In case you were wondering where my time suddenly flew off to (I think it went to Hawai'i, rocking the beach and downing cocktails) since Juli, I'm one of those grown-ups who went back to school after working a few years. I think it's called second-chance education (at least that's what the translator said And it never lies. NEVER.) Anyway, this is harder than getting your degree the first time around. It means I have 36 to 40 school hours per week and that's not counting homework, essays, learning... and, you know, actually living your life. Our dishwasher also just decided to enter Nirvana. A moment of silence for the dishwasher, please. Thank you.
But besides not really having much time for anything but that, I'm okay. And it's all done around April next year, so, yay for more writing time after that! And becoming a student! Double yay!

Besides that, the dedication you readers show to this story is truly astonishing and you wouldn't believe the amount of guilt I carry around with me for not having the chance to update more often. I love this story. It's my heart's blood, all writing is. Here's a giant Thank you to all the names I repeatedly see in the review section and a warm Welcome to all first-time readers. I read through all comments very carefully and half in tears. You are all very special to me in your encouragement, but I have little choice but to reduce my replies to a smaller number. No hard feelings please!

Here is a very belated shout out to a reader who asked for a birthday gift: Darling reader Sarah, Happy 16th birthday! Four months belated, but better late than never! And have a very nice Christmas as well!

Thanks to anon for the lovely poems and to everyone for their wonderful song suggestions! I know some of them and am always happy about new findings. And to everyone following this thanks to ChloƩ, I humbly grovel at her feet for all the wonderful people she send here. I sent her a Thank you as well :)

Bellatrix-Forgive: Feel free to add me, it's an honor! Thank you for asking :)

GothicPheonix: I think Ginny was in her 6th year when Harry and Co were on the run during what would have been their 7th year. I'm not 100% sure she finished the year before going into hiding, but I think she is a good enough student to head right into the 7th year. Or...uh... maybe it's a 'Thank you for helping save Hogwarts' gift. Yes, Miss Henry called her Hermina because she is an old, friendly woman... did I mention old? ;) I didn't change any of the grammar/ect. mistakes yet in the older chapters, because I would have to reupload everything and there is simply no time. But it's on my to-do list!

MayuXD: A marriage proposal! But... but... it's too soon, we haven't even had dinner yet! An essay?! Holy lord, I'm baffled. Thank you! And congrats to having your own Bellatrix as a girlfriend, you have the envy of all the Bella fans! :D

smurf: Yes, I completely understand why you feel this as a crass change. But fret not: Problems don't magically disappear (not even in the HP world, tehe) and the abrupt change WILL be addressed soon as well. Let's say they've been having an 'in our own personal bubble' experience.

Enough rambling up here, on with the show! Looks like the winds are chaaaanging... *drumroll*


37. Screams and Silence

"The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others. That action is the testimony of love as the practice of freedom." - bell hooks


Saying goodbye to Crookshanks was harder for Hermione than she had suspected, especially when her heart grew ten times its size when watching Bellatrix awkwardly pet his head... and the cat awkwardly enduring it. Even though he was purring.

"I'm just happy you don't have a dog," the older witch mumbled when they got ready to apparate out of her room. "And Kneazles are smart, so it's probably good you have him around."

The orange furball was sitting on the bed and watched Bellatrix with a dry gaze that only expressed 'Why, thank you, pathetic human' as she held hands with the brunette for the apparation. Before they vanished, the raven haired witch stuck out her tongue at the cat, causing it to yawn unimpressed.

A lurch and a plop later, they found themselves on a cobbled street in the middle of nowhere. Hermione let her eyes roam across the landscape, taking in the lush, green area, the small wooden spots and rolling hills. In Hermione's hometown there had been good weather, but now low-hanging, gray rain clouds dragged themselves slow and heavy above their heads, promising to empty their baggage soon across the world.

The hard clenching of a hand around hers alerted Hermione of Bellatrix's change of demeanor.

"Are you okay?" the younger woman asked gently, knowing that it was actually a stupid question. But words failed her in that moment, watching the pure-blood's face pinch and pale when she gazed in the direction they had to go.

"Of course I am," Bellatrix hissed as she squared her shoulders, but there was a twitch in her hand. Shaking her fingers lose from their shared grip, she put her hands on her hips, trying for a show of strength... but Hermione could see right through it.

"Bella... we don't have to go if you don't want to," she offered, standing right in front of her lover and placing a hand on her forearm.

Knowing her acting was fooling anyone but the woman before her, Bellatrix deflated, mask slipping down her skin like water, yet she didn't take her arms down. Her gaze flickered to the side and she puffed a shaky breath at her curls.

"I haven't been here in... nearly twenty years. With father dead, I joined the Dark Lord's army and war fully, as there was no reason to stay any longer in that shithole." She looked up at the sky, taking a deep breath. "It's ridiculous. I'm almost fifty years old and I still feel like an oppressed teenager whenever I think of going back there. Pathetic."

"Natural," Hermione corrected, tugging at the cloth on her lover's arm until the woman glanced back down at her. "You were young and he was your father... he was overpowering."

"I still shouldn't have let him-..."

"But you did," the brunette interrupted, stressing her words. "And it happened. You can't change the past, but you can't let it control you anymore either." Reaching up with one hand to stroke gently across a pale cheek, Hermione pressed her lips together with a sad expression. "There's already enough else that still controls you."

Both knew what the young woman was referring to and it had Bellatrix purse her lips with a hint of frustration. This was not even remotely her favorite topic and a change of course was in order.

"Let's go, before the weather decides to ruin this visit even more. I'm sure mother would be delighted about water puddles in the foyer," she growled out and moved around Hermione, in clear direction of a dark spot in the distance at the end of the road.

Sighing at being bypassed like this, the young woman could nonetheless understand Bellatrix's abrasiveness. This was her safety mode against all her childhood horrors and her armor against the woman they would meet soon. While Hermione loved the more laid back, relaxed pure-blood she had managed to experience these last days, this was a part of Bellatrix as well, one that she had and would always accept. But it was hard to see the change, because it meant the other woman was hurting.

