalgia. It was if I never left. The fighting had not touched Gryffindor tower as it had claimed and destroyed so much of the rest of the castle. The familiarity was comforting, especially now with so many changes being made and so many decisions to make. It was the perfect place to think over Kingsley's proposal without being bothered.

I understand why they would want me to do this. They would be tied up in more pressing matters and I was the last level headed and mostly unbiased option left, but actually living with her and other recent Death Eaters? Regardless of circumstance, the thought alone makes my blood run cold.

But then, what would happen to Bellatrix if I don't accept. Would they send her back to Azkaban indefinitely until everything else is sorted out? That was hardly fair considering everything and I truly believe that Bellatrix deserves another chance. I just never thought that the decision would rely so heavily on me and so soon.

Seemingly triggered by just the thought of the witch the marred skin on my forearm began to sting and burn. As if the knife were tearing it open again this time with the painfully evident. I'd done my best to heal the scars when I was safe, but the wound went untreated for too long and now the raised and shining reminder of this war and what it truly meant was permanently linked to my skin. Surely if Kingsley and McGonagall knew what this woman was capable of, comfortable with, doing to me they wouldn't suggest something so insensitive. Surely. Then again, maybe they did see. Maybe they thought I got off easy considering everything else she's done to others. Maybe the fact that I have this heinous reminder of the brutality of Bellatrix Black etched in my skin and I still chose to stand by her side made them believe that I could handle more.

"Hermione?" The soft and quizzical voice startled me. It hadn't occurred to me that there were others crazed or bored enough to enter the castle right now.

"Luna? What are you doing here?" I asked purely on impulse. I realized long ago that I would never understand the reasons why the strange girl did anything.

"Looking for anyone that may be hidden." Was the cryptic, yet simple response.

"Oh."

"Why are you here?" She asked in response.

"I needed to be alone." I answered, hoping she would get the hint.

"I see. There were better places to choose from you know." She pointed out without moving.

Resigned to my fate of never finding a moment of peace after this war I finally caved, "Would you like to sit with me? I doubt anyone is still in the castle. If there are I'm sure there are plenty of people who can take care of them."

"I suppose you're right. I could be using my time to help a friend in need." She concluded.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"You have been a wonderful friend to me all these years. Maybe I can return the favor. What's got your mind in such a funk?"

"I-I'm not sure if I can say." There was something about Luna that always made me feel exposed. Even when she made no sense.

"That's alright. Does it have anything to do with Ms. Black and why she is going unnoticed?" She aptly guessed.

I was speechless. She hit the nail right on the head without even a moment of thought. She seemed to know a lot more about what was going on around her than anyone gave her credit for. There was only a moment of nervous consideration before I finally caved.

"They want me to be in charge of her, keep an eye on her so to speak. They want me to live in the same house as her indefinitely. I don't think I'm strong enough for that." My voice was small and hollow.

"Oh." Was her much-anticipated response.

"Oh?" I asked. "Is that all you have to say? I would have been better off sitting alone if that's the case!" I exclaimed, not thinking once about the words leaving my mouth.

Luna sat quietly staring at me. Not so much as blinking. I don't know what it was about her, but I felt guilt coil in my stomach immediately.

"I'm sorry, Luna. I didn't mean that. I'm just stressed is all." I apologized.

"No need. If you didn't mean it you wouldn't have said it. But I understand. This is an awfully hard decision to make. It will change the course of your future most definitely." She nodded almost enthusiastically. Like she was almost excited about the prospect of me living with former Death Eaters for the foreseeable future. If the prospect brought her so much joy then she could take my place by all means. I didn't dare say that.

"You know, in a way, you both have had to make difficult decisions that changed so much. She decided to forsake everything she knew to do what was right and now she has a second chance to get things right perhaps. And you, Hermione, you get to decide if she deserves that second chance." Luna mused in that carefree way she often did.

"When you put it that way it feels like we're exchanging freedoms. She gets to be free and I get to be imprisoned." I snorted.

"That's very pessimistic of you Hermione." She laughed back.

Our combined laughter eventually tapered off into a more comfortable silence. Although I was initially wary about Luna's presence I was thankful now for her optimistic nature. It was an unexpected, yet welcome intrusion.

Suddenly, she was standing again. "I think I'll be going now. I believe I intruded on a rather intimate moment and I don't wish to be a bother any longer. You have a lot to think about I suppose." She talked and moved faster than normal and before I could process what she was saying she was nearly gone already.

"Wait, Luna!" She stopped abruptly. "You don't have to go." I assured.

She nodded, "I think I should. I have no place in this decision. I don't want to influence you in any way. That wouldn't be fair to anyone involved."

If it were anyone else I would have thought it was an excuse, but coming from Luna…

"Whatever you decide, I'll understand. If no one else does." With that parting comment, she was gone taking with her the fragile comfort and clarity I need and leaving behind the scent of a garden.

She was right of course. This was my decision and only I could make it. How I wished for just a night of rest. A week without any expectations. Could I have that? Would Kingsley allow me that or was this a matter that needed to be handled now? Thinking it over it seemed silly. I would only be prolonging the inevitable. If I hid away from this when the time came to make the decision I'd be in the exact same situation as now. I most likely wouldn't even get the rest that I seek. No doubt this would be in every one of my waking thoughts. And what would happen with Bellatrix in that time? Would she be hauled off somewhere and held prisoner by someone who didn't understand why she wasn't being executed?

My fingers subconsciously trailed across the raised scar on my forearm. If I decided right at this moment to never see the dark witch again, this ugly scar would make sure I never forgot her. Try as I might, I was attached to her in the most physical sense.

I need someone to defend me and no one else will.

Bellatrix' words from earlier rang in my head. She asked for my help in the aftermath and although I think she meant in a more physical aspect I promised my support. It would feel like a broken promise if I let anything happen to her now.

I need someone to defend me and no one else will.

The sincerity in her tone made the request undeniable and the more I thought about possibly turning down this arrangement the more I felt like I was turning my back. I couldn't do that.

I need someone to defend me and no one else will.

*Bellatrix*

He was actually gone. I never actually believed it would be possible, but standing here under the shade of an old tree and watching the organized chaos unfurl was almost calming. I didn't feel the need to run and hide or play both sides. Still, I couldn't help but feel a certain sadness. The Dark Lord delivered me from a life or unappreciated servitude. He recognized my potential and unlocked it. It was easy to become lost in his idealism and fanaticism when he offered so much that I would never have known otherwise.

There were witches and wizards ambling about everywhere. All not even noticing my presence and I preferred it that way. If the entire wizarding community could just ignore my presence I would have a chance at a normal life. I knew that this wouldn't last long though. Eventually, this place would be restored enough that they would start looking for a place to hide me. Or more likely, imprison me under a more politically correct name. I might as well bask in the shade now while I still had the chance.

I don't think the Order would go back on our agreement, at least not outright. They would, however, repackage our agreement so that it would benefit them the most. Cause them the least amount of grief while still technically keeping their word. This outcome hadn't been the one that I most anticipated seeing as it meant that The Dark Lord would have to be dead and gone from this world for good, but I would be naive to believe that my needs, my wants, would matter at all. My life was paved with death, destruction, and misery. I deserved whatever lies ahead.

"Ms. Black." The heavy Scottish accent seemed to come out of nowhere. Had I not known so well who the voice belonged to I might have been startled into a rash reaction.

"McGonagall. Did you sneak up on me as that God-awful cat? I'd be careful if I were you, lots of things around here that would love to make a nice snack out of you." I responded, already anticipating what this conversation would be about.

"I'm fairly confident that I can handle myself." There was only the smallest twitch of a smile before her face twisted into something that resembled pained confusion. "You know what this is about, don't you?"

"About my next prison cell." I stated plainly.

She wrung her hands before answering. "No, not exactly. You might be happy to know that you are not a top concern at the moment. Given, well, everything."

"Why would that make me happy?" I snapped.

"Because you get to be a ghost for the time being." She explained clearly not impressed by my attitude.

"What does that mean exactly? I get thrown in a hole somewhere until you're ready to deal with me?" I asked.

"Nothing that dramatic. You would be with your family under protective watch."

"Protective watch." I snorted, just another way of saying imprisonment.

"Yes, Bellatrix, protective watch. Did you think that you would be left to your own devices for the time being? There will be a Ministry hearing to formally pardon you, but that won't be for months. Until then you'll need to stay out of the public eye, but somewhere that the Ministry can still check-in on you." She explained.

"And where would that be?" I asked, not thrilled with the possible answers.

"With your sister and nephew at Black Manor." McGonagall stated plainly.

I was speechless. It had been decades since I had been back there. Not since I was married. Not even when my mother or father died. That place held every tainted memory of my childhood, every propaganda rhetoric that was drilled into my head was started there, every decision that started my criminal career was made for me there. All of my hopes and my dreams died there and were replaced with those that fit more readily into the pureblood agenda. Needless to say, it was not a place I was eager to revisit, even less enthusiastic to be staying there indefinitely.

My throat constricted painfully and it took several attempts to speak. "And what poor Ministry official will have the pleasure of watching over my darling sister and I?"

"Well, actually, they would be watching over you and your nephew." McGonagall clarified.

"Really? Draco? His only offenses would be a cowardly attempt on Dumbledore's life and repairing a vanishing cabinet. Sure they sound like large issues, but compared to what people like his father were up to its child's play." How desperate do you have to be to hold a child accountable for something he was persuaded to do? Surely there were enough criminals rounded up just today to let Draco go free.

"Rest assured. Lucius Malfoy will spend the rest of his days in Azkaban for his role in all of this. Draco's punishment, if it can be called that, is more for appearance than anything. I do believe the trauma he experienced in Malfoy Manor is deterrent enough. The Ministry liaison is mainly for you." She explained, ringing her hands more and more with each word that left her mouth.

"You never told me who this liaison was. And why is it you telling me all this, not the acting Minister for Magic?" I asked, more curious than before.

"This was a joint decision on our parts. He's speaking with the possible liaison at the moment. Our first choice, the most amiable one for both parties we think, holds the right to refuse." She continued, it was obvious she didn't want to reveal who this mystery person was.

"Do I have the right to refuse?" I asked, more rhetorically than anything.

"Hopefully you won't feel the need to. That is why we handpicked this person."

This person.

Who the bloody hell could this person be. McGonagall was acting vague, nervous even. In all my years of knowing her, she never seemed anything but calm confidence. This was offputting. Just as I was about to point this out the deep voice of Kingsley Shacklebolt carried over to our shaded area under the tree.

"Minerva!" He gestured for us to join him and the others who had gathered in the middle of the courtyard. The captives were already gone to whatever hole they would rot in until their trials and now only those who fought settled around him.

I guess Kingsley wanted to give a grand speech. As soon as everyone was gathered he plunged into what was most likely a well-rehearsed and dramatic demonstration of his diplomatic speaking prowess. Unfortunately, I could care less to hear it and it would seem that a certain young mudblood felt the same way. I was just about to point out said absence when just the same mudblood appeared on the far side of the group making her way to the front. We made eye contact for a brief moment and she gave me the briefest nod.

A larger part of me is relieved that Harry came back. The girl would not have stood a chance against the Dark Lord. It would have been an awful shame to waste such a promising life on the likes of myself. From my place behind everyone else, I could make out McGonagall's outline as she made her way as discretely as possible over to the girl. They exchanged a few whispered words and a brief embrace before McGonagall turned a gave me grave look that didn't fit with having just won a war. An uneasy feeling settled in the pit of my stomach.

Finally, Kingsley had heard enough of himself and witches and wizards left in a hurry to be with their families. Narcissa was sitting on the now repaired steps of the castle, still holding Draco as if some unrecognized danger were going to swoop in and take him away. That was understandable I suppose. Especially if she knew where her fate lied. I decided to offer whatever offhanded comfort I could by sitting at my sister's side and holding her hand. A show of solidarity and protection that I hope came across as genuine and strong instead of terribly afraid.

Chapter Text

*Hermione*
The burrow was unusually silent. All members of the Weasley family were in various stages of mourning and it seemed that everyone wanted to be left alone with their own silencing charms to mask their pain. I wish things were different. This is the last time I’ll be seeing this place for at least a year, I wanted to see it full of noise, light, and smiling faces. I still have the memories of course, but they were tainted by the bitterness of death.
“You look like you’re trying to sneak out of here.” Harry’s voice came subdued from the doorway. He kept to himself the last few days as well. Probably feeling just as out-of-place as I have. This was his adoptive family, but he couldn’t stop them from hurting or help them grieve.
“No, it's just so quiet I feel like I would be destroying something if I went about this like usual. We aren’t packing to go back to Hogwarts and probably never will. It’s just me leaving and you’ll begin Auror training soon. Not to mention the funerals.” I said, feeling the weight of loss heavily.
“I know the others are too preoccupied to ask, but I need to know. Where are you going, Hermione? You haven’t said a word about it, just said you’ll be gone for a while and started packing. I’ve lost so many people already. I don’t want to lose you too. You’re like a sister to me.” I turned to him and found his eyes a mixture between searching and pleading. Everything that happened over the last year had really taken its toll on him.
I hesitated, knowing that what I agreed to was something he would never be ok with. “At Black Manor. I’ll be there with Mrs. Malfoy and Draco...and Bellatrix.”
Before I could explain myself, Harry stepped fully into the room almost visibly fuming, “What? Why would you do a stupid thing like that!? After everything don’t you want to leave all this craziness and evil people behind?”
“And do what exactly? Jump into the chaos at the ministry? Sit around and not do anything? I agreed to help the Ministry and this way I can keep a promise I made while helping Kingsley and McGonagall while they re-establish society. It’s not the most important thing in the world, but it’s important that I do it. I understand that, but I don’t expect you to which is okay.”
“I can’t believe that Kingsley and McGonagall would ever ask you to do something so ridiculous! What do you expect to accomplish?” He asked. For once understanding the feeling of helpless anger that everyone around him felt whenever he faced dangerous odds alone.
“I’m just a glorified babysitter, Harry. Nothing serious there’s no need to worry about me. You can see me or write to me any time I won’t be a prisoner.” I explained calmly, there was no point in becoming angry because I understood his reaction. I would have had the same one if he said he was going to be living with Voldemort. I wouldn’t be able to see him as anything other than a threat.
He stood there silently fuming no doubt trying to find a way to talk me out of this. Eventually, he realized that I wouldn’t be swayed no matter what he said. He hugged me suddenly, but it was sincere. “Okay. I know you Hermione, you think through everything you do ten times over. If you think this is a good idea I don’t think there’s anything I could come up with that could change your mind.”
I was about to thank him when suddenly he held me at arm's length and struck me with a deadly serious look. “But I’m going with you.”
I looked at him like he’d grown another head. “What? Harry, no that’s ridiculous-”
“Do you really expect me to let you walk into something this stupid and dangerous alone? Hermione, you just finished running across the country with me on a mad chase where we could have died at any moment. Just think of this as me returning the favor.”
I started to protest but was cut off yet again, “And just as you and Ron wouldn’t take no for an answer then, I won’t take no for an answer now. Hermione, please. I’d feel better if you let me come with you. If not to protect you then to be able to tell Ron and everyone else that you’re alright.”
“But...what about your Auror training? And Ron?” I asked.
“I can do both and Ron is keeping to himself. If he isn’t alone he’s with George consoling him. They knew Fred better than any of us. I understand that they need space. I just feel out of place just lingering around. I miss George too, but well, you remember how I was after Sirius. It’s not the same, but losing family is devastating. I’ll still be there for him of course, but now I feel like a reminder that their brother is gone and I’m here.” He confessed to me, holding back tears. It was obvious that this was something he desperately needed to get off his chest and I understood. But, still.
“I don’t know if Kingsley will accept you going. They chose me because I seem to get along best with Bellatrix, but you two…” I let the meaning hang between us. He would know what I meant.
“Honestly, Hermione you say that as if I didn’t just defeat the most terrifying dark wizard the wizarding world has ever seen. I think I could get just about anything I wanted right about now. As for Bellatrix, well she’s proven herself this far. Maybe she isn’t as deranged as I thought she was. At least not anymore, I guess. But more importantly, I’d be a terrible friend if I knew what you were planning and let you do this alone. I can’t just let you be separated from everyone you know and be okay with it. What was it you said in Dumbledore’s office? ‘You need us Harry’? Well, you need me Hermione. You need someone.”
I was freely crying. I hadn’t realized how afraid I was to be alone until Harry made me realize it. Being so caught up in being brave and doing the right thing I hadn’t thought about the fact that I’d miss my friends terribly. I’ll never get to be with my parents ever again, so this odd family that I found at Hogwarts was all I had left. Of course, I would miss them while I was gone, but at least with Harry there would be someone who understand the things I was going through and could keep me connected to all my friends. Kingsley didn’t make it clear how much freedom I would have outside of Black Manor. Overwhelmed with emotion I could do nothing more than hug him. Hopefully he could feel just how much he meant to me in that moment.

