Heyah! Welcome to the story. Since this is probably my first and only chance to talk about stuff, you will find a lot of semi-useless sentences following before the story begins. But it was hard work and I'm just taking that privilege for myself now, because I'm the author and have aaaall the power in the world! (Yeah, I wish.)
I got the ideas for this in the summer of 2011, when the great and epic Harry Potter DH Part 2 came into the cinemas and I watched a double feature with the first Part. I was sitting there going 'Hey, wait a sec' at one point and went into the film a second time to prove my theory correct (so yeah, I actually spent money on this fic! Somewhat.) You will find a few reoccuring themes like the use of Polyjuice Potion and search for youth, but I promise, the basic story was all born in one night on July '11. Self-esteem issues threw some hurdles at me on the way, which is why we come to...
This story is dedicated to the lovely artist and wonderful human being Chloé C., who was unknowingly a huge inspiration for me to always get back to this. Her love for the fine arts and life had me often reminded off my own love for the art of the written word and back I was, typing the day away. I actually wanted to finish this first before starting to post, but as a birthday gift to her this is up sooner. Oh, yeah: Happy Birthday, Chloé! Do yourself a favor and go look up her online-comic 'Go Get A Roomie' if you love humor and pretty ladies and great art!
Art! That's my cue, Kurai, so thank you, self. (You're welcome.) First, this one is huge. It's way past 100.000 words already and still going. There are great Bellamione stories out there, but god help me if I don't like them big, large and detailed. This is where the selection gets a bit slimmer, so I decided to throw my own work on the market, hopefully pleasing some people who love long stories as much as I do. There are also world literature references, because I just swing that way, but please bear with me. It is mostly written from Hermione's POV, with only a handful scenes from Bella's. I love working with the canon and not against it, so this begins right at the scene where the last movies left of (yes, I did read the books, thanks for asking) and is, I hope, about 90-96% canon. Without enough time to read the whole series again, I abused the Harry Potter Wiki a lot to find out details, so thanks everyone who contributed there. Some research wasn't so nice, which leads me to...
So, I rate this M even though it might just be a light or hard R. I'm a bit shaky on the rating details, so better safe than sorry. There's sexual content between two grown women and a nice amount of violence as well ('cause we all love us some violence, don't we?). There's also a Hermione-Ron warning, because you will have to suffer through a bit of hetero time before the lady loving. (Dear god, that makes me sound so disparaging. Nothing against heteros, really. But let's be honest, we all know what we come for, when we read 'Hermione', 'Bella' and 'Romance' in one reference, don't we? Eh?) Also, I'm German. (I can already hear you screaming "DEAR GOD, NO!") It means my English will be a bit (lot) shaky at times, so sorry for that, I'm trying my best. It's mostly written in American English, with a bit of British whenever they are talking, so don't be confused.
Everything that doesn't belong to me, doesn't belong to me. Obviously. Everything that does belong to me, though, belongs to me. Still following? Great. I don't own any money from this, quite the other way around, as I spent a lot of dough on delivered food, just so I could get more writing done. Which means I'm actually getting negative money from it. (This is why I fail at math.)
Okay, good, I'm done blabbering. I hope you have fun with the story and if you would leave a small note or critic as a review, I'm as thankful for any kind of feedback as any author.
Those Gilded Chains We Wear
1. The First Part of the Tragedy
"For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation." - Rainer Maria Rilke, Letter Seven
It was over.
The war was won.
They stood on the bridge, exhausted, tired but happy, yet the feeling of victory was soured by the memory of the losses they had suffered. Every single dead wizard, witch and creature on their side was a tragedy they hadn't been able to prevent. Bruises and cuts marred their bodies, but they would have gladly suffered broken bones and losses of limbs if only it brought back each of their lost loved ones.
"I can't believe it's done," Ron mumbled as if far away, his hand warm and clammy in Hermione's .
"But it is. He's gone. We won." Harry's, in her other hand, was colder and dry from all the dust that clung to his skin. "We can go back to our lives. Everyone is safe now."
It still was so unreal. And yet the truth.
It was over.
Hermione felt a smile rise on her face, full of thankful relaxation, like the sudden drooping of shoulders coupled with a deep sigh after a hard overexertion. Months of stress and terror still clung like the darkest shadows to her self, but the sun was rising and chasing them away. Slowly, slowly, and she was confident it would only stay a distant memory in the future.
But then her eyes skirted over the hills encasing Hogwarts, the ones where hundreds of Death Eaters had just stood mere hours before. Now the hills were empty... almost.
She swallowed. Her chest clenched tightly. The skin of her right hand, tightly held in the redhead's, itched. She resisted the urge to snatch it away.
"Guys... I have to tell you something."
"Sure," Ron, now with blooming happiness at their victory, turned slightly to her and squeezed her hand. That hand. "Let's go inside and join the others-.."