They walked for nearly half an hour, getting closer and closer to the monster of architecture that peeled itself out of the horizon. If Hermione thought Malfoy Manor was impressive, then she was quickly taught better - it wasn't even close to the top of the pure-blood decadence. The older woman was sparse in her answers to the brunette's careful questions, words terse and half-hearted while her mind dwelled on the hated childhood home.

"We can still leave," Hermione offered before they reached the gate.

"No chance. Some stupid ghosts of the past won't scare me away," was the snapped reply, but the angrier Bellatrix appeared, the more the young woman wondered if this had been a good idea.

Her attention was diverted by the huge, black metal gates that dwarfed their bodies, the metal wrought with such delicate perfection and intricateness, every leaf, flower and other material stood out in sharp contrast to the background. Two feet above their head the mighty words Toujours Pur were also fit in it, displayed for all the world to see in a show of pride and warning. The gates were encased by the wall and a gray stone arch, where a gifted sculptor had given his best shot by adding every imaginable, mythological creature in impressive detail. Most life-like were the two gaping snakes on each side, towering over the visitors as if ready to devour every trespasser that dared to step close and was deemed beneath their worth.

Hermione gulped. "Uh... there's no door gap."

A snort sounded beside her and she followed with a tremble of irrational fear when Bellatrix rashly stomped closer to the gate. Even from two feet away she could feel the magic that vibrated in it and the curious part of her was in awe of how many age-old protective spells must have been placed on the perimeter.

"That's because the door opens only for Blacks." The older witch didn't even have to draw her wand, she simply reached out a hand to touch the dark metal and a shudder rippled through the framework.

Blinking, Hermione could only watch open-mouthed as the vines and flora crawled backwards, forming an opening in the middle of the otherwise impenetrable wall. She could swear there even was a whisper of quiet voices in the air, welcoming the long lost Black child home.

"What if I had touched it?" she inquired, unable to rip her eyes away from the magnificent spell work.

"The vines would have strangled you, ripped your body into small pieces and then added your bones to the wall protecting the home."

Hermione paled and stopped, not daring to make another step through the opening.

Rolling her eyes, Bellatrix wandered back outside, grabbed her girlfriend's arm and dragged her through. "I was kidding, you fool."

"Very funny, Bella..."

They walked into what could only be described as a dream of plant and color. A long gravel roadway pointed straight at the old mansion that rose into the gray sky before them as if trying to exert its rule across all the land; it was more a castle than a house, heavy on the Romanesque style and almost losing the fight against the heavy curtains of ivy clinging to most of the walls. It screamed age.

Hermione remembered old stories and films of children living in such buildings and, while letting her gaze roam across the seemingly abandoned greenery with awe, felt herself reminded of The Secret Garden. The whole area was not the cared for, proper place she was used from Malfoy Manor, but the wild growth had a certain imposing quality to it, a concept. As if the garden itself didn't dare yet to take back control from its previous owners, instead tasting the freedom to stretch and prosper with quiet excitement. Nature had nothing if not time.

When they walked past a hip-high brick wall overhung with especially impressive roses, every flower bigger than Hermione's fist and of such a deep red it had to have jumped straight out of a fairytale, she was filled with the longing to roam across the perimeter to catch a glance at all the secret wonders hidden inside the Black grounds. But one glance at Bellatrix told her that her interest would stay a dream.

The grip her girlfriend still had around her arm was tight enough to bruise.

"Bella... you're hurting me," Hermione gently mentioned, watching how the white-faced, pinched face twitched as if returning to reality, dropping the appendage as if burned.

That the raven haired woman didn't even think about saying sorry or glancing at her companion had a stone of worry drop in the brunette's stomach.

It definitely was not a good idea to come here.

Before she could stop Bellatrix and turn them back around, they had reached the big, wooden doors at the end of a stone stairwell, now standing beneath a projecting roof that cut away their view upwards. There was no second of hesitation as the rightful daughter of the house wound her hand around the door knocker and slammed it against the material with all her might, the magically enhanced sound resonating harshly throughout the whole house.

The door was opened slowly only seconds after, a small house elf glancing at them with his characteristic big eyes. He had the hunched, submissive stance years of dismissed, likely even abused servantry taught you and the mere sight angered Hermione beyond measure.

"Yes? What is your issue, Misses?"

"I am Bellatrix Black, so step aside, elf, and let us in," the older woman hissed, but her temper and simmering anger was not directed at the helpless creature. At the mention of the name, the house elf jumped aside immediately and the pure-blood rushed inside.

Hermione followed with a weak smile that the servant didn't even seem to register, staring blankly at the guests. Her girlfriend's rushed steps echoed in the great hall they stepped into, high heels clicking against a mosaic ground made from white and black marble. Two grand staircases curled themselves upward to the next floor, one of them almost twice the size of the one she had used in Malfoy Manor. There were dark wood panels on every wall that served to hide the cold stone behind them, as well as great, striking tapestries depicting scenes of long gone times as well as what Hermione could identify as the Black family crest. Most of the large windows were hidden behind thick curtains that swallowed the little light from the outside, leaving the candles of a chandelier the size of a small room to lighten the murky inside. Most distinctive was the smell, a dusty fragrance that drove home the centuries people had lived inside of here and the fact that now there was only little of said life left.

It was only now that she realized Bellatrix had not moved any further than the middle of the room.

"What is it, Buckle? Who is visiting us now? It is not even time for tea with-..." the brittle voice of an aged lady questioned with the air of someone used to snapping out orders with harshness and the cold dignity of a noble woman. It reminded Hermione of Narcissa and how she would sound thirty years from now if she was a little less even-tempered. The line was cut off before she could find more similarities, as the woman had stepped into the room from a side door and started a deeply shocked staring match with her offspring.

"You," the Lady Black uttered breathlessly and her proper mask cracked for a moment to show the naked dismay in her features. "What-..." she stuttered out when she saw how young the other woman had become.

