A/N: It is an update! And a holiday miracle! I tried to have this done sooner but got really sick and was delayed on finishing the chapter. No, I have not abandoned the story! AND, I never will! YAY! This story will get finished. My life has been an insane roller coaster, during which I experienced the end of a significant part of my life. I have been away and taking the time necessary to heal myself. To everyone who has taken the time to review/favorite/alert… thank you. Seriously. Thank you. It means so much to me. And to everyone who is still reading this story, thank you. You are amazing.
And now, a quick shout out to my support team over the last couple of months: imperfectionisunderrated and my little creeper, Cufe (xoxo). Thank you for riding my ass to get this done. Without you both if wouldn't have gotten finished anytime soon. I am so thankful to have had you both at my side during the hardest time I have ever experienced. You gave me a shoulder to cry on, and friendship in the darkest of times. I will never forget your kindness.
So with that said, here we go!
"And when the night is cloudy,
There is still a light that shines on me,
Shine until tomorrow,
Let it be."
-Let It Be, The Beatles
One third of the Golden Trio had been quivering in a ball at the foot of a four poster bed in the smallest room at Malfoy Manor. For all of her intelligence, Hermione Granger had never anticipated the torture she had received at the hands of Narcissa. The matriarch of the Malfoy family had proven herself to be capable of the same viciousness as her ill-reputed, older sister. Hermione had forced herself into a sitting position as soon as she was able to stop crying. The young girl was confused and emotionally numb, completely unaware of how long she had been slumped on the floor. Her only awareness lay in the complete agony she felt. Even the smallest breath resulted in the painfully awkward feeling of her ribs grinding against one another and shooting pain up her spine.
The moment Hermione heard Bellatrix's door slam shut, her eyes began a desperate search for her wand. Her feeling of relief was a mere hiccup in time upon locating the weapon. The helplessness took hold of her once more as she calculated the seemingly impossible distance from the bed to the chaise, where the wand rested. She squeezed her eyes shut briefly, trying to regain her concentration. She had to stand up, she was certain of that much. Inevitable dread washed over her, like sudden sickness, at the thought of doing so.
The brunette's effort to sit up, without crying out, had been nearly impossible. The strain on her ribs from standing could only be worse. She braced herself to crawl towards the wand, instead, unwilling to stand until absolutely necessary. Her shaky fingers grabbed the hilt of the wand, clenching as tightly as possible. Reaching the wand gave the brunette a feeling of triumph that was imperative to her mental state. With the wand in her control, she at least had some form of protection, should Narcissa decide to return. It did not matter if her skills matched those of the youngest Black sister; only that she felt less afraid and slightly more hopeful with the wand in hand.
Hermione gathered every ounce of willpower she still had and forced herself to stand, attempting to stifle the flowing tears as she did so. She had absolutely no desire to draw any further attention to herself. She knew, before ever casting the first protective charm on her door, that they would not hold. Her trembling and lack of focus was enough to ensure that anyone truly wishing to get inside of the bedroom would be able to do so with little difficulty. The young witch slowly walked back to the chaise, bent over in pain. She felt as though the slightest gust of wind could snap her spine into thousands of pieces.
The Gryffindor reached for something comfortable to wear and cried out as a sharp pain shot through her ribs. In her haste to grip her sides, she accidentally dropped her wand. She watched, with a feeling of defeat, as her only means of protection bounced off of the chaise and rolled onto the floor. She lurched over to the end of the chaise. Pitiful eyes narrowed at the wand below in a silent bid for some sort of compassion. She wished she were better with wandless magic. It felt as though it were entirely beyond her grasp. Hermione held her breath, dreading how painful it would be to reach out for it. She cried out once more as she bent down to grab it.
A loud crack sounded from behind, stopping Hermione in her tracks. Terror coursed through her veins. Time stood still for a flicker of a moment. She had known there was a good possibility that Narcissa would return to finish what she had started, someday. She had even expected it. Still, she had not expected it to be so soon, and was unable to mask her fear at the sudden intrusion. Hermione couldn't stop the tears that formed behind her eyes. In a matter of seconds, she had already managed to run through a lengthy list of atrocities that would be coming her way. She straightened her back slowly, squeezing her eyes shut so that she didn't squeal from the pain. Though she realized that she was about to receive another brutal beating, she refused to give Narcissa the satisfaction of knowing how much pain she had already caused. The action was pointless as a viable defense method but in some small way, it made Hermione feel like she was in control of some aspect of the situation.
