Note: Everything I have to say about this chapter you can find at the bottom.
Andromeda walked through the brightly lit corridors of St Mungo's hospital. The walls had been painted in a sterile shade of white and the place smelt like a mixture of disinfectant and rubber gloves. It was a typical hospital smell and she didn't like it. It made her feel uncomfortable. She didn't like hospitals at the best of times but there was something about being on this ward that brought sadness to her heart. The lino underneath her feet was a simple shade of grey and the sound of her clicking heels bounced off the walls. The corridor felt endlessly long, with doors on either side.
She reached the Healer's station at the end of the corridor and one of the Healers looked up. Recognition dawned in her eyes when she laid eyes on the brunette witch standing in front of her. She put down the quill she had been writing with, abandoned her desk and stepped out of the small glass office.
"Miss Black," she said, a smile spreading across her face. "It's been a while, hasn't it?"
"It has," Andromeda answered, keeping the eye contact brief. She huddled a little deeper into her black coat. She was dressed in Muggle clothes. It made traveling through the city easier. People didn't pay attention to her and she could blend in this way. The snow had brought most of London to a standstill and it was cold. It was the middle of the winter but it was her favourite time of year. "Longer than I would have liked."
The Healer, known to Andromeda only as Ruth, leant against the glass barrier separating the corridor from the small office. She had folded her arms across her chest. The white robes she wore were a sharp contrast against the short black hair, cropped into a stylish pixie cut. She had steel blue eyes that brought a shiver down Andromeda's spine whenever she met them, reminding them of a whole different set of eyes.
"How is she?" she wanted to know. She tried to keep the tremor out of her voice but it was futile. It happened every time she came here. By now she should have gotten used to it but an invisible force grabbed her by the throat every time she came here, slowly strangling her.
"I'm afraid there has been no change," Ruth answered, sadness filling her eyes. It were the same words she spoke every time Andromeda asked her that question. "She continues to baffle all the Healers here."
Andromeda flashed a smile at those last words. None of it came as a surprise. "Nothing's ever simple with her."
"We've tried breaking through the barriers with a new therapy but she only became aggressive and started self-harming again. The treatment was discontinued and her medication altered and it seemed to reduce the aggression and some of her anxiety. Most times she seems quite docile, preferring to lie on her bed but there are moments when she still has her violent outbursts or continues to display other inappropriate behaviours." Ruth's eyes fixed on Andromeda's face. "Her delusions haven't stopped."
Andromeda sighed and averted her eyes, choosing to stare at the lino instead of the woman standing in front of her. She pushed her hands into the pocket of her coat. "It's been such a long time. Do you think she is ever going to get out of them?"
"It's hard to say, Miss Black. I have seen people snap out of their psychotic breaks without warning, suddenly becoming the people they once used to be. But at the same time there are many, many more who just never escape that world, who are forever trapped in whatever world they have fallen into."
"Ruth, there's no need to try and make me feel better. I know what the other Healers are thinking so I am just going to ask you; do you think she will ever recover?"
Andromeda swallowed hard. Although the answer wasn't unexpected, hearing it out loud still hurt. She nodded, her teeth gnawing at her bottom lip. She resisted the urge to turn around and run. It was the same feeling that had stopped her from coming here for some time. Fear was a crippling thing, even if she didn't quite know what it was she was afraid of. Of hearing what she had just heard, of seeing something she knew she could never forget?
"Would you like to see her?" Ruth asked, almost as if she sensed her hesitation. "Today is one of her better days. I'm sure she'd appreciate a visitor."
"Yes," Andromeda answered quickly, knowing that if she waited too long she would just say 'no' instead. She wrestled with the emotions inside of her and forced them away, locked up somewhere deep down inside of her. The lump in her throat didn't shift as she tried to speak again. "Yes, I'd like that."
"She's in her room," Ruth said as she started down the corridor and Andromeda followed. "She seems to prefer it there. She doesn't like most of the other patients. We do try but it seems that she rather spends her time alone. We can't force her."