"It is your daughter, Miss Bellatrix, Your Ladyship," Buckle added dutifully, even though he had to be quite aware it was redundant, but not caring anyway at the same time. He vanished with a plop, knowing he was not needed anymore.

"Yes, me," Bellatrix drawled and the look on her face was the same as when she looked at someone leagues beneath her standing. The disdain was clear. "Same old Bella... mostly."

Lady Black folded her shaking hands before her stomach and grabbed one tightly with the other. While she repaired her immaculate mask and stared at her daughter, Hermione used the chance to look the other woman up and down.

The widow had to be around seventy, but there were more lines in her face than any woman her age should have. Despite her dark eyes and once dark brown, now turned light gray hair, the resemblance to Narcissa was the strongest at first glance, heightened due to the ramrod stiff posture and the strict bun of her hair. Thin as a stick, she was dressed in dark, fine clothes from neck to toe, most likely wearing a dress which alone was worth more than all of Hermione's jewelry combined. But it was her empty expression, combined with the simmering glare of anger in those sharp eyes, that had Hermione suspect she was in for the worst meeting with a pure-blood she ever had had. This was not just old money, but a descendant of one of the oldest generations as well.

"You are not welcome in this home anymore, Bellatrix. I told you in very clear terms I never want to see you touch these grounds ever again," Druella spat, the pale skin of her cheek tinted with red spots as her anger rose. "Leave immediately, or..."

"Or what? You'll throw me out of the house? The house elves still accept me as one of their mistresses and I can't take your sorry excuse of what you call duelling serious, so don't even bother getting out your wand," was the unimpressed reply. The raven haired woman looked as nasty as she had when they met in Malfoy Manor for the first time and for a second it was easy to forget the loving woman she had turned into these last weeks.

"You dare to speak to me like this in my own home?" The indignant hiss slowly turned into a roar that echoed in the large hall. "You insolent brat, you are no blood of mine!" Then the noble woman seemed to remember that they weren't alone and her lightless, empty eyes, glazed over with a sheen of cold fury, snapped over to Hermione. When she registered whom she was seeing, her whole face transformed into a mask of disgust.

"A Mudblood! Such taint in this sacred manor! Get out this instant, you filthy monstrosity, or I will make sure the elves can carry your dirty flesh out with the rubbish-..." Druella had drawn a dark, simple wand from her sleeve while her hysteric shouts had the young woman flinch back in shock, but the Black matriarch never got the chance to use it. Bellatrix had shot forward with almost inhuman speed.

"You will not touch her, mother!" The screech drowned out the elder woman's voice easily as she grabbed the outstretched wrist. Druella now got to experience first hand the full strength of her daughter's ruthless grip, as she let the short wand drop to the floor with a wince, her face taking on a deathly white sheen at the pain.

For a second, Hermione could only stare wordlessly, not only because of Bellatrix's handling of her own flesh and blood, but because god, this was her mother. The woman that had given birth to her, raised her, that had turned away wordlessly all the times her love had suffered from Cygnus' brutal hand. Instead of the anger she had expected to return full force, Hermione felt sick to the stomach. Turning a blind eye to abuse was almost as bad as the act itself and this woman had done so for decades.

"If you dare to lay even one spell on her, I will make sure you regret it for the rest of your pathetic life," Bellatrix hissed and the brunette imagined how the bones between those white knuckled fingers ground together.

Druella groaned from the ache, but her pride won out. "Unhand me, you beast!"

"Call me all the names you want, but Hermione is off limits. Are we clear?" When the matriarch just snarled, Bellatrix ripped at the arm in her grip until the other woman nearly fell down to her knees. "I said, are we clear?"

"Do what you came for and then leave! I never want to see your face again, you are not my child!" she retorted, but there was a tremble of fear in her self-righteous tone, most likely remembering it wouldn't be the first time that the eldest daughter used lethal force against her own flesh and blood. It was the mental equivalent to an animal cowering beneath its stronger counterpart, not yet daring to whimper for mercy but already close to submission.

With a noise of contempt, the former Death Eater released the appendage and even from a few feet away Hermione could see the angry red bruise that was forming on the wrist that the widow now pressed to her bosom, her gaze spewing fire and brimstone. She refused to gaze at Hermione again, instead deciding to ignore her like a speck of dirt on the ground.

"Come on, you heard her Ladyship," Bellatrix mocked, not stopping the war of wills she had with her mother, who returned her stare in a hateful match. "My former room is right on the first floor."

Hermione took the hint, not needing a second invitation. Quickly following her girlfriend up the stairs, she could feel Druella's revulsion on her skin like acid, clinging to her until they were out of sight. Only then did she acknowledge the slight tremble in her own body.

"Bella-..."

"Not now," the other woman growled and the tension rolled off of her in thick waves.

They followed the floor and everything was dark, dusty, old. Still too wrapped up into the happenings downstairs, Hermione had no eye for details and so the walls went past her in a blur. Murmuring and disapproving glances was something that pierced her haze and she walked more quickly past the dozens of portraits lining the floor.

"We're here," came the subdued mutter and then there was a hand around her wrist, soft and gentle now after the aggressive display before, but with a withheld strain in her tendons. Only when they were in the room, the door safely shut behind them, did Bellatrix visibly ease up. "Welcome to my sanctuary. I call him Colin."

Blinking first at the older witch, then at the chamber itself, the brunette became aware of two things. First was the large open space, the area dominated by a king-sized bed with a moss-green canopy and a wall covered entirely with one huge wardrobe. There was an impressive bookcase on the other side as well as a heavy desk. All of the wood was dark and beautifully carved, almost life-like.

The second thing was the fact that the room was indeed alive.

"What is this?" Hermione gasped out in astonishment as she saw loose pieces of wood, panels, tapestries and cloth dance and stretch languidly in their direction, as far as they could reach. There was subtle movement in the whole chamber, as if welcoming their former master back into her realm.

