Holy frack. People. I can't even begin to say how sorry I am for just vanishing. Things turned so crazy with school coming back up and I really don't want to bore you with personal stuff, but you deserve an explanation. I have nearly 40 hours of school per week and that is just the time I actually spend in school. There is also a motherload of time I invest in homework and learning, not to mention there's also housework and friends and family and, oh yeah, sleep. And then shit keeps happening! Seriously. I don't know what's going wrong right now. There's so many things I have to take care of my head is bursting. I haven't even touched a book that is not for school in weeks and it's horrible. I have holidays now and I'm praying I can catch up a little with... well, basically everything. Press your thumbs for me people, because I can't even give you a hint when the next update after this will be, because every time I try to give myself a deadline, something comes up. Happenings of the week? A very good friend ending up in the mental institution. The fuck?! My life is a bloody soap! I SWEAR! *rant*


I am utterly, deeply sorry and I will get to your wonderful PM's as soon as I can! Thank you all for not forgetting about me and for keeping the faith, I LOVE YOU ALL! *mwah*

And a freaking huge, enormous Thank You to Millirax for never stopping her diligent work of revising my old chapters. You ROCK!

Without any more delay, I hope the wait was worth it a little...

36. Belief of Blood

"A lie would have no sense unless the truth were felt to be dangerous." - Alfred Adler

When Hermione woke up next, it was already well into the afternoon. She was curled around a warm, pliant body. The smell and shape woke up memories in her still sluggish mind and she smiled, lazily, happy. There wasn't a more beautiful way to emerge from sleep.

Carefully prying her eyes open, she was faced with a chaotic bulk of rich blackness. Those ridiculous, addictive curls, she mused, dragging her sight lower and warming at the picture that presented itself to her.

Bellatrix was spread on the deep red bed sheet right next to her, lying on her back with one arm draped around Hermione's hip and the other flung above her head. The silken sheet was messily draped across her legs, leaving the younger woman to freely admire the underwear-clad body of her lover in the sun filtering through the high windows.

The older woman's face was turned slightly away and her upper body rose and fell with the deep, even breaths of sleep, disturbing the curious curl that always seemed determined to fall straight down her forehead if she didn't wrestle it into submission.

Gorgeous. My very own, dark sleeping beauty.

While watching the pure-blood sleep, Hermione found herself remembering the night before, those wonderful, earth-shattering hours they had spent outside and that had changed the young woman in a positive way no other event in her life had ever before. Or maybe not changed... completed. Her eyes burned with only the simple memory at the wonderful gift the other witch had given her.

My lover. My one and only.

Filled to the brim with emotions she prayed would never leave, the brunette slowly untangled a hand and dragged the tips of her fingers softly, gently down the other woman's skin. She started at the forehead, down that aristocratic nose, touching full, red lips with quiet reverence. Marveling at the amount of trust Bellatrix now had in her presence to not even steer in her deep sleep, her features staying relaxed and calm.

She followed an imaginary line down shapely jawbones, then a strong, long neck, lingering for a second on the Azkaban tattoo unhidden from her view, so old, it was already starting to pale and blur at the edges. Keeping down the urge to kiss the spot for a moment, she went on, coloring slightly at the marks and bruises she found littering the pale skin.

I did that? It had a tiny, possessive streak in her satisfied at seeing the woman she loved carrying her signs so plainly for days to come, but there was a cringe there as well. But Bellatrix had begged her not to hold back and she was quite aware that her own skin was equally colorful. I think the werewolf could have done worse than this. Maybe, ironically, it was Bellatrix herself who kept me grounded without knowing. She liked the thought of that.

Below that, her finger bumped into scabbed over scratch marks and the occasional bite. There were those sharp collarbones, who dipped together into a flat plane preceding the swell of highly attractive breasts, encased now by expensive black cloth. Hermione swallowed another urge at the sight of those tantalizing mounds and found herself drawn to the mangled flesh on her lover's ribs, the skin the flush pink of year-old scars. It was strangely soft in some places, hard in others and just looking at it made her shiver at the pain that must have been involved. She could imagine the long, canine teeth she had seen on Sirius' Animagus form, ripping open the protective layer, slicing flesh and veins, scrapping against the bones below.

Shaking her head free of her active imagination, she pushed her hand further down, splaying it across the smooth flat of Bellatrix's stomach and inching forward to press her lips against the once abused skin.

This action finally seemed to infuse the slumbering figure with life and there was movement in the muscles she felt resting underneath her palm. Placing her chin on a clavicle, Hermione observed how dark eyes fluttered, then opened lazily in the golden light of the sun.

The hand on Hermione's hip moved higher, resting on warm, naked skin, while the pure-blood turned her face to return a twinkling gaze.

"I see someone is quite refreshed today," Bellatrix murmured with her sleep-roughened voice.