"No." Hermione felt her throat close up, but she stayed strong. Sucking a cleansing breath into her constricted ribcage, she added, "please... just listen. I might have done something stupid, but I - I really thought it would help..."
It was Harry this time who squeezed her hand. He looked at her caringly behind his glasses, somehow seeming wise beyond his years. No wonder, after all he had endured in his life.
"All right, don't worry. I'm sure you haven't done anything wrong... just out with it." He smiled and she felt herself slightly reassured. Considering that he had just moments before destroyed the most powerful wand ever created in a split-second decision, the Boy Who Lived (Twice) was surprisingly at ease.
"Good." The young witch swallowed, closing her eyes for a second. "Good."
She looked back at the hills, the morning light making them seem so... peaceful. Hermione still remembered the endless black mass of enemies covering every square inch like a blanket of manifested death. Now a light breeze was causing the lush grass to sway back and forth with no care in the world. There was no point in delaying this further, so she let go of their hands and crossed her arms, taking two steps to stand in front of them.
Deep breath, deep breath. Then Hermione raised her chin again to look at them both. Through them.
"She came to me during the waiting."
She was alone, sitting on the nearly destroyed grand staircase and turning her stolen wand over and over again in her hands. But she cared little about it, her thoughts were occupied. Ron was grieving over poor Fred... and she had decided to give the whole family some space. It was not her place to be there right now, even though she, too, was mourning his death and those of their other friends. Harry was in the tower, using the Pensieve. So she had come here, desperately needing a solitary moment of calm.
That's where she found her.
The whisper seemed to be everywhere, but Hermione was instantly alert. "Mudblood," it murmured all around her in a sing-song voice, "Mudblood."
The young woman jumped up, brandished her wand and tried to find the origin of the dark, hushed tone teasing her. Cold sweat prickled at her back and she knew she was in for it if the owner of the voice found her here alone, unprotected.
"Show yourself. I know you are here," Hermione shouted, trying to make her own words appear firm and strong, despite the fact that she was quivering inside. A loud cackle filled the air and the scar on her arm seemed to burn as if greeting an old, painful memory.
"Ah, look at this... the filthy girl trying to act all brave. How very cute and pathetic." Another, more subdued laugh and then she appeared behind a battered pillar, black smoke still trailing around her. Hermione's insides were completely frozen the second she laid her eyes on the woman, but her body reacted without her mind's consent, throwing a hex that way without second thought.
The Death Eater silently threw it aside almost offhandedly. Despite her actual wand in the younger witch's grasp, Bellatrix was leagues ahead of her in battle prowess, easily able to beat her with a new or stolen wand. Hermione tried not to give into her instinct to run as fast and hard as she could - as far away as her feet could carry.
"Now, that's not a nice welcome, is it?" Bellatrix clucked her tongue in reproach, lazily swaying forward. Her wand tipped against her jaw bone with every step. "Especially since I came bearing an offer. Have your dirty Muggle parents not taught you any respect, girly?"
"What do you want, Lestrange?" the brunette hissed, weapon trained on her foe. Bellatrix smiled at her, almost amused at her antics. As long as the other woman was talking, Hermione had a chance that someone would come and find her.
"Sadly, you weren't my first choice for a chat," she began, as if making small-talk. Her lips caressed every word carefully. "But my little traitor niece went down during the first wave. A pity. So I had to make do with you as my back-up plan."
The dark witch was still walking, now from side to side along an unseen radius around the young woman. Her arrogant gaze never left the brunette, making her feel like prey that would be jumped and dragged to the ground at any moment. With harsh teeth clamping down on her windpipe or ripping open her neck. Hermione tried not to shudder at this. 'She wants you to be fearful, don't give in to her. Stay strong.'
"You see, one could say I'm an... opportunist. A survivor. I may be mad as a hatter, but I'm far from stupid and I see quite clearly how very downhill our cause is going right now. So I want an out... and a chance to get back the 15 years I wasted away in that rotten shamble called Azkaban."
Hermione couldn't help it. She laughed. What Bellatrix had said seemed so absurd, so completely unlikely, that it had to be a fake. And a bad one on top. The most loyal Death Eater in the history of the wars and here she was, wanting an 'out'. It was downright ridiculous.
Not happy about the reaction, the dark witch's face contorted, but Hermione was too amused to take her anger serious. Even if she killed her here and now, the brunette would die with a smile on her face.
"It's not a 'try', mudblood," the other snapped back. "I am as serious as I'm capable of. There is something I want that will give me these years back and in return for getting it...," the next words seemed as if she had to drag them out syllable for syllable while fighting against her own flesh, "I will not.. join the next attack. I will stay behind... on the hills."
Bellatrix hissed and growled, but her agitation didn't seem to be directed at the girl. Her walk had become irritated, her eyes seeming far away before flitting left and right. It took her a considerate amount of effort to get herself back under control, but she was still pacing. "Think about it. You're supposed to be the smart one, so act like it. I'm the very best duellist you will find in the Wizarding World, second to no one but my Lord, and my involvement will cost many lives. Can you say no to that, Granger?"
