Hermione would admit that the fighting on the beach had mostly been her fault; she had lost her temper with the Headmistress when she had heard the things she'd said to Bellatrix's face. Severus had tried, almost successfully, to break them apart, but just as things seemed to have simmered down, Minerva just had to have the last word, and it had all descended into chaos again.
Bellatrix had eventually lost patience, shoved the woman over- much to Hermione's poorly hidden glee- and pulled her into apparition.
They landed just outside of Hogsmeade, and walked to Hogwarts in a comfortable quiet. Once they had arrived, Bellatrix had retreated to the Slytherin common room, much to the uproarious delight of the paintings- all of which were threatened with paint stripper were they to let the news of Bellatrix's arrival spread to any paintings that might not be so jubilant of the dark witch's return- where Hermione had quietly left her to gather her thoughts while she went to let Severus know they were both in one piece.
Hermione waited for half an hour for Snape in his office, sitting in her usual chair with a twisting anxiety about what she would say to Bellatrix later on, wondering all the while if Bellatrix felt the same.
Severus never showed up. Perhaps he was still in Ireland, Hermione had thought, perhaps he hadn't apparated straight after they had. Surely he couldn't still be on the beach with Minerva? Besides, Hermione was sure she had seen the woman heading towards her office from the other end of a corridor just after she had arrived herself.
Still, she waited. Eventually, Hermione picked a book to read from the dusty shelf behind Severus' desk. It was on the varying varieties of vampire, the myths and misconceptions surrounding them and Hermione actually found it quite interesting. She skimmed the first few introductory chapters but found herself becoming more and more sucked in with every page she flipped. By the time Chapter 11 surfaced, Hermione had lost track of time completely.
Less than a page later, the Gryffindor began to develop a headache. She frowned, rubbing her eyes and almost dropped the book from her lap when she re-opened them.
It was dark. Dusk had drawn in around her and she had been too engrossed in her literature to notice.
I must have been here for hours. The brunette thought, feeling a little panic as she closed the book and stood up. Her legs were stiff.
An unpleasant feeling ran through her. Where was Severus? Surely he must be back by now. Unsure what else to do, Hermione left the room in a hurry and and walked through the halls in the hopes of coming across the potions master.
When eventually she did find him, she walked straight into his chest. "Ow! Severus? Sev- Hey-"
Severus strode past her at a great pace, his face unreadable.
Hermione chased him to the main doors and stopped short when she saw the sight in front of her.
"Oh god, Bellatrix-" Hermione ran. She flew back down the corridor and towards the Slytherin Common Room, stopping only when she needed to breathe the password to get in.
Bellatrix was pacing when Hermione burst in. "Aurors!" She blurted randomly, breathing heavily.
The older witch was not at all perturbed in the face of Hermione's panic.
"Calm down." She mused gently. "What of them?"
Bellatrix's face was hard to read. "Shit." She muttered, looking down into the glowing fireplace as if it would offer her advice. "How many?"
"Three." Hermione was taken aback once more at how calm Bellatrix seemed.
Staring into the flames, Bellatrix was thinking exactly what she had been thinking ever since she arrived here; how to deal with Hermione. Now that she had had the luxury of time taken away from her, however, the question of whether or not she should metaphorically take the reigns with her new situation in regards to the younger witch seemed to have been made for her.
"I'd best make myself scarce, then."
There was something charming about the way Bellatrix conveyed herself in that moment, brushing past Hermione close enough to make her hold her breath a little.
"Coming?" Bellatrix had stopped, waiting for Hermione to follow her from the room with a mischievous glint in her eyes that Hermione couldn't source.
"Where are we going?" Hermione asked tentatively, as if she wasn't already scrambling after the woman.
They ran into Severus not five seconds after leaving the common room.
"Oh, good. Hermione I need you to sign this form."
The brunette looked at the long piece of parchment that was proffered to her in a way which suggested she'd rather do a year's hard labour than have to read through the whole thing.
"What is it?" She asked, hoping that Snape might do her a favour and give her the short version.
"The paperwork necessary to register you as an animagus. I couldn't say whether they worked it out for themselves or if Minerva tipped them off out of spite, but that's what they're here for, as far as they've said."
Hermione sighed and scribbled her signature onto the dotted line, leaning against the wall.
"Thank you." The man seemed to suddenly notice the two had been on their way somewhere when he had caught them. "Hope I didn't interrupt anything."
For some unknown reason Hermione's cheeks burned and Bellatrix fixed him with a look. They had had their reunion earlier, before the madness on the beach, and had already, it seemed, lapsed back into their old ways.
"Not at all. We were just making ourselves scarce for our guests." She assured.