"I wonder why. Considering you kept me entertained nearly the whole night," Hermione replied, amusement evident. Freshly awake and tousled, the dark witch still managed to look ready to ravage.

"Mhhh... yes. Not that I feel one ounce of regret about that."

"You better not," was the mock warning as the brunette stretched to suck at the tattoo, as she had wanted to since her improptu journey across Bellatrix.

She felt the chuckle vibrate against her mouth and then the whole body shifted as the older woman turned around, pressing her body above and against Hermione's with a deep purr.

"We need to get up sometime," the younger woman murmured from below her.

"No," her lover husked, licking and nipping at her jaw bone, "we don't."

Hermione smiled, wrapping her arms tighter around the slim body above her and wishing she would never have to let go. It was warm and soft and the amount of happiness she felt right now was out of this world. Surely someone couldn't die from happiness, could they?

And then, her stomach growled loudly.

"Come on. Really?" Bellatrix whined, pushing herself up on her forearms and hovering above the younger woman.

"It's your fault! You made me work up an appetite after all the exercise you put me through," the brunette shot back, unable to help the laughter bubbling up from her insides as she saw Bellatrix's incredulous expression. "The bed isn't running away, you know," she added with a smirk, pushing gently against her lover's shoulder while fighting a light blush at what she was insinuating. Guess one night can't cure that.

The older witch huffed, throwing her frame to the side and pushing a hand through her bed hair in a show of mild frustration. "You never know, with magic around."

It was clear Bellatrix had decided to play the petulant child today, but with a cheeky glint in her eye. It took Hermione several tries to get the other woman out of bed, dressed and out of the room, never mind that the pure-blood tried to delay her efforts constantly with kisses to every spot of naked skin she could reach. Coming close to indulging her several times, Hermione nonetheless ushered them downstairs, because she was ravenous for more than just physical action.

They were lucky that the bulk of the guests had left already and even if there were still some left behind, they never got a glimpse of them. Nonetheless, a glamour for the remnants of their love marks was conjured up quickly, because that was personal no matter who was there. The house-elves were quick to whip up a delayed breakfast and so they shared their meal in one of the living rooms, hardly taking their eyes off of each other. When Hermione reached for the other woman's hand, she didn't even flinch away for the fraction of a second.

Only when the pair was sitting in the library, with the brunette on Bellatrix's lap and her head on a black-clad shoulder, did she speak again and break the quiet calm that surrounded and infused their presence.

"Bella... why did you not want me to touch you last night?" It was something that had entered and left her thoughts all day, but now the curiosity had grown too strong.

She could feel the body shift beneath her own, raising her eyes to give the other woman a curious look.

The dark witch had her lips pursed, then pressed them together, wetting the flesh in a rare show of nerves. A black gaze reflected in her own for a moment, then sought out the bookcase parallel to their seat.

"I... wanted this night to be about you. Only you."

Touched, Hermione caressed the pale cheek turned away from her. "That's thoughtful of you. But why?"

"Because it was your first time. Because... I had to make it up to you, somehow." The older woman was deeply insecure about her words. She had a hard time forming them and spitting them about without giving in to the urge to flee away from her feelings - and it showed. "I... know what I did on the Isle of Lewis and how I made you cry and how I hurt you... and that's just the tip of the iceberg."

The most gentle of smiles grew on the younger woman's face as she turned her lover's head so she could look into her eyes. The insecurity was rare and warmed her heart, touching all the beautiful places she had uncovered during their newfound love and she expressed it in a soft kiss. "Do you... regret what you did?"

"Only that. Only hurting you. I can't regret anything else."

She furrowed her brows, wondering about that. Bellatrix saw the thoughtful look and elaborated with a conviction that raised the hairs at the back of Hermione's neck.

"Darling, if I ever start regretting what I've done in the past... I won't survive it. I can't say I'm sorry for what I did. At least not yet - maybe not ever. I wouldn't be here if I hadn't done all that, stayed strong and calmed the Screams." The grip she had on the younger woman's waist tightened. "And in a way it was all worth it... it brought me here. To you. To a second chance. No matter how much I still can't believe that you would choose me over everything else in life." There was a waver in her strong voice. "And I don't know if I might not relapse."

"I understand," the brunette quietly replied and pressed her forehead against the temple in front of her. "It's one step at a time, Bella. And if I had to make the choice to do it all over again, I would do it, believe me."

The hug she received for that was full of gratefulness and they stayed like this for a long while, wrapped up in each other. There were still hurdles and stones on the road to their shared future, and how shared it was from now on, no doubt there, but for today, they only wanted to care about the present.

It felt like they were in their own personal realm of bliss, cut off from reality and not having to worry about the past, tomorrow and the day after that. But it was after dinner with the Malfoys that Hermione realized there were more people in this world than just the two of them.

