Author's Note: For the 'H' Challenge. My words were 'hamburger' and 'hobble.'
Bellatrix Black and the Hamburger-Prophet of Hogwarts
"Bye! Bye! Don't worry, I'll write every week!" Eleven-year-old Bellatrix Black called, waving both hands in grand arcs toward her younger sisters, Andromeda and Narcissa. Andromeda was frowning mightily, and Cissy was crying beautifully (Cissy did everything beautifully). Bella blew them kisses, touched by how much they'd miss her.
She was the oldest, and she saw the coming year, separated from her family and everything she knew, as a grand adventure. She, the intrepid explorer, would face the terrors and unexpected pathos of school life and report back, so that her sisters and her baby cousins need have no such fear of the unknown when they, in due course, joined her at that hall of learning, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Of course, Bella Black wasn't entirely alone. There were surely some distant cousins of hers somewhere on the train, and she already knew she would be going to school with Gertrude Goyle, a rather dull girl of acceptable parentage.
In her excited state, carrying her large and heavy school trunk provided no obstacle to Bella, so she heaved it behind her in the corridor, searching for a compartment. The trunk bulged with last-minute gifts from her sisters, sweets from her mother, and books from her father, who expected her to follow in his footsteps vis-à-vis attainment of literary knowledge and application. Bella hadn't read any of the new ones yet, but they all had sinister dark covers, titles in gold (if they had titles at all), and spidery, sharp handwriting somewhere inside.
The trunk, stuffed as it was, dwarfed Bella horizontally and nearly vertically as well. Bella was tall for an eleven-year-old, but rail-thin—her aunt Walburga said if she kept having growth spurts no respectable pureblood wizard would want her, because she'd tower over him. Her mother said that was just Aunt Walburga being spiteful on account of not having any daughters of her own, and that Bella would grow up to be a statuesque beauty someday, just like most of her ancestors. All the Blacks were good-looking, and Bella had the customary excellent features, clear skin, thick dark hair, long lashes, etcetera—nevertheless, what looked cute on her sister Andromeda and adorably gorgeous (and bleached blonde) on her sister Narcissa only made Bella look awkward. Her nose, mouth, and eyes were too big for her face, which was thin and stretched from growing so fast. Her sharp cheekbones jutted out sharply, making her look much too angular, and her body was all bones, elbows, and knees. She constantly tripped over her long legs, and that vaunted smooth, thick hair the Blacks were usually blessed with was, in her case, a curly, snarled mess that hung down her back and, whenever it could, sprang out from her head and collected ancient heirlooms and old quills and odd bits of parchment in equal measure. Today, she'd prudently worn it in a long, thick braid down her back. It was a never-ending source of frustration and pain (literally; hairbrushes quailed before her) to Bella that pureblood ladies, according to Mother, Aunt Walburga, Great-Aunt Cassiopeia, etcetera, did NOT have short hair. EVER.
As such, Bella managed to stagger and trip her way into the first empty compartment she could find. It was empty because, in arriving on the train five minutes before it was due to depart, she was so early that the train was practically bare of children between the ages of eleven and eighteen. Blacks, according to Father, were never late.
In maneuvering her trunk into the appropriate location for such things, Bella, unable to use her wand because Father, although strict in the matter of ancient, ancestral curses and culture, had yet to teach her simple spells, lost her balance, fell back on the seat at an awkward angle, and succeeded in spraining her ankle.
Some might have considered this inauspicious.
However, Bellatrix Black, adventurer and witch extraordinaire, was undaunted. She did rather wish her ankle didn't hurt so much, though.
In due course, Bella and her aching ankle were joined by several other first-years: Gertrude Goyle, in whose veins did not run any beautifying Black blood; Evan Rosier, a strawberry blonde boy with whom Bella was slightly acquainted; a blonde, rounded girl who introduced herself as Alessandra Yaxley; a sharp-faced boy who hardly spoke any English but whose surname seemed to be Dolohov; and a young man by the name of Longbottom who smiled much too often for Bella's tastes. She did not ask any of them for assistance in the way of healing spells, assuming, correctly, that they would have as little or less an idea than she of the proper incantation.
Hence, perhaps Bella may be pardoned for being rather sharp when the Longbottom boy asked what House everyone was hoping for.