They walked for a couple of minutes before reaching the door at the far end of the corridor. It looked the same as all the other doors. It had a small round window made from unbreakable glass. There was a lock but a quick glance told Andromeda the door was open. Her heart pounded in her throat as she slowly turned to Ruth. The young Healer was watching her and Andromeda's hand hovered over the door handle. She couldn't bring herself to open the door.
"It's hard, isn't it?" Ruth asked softly. There was a genuine kindness to her voice. Her eyes found Andromeda's and the older witch was struck by them. It didn't do anything to help with the pain. "I can't imagine the hurt you must feel. I see loved ones here every day and they hold on to so much hope and so much strength… I can't imagine what you must be feeling right now."
Andromeda felt the tears burning behind her eyes. "The first time I came here I hoped that it would be just a one-time thing. That maybe she would somehow emerge from this darkness and look at me and actually recognise me. But now…. It's been so long. Sometimes I think that I'll never see her again."
Ruth briefly covered Andromeda's hand with hers and squeezed it. "She is lucky to have someone who loves her as much as you do."
She turned around and walked away, leaving Andromeda to decide for herself whether or not she wanted to open the door. She knew that there would be no way back once she did. She heaved a sigh and willed her heart to calm down inside her chest. It was pounding so fast it made her feel sick. Hesitantly her fingers closed around the door handle and she pushed. The door gave way without objection.
The room wasn't big but it wasn't small either. A single bed had been nailed to the wall, preventing it from being thrown or destroyed in a fit of anger. The curtains were standard issue and a dull shade of blue. They had been replaced numerous times. The sheets and pillows on the bed were the same colour as the curtains. The walls were the same shade of pristine white as the rest of the ward. There were no photos on the wall. The only other object in the room was a chair. It stood in the corner.
Andromeda's eyes fixed on the bed. The lone figure lay curled up on their side, facing the wall. She was dressed in simple white linen trousers and a loose fitted black long sleeved shirt that seemed almost two sized too big for her tiny frame. Thick curls cascaded down her back and she didn't stir when the door opened. Andromeda wasn't sure if she had sensed that she was here.
"May I come in?" she asked, her voice quiet like a whisper. She closed the door behind her when no answer came.
She didn't step further into the room and instead rested her back against the wall. She could feel the sadness. It was on her skin and it crept into her blood and into her heart. It was in this room; it lingered here, unable to leave. It was like a trap and once you fell in, you would never escape again. It would hold you prisoner for as long as it could; either until you gave up and died or until you decided to fight until you had nothing left to give.
She was about to speak again when a soft knock on the door made her look up. She recognised the face behind the glass and quietly opened the door before stepping out of the room. Blue eyes met her brown ones but these did not belong to the Healer. They belonged to her sister and Narcissa sadly looked through the small window into the room before looking back at Andromeda.
Andromeda shook her head. "No."
"How long has it been?"
Narcissa's eyes narrowed and she didn't allow her sister to avert her gaze. "How long, Andy?"
"Eleven months, two weeks and four days."
"You have to stop doing this," Narcissa sighed when she heard the answer. She searched her sisters face and recognised the agony and the despair. "You can't beat yourself up over this every single day. It has to end somewhere."
"Then what do you expect me to do?" Andromeda hissed, her dark eyes suddenly blazing. Narcissa's words had touched something deep inside of her and it allowed the anger to pour out. "It isn't because of me that she's here!"
"It's not just because of me either!"
"You were there that day," Andromeda reminded her and Narcissa's face fell. Hearing her older sister talk to her like this reminded her that some things hadn't changed, even if the world around them had moved on. Andromeda's voice echoed bitterness. "Don't ever forget I hold you partly responsible for this, even after all this time."
Narcissa turned away from her sister. A hospital corridor wasn't the place for an argument. Their relationship was strained, even at the best of times, but this environment wasn't helping. Their bond had been somewhat restored but Narcissa didn't doubt that Andromeda would always blame her. Too much had happened for it to ever become better than what it was now.
"I know you hold me responsible," she answered, staring down at her feet. "It's why I keep coming here."
"But you never go in."
"I don't think that's a good idea." Narcissa briefly glanced at her sister as if to confirm that statement. "Do you?"