"Magic I accidentally set free when I was eight or nine," the pure-blood explained, lazily trailing a hand over the wall's carvings and watching them shiver excitedly in reaction, almost like the rippling surface of a pond. "I had a bad fight with my father and fled into my room and when he tried to break down the door, my fear and anger did the rest. Since then, I was safe in here. Colin isn't sentient though. The material simply reacts to my presence, my emotions."

"Amazing," was all the brunette could reply as she watched the surroundings move in a magnetic pull to the woman. She wondered what the room would do if someone tried to force their way in, threatening to harm its mistress. Even though the air smelled like dust and disuse, there was no thick sheen on the furniture, so she suspected 'Colin' allowed the house elves to do their work in here. "Why Colin?"

"I think it was from a book I read at the time. I don't remember which one."

Bellatrix had reached the bookcase and let her fingertips touch the leathery bindings of the tomes filling every space. It was clear she had loved to read as a child and considering her family, it was no wonder the raven haired woman had loved to spent time alone in her unique room, seeking refugee in the world of imagination.

Watching the older witch stand before her belongings with an unreadable face, Hermione felt her eyes burn with a sudden onslaught of emotion for the tortured woman. Quickly reducing the space between them, she carefully pulled at the shoulder beneath the curls and turned her around, thankful that Bellatrix didn't push her away when she hugged herself close to a leather clad middle.

The pure-blood released a soft, weary sigh and curled an arm around Hermione, pressing her lips and nose to that spot behind the taller witch's ear. Whatever comfort she appeared to find there, the younger woman could feel some of the tension seep from her lover's muscles, if not nearly enough.

But in this place, this space filled with terrible memories of a helpless, abuse-filled youth, every respite she could give Bellatrix was worth it.

"Let's get those diaries and then leave, okay? I don't want to stay any longer and I'm sure you're not much happier here," Hermione offered with a weak smile, squeezing her lover close for a moment.

A laughed huff was the immediate reaction. "Happy? I don't think I've ever been happy in this house. Come on." Untangling herself, Bellatrix threw a handful of books down on the ground without care, reaching deeper and producing two leather bound, well-worn notebooks that she pressed into Hermione's hand.

Resisting the urge to look inside right now, she quickly stuffed them inside her magic bag. "Anything else you want to take with you?"

"No. I'd burn the whole room to the ground if it hadn't given me shelter from my father for so long." Despite her words, the former Death Eater walked over to the large wardrobe and ripped the doors open. The clothes in there, all dresses, didn't seem much different from Bellatrix's current style, but there were more hints of dark green, lilac and deep blue. These days black was all the older woman tended to wear. One second later, the doors were slammed shut again and Bellatrix turned to leave the room behind. "Let's get out of here, I can't stand the stench of this house any longer."

Hermione hurried to keep up when her girlfriend breezed out of the door and into the hallway. The atmosphere felt oppressive, thick, as if the walls itself had taken over the former house keeper's form of control and sought to leech the strength and energy of every living being setting foot inside. It made it hard to breathe and kept your senses alert, forcing yourself to look over your shoulder at watchers that seemed to lurk in the shadows behind your back. From the distance the pounding of rain echoed in the hallway and this time the sound wasn't as soothing as the storm of her first night with Bellatrix had been. It was the steady drumming noise of subliminal danger.

"We're letting ourselves out," the Black daughter decided in a no-nonsense tone that her surroundings evoked in her. "If I hear my mother making another thoughtless comment, I'm not going to guarantee we are getting out of here bloodl-..."

"Well, well," a snide, cool voice rolled into the corridor, the sound of it making every hair on Hermione's body stand up. In front of her, Bellatrix had frozen to a full stop. "So my eyes didn't deceive me. The lost child has returned."

From the quick, violent tremble that ran through the older woman's frame, Hermione had a good idea what was awaiting her on the other side. And sure as daylight, when she leaned around her lover's frame, she could see the portrait hanging in a shadowy alcove beside the stairs.

Cygnus Black III, with his handsome, cutting smile and soulless gaze, starring at them from inside the framework. He had the same attractive aura of terror and charisma that Bellatrix so easily wielded.

"Bella, it's just a portrait. It's not really him-..." she tried to whisper quickly into a pale ear, but not only did the other woman obviously not hear her, but her voice was also tuned out by another.

"I'm not sure why you are still setting foot into my mansion, Bellatrix. It seems murdering your own father in cold blood wasn't enough to keep you out, was it?"

"Quiet!" the dark-haired woman hissed, taking an intimidating step forward to the calm posture of her parent. The picture was so life-like it was shocking, but Hermione remembered Dumbledore and how she had talked to him in the Headmaster office and she knew there was no way to keep picture and real person apart. "You deserved what you got, I don't have to listen to you anymore-.."

"You are quiet when I speak, daughter," Cygnus interrupted and he didn't even have to shout to make his voice overpowering. The strength of his character was suffocating. "My death doesn't free you from your blood duty and from what I heard downstairs, you have broken most ancient rules by bringing filth into this blessed home. You are a shame, Bellatrix. A shame to your family and all your ancestors. Not that I didn't expect you to be already."

Hermione didn't need to see her girlfriend's face to see how livid the other woman was getting. It was in her stance, the curling of her fingers, it was filling the very air around them. Despite all of this, she couldn't help the swell of her heart when Bellatrix shifted her body as if to shield the younger woman from the maiming words dripping from her father's oil-painted tongue.

"I give shit above the Black ancestry, you bastard. Talk all you want, I'm not listening to you anymore, or any of the lies you told me, Dromeda and Cissy for years. I made sure you can't touch us anymore."

"Oh, dearest Bella, you can tell yourself that all you want," he went on and the curl of his lips was a spitting image of the eldest Black daughter during her worst times.

God, she really became him. And she never saw it.

"But the reality is, I made all of you. You were my gift to the world, and sadly only sweet Cissy turned out to be of any worth. I had such high hopes for you, darling, but you turned out to be even more worthless than your escaped sister."