"Slytherin, of course—where else?" she demanded aggressively. "All the other Houses have degenerated into haunts for blood traitors and Mudbloods." It should, perhaps, be made clear that Bellatrix, in so denouncing Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and persons of less than one hundred percent pure Wizarding blood and ideals, was merely quoting her father, who had many times made his feelings on this matter clear to her and to everyone with whom she associated on a frequent basis.
Had Mr. Longbottom been aware of this fact, it might have weighed with him, for he was a fair-minded young man. However, he was not privy to Bella's innermost thoughts, being as yet un-introduced to the art of Legilimency. "Oh, so you're one of those, are you?" he said snidely (if a trifle unclearly). "Think you're practically royal, and Slytherin's the only House worth being affiliated with. You lot disgust me."
At this, Bella's fellow occupants of the compartment glared at him. After all, Misses Goyle and Yaxley, and Mr.'s Rosier and Dolohov, had also somewhat stern parents when it came to blood and politics. It may be said that Mr. Dolohov's parents, not being members of the British empire, cared less about such things, but they still cared enough so that, had he associated with a person they deemed unworthy based upon blood status, they would certainly have punished him severely.
"What are you, some kind of blood traitor?" Miss Yaxley asked, laughing cruelly. Bella knew, in that moment, that she'd found a friend.
The knowledge was cemented when Longbottom glared back at them all, said, "Excuse me, I seem to have fallen into a pit of loathsome snakes," and departed, dragging his trunk behind him.
"Now that he's gone," said Mr. Rosier, once the door had shut. "What're everyone's plans for this year?"
Bella was surprised at how easy it was to talk to her fellow Slytherin first-years. Of course, they hadn't actually been Sorted yet, but everyone knew that was where they'd end up. The Sorting Hat, according to Uncle Alphard, liked to play tricks, yes, but that didn't mean it was going to turn an entire culture upon its head. Bella knew what to expect from Slytherin, and so did her peers. She even managed to forget about her ankle for awhile, by keeping that foot absolutely still and listening intently to Evan's Quidditch plans (there had to be a way to get around that no-first-years-on-the-team rule, right?) and Alessandra's back-to-school shopping spree story.
Time flew, as it sometimes does, and before Bella knew it the train was pulling into Hogsmeade Station.
"First years, over here! Now!" bellowed a large man completely dwarfed by his assistant. Bella later learned that this was Ogg, the gamekeeper. She didn't like him. She hobbled off the train, wincing as sudden pain shot up her ankle, and feeling devoutly thankful she didn't have to carry her trunk another step.
A thin, malnourished-looking brunette girl who introduced herself as Anita Wilkes, joined Bella, Alessandra, and Evan in their boat. Bella didn't care who she was, though: she'd saved them from further exposure to Gertrude's society.
"Where were you on the train?" Alessandra asked curiously.
"Oh. Got stuck with some pathetic do-gooders hoping for Hufflepuff or Gryffindor," Anita explained, wincing. "It was a nightmare."
"I can imagine," Evan said drily.
"Aren't Hufflepuffs the worst?" Bella said sympathetically. "They're all such babies, it's whine, whine, whine."
"I don't know," Anita said thoughtfully. "I think Gryffindors are the worst."
Her manner clearly indicated that she had a specific Gryffindor in mind, so Bella felt there was no harm in probing further.
"How do you mean?" she asked. "Give us an example."
"Well…" said Anita, clearly loath to continue.
"Come on," Alessandra joined in. "We'll understand. Promise."
"Yeah," agreed Evan. "Gryffindors. They think the whole world is about them."
"That's exactly it," said Anita, hailing their strictures on the brave fools who called themselves Gryffindors gratefully. "See, my cousin—she's in our year, too—she's a Prewett—and she's all, like, 'Gryffindor is the best!' and I definitely saw her checking out that Gryff prefect who kept walking up and down the hall. She's horrible."
"So you're pureblood?" Bella asked, in tones of clarification. It was always good to be sure about these things.
Anita looked insulted. "Of course! I'm an orphan, though," she added, on a downward note. Bella, Evan and Alessandra looked suitably sympathetic. "That's the worst part, 'cause now, for, like, the past seven years, I've had to live with my uncle Ignatius and Aunt Lucretia—"
"Lucretia?" echoed Bella intelligently. "I've got an Aunt Lucretia!"