________________________________________

Explaining it to the Weasley’s was easier than expected. Maybe I just had higher expectations and forgot that they were dealing with a death in the family. They couldn’t really divert anymore energy to this. Mrs. Weasley, of course, pushed the hardest for us to stay, but eventually understood why we had to go. It was harder convincing Ron to stay.
“I should be with you guys.” Ron protested.
“Ron, you should be here with your family. I wouldn’t feel right taking you away at a time like this.” I explained, feeling awful at turning my friend away.
“But, we do everything together. Harry’s going with you!” He countered halfheartedly.
Harry intervened, “I think you should stay, Ron. Your family needs you and I just don’t want to be a burden. I feel more than responsible for...what happened. Some time away will do us both some good I think.”
“Please, Ron. You need to mourn.” I pleaded.
Ron’s face fell in defeat, “This isn’t just you two running away and not wanting anything to do with me, anymore is it?” He asked.
Harry and I looked at each other for a moment in exasperation before we pulled Ron into a group hug. “Of course not, Ron. You’re our best friend.” Harry reassured.
“I love you guys.” Ron was holding back tears and so was I. We’d be truly apart for the first time in years. “You’ll be in touch though, right? You’ll write?” He asked.
“Of course. I’ll have to tell you about the ridiculous jimmies Draco sports.” Harry joked.
“And you’ll be at the funeral?” Ron asked almost insecure.
I placed a hand on his shoulder, “Ron, we would never miss that.”
He nodded, I guess he just needed the reassurance.
“We should gather our things. Kingsley will be here any moment.” I noted, reluctant to break this moment.
It was at that moment the deep soothing voice Kingsley Shacklebolt came muffled from below followed closely by the shrill agitated scream of one Molly Weasley.
“What were you thinking!? Despite what you may think they are still young! They deserve to have a life of their own don’t you think? Without you lot asking too much of them?”
“Mrs. Weasley they are of age and can make their own decisions. They can back out at any time I am not forcing them into anything unsafe with no will of their own.” Kingsley was trying desperately to keep his voice even, not wanting emotion to get the better of him. As we crept slowly down the stairs it was clear by his face that it was a harder struggle than is voice lead on.
Mrs. Weasley scoffed, “Not even one full week after this madness and you’ve already guilted them into yet another one of your schemes.”
“Molly! I would think you would know me better than that. I extended my offer to Hermione with full disclosure and explicitly told her that she was under no requirement to accept. Harry...has always done what he wanted or thought was best. I can hardly force him to do anything.” He was visibly shaking now and spoke with such conviction and emotion it was hard to consolidate him with the man I’d grown to admire.
Before things could get any more heated Harry cleared his throat, effectively making his presence known and startling the two we’d been eavesdropping on.
“Oh, hello dears. All packed up?” Like a switch was flipped Mrs. Weasley was back to her cheery self.
“Mum, it’s okay. It’ll be fine, right?” Ron went and wrapped his mother in is arms as he spoke.
“Really Mrs. Weasley, there’s no need to worry. We’ll be perfectly fine.” I assured her.
“And I’ll be there in case everything isn’t perfectly fine.” Harry smiled his big dopey grin and shrugged, as if he alone could stop anything. At this point I was beginning to think that were true.
“You brave, stupid boy. I don’t think you have very many of those resurrection tricks left up your sleeve young man.” She held his face in her hands just as she would any of her children. It was touching and intimate and only served to remind me that my moments with my mother were cut unbearably short.
“We should be going. I have to finish the wards with all of them there so no unauthorized visits can be made.” Kingsley stated still bristling slightly from his row with Mrs. Weasley. We followed out into the yard until we were past the protective wards. Turning back to look at the Burrow one last time the weight of actually leaving finally settled. Errant tears ran down my face as I waved back at Mrs. Weasley and Ron standing in the garden waving and smiling sadly.
“You have everything?” Kingsley asked as he placed a hand on each of our shoulders. All I could do was nod, not trusting my voice not to break and betray my feelings. “Alright.” That was all the warning we got before we felt the unsettling pull of aparation.
“Ugh, I’ll never get used to that.” Harry complained when his feet touched the ground again. The queerness of instantaneous travel was something I still had trouble adjusting to, but I could hardly think to agree when I was faced with the prominent and imposing figure that was Black Manor.
There was virtually no color to the house or the landscape. Whatever garden that once was had long since withered as the decades passed. The paint was badly chipped and faded after years of neglect causing the facade to be an ashen almost black grey color. The bushes, if they could still be called that, were completely barren and not even a stray animal was in sight. It was a depressing sight and unusual that anyone in the Black family would let their ancestral home become such a shamble. As proud as they were, it didn’t show here.
“Wow, I couldn’t possibly imagine how a place like this could create the likes of Bellatrix.” Harry commented when he finally straightened and got a proper look.
“Don’t forget that it also created Narcissa and Andromeda.” I pointed out.
“I still feel my point’s stronger.” He followed Kingsley up to the gate.
As soon as the gate creaked to a close behind us Kingsley went to work with closing out the remaining wards. “You can go inside, I’ll only be a few moments.”
Harry and I looked at each other apprehensively before slowly walking the overgrown path to the door. The stone steps leading up to it were mossy and crumbling like everything else around it.
“Do you think the doorbell still works? I should I just knock?” I asked, whispering due to my subconscious fear of what lay on the other side.
“Dunno. It wouldn’t hurt to try I guess, the door looks like it’s about to fall over.” He answered.
I pressed a shaky finger to the dusty doorbell and was surprised to hear the slow ominous chiming that was its bell tone.
“As if this place weren’t creepy enough.” Harry muttered under his breath, causing me to giggle for the first time in a long time.
It took a few minutes for the door to be answered by a very disheveled and malcontent looking Narcissa Malfoy. “Oh, the guards. How nice of you to show up.”
I was shocked and it was clear that Harry was trying his best to hold his tongue.
“I’m sorry. That was unfair. I know you had just as much choice in this as we did, Granger. Which is none really, just a very thinly veiled request. Hello, Potter. I wasn’t expecting you, but you are welcome of course.” She corrected herself with a sigh, opening the door further to let us in.
Surprisingly, the inside was much nicer kept than the outside would let on. For starters, it was a lot cleaner and the furniture looked fresh. A point that Narcissa was conscious of.
“I apologize for the state of things here. After my mother died no one had the time to keep it up and the elves either ran off or died. I’m having to restore things myself and it is quite tedious. Especially when no one else cares enough to help. It would seem that my sister and son would prefer to live in filth. Well, I for one won’t stand for it. The state of one’s home greatly affects their state of mind. A beautiful home is a happy one.”
“I’d be happy to help Mrs. Malfoy. I’m of the same mind as you on this.” I supplied, hoping that this would be a valuable way to pass some time while getting comfortable. And maybe a way of getting to know the youngest Black sister who saved Harry’s life.
She looked at me thoughtfully for a moment before graciously nodding her consent. Hopefully, I wouldn’t mess things up horribly.
“Uh, I wouldn’t mind helping either. I spent a lot of time cleaning and repairing things with the Dursleys maybe I could help with the things that need a less than magical approach.” Harry offered, clearly trying to hide how uncomfortable he felt with being face-to-face with the woman who saved his life. I don’t think they ever had a chance to talk to each other after, Harry must have been thinking of a way to than her.
“I’ve never run into a problem that magic couldn’t fix, but your help is also greatly appreciated Mr. Potter. Maybe your help will inspire my son to help as well. My sister, however, is quite hopeless.” Narcissa commented as she opened the door wider to let us in. “I take it Shacklebolt is finishing his wards. At least he gave us the grounds to roam, otherwise this would feel a lot more like prison than just house arrest.”
“I think it’s more for our protection than anything else. If word got out that…well you can imagine that a lot of people would want to get revenge or justice or what-have-you.” Harry supplied quietly, not wanting to say the wrong thing already.
“I would be more inclined to believe you if I weren’t so blinded by my own perspective.” Was all that Narcissa said in reply. Placing the tip of her wand to her neck she called, “Draco, Bella, our guests have arrived.”
“Will you get to keep your wand then?” Harry asked, curious.
“Yes, but with annoyingly strict stipulations. It’s as if I’m an underage witch again with my every spell being tracked and documented.” She answered. “My son has the same rules, but my sister has no wand at all. That would most likely explain her sour mood.”
“That and being trapped here.” I guessed. It wasn’t a far stretch to think that a woman like Bellatrix would not like being forced to stay in any given place.
Narcissa didn’t reply as Draco and Bellatrix came in from one of the sitting rooms. There was a silence as we just stared at each other, Narcissa rolling her eyes in annoyance between us.
“Did you answer the door? I thought there was an elf for that.” Draco finally said.
“Lovely greeting, Draco. As I said before the last elves here either left or died ages ago and the ministry has decided that having another would not be…in the best interest of the elf.” She explained, only slightly exasperated.
“Because I accidentally killed your elf, Draco, we can’t have elves here. Simple enough?” Bellatrix finally spoke, tone dripping with sarcasm.
Harry was about to argue the death of Dobby and only stopped when he felt my hand grip his shoulder. Bellatrix noticed and eyed him challengingly, daring him to contradict her. Harry huffed in frustration, but thankfully let it go.
Bellatrix, however, would not let it go. “Oh, come now, boy I wasn’t intentionally aiming at anyone. I just threw it to look as if I tried to stop you I didn’t expect the little idiot to jump in the way! He must have been really loyal to you, at least he could be loyal to someone, I suppose.”
“Bella! I would like to go at least a week without you antagonizing anyone. Is that so much to ask?” Narcissa pleaded just as Kingsley walked in.
“Yes, please. You all must live together for the time being. It would be in your best interests to learn to get along.” He said, closing the door behind him.
“Excuse me for not being enthusiastic enough.” Bellatrix drawled.
“So, do we have some type of community service to do? Something to work off our crimes?” Draco asked shy, but eager.
“No, Mr. Malfoy, the only thing you have to do is behave yourselves.” He made a pointed look at Bellatrix which got him a stuck-out tongue in return, “Maybe cultivate new skills and think about what career you would like to pursue when the time come.”
“What about visitors? We’ll go stir crazy if ours are the only faces we ever see.” Narcissa asked.
“We have a pre-approved list of who may visit the grounds.” He answered only to be interrupted by Narcissa.
“We get no say in this?” She asked clearly upset.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t let you produce your own names for fear of security. We kept it to close friends and family. Andromeda and her family are welcome as well as Ronald and Ginny Weasley. Very short simple list.” He explained.
“Could you add Neville? You know the one I mean.” Bellatrix suddenly asked.
“Um…of course, if he would agree to it I see no reason why that would be a problem.” Clearly, he wanted to ask why she would want Neville to visit and he wasn’t alone. But, wisely, we let the topic go. She nodded silently in response.
“Well then, Ms. Granger and Mr. Potter I expect report to be sent in once a week or immediately if anything serious were to happen.”
“Um, we’re right here. You couldn’t have waited for us to leave the room at least?” Draco interrupted, offended at being referred to indirectly.
Kingsley wholly ignored him, “And Mr. Potter, should you choose to start Auror training while you are here I would be happy to make some accommodations for you.”
“Wait, I have a question. If our wands are shackled and being monitored, and Aunt Bella doesn’t have a wand at all what’s to stop those two from just killing us and getting it over with? I assume their wands have free range and are unmonitored. So, what’s to stop them?” Draco asked absolutely serious.
“Aside from the fact that we’d never do that you mean?” I retorted.
“If there were to be any deadly or harmful spells cast within the wards I would be notified immediately, Mr. Malfoy. You are perfectly safe and protected here.” Kingsley answered.
“And I’m to trust you? The man who sent my father to jail.” Draco responded.
“Regardless of what may have happened between your father and Voldemort he had crimes to answer to regarding the corruption of the Ministry Mr. Malfoy. I have, however kept my word about you and the rest of your family.”
“And she gets to walk away while my father rots in Azkaban?” Draco was clearly upset.
“Ms. Black helped to bring an end to the war in exchange for her freedom. If your father had done the same he’d be here with you, but seeing as he did not…I’m sorry there’s nothing I can do.” Kingsley said, sadly.
“Right.” Was all Draco said before turning and abruptly leaving.
There was a moment of strained silence before Kingsley spoke again, “Well, I’ve finished the last of the wards and made sure everyone on the list knows how to get pass them. If there are no other questions?”
“Food! And things of that sort.” I blurted, embarrassed to have just blurted it out, but just now thinking about it. If there were no elves and we weren’t allowed to leave…
“Narcissa has clearance to leave as long as she is accompanied by one of you two.” Kingsley answered with that easy-going smile of his. “Anything else?” When no one said anything, he nodded his head. “Well, I’ll be going then. I have to contact Mr. Longbottom as well as finish other things. The Ministry is a long way from restored.”
At hearing the name “Longbottom” Narcissa flinched. Did she not know that Neville was the son of the Order members Bellatrix had tortured so many years ago? Of course, not. Draco and Neville weren’t friends and she wouldn’t have made herself aware of Neville for any other reason than that he connected with her life somehow.
We said our goodbyes as she led him to the door. When she returned, her polite smile was back and it was as if she hadn’t been distraught a moment ago. Apparently, hiding was a trait that ran in the family, at least between these two sisters.
“We should get your things put away now I think. Bella, would it bother you too terribly to help Ms. Granger to her room while I show Mr. Potter?” Narcissa shot a pointed look at her sister as she lifted Harry’s trunk with her wand.
I felt the color drain from my face. I didn’t think I would be forced to be alone with Bellatrix so soon. I hadn’t even been here for an hour! I chanced a glance at her only to find her already staring intensely at me. She rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically before responding, “Well. I don’t have a wand Cissy. Do you expect me to do manual labor?”
“I expect you to do manual labor, yes.” Was the smart reply that left Bellatrix gawking and myself and Harry desperately holding back snickers.
“It would go much faster if you picked something up first.” Narcissa called as she made her way up the stair with Harry in tow.
Shooting daggers at her sisters back Bellatrix silently pushed her open hand to me. When I didn’t quite get what she wanted she turned, “Give me something! Unless you would rather carry that up all those stairs yourself. I don’t mind really, saves my back.”
A bit miffed at being snapped at for not being able to read her mind, yet again, I replied, “Is that your way of saying your too old for this?”
I immediately regretted it as she rounded on me quickly with fire in her eyes. “What did you just say? Mudbaby seems to have grown into a Mudwoman! Careful there just because I don’t have my wand doesn’t mean I can’t still torture you.”
It was a threat to be sure, but the way she said it and with that glint in her eyes…
“Shouldn’t you be grabbing some bags?”
The smirk Bellatrix was wearing turned to a full-on predatory grin then. “I can’t wait to give you a proper welcome to Black Manor.” She picked up a few of my bags and only looked slightly disgusted with my taste in fashion, “Come, now. I don’t have all day and I’m afraid if I hold these hideous bags too long my skin might catch fire.”
I huffed as I levitated my trunk. Maybe this wouldn’t be as horrible and terrifying as I thought.

