A/N: Right, so I should be back to regular updates every two-three days for the next few weeks. I'm sorry my writing has kinda suffered with all the stress I've been under recently. Should get better now :)
I've gone back and changed some of the things you guys picked up on (thank you for pointing those mistakes out to me, by the way, I do read those PMs and go back and change them).
I'm planning on finishing Part One within the next few weeks, then possibly a short hiatus while I work out a solid plan for Part Two, then all the Bellamione for you wonderful readers. Sound good?
— — —
Bellatrix glanced at Hermione with a perfectly raised eyebrow as Ronald Weasley walked into view, head barely poking up out of the tall grass North of the Burrow. His smile fell very quickly when he saw the Death Eater.
"Bloody hell. So, the rumours are true? You've run off with that nasty piece of work?"
Hermione had feared his reaction, but had to say this wasn't the worst she'd thought he might come out with.
"Just let me explain," Hermione motioned for Ron to lower his now raised wand.
Bellatrix cackled, flinging an arm around Hermione's shoulders cockily. "Probably best to do as she says, Weaselly."
"Get your hands off her!" Ron spat.
"Ron, it's okay," Hermione didn't shrug the dark witch off, too busy trying to convince her friend that Bellatrix wasn't a threat.
The air was thick with tension and for a moment, Hermione regretted having Bellatrix stay. She knew how Ron was going to react from the start but her feelings for Bellatrix had lit the small embers of false hope that perhaps he would accept Bellatrix as she had.
Remember, it took you weeks to start seeing Bellatrix as a real human being, she reminded herself.
"Just, please, come and sit down," Hermione gestured to the empty clearing, glancing at Bellatrix who brandished her wand with the prompt and fashioned three simple wooden chairs for them all to sit on.
"Have you lost your bloody mind?"
Hermione ran a hand over her face in an effort to compose herself, not to snap at him for overreacting, because he wasn't overreacting. She would never have sat down next to Bellatrix and talked like this the day she met with her.
"Hermione, darling, perhaps I should leave you two alone?" Bellatrix looked to the Gryffindor girl with a raised eyebrow, the hint of a smile on her lips.
"No!" Ron contradicted quickly. "I'm not letting her out of my sight around my family."
Bellatrix rolled her eyes. "As you wish."
Hermione watched the dark witch slump down into one of the chairs with a huff and had to contain the giggle that tried to rise at her lover's childishness.
"Ron," she addressed her old friend, "please, sit down."
Reluctantly, Ron took a seat, the action quickly being followed by a silence.
"So," Ron broke it, voice bitter, "darling now, is it? I see how it is."
"No," Hermione shook her head, "you really don't."
He narrowed his eyes at the Gryffindor girl, arms folded across his chest as he slumped back into his chair in a sulk. "I'm not stupid."
Bellatrix cleared her throat to cover up a laugh, which she did terribly, but Hermione still appreciated the effort.
"Come on, then," Ron said, "out with it. What's all this about?"
Hermione took a breath, not knowing where to start. In a panic, she turned to Bellatrix for help, knowing it would be a lot quicker and easier for her to explain the situation.
Bellatrix only shook her head. "This one's all yours, my love."
Hermione's eyes glistened with tears and she held Bellatrix's apologetic gaze with a desperate one until the Slytherin sighed, turning to Ron.
"Potter was murdered," she explained on the young witch's behalf, "and everyone thinks I did it. So, Hermione here decided it would be a good idea to haul me out of hiding and question me, then decided that she needed my help because she can't use magic without the Ministry knowing about it.
"That's not exactly how it happened," Hermione chipped in, looking between her old friend and lover with an exasperated sigh.
"You wanted me to tell the story," Bellatrix looked over at Ron's slightly softer expression, realisation slowly dawning on him.
"Yes, correctly," Hermione argued, then turned her full attention to Ron. "She's missing out the part where she followed me around like a stalker for a week before Harry's funeral, asking me if I wanted her help."
"Why on earth did you want her help in the end?" Ron asked.
"Because, Ronald, she's not as bad as she seems and she's surprisingly very intelligent, so together, we make a very good team," Hermione didn't mean to sound so impatient with him.
She was just tired and stressed and, while with Bellatrix, she felt like she was on the same wavelength as her. A lot of things didn't need to be explained in great detail because they both just assumed that the other was intelligent enough to know what the other was talking about, and they assumed correctly. Hermione forgot just how tiring it was to over-explain things to people and, while Ron was intelligent, he didn't half pick his moments.
"Surprisingly," Bellatrix scoffed to herself.
"What I'm trying to say," the brunette said calmly, "is that Bellatrix knows a lot about things that we could have only dreamt of knowing before, things Dumbledore has left me to figure out on my own. She's helped me and she's helping us find out what really happened with Harry. She's not the enemy here."