"Black, right?" Anita asked, and Bella nodded. "Then I guess that makes us third cousins by marriage."
"How'd you work that out so fast?" demanded Alessandra, who wished that sums and Arithmancy had never been invented.
Anita shrugged. "It's easy once you know how." The other three looked suitably awed, especially Alessandra.
Unfortunately, before the discussion could be continued, their boat arrived at the dock. Evan got out, muttered a word of excuse, and melted into the mass of first-years in search of some peers of his own gender. Bellatrix, Alessandra, and Anita stuck together.
The door opened and a forbidding-looking woman of about Bella's Aunt Walburga's age appeared and beckoned the first-years forward. "Come along, all of you," she said, in the sort of tone few dare to disobey.
The tone not unnaturally stirred the seeds of rebellion in Bella's independent spirit, and she (and, consequently, Alessandra and Anita) hung to the back of the group.
"Hey, what are you waiting for?" Gertrude asked, coming up to them and bouncing on her toes a little. She clearly was looking forward to the incipient events very much (or possibly, she was dreading them with the corroding dread that her family often faced: was she, or was she not, of sufficient magical caliber to be Sorted and allowed to take classes? Bella did not feel her pain).
Bella, who was still hobbling around on one foot in a vain attempt to spare her sprained ankle, was feeling rather enough pain of her own to be getting on with.
"What's going on? I can't even see Professor McGonagall anymore," complained another girl, this one with glasses, lank brown hair, and a general aura of the geek.
"Who're you?" said Bella rather rudely, wincing as she took a step forward on her injured ankle.
"Rita Skeeter," the geeky girl said in a single one-quarter breath. "You?"
Bella drew herself up to her full height, ignoring the pain, until she towered above the interfering girl (who didn't even have the decency to know a Black when she saw one), and said impressively, "I," pause, "am Bellatrix. Black."
Bella waited for applause, which, sadly, was not forthcoming.
"Okay, so are we going or not?" Gertrude asked impatiently.
Bella, deflated, slumped against Alessandra's shoulder and nodded. "I guess," she said flatly.
Their triumphal progress was somewhat impeded by Bella's sprained ankle, the way Rita's eyes widened in excitement at what they saw (mostly a dark corridor), and Gertrude's naturally sluggish pace. Consequently, the five of them fell behind the rest of the first-years, who rounded a corner or two and disappeared from sight.
"This is exhausting," complained Alessandra, upon whose shoulder Bella continued to lean. Alessandra, though still shorter than she was, came the closest to her in height, and, as such, presented the most inviting prop.
"My feet hurt," complained Gertrude. The others glared at her.
"We must be nearly there," Anita insisted practically. "How big can this place be?"
"Halt!" cried a booming voice, and the five girls, even Bella, stopped in their tracks and stared around, searching for the source of this unexpected auditory stimulus. Bella, for her part, was expecting something large, intimidating, and possibly dangerous. After all, she was a witch and one had to be prepared for situations like this, even if one hadn't been Sorted or taken any official classes yet. It was just a fact: Hogwarts might be a school, but that didn't mean it lacked things that went bump in the night—quite the reverse, considering how many people slept within its walls and the human propensity for barking the shins upon various objects when deprived of photonic assistance.
Consequently, Bella shivered a little in fearful expectation.
"In the time that approaches…" said the voice.
"There!" shrieked Rita, pointing. There, indeed, stood a gigantic—
"Is that—some sort of—?" Anita began.
"Hamburger?" finished Bella, in tones of disapproval. The whole thing was much too anti-climactic for her. After all, if a huge suit of armor, or statue of Salazar Slytherin, had told her to halt, that would've been one thing. She was a Black, and therefore her knees would not quake and her teeth would not chatter; still, she might be a bit nervous. But this—! It boggled the imagination—it defied the senses! A huge, walking (or at any rate, standing), talking, portentous—hamburger? Bella knew Hogwarts was famed for its eccentricity (not to mention the strange habits of its latest headmaster) but surely this was going a little far.