"I think that would be wise. You know what they're like for snooping and one of them has already expressed an overly keen interest in taking a look around 'to see the restoration work'. Wouldn't want them to stumble upon anything that might… startle them."
Bellatrix nodded once and Severus left with the form, leaving the two women to carry on through the hallways. They took enough turns for Hermione to be slightly disorientated in the still unfamiliar dungeons and came to an unexpected stop in front of an unremarkable section of wall.
Hermione watched anxiously, glancing up and down the corridor in fear of Auror's appearing out of nowhere and apprehending them. The wall morphed into a door and Bellatrix held it open for the younger witch, secretly sharing her worries as she watched over the Gryffindor's shoulder. No one appeared, and the two closed the door behind them quickly, watching it in relief as it turned back into bricks.
"Woah." They were in a room, not much bigger than Severus' office, with a sofa and an arm chair around a fire place in the centre. Every other surface was covered in books. Two large bookshelves groaned under the weight piled onto them, a large desk at the back of the room on the left was barely visible, even the chairs around the table had volumes piled onto the seats. On the right hand side of the room behind the arm chair the stone floor was raised two shallow steps up and there was another table pushed up against the wall with one chair, covered in wooden box's and other interesting looking objects.
"I didn't think I'd ever see this place again." Bellatrix admitted. "It's been a long time."
"What is 'this place'?" Hermione momentarily forgot her shyness when confronted by so many books- books which she had had no idea were ever in the castle.
"I found it in my second year. I think it was a room for the elves originally, when I discovered it there was just the fireplace and a lot of cobwebs. I shrank some of the furniture from the common room when everyone was asleep over a couple of weeks and made a little room. The books are all from the restricted section, by the end of my time at Hogwarts it had turned into a bit of a competition with myself to see how many I could hoard down here without getting found out. I spent nearly all of my time in her, not even my sisters knew about it."
Hermione felt strangely honoured to have been let into this little sanctuary. She was about to say so when she felt something… foreign. A fondness and a sense of reminiscence that was most definitely not her own.
She looked at Bellatrix awkwardly, wondering if the other witch knew. She had almost forgotten what Severus has said about privacy.
Bellatrix caught her expression. "Are you alright?"
Hermione nodded. "I just… felt something that wasn't my own."
"Oh. I wondered if that was a two way occurrence. I've been half in on your mind since you arrived at the house."
"Don't worry, I caught nothing incriminating. Rather a lot about vampires, though." Bellatrix sat down in the arm chair and Hermione followed suit, curling up in the corner of the sofa closest to the fire, which the other witch promptly lit.
"Sorry. I was reading."
"I thought you might've been avoiding me."
Hermione thought about that. She had certainly been procrastinating, but more than anything she really had been waiting for Severus.
"I wouldn't blame you."
Hermione looked to the floor. After everything she'd been through she felt so unprepared for this.
"I wasn't." Hermione said lamely, knowing that despite its truth the childishness of the argument undermined itself.
Hermione felt another brief brush of emotions but this time she couldn't have said what they were; other people's emotions, she was beginning to realise, were significantly more difficult to classify than her own. Perhaps because her own emotions had an entire lifetime's worth of inner monologue behind them, making them easier to compare against one another, allowing them twist and colour based purely on what was next to them.
After all, she wondered, if you had only ever felt one emotion, happiness, maybe, would you be able to identify what it was without outside help? Or would it remain formless until a second emotion emerged, anger, redder and hotter and forcing that first emotion to take a lighter colour to distinguish itself against its new cousin? Or did each emotion present itself already dressed, the mind, being easily suggestible, assuming that those differences they represented were something more than just a coincidence, manufacturing them into patterns that weren't there just to try and understand.
Hermione sighed. Maybe it was just how it felt to be on the outside looking in.
"That's an awfully deep line of thought for the sober early evening." Bellatrix mused, watching as Hermione tried to think of something to say.
"It's just what happens when I can't get my head around something. You should have seen me trying to understand the fascination my dorm mates had with boys." Hermione smirked to herself. She had at least tried.
"Not keen?" Bellatrix already knew the answer.
"Not sure what there was to be keen on."
The two laughed quietly and some of the tension diffused. Hermione studied the arm of the sofa.
"Did you want to?" Bellatrix asked eventually.
Hermione looked up at her in budding alarm.
"I don't mean understand what there may or may not be to be keen over on boys, I mean try and work this out."
"Oh." Phew. Hermione had been wondering just what the other woman was offering for a moment.
"We don't have to." She added. "Just seems a little unfair that I can come and go as I please and you don't seem to be able to do anything about it. I know there's rather a lot of other priorities, but… I think this would be a helpful thing to have down before going into all that."
