Disclaimer: JKR is the owner. I'm just playing with her characters.
Author's Notes: Thank you to tinnidawg for the yummy carrots she gave to my plot bunny. Lots of thanks to my lovely twin, Lore, for being so fantastic and helping me so much. And finally, thanks to Shalimar for being my beta.
Women On Top
Chapter One: The Enemies of My Enemy Are My Allies.
In the end, the Ministry had won the war. At least that's what the Daily Prophet said.
The Minister decided that the war was nothing more than two factions, or rebels, fighting each other, so both sides should pay for the deaths they had caused. So now, Death Eaters and Order members were sharing cells in Azkaban while the Minister gloated in his office about how clever he was.
And that's how Hermione came to share her living space (a three by three metres cell with two mattresses, a sink and a toilet, and a barred window with a beautiful view of the ocean) with none other than Bellatrix Lestrange.
There were a lot of men among both the Death Eaters and the Order members, so they were piled two or three in a cell. That wasn't too hard to believe, and somehow understandable, although Hermione thought that what the Ministry wanted was for them to kill each other. There wasn't really any other explanation as to why they put Arthur Weasley and Lucius Malfoy in the same cell, or Remus Lupin and Severus Snape together. The logical explanation, or at least what she heard the guards saying when they shoved them in, was that purebloods had to be put together, and the same went for half-bloods. But in her case, the arrangement was simpler, Hermione was the only female of her group and so was Bella. The Dark Lord wasn't prone to hire females, and the other ones in the Order had been more slippery than Hermione had thought possible.
Ginny was saved by the Minister's lapdog, otherwise known as Percy. He claimed that his poor, sweet, little sister was too young to have been involved in anything, and that she had been brainwashed by her family... so she was cleared and set free in Percy's care.
Tonks was an Auror, and although she was as clumsy as it gets, she was more clever than anyone had expected. People had forgotten how Ravenclaws in the Black family had always been. Thanks to her Metamorphmagus ability, no one had ever seen her real face... well, the face she had used in the Ministry files as her own, anyway. So, even when the Ministry Aurors forced Veritaserum down every member's throats, no one in the Order could recognise Tonks as a fellow member. She claimed someone had used her name to get into the organisation but that it wasn't really her; otherwise someone would have been able to tell.
Minerva, Molly and Hestia were no more among the living, so that left Hermione alone. Well, in the company of Bella.
Both women glared at each other distrustfully for some days while sulking about their fate. But as the first week passed by, they realised that they would be spending a large amount of years in each other's company, and there really wasn't anything they could do about it. It was either kill the other one (but that meant getting exposed to the possibility of being the one offed) or get along.
Hermione was the first one to speak. Maybe Gryffindor courage was a good thing; or maybe she was simply bored and needed to talk, even if it was to her cell mate.
"I guess we need some rules between us if we're to survive in this place".
Bella had a calculating look of her own. She might have been a fervent follower of the Supreme Snake, but she could see that hanging onto old customs wasn't productive in her new situation... maybe the Mudblood had enough sense in her...
"What do you think if we stop this staring contest and work together to survive?" said Hermione. Sighing at Bella's silence, she continued, "I intend to live several decades more, and I guess you wouldn't do me the favour of dropping dead any time soon either, so what do you say about figuring out how to make this situation less horrid?"
Bella thought that the young woman was a bit straight forward for her taste, but she was not only human, she seemed to be in possession of a brain, too. There might not be any Dementors left in Azkaban, but that didn't mean the prison was more welcoming than the last time she had been here.
After that, they argued long about what they could do, and who of them would do it. Both wanted to be in charge. But they came to an agreement some time over the next days.
And so their acquaintance started. Partnership began the first time they planned to attack one of the guards to steal more food, and their complicity grew as they started planning bigger things. Two months after that, no one would have thought they had been enemies in the past.
Hermione was surprised at how normal Bellatrix was. There was no shrieking and malevolent laughter, and she was almost pleasing to converse with. Maybe the fact that the only time she had seen the woman before was in the middle of a battle had shaded Hermione's image of her.
Bella was surprised at how intelligent Hermione was. Either they had lied to her all the time or Hermione was too smart to be a Mudblood. She thought the truth was somewhere in between, but she reserved judgement for the moment.
As they found out they were quite similar in their approach to things, they left behind their differences, or argued extensively about them until one or the other conceded the point, or at least agreed to disagree.
One day while cleaning their cell, Hermione made a comment about the impossibility of making Harry and Ron clean after themselves during their days hunting Horcruxes, and how they expected her to be the one doing all the housework. Bella told her in return how difficult it was to convince a Dark Lord to stop shedding all over the place without getting hexed for her trouble. In the end, they had to agree that it didn't matter if the man in question was a boyfriend, the saviour of the Wizarding World or an overlord; men were idiots and should be properly trained before releasing them into the world. Women who taught their children that this kind of behaviour was acceptable should be hanged. Or hexed. Or subjected to Cruciatus. Or sterilised. They couldn't quite find a punishment strong enough. Maybe a mix of all of them could do.
Over the next year their conversations became plotting. The question of how to survive became how to get out. And with those two spending half of the day with their heads together to that particular problem, it was evident that it would happen sooner or later. Sooner if they had any say in it.