"Watch it, father, or I will make a nice pyre with your ugly portrait as kindling," Bellatrix spat, now just a foot away from the moving picture. But her rage and threats didn't impress the blonde man in the least and why should it? Hermione knew the other woman couldn't win this contention and had already been reduced to empty intimidation, because she knew the pure-blood was capable of better arguments than what was spilling forth from her. "What are you going to do? Beat me? Starve me? Use the Cruciatus Curse? Your powerless, old man, and I'm young again. Free."

"As if I or anyone else would want to touch your barren body, young or not." A harsh laugh echoed through the floor and there was a crackle in the air when the magic in Bellatrix started to loose control. From the way she clutched her wand hard enough to grind it to dust between her fingers, something bad was going to happen soon.

And Hermione had no idea how to stop it.

"All those years I couldn't even find a proper husband for you, no wonder you had to reduce yourself to this dirt. It's where you belong, my child, as you always did. I was too nice, giving you shelter and food for half of your life, even though you should have shared the shed with the dogs - but even my beautiful animals were too good for you-..."

"Shut your mouth!", his daughter screamed and there was a loud crack, the ceiling showing a large fissure a second later. A picture to the side went up in flames and the brunette jumped when the stair railing beside her splintered. "I am better than you, scumbag, and I did the world a favour by ridding it of you! You will never speak to me that way again, don't you dare!"

"Oh poor, deluded Bella," Cygnus replied with a vacant heart, speaking no louder than the rain outside and with eyes that wreaked destruction in his child's soul. Ripping apart months of progress with a few words and a cutting smile. "How about you take a look in the mirror and become aware of your tiny, malformed being, hm? A pretty face can't hide it all. So crude only a Mudblood could want you at this point."

Bellatrix's screech was loud enough to shake the foundations of the manor; walls, tapestries and pictures erupting into flames and reduced to cinder under the magical onslaught that streamed from an out of control pure-blood. The Black patriarch's portrait started sizzling and amidst his relaxed, mocking chuckles one of the corners started to burn with a green fire. The banister burst into splinters at a flick of the older woman's wand when she stormed down the stairs with an unknown destination in mind.

Hermione, white-faced and deeply troubled at this display of madness, went after her in a heartbeat. Before she was past the frame, she threw a look at Cygnus and recognized the look on his face so easily it struck her down to the deepest recess of her mind. This was what being a pure-blood did to you, just that his eyes weren't black, but ice-blue. Broken. Empty. Crazed.

Another violent scream had her head snap back at the entryway and run twice as hard after her lover.

The door to the garden had been thrown wide open and from the apparition sounds all around, the house-elves had begun to take care of the disaster in the burning hallway, but Hermione rushed out into the horrible weather and tried to make out the silhouette of the pure-blood that was mad with anger. Only Bellatrix mattered right now.

"Bella! Bella, stop!"

There was no answer, but Hermione could finally see the staggering frame through the haze of rain. It had already been late when they had reached Black Manor, but now the twilight made it even harder to see, yet the bad light didn't keep her eyes from catching how the older woman sliced up the garden left and right with her wand, while her free hand clutched at her head. There were growls and screeches, interrupted by curses and heavy breathing. Bellatrix was out of control in her vague stumble to the gates.

Even though she was aware that in this moment even her own life was in danger when she got close to Bellatrix in that state, the brunette didn't care much. The water was already seeping through her clothes, but her eyes were fixed on the woman she loved as she hurried forward.

"Bella..." she repeated more softly, almost desperate, and reached out for the older woman's raised forearm.

With a violent howl, Bellatrix turned around and moved her arm in a harsh slap for whoever tried to stop her. It was only her quick reflexes that kept Hermione from taking the full brunt, but she had forgotten the wand that now scratched her skin harshly from temple to cheek. The pain carried with that move had her gaze blur with tears, but she was so focused on the other woman that she ignored it and hurled herself forward, into the opening.

Clinging to the pure-blood with both arms, a struggle ensued as Bellatrix tried to free herself from the other woman that she clearly didn't recognize in her madness. "No! No!" Trying to scramble away from her captor, the older witch let out another angered scream that pierced Hermione down to her bones.

"Shhh, it's okay, it's okay," Hermione muttered right against her lover's temple, forgetting the pulsing of her own face, instead repeating her soothing noises and words and turning the struggle into a gentle rocking from side to side. "It's me, my sweet. He's gone, he can't hurt you anymore. Everything is okay."

Bellatrix tried to rip herself away one last time, then was quiet for a moment before a shout grew in her lungs that was so unlike her usual high shrieks. Instead it was born from a dark place deep, deep inside, beginning low and wailing and ending on a note so full of broken desperation and hopelessness, Hermione had to bite her trembling lip to keep the tears from spilling over. Her girlfriend grew completely limp after that, nearly dropping to the ground if the brunette had not held her so close. Weak fingers clawed themselves into the back of her jacket and Bellatrix began shuddering so hard the young woman was scared Bellatrix might be unable to breathe anymore.

Out, we need to get out of here. Right now.

The gates were not far, so Hermione dragged herself and her precious package towards them as quickly as she could. Afraid they wouldn't open for her at least that problem was solved when the leaves and stems curled away to make space for them when they were still a few feet away. Pushing them both through she couldn't apparate them back fast enough.

It wasn't raining in front of Malfoy Manor and Hermione had never expected to be so relieved to see the iron gates and the familiar building. Not taking any time to do charms for warmth or dryness, she clutched her lover closer and hurried them to the doors, the other woman following her movements almost mechanically. Like a puppet whose strings had been cut. The total lethargy after the rough outburst only minutes ago scared her.

"Bella?... Hermione? What happened?" In the entrance hall, Narcissa stared at them with wide eyes, especially when her older sister wound herself out of Hermione's grip and breezed up the stairs. Her face was hidden behind a mess of black, dripping curls. "What's wrong with Bella?"

"It's my fault," Hermione blurted out, dragging a hand through her wet hair. "It was my idea to visit our homes and I should have known this would backfire-..."