The brunette focused on her positive assets; the things that every good, true Gryffindor possessed. Those sorted into the house of Godric Gryffindor were known to be brave and daring. The true Gryffindor was fearless in the face of danger and adversity. Whether she felt it or not, Hermione realized that these were qualities that dwelled somewhere deep within her very being. The younger witch only wished her confidence and bravery didn't come and go so arbitrarily. She swallowed her fear, channeling all of the courage she possibly could and prepared herself for the dismal destiny that would soon be hers. Hermione may have had an incorrigible weakness for the eldest of the Black sister's but weakness ended there. She held none of the care or attachment for Narcissa that she did for Bellatrix and she would not allow the platinum haired witch to break her.
Her paperweight heart held stern as she turned to face tormentor, silence incarnate. Warm, hazel orbs sought icy, blue ones and found none. She quickly looked behind herself, scanning the rest of the room for any signs of the blonde. She turned back as she heard a modest squeak. She immediately filled with relief as she lowered her eyes to the source. Bilby, the small house elf that had been helping her all week, stood in front of her. His small fingers gripped the hem of his tatty shirt anxiously. Hermione was speechless. The tears Hermione had carefully held back released themselves involuntarily. She was so grateful to find a friendly face in front of her that she couldn't help but to cry.
"Bilby is sorry he has made Mistress Hermione cry. Bilby did not mean it!" The tiny elf's eyes started fill with tears at the notion he was responsible for her seeming sadness. Hermione vehemently shook her head.
"No, Bilby" she sniffed, "you didn't make me cry. I promise. I'm just in pain, that's all," she said. She forced a smile to let the sensitive creature know that she had meant what she said. It appeared to have worked. Bilby's eyes lit up and he smiled.
"Oh!" he chirped. "This is why Bilby has come to Mistress Hermione; for her hurts!" Hermione gave the elf a questioning look. Who would send Bilby for me? And how is he supposed to heal me? This is definitely going to require the use of a wand. The elf noticed her confusion and as if he had heard her thoughts, explained things to her.
"Mistress Hermione has been hurt and Mistress Bellatrix has sent Bilby with a message. Mistress Bellatrix wants to heal the hurts if you be willing to let her in the room!" Bilby smiled from ear to ear upon presenting the message.
"What?" she asked, more to herself than anyone else. She looked at Bilby as though he must be mistaken. She found it difficult to believe that the Death Eater had gone out of her way to send the elf at all, let alone to offer her help. "Are you certain?"
"Yes, Bilby has relayed the message exactly as Mistress Bellatrix ordered. Bilby is certain of it!" The elf tugged at his ragged shirt, nervously.
"I-I'm stunned. I can't believe it," she stammered, shaking her head as though trying to wake from a dream. Bilby's silence confirmed that Hermione had, in fact, heard him correctly. She gave an appreciative look, causing the little elf's smile to grow in size.
"I mean, yes. That would be wonderful." She was completely stunned but grateful. "Please tell Bellatrix that I would really appreciate her help." Her ribs ached as she talked, but she barely noticed. Hermione was too consumed with the idea that Bellatrix was willing to do something so out of character, something kind, just for her. "Thank you, Bilby."
The elf gave an exaggeratedly low bow and disapparated. Hermione resumed the difficult task of picking up her wand, groaning from the shooting pain, and released the charms that kept her door locked. She slowly moved back to her bed and sat down, waiting for a glimpse of the raven haired witch that occupied far too many of her daily thoughts. Hermione tried to calm herself, carefully slowing her breathing to help slow her heart rate. Bellatrix would be here any moment now, and the younger witch didn't want to appear too eager for the raven's company. She had just settled in when she heard a quiet knock at her door.
"Come in," she called out. She was surprised at how much it pained her to even speak, but raising her voice had been excruciating. She clutched her sides, as the door opened slowly. Bellatrix came inside and closed the door back, immediately. She pulled her wand out, and for a moment, Hermione forgot the circumstances under which the Death Eater was visiting. She was filled with fear, until Bellatrix turned to face the door. Though she tried to tell herself that Bellatrix had only come to help heal her, it was still difficult to shed the panic she was apt to feel when Bellatrix was near and had her wand out.