"Your stay here ends in October, doesn't it?" Narcissa asked as they sat around the coffee table, the two men quite silent and busy with their reading material and Bellatrix browsing the liquor cabinet. The blonde woman was embroidering a dark blue piece of cloth and had surprised Hermione with her talent days ago, as the young woman hadn't believed that a pure-blood would be interested in such a meaningless task.

"Well, we can't wave our wands around all day long, sooner or later we'd die of boredom if magic was the answer for everything," had been Narcissa's answer for that, showing slight amusement for the first time in a long while.

The brunette was browsing the numerous family portraits standing on a cupboard and turned around at the question from the lady of the house. "Uh, yes. That's right." That's at the end of next month. How did time move so fast? "The trial demanded McGonagall and I to be Bella's supervisors for one year, so... someone else will take over from there." I wonder who.

There was a snort from the corner and a clinking of glasses.

Yeah, and she's not going to be happy about that either.

"Well, I'm sure you can use the next month well then. If you are starting in the Ministry on the first, Draco can help you get settled." The blonde send a warm smile in her son's direction and he looked up from the page he was reading, confused at having heard his name. He blinked, then nodded.

"Oh, of course. It can get quite busy at times in the hallways, but I can show you a few tricks and passageways to make sure you get everywhere on time."

"That would be great. Thanks, Draco." Pushing her hands into the pockets of her jeans, Hermione made a mental note to buy some proper attire before starting in her job. It wouldn't do to show up in her everyday clothes. "It will be strange to return home and going to work from there. I think I need to look for my own flat soon."

"As long as you leave this house and don't come back, it is of no interest what you do in the future," Lucius added acidly, turning a page in a way that underlined his words. "You took advantage of our hospitality long enough."

"Lucius," Narcissa admonished in a soft voice, glancing up from her work.

"No, Cissy. This is still my home and she should be filled with utter gratitude that I allow filth like her to stay in my property," he replied matter-of-fact, not even raising his voice.

"Lucius, don't you remember our little chat?" Bellatrix hissed from somewhere behind the young woman. Hermione's features exploded in utter surprise when the subtle form pressed itself against her back, slinging one arm around her and placing her head on the brunette's shoulder to glance at the head of the manor in a way that spelled trouble if he didn't shut up. She wasn't used to such open affection from the former Death Eater, especially in front of her family. "I'll bring my girlfriend to this house whenever I want and you better get used to it soon."

There was a quiet plop as Draco's book slipped to the floor, three pairs of pale eyes glancing at the couple with utter astonishment. The young man's jaw hang down slack, Lucius seemed undecided between shock and disgust and Narcissa showed only mild surprise at that disclosure.

"Uhm..." Hermione conjured up a nervous grin. Behind her, the older woman dangled an arm lazily over her shoulder, as if oblivious to the sledgehammer she had just wielded. "Surprise?"

"You... and... Aunt Bella... you are... you..." The youngest Malfoy pointed from one to the other, as everything seemed to fall out of his face. His brain was flashing Error, Error repeatedly and he let his hand drop as if it had become lifeless in a second.

"So it's true then," Narcissa commented, her voice neutral. That woman never lost her countenance, no matter the situation, and considering Bellatrix had hinted at the relationship during their last fight, she had been more prepared than the rest of the family. Not to mention that she might have already known more about what they had been doing these past weeks, considering the looks she had given Hermione. "You are involved."

The disgust in Lucius won over and he made a noise that spoke of his revulsion as he stood up, leaving the room and not bothering to close the door after he stormed out.

Well, that was to be expected. A pure-blood, through and through... and poor Draco, he looks ready to be sick. The young man didn't deal well with the shocking revelation it seemed.

"Quite correct, Cissy. Would you like to join your bigoted husband outside or can you live with that?" Bellatrix answered, but it didn't sound harsh.

Narcissa looked at them for a while, her thoughts unreadable and her stitching resting in her lap. It was like looking at a finely wrought ice stature. But then, as if coming to a decision, she leaned back a few inches and a rare smile stretched her thin lips and warmed her eyes. "No, I think I'd like to stay where I am. You're happy, Bella, I can see that now. You haven't been for as long as I can remember and... it would be selfish to begrudge you that."

An ice blue gaze flicked to Hermione and she swallowed at the intensity. I'm pretty sure Andromeda has exactly the same Black gaze when she wants to, she mused for a second.

"Miss Granger... Hermione. We may not have started on the best terms, but I'd like to think we can see past that. I suppose congratulations are in order." There was an underlying warning hidden in there, but the sentiment was an honest one.

"Ah... thank you," the brunette answered, feeling lightheaded at the sudden acceptance she could feel coming from the blonde. Bellatrix's muscles became less rigid and Hermione was sure she was just as glad about her sister's decision, if not more, because no matter how much she might deny it, the young woman knew her lover valued her sister's opinion quite a lot.

"Draco? Are you... okay with this?"