"But she's only doing it to clear her name, isn't she?" Ron grumbled. "Honestly, Hermione, as soon as this has finished, she'll be gone. And if you don't think she won't use everything she's found out about us through you to her advantage then you can think again. Remember what she did to Neville's parents, to Sirius?!"
Hermione fell quiet, looking down at her hands in her lap. "I remember, I just believe people are capable of change."
"Not her," Ron shook his head. "It's all for show, 'Mione, and for what it's worth, if you have feelings for that, I think you need help."
"What would you know about my feelings?" Hermione hissed.
Ron's voice was bitter, a clear case of sour grapes. "I've seen the way you look at her."
Bellatrix watched Hermione defend her, feeling guilty that the girl should even have to do it in the first place. She didn't regret the things she did so much as she regretted what those things now meant for Hermione. It was the rest of her life defending a woman who didn't deserve to be defended.
"I'm not going anywhere," she piped up, sitting up straighter, prouder.
Ron leaned forward, elbows rested on his knees, and fixed Bellatrix with the most intimidating glare he could muster. Bellatrix had to admit that she was impressed; it was good, by his standards, not that she was at all intimidated by someone like him.
"And what if she wants you gone? What if she never wanted to see you again?"
"I can promise you she doesn't," Hermione expected the Death Eater to smirk as she said the words, but as Bella spoke, she kept a perfectly straight and serious face.
"But if she did…?" the redhead shrugged.
Bellatrix sighed sadly, playing along with his games. "Then…"
Hermione met Bellatrix's eyes for a short moment when the older woman looked to her, and they were so sad. It was as if the thought alone would bring her to tears.
"Well, I'd go," Bellatrix turned back to Ron. "I'd leave."
"I think that would probably be best," Ron spat.
"No!" Hermione threw her arms and let them fall down by her sides as she sat up in her chair, glaring at Ron. "You don't get to decide what's good for me. I know you're trying to look out for me, but honestly… I am capable of making my own decisions about who I keep in my life and who I love. I didn't come here to debate my love life with you, I came here because I found a way that you could help me bring down the person responsible for our best friend's death."
"What difference does it make?" Ron snapped. "Hermione, he's dead. Killing whoever killed him isn't going to bring him back. He's gone. While you've been rolling around with her, I've been mourning, and—"
Bellatrix stood suddenly, her chair falling backwards onto the damp ground of the clearing. Her voice was a hiss and she spat each word indignantly. "Oh, shut it, Weasley! You think she hasn't been mourning? You think she hasn't got feelings just because she's been 'rolling around' with me? What crap! Say what you like about me, most of it is probably correct– I won't deny it if it is– but don't you dare say a word against her after what she's done because I'll make sure you regret every syllable you speak."
Ron leaned back, cowering away with a grim look on his face. Bella didn't realise she'd taken out her wand until she tilted his chin up with the tip of it.
"Do you understand me?"
Ron stayed quiet, teeth gritted, shaking. Hermione couldn't tell whether it was fear, anger or a combination of the two.
Bellatrix moved her wand so that it pressed into his temple hard enough that he tilted his head to one side. "I asked you a question. Do you understand me?"
Hermione wanted to cut in, but all the things Bellatrix had said were true. She felt like the Slytherin's actions were justified up to this point and knew Bella enough to know she wouldn't take things any further because the Gryffindor girl would hate her for it. She trusted that the older witch knew where to stop when it came to her friends.
"Yes," Ron said clearly, ungritting his teeth.
Bellatrix removed her wand and stalked off into the grass.
"Where's she going?" Ron asked Hermione, instantly wary as he glanced back at his home.
"Don't worry, she won't touch anyone," Hermione said reassuringly. "She knows I'd have her head if she did."
Eventually, the redhead settled and looked back to his old friend with a sigh. Hermione held his gaze and wondered what he might say next, if anything at all, to try and sway her from romantically involving herself with someone like Bellatrix. However, what he said after the long pause surprised her.
"What for?" she asked.
"Reacting the way I did," he said sheepishly. "You're a big girl, 'Mione, you can figure out things for yourself. And I didn't mean to say it like you hadn't been mourning for Harry. I know better than anyone how you took it. Anyway, I shouldn't have gone off like that."
"No, you shouldn't," Hermione's eyebrows pulled together and she looked at Ron's guilty face, unable to stay mad at him. "But it's okay. When I first met Bellatrix, I found her incredibly annoying. I know you probably won't, but if you ever do get to know her, you'll see that there's more to her than what she's known for."
"Don't you care?" Ron's face twisted with emotion, as if he were trying to understand something that was beyond his years.