Bellatrix silently began casting protective enchantments and charms to keep anyone from entering the room. Hermione felt a sense of relief wash over her, in knowing that the more experienced witch was casting the shielding spells. They would be far better than anything she had managed and would likely have a much better chance of keeping anyone from entering the room. When Bellatrix finished, she turned towards Hermione, lowering her wand.
Hermione noticed her eyes first. She saw, at once, that they were the safe eyes; the human eyes that rarely caused harm. She flinched as she started to speak, but Bellatrix held up a finger to silence her.
"I thought that perhaps I might be able to get some sleep if I wasn't forced to hear you moaning about in the next room," she said flippantly.
That's what this is about? Is she serious? Because she needs her bloody sleep? Shit, it might be the truth, but she could at least have the decency not to say it! Hermione didn't express her opinions on the matter, simply grateful to have the assistance with her healing. The wounds were such that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to be able to heal by herself. She could barely breathe, let alone have to reach behind herself to cast the spells and have them do any good.
"I'm sorry," she said half-heartedly. "I meant to cast a silencing charm." Bellatrix waved her off and walked towards her on the bed. Hermione didn't speak, for fear that the Death Eater might change her mind.
"Well, let's have a look, shall we?" she snarled.
Hermione turned to the side with a grimace and gripped the hem of her shirt, trying to raise it so her wounds could be exposed. She nearly jumped as a warm hand met her lower back. She looked behind her as Bellatrix raised the shirt and examined the bruises. She bit into her lip when the Death Eater's fingers met with a particularly painful bruise, trying to take her mind off of the sensation. Bellatrix raised her wand and began casting the charms silently. Neither woman spoke, as she performed the healing charms.
Hermione felt an incredible warmth flow through her with each injury that was repaired. In very little time, her entire back felt warm and the bruises were gone. Her ribs still felt as though she had been trampled on by a very large elephant, but at least some of the pain was gone. Bellatrix instinctively began feeling the aching ribs for fractures. Hermione shuddered as thin fingers moved closer to the source of the aching. She bit down harder, so as not to whimper, leaving teeth marks along the inside of her lip. She absentmindedly traced the imprints with her tongue, as Bellatrix's digits came to a halt.
Bellatrix's hands lingered over the spot just below her armpit. Hermione prayed that she wouldn't push down, as it was the most painful injury she had. As if sensing it, Bellatrix pressed down, more forcefully than she had any other spot. Hermione could no longer contain herself and cried out. Bellatrix slid her hands further around Hermione's torso, just below her breast. Even through the pain, the brunette couldn't help her mind from wandering. Having the dark witch's hand in such an intimate position made her long for Bellatrix in a way that was indescribable.
She knew that she would likely never experience this moment again, no matter how much she wished it to be otherwise. Hermione made her best attempt at memorizing the way the raven's hands felt on her skin. She had never anticipated Bellatrix's hands to exude such warmth. The Death Eater had always been so cold that it was surprising, to say the very least. It finally confirmed something that, up until that point, Hermione had not been certain of: Bellatrix was, indeed, human.
All too soon, Bellatrix removed her hands. She picked up her wand, pointing it at the most tender spots on Hermione's ribs and began healing those as well. Hermione's pain increased, triple fold, as her bones slowly healed along the fracture lines. Hermione quickly brought her left arm up to her mouth and bit down on a section of skin an inch above her wrist. Her fingers curled into a fist on her shoulder as she clamped her teeth down harder. It was the only solution she could come up with, at the time, to keep from outright screaming. Healing the bruises had seemingly taken no time at all, unlike her ribs. She could actually feel the bones moving against one another as she was healed. It was a feeling Hermione had never felt before and it was absolutely nauseating.
Bellatrix seemed to sense Hermione's oncoming sickness. She set her wand down on the bed, giving the younger witch a temporary reprieve. Hermione finally pried her jaws open and released the arm she had held prisoner. There was a deep, perfect imprint of her teeth embedded into either side of the soft skin, due to the force she had used in biting down on it. It was the only way she had managed to keep from showing the excruciating pain she was in to avoid irritating the Death Eater any further with her crying.