Her name hit her like slap and she was reminded of the atrocious strength of charisma this witch could possess if she wanted to. There was no point in denying that this woman's gaze could capture you like a helpless deer, making you quiver in your skin with just one look. While Azkaban had clawed at her for years, now, months after being freed, it was no lie to say that she was still of great, unique beauty, even if it was a dark and twisted one.
But I'm Hermione Granger, aren't I? Hermione thought, trying to bolster her courage. She had received more Outstandings in her years than any other student, surprising both teachers and strangers with her intelligence. That lunatic may be 'the' Bellatrix Lestrange, one of a kind and a force of nature in both her talent and psychotic mind, but Hermione wouldn't be thrown down so easily. She was ready to raise her chin in defiance, trying to pry more out of her enemy...
But a sound of crunching stone and dirt interrupted them.
It was here that the young woman realized how feeble her attempt at bolstering herself was. The echo of the noice had not quite resonated in theirs ears when Bellatrix smoothly turned on her heel, already pointing her wand and wordlessly shooting a bright blue spell, while Hermione was still trying to come to grips with what was going on. There was the subdued sound of the spell hitting with a muffled 'thud' and then the brunette had finally turned enough to see a surprised third or fourth year crumble down to the ground unconsciously.
So quick. So effortless. Cold fear had her shivering in horror at how she could have even imagined for one moment to be up to par with this woman. This monster.
Hermione's throat was as dry as the dusty ground around her and she had to swallow a few times before forcing herself to speak. The Death Eater was inspecting her nails with boredom, twirling the tip of the wooden stick through a few strands of her thick, curly hair.
"Y-You could have killed her," Hermione found herself saying in astonishment.
"Of course. Easily." She snorted. "But it seems you coddled sissies have certain issues with killing, so I guess it would not be the best way to ensure your willingness to negotiate, wouldn't it?" Her dark gaze snapped up to the brunette and the girl clenched her fist around her own, Bellatrix's, wand. "So? How about it? We don't have all day, you know."
It was... stupid. She shouldn't even consider it. But she had just seen Fred's lifeless body moments ago, Tonks and Lupin gone forever right next to him. She had seen so many students, young and older, lying in the floors and knowing they would not stand up again. And how everyone was grieving so deeply over everyone lost to their cause. How she was grieving. 'She will kill so many, without empathy, without care... I could stop that. I could prevent that.'
"I want you to swear by the Unbreakable Vow. I don't accept anything else." Hermione was thinking furiously, could this work? Would she do this? It was the best chance they had, wasn't it? Her mind was already trying to come up with the best phrasing for the spell, to make sure she got the lion share of this deal. A deal with a Death Eater. Their 'poster girl'. Bellatrix Lestrange.
'God, she killed Sirius... she drove Neville's parents mad. She's a murderer, what am I thinking?' She was making sure to cut the most dangerous woman's claws. If she could only get her to make that Unbreakable Vow...
"I suspected it would come down to this. Pity. Well, if you insist on it, which I'm sure you will incessantly..." The other woman snapped her fingers and another Death Eater appeared from behind the pillars. Hermione feared an incoming trap or one snapping shut while she already was in it, but the young man had the glazed eyes and shuffling walk of someone not quite there.
'Imperius', her mind whispered.
"Dear Cory here will make sure the Vow can be made and that... 'I' am there for the next fight so that no one gets suspicious. You don't want my Lord suspicious, believe me. Now, if you could kindly hand over the Polyjuice Potion you made to make sure little, old me could rob my treasury in Gringott's in peace?" She thrust her free hand forward, palm facing up. Her fingers wiggled impatiently. "Get to it, Granger. Some people say I'm a bit... impatient."
Bellatrix mustered her with raised eyebrows and Hermione carefully pushed her hand down into the magic bag. "I'm sure you can offer me more than your absence," the younger witch ventured carefully, knowing she was walking on thin ice. Not surprisingly, Bellatrix scowled.
"Fine. I can make sure a group of Death Eaters will try to get inside through the secret pathway on the northern cliff wall."
Hermione furrowed her brows, confused. "But... there is no secret pathway on the- " she stopped when an evil grin bloomed on blood red lips. "Oh." The northern cliff wall would be a big obstacle. Even experienced mages could fall to their deaths when not stepping correctly or rushing too much. Many of them would be killed just trying to find a non-existing door.
Chewing on the inside of her cheek, she made a split-second decision. Too many lives were at stake and this was war, she couldn't have any qualms about sending Voldemort's goons to their demise.
"All right. Here." There was no harm in giving it to her. Hermione threw over the bottle with the potion, watching how her enemy deftly caught it in her free hand, only to throw it to the imperiused young man.