The shock frozen man, still pale, stared at Hermione and blinked, as if awakening from a dream. He shook his head, once, twice, and she could feel her heart plummet at that, but then he sighed and fell back on the love seat he was sitting on. "Yes. I think. I mean, I don't mind, it's just... Hermione. And my aunt. It explains why she changed your scar like that, but I... it's a bit much to take in. Merlin, it's... a lot to take in."

"I'm sure you'll get used to the idea, once the novelty has worn off." Smiling at how her lover was hugging her tighter, the brunette was quite aware Narcissa was watching them like a hawk. Despite her words, she had to get used to the curious display of her sister giving heartfelt affections as well.

"Yeah, probably. You together with the Weasley was already awkward, but you and my aunt, that's a lot to wrap your head around."

"I'd prefer to wrap my legs around it," Bellatrix purred. Hermione blushed brightly.

Draco blanched, his book completely forgotten. "Aunt Bella! Don't do that! If you say it, I have to think it." He hid his eyes behind a hand, mortified.

"Mmmh... I'd rather do it..." she sing-songed in return, nearly purring into Hermione's ear. The young man actually squeaked at that, shot up from his seat and fled the scene, causing Bellatrix to cackle with joy at his display of discomfort.

From the side, there was a helpless sigh. "Bella, I would be thankful if you stopped terrorizing my son with your nighttime activities," Narcissa pleaded, even though one corner of her mouth was inching up in amusement.

"You're all no fun," the eldest Black huffed, then glanced sideways at Hermione, who was still imitating a tomato. "Oh, wait. You're fun. Come with me, honey," she added with no small amount of glee and dragged her girlfriend behind her.

Hermione was caught in a haze and came more or less willingly. Girlfriend. I have a girlfriend. This is a full, healthy, wonderful relationship. Well, almost healthy. Still, what happened five minutes ago was stuck in her mind and she came back to herself once Bellatrix closed the door to her room behind them.

"Bella..." she began, but the raven haired woman was on her in an instant, taking her face between her hands and peppering it with needy kisses.

"More doing, less talking," she drawled, seeking out the taller woman's lips.

"Look. Bella. Bella, hear me out for a second," Hermione got out between quick kisses to her lips that almost swayed her to let go of the issue at hand. But a final and firm "Bella!" had the other witch move back with a sigh.

"What? What is it now?"

Ignoring the frustration she had awoken and concentrating on what she wanted to say, she reached out for her lover's waist and wrapped herself around it. "It's nice to have you so sure of us and all that... but you could have warned me that you were planning on telling them already."

Bellatrix gave her a queer look. "I didn't exactly plan anything, kitten. But really, at least Narcissa already knew half the truth."

"Okay, yes, maybe. But..." The brunette grasped for words to make her understand. "We're in this together now. A team, a pair, we're in a relationship and it comes with certain... not rules, but... principles."

Tsking and freeing herself from the embrace, Bellatrix paced up and down the room. "You do know I was married, right?"

"Are you implying that you ever had something resembling a normal relationship with Rodolphus?" Hermione asked with a wry smile, watching as the pure-blood stopped and turned with a frown on her face.

"Well... no. I did my deed in the marriage bed, but I was already having another affair three days later."

Wincing, the brunette sat down at the edge of the bed. Some things she really didn't want to know about Bellatrix's past and número uno on that list definitely had to be her numerous conquests. Not to mention the slow burn of jealousy the thought of Bellatrix with other men activated in her stomach. "Thanks for that image. Now, do you get what I'm saying?"

Bellatrix folded her arms, standing in the middle of the room with a slight sulk. It was adorable. "You want me to inquire more about your standpoint on...," she gave a vague wave with her hand, "...stuff I plan to do?" A nod from the bedside. "You want me to ask for permission when I use the loo as well?" A sigh. "I'm kidding, pet."

"I'll be honest," Hermione softly answered, dragging her legs up the bed and hugging them close to her body. "I know I'm going to do the same as you one day. Telling my friends and family, that is... and it terrifies me. I'm not ashamed of you, Bella, I refuse to. But..." What if they rejected her? What if they just couldn't understand? Especially her parents... they would be shocked and devastated about this development, she was sure of it. Just imagining their appalled faces brought tears to her eyes.

An elegant hand slipped through her hair, rousing her from her dark thoughts and making her look up at the older woman that had sneakily found her way right in front of her. "But you're afraid they won't accept it. And then you're stuck with only me as company." Bellatrix's voice was soft as she caressed her short but steadily growing strands.

Hermione sniffed, eyes glazed over with unshed tears. Her hand reached out, dragging her lover closer to her before inhaling her unique fragrance. "If it comes down to choosing you or them... it will always be you now. I can't help it. There's nothing to choose anymore, it's already been decided."

"One step at a time, weren't those your own words?" the pure-blood murmured against the top of her head.