Bellatrix chuckled softly, seemingly at nothing. Hermione turned, confusion written across her face, to look at the raven haired witch. The brunette saw absolutely nothing funny about the situation, and said as much with the look she gave.
"Hungry?" Bellatrix asked with a smirk.
"Well, the way you're eating at your arm, I can only assume you to be absolutely famished," she cackled. Hermione's eyes immediately narrowed on the older woman.
"Hilarious," she replied dryly. The Death Eater silenced her laughter far sooner than she typically would at her own wit.
"Honestly, this is nothing compared to some of the healings I received as a child. I do, however, appreciate you not making a fool of yourself any further with those silly little tears," she said flatly. "They are utterly useless when you think about it."
Hermione wasn't sure how to take the statement. Coming from Bellatrix, it almost sounded like a compliment. Compliments from the older witch were so few and far between, Hermione took it as one and gave a small nod of acknowledgement. A moment later, the raven had called Bilby back into the room.
"How can Bilby serve Mistress Bellatrix?" he squeaked, with a bow.
"Yes, Bilby. If you would, please bring her a pain potion." She paused for a second, in thought. "Bring a sleeping potion as well. That will be all." Bilby bowed again, lower than before, and disapparated. "You look like hell. If I am not much mistaken, you've not slept more than a couple hours in the last few days. The potion will help," she said, feeding Hermione's curious nature before she could speak a word.
"Yes, thank you," Hermione said softly. She was at a loss. It was simple in its nature, but the gesture was one of the kindest she had experienced from the raven.
"And I refuse to be bothered with you crying in here at all hours of the night," she added with a frustrated sigh. "It's unfair to keep the rest of us awake simply because you can't be arsed to use a silencing charm!"
There was a harsh tone to Bellatrix's voice that hadn't been present at all earlier. Her eyes seemed to darken in a flash, and Hermione's defensive guard was raised immediately. The brunette made to apologize for the oversight once again, but the little house elf apparated back into the room before she had the opportunity. Hermione hated that Bilby's interruption had come at that very moment. It was ludicrous, but she felt genuinely sorry for keeping the raven haired witch awake with her pained cries.
Hermione had experienced the memory Bellatrix had given of her childhood. It was amazing to the younger witch. Even as a child, Bellatrix had managed to take a punishment far greater than she had received with little more than a sob. She supposed it was out of habit that Bellatrix was able to keep so quiet but Hermione still felt the slightest bit of guilt that she hadn't handled the pain better.
The elf quickly rushed over with the bottles and handed them to Bellatrix. "Would Mistress Bellatrix be needing anything else from Bilby this evening?" he asked. He was careful to keep his eyes low to the ground. Hermione wondered if the elf hadn't also noticed the change in Bellatrix. Rather than linger as he usually might, making sure he had fulfilled every possible obligation, he tried to exit quickly and quietly. Bellatrix, though short with Hermione, managed to remain kindly to the elf.
"No. Thank you, Bilby. That will be all." The elf need no further instruction, and in a fraction of a second had disappeared. Bellatrix hastily shoved the potion bottles towards Hermione as though they were burning her skin or carried a contagion of epic proportions. The raven's words came out in a rushed jumble of dosing instructions which was nearly unintelligible. The young witch was quite surprised that, given Bellatrix's complete transformation of moods, the Death Eater was able to remain so civil, even kindly, to a creature that most Purebloods looked down upon. Truth be told, Bellatrix treated the elves better than she had ever treated Hermione. It was an inconceivably strange dynamic, to say the least, but the younger witch had little time to dwell on the matter.
Hermione's attention was otherwise engaged, as she found herself focusing on Bellatrix's mutating eyes. The dark orbs, which had been growing darker with each passing second, quickly started to swirl ink-black. Hermione's stomach tied in knots at the threat of what might come. She had been on the opposite side of those eyes far too many times to doubt the rest. Nothing good ever came from those eyes. Hermione's heart raced as Bellatrix practically lunged off of the bed, wand in hand. In a move that surprised both, Bellatrix quickly made her way towards the door.
"Put some sodding wards up," she barked, motioning frantically towards the door as she opened it. The Death Eater purposefully kept her black orbs averted, focusing on everything but Hermione. "And for fuck's sake, stuff a sock in it," she growled. "Else, I shall do it for you!"