"Cory, once the Vows are made, you will drink the potion and impersonate me. You will send a group of Death Eaters to the location we just talked about. You will act like me and speak like me, but not tell anyone what happened here. And you will serve your master well." Bellatrix didn't seem happy with her orders and Hermione couldn't wrap her head around why she would want to betray her Lord now, of all times.
"Yes, Mistress," he replied as if talking to himself. The rag-thin man had to be in his mid-twenties, with a pale, east-european heritage and cruel lines around his broad mouth. He seemed like the typical follower of the Dark Lord, with a heedless thirst for power and an abundance of destructiveness. Hermione doubted anyone would miss him.
At least, she tried to tell herself that.
Bellatrix came closer, stretching her hand forward with a haughty backwards throw of her head. Hermione hesitated still. "Why are you doing this? Why do you need my help?"
"Because I obviously can't get what I want and you can. It's as easy as that. And then I'll be out of your bushy hair."
"Where is it hidden?"
The pure-blood came closer, inching the girl back with a dark look on her face and annoyance pouring out of her every pore. "Look, Mudblood, you may think you are oh so clever in leading our sweet chat. But the truth is: I'm indulging you. I gave you every leeway you need to accept my offer. So this is your last chance - take my hand and get on with it, or this is over and for naught. And I swear, deary, if you back out now I will make sure to hunt down each and every last of your little muddy, traitorous friends, do you understand me?"
Hermione was shocked and appalled, but by now, did she have any other chance but to accept? She didn't care about her own life so much in this... but these of her friends? Her not-by-blood family? She couldn't risk it, neither them nor any other student or teacher loosing their life and loved ones to this madwoman.
So she reached forward and slapped her palm into the offered one. Her body revolted at the action of touching a Death Eater, but Hermione overruled it with an iron will. She made sure Bellatrix could see her distaste, her hate and her loathing all clearly reflected in her face, but those long, slender fingers only clasped her own to the point that it was nearly painful. She was assaulted by a relentless gaze, nearly black eyes digging holes and wounds into her opposition.
Hermione had trouble getting enough air into her lungs, when Bellatrix spoke once again. "Two vows. One for making sure I'm holding up my part, one to make sure you will. Clear?"
She nodded, trying to keep the shake of her muscles at bay.
"Cory, your turn."
He stepped forward in a trance, tipping his wand onto their entwined appendages. A glowing band of light sneaked around their skin.
Bellatrix raised a black eyebrow in waiting and Hermione opened her mouth to croak out, "Will you not join Voldemort, his followers or his cause from this moment on ever again?"
The pale hand twitched so violently, the brunette was almost sure the dark witch would break their hold. While Bellatrix's nostrils flared and her gaze burned so harshly, Hermione was ready to raise her wand at any moment's notice, but then the other woman stretched her lips with pure distaste into a thin line.
"I will," she hissed between clenched, rotten teeth and the magical band pulsed brighter.
Sweat made Hermione's clothing cling to her in a very uncomfortable way. But she was already dirty, wounded and sore, so it made no difference to her appearance. The girl opened up her second condition. "Will you not torture anyone with the Cruciatus Curse or kill in anything but self-defense from now on ever again?"
She was ready to be ripped apart by the Death Eater's rage, which she could feel in the now so tightly clenched hand around hers that it hurt. The dark witch was breathing raggedly, red lips pressed together so tightly they were bloodless.
"I. will." Bellatrix surprised her again, but the darkness in her voice had her nearly burst into tears out of fear. The brighter glow of the spell had her skin shimmer like cold, hard porcelain.
Hermione tried to wet her lips, but she had no saliva left. 'She will kill me, I'm sure of it. Or make someone else do it, Death Eater or not.' Proud of it one moment, now she was just frustrated with her own brightness, knowing that she was making herself a personal nemesis of the worst possible person she could have chosen. Her third condition had originally been something else, but now she had no other choice.
"Will you be aware that if I'm killed, so will you?"
The girl didn't know if it would work, if the Unbreakable Vow even accepted such a clause, but even if it was just a small chance, Bellatrix would be too careful to try anything on the off chance that it did, indeed, cause her to die as well. Surprisingly, Hermione could hear her snort with amusement. 'Clever,' her lightless gaze seemed to say, 'but this will bite you in the ass'. Or maybe it was just her own mind making her aware of the stupidity she was enacting here.
Despite her reaction, it took Bellatrix a few moments to reply. The painful grip loosened and Hermione suspected she would let go, running back to her beloved Lord and making their life a living hell in the next hours, but...
The band glowed, brightly, then cut into both their skins. Several soft scars formed from it for a second, then it was gone. The deal was sealed. Bellatrix Lestrange was no longer a threat to the world. Hermione felt so faint, she nearly wanted to crumble to the floor in the sudden shock that followed. Was this real? She had done it. She was so relieved she wanted to weep.