"You were at Black Manor?" Narcissa snapped with disbelief and shock, blue eyes on fire in an instant. Even though she came more after her mother, after meeting the widow more than ever in Hermione's subjective vision, the distinct coloring had the brunette nearly flinch after the recent encounter with Cygnus. "Are you completely mad? You know what problems my sister faced there in the past!"

"I know." Hermione groaned, rubbing her face and wincing at the pain in her cheek. "Look, please scold me later, okay? I really need to look after her right now."

"Maybe I should-..."

"Narcissa, please," she interrupted the blonde and wasn't sure who was more surprised at the use of the first name, her or Lady Malfoy. Then again, with Bellatrix and her dating, they were family in an awkward, let's-think-about-this-later kind of way. "I know she is your sister, but I think I need to look after her myself. I managed to calm her down and-... we need to talk about it."

The youngest Black was undecided, alternating her stare between the stairs, the floor and Hermione. It pained her to let someone else to do the work, with her being Bellatrix's closest sibling and having taken care of her for so long. But the progress the older woman had made these last months was undeniable - and the Muggle-born was the reason for that.

Reluctantly, Narcissa pulled the shawl across her shoulders tighter and took a step back. "Fine. I will stay away. But I will talk to her tomorrow and if something is wrong, don't hesitate to find me." Compassion and love for her sibling shimmered in her eyes and all at once Hermione knew Cygnus' words had been lies. Narcissa was not in any way like her parents. She had freed herself from that fate.

"Thank you," Hermione breathed and amazed them both again by stepping forward and quickly squeezing the blonde's arm in an expression of gratitude, before running up the stairs to her loved one, taking two at a time in her haste.

She only needed to follow the wet puddles on the ground to find out that Bellatrix had run to her own room. Was it really the best idea to go to her now? Maybe it was better to give her space than to confront her in such a mood.

Lifting a hand to her wound, Hermione became aware that if she stayed behind, she would only do what everyone else had done for the last forty years by deeming Bellatrix too much to handle.

No. She would not leave her girlfriend alone with this.

Knocking softly on the closed door and, of course, not receiving an answer, she pushed the door open and gazed into the darkened room. "Bella? It's me."

There was a rustling in the room, but if the eldest Black had heard her, she gave no sign. Carefully pressing herself through the gap into the chamber and closing the door with a subdued click, Hermione gazed at the other woman almost swallowed by the shadows.

A wet pile of clothes was lying in a messy heap on the ground, the doors to the large wardrobe opened in several places. Bellatrix herself had donned a large, plush robe in the deepest black that hung from her frame almost two times too large. Even though the brunette could only see her back, the once so aggressive woman, larger than life in most situations and out of this world in every other, appeared child-like and frail in the garb.

"Look, what happened back in Black Manor-..."

"Your cheek. Is it badly hurt?"

Hermione bit her lip at the tone in her lover's voice. Even though the question was a thoughtful one, Bellatrix sounded... hollow. Tired. As if distracted and not quite here, for if she returned fully to reality, she couldn't bear the hurt it would rain on her.

"It's fine. It was an accident, I can heal it later," she answered, trying to swallow past the lump in her throat. The flesh below the wound was starting to swell, but she ignored it. Her clothes were still drenched, but it mattered even less.

Bellatrix stood unmoving in front of her dresser for several seconds, then she turned and dragged herself over to the large bed. Her movements were jerky, automatic, as if her body was weighed down by something heavy and made it impossible for her to walk straight. Pushing herself away from the door, the younger woman followed after her, watching with concern how the pure-blood crawled into the middle of the bed to sit there sprawled in a puddle of cloth, limbs and nothingness.

When Hermione caught a glimpse of the older witch's face in the spare light of the darkening sky, she felt the tears spill over. Black eyes were dull, blank and below them the skin had sagged in dark circles. There were lines on her face a nearly 25 year old body shouldn't have and it shockingly made her look like the woman freshly freed from Azkaban, as if all those last months had just been a waking dream gone by without mark. Not even her robe was completely closed, only carelessly wrapped around her alabaster frame and surrounded by rain-drenched, messy curls.

If Bellatrix couldn't cry about this, then Hermione would do it for her.

Seating herself next to her lover's side, Hermione reached out for the older woman's limp hand, gently enclosing the cold fingers with her own. "Bella... please talk to me."

Full lips opened and closed a few times as if formed words weren't given enough air to be spoken. A dark gaze was looking at something beyond Hermione's reach.

"He's right, you know," Bellatrix's low, scratchy voice husked into quiet room. "I'm a shame. I'm crude. I'm worthless. Not only for the Black family, but for the world."

"You're not-..."

"Voldemort made me feel like I was worth something. But when he changed... it all was like before. I didn't care anymore. When I searched for someone to make the Unbreakable Vow with me, I thought about my sister or McGonagall, but they were in the Great Hall and unreachable. I contemplated going back... but something made me turn right instead of left and I ran into you." The raven-haired woman raised her hand, rubbing a spot on her forehead that told of the violent tempest going on in her head, hidden from the world around her. "I should have turned left. I shouldn't be here, Hermione. I should have turned left."

"No. No, you shouldn't! You are here, alive, and that's the right way, because you belong here with me," Hermione argued with conviction. "This is exactly how it should be."

"You are the only one who would argue that." The words were so quiet, if the brunette had not concentrated on them, they would have gone lost in the night.

Anger flared in her stomach and she pushed forward, laying a hand on the pure-blood's shoulder and digging her fingertips in the cloth to feel something real of her girlfriend. Something solid and strong. But even the muscle beneath the robe were slack. "I'm not, Bella, and you know that. And even if I was," she pressed out, not able to hide a sob, "I should be the one that counts."

"If you weren't connected to me by the Vow-..." the same quiet voice went on and it didn't fit Bellatrix, didn't fit her at all and it drove Hermione into a rage against the injustice of it all.

"Don't you dare to even think about that! You said you love me!"

