“What is this?”
Hermione had never heard Ms. Weasley sound so… cold, though beneath that dwelled an undertone of complete and utter bewilderment. In all honesty, Hermione was easily able to reflect it. She’d been stuck in her own personal hell-of-confusion since the night before, and it seemed unfair of the world to force her to keep it to herself.
So, she’d shared it, with the only other person she could think of that might have some understanding of the situation at large.
“We did some experimentation,” Hermione offered slowly, standing just beyond the threshold of the Weasley abode all bundled up for the chill of Fall, “With the Veil.”
“With the… uh, Veil?” Her attention is not on Hermione, her attention is on the other thing being held by Hermione.
Still, she continues on, staring straight ahead, speaking before she loses her nerve. “With the… Veil, yes. Yes, the Veil. Um… Could I… could we come inside?”
Molly gives her a look.
Hermione coughs, “Right, right. Let me finish… explaining.”
How, how, how, how--
“We were testing the Veil in the Department of Mysteries. Greengrass -- do you remember, Greengrass? Daphne? We all went to school together, Slytherin and a bit cold but passionate about the work, you know?”
Molly’s mild look of discomfort only intensified.
“Right, right, well we were testing the Veil. Agent Greengrass had some news… it was whispering--”
“The Veil? The Veil of Death?”
“Yes, yes… the Veil of Death was whispering. Does it often do that?”
“I don’t… I wouldn’t know, dearie. I don’t work in the Department--”
“--Oh.” Hermione interrupted, swallowed, tried to steady her thoughts into something more coherent. Hell, this was a lot harder than she assumed it would be. Best to just get it all out at once. “The Veil is an unpredictable asset of the Ministry, and they’d been looking for ways to ask… to bring certain individuals from beyond it for a small period of time or permanently, depending on said individual.”
Hermione could tell Molly Weasley did not like the idea of toying with death by the odd green tint that began to spread beneath her skin. But understanding flickered in her gaze and soon her eyes weren’t so much on the thing Hermione carried so much as glaring at Hermione herself.
“You did this?”
Hermione felt like a child beneath the glare of her Mother (and, in a way, hadn’t Molly been her mother for some time now? What with, her Muggle parents gone and lost?)
“I did not approve this--”
“--But you were aware of it? As Minister of Magic, you had to be aware of it!”
Hermione’s grip tightened on her clinging, now squirming bundle. “Yes. I’m sorry. Um. Yes. But, we didn’t think it would, that this could be… reality realized.”
For a long time Molly just stood there, blocking her way into the only sanctuary she really knew. Her posture was still, her expression pinched, but all to soon her shoulders slumped and she allowed entrance into the warmth of the abode beyond. “Does anyone else know?”
Hermione felt dizzy with relief, “H-harry knows. Ronald was there too. They aren’t pleased but, what can we really do?”
“I see,” Molly wrung her hands against her apron, a nervous habit, but she wouldn’t be rejecting Hermione’s silent plea for help and her voice had warmed somewhat. “I won’t bother lecturing you dear, this is probably punishment enough.”
Finally, the thing held tightly in Hermione’s grip freed a tiny hand from the blanket it was wrapped it and smacked her right in the face with a cry of childish triumph and a victory shout of—“Muddy!”
“Y-yeah,” Hermione grunted, trying to ignore the fact that a four-year-old Bellatrix Lestrange was pulling at her bottom lip. “Yes, it is.”
Because, it was not her intention to bring this murderess back to life in the body of a child.
She wouldn’t leave her alone.
Bellatrix wouldn’t leave her alone.
And it was killing her because, Merlin help her, the little brat was far to cute.
“Muddy! I’m hungry!” Bellatrix barked, all posture and glares in a tiny body.
“That’s not how we ask for things,” Hermione groused, hunched over on the couch and sprawled out gracelessly. She was Minister of Magic, for Godrick sake. She didn’t have to take this, but… well, her need for knowledge in all things had brought this hell upon them.