But it wasn't over, was it? Another touch of the wand on their still connected hands and Bellatrix lost no time to lay down her own conditions for this deal. Hermione's head reared as she remembered that three conditions were needed to make the Vow effective. 'I didn't consider this', she wanted to shout, to drag back her arm and get away from this deal. But Bellatrix was already bound to her word, her life on the line, how could she run away now where the hateful Death Eater couldn't?
'You're a Griffyndor. Be brave. Just be brave.'
"Will you help me get what I want?" Despite her befuddled state, Hermione lowered her eyes at that statement. The way it was worded could mean anything and was easy to exploit, there was no way she would do the Death Eater's dirty deeds. Bellatrix rolled her own pupils, then snapped again, "Will you help me get something from inside the Ministry of Magic?"
"I will," Hermione whispered, satisfied with the rephrasing. 'The Ministry of Magic, eh?' She could only wonder. Still caught in her thoughts of what the heck someone like Bellatrix could want from this place that she couldn't get on her own, she was ripped out by the next words.
"Will you present me and our offer to everyone important gathered here once this is over and do your best to keep me safe and out of Azkaban?"
Fine. Good enough. She could deal with this, there was no reason why she shouldn't. Azkaban would have been a wonderful place to send the dark witch until only her bones were left to rot in the prison cell, but maybe another prison could be created, for her and her only. Hermione set her jaw, accepting.
She had not quite ended her last consonant, when Bellatrix shot her last condition at her like a challenge.
"Will you be aware that if I'm killed, so will you?"
Of course it came back to bite her in the ass. This was Bellatrix's best bet to make sure she was completely safe, that no trial would sentence her to death. It would make sure no friend of the Order would accidentally let loose a killing curse in her direction after Hermione had told them what she had done. No, they would have to protect her even if they didn't want to loose one of the Golden Trio as well.
'You ruthless, cruel devil,' Hermione wanted to throw into her face, but she held her tongue and glared, causing the other woman to give her a wide grin that showed off rotten teeth. Next to her personality, it was the only other prominent ugly thing on the dark witch's appearance and it caused the brunette to feel nauseous with regret at agreeing to this horrible pact between them.
Because that's what this really was... a devil's pact. A pact with Satan him-... or herself. The brunette felt as if she could have as well presented Harry to Voldemort myself, it would have been not a much bigger betrayal than what she did now. Ensuring that the murderer of Sirius, Fred, Tonks and Lupin and so many others, the torturer of endless innocents, would get away scot-free.
'I am so, so sorry, everyone.' She would pay this price to keep everyone else save. She couldn't run. She had forced Voldemort's right hand into a corner and underestimated her ability to twist herself out of this, dragging her down with her.
"I... I will," Hermione gasped out, not quite sure if she was ashamed or not at the tear that slipped down her cheek. It sealed away her freedom. Not able to hold the cruel gaze anymore, Hermione watched as the second Unbreakable Vow took on its last form, making another impeccable scar line right over the first one before vanishing as well.
They broke apart wordlessly. Hermione didn't know or remember what she did, because she was so immersed in her own thoughts which cruised around and around in her head. Asking herself 'Why' endlessly. Distantly, through the thick wool that had filled her head, she heard the sounds of Cory drinking his potion as told and then vanishing to fulfill his duty.
"Well, it was fun. Not. I will wait on the hills for you, dirty girly, so make sure to come. I guess - your life depends on it." The loud cackle filled her ears like thousands of tiny glass shards and the brunette numbly sat herself back down on the stairs to hide her teary face behind her knees. That... sadistic creature's swirling smoke circled mockingly around her and Hermione made herself smaller to escape it.
When Ron found her crying softly, the enemy hadn't been gone for long. She was thankful the ginger boy thought she was sad because of all those they had lost. She was glad he made no mention of it until Harry came back to them.
Hermione didn't glance up from the ground, her left hand covering her right to both hide the invisible evidence of the truth of her retelling and to feel the rough skin dig into her palm. The sun's light warmed her neck, but brought her no comfort. I did the right thing. Or did I?
The sound of footsteps caught her attention and she chanced a look, watching how Harry walked close to a piece of leftover balustrade, placing his arms on it and just... observing the distance. The wind swept through his unruly hair, but the look in his face gave nothing away.
Ron on the other hand, mirrored her stance. He would not look at her.
She sighed, let her head fall back into her neck and then back down. With no one saying anything, the void between them became bigger and bigger. Hermione could still remember his kiss, how happy they had been in that moment to be both alive and well and one step ahead again. They loved each other, didn't they? He would understand. Please, please let him understand. She had done this for him, too.
"Ron... " she began carefully, pleadingly.
He held up a hand, stopping her. Nodding, but not meeting her eyes. "I get it. I get why you did it. I do, I really-... but... it's her. Bellatrix Lestrange. She tricked you, I'm sure of it." Rubbing his fingers across his eyelids, he breathed deeply, clearly upset with the situation. And it was no wonder that he was - who wouldn't.