Chapter Text

*Bellatrix*
The grand staircase of Black Manor would rival Hogwarts’ in sheer size. It was an event in itself just to get from floor to floor which would describe the Black family well.
Ignoring the noisy huffing coming from behind me as best I could I didn’t so much as glance back to make sure the girl was keeping up. I could hear that she was. One would think that being on the run for over a year during a war would make one’s stamina a bit better. The more I thought about it the more I thought it was pure luck that gave them the upper hand in the end.
“Are so many stairs absolutely necessary?” I heard asked between gasps for air.
I stopped and turned, we were only halfway up but the pause was clearly appreciated by the resulting exaggerated sigh. “What is your definition of grand staircase?” I asked mostly serious.
A disrespectful roll of the eyes, “Of course, but this couldn’t possibly be safe. What if someone fell? Or there was an emergency?”
“I should imagine a fall down any staircase would result in a gruesome injury, but specifically in the case of these stairs…don’t fall. Simple.” Before the no doubt indignant response could be formed I continued up the stairs. “Pick up the pace Muddy or I’ll have died of old age and you from exertion before we reach the top.”
Finally, on the top landing I leaned over the banister as I waited for the girl to reach the top as well. A few moments later the heavy breathing of the girl joined me at the banister. I didn’t so much as glance in her direction.
“I never had to climb the staircase at Hogwarts all the way to the top. At least not often. I can’t imagine anyone going up and down these multiple times a day. Especially children! How did you play without causing harm?” She was practically hanging over the edge trying to see everything she could from such a height.
“Play? In the ancestral home of the House of Black? You seem to be forgetting that we had very dissimilar childhoods. All play was restricted to designated areas and activities. None of which involved the stairs.” I replied.
“Of course, I imagine your childhood was like a twenty-four-seven cotillion lesson.”
“Not far off except seeing as there were three women who were to inherit the Black fortune and legacy we also learned how to make a proper home and how to be good subservient wives to our future husbands in order to carry the bloodline. Very proper, fun upbringing indeed.” My grip on the banister tightened just the slightest at the memories.
She was silent for a moment coming back from the banister. “Sounds more like you were groomed show cattle rather than children.”
I didn’t respond, choosing instead to continue down the main corridor. We walked in silence for several minutes as we went further and further down the dark halls until finally she spoke up again. “Why are all the pictures taken down? Only landscapes are still up.” She ran her hands along the walls where there were clear stains where portraits used to hang.
“Hm, Narcissa thought it best to have them removed. She didn’t want them constantly yelling…unsavory things while you and Potter were guests. I can’t say that I miss them. Far too many relatives, far too many opinions.” I didn’t look at the unnaturally clean spaces overwhelming the walls. Making the corridors like less homely and far longer and larger than they had even as a young child. It wouldn’t do to show how uncomfortable it made me to be reminded of the past.
“I assume there were several generations of hate to remove.”
“Cease this line of inquiry, Mudblood. If not for the simple fact that I will not answer your incessant questions as they spill from your lips unbidden, then for self-preservation. You’re quickly becoming a nuisance and I assume that I don’t need to inform you of what happens to things that annoy me?” I didn’t turn to see if the threat made an impact, the lack of a response was answer enough.
“Here. Do what you will with your things it’s not as if a house elf will come and tidy up behind you, so the choice is purely up to you.” I dropped her smaller things unceremoniously on the writing desk and made to leave only to be stopped at the door.
“Thank you.”
I hovered for just a moment, it was inconsequential. “Didn’t do it for you, brat.”

 

I avoided Potter and Granger like the plague after that, not seeing much of anyone for a blissful two weeks. Even my meals were taken straight to my room or wherever else I found solitude which wasn’t hard to find here. Especially without those damned judgmental paintings hanging about everywhere. If a part of the self was lost when a person was translated to portraiture, then whomever translated the Black family was a master of the form. The things they spouted, and the glares of disdain still pierced me to the soul just the same as the ones I received from the witch or wizard themselves when they were alive. It was unsavory. I wanted to be anywhere but here and yet I could not leave. It was a cruel irony actually. An age-old nightmare that haunted my dreams was now a reality. I was stuck in this house without any escape.
Cruel irony, indeed.
“Bella, I wish to speak with you.” It was Narcissa, of course. Only she seemed to know where to look for me in this enormous house.
“Is it a lot of trial and error involved in finding me or do you usually make the right assumption the first time?” I asked, not moving away from the perch on the window I was sitting at in one of the older libraries.
“Come now, Bella, you’ve had the same hiding spots since we were children it’s just a matter of elimination.” She closed the door as she stepped into the room, wrapping her robes more securely around herself. I sat more straight out of reflex. She only did that when she was uncomfortable or agitated.
“What is it?”
She didn’t respond right away choosing instead to inspect the chairs for the cleanest, then using her wand to scrub it further before sitting. She folded her hands in her lap and looked the picture of dignity and ease.
“Andromeda wrote me this morning.”
My chest constricted. How could I forget that just because the bloody war was over that didn’t mean life would just be easy and hiding away. I couldn’t avoid these type of consequences, I had nowhere to go. Even if I did I had no way to leave.
I hated this house. It was just the as any other prison, only here my demons could touch me. Confront me. Condemn me.
“And?”
“She wants to visit. Wants to talk.”
I snorted, “Talk? Are you sure that’s all she wants? I’m sure she thinks I killed her daughter. Or helped or didn’t prevent it or what have you. What would she possibly want to talk about?”
“You know some of us talk to heal and understand. Not just insult and curse. Do you think she wishes to hear what came of her daughter from your own mouth instead of anyone else’s? Or perhaps that she just misses her family? It’s been decades, Bella. Decades without so much as a letter at Christmas and she just lost her daughter and son in law in just a night. She has to take care of their child now. A reminder of what she has lost due to this war and useless feuds. She lost the daughter that she made with love. A love so strong she followed her heart to pursuit it which cost her her family!”
“I know bloody well what happened!” I yelled, not quite caring for the reminder or guilt trip.
“Then you should know that she needs us now! She shouldn’t go through this alone when there’s no reason she has to anymore and I miss our sister. Don’t you?”
I was speechless. Of course, I missed her how could I not. But I wasn’t foolish either. There was a sea of bad blood between us that couldn’t be washed away with just won war and a conversation. I wanted to do the right thing and start life anew, but I’m not sure I’m ready just yet. Not for the accusations of which I’m sure there are many. Nor for any misplaced pity of which I expected none, but this was Andy we were speaking of.
“It’s too soon. I don’t think I’ll be ready to handle whatever she says.”
“Nor do I. I didn’t mean right this moment, of course. Just that she would be here sometime soon and I’d rather you not be hiding away when it does. Nor do I wish for you to feel ambushed as I know that only spells misfortune. I just wanted you to know that it will happen, and you will be there.”
It was alarming how alike she was to our mother.
“I don’t suppose I have a choice much like everything else. Although, I will be finding new hiding places.”
She stood and straightened her robes, “As if there were anywhere you could go where I couldn’t find you.” She started for the door and stopped just before she opened it, “Oh, and should you find yourself wanting any meals, if you refuse to eat them with the rest of us you should find your portions quite lacking.”
“Threatening me with starvation to get your way? You really are my sister, aren’t you?”

 

I was sulking to the dining hall when I ran into the last person I wanted to see.
“It’s nice to see you, finally. Where have you been?” The mudblood asked as she blocked my path.
I sighed, truly exasperated already, “Must we make small talk every time we pass?”
Her brows furrowed in confusion, “I don’t think we’ve made much small talk actually. You’ve not been around to do so.”
“Do you think that could be for a reason?” I asked, trying and failing to move around her again. My patience was thinning.
“I don’t get how you can be amiable one day and a complete ass the next.” She looked affronted.
“They call me a madwoman for a reason. Little I do is sensible.” I said as I picked the girl up, really, she weighed nothing, and placed her to the side. “Now, if you’ll excuse me I’ve been threatened with starvation if I don’t actually attend these meals. Much to my displeasure, of course.”
“I’ve seen you be decent. I think you just choose to be irritating as you see fit. And you hide behind the title of ‘Madwoman’ so you don’t have to actually try to be decent or have consequences for your actions.” She was following me now. Wonderful.
“Look where that’s got me. Absolutely paying for my consequences.” I replied dryly.
“You’re sane enough.”
“But that’s not enough for you, is it? You would have me be more like my sisters? Well, I’m sorry to disappoint as I have many others before you, I am not like them.” I turned on her quickly, forcing her to halt. “I’m no prim and proper lady that cooks meals for her family, has a brood of children, and holds her tongue. I’m very straightforward, in fact. What you see, mudblood, is what you get. Take it or leave it. If you can’t get that through that thick, bushy mane of yours then leave me the hell alone.”
She had the audacity to snort, “You’re one to talk, aren’t you? Bushy mane and all.”
Anger and pure indignation boiled inside me. How dare she even assume that she understood me. Yes, when I was toying with her head I was a bit more pleasant than expected, but that hardly amounted to actually knowing a person. I went to tell her as much when Narcissa poked her self-righteous head out into the hall.
She raised an expectant eyebrow. “I take it you two will not be joining us then?”
I huffed and without even a parting glare at the mudblood I entered the dining hall.

 

I don’t see why I needed to attend dinners if they were always this painful. Surely, Narcissa aimed to torture me for having avoided this and left her to deal with it alone. The conversation was stilted and awkward. Mostly started by Narcissa herself in a vain attempt to break any silence. It was awkward as clearly no one wanted to participate until finally, they gave to the guilt of Narcissa trying so hard.
That was all fine and well, until they tried incessantly to involve me in it.
“Dinners are for eating, not making awkward talk.” I replied, not looking up from my plate. “I don’t much care for what you all do, but kindly leave me out of it.”
“Who pissed in your butter beer?” Draco grumbled, as if he weren’t in an equally sour mood.
“Watch it, you moody little git.” The look of righteous indignation was so similar to that of his father that I had to swallow down the bile that came up my throat on instinct.
“Or what? You’ll kill me? Torture me? In case you forgot you can’t do anything so where does that leave your bloody threats?” He growled through his teeth.
“You’ve grown some bollocks haven’t you nephew? Shame they couldn’t have dropped just a tad earlier. Mind you, I’m positively overjoyed with the outcome of the war but,” I shrugged, smiling smugly, “At least we know that your threats are just as empty, now don’t we?”
The intensity of the shade of red that covered his face was comical and I would have said as much if it hadn’t been for my dearest baby sister. “Are you two quite finished? When I asked-.”
“Forced.” I cut in.
“You to come to dinner I didn’t mean for you to antagonize my son for your pleasure the entire time.”
“And what of him antagonizing me? Does your precious baby Draco not get a reprimand for his behavior as well?” I asked, growing increasingly tired of Narcissa’s handling of Draco. Yes, he wasn’t ready for a war, but neither were Potter, or the girl, or the weasels. No child was, but unlike Draco, they didn’t have a mother to coddle them. Well, the weasels will always have someone in their overgrown brood.
“He is a boy barely of age dealing with several things he was not prepared for. You, on the other hand, know full well what you mean and what you’re doing. Act your age.”
“I suppose I should take up knitting then? Is that appropriate for someone of my age little Cissy? And what of the other barely of age children here? One of whom marched to his own death and then came back from the bloody dead? They seem to be dealing with it a lot better than your pissy little-”
“Enough!” Narcissa was enraged, the lines of her face tight. I met her glare with every ounce of heat as she gave. The silence stretched on with a wounded Draco staring down miserably at his plate, not actually eating a thing.
Finally, after staring between the two of us, the Golden Boy finally spoke up, “He wouldn’t let you do it you know. Snape. He and Dumbledore…they had a kind of, well, Dumbledore told Snape that he had to be the one to kill him, so that Voldemort wouldn’t get true possession of the Elder Wand. So, even if you wanted to, Snape wouldn’t let you do it. Or Dumbledore for that matter. I was there, on the lower level. I didn’t know any of this at the time, but I get it now. He was biding his time until Snape got there. When he finally did, I thought Dumbledore was begging for his life, but he was pleading with Snape to kill him. Snape didn’t want to do it either. His hand was forced, just the same as you.”
The silence that followed was different. It wasn’t filled with the burning intensity that Narcissa and I had, this silence hollow. I’d never known just how much the old bad trusted Snape, but hearing his dedication, or blind devotion rather, caused an uncomfortable feeling of familiarity.
“Thank you, Potter, for that overshare. Read the room, some things are more depressing than their worth.” I said, but it fell flat even on my ears.
He looked down at his plate determinedly. “Right.”
I looked over at the girl who had been surprisingly silent throughout. “Well, you have anything you’d like to add, Muddy?”
She looked around surprised. As though she thought that it was entirely implausible for her to be spoken to despite being present. “Oh! Well, no actually. I’ve had quite enough of your um, disposition for one day. I’d much rather like to avoid any other unsavory confrontation if that’s alright.”
I raised a surprised brow and snorted, “Well, it seems at least one of you can learn. Now, if I’m being forced to attend these meals let’s make them less painful for everyone shall we? I don’t give a rat’s ass what you talk about as long as you leave me out of it, clear?”
No one answered so I took that as a yes.
I stood from the table abruptly, eager to be anywhere else, “Well, this has been a lovely dinner, Cissy. Can’t wait for Breakfast!” I left them to finish out their awkward dinner without me.