Hell, well, it wasn’t… too horrible. Hermione had managed to heal from the trauma of the war some years prior, once she had time to herself and her mind to herself. Though she was changed -- they all were, war did not leave a witch entirely whole -- she was… herself. Bellatrix was no more threatening than any of her previous fears and the power that had come with her hard-won authority gave her far too much confidence for it to be dashed by the hard glare of her tiny advisory.
And, she would be lying to herself if she didn’t think some of this was fun, having this sort of reach over her enemy, who seemed to remember just enough about her to be annoying.
But the thing was, Hermione had no children of her own. No husband -- for her love for Ron had fizzled out into something more brotherly than romantic -- and no other obligations to misdirect her vision of success. But Molly, Molly was great with children.
Shame that Bellatrix wasn’t technically a child.
“I’m hungry!” Bellatrix whined again, tugging at her pant covered legs. “Where is Krecher? Call Krecher!”
Hermione gave an exasperated sigh, “Krecher is not here, Bellatrix. Behave yourself.”
The tiny terror bared her teeth instead and ran off into the kitchen, where a bark of “Young lady?!” followed by the crash of dishes and a child-like scream could be heard.
It wasn’t fair that Harry and Ron had bailed on this little project as soon as they had seen the brat. Though, Harry did say he was trying to reach out to Draco or Andromeda. Maybe they could take her until this entire thing could be sorted?
“Bellatrix!” Molly screamed from the kitchens, and soon the bundle of wild hair and far-too-wide eyes had crashed into her, trying to claw up her legs to escape into the safety of her lap.
“Ugh,” Hermione groaned, picking up the child -- which resulted in Bellatrix squealing and kicking her legs as she tucked her under one arm like a sack of potatoes. “No! No help. We’re going to apologize.”
And then later, she was going to pray. Someone had to be up there listening.
Andromeda caught them on the couch, napping, with Bellatrix clinging partly to her and partly to a wriggling stuffed magic snake that Ginny had brought them to be patronizing. It had startled Hermione slightly, to be found in such a vulnerable position, but she didn’t dare move for fear of waking Bellatrix -- who was an incredibly grumpy child when disturbed from her naps.
“M-m-Mrs. Tonks.” Hermione whispered, still sleep-disorientated.
And there is something odd in Andromeda’s expression. A sense of grief and anger and ‘why couldn’t this have been my daughter?’ but it softens as the woman in question collapses onto a nearby chair with a sigh.
She’s blunt, and to the point. Hermione appreciates that--”This is weird and fucking awful.”
Hermione has never heard the older Tonks curse, and reflexively she lifts a hand to cover one of the sleeping Bellatrix ears. “I agree.”
With a huff Andromeda kicked off her boots, unlady-like and uncaring, before she drew from within her robes a silver coated flask. “What do we do about this?”
“I’m not sure.” Hermione answered, all business despite the surrealistic nature of their situation. “She is not an innocent child--”
“Has she ever been?” Andromeda interrupted, but there is some sad nostalgia in the tone.
“I can’t be certain. But, what I mean is that she remembers some things. She remembers me. Calls me ‘her muddy’. She won’t really stick to anyone else.”
“Does that disturb you?”
“Some. Yes. And, it feels wrong. And it is wrong. But it’s sort of cute.”
There’s silence then, interrupted only after Andromeda takes a long swig from her flask. Hermione thinks that she’d like some of it, but the elder hasn’t offered and there’s a child haphazardly flopped over her chest anyway.
“Do you want to keep her? Bellatrix? Shouldn’t you--”
They don’t say it, because despite it being Bellatrix, it feels like a horrid thing to say aloud, that they should kill a child.
Hermione tilted her head, thoughtful, “I… think I do. It’s been rough, these last few weeks. Harry is covering for me at the Ministry though, so I do wonder if I can figure out some sort of solution…” But she paused then, looked to Andromeda and whispered, so low she isn’t sure if the other woman would catch it. “But, is that the proper thing to do? Does it bother you, knowing all that she has done?”
Andromeda is an old soul, wise and contemplative. “A part of me will always hurt from it, the idea that my sister could take something so precious from me. But the hurt isn’t as sharp and it is nice to see her. Still, it would be dishonest of me to try and answer that question now.”