"Look, I... I need a moment here." He licked his lips and dragged his hands through the ginger on his head, so she nodded. Feeling kind of awkward, Hermione turned half away from him, also glancing into the distance.
She would have to go see the dark witch soon, but she would take these few minutes. Even if it was selfish, the Vow would certainly give her a bit leeway before meeting up with Bellatrix, considering that she didn't plan to put telling the others off forever.
Her chest still hurt. When opening up to them, she had expected her friends to be shocked by this, but not getting any kind of solid reaction felt like being suspended in limbo. What would it mean to their friendship that she was bound to the Death... ex-Death Eater? Would Ron still be able to love her when every time he held her hand he would be reminded of the Vow, the curse, binding her to that woman? Someone who basically represented everything bad that had happened in the last thirty years. But what was much more important than their fledgling relationship was the question of their friendship.
Surprisingly, Hermione realized she could and would deal with it if Ron decided to break it up right now. What she wouldn't be able to deal with was loosing them completely. It had already hurt to much to see Ron walk away from both her and Harry for the first time, but to experience it again, without the influence of the Horcrux, would be ten times worse.
What did that imply? What did that mean for their relationship if Hermione was fine with loosing their love to this, but not their friendship? She felt frustrating doubt crawl up in her spine at that dilemma, wondering if she really cared about the youngest Weasley son as much as she had thought or if she had just told herself so. Clenching her teeth, she grew angry at herself and the situation... wasn't there already enough on her plate?
The witch whirled around, nearly jumping back from Harry, who was standing right behind her. She expected the worst. The Boy Who Lived, twice now, was the one who had been affected the most by the dark witch's evil deeds, right next to Neville. If he decided to turn his back to her, then she wouldn't be surprised, probably not even hurt, as he had every right to be angry at her for saving the female Lestrange's life in a roundabout way.
But he didn't seem angry. Calm and weary he watched her turn, even sporting a small, tired smile when he saw her helpless facial expression. He could probably read the apology written on her very skin.
"I understand. I'm not happy with it... but I'm sure your actions saved a lot of people today. You wanted to keep them safe and sacrificed parts of yourself to it." He shrugged slightly. "I was the one who willingly went into the woods to die today, despite all my hate for Voldemort. I at least should get why you did it." Another wry smile and then she couldn't see him anymore, because she was hugging him close.
Hermione felt so incredible thankful. Her inner pain eased when she felt him hugging her back without restraint, without blaming her for anything. When they parted, she was ably to return his smile while wiping away a few tears with her sleeve.
"But she killed Sirius... Dobby... " she couldn't help but say.
Harry surprised her by showing a slight, crooked grin, rubbing the now totally ordinary scar on his forehead. "Yeah... and I won't forgive her for that or anything else. But I can live with it, because I know they are happy where they all are. And I know that I'm not alone, even if I can't see them." He paused, sadly glancing back to Ron, who was slowly pacing a few feet away from them both. "Dumbledore told me not to feel sorry for the dead, but for the living. I will heed that."
Hermione, deeply glad they had talked about this, also looked at Ron with mixed feelings. "He's upset. I understand that, but..."
"But you're scared he can't deal with it. Don't worry, he will... once he comes to the same conclusion as me. You did it to help, that's all. It's the important thing." The young man squeezed her shoulder and stayed with her until their distraught friend noticed they were waiting for him.
Shuffling closer to them both, Ron rubbed his neck in slight embarrassment and silently questioned Harry with his gaze, before looking at Hermione.
"I'm... sure you meant well, 'mione. Sorry... for being a jerk. You know. Again." They shared a wry smile at that. "It will take a while... well... for me to get used to it. If that's okay. Uhm."
"It's fine, Ron," Hermione answered, slightly saddened that he couldn't fully trust her with that decision, but glad nonetheless that he was still her friend. And she was no one to point the finger, who knew how she might have reacted if one of them both had done what she had decided to do. "But I really should get up there now. Meet her and all."
There was an uncomfortable pause as everyone imagined how that might go. The brunette felt a bit faint at what was to come, despite the fact of several safety measures in place. She was protected and her friends were too, but that didn't erase what cruelty Bellatrix herself had still up her sleeve even without throwing Crucio left and right.
"We'll come with you."
"Yeah, we'll... wait, what?" Ron squeaked, blinking at his best friend. Harry looked at him imploringly, raising his eyebrows. So the redhead cleared his throat and added, at least two octaves higher, "uh, sure, yeah. Who, eh, wouldn't want to meet the most famous Death Eater. Great, really." He weakly pumped a fist into the air, looking miserable.
Hermione only shook her head with an affectionate sigh at his weird antics. Well, no reason to put this off any longer then. Here goes nothing. She had brought this on herself and now it was time to deal with it. However much it scared her. She can't really hurt you, don't forget that.