"I do! And don't you think it makes it all worse?" the other woman replied and it was full of despair. "You make me care, Hermione. You make me think about me, about all I've done and I can't love and stay who I was all these years at the same time! I survived all this because I didn't care. How can I survive now, how can I live with myself, when I feel so much?!"

Desperate, Hermione began stroking her lover's hair, touching her temple and cheek and trying to convey she was there for it all, even though it was made harder because Bellatrix kept rocking back and forth and had a hand pressed against her forehead. "You're not alone in this, Bella. I'm here, you know that. And Narcissa is there and I know for a fact that Andromeda never stopped loving you, so please don't give up like that when you can come to us."

"But you're not here!" the other woman suddenly screamed out and turned her crazed face towards Hermione, eyes so wide the white around the iris shone in the dark. She had her fingers pushed against her temples, pointing, hurting. "I'm alone in here! It doesn't matter what this-," she pounded a fist against her chest, "-feels, because in here everything is drowned out! And even though you have managed to calm them sometimes, Hermione, you can't be here every waking moment, every second, every bloody heartbeat to ensure it won't drive me off the edge!"

Sudden clarity exploded in Hermione's mind like a crack of lightning as she gazed at the frantic woman and she reached out, prying Bellatrix's fingers away from her face. She stared deeply into the dark eyes, flickering sometimes as if seeing her one moment and not the next. It caused her to make a decision.

"Then let me in."

Bellatrix made a keening, frustrated sound, pressing it out between clenched teeth. "I tried, Merlin, you don't know how I tried to change this for you. I haven't tried anything else for all my fucking life!"

"No, you don't understand," Hermione hushed, laying a hand behind Bellatrix's neck and the other against the uncovered skin above her lover's frantic heart. "Let me into your mind and you will see I'm there for you, no matter where you are. You are stronger than this and the Screams and your father won't control you forever."

Panic spread across the dark-haired woman's features. "No. Absolutely not. You got a taste of them in Hogwarts, they will rip you apart if you try."

"I trust you, Bella. You won't hurt me, not unless you can help it."

"Don't you listen to me?! I can't control them! Hermione, just look at your face! I hurt you and I will hurt you again if you try this and there is nothing I can do to change it," Bellatrix howled, her distress evident. "Forget this madness, please, I beg you."

Kissing a dark brow, Hermione mumbled against the skin, "Forget the cheek... it's nothing. I am not doing this without your consent, I swear. But we need to get to the bottom of your torment and I believe this is a way for you to heal the Screams, heal yourself. You are the one who created them, so you are the only one who can do something against them. It's your own magic."

"No..." Bellatrix moaned in pain, then pressed her face against Hermione's collarbone, as if she could physically push her away from this suggestion. "Please, forget this."

But the brunette wouldn't be deterred. Sometimes pain was needed to clean out the wound and catharsis couldn't be reached without experiencing everything, even the worst. "Tell me why your father beat you that day."

"What?" Anger. Emotion was good, it would keep Bellatrix from retreating again, even if it hurt at the moment. The pure-blood had reared back and was glaring at her girlfriend with indignation.

"Please tell me about that memory, when he dragged you outside. You never told anyone, right?"

"I'm not going to-..." Bellatrix started, snapping at the younger woman. But in the middle of her sentence she realized how serious Hermione appeared to be and she knew the topic would come up again. And again. It already did every time the Screams acted up. Clenching her teeth together, the former Death Eater bowed forward, curling into herself and dragging clawed hands through her hair to get just one moment of sweet silence into her head. That day.

Soft hands followed her wherever she went, petting black curls and caressing unhidden skin. Bringing warmth to the places that always felt so cold.

"I was... I was seven. Maybe eight. Several things happened together at that day and-... I remember I had just finished a book that was supposed to be filled with questionable content for the Wizarding World and my father and I had had a fight the day before about what would be expected of a proper pure-blood daughter. In the morning a letter... two letters were delivered to the house. It was... bad luck they arrived at the same time."

Draping herself around the cowering woman, Hermione nuzzled a tense shoulder with her nose. "What was in it?"

"One was from Walburga Black, my aunt." It was unnecessary to mention that it was Sirius' mother, as Hermione was quite familiar with the family tree in Grimmauld Place. "She had the delightful news that she was pregnant with a boy... the first son in the Black family, considering father had only sired three daughters. It's understandable he was angry about that."

No, it's not understandable. Cygnus should have been happy for his sister. He had three wonderful daughters and yet all the noble families care for are male offspring... how backwards. But she didn't dare interrupt Bellatrix's hoarse retelling, instead offering comfort with her presence.

"The second one... the second one was..." There were long pauses, stagnated with heavy breathing. The older woman was quite upset and the brunette clutched her close. "The other letter was from an examination I had gone through the week before. It's standard, just a magical check-up to see if everything is all right, but this time everything was not all right. They wrote the... the chance of me getting children one day was very, very low. It had him snap. He got so angry with me and I argued back and then he just... he dragged me outside and... screamed at me how I was so useless and he wouldn't be able to marry me off and then he beat me. And when he forced himself into my head as well, I couldn't take it anymore."

Hermione found herself shocked into silence, but ruthlessly forced her thoughts into order. That's why she got married only when Voldemort arranged it. Why Cygnus called her barren. What was one supposed to say to something like that? Finding the words tumbling from her lips, she didn't even realize what she said. "Don't worry , it'll be okay-..."

"It will not be okay!" Bellatrix shouted, ripping herself away and staring at the brunette with angry, burning eyes, coal black like a deep, bottomless hole. "It will never be okay! Don't you understand that? He made me the way I am and I can't get rid of this!"

"No, you will be okay. One day, it will be better," the brunette murmured back decidedly, trying to reach out again for her lover, but felt her hands pushed away.

"Stop it! There are things you can't change, okay? You need to understand that! I can't change! I can't be changed! I may love you, but it won't keep me from wanting to watch the world burn!"