Andromeda looked at her younger sister. Times had changed. The world around them wasn't what it used to be. But some things hadn't changed along with it. The things between these walls never changed. Somehow, trapped inside this place, was a life that had been lived some time ago, a life that hadn't changed when the rest of them did.
"Did she say anything?" Narcissa wanted to know.
Andromeda shook her head. "I only just got here when you knocked the door. The Healers say they tried a new therapy on her but it didn't work. She became aggressive and hurt herself again. They say her delusions haven't changed."
"So she's still trapped in her own little world?"
"Yes," Andromeda sighed. "I don't think they believe she will ever get out."
Narcissa stared up at the ceiling. "Why did this have to happen?"
"WHY?!" Andromeda hissed and took a step closer to Narcissa. "Because our beloved sister tortured the hell out of her for her own pleasure and broke something inside of her nobody could ever heal. Hermione went insane because of what Bellatrix did to her at Malfoy Manor and she's been stuck in this place ever since. Bellatrix did this!"
"And she still believes…."
"That Bellatrix is alive, yes. She's been stuck in that delusion for the last eleven months. She still thinks she can save her from some evil curse and some damned prophecy and she still believes that you and I are conspiring against her. She hates her friends, every single one of them." Andromeda felt the tears slide down her cheeks. "It's why they've stopped coming, Narcissa. Harry and the others. They can't cope seeing her like this. They can't cope with the pain that whenever they try to see her, she attacks them. Nobody comes here but me." She shook her head. "Bellatrix drove her insane and somehow Hermione is convinced she's alive, convinced that they are lovers." She swallowed, the bile in her throat tasted sour. "Our sister destroyed the most beautiful soul this world has ever seen."
"It wasn't Bellatrix who loved her," Narcissa said, realising for the first time why Andromeda came back here week after week, month after month. "It was you."
"It doesn't matter anymore." Andromeda turned her face away and wiped the tears from her cheek. "It never did."
"But why?" Narcissa wanted to know. "Why the delusions, why the thoughts that Bellatrix is alive?"
"I don't know," Andromeda admitted. "I wasn't there when this first started. It was Ron and Harry who first noticed something had changed. She didn't sleep. She stayed awake, night after night, talking to herself, reading books on Dark Magic. Then one night she ran away, didn't come back for four days. When she did she hadn't eaten, she hadn't showered… she was just talking about the Book of the Dead and Bellatrix. She used the Cruciatus Curse on Harry." She swallowed. "That's when she ended up here and she has been here ever since. Eleven months, two weeks and four days."
"Isn't there anything they can do?"
"Some of the Healers think that Bellatrix placed a magical seal inside of her when she tortured her, forcing her to slowly go insane. Only the one who placed the seal can break it." Andromeda's face had changed into a mask of anger. "It isn't something I would put past Bellatrix." Her breath hitched. "Either that or she did so much damage during her torture that it is simply irreparable."
"Andy, I'm sorry."
"No, what I mean is, I'm sorry," Narcissa insisted, taking her sister's hand into her own. It had been a long time since she had touched her but it still felt like it had done all those years ago. Some things never changed. "Like you said, I was there that day and I didn't do anything. Times were different then and I know things have changed but it doesn't excuse what I did, or what Bellatrix did." Her blue eyes found her sister's brown and she saw Andromeda's pain. "You lost everything because of Bellatrix."
Andromeda turned to the small window and peered through the glass. Hermione had rolled onto her other side, her face now turned towards the door. The light that fell into the room through the window highlighted her face. She looked gaunt. Her eyes had sunken deep into her head and her skin was pale and thin like paper. But something in her eyes was still as bright as Andromeda remembered. She had seen that spark, that desire, before but this time it wasn't real.
"Bellatrix had this crazy dream that the three of us would always be together," she said softly. "The night I ran away I broke that dream to pieces." Andromeda carefully pressed her fingertips against the glass that separated her from Hermione. Her eyes fluttered shut as the tears welled up again. "I took her forever, so she took mine."