"No. Thank you, both of you, but.. I'd rather like to do this alone. She can't hurt me now and anyway.. it would be much better if you... prepared the rest of the teachers for this." The young witch swallowed, glancing at the damaged structure of the school she loved. It was painful to see the beautiful architecture broken and ripped apart like a cardboard house, with all the royal arcs, towers and high walls turned into rubble. It was as if she saw a good friend struck down, hurt.
She didn't look forward to meeting the school members with Bellatrix Lestrange in tow. It was better if Professor McGonagall and the Order members met her at a more quiet place, away from prying eyes and hurtful accusations. Hermione didn't know how to react once Neville found out about this.
I saved the woman that ruined his parents and childhood. How can he ever look at me again without disgust?
Think about this later. There is work to do.
Squaring her shoulders, she saw her friends exchange a look and then nod, with Ron not hiding the obvious relief on his face now that he didn't have to meet the Death Eater upfront.
"We'll tell them. Wait outside on the schoolyard once you come back, okay?" Despite his words of forgiveness and encouragement, even Harry now seemed reluctant to actually see the woman he hated most. Good intentions were all well and dandy, but it was a long road to accept what Dumbledore had told him about feeling sorry for the living and not the dead. Hermione wondered if he would be able to keep his wand to himself and not spew out random hexes and curses at the dark witch in hate and anger... not that she wouldn't deserve it.
"You really think you'll be okay?" the redhead carefully asked despite his fear and she smiled a brave smile at him that was only half truthful.
"Yeah. Don't worry about me... I'll be fine. I guess I can handle her now. Just make sure the news about this isn't screamed across all of the Great Hall... I don't think I can deal with the backlash right now." The young witch grimaced at the thought, imagining all their dirt- and blood-covered friends and fellow students looking at her with anger, not hiding their feelings of betrayal. No, that was definitely nothing she wanted to experience today on top of everything else that had happened.
Hermione hugged the boys goodbye for the moment, even though she would see them again in at least half an hour, but she felt stronger with the support they conveyed like that.
Time to face the music.
It wasn't easy to spot the dark witch.
Bellatrix stood at the point where the rolling grass turned into the underbrush of the edge of the wood and her dark clothing made it hard to distinguish between her and the dark gaps between the tree trunks. Once Hermione finally saw her standing up there with crossed arms, it was easy to not miss her again. The almost tangible aura of arrogance and self-assuredness took care of that.
Hermione went up the hill without haste. Still a good distance away, Bellatrix tracked her movements with an obvious kind of disinterest and so the younger woman caught a glimpse at the exhausted lines in the dark witch's face, the redness of her eyes and the slightly slumped shoulders. She looked, as the Gryffindor believed, exactly like someone who had spent several days without sleep and only worry and unrest as company. Maybe it hadn't been as easy for the Death Eater to stay behind and away from Voldemort as she had made Hermione believe.
I still can't believe she changed sides at the last moments. What made you do that, Bellatrix? Was it just a spur-of-the-moment decision or have you been pondering about it for a while? Just what's going on in your head?
Once she was close enough though, Bellatrix raised her chin in a haughty way and the fatigue seemed to vanish. There was even a slightly disturbing grin on her face when she watched the brunette draw closer warily.
"Look'it that," she sing-songed, eyeing Hermione up and down as if she were an especially curious specimen of the human race, "you didn't bring me some playthings? No Baby Potty and his ginger doormat? Huh, I can never keep his rabbit family apart - it's tragic."
Hermione glared at her, not deeming those words with an answer or a comment. She hadn't forgotten the terror this woman had made her go through, still remembering the fear and terror she had suffered at the hands of the Death Eater. The scar on her arm proved that she would never be able to forget it either.
"What, no Hello for an old friend? I'm hurt, deeply," Bellatrix went on, meaning no word of it. Raising her left arm, the raven haired woman took a glance at the pale skin. She had dragged back her sleeve and uncovered her forearm, which showed an uneven scar... but no Death Eater mark. The tattoo with the skull and snake had probably been closely connected to Voldemort to vanish after his death like this. His final death. It caused Hermione to wonder if the Dark Mark had been the reason his followers had been so sure he would come back to them. The scars had her curious as well, but she was too far away to see any details.
The way in which Bellatrix's dark gaze eyed the ink-free skin was free of all obvious emotion. "Seems like you managed to save your sorry hides for once. I almost regretted our deal when the little faker did his death number."
"It would have been your loss," Hermione interjected. "Vow is vow."
"And rules are rules. Cut the honorable crap, mudblood, I know what I dragged myself into." Her piercing eyes snapped up to the brunette, who had to fight down the urge to squirm. It only would have amused the eldest Black. "Now then, are we ready for our great opening number? I'm sure there are some people who'd be very happy to see me." Bellatrix chuckled darkly, watching as the younger one's face fell at the reminder.
"Don't remind me.." the brunette muttered, clutching the wand tighter between her fingers. She could see Bellatrix's nearly black eyes linger greedily on the piece of wood, but the older witch was smart enough not to make a sudden move to take it back. Considering they would soon step in front of the Order members, or at least, what was left of it, there was a very good chance the wand would be taken away anyway.