Hermione tries to make a joke, “I could put her in a… cage of some sort. You know, the sort of pen-cribs they use for children. It could be a mini-Akzaban.”
Andromeda laughs, something cruel and unusual, but her smile is… kind.
Hermione will take that as a good sign.
Andromeda makes it a point to visit often. Molly doesn’t mind--
“We need help with this. All the help we can get.”
There are days when she watches Bellatrix toy about and terrorize from a corner -- unseen, as far as Bellatrix is aware -- and sips quietly from her flask. There are also days when she doesn’t bring it at all. Hermione believes that those are Andromeda’s good days, and tries to keep track of them.
Sometimes, Andromeda slips out from the shadows and Bellatrix looks somewhat… uncomfortable. Hermione still can’t gauge how much Bellatrix can process or remember in her little body, but Hermione thinks it might be enough. Bellatrix runs from Andromeda, and Andromeda does not give chase.
It’s enough to make Hermione wonder if this is still an okay thing to do. Humoring this situation seems twisted.
“It’s all we have though, at the moment. So, we’ll take it and do what must be done later, if it must be done.” Molly told her.
Hermione has grown attached to the idea of this child and caring for her, even if it is Bellatrix. She’s already a little lost.
But, one day, of the many that have passed, Hermione is pleased to see that Andromeda is holding Bellatrix hand and carefully walking her about Molly’s modest garden, and the girl is trembling a bit -- perhaps, over stimulated by the idea that she is touching one of her sisters. But after that, Hermione at least has someone else who can babysit so that she can get some work done.
The first night she returned from getting said work done, though Bellatrix had been decidedly unhappy.
“You didn’t ask me if you could leave!” Bellatrix said.
And Hermione is quiet for a moment, because it seemed like Bellatrix was getting a bit bigger. Taller, maybe? She looks less like a four year old and closer to seven. “I have to work, little Bella.”
Bellatrix bristled at the name, “I’m not little!”
But she’s still unsettled. Hermione figured Bellatrix just didn’t enjoy not having Hermione in her field of vision for long periods of time.
The next day Bellatrix is waiting by the floo, “Why did you leave?”
“I have to work, remember?” Hermione said, trying to balance her bags and the fact that Bellatrix is jumping at her arms, a silent demand to be carried.
“No. No I don’t… like that. Don’t leave me!”
Is she afraid of Molly? Or being alone?
“Why not?” Hermione asked.
Bellatrix is a kaleidoscope of emotion then, her little face is pinched with expressions that are, maybe, to complex yet to understand. “I dunno! I dunno, just don’t leave!”
But she does, she has to. People are asking questions and Mr. Head Auror Potter can only stutter his way through so many of them.
Bellatrix is, at least not at the floo when Hermione returns. In fact, Bellatrix isn’t in any of her usual haunts. She’s outside, at the modest garden, hiding behind a rock with wide unseeing eyes.
“Bellatrix?” Hermione said, “What are you doing out here?”
She didn’t answer, not at first. But, her mouth does open and close, looking for words. In the end, the child settled on, “You keep leaving me. You’re supposed to be my muddy, do you not like me?”
Hermione sat heavily beside her, right on her nice robes with a grunt, “A difficult question. Your company is tolerable.”
Which is true, and her smile is sincere. Bellatrix doesn’t look impressed though.
“You leave me with the scary lady.” She whispered.
“Molly? Ms. Molly is nice.”
“Ms. Molly doesn’t like me. Ms. Molly has hurt me, I think. With her wand, and some light. It’s a spell.”
Hermione is quiet for a moment. Still and barely breathing. When she is gone, does Molly…? But no, no, Molly would not abuse a child, even if it is Bellatrix. Still, she is confused.
“Does… Ms. Molly hurt you when I am gone?”
Bellatrix shook her head. “N-no. She stares, sometimes. It’s scary. But I dream about it. About something else, someplace else. And the light. And the darkness. And then I’m… alone.”
Hermione reached out then, to wrap an arm around this much smaller, and perhaps, more delicate monster. “Ms. Molly would not hurt you. She is concerned about you.” For different reasons than Hermione, but concerned all the same, “You should listen to her, she’s safe.”