"Bellatrix was obsessed with you," Narcissa said quietly and watched how Andromeda slowly removed her hand. Her sister looked lost. "She hated you but at the same time she would have forgiven you if you had changed your mind and came back. It was her driving force. Her strength and power in front of Voldemort was fuelled by her hatred and love for you."
"And as a punishment to me, Hermione is now obsessed with Bellatrix," Andromeda answered. "The spiral continues."
"So what will happen now?" Narcissa asked.
"They'll just keep giving her the medication, try treating her the best they can," Andromeda answered. "And all we can do is hope that one day she snaps out of her delusions and sees that she's been living in a world of lies for the last year." She looked at Hermione lying on her bed. "We can only hope that one day she wakes up and realises that everything she thought was real, isn't true."
Narcissa briefly put her hand on Andromeda's arm before taking a step back. "I shall leave you two in peace," she said softly and turned around. A warm mark remained on Andromeda's arm where her sister had touched her long after she had gone.
Andromeda quietly opened the door to Hermione's room again and stepped inside. Hermione didn't move when she came in but she could feel the younger witch's eyes follow her as she walked across the room and pulled the chair closer to the window. It overlooked a small walled garden. It was covered in snow. A tall elm tree stood in the middle, the wooden benches around it practically snowed in. Its branches were bare.
Andromeda's eyes fixed on Hermione. "Hey," she said softly, a sad smile tugging at her cheeks. "I'm sorry it took so long for me to come back."
Hermione's eyes narrowed a little as she looked up at the older woman. She sat up, slowly, without ever taking her eyes off Andromeda. "You know I can't let you do this, don't you? I can't let you stop me. I have to do this."
Andromeda's heart sank and out of despair she tried to talk to her, even though she knew her words would only get lost inside the madness. "Hermione, listen to me…"
"I know you've told Harry and the others. It's not going to make any difference. Bellatrix isn't who you think she is anymore and she deserves another chance." The hint of anger in Hermione's voice cut through Andromeda's soul like a knife. It left her bleeding from an invisible wound. "You actually think that having Narcissa on your side will change things? She lied to you before; she will lie to you again."
Andromeda swallowed hard and she pushed herself up out of the chair. Hermione was pacing the room, clenching and relaxing her fists, muttering quietly to herself. Every so often she stopped and turned around, her eyes widening whenever she saw Andromeda. She looked lost and somewhat deranged, with her long curly brown hair dishevelled and her face void of any colour.
"Andy!" she suddenly said clearly and Andromeda's eyes snapped up. Hermione stood in the middle of the small room. Her arms fell lifeless down the side of her body. For a moment Andromeda felt a flutter of hope but then it died.
"Trelawney made the prophecy about Harry and she made this one too. But she has made many more predictions in the past that have never turned out to be correct. How can you be so sure this one this? What if she was wrong, just like she has been wrong so many times before?" Hermione cocked her head. "What if you're wrong about what it means? What if it isn't true?"
Andromeda sighed as she slowly walked to the door. She turned around. Hermione was pacing again. Sadness flickered in Andromeda's eyes as she stepped out of the room and closed it behind her. Her eyes fell shut and the tears began to silently stream down her face. Her heart ached in her chest.
"It isn't true, Hermione," she whispered without looking back through the glass. She stepped away from the door and started walking down the corridor. Outside this building the real world awaited. The one in which Bellatrix Lestrange was dead.
"None of it ever was."
Note: I had been toying with this ending for some time. I always wanted to write a story where, until the very last minute, it was believed to be real until another character revealed it wasn't. I have read a few stories where the whole sequence of events takes place inside someone's head and this isn't revealed until the very end. I wanted this too. I wanted a Bellamione that was real in many ways but at the same time impossible. I always struggle to give Bellatrix and Hermione a happy ending together and this way, they get it. Inside Hermione's head they can be happy because in the real world there is no place for them. I know it kind of feels abrupt to end it this way but I like it. To me it feels right and it does leave the door open a little bit. It raises questions and I enjoy it. Also, the shock effect... I never really did anything like this before. To me, this last chapter turned out exactly the way I wanted it to be. Hermione and Bellatrix are together.