Growling against the stomach she had her face pressed against, Hermione grumbled up to her, "Don't use my own words against me. That's so not fair." Then she sighed and tried to see the positive side. "At least telling your family is out of the way now. Well, you're family minus one."

Bellatrix growled, stepping aside and out of the arms that held her, only to throw herself down on the bed with her back to the mattress. "Oh, don't remind me. I haven't spoken to Dromeda since the trial..."

Laughing softly, Hermione looked down at her with surprise. "Actually, I wasn't talking about her. I'm pretty sure she will find out about it through Cissy pretty soon, so I already included her in my calculation." Considering the expression on her lover's face, discussing her estranged sister might not be the best choice of conversation for today. Better leave that for another time. "I was talking about your mother."

It seemed impossible, but the shadow across Bellatrix's features darkened even more. "There's no need at all to tell her. She's unimportant and doesn't matter."

The topic of her parents was an unopened wound, scabbed over and filled with enough purulence to hurt more than a lifetime. Hermione had seen and experienced enough to know that what they had done to their daughters - all three of them, but with a special focus on Bellatrix - would never be fully healed, no matter how many centuries one of them managed to live. But maybe it was time to break it open, to let the ugly matter flow out and to clean it up, giving it a chance to scar so it wouldn't explode in memories and hurt with every shift or twitch.

Laying down next to the raven haired witch, the young woman played with the strands of curls she was able to reach, tasting the words on her tongue before letting them free. "Bella... I know there's little good about your past, but... I would like to know."

"Know what? You can always ask. Not that I might answer everything, but..."

"I'd like to know where you grew up. What your room was like, your time in Hogwarts. What you did when you played with your sisters. The small things, the details."

Bellatrix scowled at the ceiling. "You want to go there, don't you? Black Manor?"

Licking her lips, Hermione inched closer, hand resting on the stiff corset next to her and following the intricate lines. Careful. Dangerous territory. "I'm curious about you, everything that is connected with you. It already started when we were stuck in that cottage together and it never let up. I just... want to get to know you better," she said tentatively, then added more quietly, "Don't you want to know about my past?"

There was heavy silence between them and the brunette could feel even through the thick material how the older woman's muscles twitched. She didn't need to look up to know that Bellatrix was conflicted between her love for her and the fact that anything Muggle-related still raised her hackles. Hermione didn't want to press the issue, knowing that her girlfriend was already walking a difficult road these days, but they wouldn't be able to ignore the elephant in the room forever.

"I want to know," the velvety voice suddenly cut through the quiet. "I'm... not comfortable with it. With thinking about... your world. But..." Bellatrix made a frustrated noise, moving restlessly on the covers for a second. Then her hand grabbed Hermione's, both lying on her stomach, and the brunette could tell from the nonstop trailing of those long fingers that she was struggling with herself. "I know I can't hate Muggles and love you at the same time. I felt superior to them for so many years and to suddenly accept them as equals feels... like..."

"Like watching monkeys learn how to do magic?" Hermione offered, trying the lighthearted approach. From the answering snort, it had worked at least partly.

"Maybe not quite that drastic. I mean, monkeys would surely make fine wizards and witches-..." The rest of her sentence got cut off by her yelp when Hermione tackled her with an outraged cry. Bursting into laughter, they struggled and fought for the upper hand for a while, rolling across the sheets amidst howls and shouts.

Bellatrix fought her way to the top by wrapping her legs about one of Hermione's, pushing her thigh upward and giving a quick nip to her girlfriend's ear. Letting out a surprised squeak, the younger woman dropped on her back and grew slack, watching with a huff how the enthusiastic winner clambered up to seat herself on her hips and drag back her mane of hair with a proud cackle.

"Cheater! You don't play fair!"

"You know I like it dirty." Bellatrix leaned forward and grinned cheekily. "And I know you like it, too."

"Allegedly," Hermione shot back with smugness, which quickly turned into a moan when the other woman attacked that spot below her jawline. "Okay, maybe. A teeny tiny bit."

"Told ya."

Bellatrix stole a kiss, then slipped away to prop herself up on her side, their positions now reversed in contrast to the beginning of their mock fighting. "Fine. I admit it, I'm curious. I never had interest in the Muggle world, as there was absolutely no need to... our societies are so cleanly cut from each other, you could live your whole life without meeting them. Well, besides the Muggle-born magic users in Hogwarts."

"I like this."

"Huh? What? The separation?" Bellatrix was clearly confused.

"No, you dork. That you say 'Muggle' and 'Muggle-born' all the time now, instead of... you know."

"I doubt you'd appreciate it if I said anything else," was the dry reply, causing Hermione to shrug with a smile and a short 'True'. "Fine. So... how about we visit your home? Preferably when your parents aren't there, because learning about your past and the Muggle world is one thing..."

"...and interacting with them another. Yeah, I certainly wouldn't mind tackling that some other time as well." Then Hermione grinned brightly at her girlfriend, turning over onto her side as well, so that they were lying parallel to each other. "So you really want to come to my house then? And after that, we'll visit your home?"