Bellatrix slammed the door without a second glance at her younger counterpart. Hermione could hear the thunderous sound of lethal heels slamming against marble, angry in their wake. Instantly, the distance from door to door diminished and another slammed door echoed against the darkness. Barely cognizant, the raven used last sensibilities to cast a silencing spell for protection. She was thrown, headfirst, into the darkest depth of her own mind, wreckage in full. For the first time since knowing the dark witch, Hermione wasn't privy to the screaming and throwing of fists at bed and walls. The brunette simply put her own wards up, and took the potions. The pain subsided almost immediately, and within minutes of laying her head on the pillows, she was able to enjoy the first night of sound sleep she had gotten in weeks.
She wasn't sure how it would even be possible, but she was desperate for a way back to them all; if not Harry and Ron, at least her parents. She had been without them for so long it felt as though they were gone forever. She truly felt like an orphan. For all the young witch knew, she was an orphan. Hermione had, after all, no evidence that her parents were alive or dead. It was the wondering that was most difficult of all. At least if she knew that they were no longer alive, she could take the time necessary to grieve her loss. As it stood, Hermione could do nothing but wonder and hope. Unfortunately, her hope dwindled a little more with each passing day.
She was on her third day of separation from Bellatrix. The dark witch's avoidance confirmed Hermione's suspicions that Bellatrix had, in fact, left her room that night in the pre-stages of a mental breakdown. The brunette simply felt lucky to have been able to sleep through the ordeal in peace. The thoughts of her family consumed her. She was usually able to take hold of them and think of something else, but each day she found it increasingly difficult to do so. The young witch's thoughts battled for dominance in the suffocating isolation. Hermione felt more disconnected with reality with each and every silent second that left her behind. She sat on the window sill and looked towards the sky.
It was here that she could occasionally drift into dreams of better days. Though it was a rare occurrence, sometimes the warmth of the sun's glow made it possible to leave her reality. Only then could she claim Bellatrix as her own. Hermione, notorious realist, secretly coveted the fictional world of her own mind and the happily-ever-after's created therein. Hermione's eyes narrowed, scrutinizing the sky for warm rays of rescue. A soft, dejected sigh passed over the Gryffindor's lips. Gray clouds hovered lazily in the sky, effectively hiding any light emitted from the afternoon sun and crushing the remaining bits of the escapist's hope.
There would be no moonlit gondola ride in Venice, today. No passionate kiss shared under a sky filled with stars. She would not look upon wild curls and dark eyes as a lover, rather than foe. Not today. Today would be spent with feet firmly planted on the ground, sifting through painful truths. re would be no fantasy and giving Hermione's room an even colder air. It was finally too much. The dismal atmosphere was maddening, and the brunette began to fear the loss of her sanity.
Behind the protective walls of her shelter, Hermione had escaped Narcissa and Bellatrix. What she had failed to realize at the time, was that she could not escape herself. Hermione knew she needed to be outside. She longed for the comfort of breathing in the outdoor air and the sense of renewal that nature seemed to bring. Being outside had always given Hermione a sense of freedom that nothing else could. She resolved to break free of her self-imposed prison to seek out that freedom once more.
As before, Hermione sought the silence of her favorite reading spot. She quickly made her way outside, without any confrontation. Her nostrils greedily inhaled the fresh air as she stepped out into the bright sunshine. She relished the taste of her newfound freedom as though it were the last time she would ever breathe again and quickly found her herself at the entrance of the labyrinth. To her credit, Hermione had figured out the obstacle well enough to make it to the center in less than twenty minutes. It was almost an exercise in will power as she struggled to remember the last leg of the maze.
In truth, she didn't mind the time it took to reach her reading retreat. The journey was well worth the time spent, if only to enjoy the complete silence found along the way. The last thing she ever expected to find anywhere near her favorite spot was another person. But this particular day held its own little surprises. The young Gryffindor could sense something in the air as she rounded the final corner to her getaway. Hermione's breath hitched in her throat as a familiar head of obsidian locks came into focus. The curls danced in the wind, strategically planted on Hermione's favorite bench. As she turned to leave Bellatrix to herself, the raven's voice called out.
"Leaving so soon?" she asked deviously, licking her lips. Hermione could not help but focus on the crimson lips, sinful in their own right. The brunette squirmed, regaining her sensibilities as quickly as she could. Her recovery had clearly come too late, as Bellatrix crossed her legs, purposefully exposing a pale leg. Mocking a shocked look at the sudden exposure of skin, Bellatrix pushed her skirt back down, painfully slowly.