Bellatrix gave her a grimace, “Ms. Molly doesn’t want to play with me.”
That was probably very true.
“Then, should we ask Andy to come and play?”
Bellatrix went a bit still at that, “I don’t think Andy likes me either. I think it’s because she’s so big and I’m so small. I can’t boss her around either. So, it’s not fun!”
At that Hermione laughed, something somber and soft, but she doesn’t speak anymore. Neither of them do. Instead, Hermione spent the rest of the evening light weaving flowers into nonsense shapes around much smaller hands.
It’s surreal, and it’s odd, but it’s soothing.
Maybe, that’s all that should matter.
Hermione returned to the office, there is little point in refraining to do so. In return, Andromeda is willing to spend more time at the Weasley’s and thus, with Bellatrix. The first time Andromeda brings Teddy, Hermione feels somewhat panicked. This had not been discussed and she doesn't know how Bellatrix will react around other children when she is not, entirely, a child. Furthermore, they haven’t really discussed Bellatrix dislike of things that did not represent purity -- because, Hermione isn’t sure if Bella is calling her Muddy because it is instinctual for her to do so, or because she believes in the words that come from her mouth.
Still, she was pleasantly surprised to return to the home with Harry and find Bellatrix being chased by an older, but still youthful Teddy through the living room and out into the yard. She found Andromeda on the porch within eyesight too, no flask.
A good day.
“Hello Harry, Hermione.” Andromeda greeted them, though her tone was strained, lost in memory.
“Hello Ms. Tonks,” Harry greeted, before he sat down beside her, though he was nearly bowled over when Bellatrix rushed forward to grab Hermione around the waist and cling to her. He seemed a bit, unsettled by her size. She wasn’t this tall when Harry saw her last.
Bloody hell, she wasn’t this tall when Hermione saw her last.
“Pick me up,” Bella said.
“Oh no. Nope. No.” Hermione isn’t sure she can anymore. “Don’t you think you’re a bit too big to be held anymore?”
They all have a good laugh at the face Bellatrix pulls from being told that.
Hermione is happy that Bellatrix is begrudgingly fond of Molly Weasley. She is a constant in her life, and Hermione believes that to be done on purpose. Molly is always there, keeping Bellatrix curious fingers away from magic books beyond her current -- physical -- age and dodging unsavory questions about particulars Bellatrix should have no interest in. She’s soothing, and nice, and odd but in a good way. It makes Hermione feel like they are a family, Molly, Bellatrix, and herself.
And Molly has grown used to Bellatrix in her own little way, a good way. It leaves hope for the future, and whether Bellatrix can have one or not.
So, when Bellatrix is stomping her little feet, and complaining while drying the dishes, Hermione can’t say she’s surprised when a whiny “Mama!” comes out from her lips.
But it does surprise Bellatrix, who stiffens up and drops her plate and stares at the shattered porcelain all around her bare toes.
Hermione is out of her chair in an instant, ready to smooth over what would no doubt be a explosive reaction, but Molly is there and stable and not even cringing, when she reached under Bellatrix arms and lifted her from her spot with a strength Hermione was not aware she had.
“Goodness, you are such a clumsy little thing, aren’t you?” She isn’t rejecting the title -- and maybe, she is used to being called mother by everyone, even a little monster -- and she carefully set Bellatrix on her other side while flicking her wand to repair the shattered plate.
But Bellatrix is still startled, and unsure, and wasn’t until Hermione slowly sat back in her seat and went -- “She is very clumsy, isn’t she Mum?” -- that Bellatrix shoulders lost their tension.
“Very,” Molly said, but her hand is patting Bellatrix wild hair, and though she’s embarrassed and confused, she isn’t falling to pieces.
Hermione is thankful for that.
Harry must have told someone about Bellatrix growth because the next day the Burrow is a bit… crowded. They have to move outside of the living space to the garden and yard. It’s to mingle and catch up, but she knows it’s so they can get a good glance at their dark-witch turned child.