 

*Hermione*
The next morning after a thankfully uneventful breakfast where everyone was trying incredibly hard not to seem like they were affected at all by dinner, Narcissa and I were cleaning out one of the drawing rooms while Harry and Draco restored a library. The work went by in an almost comfortable silence until Narcissa insisted on a break.
We sat at one of the newly restored tables while she prepared tea. I watched in slight awe at the meticulous way she maneuvered her wand. Years of habit making it to so that she barely had to concentrate at all on the task. I was so caught in watching her every move I didn’t see her watching me.
“I wanted to speak with you about what Bellatrix said yesterday.” She spoke calmly, but her sudden speech shocked me just the same.
“At dinner? Really, I don’t mind, I’m oddly getting used to the things she says, although I’m sure before I can really get used to it she’ll change again.” I replied, feeling oddly exposed for a reason I couldn’t explain.
“I was speaking of before dinner, in the hall.” She poured two cups of tea.
“Oh.”
“It is good that you don’t hold too strongly to the things she says. While I will admit that she means every word of it to some degree, it is this house that brings out the worst of her. She was never happy here, none of us were, but it was especially hard for Bella. There was much expected of her, much of which she would never be able to deliver. Now she is prisoner in the very place that first turned her to the Dark Lord. There is a great deal she must get through on her own and she’d much rather no one knew how much of a struggle it was. All this to say, there is a lot you don’t understand, and she will do whatever to keep you at arms-length.” She took a sip of her perfectly prepared tea and raised an expectant brow at me while glancing at the other.
“Oh, thank you for the tea and the warning I guess.” I set to preparing my own cup with far less grace than she had. “I guess I knew that already on some level. But sometimes my mouth gets ahead of my mind. When I have questions it’s hard to restrain them for too long.”
She stared at me with a look in her eyes that wasn’t meant for me to read. I guess it was a good thing that she looked at least amused.
“Enough about my sister. I find that we know little about each other. Now is as good a time as any to rectify that wouldn’t you agree? Tell me about yourself Ms. Granger.” She spoke almost with an air of interest oddly enough.
“I’m afraid there isn’t anything about me that someone who comes from your rich family history would find interesting.” I supplied.
“I have a hard time believing that. I know little of the Muggle world, I’m sure there are many things I would find interesting. Start small, what of your parents? What did they do for a living?” She asked. I saw nothing in her face that would suggest that she meant any malice or even knew of my parent’s fate. Still, my heart clenched with the very same sadness as before.
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, not knowing if I should start with their fates or avoid the topic all together. I chose a less painful path. “My parents were dentist. It’s a Muggle profession where they fix people’s teeth. It’s actually how they met. They made a decent living from it.”
“You keep speaking in the past tense. Did something happen?” She asked the dreaded question.
I hesitated, placing my tea back on its saucer, “Before we started hunting Horcruxes, I was worried about their well-being. I knew I was a target and anyone close to me was in danger. So, I thought the best way to keep them away from harm would be to make it so they had no connection to me at all.” The more I spoke the larger the lump in my throat grew. Unshed tears burned the edges of my vision and it occurred to me that I never mourned them. Never let myself properly feel for their loss. I missed them, more than anything or anyone.
“I see.” She spoke softly, as if she couldn’t believe what she heard. “I think that’s enough cleaning for one day, don’t you? We can continue tomorrow. Go, and don’t hide from your feelings.” With that she cleared the tea and left. Presumably to start preparing dinner since they always seemed to be meals larger than one woman could do alone without several hours to prepare beforehand.
In some ways she reminded me of my mother. Always polite and graceful and the natural makings of a mother. The way she cared for and protected Draco may annoy Bellatrix, but it reminded me of many nights in my mother’s arms as I told her of all the things the other children would say about me and the comforting sound of her heartbeat as I cried. If only she were here now. I have so much to tell her. Things she would never believe I endured. My father would laugh and say I had a gift for story telling as he always did when I told them of what went on while I was away. I think that was the only way he could reconcile himself with letting me return every year. The stories always got worse and worse. They had to be works of fiction from my imagination. They couldn’t be real, not at Hogwarts. But deep down they knew. They always knew.
“You’ll need to leave.” Came the abrupt demand from Bellatrix, having swiftly entered the room in all her glory.
“What?” I asked in surprise. Surely, she knew I couldn’t leave.
“I wish to brood here, you’ll need to cry elsewhere.” Was the prompt response.
Of course. Out of all the rooms in this enormous estate she wanted one of the occupied ones. Having no desire and even less energy to argue with her I silently stood and prepared to leave, wiping my tears away on the sleeve of my jumper.
“Why were you crying.” She stood directly in front of the door, blocking my path.
“Excuse me?”
She rolled her eyes, “Clear the mud from your ears so I won’t have to repeat myself. Why were you crying?”
“I’d much rather not talk about it with you.” I tried to shoulder pass her only to find that she was solid as a statue.
“Am I not a good enough listener for you, then? Not empathetic enough? Poor Muddy and her sad, sad life.” She mocked, only serving to aggravate me.
“I’m not obligated to share anything with you. You have your personal issues, I have mine and I would much rather not be ridiculed for them.” I met her gaze, refusing to be backed down.
“Oh, so this is your petty revenge for me not being nice and fair with you yesterday? I withhold what you want to know so you do the same? Well, that only works if I actually want to know what you have to say.” She was as petulant as a child and her reasoning baffled me.
“What? I…no this isn’t about that. This is…Gods why must you be so infuriating! If you care so little for what I have to say, then kindly let me leave so you can do your brooding. You must have mastered the skill by now.” My chest heaved as anger burned in my veins like fire. “How dare you. You demand that we all bend to your will all the while still seeing us as lesser than. You can’t hide behind Voldemort and torture anymore. Either accept that this is the life you asked for or be miserable for the rest of your life. In which case you should have just stayed in Azkaban!”
It happened so quickly I hardly believe it happened at all. All I know is that the sting brought a different kind of tear to my eyes. I didn’t cover the stinging mark with my hand, it didn’t shock me at all that she struck me. I knew it was bound to happen sooner rather than later, especially if we kept attacking each other in such a way. What did surprise me was how in stride I took it. After everything that happened in the past years, a slap to the face was nothing.
I met her animalistic gaze through my fallen hair. She stared at me almost with a hunger. As if she craved violence which shouldn’t be a shock at all. She was right, I had no idea who she really was. It would seem that I was seeing and judging her through rose-tinted lenses this whole time, but they had been knocked off as soon as her hand connected with my cheek. How naïve could I be? To think that everything about her was different just because she wanted something different. Just because she didn’t like serving Voldemort anymore didn’t mean that she just didn’t like torturing and violence anymore. As much as I tried to explain it away those things were a part of her, not just pushed on her by circumstance. The rare moments where she was civil were just that, rare. This is the woman who went out of her way to make it so it wouldn’t hurt while she carved the nastiest scar into my flesh, marking me for life.
Stupid, naïve, Hermione.
“Move.” To my surprise my voice didn’t waver, and an even bigger surprise came when Bellatrix finally yielded after only a slight pause.
I left without a word seeking out the solitude of my room where I could cry and process without the looming and antagonistic figure of Bellatrix Black looming overhead. She really was nothing like her sisters.

Chapter Text

Hermione

                Narcissa and I meticulously went about restoring the rooms of the estate, always breaking for tea and conversation. She listened avidly as I told stories from my childhood and never probed anything about my parents that I didn’t offer. It was hard to avoid talking about them seeing as I’m an only child with few friends. She enjoyed hearing about the non-war related things that happened at Hogwarts, surprising laughing her sides sore when I retold the story of how I punched Draco.

                It was odd, really. To be forming some sort of friendship with Narcissa Malfoy of all people, especially since I’d seemed to make the much smaller and exclusive hit list of her sister. It was a juxtaposition that had my head swimming.

                “I plan to start working the garden next week. They were always my favorite escape when I was a girl. If you would have seen them in their glory you would just fall in love, I’m sure. They gave this place life and personality, despite whatever went on inside.” She took a cheerful sip from her tea as she looked out the window of one of the several parlors we had restored over the past week. She was genuinely excited which was nice, but I couldn’t help but to be curious about what being a child in the Black estate was like. She always dropped vague and ominous comments that hinted that it was less than cheerful. However, I never had the courage to ask. Although Narcissa was much more pleasant than her older sister, it seemed that part of the Black history was a universally guarded secret.

                “You know, I’ve noticed you make a face when you want to ask something you know you shouldn’t. Would you like to share?” She asked, smirking amiably over the brim of her cup.

                I blushed at having been caught, I really should work on my poker face. “I don’t think I’ll get a satisfactory answer either way, so I’d rather keep it to myself for now.”

                “Very well, then let me take the opportunity to ask you a question. Your parents, you never properly explained what happened. I understand if it is still too painful to speak of, I know some wounds fester longer than others.”

                I felt the color drain from my face. We hadn’t spoken of them since the first time and I was more than happy to keep my sorrow to myself, even if she did have good intentions. Still, it felt freeing to share with her even the most trivial things. Maybe it would help more than hurt.

                “They are still alive as I’m sure you’ve gathered. They live somewhere in Australia under new identities with no memories of ever having a daughter. No memories of me. Just before I ran away with Harry to hunt Horcruxes I thought removing their memories would be the safest way to keep them from any harm in the war. It worked, a small miracle I suppose. I wanted to go after them and see if there were any way to give them their memories back, though I know there isn’t. It’s just wishful thinking. Nothing I can do now, though. I’m here and will probably never see them again.” As I spoke I felt myself grow cold as a deep sadness and longing settled into my bones. I ached for my parents, but knew that it was a wish I would never be granted again.

                “Damn everything to hell. The bloody wars and the ideas that started them that should have been condemned long before now. Old families hold on to their archaic bigotries as if they were their namesake and we pay the price for their ignorance in the blood of our loved ones.” I could do nothing but agree as an uncharacteristically dark look crossed her face.

                “I will admit that I fell victim to their brainwashing myself, but there aren’t many options in a family like mine. An example of that would be my late cousin Sirius. For all his rebelliousness all it got him was ostracized by the family and ignored as if he never were a Black in the first place. Harsher still, my beloved Sister. At the time I thought my father made the right choice in denouncing her status, but as the years passed and I grew older I knew better. There is no excuse for such foolishness when people are dying left and right. We should avoid pushing our loved ones away so that we have less regrets in death.”

                I was surprised. I didn’t expect her to open up so freely, but I was grateful. It was her way of saying she understood, even if the circumstances were different. To know that you will never see your family again, even if they still walked this Earth, was like a never-ending heartache. Of course, she understood, loss was something she was intimately aware of. Losing a cousin and sister to stupid family ideals and another sister and her husband to Azkaban. She knew what I was experiencing even if from a different perspective.

                “Mrs. Malfoy-”

“Please, call me Narcissa. I think at this point you’ve earned as much.” She interrupted, waving dismissively.

“Okay, but only if you call me Hermione. I feel as though Professor McGonagall is chastising me when you call me ‘Ms. Granger’.” She nodded, smiling softly. It was overwhelming having even an inkling of this woman’s respect. I took a deep breath before continuing, “Do you plan to reconcile with Mrs. Tonks?”

Her smile turned soft and sad, “I would like to try. I want nothing more than to get to know my sister again. I would have liked to get to know my niece as well, but sadly I’ll ever have the chance. I can know her son, though, and that would be enough.”

I’d almost forgotten about Tonks and Lupin. I immediately felt guilty for not having properly mourned them. With everything happening so quickly I barely had the time to properly mourn anyone. Come to think of it I needed to write to Ron to see if they’d decided on a date for Fred’s funeral. I felt choked by the enormous lump in my throat and suddenly wanted nothing more than to lock myself away in my room and cry. I hadn’t felt comfortable enough to let my emotions go unchecked since my encounter with Bellatrix. Deciding it was much safer for my psyche if she never caught me that vulnerable again. But the weight of the conversation and the realization of everyone that was lost finally caught up with me and I couldn’t stop the tears from falling.

Narcissa sat in silence for a moment not sure if I wanted comfort I guess. I didn’t blame her. What would I have done if an almost stranger burst into tears right in front of me. Then the unexpected happened. As I cried into my palms wishing that I could just fade from this world and never have to experience any of this sorrow, I felt the strong yet comforting arms of Narcissa wrap around me and engulf me in a motherly embrace. She smelled pleasant like a garden in Spring and didn’t force any words of comfort, just held me with strong arms that almost seemed to promise that I would make it through this moment and the next. It reminded me so much of my own mother that I could only cry harder. I spluttered trying to explain to her everything I was feeling in that moment only to be gently hushed.

“It’s alright, it’s alright.” I cried harder, feeling awful to be staining her elegant dress. How she found the energy to dress so impeccably still must also be a secret of the Black family. Or more likely a habit built up from years of pureblood expectations. Pureblood society was almost too twisted to reconcile in my book. Damn everything to hell, indeed.

 

 

Bellatrix

                Curiosity was a damnable thing. Solitude was lovely, but one could only read so many books before needing a break and quick stroll through reality. I wanted to seek out my sister, but had no desire to be sucked into whatever futile effort she was putting forth today. I think I made it quite clear I cared nothing at all for this house. It could rot and fall to dust for all I cared. Deciding then to let boredom and sleep overcome me instead I made my way to the room I claimed as my own. Refusing to let Narcissa touch a single aspect of it and keeping the curtains drawn to keep it in perpetual darkness. A state I was used to and comfortable with at this point. It also made it much easier to fall asleep at any time of day.

                I lay restless in bed for unending minutes thinking, begrudgingly, of the Mudbaby and what she said in our last encounter. The notion that she and I or any of my family were equal to each other. We, descendants of the noble house of Black, having anything in common with a Mudblood was absolutely absurd. But she didn’t draw that particular comparison. She didn’t try to draw herself up to the likes of us, rather bring me down to the mud. I knew what choice I made, that doesn’t mean that I loved the circumstances it forced upon me in the aftermath. Truthfully, I hadn’t thought this far ahead thinking for sure that the boy would fail, and all my double-crossing would be for not. Now that the unlikely had truly happened I felt as though I were being suspended upside indefinitely. I refused to admit that the Mudbaby were right, but even Cissy thought it was appropriate for me to make a change. I don’t know what they expected of me. I couldn’t just change decades worth of prejudices and habits overnight. Even the decision to betray My Lord took months to finally come to. This was completely unchartered territory for me.

                I rolled over fitfully and annoyed. This shouldn’t bother me so much. It shouldn’t bother me at all. So, why couldn’t I just push the damned thoughts away? I forced a pillow over my head and screamed in frustration. As a matter of fact, I could let it go and I will. Determinedly, I forced all thoughts from my mind and lay as still as possible until, finally, a very fitful and unsatisfactory sleep found me.

 

 

                The stone underneath my feet was unmistakably cold and wet sending an even deeper chill through my aching bones. Why was I so bloody cold? I’d just been comfortably warm in bed. There was very little light to speak of and the faint sound of ghostly moans and pained and woeful wails. The sound of crashing waves almost overpowered everything else, accompanied by the suffocating smell of sea water. That shouldn’t be, the manor was quiet.

                I turned and saw a small, barred window, but as I stepped to it to try and get a glimpse of my surroundings all that met my eyes was painfully salty mist. Turning back around I moved to soothe them and felt heavy weights around my wrists. I felt dread run through me as my eyes snapped open to see heavy black shackles around both of my wrist following the chain down to where it connected to similar shackles on my ankles. Recognizing the faded stripes of the Azkaban uniform I felt my throat closing and my heart was prepared to beat right out of my chest.

                This couldn’t be. I was not back here, I would never go back. I’d made sure to avoid it!

                I looked around in a panic and found the very familiar disgusting walls of my cell in Azkaban. Running to the door I pressed my face to the bars hoping to something other than the moldy halls only to be disappointed. Nothing but cells as far as I could see, even if I could only see very little. The haunting facelessness of a dementor suddenly appeared, stealing the little warmth I didn’t know I still from me. It began to feed and though there was little happiness to start with I began to cry as it was drinking from me. Not the pitiful cries like those unknown souls around me, but gut wrenching, throat aching screams into the night.