They didn't have a lot at their disposal, so they had to rely on each other's knowledge. Both women were very grateful they hadn't been stuck up plotting with a witless man.
With all the people she used to gossip about in jail, Rita Skeeter hadn't had too much to write about, so she turned her eyes to the only people available these days: The Ministry of Magic.
Boredom made her articles very creative pieces of writing while still remaining truthful enough to be called non-fiction.
They weren't happy with that, and soon enough the journalist found herself kicked out of the Daily Prophet and unemployed. The Dear Minister of Magic thought that he could make Rita Skeeter shut up at will, but she had other plans in mind. The Quibbler suddenly wasn't so horrid a place to work, and she was commissioned an article about the inmates of Azkaban to discover the new Ministry conspiracy.
And so Hermione found out, for the second time, that a former enemy could be your ally. Because there wasn't anything Skeeter wouldn't do for revenge, and that included helping someone she hated. After all, if there was a person who could go against the Ministry and win, it was Hermione Granger. And it was always good to be on the winning side.
The interviews went well. The inmates were willing to tell their side of the story. Luna Lovegood was so happy that there was a real conspiracy for once, that she gave Skeeter the job and commissioned her with a more in depth investigation, including photos and lots of pages in The Quibbler.
Skeeter managed to convince the guards that she needed several prisoners in the same room for the photos, and really, it was alright, she wasn't afraid of them.
The moment Severus laid his eyes on Hermione and Bellatrix talking animatedly in a corner, he shuddered. He knew enough about both women to realise he was in the presence of the new leaders of their world. So he didn't lose a minute before grovelling to them and begging them to allow him to further their cause in any way he was able to.
Lucius saw his friend's actions and knew where his place was, just right beside him. Severus wasn't one to throw himself into anything without thinking how it would benefit him. Doing it one time in his youth was enough to learn that you don't join a cause for the shiny new ideas... Severus knew the Granger witch a lot better than him, and if Bellatrix was involved, he was sure he was up to winning. The woman was a menace, and he didn't want to be on the receiving end of her hexes. So joining them it was.
He hoped the offering of the Malfoy fortune would be enough for them. He didn't want to be stuck yet again with the handling of minions. By definition minions were stupid, and that meant he had to give the orders, wipe their noses and clean up their messes, because that was what it meant Being In Charge, apparently.
When Lucius approached them to offer his services, Hermione looked at him with distrust. "What's in it for you? I don't believe you are offering your help out of the goodness of your heart."
"I'm hurt, Miss Granger," Lucius answered her with a mock wounded air.
"Now, Lucius. Miss Granger here would appreciate it if you told her the truth," admonished Severus.
"It's not as if I trust you and we are family..." Bella thought for a moment and added, "Well, we were family until Narcissa left you."
Lucius sighed. "Very well. I'd do almost anything to get out of here."
"Almost anything?" Hermione asked, intrigued.
"Miss Granger, you don't expect a Slytherin to sign a blank check, do you? I won't commit myself to anything specific until I've read the contract, the small print, and double check with my lawyers if there's any loophole I didn't see at third sight."
At Hermione's raised eyebrow, he added, "One time was enough learning experience. I won't make the same mistake twice. I will only claim I was young and enthusiastic. And the tattoo looked cool, too."
"And why so interested in getting out?" Hermione kept questioning him. "What are you going to do once you are outside?"
Lucius looked around. Bella and Severus were encouraging him to say the truth. It was an odd idea, but if it was going to work, he was willing to try new things. He looked around again and confessed, "I can't take this treatment any longer. They force me to use soap, did you hear? Soap to wash my hair!" He shuddered.
Hermione almost laughed out loud, but Bella quieted her with a well-placed elbow to her ribs. Lucius was very serious about his hair, and she thought he would be useful for them.
"There, there, Mr Malfoy." Hermione patted him on the arm. "We're all suffering here. And I appreciate you telling the truth. I know it was a great effort on your part,"
Severus also had to be quieted, this time with a good kick to his shin. His smirk was too big.
The other people in the room couldn't believe their eyes. Three ex Death Eaters falling all over themselves for a Muggleborn witch? Hermione pleasantly talking and laughing with them? Most of the other prisoners thought they were going mad after so much time in Azkaban. But Skeeter knew better, and she was sure she was witnessing one of the most important political events of the Wizarding World.
She knew those four, and knew what they would be capable of working together, so when she saw the elder Weasley and Lupin walking towards them, she stopped them.
"There you are. Come with me, gentlemen. Our readers would love to know everything from two such esteemed members of the Order of the Phoenix." And she dragged them with her to the other side of the room. There was no way she would let those men stop what was going on. Besides, anything that the quartet would come up with would be a source of great gossip for her to write about. There must be something good for her at the end. There would be more gossip, and the chance of being there would give her a position again. Not to mention she would be able to have her revenge on the Daily Prophet.
After the articles were published, people started to make uncomfortable questions, and soon enough, they were demanding answers. The Minister might be stupid, but even he had to admit defeat when he found himself backed into a corner by a mob of angry citizens. So he released all the "political prisoners" and prayed for his life.