"I-I was just," Hermione stalled, trying to focus on her words. "Well, I am sure you want to be alone. I will find somewhere else to go." The brunette took a deep breath, noticeably relieved to have constructed an entire sentence. Not only had she done it without stuttering, she had managed to speak without picturing Bellatrix in some sort of compromising position. It was a step in the right direction. She cleared her throat and bit the inside of her lip in frustration. It was impossible, the way she gravitated towards the older witch. She rubbed the scar on her arm in a daze and took a step backwards, in an effort to exit quietly.
Bellatrix teasingly tutted the younger witch while shaking her head. "As a matter of fact Puppy, I have been counting on your arrival," she said with a wink. A long, thin finger beckoned Hermione closer, into the center of the labyrinth. Hermione felt a chill creep up her spine at the invitation. She wasn't sure what to expect. It felt like a trap.
"Y- you have?" she asked nervously. Hermione bit down harder on her lip, barely noticing the throbbing pain her clenched teeth caused. She was filled with trepidation as her eyes remained locked on the raven. Bellatrix simply nodded in response. Seemingly of their own accord, the brunette's legs started carrying her towards the deranged woman on the bench. Hermione was halfway to the Death Eater before she even realized that she had moved. The Gryffindor never knew what to expect after the older witch experienced one of her classic breakdowns. Bellatrix's mood was impossible for the brunette to gauge and being in such close proximity to her was exceptionally intimidating.
The Death Eater tapped the seat on the bench beside her, as one would pat a small child's head. She looked directly into Hermione's eyes and gave the young Gryffindor a suggestive wink and a knowing smirk. Without a second thought, the young woman sat down, dangerously close to Bellatrix. Their legs touched briefly before Bellatrix moved hers away from Hermione's. The brunette could still feel distinct warmth lingering where their legs had touched; warmth that did not fade. Rather, it spread up her leg like a brush fire, moving towards her center. It was terribly frustrating for her. Bellatrix ignored all signs of her frustration and started talking at once.
"We've got to discuss your lessons," she drawled, with a distant look. The brunette's heart sank to her stomach. Typically excited for any opportunity to gain knowledge, especially concerning Bellatrix, Hermione was wary of this version of Bellatrix. She wasn't sure she wanted to learn anything that this version wanted to teach her. Bellatrix sensed the hesitation, at once and gave a false gasp of surprise. Hermione jumped, as she felt a finger graze her cheek.
"What's the matter? Don't you want to learn from me?" Hermione nodded slowly, earning a satisfied smirk from Bellatrix. "That's what I thought. Because you want to know everything about me, don't you, little Mud?" The brunette instinctively shrunk back as the finger stroked her cheek once more.
"And here, I thought you wanted me," Bellatrix said, confused. The younger witch did not respond. She did want Bellatrix. She had never wanted anything more badly in her entire life, but not like this. Not when she was this Bellatrix. This version of Bellatrix frightened her. It wasn't so much that she worried for her safety as she was worried for her own behavior, in reaction. She was never sure she could control her own facilities when this version was around. The Death Eater looked at Hermione, studying her as though she were an animal on display. She had not expected this reaction from the younger witch. She had at least hoped for some sort of response to give her away.
Bellatrix was about to speak when Hermione cut her off. "I need to go. When do you want to start lessons?" Bellatrix gave her a cross look before responding.
"Tomorrow," she said curtly. Hermione's heart beat raced at the simple answer. She was torn between the quest for knowledge and the ever-present reality of her teacher's rapidly changing personalities. Bellatrix's personality did not come with a warning label or a return policy. There was no guarantee that the kinder version of Bellatrix seated beside Hermione would even make an appearance at tomorrow's lesson. Not to mention, she was still scary in her own right. But being forced to learn from the darker side of Bellatrix? Hermione could think of nothing more terrifying. She stood up, covering any signs of trepidation, with an acknowledging nod. The night would hold no comfort or sleep for the young Gryffindor.
A/N: Thank you so much for sticking with the story and reading on. I promise that if has not been abandoned and will be updated more frequently. Please tell me what you think by reviewing. Much love to everyone!