Rubbing her free hand across her face, the other one pressed into her messy, dark hair and holding her head upright, the older woman exhaled deeply, almost in a whine. "Yes, we will. I'm not sure you'll like the house, but there is one or two things that might peak your interest... like the few diaries I kept from before I went to Hogwarts. Boy... mommy dearest will be ecstatic to see me." Her voice couldn't have been more sarcastic if she tried.

"You're a Black by blood. The house belongs as much to you as it does to her, she can't keep you out."

"That's the least thing I'm worried about," Bellatrix grumbled. "After my father's... unfortunate demise, she tended to prefer screaming to talking and Merlin knows I have enough of those to last a lifetime. I can feel my ears ringing already."

"We won't stay long and if you're too uncomfortable, we will go back right away. I promise." Hermione leaned forward and pressed her lips against those ruby reds in a gesture of unbelievable tenderness. "Thank you. For doing this for me."

"I think you owe me for that..." the other woman husked and used a hand in her lover's neck to keep her from retreating. "And I know just the way you can pay me back."

Hermione just hummed in pleasure when the pure-blood worked at her lower lip with her teeth, then easing the soft ache with her tongue. The playful muscle didn't stay there and demanded entry only one second later, to join her own in a dance for dominance.

Cold fingers found themselves below the brunette's shirt only a moment later, rapidly warming against the heated skin. Pushing the younger woman slowly but surely into the covers of her bed, Bellatrix reached upward, skipped across ribs and cupped a bra-covered breast. Not that the material stopped her from tweaking the nipple she found there, raising a low moan from her lover. It caused Hermione to seek purchase as well, her hands flying to the raven haired witch's backside and pressing it in both a caress and an ulterior motive to get the other woman closer to her. Bellatrix's answering groan was worth the try.

The woman on top was just ready to rid her girlfriend of the first layer of clothing between deep, passion-filled kisses - when someone knocked on the door.

They ignored it for the first few seconds, too wrapped up in each other to care about people outside the room. But the knocking returned after a moment and a voice joined right in.

"We would appreciate it if you could detach yourself from each other for an hour and come down for dinner."

Annoyed twin groans sounded, their libido effectively killed by Narcissa's detached matter-of-fact tone.

"You could have sent a house elf, Cissy!" Bellatrix shot at the door, heaving herself off of the younger woman.

"I'd rather not scare my housekeepers for life, sister, considering you weren't very subtle when you left the room an hour ago."

"Very funny. Go away, we'll be down in a minute or two. Or five."

"You get seven and another three to get your clothes in order, so use them well."

Bellatrix sent her girlfriend a hopeful look, but Hermione shook her head No, already easing herself up and making sure her clothing wasn't wrinkled anymore. "We have all the time in the world for that now, so what's another hour?"

Sighing, the older woman followed her down the stairs, quite dejected and frustrated at not having gotten what she wanted.

This time, it was Narcissa who had to take the full brunt of Bellatrix's petulance, both sisters hissing and spitting at each other in whispers over their dinner plates. It was amusing at least for Hermione and Draco, who had a hard time hiding their smiles behind the cutlery and drinks. Hearing his mother call her sister a "straggly-haired, insolent brat" had the young man nearly spit out his juice. Lucius on the other hand stared down into his dish stone-faced, but there was a light twitch at his left eye. When some of the name-calling reached his ears, he couldn't hide the pronounced eye-roll he had to give at the women's antics and was the first out of the door once the meal was done.

Dinner had given the siblings enough time to settle their differences, it seemed, as Narcissa dragged them off into the large living room. Draco was forced to give them a taste of his piano skills, which were quite impressive despite his hesitance, closely followed by his talented mother. Hermione just sat and listened with amazement. She could play the piano as well, but not as skillfully as those two. Maybe she would if she had grown up in a rich family as well? Then again, judging from the look on the youngest Malfoy's face, she wouldn't have gotten a chance to decide if she wanted to or not.

Bellatrix wasn't as interested in the whole deal as her lover, because after ten minutes of flowing piano sound, she started playing with the short hair at the brunette's neck, inching closer to her body with every minute. Too enraptured in the music to notice, it was only when the older woman started nibbling on her neck that Hermione swatted at her.

"I'm trying to listen here," she muttered, trying to keep a pale hand from inching below her shirt. Across the room, Draco pointedly stared into another direction, his face beet-red.

"But it's boring. And I want you." A whining Bellatrix was a very, very pathetic sight, considering how regal and intimidating she was most of the time.

"Your sister will kill me if we sneak off to have... to do... you know what I mean," she retorted, feeling her own cheeks burn at being caught like this by the boy she had been enemies with for nearly seven years. "Behave."

Falling back into the cushions with a disdained sniff, the raven haired woman stared at the piano with pursed lips and a dark gaze. If one could do magic with a look, the instrument would have been a block of smoking cinder.