                I screamed until my stomach pained me, until my voice was sure to leave. I clawed at the fabric of my gown, at my scalp, at the stone walls, at anything within reach until my fingers bled. Still the dementor kept feeding and feeding. I saw my father’s face as he rebuked me over something nameless. The situation always varied, the words mixed until they were no longer needed, and his disappointment and resentment were evident on his tone alone. My mother’s dissatisfaction at the tendencies that she deemed less than becoming of a lady of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black. The lack of compassion in her eyes. The word of My Lord’s downfall in Godric’s Hollow and the retribution I took on the Longbottom’s in return. My desperation.

                I screamed my throat raw until my lungs ached with lack of breath. When it stopped feeding finally there was only a small respite. Instead of just finishing me off with the Kiss, it left a part of my soul untouched as it flew down further down the hall, slowly blending into the dark shadows. I howled for it to come back and finish job knowing that it would not heed me. It continued on in disinterest to my anguish reminding me that I was just fodder, something to come back to.

                The howling continued, and my head swelled with each new inhale hoping to either succumb to the blackness of fainting or death, whichever reached me first.

                I awoke to a panicked exclamation of someone that did not belong. These were not the bony fingers of a dementor shaking me awake, nor the cold hands of a guard.

                “Bellatrix? Bellatrix! Bellatrix, wake up you’re having a nightmare! Please stop screaming.”

                Finally opening my eyes, I found that I was still safely tucked away in my room at Black Manor as ironic as that was. Settling finally on the unnerved expression of the mudblood who, upon seeing me awake finally, swept me up in an uncomfortably tight and familiar hug before remembering herself it would seem.

                “I’m sorry I just-. Are you alright? I heard you screaming and thought something terrible was happening. You sounded like you were in pain. I thought-.”

                “Get out.” I felt hollow and exposed and this little nosy brat was the last person I wanted to see. Wanted to break in and try to pacify me.

                “I-.’

                “Get out. Get out! GET OUT!” I pushed her away as forcefully as I could and didn’t feel any empathy when she fell rather hard to the floor. To my displeasure, the commotion brought my well-meaning sister into the room who took in the sight with disbelieving yet unsurprised eyes.

                “Bella? What is-?” She tentatively reached for me while simultaneously gathering the stricken girl in her arms. The sight angered me more. So, they were a united front then? Keeping an eye on poor, mad Bellatrix. Keeping me in check. I didn’t want their pity! I hated them for it.

                “OUT! OUT! OUT! Get OUT and leave me ALONE!”

                Narcissa hurried out with the girl and only just missed a book I didn’t remember throwing. I yelled after them incoherently until I felt my voice break. When I felt hot angry tears on my cheeks I refused to acknowledge them, letting them run freely as I clutched at the sheets in an effort to keep what little control I had left.

                It was just a dream, it wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. Even as I said it I felt the cold of the damp cell, the despair of the dementors still lingering in my bones. Could still hear the wails of the others and feel the damp mist from the ocean. What a great time for the nightmares to come back, absolutely blank night’s sleep for months on end and now that I was safe they decide to rear their ugly heads again. I thought I’d locked them away for good, hidden them in the deepest recesses of my mind where even the Dark Lord couldn’t reach them. Why would they come back now when all I wanted to do was move on and forget.

                You don’t deserve to forget.

                I believed the thought as soon as it was created. I would never be free from the torment of the memories no matter how much I tried to hide from them. They were my burdens and they would follow me to the grave. It was ingenuous to think otherwise. Even when I was outside of the forever weeping walls of Azkaban I was imprisoned. Every day, no matter the circumstances, was a prison.

Chapter Text

Narcissa

As it was, the grounds of Black Manor smelled overwhelmingly like decomposing plants. Everything that once bloomed in beauty now stood bare and long since dead. The crisp breeze no longer carried pollen and bird’s songs, now there was nothing to carry. No life left.

The gardens had once been my escape. Away from the suffocating expectations of my parents, away from Bella’s manic episodes, away from the balls with too many suitors. Many tried to follow me here, but unless you knew your way, it was easy to become lost. Now, you could see clearly to every hiding place I once claimed, stripped bare and cast into the light for all to see.

I only allowed myself a moment of grief before I put the past back where it belonged. Now was different. Now was a chance for restoration and redemption. Now everything could be better than it once was. The beauty could be real.

Granger…Hermione sat not far off examining the various potions and spell books we would need. I was grateful for her help which turned out to be very meticulous and well thought out. These past weeks getting to know her slowly proved to be enlightening. There was much about her that Draco conveniently chose to leave out when he complained about her bookishness. Much about her experiences he either overlooked or did not know. I wouldn’t hold it against him, we were all blinded before the war began anew. Even for a time at the beginning of it, before death tainted everything no matter whose side you fought for. I grieved silently for her. Having to go through all that she had and to lose her parents in the end. Now she had to be away from her friends and put her life on hold once more. She was very self-sacrificing and suffered largely in silence. She reminded me of another.

“Hermione, I wish to speak with you before we begin.” She had been unusually quiet even for her since the incident. Only speaking when informing Harry about their friend’s funeral. We were required to attend by obligation, but I would have extended an offer regardless.

“I believe you know what this is about. I want you to know that you did nothing wrong. You had no idea what was happening or if my sister was in danger. You did what you thought was right. If my sister was in a proper state of mind she would see that you only had her well-being in mind. However, as it is now, she’s terrified that you know something about herself she wasn’t ready to tell. So, a word of advice from a sister who has experienced these episodes countless times before, do not pry.”

I waited for her response as they usually came after a brief period of contemplation, however this time she remained silent. She turned away from me and I could make out her heavy breathing pattern. On instinct, I reached out to her but just before I touched her I stopped, unsure if my comfort was wanted at all. After such a short period of time it was true I felt a maternal urge to protect the young woman. My heart ached for her as she had no other blood relatives left. I knew the Weasleys had adopted her as one of their own, but as it was now she was away from them with only Potter to confide in. It made me think of my Draco and what he would have gone through if at least one of his parents hadn’t survived. If he’d been left alone. Bellatrix would always protect him I know, but she wouldn’t be able to provide the emotional support he desperately needed. Even now, as he avoided me like the plague, I let him. He would come to me in his own time.

“I understand. Well, no I don’t, but I won’t pry. I panicked, I know. I just didn’t want anything terrible to happen so soon, but I realize it was a mistake just rushing in.” Her shoulders trembled with tension and anxious nerves. Putting aside my own worries and objections I placed what I hoped was a comforting hand on her shoulder. Hoping to steady and calm her nerves. “I think I’m still running on autopilot. Over the last year, throughout all the fighting, we had to rely on instincts or we would die. I’m sure you know what I mean, being here with him and all. I heard screaming and suddenly I was back in the castle hearing friends die.” She took another settling breath, clearly by the break in her voice she was trying desperately to hold back tears. “I’m sorry. I’ve not made things terribly easy for you as Harry has. I’ve seemed to find myself in the thick of just about every issue.”

I chuckled lightly. How she could see herself as my biggest burden was beyond my comprehension. “You’ve nothing to apologize for I assure you. Given the circumstances, you I would hardly call a burden, Hermione. I’ve come to rather enjoy your company all the same. Should you find yourself wanting to discuss anything and find it hard to confide in anyone else, I would hope you confide in me. Especially in circumstances such as this.”

She was still and quiet for a moment more before finally facing me. She regarded me with a guarded curiosity which happened more often as the days passed. I got the distinct impression of being sized up and my character measured. It had been years since I fell under such scrutiny and even longer since it made me uncomfortable.

“What is it, Hermione?”

She didn’t falter, “Forgive me, I’m just trying to, well, I’m trying to not let the old memories I have of you cloud the version of you I’m getting to know now. I’m trying to leave the past where it belongs.”

“Lest you bring the war along with you as well. I understand. Believe me, it isn’t my intention to force any opinion or image of myself onto you. Like you, I would like to overcome the past. Now, I see that there are far more important things than pureblood pettiness.” Like my dear Draco and reconciling with my sisters. Life was too frivolous to sequester ourselves from love and happiness because of stubborn ideologies. Something the war vividly branded into the minds of every wizarding man, woman, and child in Britain.

She nodded almost in acquiescence, that would do for now.

“Shall we start, then?”

 


 

Harry

                My patience for Malfoy was wearing thin. I could handle him ignoring me, in fact, I preferred it. But when he was muttering about how his father would never stand for this or that I wanted to take a long walk off a short cliff. Some things never seemed to change, even through tragedy. I thought that with everything and after Mrs. Malfoy gave us the wonderfully enormous task of cleaning out all the old rooms he would be too busy to complain. Of course, I underestimated his ability to be utterly insufferable at all times.

                “I can’t understand why mother insists we clean out all the rooms. This is more space than we will ever need even with you two here to keep an eye on us and I highly doubt that we’ll be hosting any balls anytime soon.” Draco sniffed as he vanished away a stack of deteriorating boxes. Mrs. Malfoy told us to send any boxes, artifacts, or pictures we came across to the basement. She’d deal with them later, she said.

                “Maybe she wants us to clear out all the pests which, clearly, are an issue.” I replied as I watched yet another furry unidentified creature scurry away from where the boxes were just sitting. I stunned it and Malfoy vanished it out to the yard most likely.

                “This place is a sty. Father would never stand for this.” He grumbled.

                “Yeah, well he’s not here, is he? So, how about shutting up about him for once? For my sanity’s sake.” I snapped for what felt like the billionth time.

                “Excuse me if my being upset inconveniences you. I know you’re used to everyone singing your praises every five minutes.”

                “We’re back to that then, are we? This isn’t about me or whatever you think of me, this is about you moaning every five seconds about how unfair life is. We’re all having a hard time, but you have your mother here to comfort you. I’m sorry your father was imprisoned, but you complaining about it won’t free him!” This was an inevitability that I quickly became accustomed to while working with Malfoy. Everything always heated up to a boiling point and we would spill over.

                “Oh, it must be so very hard to be the hero. Getting whatever you want, being treated like you shit gold bricks and all. Yes, very unfair and hard.” He said.

                I felt the familiar anger that seemed to be specifically reserved for Malfoy coming to the surface again. He was just so self-centered and never thought of what others might be going through. It was always like this. “Why do you always do that? No one ever has it as bad as you. At least your parents are still alive, your mother is here with you and you still complain because it isn’t the perfect little dream you cooked up in your head? News flash, Malfoy, no one’s dreams are coming true! My parents are dead and I was raised by people who hate me and made me sleep in a cupboard under the stairs! The people who I consider my family are having to bury a son! Lupin and Tonks left behind an orphan. We lost classmates. Forgive me if I’m not sympathetic enough about your father serving his time, but would you rather he were dead?”

                He didn’t say anything which infuriated me even more. He just stared. Almost like it didn’t bother him at all. This was pointless he would never get it and he would always be an insufferable git.

                “Look, I’m going to clean out a different room. Clearly, we can’t share the same space.”

                I only went to the room across the hall and got a few hours of uninterrupted cleaning and silence. Oddly enough, it was almost a joy to be doing this. I hated it as a kid, hell I still hate why I was made to do it now, but this was something simple and familiar. Chores and cleaning were just normal parts of my life before I knew I was a wizard. Before everything changed and I had so much responsibility. Doing this didn’t take all of my focus and energy and it didn’t force me to make decisions that would have devastating consequences no matter what. It was just me and a pile of junk that needed to be organized and cleaned. Simple, although the wand was a drastic improvement over a broom and sponge.

                I’d just fallen into a comfortable routine when I noticed Malfoy lurking near the door clearly debating on coming in or not. I sighed, “What do you want, Malfoy? Just come out with it already.”

                A look of defiant anger washed over his face for a moment and I realized that for all my griping about how he was acting, I wasn’t doing much to build a bridge either.

                “I wanted to, well, not apologize but-,” he exhaled in exasperation, “You said you lived in a cupboard. You weren’t serious, were you? Just trying to gain my sympathy and all.”

                I was caught off-guard that’s for sure. I tucked my wand away for the moment. Thinking about that time in my life always caused my magic to react to my emotions and the results were never good. “Contrary to what you believe, I don’t care about your sympathy or anyone else’s for that matter.” That was a bit harsh, so I took a breath to try again. “Sorry, that was a bit uncalled for and I’m trying to be nicer to you which works better if I don’t say things that will make you angry. Works both ways by the way.” He grimaced only slightly, “That’s beside the point. Though. Yes, before I knew I was a wizard my aunt and uncle had me sleep in the cupboard.”

                He came closer looking more confused than I’d ever seen him, “But, you’re a pureblood! They can’t just force you to-”

                “They were muggles and they hated wizards. They kept me from knowing what I was and what really happened to my parents until Hagrid had to hand deliver my Hogwarts letter to me.”

                Still confused, “It was spacious then?”

                “No, Malfoy it was an ordinary, cramped, cupboard with spiders and one hanging light bulb. My cousin would wake me up by stomping up and down the stairs and making dust fall everywhere. It was shit, honestly. They treated me like shit. Like a house elf.” I didn’t want to give away my life story to Malfoy of all people, but it just kept coming out. I could only hope that he didn’t go blabbing this to anyone who’d listen. Who would he even tell?

                “I thought Rita Skeeter would have capitalized on a story like that. Makes you even more of a hero, not that you need it.” Malfoy started cleaning away the room as he talked which, I guess, meant he was here to stay.

                I sighed, “Because I didn’t want the whole wizarding world to know. They already know more about me and my parents than I do. If they would have known that as well I would never be able to leave the house without everyone giving me that sad, pitying look. I don’t want to be pitied and I don’t want to be worshipped either. I don’t want to be The Boy Who Lived, I just want to be normal.”

                He was silent for a few long moments as we cleaned and actually started to make good progress. Eventually, he stopped cleaning and started rolling his wand between his fingers. “I get that you know. The not wanting anyone’s pity. Makes you feel weak and exposed, not to mention it’s absolutely infuriating.” He grew quiet again, “At the Manor when He was there, my friends and their families all looked at me that same way. At first, I was angry, the fact that they wouldn’t think we had been bestowed the highest honor was an insult. ‘They’re envious.’ I told myself. Until I realized I was terrified. Then I realized that they were scared for me too. I hated that worse. It made it so much harder to appear strong when your peers were afraid for your life.” Another silence and I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to respond or just stay quiet. I really didn’t know what to say or even if he needed me to say anything if he wanted comfort or support.

                “You said your family treated you like a house elf. How so?” He asked almost out of nowhere.

                I stared at the back of his head for a moment at a complete loss for words. “Yeah, they uh, they would have me do the yard work, most of the cleaning, I’d cook a lot and do the dishes every night. It got better after Dumbledore came, but they never accepted me or saw me as anything other than a filthy wizard. I don’t care anymore. They’re horrible people who only care about how their perfect little family appears to their neighbors, the Weasley’s took me in as one of their own.”

                “I know the funeral is coming soon.”

                I felt my throat constrict and my eyes burn at the reminder, “Fred was like a brother to me and I got him killed. Lupin was my only tie to my father after Sirius, the only one who truly knew him, and I got him killed. Tonks had so much going for her and she had Lupin and they had Teddy, and I got her killed.”