Hermione did want to figure this out, but she was more than a little nervous about doing so. The idea that she might be able to just think some things and not have to actually say them to Bellatrix for the woman to understand was far too much of a plus to let her nervousness win out, though.
"Okay." She agreed, meekly, wondering if the other witch had heard her think that.
If she had, she must of agreed, because she pushed herself up from the armchair and settled back down next to Hermione without a word.
"Just a heads up, legilimency isn't a good idea. Something about time lines, Severus mentioned a swift and painful ejection?"
"Hopefully it wont be needed."
Bellatrix held her hand out and Hermione gingerly took it, unsure of what to expect. As their fingers entwined, the Gryffindor was suddenly overwhelmed by a heady, dazed sensation, the same sort of oddly mesmerising feeling that stuffed your mind full of cotton wool when someone played with your hair. It quelled a little over the following few seconds, but never fully receded. Her anxiety drained away with it, along with her nervousness and any stray fears she had left that this wasn't very real. She felt the kind of calmness come over her that was usually reserved for when she woke up at the perfect temperature in a particularly comfortable position with nothing pressing her to leave her bed.
"Mutual." Bellatrix assured, seemingly caught quite off-guard herself.
"Alright, try now." The ex Death Eater encouraged, blinking through the haze.
Hermione steadied herself and tried, blindly to reach out into the mist. The results were like a hammer to a landmine. Thoughts and feeling and images and sounds flooded around her so quickly she felt as though a river had swept her off her feet. She had, in fact, actually pulled a plug. The river of confusion eventually drained away and she found herself regaining her footing.
'I probably should have warned you about that.'
Hermione blinked. In the back of her mind, she could feel the same warm haze of emotions she was feeling only further off- notably not her own. Rather than the passing encounters she had experienced before, it was flowing and constant, and she could feel the rise and retreat of other emotions as the crossed Bellatrix's eyes.
I… Hermione didn't know what to say. It was a foreign feeling but at the same time she was drawn to it, she didn't want Bellatrix to withdraw again.
'At least you understand now- I wasn't trying to pry, just… didn't want to block you out.'
There were other whispers, fast and fleeting and incomplete that Hermione was too inexperienced to catch hold of as they fluttered around her, but Bellatrix's voice was so clear.
And Hermione understood immediately what Severus had meant when he told her the invasion of privacy wouldn't bother her. Having Bellatrix in her mind didn't feel any different to having herself in her mind, and she found herself immensely and inexplicably comforted by it.
I understand. Oh god… What if I hadn't have gone back, what if I rejected Snape and let Minerva let me die, what if I'd let her let Bellatrix die, what if I hadn't-
Hermione had forgotten that she was still live-streaming her tail of consciousness as tears pricked in her eyes. The idea of Bellatrix being dead now was bordering being more than she could cope with.
Bellatrix pulled her away from her thoughts and into her arms with one movement.
"Don't think about that." She said aloud. "You did listen to Severus, you brought me back from the dead, and Minerva… Minerva can go to hell." Hermione squeezed her eyes closed and hid her face against soft black curls, breathing in deep breaths of pine and incense. She felt herself calming down rapidly, and endeavoured to focus more on how she could feel first hand how much another person cared about her, and how so few people in the world had that privilege, than on the dark, choppy waters of nearly's and almost's. She swore she could have fallen asleep right then and there, feeling for the first time in a long time safe and relaxed and when she pulled grudgingly away from Bellatrix, she felt much more able to look her in the eyes.
"You should sleep." Bellatrix suggested quietly. 'There's another two days for all this.'
Part of Hermione wanted to stay up and talk all night, but the more rational part knew she wouldn't be able to if she tried. She dipped her head down slightly, unable to believe that just a few hours ago she had been hacking through a thousand-pager to put this off.
Bellatrix exhaled a small breath of air from her nose in amusement as Hermione's thoughts crossed her own mind, knowing it was exactly what she would have done at Hermione's age.
Hermione blushed in the realisation the other woman had heard, and Bellatrix took the opportunity to catch her chin softly and pull her face back up to look at her. She smiled briefly, and then leaned in, pressing their lips together for just a few brief seconds, enough to silence Hermione's racing thoughts completely.
Bellatrix's lips were soft, and warm and Hermione felt like the safest girl in the world as she settled down along side the woman in front of the fire in the little sanctuary.
A/N: Oh my god it's been so long. Hopefully someone's still here, that was the worst writer's block EVER. Plus side, A Lesson In Black came out of it. I'm hoping I can get back on with my stories now this fog has lifted, finger's crossed, Potter.