After this, the four of them took a walk around the perimeter and chatted about all kinds of topics. Even though Hermione felt entertained and happy, it was only when the former Death Eater grabbed her arm and had them fall a few paces back, that she found out the true reason for the nice evening.

"I get it now. Cissy might accept our relationship, but I'm pretty sure she's uncomfortable with the idea of us shagging-..."


"Sleeping together in her manor. So she's keeping us busy."

Hermione threw her girlfriend a squinted look. "You are aware that sounds pretty ridiculous. We need to sleep sometimes, you know, and she can't keep us entertained the whole day."

"Hey, I know her. Did you grow up with the woman or did I?" Bellatrix pointed out with raised eyebrows, waiting until the taller woman sighed and shrugged, admitting defeat. "Believe me, she is showing way too much interest."

"Maybe it's her own way of trying to make me feel welcome in the family. Or, you know. Maybe she just wants to spend time with us."

That had the eldest Black stop short, her expression one of pure concentration. Then she blinked. "Huh. Well. I hadn't thought about it like that... we never needed to have anyone feel welcome before."

Hermione couldn't help but laugh at her lover's obvious puzzlement, hugging her close and pressing a kiss to her check before joining the other family members with a shake of her head.

Whether or not the Lady Malfoy had planned to keep them busy, they were drained enough at night that when they crashed into bed - Bellatrix having wordlessly joined her lover in her room - both curled around the covers and each other and fell asleep quickly. Happily.

It was the next day which had Hermione giddy and nervous. With her parents away for work, it was time for a small trip to her home, one she planned to take the pure-blood on. It took at least an hour of discussion with the Aurors to let them both go without them trailing behind, but Hermione was the oldest Black's official supervisor, so they grudgingly stayed behind. Hermione told them they would only visit her home and Black Manor and, if anything happened, it was all on her plate. But she didn't want the gruff trio around during her personal time with her lover.

"And you're sure they will be gone?" the other woman asked for the tenth time when they got ready to leave the Malfoy grounds, still worried about running into Hermione's parents on accident.

"I am sure. There is no reason at all why they should be home, but just to be sure we will apparate to my room and I'll go down to check. Happy?"

A subdued grunt was her only answer, but it was better than an outright refusal to go. Hermione could tell the idea of visiting a Muggle home had her on edge, even though they made sure to add spells to their appearance that made sure her neighbors would 'look the other way' in case anyone saw them in the house.

With her silent companion in tow, the young woman apparated to her childhood home. Their feet hadn't touched the ground for one second when the older witch already began snooping around the room, long, black skirt swishing around and looking very out of place. Once Hermione came back from checking the perimeter for signs of life, Bellatrix was already nose-deep in her personal belongings.


"So... you grew up in here?"

"In the whole house, actually," Hermione poked with smile, knowing Bellatrix would roll her eyes at this even though she could only see her raven curls and backside. And what a nice backside it was.

"What's that?" A finger was flicked in the direction of her desk.

"Oh. That's a computer. It's a... machine to look up data. It can also be used to communicate and create literature, art, videos..."

"And what's a video?" There was a distinct lack of interest in Bellatrix's voice and she had already turned around to rummage in the drawers and cupboards.

"It's like a moving picture. Well, many moving pictures after another, with sound. Like a play, but you can watch the same play again and again..."

"Uh huh. Sounds boring. And this here?"

"That's a mobile phone. You can call people over great distances with it to chat or message and... be caref-...!"


A sigh. "Well... it was a mobile phone. Bella, technology is fragile." Maybe she could salvage the parts and put them back together...

"Oopsie." The older woman had found the wardrobe and opened both doors wide. When she saw the inside, all clothes carefully folded or hung up on display, she made a slight retching sound that had the brunette slap her arm in indignation.

"Seriously, lay off my clothes!"

"Only when you change your style of dress," came the quick comeback as Bellatrix closed the door with a wrinkled nose. "You've become better since the first time I saw you, but the amount of pastel-coloured clothing you own is saddening. And don't let me get started on the cut."

Hermione scoffed and turned around, leading the other woman around in a tour of the house. When not listening quietly, the other woman made some choice comments or asked questions about the Muggle technology that she didn't understand, always picking up things, moving them in her hands and then plopping them back down with a neutral expression. But there was something off about her, something she couldn't put her finger on...

It was only in the third room that Hermione found an explanation for the strange behavior: Bellatrix Black, Muggle hater for more than 40 years, was curious. But there was more to it than one simple, unburdened emotion and when she finally became aware of the deep lines beneath her lover's eyes, she had an inkling.