                I’d told Ron and Hermione this and they would always say it wasn’t my fault and there was nothing I could do, but I still felt guilty, I never wanted anyone to fight for me and I never wanted anyone to die.

                “I still don’t know exactly how you ended it all. Mother doesn’t talk about it and for all I know the Dark Lord believed you were dead. How did you fool him?” He was now sitting on a dusty desk and it was such a juxtaposition, his pristine outfit against a dingy old piece of furniture.

                “I didn’t really fool him, I was dead for a while. Had an…interesting encounter while in limbo and your mother lied to Voldemort after I told her you were safe in the castle. So, it was all your mother really. I just took a very stressful nap.”

                He looked at me and his brow was raised in surprise, he didn’t comment on his mother, though. “I regret what happened in the Room of Requirement. It was a stupid fight and it cost me one of my best friends, too. I thought if I didn’t fight, I would die one way or the other. It was all pointless. When mother took me away I felt sick, not because of some hex, but because I was relieved to be escaping with my life. I’d seen so many people dead I was actually relieved I wasn’t one of them. I was disgusted with myself, still am.”

                I shrugged, “Don’t think you could’ve killed me anyway.” He sat bolt upright and was almost offended by the notion. “You couldn’t kill Dumbledore, I don’t think you can kill anyone. You don’t want to.”

                He bowed his head in silent agreement before I continued, “Plus I’m a better duelist, so there’s that.”

                He smiled genuinely for the first time I’d arrived, maybe even the first time in months. Not trademark Malfoy sneer or the forced one he put on with his mother, but an actual smile. I found myself liking this version of him much more than what I’d seen before and wouldn’t mind seeing more of it. “Fuck off, Potter.” This time it didn’t get under my skin so much.

 


 

Bellatrix

                I sat in the kitchen as Narcissa did something that looked utterly unsavory to the inside of a pheasant. She hadn’t come and lectured me after the whole ordeal like I expected her to, so I’d taken to just lounging around whenever she was alone hoping that eventually, she wouldn’t be able to contain herself anymore.

                “Have you noticed that Draco has been in a better mood, smiling even? I assume whatever he can’t express to me he can express to Mr. Potter. I’ve heard no snide remarks or childish rows since Hermione and I started the garden.”

                That I did not expect, “No, I must admit I hadn’t noticed.” But I did notice how comfortable she was getting with the mudblood. A topic for another time for sure.

                She placed her hands firmly on the counter and looked me in my eyes. Finally, the lecture had arrived. “Well, had you noticed that your hair resembles that of a lion’s mane? Or that it smells far too similar?”

                Now that I wasn’t expecting. “What are you on about, Cissy?”

                “Your hygiene, Bella. You’re not in Azkaban anymore and while the Dark Lord may have tolerated your unkempt appearance, I will not. Nor will I allow you to go out in public for the first time looking like a maniac.” She had that motherly look in her eye that she usually reserved for

Draco, or her imbecilic husband.

                “That almost sounds like a very odd threat.”

                “And I mean to follow through with it.” She replied simply. “If you don’t do something about the veritable mange you’ve acquired, I will.”

                I stared at her incredulously just to make sure this wasn’t another nightmare. When I was sure that this was, in fact, reality I almost laughed. “Fine. I’ll take regular baths and clean up like a nice little pup, Mother.

                “I mean it out of love, dear.” Was all she said before returning to her preparations.

                I watched her face and there was no indication that she was withholding anything at all. Well, I’d like to get straight to it if she wouldn’t. “So, you’ve nothing to say to me?”

                “About what?” She asked, oblivious.

                “About the mudblood, of course! And for throwing one of your books.”

                “Why? I take it since you’ve asked that you already know what you did was unnecessary. Do I really need to confirm that for you?”

                I started pacing, “No, but…you’ve really nothing to say?”

                She stopped fussing with the bird and looked at me honest, “She was just concerned. She’s doing what’s been asked of her she doesn’t know of anything you’ve been through.”

                I stared in what I hope was discontent.

                “Besides, I spoke with her. She won’t be doing it again. Now, if you could control your temper and reactions everything would be going swimmingly.”

                “You think? If I could just behave then things will be just peachy, then? That simple?”

                “You are an absolute brat. Do you know that?” She asked, not pleased.

                “Brat is a bit soft don’t you think?”

                “Yes, but its exactly the word I would use for a child which is exactly what you are.”

                “I’m absolutely insulted, Cissy.”

                She turned to put her culinary project in the oven and didn’t so much as look at me. “See? Brat.”

Chapter Text

Hermione

           

            Mrs. Weasley didn’t look herself. She didn’t have her warm smile and she wasn’t nearly bursting with her usual overflowing amount of love and joy. All of which was completely understandable and accepted, but it still brought with it its own heavy sadness. The same went for all others in attendance. There was not even the monotonous hum of conversation that usually overtook everything when a gathering this large happened. This was the second time the Burrow had been trapped in silence and it wasn’t something I think anyone would be used to.

            Today was the day we were going to bury Fred, Lupin, and Tonks. It all felt too real. I almost expected to see Fred sitting with George quietly plotting at the table when I stepped inside. Or to hear Lupin going on about something with Mr. Weasley that would be completely inconsequential but still seemingly important to them. Or to see Tonks making some ridiculous face just to get a laugh out of someone. To realize that I would never see them again was surreal.

            “Do you feel as weird as I do?” Harry whispered. We were standing awkwardly in the crowded space of the Burrow living room flanked by the ostentatious and out-of-place Malfoy clan featuring a highly displeased Bellatrix. I was surprised to see her groomed so well. Her hair was no longer matted and didn’t resemble a nest of curls, but rather flowed elegantly over her shoulders, framing her face well. She donned a new black dress that didn’t scream of wear and tear and misdeeds but rather portrayed her as an elegant woman. I couldn’t help but think that this is what Lupin described to me all those years ago.

            “I keep thinking I’ll see them coming down the stairs or out of some room at any moment.”

            “I know what you mean. I also feel that maybe bringing them along was a bit inappropriate, but what are you gonna do I guess.” Harry tried not to look back at our guests when he said this.

            I couldn’t help but agree with him. There was no love lost between the two families and their presence would most likely bring out some intense reactions.

            “Keep a close eye out just in case.” I said as Narcissa made her way cautiously to Mrs. Weasley.

            She’d brought along with her a quilt that she knitted by hand as a gift. She came to me before we departed worried that it wouldn’t be enough or that it would be inappropriate for her to bring anything, but I assured her that Mrs. Weasley would accept it no matter what it was. I followed close behind out of curiosity. I had never seen Narcissa knitting anything and I honestly don’t know where she found the time between all the tasks she’d taken upon herself, however, she said it was something her grandmother taught her to do whenever she was a guest in these types of situations. At least, that’s what she told me. I couldn’t imagine how often a situation this peculiar would come around.

            “Mrs. Weasley, I don’t know how to comfort you in this difficult time and I can’t imagine that anything I have to offer is truly wanted. I can only imagine the pain you are going through and wish to extend my sincerest condolences.” She paused for a moment and ran a hand thoughtfully over the neatly folded quilt. “I made this as a gift for you, but now that I face you I feel silly and horribly underprepared. My grandmother taught me how and I know it means very little coming from me, but I thought…well honestly, I don’t really know what I thought. I just-.”

            To what must have been everyone’s surprise Mrs. Weasley stood slowly and leveled her with an unreadable gaze, then suddenly wrapped Narcissa Malfoy in one of her signature hugs. One that encompasses all of your being until there’s nothing to be seen or felt but whatever emotion she wanted to portray to you.

            I felt I wasn’t meant to be witnessing it.

            Harry must have felt the same way, “I think the ceremony is being held outside. We should go find our seats I think.”

            “I think you’re right, I’m sure Mrs. Weasley will show Narcissa the way.”

            Outside the sun was shining and a light breeze blew through the yard every so often. It was a comfortable temperature, not harsh in either direction. On any other day, I would imagine the Weasley clan thoroughly engrossed in a game of Quidditch right now. Or Fred and George testing out their new products, causing mayhem in the middle of a peaceful afternoon. Just another day at the Burrow. Instead, the air was tainted with grief.

            “Narcissa’, huh? You two have gotten pretty close, haven’t you? I supposed that’s good and inevitable seeing how much time the two of you spend together.” He didn’t sound upset about it, but I still felt uncomfortable. I hadn’t seen nearly enough of Harry outside of mealtimes. Honestly, we were both so busy lately that I hadn’t noticed that I missed him until this exact moment when we were in this familiar place with shared friends.

            “Yes, she’s actually been very nice to me and understanding of what we’ve been through. I don’t know why you haven’t talked to her yet. She’s nothing like before, almost unrecognizable. Although, you’ve been spending a lot of time with Draco something even his own mother can’t manage.”

            Harry took the seat next to me, trying to speak as quietly as possible, “It feels weird doesn’t it? One minute we’re fighting for our lives and the next we’re living with the people that were closest to Voldemort. I know you were ready to jump into this for your own reasons, but come on Hermione, even you have to admit all of this happened absurdly fast.”

            “That was my first thought actually. When Kingsley came to me I thought he was out of his mind to ask so much of me not even a full twenty-four hours after the war ended, but I knew I would have to eventually and there wasn’t anything else I saw myself doing. There was a time when I thought I might return to Hogwarts and finish my education, but I can’t imagine it ever being the same especially without you and Ron and some secret quest. After seeing it destroyed and covered in blood, after seeing our friends die there. I don’t think I will ever be able to stay there and think of anything else.” I replied honestly.

            “I see your point, but in a way, this is nice. For the first time in my entire life, I have nothing that I’m expected to do. No life or death favors, no need to fetch this or that, no need to hunt, and no being hunted. Well, as far as I know. I have free time.” Harry said, with a smile on his face so relaxed I don’t think I’ve seen it since our first-year meeting at Hogwarts.

            “Free time you spend outside of my company. Where do you and Draco go? I hardly see you although we live under the same roof.” I teased, although I did miss his company.

            “The same can be said for you! I heard you’re having tea and gardening while I’m doing the hard work of getting rid of gnomes and other pests, heavy lifting and everything.” We laughed for a moment, a complete juxtaposition to our surroundings. I couldn’t help but think that Fred would have wanted as much laughter at his funeral as possible. Maybe if he had the time and lived a full life he would have had some elaborate prank planned out. One last hoorah.

            It was quite sometime before Narcissa finally entered with Mrs. Weasley at her side. It seemed that losing her son and the numbing time since has softened her demeanor. They were followed by Mr. Weasley and the remaining Weasley children. It was a relief to see so many familiar faces though it pained me to see them so sad.

            Ron spotted us and gave us a strained smile and motioned for us to join the rest of the family up front. I knew we couldn’t leave our guests, but I also knew Harry would want to be with his family.

            “You can go, I’ll stay here and keep an eye out.” I assured him.

            “You sure?” He asked, and I pushed him toward the front where Ron was waiting. He looked at me puzzled for a moment when I didn’t get up to follow but thankfully decided that this wasn’t the time to press.

            Everyone settled into their seats while the last stragglers, including Draco who stayed behind with his mother, filed into the large tent. Among them were Andromeda and Ted Tonks. I saw Narcissa sit a bit straighter in her seat next to me. I know she cared a great deal for her older sister and could only imagine what she was thinking at the moment. On the other side of me, however, I felt the eldest Black daughter tense. As if there was a war of conflicting emotions roaring inside her. I wanted to ask what she was thinking but knew that my question would only be seen as nosy prying and be met with hostility. Draco seemed to slip back into his passive shell, guarding himself in this environment where he knew almost no one.

            Andromeda and Ted took seats along the front row along with the Weasley’s. It was quite odd to see the juxtaposition between the two families. Although Andromeda sat with the Weasleys she wore a dress that was in a similar fashion to the other Black sisters. They all looked so noble and extravagant it was hard to remember they were here for a funeral and not a ball with their ominous trains trailing behind them like shadows, they stuck out more than they should. As opposed to the Weasleys who wore their very best, but in comparison, the two families looked as if they should be in separate rooms. Now there were no lines or egos to divide them, just mourning to bind them.

 Finally, the ceremony began. A ministry official took his place at the small podium behind the portraits of the fallen. His speech was much the same as the one given at Dumbledore’s funeral. Professional and oddly detached. More like someone reading off a list of accomplishments rather than honoring their life. I suppose that’s to be expected from an appointed ministry official. They didn’t know Fred or Lupin or Tonks. This was most likely just one of several ceremonies he would have to officiate this week. His old wizened face looked like it had taken on several more years of age recently. His brow seemed permanently set in a sorrowful state and his eyes were lifeless and dull, even for someone in his profession. Just another by-product of the end of a war.

            I thought back to what Harry said about everything happening so quickly. Maybe he was right. It seemed I was the only one who had made a clean jump into life again. There was still so much grief and sorrow that I wasn’t actively aware of. Of course, I knew that families were grieving for loved ones and that there were those tasked with the despairing task of putting those lost to rest but knowing it and actually seeing it are two completely different things. Being hidden away from it all has spared me from experiencing the brunt of it. For that, I feel guilty. I retreated into my own problems and there was so much more going on with others. I wasn’t there for Ginny or Ron when they needed me most.

            The official finished his droning speech rather quickly, or maybe it seemed quick because his voice never wavered with emotion and spoke with such practiced bored ease that he was quicker than I remember. The little man seemed just a bit smaller leaving the podium than he did when he went up. As if each time he officiates the weight of grief folds him over just a little more.

            I expect Mr. or Mrs. Weasley to speak next but was thoroughly surprised when Andromeda Tonks stood gracefully and made her way to the center. She wore a modest, yet elegant black dress gown and a black veil that looked to be woven with fine diamonds of some sort. It was actually the same design as the ones donned by her sisters, a family tradition it seems. It was odd how much she looked like Narcissa at that moment. Not quite as fancily dressed, but still elegant and striking. Respected. I sensed Bellatrix tense again next to me. One day I would understand why simply seeing her youngest sister unsettled her so much, however, today was not that day.

            Andromeda cleared her voice quietly, but in the silence of the enchanted tent, the small noise was almost larger than life. She slowly lifted her veil and revealed the glossy, bloodshot eyes underneath. I felt my heart break for her as I knew what it felt like to see your family disappear around you. The only silver lining I saw for her was the love and support of her husband and the possibility of reuniting with her family. She’d been through so much familial turmoil already, this must have been a heart-wrenching tragedy.

            “I don’t even know where to begin,” her voice was thick with emotion, “It warms my heart to see so many here. Regardless of whom you are here to mourn we all share the same deep sorrow. It is that sorrow that sits heavy in my heart and will for the rest of my life.” Her voice broke as her eyes fell on the picture of her daughter, her unmistakable smile lighting up her face as a silent giggle broke from her chest every once in a while.

            “For those of you who knew my daughter, knew the light and joy that she created with just her personality and a smile, knew the genuine love that she had for her family and the lengths she would go to protect them. Only if you knew that Nymphadora, Dora, would you know why she left for Hogwarts that night. Why she put the lives of so many she cared for ahead of her son. To her it was an easy choice, she loved and cared for the Weasley’s, Remus, and Harry as if they were her own. Because they were. My daughter was so full of love that she had no choice but to spread it to all those she knew.” She paused and took the time to wipe a few errant tears away. I found myself doing the same. How she kept herself so composed while speaking of her daughter who she would only know in memory now was beyond me. It took a special strength.