The hamburger did not have legs, as such, and it was hard to tell if it were actually made of edible substances or not (and Bella certainly wasn't going to try and test this); it did not have a mouth, so it spoke by opening and closing the aperture between the bun and the burger, using the lettuce as an approximation of a tongue. It didn't seem to have eyes, and yet Bella felt the unmistakable sensation of being scrutinized closely by a giant and hitherto unsuspected item masquerading as some sort of edible substance.
Her spine prickled, and she stood up straighter, forgetting about her ankle.
"Ow! Salazar Slytherin's golden locket, OWW!" Bella exclaimed.
"In the time that approaches…" the hamburger began again, a little louder. Perhaps it felt it was not being given sufficient respect.
Gertrude eyed it speculatively, in a manner calculated to make her companions feel exceedingly thankful that they were not in any way hamburger-shaped. Anita glared at it, directing a good deal of her repressed rage its way. Alessandra just stood there, hunched over slightly from supporting Bella's weight, and waited for events to unfold with the sangfroid of those who are so tired they really can't be bothered anymore. Rita had got out a scrap of parchment and a quill covered in bite-marks, and appeared to be taking notes. Bella, still wincing with pain, leaned against a convenient portion of wall (after checking to make sure it wasn't a door in disguise) and waited.
"In the time that approaches, one of you five will play an integral role in the impending war," the hamburger said, at last feeling it had its audience under control. "This girl will be the strength of one side, while uncovering the weakness of the other. A brave warrior with a choice to make. Choose wisely, young ones. Take care, for in the time that approaches…" the hamburger faded out, and made a discreet exit—how Bella was never precisely sure, when she attempted to recall the incident.
"Wow," said Rita. "A prophecy about ME!"
"Shut up, Skeeter," said Alessandra, making the other girl's surname into an insult. "That prophecy was obviously referring to me. How could anyone be more integral to whatever's going to happen than a Yaxley?"
"I don't know," said Gertrude. "My blood's as pure as yours, Allie. Maybe I'm the one hamburger-guy was talking about."
"Oh, please," said Anita impatiently. "Prophecies aren't real. The whole thing was probably a prank. Although, if it were true, it's obvious who it would be about. There's only one tragic orphan here, after all."
"Shut up! That orphan thing only counts in books!" protested Alessandra. "It's so me!"
"It's clearly me!" Gertrude said stridently.
"Me, me, me!" yelled Rita.
"Like I say, orphans—" began Anita.
"Uh, guys? Hello? Aren't you all forgetting something?" Bella asked, waving her free hand to get their attention (she was clinging to the wall with the other hand). The other four continued wrangling, and Bella glared at them all, fished in her pocket with that same free hand, and drew her wand.
Whether because her companions suspected that she might have hitherto unsuspected depths of lethal spell knowledge learnt at her father's knee, or whether she simply looked rather intimidating, standing there in the dark corridor, black curls escaping her braid and ricocheting off of every solid surface to hover horizontally around her head as though unfettered by gravity, wand raised, and too-large mouth set forbiddingly, Gertrude, Rita, Alessandra, and Anita ceased their discussion.
"The prophecy," stated Bella, as though her two words of choice explained all. The other four looked bewildered (and, in Rita's case, a little nervous of Bella's unsteady fingers curled around her wand). Bella rolled her eyes, shoved her wand back into her robes, and continued. She was not entirely comfortable with the word 'prophecy' herself, since she agreed with Anita and thought the whole thing was probably a prank, but then, who knew? It was always better to be on the safe side when discussing things like prophecies and potential-prophecies. Just in case.
"It said." Bella spoke slowly, over enunciating her words in an effort to get the point across to her clueless classmates. "That. There's going to be. A. War. War! Wars are bad."
"Says who?" Anita said bitterly.
"So you're not going to insist the prophecy was about you?" Alessandra asked, surprised.
Bella considered her for a moment. The fact was, she couldn't honestly picture Alessandra as a 'brave warrior.' Alessandra just got so much more worked up about things involving shopping, money, and shopping (at least if her conversation was anything to go by). Bella couldn't decide if Anita fitted the bill, and she hardly knew Rita. Of course, Rita's surname wasn't one she was overly familiar with, which was probably a bad sign. Bella really, really hoped she wasn't a Mudblood. If Father found out she'd spent an extremely unsettling session involving a hamburger-prophet with a Mudblood, she would be in so much trouble…Still, Rita might be a little overawed by the castle, but not enough to have never even heard of magic. Her family probably just wasn't very rich. As for Gertrude, Bella really couldn't see her as a warrior either. She cared about material things too much—definitely not a Spartan when it came to eating, as well. So, in Bella's mind, it was a toss-up between herself and Anita.