Draco is there for once, watching Bellatrix swinging upside down from the branch of a tree with brows far too high on his forehead. Ginny is beside him, stirring a cup of tea with the tip of a finger. Neville is a bit far, with brows furrowed in deep concentration, as if he couldn’t decide if he felt betrayed over not being told right away that this was happening or upset that now he had the known. While Ron and Harry humor Luna nearby, who is more interested in nargles or some other spoken nonsense than the unwanted miracle now peeling bark from her conquered tree.
When Hermione is called to assist with serving refreshments, she doesn’t hesitate. Harry is around and has a good pragmatic head on his shoulder. He’s worried -- when isn’t he? -- but somewhat devoted to helping Hermione complete her project.
“Because,” Harry had told her, all tangled up in still fresh grief, “If she can help bring Sirius back, or even Remus or Tonks, then I would say it was worth it.”
And that had been the goal initially, when she’d tried to lure a being of Black blood back from Death.
But, when she returned, tray in hand, there was no Bellatrix clawing up her tree and Harry had pulled Neville aside for hushed conversation and spat whispers.
She’s startled by the dread that curls in her belly, but her awareness of her charge is strong. She knows where Bellatrix is. And, indeed, one the tray is set down and Hermione is able to slip away she finds Bellatrix on the edge of the garden, curled up behind her rock, digging holes in the ground and pulling up some of the flowers.
Not to weave, but to crush and squeeze and tear.
“Bella.” Hermione said, sitting heavily beside her.
“Am I bad?” She replied instead of greeting, her gaze tired. “Is that why Andy doesn’t like me? Not because I’m small. But because I am bad. Because I should be dead, but I’m not?”
The question is incredibly concerning, and Hermione isn’t sure what she’d do if she got up to find Neville -- because, she is certain he it was him who’d had particular things to say to Bellatrix once she was gone. But could she blame him? Could she blame any of them? -- so she doesn't get up. Instead, she reached across the space to brush hair from Bellatrix cheeks, which are moist from her private crying.
“I remember a lot of it. Whatever I did. Before the darkness, from Ms. Molly. ‘N… stuff.” Bellatrix isn’t as confident as she normally is. And her gaze is on the flowers, solemn and far to wise. “I am a bad person, and I do bad things. I did bad things. To you, Muddy.”
Hermione chewed on her bottom lip, but she doesn’t rub her arm, or run away. She doesn't have to. Bellatrix is not spitting vitriol and fury, and there’s a vulnerability there that can’t be faked. Though it has only been months since Bellatrix return to the living, Hermione is curious about whether her time here has felt like years.
Years of being around cautious people. Of family that didn’t want to touch you, and adults that wanted to hate you. Is that punishment enough? It’s difficult to tell. But, it’s something.
“Do you want to be bad? Do those things, remembering those things, make you happy?” It’s meant to be an innocent question, a gauge. She isn’t sure how little Bellatrix will remain, and if she were to wake up an adult one day, would she seek to harm them all? Hermione couldn’t risk that, she wasn’t that selfish.
Because, she desperately wanted something to change. For her mind to be different, because her second childhood was different. Less dark magic in it, for one.
“Do I want to be bad?” Bellatrix chewed on her bottom lip, but she shook her head and turned to bury her form against Hermione’s own, and while Bellatrix was no longer four, and she can’t be sure if she’s eight, or nine, or even ten, she is still small enough to be held. “No, I don’t want to be bad. I want to stay with you.”
Hermione returned the embrace, and found that, once the initial chill of dread left her form the entire thing was just too cute. She doesn’t hold onto any illusions of Bellatrix being entirely free of her darkness, even Andromeda can be a bit grey, and Hermione is no real beacon of light -- just of knowledge and efficiency.
But this is fine. For now. A great start to something more, if they can convince the rest of the world. She’ll give it a go.
Some other time.
Bellatrix is a wild sleeper. It was much easier to share her bed when the witch had been much smaller. Now, however, she is… longer. More flailing arms and kicking legs in Ginny’s old nightshirts. It makes sharing the bed a little more difficult, and less cute. Hermione is tired of being kicked in the gut and sides when Bellatrix has a fit in her sleep.