            “I think that is what drew her to Remus. He was more selective with his affection. Given the life he lived, it was only understandable. But, beneath his armor, there was a man so full and caring only someone as stubborn as my daughter could properly bring it out of him. I’m glad she did. The man I welcomed into my family had seen and been through so much, but when he smiled at my daughter…or their son, there was the purest happiness I’d ever seen. A true appreciation for the life he lived. Remus fought that night not only out of duty but also out of worry. The kind of worry that only a parent knows. The worry that his family would come to harm. He gave his life protecting them. All of them. Not just little Teddy and Dora, but his entire family. Those that welcomed him with open arms and let him grow into the man that my daughter loved. Their sacrifice was not in vain; however, their legacy lives on through their son who will know all he needs to understand what his parents gave away so that he can see a future without threat. So that all of us may live freely. I refuse to feel morose because they are longer with us, that would be a disservice to their memory. Instead, I will make the most of the new life they gave us and enjoy every moment with my grandson that they have given me. I only wish that I could have seen them smile again one last time. For my last vision of them to be one of happiness, but I will make do with the memories.” She was actively crying by the end of it and not alone either. Several others were crying myself included. Even Narcissa, while stoic, shed silent tears for her sister while Bellatrix looked carefully blank, almost as if she couldn’t let herself react or she would be betraying herself.

            It angered me for a moment that her own stubborn pride got in the way of mourning her niece with her sisters, but quickly remembered what Narcissa told me. There was so much I didn’t understand about Bellatrix and what she and her family had been through. Certainly, more than Narcissa and at least Andromeda had a new family to accept her. Bellatrix was severely closed off and for good reason likely. Preferring to pry in other’s lives rather than give them a chance to dig around in hers. Maybe it wasn’t that pride got in the way of her emotions, maybe she just didn’t know how to express what she felt in front of others. Even if the situation was appropriate, of course she was never the type to shed a tear in public.

            Mrs. Weasley met Andromeda as she stepped down and wrapped her in another one of her motherly hugs before ushering her back to her seat. Mrs. Weasley sat in a newly vacated seat and held Andromeda as the two sat and cried softly, sharing the grief of a lost child. It reminded me of my mother, how she would never have to mourn my loss, only I hers. I truly missed her.

            I focused my attention back to the podium where a familiar head of red hair and freckles sent an unbearable pain through my heart. George stood slumped, lines of worry and distress prematurely etched into his face, not even a shadow of a smile evident. Far different than the laughing young man so full of life that I had once known. He spoke, and his voice was thick with the signs of crying.

            “Hello, I’m George, just in case any of you might have confused me with the fellow in the picture.” He let out a weak laugh, but even to him, the joke felt ill-timed. “Sorry, that was bad. They’ve all been bad recently. I worked best with my brother, he and I shared a special bond born mostly over mischief much to my mother’s dismay. But, more than that, he knew my secrets before even I did. I could tell him anything and I knew he would understand what I meant. We felt like two halves to a whole. I know cliché for twins, but it was true. Now, that he’s gone I don’t know what to do. All my plans were our plans. Without him here they don’t exist.”

            George tried not to glance at his brother’s portrait, choosing instead to stare at some spot in the middle of the crowd. “I never thought that he wouldn’t make it. Death wasn’t something we ever thought about, it wasn’t part of our plan. Still, I assumed when it happened we would go out together. Preferably with a bang, if any of you know the story our last day at Hogwarts then you know what I mean.” He laughed quietly and there seemed to be a genuine smile on his face as he reminisced. Even I had to crack a small smile at the memory of the twins riding away from Hogwarts amid the brilliant firework dragon while Umbridge bristled and turned a horrid shade of red. Then his face suddenly crumpled into despair. “I don’t know what to do without him. I’m sorry mum, but I wish I’d gone with him! I wish I’d gone with him.”

            In an instant Ron was there holding him, letting him cry on his shoulder before escorting them both back to their seats. An empty silence eagerly amplified the sound of George’s gasping cries as the pain poured out of him in waves. I covered my mouth to choke back a sob of my own.

            There was a moment of shock where no one knew exactly what to do, unsure if there is another speaker or if we should pretend not to notice the aching moment. Then Mr. Weasley stood, eyes red-rimmed, and clasped his hands together. He couldn’t put on the gentle smile he was known for as he spoke faintly, “Thank you all for coming. I believe that is all for the ceremony, but there are deserts and other refreshments inside so please, help yourselves.”

            Quietly the seats emptied as guests made their way to the refreshments and I was stuck. I was torn between going to comfort my friends or letting them have their moment. I knew they considered me family, but Harry had always been closer with the Weasley unit than I was, even with…whatever Ron and I were doing. Would it be awkward? Of course it would take in the setting, Hermione. There was a gentle hand on my shoulder bringing me out of my thoughts.

            “I’m sure they would appreciate your company, especially now. It’s been so long.” Narcissa’s eyes had softened since we arrived and now sported a layer of mist. I glance back at the family, hugging each other tightly. I almost can’t make out Harry he meshes so well with them, the only sign of him is a spot of wild, dark hair amidst a sea of red.

            She was right, of course. I gave her a gentle smile in thanks to her calming reassurance. Just as I was about to make my way over to them a much firmer hand replaced the one Narcissa had just removed. I turned expecting to see Bellatrix. She was the only other person I’d spoken to on a somewhat regular basis for the past month. I was surprised to see Draco, face stoic as ever.

            “Yes, Draco?” I asked only mildly confused.

            For a moment he struggled with his words, “I would like to accompany you.”

            I was taken aback, “You want to go with me? Why?”

            My response wasn’t taken well, and I regretted my wording immediately, “To pay my respects to the family, of course! You’re not the only decent one around here you know. My mother raised me to be a gentleman.” Draco huffed.

            “It just took a bit longer for that particular lesson to take, I guess.” Draco’s face grew red with indignation and I turned away from him before he could respond.

            Finally, being up close to them I had no clue how I was to proceed. Do I say something? Tap someone on the shoulder? Just wait until I’m noticed.

            Draco being the straight forward man that he is, decided for me by clearing his throat rather loudly and respectfully.

Ginny looked up first. “Hermione! Is that Malfoy with you?” Her voice was thick with tears.

“Yes, we’ve just come to pay our respects, but I didn’t want to interrupt.” I answered.

“Oh, shut up! You’re one of us.” Ginny replied, pulling me into the warm hug. I was almost crushed by the sheer force of all the arms trying to squeeze their love and appreciation into me.

I let myself melt into the feeling of being surrounded by so many familiar faces before I remembered Draco. I looked over and he stood there awkwardly shuffling, trying to keep his face from showing any discomfort. The Malfoy’s and Black’s were not a very physically affectionate family as I had observed.

“Um, I believe Draco had something he wanted to say.” I pulled away from the hug and I felt a bit bad for him as all the eyes of the Weasley clan were now warily taking him in. For such a genial family, they could be a bit intimidating when they wanted to be. The only face he would be somewhat comfortable with would be Harry’s.

He cleared his throat again for what must have been nerves, “Yes, I just wanted to offer my condolences as Hermione said. I wasn’t on the best of terms with Fred, as a matter of fact, we all were quite nearly enemies. He didn’t deserve this though. He was brave for fighting, but he shouldn’t have had to. If I hadn’t been so foolish and scared, maybe things would have turned out different.” He paused, swallowing thickly, “I’m sorry.”

There was a moment of silence where the family just stared in shock, unable to process the fact that Draco Malfoy had offered a very heartfelt and genuine apology of his own volition. It was Mr. Weasley who first pulled him in and wrapped him in a firm hug. I could see Draco release a large breath and the tension left his body for the first time in what was probably a long time. The rest of the family followed suit and soon Draco was in the very unfamiliar position of being in the middle of a Weasley family hug. This was different. Draco relaxed more with the Weasleys, who he made fun of and belittled throughout our entire time at Hogwarts than he did with his own mother and especially his aunt. I wonder why that was?

“Draco, your mother is looking for you.” Bellatrix’ strong voice suddenly sounded from behind me, well more accurately above me. I turned and nearly jumped from my skin at the closeness, my face was very nearly in her corseted chest. Very, very nearly. I felt my face heat from my ears down my neck. Not helped at all when she turned her intense gaze to me.

“Granger, something on your mind?” She cocked an eyebrow at me and I felt my face grow even hotter.

Without even attempting to rationalize what happened I turned back and gave a forced smile. “Well then, we should probably get to the others, right?”

“I for one am in no hurry to go in there. No one has noticed me yet, but I’m sure that will change as soon as I set foot in that tent, your nice memorial will turn into quite the scandalous affair.” Bellatrix continued, not noticing my discomfort or not caring enough to step aside. She was so close I felt her body heat across my back and neck.

Mrs. Weasley disentangled herself from the mass of limbs and wiped away a few errant tears, “I believe you’re right. Not that I don’t trust you, but I know the relatives can be a bit…pestering, I hope not to offend you when I say that I expect more restraint from you than them.”

Stepping from between them I took a chance and glanced at Bellatrix’ face to see her raise an eyebrow before snorting and walking away. Draco followed suit and was followed by the others, all hugging someone for comfort.

Ron stayed behind, hands shoved in his pockets and feet shuffling. “Hey ‘Mione, are you alright? You look a bit off.”

I didn’t really know what I was feeling to be quite honest, but “off” seemed like an understatement. “I’m fine, this is all just overwhelming I think. Just emotions.”

He nodded slowly before stepping up beside me. There was a moment of hesitation before he wrapped an arm awkwardly around my shoulder. He waited, not saying a word, seeing if I would shrug him away. It felt odd, but not wholly unpleasant. I relaxed into him and he became more comfortable. We slowly made our way out into the tent, but just before entering he stopped and turned to me.

“I’ve, er, missed you. A lot actually. I meant to write you, I mean write you back, but with everything I kind of-.”

“Ron, it’s okay. I understand. Things have been hectic with me as well.” I assured him.

His face clouds with something not quite like anger, more like mistrust. “You must be going mental trapped in the same house as them.”

The tone of his voice was off-putting for a reason I couldn’t quite place. It made me want to draw myself away from him, but I ignored that feeling. “Actually, I’ve quite enjoyed the company of Narcissa. Draco and Bellatrix are hardly ever seen except for at meals. Well, Harry sees Draco on a regular basis, but you’d have to ask him how that is.”

He gave me an odd look for a moment, “Narcissa? You mean Mrs. Malfoy?” He asked, looking decidedly puzzled.

I didn’t understand his confusion, “Yes, that is her surname.”

“You called her by her first name. Are you close?”

Realization dawned on me, “Oh, well, yes. We’ve grown really close since we spend so much time restoring the mansion. She’s very nice and welcomed company.”

He hesitated, “It’s nice that you have a friendly face around. Besides Harry, you know.”

“I actually don’t see that much of Harry. He and Draco clean out other parts of the mansion, while Narcissa and I restore the places they clean.” I explained.

“And Bellatrix? Has she been harassing you?” His mistrust was clearer now. Just barely holding back from anger.

 I remembered flashes of that evening. The one that had been haunting me ever since. Flashes of livid screams and thrown books, the painful grip of cold hands wrapped around my arms, pushing me away. “Bellatrix is…Bellatrix. She keeps to herself.”

The anger present in Ron didn’t leave but partially gave way to mild worry. However, he didn’t voice his concern. Choosing instead to grab my hand and enter the tent at last.

The mood on the inside of the enchanted tent was completely different from that of the ceremony that had just concluded outside. Excited chatting and loud laughter prevailed as everyone sat around tables overflowing with food and drinks. I guess surviving certain death had that effect on people. They could be completely consumed by grief one moment and overflowing with joy and life the next. Not wasting a single moment. This is better anyway. This is how Fred would have wanted it.

I scanned the room and saw several familiar faces, all chatting and smiling at one another. No doubt recounting stories of some odd encounter with Tonks or Fred. It warmed my heart.

Narcissa and Draco were sitting at a table at the far end of the tent, surprisingly surrounded by the other members of the Weasley clan. Bellatrix was nowhere to be found which was cause for worry. Arriving at the table Ron went to sit next to Harry but found that both seats at his side were occupied. Ginny on one side and Draco on the other. A bit annoyed he went to the next available seat next to Bill.

“Have you seen Bellatrix? I thought she would have been here already.” I asked Narcissa from over her shoulder, not wanting to announce to the entire table that I had lost track of the temperamental woman.

Narcissa caught on, “No, the last I saw of her she was still with you all outside.” I couldn’t tell if the worry on her face was due to genuine concern for her sister’s disappearance or for fear of what her sister could be getting up to on her own.

“She left before we did. Don’t worry, I’ll find her. There’s not much she could have gotten up to without a wand, right?” The look I received in return said that she knew very well everything that her sister could get up to wand or not.

I turned to leave the table but was stopped by Ron speaking out and drawing everyone’s attention. “Where are you going, Hermione?”

Turning back, it was as I feared, all eyes were on me. I didn’t want to tell them exactly why I was leaving so I thought being as vague as possible would help. “I left something outside. I’m just going to go look for it.”

“Oh, let me help you then.” Ron made to get up and follow but having him around would surely aggravate Bellatrix.

“No!” I exclaimed too hastily, startling everyone. “I mean, I can find it. Stay and enjoy the food. Usually, it's so hard for you to resist don’t tell me you’ve changed that much.” He cracked that familiar crooked smile and settled back into his seat thankfully letting me go alone.

Outside felt odd now that I had experienced the liveliness of inside, it felt too calm. Seeing as the laughter didn’t carry out here that must mean the tent was not only enchanted to be larger but also sound proof. That was probably a good idea seeing how excitable the Weasley family could get.

There was no immediate sign of the other woman where the ceremony was held so I did a quick check inside the house. It looked as if no one had entered the house since the morning and after no one answered my calls I figured she must be somewhere else outside.

Heading out behind the tent I finally saw her leaning against the fence, hip jutting out to the side. I found myself frozen where I stood unsure whether it was best to proceed or head back inside now that I knew the woman wasn’t causing any trouble.

“I can hear your indecisiveness, Granger. What do you want?” The clarity of her voice startled me, almost as if she were standing right behind me again. I felt an unexplained chill run down my spine. Finally turning to face me she leaned back and crossed her arms, “Well?”

I stepped forward slowly, “I just was checking up. Narcissa didn’t know where you were. I figured you would be the first inside to avoid everyone, but you weren’t. She was worried.”

“Was she worried about my well-being or for what I might be getting up to unsupervised?”

I didn’t know how to answer that. “Why can’t it be both?”

She seemed to think about that for a moment, conceding the point. “So, if she was the worried one, why are you here instead?”

That’s a very good question, “It’s my responsibility to keep you out of trouble.”

“Of course.” She snorted.

We stood in awkward silence, her staring intensely, expectantly, and I trying desperately not to make eye contact.

“Hermione…” She called out almost softly.

The use of my name was so startling my eyes snapped to hers and my eyebrows drew together.

“What do you want?” She almost whispered, and the damn chill made its presence known again.