Unless the whole thing was a joke planned by a couple of self-involved Gryffindors with extra time on their hands, of course.
"I don't believe in prophecies," Bella said, not quite truthfully.
Before Gertrude could launch into an explanation of how, actually, prophecies were real, and could frequently refer to girls with initials G. G., thank you very much, and Anita could roll her eyes some more and pretend like none of this mattered, and Rita could scribble another page of notes on prophecies and provoking classmates, and Alessandra could explain how all problems, including those of prophetic proportions, could be solved with a little financial outlay, a voice cried,
"There you are! I've been looking all over for you five, the Sorting's about to start!"
Professor McGonagall's hand fluttered distractedly in the direction of her hair (pulled severely back) and then fell, at the last moment—hair, fiddling with, was not something of which she approved. Indeed, she glared at Bella's gravity-defying locks as the five first-years filed past her up the corridor.
"Sorry, Professor," said Gertrude contritely.
"We…got lost," said Anita slyly.
Professor McGonagall's nose turned upward disapprovingly, but she refrained from comment, merely marching the five girls up another corridor, around several quick corners and through a door pretending to be a patch of wall into an antechamber off the Great Hall, and then into the Great Hall before they had time to catch their breath, fix their hair, or make one snide remark. Bella, still hobbling along on her sprained ankle, felt the lack of opportunity to utter a few choice swears particularly keenly. In Professor McGonagall's rush to get the girls Sorted, she appeared to have failed to notice Bella's ankle. Possibly she was looking forward to the happy moment when Miss Black would no longer be in her charge—it was inconceivable that a Black should be in Gryffindor, after all.
As Bella hobbled all the way up to the Sorting Hat—a raggedy, disgusting-looking thing which she hoped never to see again—thoughts of the hamburger-prophet all but faded from her mind. She had a mission—get Sorted into Slytherin, get her poor, swollen ankle looked at and Healed by the school nurse, eat dinner (she was starving—the hamburger-prophet was lucky it had retreated when it did), and, upon the following day, begin her academic career as a student of magic. Someday, she might change the world—independent of prophecies and other ridiculous things—or she might not. On the whole, she thought she probably would, but she had to admit she was hardly an impartial judge.
The world, Bella thought firmly, would just have to wait and see.
"I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!" cried Gertrude Goyle when "Yaxley, Alessandra!" joined her, Anita Wilkes, Rita Skeeter, and Bellatrix Black at the Slytherin table. "I knew all five of us would be in the same House!"
"And that that House would be Slytherin, I suppose?" Bellatrix said sourly. She was massaging her ankle and looking longingly at her empty plate and the staff table, where various professors sat waiting for the interminable Sorting Ceremony to end. She was vainly searching for the school nurse.
"Of course," said Alessandra, surprised. She had been brought up to think anything else—for her, for Bellatrix, or for Gertrude—would have been an outrage. "We belong in Slytherin."
Dale Carey, prefect, leaned over and said smoothly, "On that note, welcome to Slytherin. Our rules are simple. One: don't break the rules. Two: if you break the rules, don't get caught. And three: what happens in Slytherin, stays in Slytherin."
Rita rolled her eyes, glanced down at her notebook, which protruded slightly from her pocket, and sighed. "Great. That's just great," she said bitterly.
Finally, "Zheng, Arachnia!" was Sorted into Ravenclaw, and the food appeared.
Anita, the starving orphan, looked like she couldn't believe her eyes. Nonetheless, she didn't take much. "I'm on a diet," she explained blithely.
Bellatrix, who grew another six inches every month, according to Uncle Alphard, rolled her eyes, and filled her plate. "Don't be an idiot, Anita," she said.
Anita threw a roll at her in retaliation, and picked up another for herself. In that moment, a fledgling friendship was cemented.
A food fight was also begun, but that's another story.