But, she is glad she’s there whenever Bellatrix remembers something from her past. Nightmares are difficult to suffer alone.
When Narcissa is finally able to visit -- or allowed to visit, since Draco is so protective -- it is to the sight of a grumpy teenage Bellatrix, clinging to Hermione’s arm like she is property and grumbling behind a veil of wild hair.
“I’m sorry to come by on such short notice,” Narcissa is the perfect picture of propriety, dressed in for tea instead of realities abnormalities, “But when I heard word from Draco I had to make haste.”
Though there is something cold and stiff in Narcissa posture, Hermione can tell that she had desperately wanted to see her sister. Only Andromeda’s letters had kept her respectful of Draco’s wishes to wait. But, Hermione understood. If they’d had to… not allow Bellatrix to exist, then losing her sister twice would have been to painful for the Malfoy widow to bare.
“Bellatrix,” Narcissa’s voice is shaky, but her expression is controlled. “I see you still can’t properly care for your appearance.”
It’s a weird thing to say to your once-dead sister, and Bellatrix narrowed gaze is enough indication that she doesn’t appreciate that, “Fuck off, Cissy!”
“Bella,” Hermione growled, but Narcissa’s expression shifts toward something peculiar.
Hermione is incredibly surprised by the first tear, then second, before Bellatrix is ripped from her side and engulfed in Narcissa embrace. Bellatrix, for the most part, took the affection and tears with a grimace and a whispered --
“I wasn’t even gone that long, Cissy.”
Or maybe, just long enough.
It’s Yule when Hermione wakes up and Bellatrix is no longer a child.
Nor is she a sour awkward teen, stalking her around corners while pretending to be busy elsewhere.
It’s a woman next to her, watching her sleeping with a tilted head and a glassy gaze stuffed into a Holyhead Harpies T-shirt that’s a bit too small for her matured form.
And, Hermione is calm despite that, not afraid of the danger that is thick in the space, or the tense way Bellatrix holds herself over her -- trapped with indecision. Instead, Hermione lifted copper fingertips to stroke along wet cheeks and remove a petal from a flower she’d woven into her hair the day before.
She did this slowly, with a methodical calm, even as Bellatrix panted over her, somewhat manic and perhaps lost to the emotional weight of returning to herself while not being herself. One cannot experience the sort of care -- even their odd families cautious care -- that she had and not be changed.
“I’m sorry,” Is the first thing Bellatrix can say, and for a moment, Hermione is certain she might consider doing something… untoward to her person.
But, that moment is flimsy and melts away, “I know.”
Bellatrix lowered her gaze and there is exhaustion lined in every muscle, “Don’t send me away.”
Hermione’s soft hum is low and alluring, and she is thoughtful, but not unprepared. “I won’t.”
The future is unknown, about as unknown as the Veil and the reasons behind its existence, but Hermione is Minister and she is attached.
She’d figure it out, eventually. Can’t be harder than raising a dark-witch, could it?
Bellatrix does not like the idle ping of her house-arrest bracelet, but it would have to do. Nor does she enjoy being squished between an energetic Ron and an antsy Harry either. But, she’d do it. Because, well, Hermione asked her to.
Hermione can also tell that Bellatrix does not like the long and silent walk to the Veil, nor the implications of it. But, she is there, with a comforting hand, firm on the small of her back as they shuffle toward it.
She does not intent to push her charge turned mini-house ward into the Veil, however. Bellatrix knew that, but it doesn’t stop her from trembling. And, since Hermione is not fond of that, it’s best to get this over with as soon as possible.
“Alright then,” Hermione said, motioning for Harry to give them some space and for Ron to step back. The rest was up to them, up to Greengrass, up to Bella.
Hermione gave her a brilliant smile, motioned for Greengrass to light the wards--
Bellatrix took a deep breath, slowly kneeled on the floor, and placed her palms upon the wards. Their color began to warp, changing from an eerie red to a near blinding white glow. Then she said -- “Sirius. Wake your lazy ass up so I can get out of here.”
And from the Veil poked a shiny wet black nose.