She knew that tired look. It was the burden of a woman who had lived long - a woman who had lived too long the wrong way. Her heart ached for the former Death Eater, knowing that accepting a different lifestyle after decades of following another truth was harder than she let Hermione see. But it was never more obvious than when she showed the pure-blood a picture of her parents, watching how the instinctive reaction of disgust warred with a new, hard-accepted tolerance before she could swallow down her old beliefs and give a neutral statement like 'I can see the resemblance'. It was clear she was struggling, but Bellatrix was struggling for her.

It was still a long road ahead, but Hermione was thankful for every time her love tried.

"So," the brunette concluded when they had reached the living room. "What do you say?"

For a few moments there was quiet as the pure-blood let her gaze wander around the interior.


Hermione raised her eyebrows with bemusement. "That's it? Interesting?"

Puffing at the always rebellious curl in her face, Bellatrix turned around to face her. "Well, what else can I say? I admit, the Muggles have been quite... inventive when it comes to making up for their magical short-comings. But it's still all Greek to me."

Taking the answer with a grain of salt, the young woman settled down beside her still standing girlfriend on the couch. "Ah well, at least you don't believe anymore that we are living like cavemen or something."

"I never said-..."

"But you thought it." And she knew she was right when Bellatrix opened and closed her mouth, but gave no retort.

"The things you suspect me to think-..." the older woman began and let herself fall into the couch in front of the TV, not quick enough to stop when Hermione shouted a panicked 'Stop!' at the movement.

There was a loud screech that quickly turned into two - one animal, one human. Bellatrix jumped back up and whirled around, faced with a hissing and spitting mass of angry, orange fur.

"What is that thing?!"

Hermione couldn't help the laughter that erupted from her throat, while the two differing predators eyed each other with a mixture of dislike and uncertainty. "Crooks, be nice... she didn't mean it," she finally managed to say, gently petting down the ruffled hair of her favorite animal. "Bella, this is my part-Kneazle cat and wonderful friend, Crookshanks. You may want to apologize for sitting on him."

"But I didn't-..." At her girlfriend's raised eyebrows and pressing look, Bellatrix scrunched her face up in a last effort of defiance, before she exploded in a frustrated sigh. "Ugh. Fine! Pardon my mistake, cat. And I'm only saying that because you're part Kneazle, mark my words," the witch hissed and lowered her eyes, unknowingly imitating the animal's wary gaze.

Crookshanks, obviously unimpressed, snorted and licked his paw, before jumping off the couch and sniffing at Bellatrix's trademark boot. Seemingly satisfied, he shook his head and newly realigned fur and stalked off in a way that only a cat could pull off. It was equal parts rightful indignation, grandeur and disinterest, followed by the slight swish of an upright tail.

"I think he likes you," the proud owner stated with a smile, utterly amused by the way Bellatrix followed the furball's exit slightly put out. "Now sit down, before he decides to come back and claim his seat."

"The things I put up with for you," the other woman muttered, but there was affection in her tone and she let herself fall back down once more. But not after a careful look that the space was really free of random creatures.

For a while, they just sat there and held each other close after the younger woman scrambled onto her lover's lap. From the outside, the laughter and noises of what might be an early barbecue party managed to penetrate the thick walls, barely reaching their own little, quiet world.

One year ago, this woman below me would have jumped for a chance to run outside and spread blood and pain among the innocent in the neighbourhood. Now, the idea of Muggles outside the walls barely seemed to reach Bellatrix's conscience. Sometimes the hands on Hermione's back twitched at a very loud laugh or if the music was turned up too loud, but otherwise she gave no indication that she would be interested in them.

"It was easier," Bellatrix suddenly mentioned, her voice tired, coming from a far away place even though her mouth was right next to the brunette's ear. "Hating Muggles, I mean. It was such an easy lie."

She shifted below the precious cargo on her legs, but Hermione kept quiet and listened.

"I had never seen much of them before I went to school. They were these barbaric, dirty creatures that were only talked about in the quiet or served as jokes during the great balls, something far away and out of this world, so why was there a reason I should care? It felt good to have an outlet for my anger and my hate... they were faceless. Dehumanized. If it hadn't been them, it would have been something else. Maybe animals... or my sisters... maybe even myself."

"It's okay, Bella," her girlfriend murmured against pale skin, gently brushing her hand along a long neck and a black clad shoulder. Trying to ease the burdened woman's mind. "I understand."

"I doubt you do. But... it's nice to have you trying to anyway." Feeling a hand beneath her chin, Hermione let her head be tilted up until she could gaze into deep, honey brown eyes that still seemed to watch her with tender wonder whenever they shared one of these moments. Lips found hers in the sweetest caress. "Thank you."

Smiling at Bellatrix she stole another kiss for good measure and pressed her forehead against the one in front of her. Strong arms hugged her close and the older woman sought her out again and again, deepening the connection of their mouths until the line between gentle and passionate was slowly being tiptoed over.

When they paused for breath, Bellatrix gave her a sultry look.

"How about-..."

"No. We are not having sex on my parents' couch. Scratch it off your list."




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