"You better take good care of that, Mudblood. Bad enough to have your dirty hands touching it..."
Hermione snorted, turning halfway back to the castle. Don't worry, it's just as durable as its master. Not that she was in the mood to openly give such a twisted compliment, but considering that the highest ranked of Voldemort's followers was standing here alive and unharmed told of a certain survivability. The young woman wondered how well Lestrange would fare in the coming days and weeks... and also, with a sudden dread, if they would really keep the sought after criminal out of Azkaban to protect her life.
The thought of Azkaban reminded Hermione of the other Death Eaters and mark-less followers who had fled after Voldemort's demise. Considering the masses she had seen during the battle, it was highly possible not even a quarter had found death or injury inside Hogwarts, so where had they gone? Back into hiding? Remembering several reports of the aftermath of the First Wizarding War, she suspected the work of the Ministry and the Order was not even remotely done. They had many restless, dangerous weeks ahead hunting down the Dark Lord's supporters, especially with the losses they had already fared.
Not wanting to dwell on such thoughts any longer, not so close after the victory, Hermione squared her shoulders and nodded her chin at the bridge. The dark witch's presence was already disrupting her concentration uncomfortably and it wouldn't do to stay unfocused next to such a dangerous individual, even if certain protections were in place.
"Come on. No point in further delaying this."
"Oh, none indeed," Bellatrix husked in her usual childish tone, "but maybe you enjoy my presence so much you would like to stay and have another little chit chat, hm?"
"Don't count on it," the younger one snapped back bitterly and turned with wary precaution to begin the walk back. A rustling of a dress told her of her companion's following.
No, she would never enjoy the presence of a crazy, ruthless murderer... and torturer. Hermione remembered all to well: This was the woman who had managed to make her more helpless and weak than anyone or anything ever before in her life. There were still times when she woke up from nightmares, as her mind had not even gotten the chance to process her torture with everything happening so fast after their encounter at Malfoy Manor. There had been no chance for rest, no moment to take a break, even at Shell Cottage they all had been high strung. The horrible scar on her forearm was still red and angry, a constant reminder of what Bellatrix had done to her without any qualm. The brunette had not dared to use the precious little Dittany she owned on such a superficial wound... but with every time she found herself close to tears at night in her bed, the red letters glaring in the moonlight, she wished she had done so.
Now Hermione would wear the derogatory scar until the day she died.
God, how she hated this woman.
But I saved many by binding myself to her like this. I know I did. She had to tell herself that all the time, so she wouldn't lose her sanity over protecting something so vile. If saving Bellatrix had been a mistake, she wouldn't know how to ever again look into the eyes of all those who had lost someone to the Dark Lord's cause tonight and the years before.
Don't think about it now, just don't think about it.
But Hermione had always been the one with a mind that wouldn't shut up, never had needed to, because its owner had reveled in solving puzzles and acquiring knowledge so she could share it with the world (or, at least, her often clueless friends). How ironic that what she believed was her best quality was now the one she wanted to curse. More bleak scenarios entered her thoughts, giving her a hard time to keep her face straight and her senses sharp, so she wouldn't be surprised if Bellatrix tried anything funny.
But the older woman was busy with skipping after Hermione when she chanced a quick glance back, humming a children's tune in that nerve-wracking high tone and seemingly oblivious to the enemy walking ahead of her.
Scowling, the brunette turned back around and fixed her glare on the bridge. How fitting that the sadist was gleefully looking forward to presenting herself to the Order, knowing that no one would be able to touch her out of fear that the Golden Trio's witch might come to harm. It was the ultimate insult to the light side.
Stop thinking. Just stop.
But Bellatrix began her annoying song anew and the young witch wondered if it was a good idea to rid the world of both her humiliation and the Death Eater by simply throwing herself off the bridge her feet were touching now. The possibility was admittedly tempting.
And the very second they stood in front of the severely damaged Hogwarts and at least a dozen people streamed onto the schoolyard with accusing, unbelieving eyes, Hermione wished she had listened to herself and given in to the suicidal temptation.
Well, as you can see, those two have a long road ahead of them. The title of the chapter is the subtitle to the well-known german work Faust I by J.W. Goethe, which tells the story of the scholar Faust, who enters into a demonic pact with Mephistopheles. Amusingly, it is Faust who demands to have the contract, playing right into the hands of the more cheeky and less evil devil. It reminded me a lot of these first scenes. The work Faust I hints a lot at the human weaknesses and other big topics, is chock full of references and is very well-written, so I can only advice you to take a look at it. (Boy, will you hear me saying that often from now on.)
Every quote at the beginning will mostly have something to do with the chapter itself or, in some cases, are connected to the story as a whole.
I try to update every two to three days, but my personal time is pretty limited, so an apology in advance if there are some waiting times. Thanks for reading so far!