What did I want? Why was I still here when clearly, she was fine on her own? I should head back inside with everyone else. Except, this was the first time we’d been alone together since the incident. It felt like walking on more eggshells than usual around her now which made things increasingly more difficult.

“I’m sorry for invading your privacy. About the nightmare-.” I started quietly only to be intensely interrupted.

“You had no right-.”

“I know! I know I was just worried. I didn’t know what was happening and I thought you were in some kind of danger. I didn’t think, I was running on auto-pilot.” I explained, hoping that this wasn’t a massive overstep.

“What is that?” She asked abruptly.

“What is what, exactly?”

“Auto-whatever you said. What does that even mean?”

“Oh, that is something used in muggle planes to help pilots. It basically means automatic.” I explained, face heating from embarrassment.

I expected a scolding about muggle practices and inferiority but instead all I received was a slightly confused, “Hm.”

The silence was back now and no less uncomfortable.

“I overreacted. I apologize for attacking you. And throwing books.” She added the last part so nonchalantly that I thought throwing books was routine for her if her temper got high enough.

“Old habits. I suppose I’m still operating like this is wartime. Every scream is a siren of danger. I think the worst.” I explained, wrapping my arms around myself, the images of Malfoy Manor and a burning Hogwarts playing in my mind. It didn’t help that we were at a funeral.

Suddenly Bellatrix wrapped an arm around my shoulders much like Ron had earlier only this felt odd for a different reason I couldn’t quite explain. It was unfamiliar because Bellatrix was so aloof and private, not someone who casually initiated contact with people she wasn’t even on great terms with. Despite that I found myself relaxing and being led.

“Come on, Granger. I figure you will worry if I’m out of your sight for more than five minutes, so let’s head back inside. Enjoy the festivities and such.” She sounded almost cheerful though I’m sure that was an act.

I don’t know what I expected to see when we entered the tent, but having every eye slowly turn to follow our entrance was overwhelming. I felt the embarrassment creep across my face as the room fell silent. There was no telling how anyone would react to seeing the witch let alone seeing her so comfortable and familiar with me.

She leaned closer to whisper in my ear sounding almost gleeful, “All eyes on me then? Maybe I should have slipped in early like you suggested.”

I breathed a sigh of relief when we finally made it to the table, but there was no respite from Bellatrix’ proximity as she took the last available seat which just so happened to be next to mine. I sat frozen in fear for what would happen next, entirely uncertain of the reaction.

“What the bloody hell is she doing here!” A shout went up from an unknown man and was quickly backed by sounds of agreement from all over. The sense of dread I had been trying to hold back was now fully realized.

Before the outraged cries could escalate into anything more Mrs. Weasley took it upon herself to calm the masses. “Please! You should be ashamed of yourselves! This is a time for mourning and celebrating life, not for your crusades.”

“She should be ashamed for showing her face here. How many memorials has she been responsible for in this war alone.?” Spat someone who I’m sure was a distant Weasley relative somehow.

“The war is done. What we’ve lost we can never get back so why dwell? Would vengeance bring my beloved Fred back? Would killing the woman who had nothing to do with his death but everything to do with our victory make any difference? If it would I could strike her down now where she sits wandless and vulnerable.” To this Bellatrix gave an unimpressed snort. “It won’t change a thing. Let go or become the monsters you fear.”

We all sat in silence, waiting for someone to challenge yet again. Surprisingly, Neville Longbottom stood quietly from the table he occupied with his grandmother. The shell of the nervous boy was no longer present and, in his place, stood a resilient young man. He gave the room a once over before clearing his throat. “I believe I have as much of a grudge as anyone here, but I’m working to put it behind me. Bellatrix helped win us the war in ways a lot of us couldn’t even begin to imagine, there was so much going on behind the scenes. I would like to know and maybe understand why it was that she tortured my parents, but I don’t want revenge. Not even a little bit. There’s so much more to live for now, and like it or not she was a part in bringing us this peace. That doesn’t excuse her wrongdoing, but maybe give her a chance to show that things will be different now.”

Not wanting to leave the floor open for anymore arguing Mrs. Weasley made a point to give Neville her most genuine smile before sitting back down with the family and making inconsequential conversation with her sons. Successfully closing the door to any more interjections as other conversations began to pick back up all around the tent.

Bellatrix looked around the table making a point not to spend too much time staring in the general direction of Andromeda even though said sister hadn’t stopped intently staring since Bellatrix entered. “Well then, I’m famished.” She said, shrugging her shoulders and piling a plate with foods I don’t believe she actually planned to eat.

From across the table, Ron gave her a brief look of contempt before refocusing on me. “Sorry about all this, must be hard enough with what you have to go through every day.”

“Exactly what do you mean by that, Weasel?” Bellatrix snapped suddenly, nearly causing Ron to jump from his skin it seemed.

He recovered quickly and set his jaw, “Just that it must be a lot for Hermione to be separated from everyone she knows and be surrounded by…strangers all of a sudden.”

“Very bold of you to speak on her behalf.” Bellatrix retorted.

“You know that you and your sister are more than welcome to visit as often and for as long as you would like, don’t you?” Narcissa interrupted, seeming almost shocked at the idea that Hermione was being forcibly isolated from those she loved.

Ron fixed her with an almost dumbfounded gaze while he thought that over, “I guess I hadn’t really thought about that. It would be nice to see you more frequently, Hermione.”

“And me as well, I’m sure.” Harry chimed in, sensing the building tension and clapping a brotherly hand around Ron’s shoulder.

“Absolutely, mate!”

It was strange having dinner with the Weasley’s again and even more odd that Narcissa was comfortable enough to freely converse with them as if this were a regular occurrence. The table as a whole collectively decided that trying to engage Bellatrix would be fruitless so after a few wary glances no one even bothered to try, too content to pretend that she wasn’t even there.

With Narcissa effectively enrapturing the older Weasley’s with elegant conversation and sensitive inquiries while Harry told Ron and Ginny what he’d been up to for the past weeks there were not many options for company. Draco had completely withdrawn into himself once again and I didn’t very much feel like regaling anyone with my tales of redecorating and gardening. Still, it felt off to just sit here silently picking around a feast that could rival Hogwarts’s while all those I cared about were trying their best to make merry. I had nothing to say that didn’t fall back to crushing grief, but it felt as though I was expected to contribute somewhere at some point.

“Feeling a bit alienated as well then, Pet?” Her words came as a sharp and sudden break from my thoughts almost as if she had yelled them though I’m sure she did no more than whisper conspiratorially.

“It’s written plain as day on your face, but it seems I’m the only one who cares enough to see. Or maybe the only one crass enough to point it out? Ah, who knows.” She went back to unpleasantly devouring whatever poor poultry found it’s way onto her plate. Behavior that would have surely garnered a scolding from Narcissa had she been paying attention. The sight of her eating as if she feared someone might come and steal her plate reminded me so much of Ron that I took a moment to glance at him and remind myself that he was still, in fact, sitting across the table talking animatedly with Harry.

“I don’t know what you mean.”  I barely mumbled, already this was too much interaction with the witch than I cared for in one day. She had a way of being maddeningly confusing, always toying with words and saying things that were somehow insanely sane.

“Oh, sure you do. They’re ignoring your little mood just as much as they’re ignoring me, and you don’t want to speak with them either. Before you open your annoying little mouth to contest think for a moment; if you really wanted to be part you would just talk to them. They are your friends, right? Instead, you wallow in misplaced guilt and self-pity.” Just like that, she put words to my innermost pain and although a part of me wanted to protest every word she had just spoken on sheer principle and to take back a shred of self-respect, I felt the rebuttal dying on my lips.

She was right and what was the point of arguing when even as the words stung I felt a morsel of the guilt leave my shoulders. “I know I have no place to pity myself, but I can’t help it. Even as I mourn I can’t help but think that I would rather have buried my parents than to live knowing that they have no memory of me. No knowledge of the love we shared. I can never go to them for comfort again, can’t even pop by for a visit from time-to-time. Only I carry the burden of what was lost between us and that feels infinitely worse than them being laid to rest knowing me until their dying breath.”

She didn’t respond and for that, I was grateful for having been spared what would no doubt have been some biting remark about weakness and perspective. However, when I chanced a look into her eyes there almost seemed to be empathy there, not derision. It was always unexpected when she decided to show a moment of humanity, I never know what they mean, but they carry so much weight regardless.

“What do you have to be guilty about? You didn’t kill anyone here. The only person allowed to feel guilty here is me, although I suspect Potter is hoarding more than his fair share.” She said in a much softer tone than previously.

That was harder to answer just because, rationally, it didn’t make sense to feel guilty. “I don’t know, really. I feel like I have no place here among their grief and no way to comfort them.”

“They don’t ask for more than your company. Although you’re being withdrawn, just being here at all to remind them of everyone that survived is more than enough. Not to mention your loss as well. If there is one thing to bond you all together it is that you are all grieving someone.”

I looked around at the table and saw all the laughter and smiles that only barely hid the anguish, apprehension, and sorrow from several months of turmoil and loss and finally felt connected. Was finally able to recognize that feeling within myself and equate it to what everyone around me felt. All thanks to the prodding and unexpectedly helpful Bellatrix.

I turn and get a good look at the older woman as she absently downs a goblet of firewhiskey, curiosity overflowing. “Sometimes you make a lot of honest sense you know that?”

She finished her drink before responding, “I make sense more often than you think. I’m much more sane than anyone gives me credit for.”

“Probably because you have no qualms about torturing and killing innocents.”

“Who said that?” She asked nonchalantly.

“Your actions?” I responded in exasperation because that was obvious to anyone with eyes.

“My actions look vastly different depending on the amount of circumstance you are privy to. Who’s to say that I’m not deeply traumatized by what I’ve done.” She retorted in that maddeningly playful way she seems to have perfected.

“Maybe now that it’s all said and done yeah, but at the time you looked to thoroughly enjoy it.”

“I didn’t enjoy torturing you.” She said plainly. “Could it be that perhaps I’m very good at putting on a show. Especially when others, those who report my every move, are watching?”

I didn’t know how to respond. It did make a twisted amount of sense when you put it that way.

“I imagine it is similar to what you do when you pretend to fawn over the Weasel when around his family. Always acting as expected.”

My seat creaked with the force with which I turned to face her, full of indignation, “It is not at all similar!”

She observed me for a moment with that inane smirk before downing yet another glass of firewhiskey, “Then again what do I know? I’m just a drunk, insane, old Death Eater.”

A response danced on the tip of my tongue but before I could vocalize it Neville appeared at Bellatrix shoulder. He stood tall and confident, but the way he anxiously wrung his hands together gave away his nerves.

“I’d like a word with you, Bellatrix.” I admired the way his voice didn’t waver even the slightest.

“As if I were in any position to refuse. Oh! That is if it's quite alright with you, Granger?” She was being sarcastic of course.

“By all means.”

Now would be the time to integrate myself into the conversation I suppose. I turned to see Ron and George thoroughly engaged in an intense drinking game with Ginny egging them on. I’d never seen either of them drink much, but somehow this was completely in character for the competitive and fun-loving brothers.

“I’ve got five Galleons on George drinking Ron under the table.” I add, mischief clear in my voice.

“You’re on, Granger.” Harry pipes up with a grin.

 

Bellatrix

 

I followed the boy back out into the yard and he stopped along the same stretch of fence that Granger found me against earlier. I waited for him to get comfortable and to finally speak up which began to take much longer than anticipated.

“Longbottom, not that your company isn’t riveting, but what is that you want from me?” I asked, better to cut straight to it than wait for him to get around to asking.

He cleared his throat and squared his jaw, “I want to know why you put me on your visitors list.” His eyes held worry barely hidden behind a hardened gaze.

“I’m sure you think I’m up to no good. Some cruel ploy to cause you more pain than I already have but I assure you I have honest intentions. I thought I would take this opportunity to extend an invitation. I have so much to make up for and that’s just to you. If you are comfortable or deem me worthy enough to take this small pitiful request of me, my door is always open to you.”

His brow furrowed in confusion, “So, what? You think we can hash it out with some tea and a pleasant chat?”

“Not at all. I expect a fair amount of anger, screeching, and silence. Depending on your mood and how you receive what I have to tell you of course. You have already expressed that you want an explanation, to get out years of pent up frustration that you must harbor for me, or to just get away from the inane hero worship and keep some of that humility you lot are so proud of then the doors of Black Manor are always open to you young man.”

He took to shuffling his feet and I was reminded of how much of a boy he still was, childhood stolen from him by losing his parents, a war that could have gone much differently for him had prophecies played out differently, and too much responsibility on his shoulders. There was so little I could do for him outside of this proposal, whether he took it or not I did genuinely hope that he found peace in the coming years.

“Well, whatever you do stay away from Rita Skeeter, for the sake of your sanity. She will indeed try to suck you dry since she can’t get to her darling Potter. I’m going to head back inside before my various jailers get too worried.”

There was a moment of silence before the sound of heavy footsteps and shuffling grass followed behind me.

Retaking my seat at the table I was only somewhat surprised to see that no one seemed to notice my absence or my return. That is no one besides the three sets of eyes trying desperately not to seem too concerned with me.

“Can I help you, Granger? Perhaps something that will calm you and my nosey sisters.” I asked, filling my glass with more than the acceptable amount of firewhiskey.

“What did you and Neville talk about?” She asked sounding as if she were afraid of the response.

“That is between me, Longbottom, and that nosey bastard Kingsley.” Her eyes snapped back to her plate as if I’d struck her. I sighed, “I’m not planning to convert him or whatever it is you’re afraid of.”

She looked surprised, “I wasn’t thinking that at all. I don’t think you would. I was just curious, I suppose. You don’t talk much, and you explain less of what you do. I guess I want to pick your brain a bit. Get to know you better.”

“I don’t deny for one minute that you’re curious, however, I doubt that your fascination reaches further than that. Look at the people sitting at just this table who know me, and I mean really know me. They are my family and Longbottom, and their lives are much worse for having me so permanently in it. For your sake, keep your distance girl.”

She sat silently for a moment before responding, “With all due respect, I disagree, and that decision is my own to make. Why are you so averse to people thinking you’re more than your past actions? Don’t you want people to see you as more than some lunatic that murders people without a second thought?”

“What good is what I want? My damage is done no matter what I want from people. You saw it here tonight. What I’ve done is stuck with every living witch and wizard forever. Nothing I do now can change that.” She watched as I downed my drink.

“That must be horribly lonely. Why would anyone choose to live like that when they don’t have to?”

“You’re working on the assumption that any of this is a choice. Some of us were never blessed with that particular luxury.”

“You’re choosing to be alone now even though you don’t have to. I already know what you’ve done and yet I am still here pulling teeth to get to know you as a person. At least make my job in this easier by talking to me about something other than bigoted, outdated politics.”

“If it’s such a miserable job why did you take it?”

“Did you want to end up in prison again? Cold and alone for the rest of your life.”

I snorted, “This feels like prison.”

“Only because you make it so. However, you’ll notice the hot meals, comfortable beds, ample space, and lack of dementors.” She replied a bit snappily.

I cast a sidelong glance at her for a moment. She did have a point; I didn’t have to tell her that though.

“You’re always silent when I make a point so whether you say so or not, I know that you know I’m right.”

Still, I refused to acknowledge her.

“Are all purebloods this stubborn or is this quality unique to you?”

“Are all mudbloods annoying little know-it-alls or is that just you?”