She was talking herself into a rage again, that much was clear. Deciding on taking action, Hermione reached out again, and again, with utmost gentleness and care, without hurry, to capture the other woman in a hug. But Bellatrix was screaming at her and evading her and pushing back, getting angrier with every time that the brunette wasn't deterred from her goal.

Fed up and with a cry of rage, Bellatrix whipped up her arm in a striking pose, ready to slap Hermione across her still unmarred cheek. The young woman never stopped gazing at her lover's black eyes, never flinched, didn't even move to counter the blow she could see coming a mile away.

But the slap never connected.

More than halfway to Hermione's frame Bellatrix had stilled her arm, her fingers splayed when the strength left them. The whole appendage was shaking and showed the inner fight the older woman was dealing with in her mind, all the anger, hopelessness, vulnerability and more reflected in her widened pupils.

"See," she whispered barely, her words breaking. "See, I'm still that being. I'm still her."

"She would have already slapped the living daylights out of me," Hermione replied just as quietly and finally moved forward all the way, pressing her lips against those of the older woman in light kisses. "She would never have stopped. The Screams can't control you anymore, Bella, because you are so much more now. You can't let your past control you any longer, because you have a future ahead of you. A second chance."

The brunette heard the thump when the raven-haired woman's weakened arm hit the mattress. Another kiss was pressed against a cold, unresponsive mouth.

"I'm so confused, Hermione," Bellatrix whimpered, her breath mingling with that of the younger woman's. "I don't even know who I am anymore."

Hermione smiled against the other woman's skin, her hand playing with those delightful curls falling across her shoulders. "Do we ever know that? We are what we decide we are, my sweet. You always had that strength... it's what I always admired about you, even way back then."

Drawing back a little, she watched as black eyes flickered, softened. Finally taking the time to whisper a charm, she let a hand-sized blue flame come to life in the cusp of her hand and sent it flying to one of the bed-posts before drying her clothes with a quick spell, also erasing the cold that had started to settle in her whole body. When she looked up again, her breath was stolen by the display in front of her.

Bellatrix was still sitting in the middle of the bed, still wrapped in her inadequately closed terrycloth robe. What white skin could be seen shone like a puppet's, paleness enhanced tenfold by the eerie blue light. And the look on her face, the way she looked at her girlfriend... mouth slightly opened, still shining from Hermione's engrossed kisses and with eyes as deep as the universe.

She would never let go of this beautiful creature.

Surging forward and leaving her wand behind, Hermione wrapped her hands in the thick lapels of her lover's garment and pulled her forward, capturing her in another heated meeting of their lips. This time Bellatrix unfroze and reciprocated, opened up and deepened their connection. When lack of oxygen forced them apart, the brunette's fingers stroked the moving clavicles before her.

"I won't ever do something you really don't want me to," she said, hoping the other woman would understand. "I want you to let me in, but I will never force you. Ever. The first time it happened, it was inadvertent, I swear."

"I believe you," the pure-blood murmured against the skin of her neck. There was a long pause and a nip against her pulse point. "I don't trust myself."

"Then trust in me, Bella."

Honey brown eyes widened when the dark head surged upwards, staring at the brunette. The little blue spot of the flame reflected in them, sending them dancing together with the myriad of emotions flickering inside. "You-... are you willing to lay your mental health on the line for this?"

Hermione let out a small laugh, glancing down to where their knees touched above the sheets in a sudden bout of coyness. "Haven't I done so from the beginning?"

"You are unbelievable." A cold hand caressed her heated, injured cheek, cupping the angry red flesh with the surprising gentleness she had come to associate with the former Death Eater. "You are absolutely, maddeningly unbelievable." The sentence was filled with affection as Bellatrix pressed her forehead against her lover's.

"Is that another reason you didn't want me to touch you during my first time? Because you were scared of hurting me?"

A weak chuckle. "I'm always scared of hurting you. And as I said before, I wanted the night to be about you and only you. I have so much to make up to you."

"No, you don't," Hermione countered. "I forgave you a long time ago or I wouldn't be here right now."

Bellatrix released a shuddering breath against her temple at these words, kissing the corner of her mouth in absolute reverence. "Do you know how it's done? The spell?"

The brunette's heart skipped a beat at that. "You mean..."

"Yes. I... I will let you in. I'll try, for you and only you."

Hermione couldn't believe her ears. She thought that it would take weeks, months, maybe even years for the pure-blood to go this last step and face her fears of letting someone in - in that way. I knew it, I knew you are strong, Bella. I know you can do it and beat this. She knew there was a smile on her face that lit up her whole features and she took her time to show her appreciation of Bellatrix's decision. It involved a lot of tongue and the petty theft of breath.

"I'll make sure you won't regret this," the brunette whispered into her lover's ear and felt the resulting shiver when one of her hands traveled lower and stroked across a soft breast. "If it's okay for you."

Bellatrix hummed her approval when Hermione began to shove the robe of her shoulders before she reached backwards for her forgotten wand.

It was time to put her multitasking skills to test.


And here we are again! On the brink of frustration! Ooooh, I can already feel the backlash of stopping this here... *shudders*

I am amused (and also very relieved and glad) to some of the reactions to Hermione's first time. I think you all overestimate the power the werewolf blood has on her. It reduces her inhibitions, yes, but really: Hermione is such a prude and magically becoming a horndog once a month won't change that or the core of her character just because she had one happy time with her lady lover. Hermione will become more relaxed about the topic of sex (and more adventerous), but as with everything, it'll take time. Give the poor girl a chance to explore ;) Revel in her still intact innocence! 'cause with Bellatrix, there is zero chance it'll hold... mwahaha.

I will stop giving any prognosis when I guess the next chapter will be done, because I haven't written anything but notes past this point. I try betting on the holidays, but that's also where I'll try to get my driver's license (family has been pestering me since years), sooo... no clue.

In case we don't see each other until next year: Have a great, lovely Christmas (IT'S MY FAVORITE TIME OF THE YEAR!) and a happy, safe, memorable New Year! Toodles!