"About what she's done, about all of the people's lives that she's ruined, all the people she's tortured and killed…"
"It's not that simple," Hermione's voice was quiet, the air between the old friends seeming to settle with Bellatrix's absence. "I couldn't begin to explain it to you if I tried."
"Probably best you didn't try. I respect you and your decisions but I will never respect her."
Hermione nodded. The fact that Ron had managed to civilly tell her that instead of shouting it at her was a step in the right direction. Perhaps he never would understand her connection with Bellatrix, but Hermione didn't need him to. All she needed him to do was support her.
"So, why do you need the Cloak?" Ron asked, changing the subject somewhat.
Hermione laughed only half-humorously. "That's a long story…"
Bellatrix returned after Ron had left, finding Hermione with the Cloak of Invisibility folded in her lap, sitting on one of the chairs with tears slipping down her cheeks.
She hissed, approaching her and taking the girl's face in her hands, looking at the girl she loved with fire in her eyes. "What did he say to you? So help me, I won't let him see the light of another day!"
"No, Bella," Hermione choked out, "he just said he missed me and that everyone is worried about me. I feel bad because I haven't been there for Ginny and…"
"I'm sure she's fine," Bellatrix gently stroked Hermione's back, crouching down next to her chair.
"I hope so," Hermione snivelled, pulling herself together and wiping her eyes. "I'm sorry."
"Don't apologise for crying," Bella placed a kiss on Hermione's forehead, helping her up. With a quick wave of her wand, she made the chairs collapse into dust. "Home?"
Hermione nodded. "Home. I'll owl Snape when we get in."
Hermione did exactly that. Upon arriving at the safehouse, she sat down with a quill and composed a letter to Snape saying that she'd viewed the memories and that she was ready to get into Hogwarts. She then gave the letter to Narcissa's owl, which Bellatrix used in the absence of having her own, and watched the creature fly off with the parchment in its beak.
She looked around the living room, closing the window the bird had flown out of, and noticed that Bellatrix had disappeared. The brunette went to the potions room upstairs and found it empty, then turning to the half-closed door to the Slytherin's bedroom.
She lightly knocked, pushing it open cautiously when she got no reply.
With her back to her, sitting at the desk coming off the far wall by the windows, was Bellatrix.
Her shoulders were hunched and all her other books, parchments and doodles seemed to have been shoved aside to make room for one particular piece of parchment.
Hermione walked up to her and quickly realised that the dark witch was reading her mother's suicide note.
No reply came.
Hermione peered around at her lover's face and saw that her eyes were closed, one tear stain down her cheek and a mark on her cloak in her lap where the drop had fallen. It was the first time Hermione had seen her sit like this, looking so vulnerable.
She wrapped her arms around her lover and rested her chin on her shoulder. Bellatrix didn't react, but her breathing was slightly uneven as if she had been crying.
The Gryffindor knew it was wrong, but she was curious as to what exactly had made Bellatrix break down in such a way. The note was right under her nose, so easy to read, and she found herself glancing at it a couple times before her eyes involuntarily ran over each word.
My darling, Bella,
I never wanted this life for you.
I must start by saying that I only wanted you to be happy all those years ago and I may not have agreed with your choice in romantic partnership, however, I respected it. Your father, on the other hand, was not so lenient. I hope you understand that I would have allowed it, that it was your father who forced me to stand with him, to force you to finish it.
I never wanted you to marry that idiot Rodolphus. He's vile, has a history with violence, and one of my greatest fears was that you would fall prey to his vicious beatings. When I spoke to Cygnus about this, he showed no care. He didn't care for much, he certainly never cared for me. I never wanted you to live your life like I did.
I knew you were never cut out for marriage, from when you were a child you were destined to do something great in this world, not look pretty next to a man you never loved. To my delight, you seem to have become quite the accomplished witch, but you also appear to be lacking your morals. I remember when you were kind, when you loved. All I see about you nowadays is talk of your torture and murder victims. It breaks my heart, Bella, it truly does.
I'm not sure what to say about taking the poison you provided me in the green bottle. I know I asked for the venom for experimental uses, but I soon came to the conclusion that I was never going to step outside the house, and that I was never going to get you or your sisters back.
You must look after them, Bellatrix, even Andromeda. I realise that outcasting her was the wrong thing to do, even considering the circumstance. She will always be my daughter, just the same as you, and I will love her equally to you and Narcissa until I take my last dying breath. Find them and help them, make sure they have everything they need.
My will states that my monies are to be divided equally between the three of you. However, I have left the deed to Black Manor and the entirety of its contents to you alone. I hope you can find good use for it.
And remember, regret is a pointless emotion that will one day devour you if you let it in. Don't waste your time indulging it.
"Love always… Mother…" Bellatrix's voice was barely audible as Hermione moved to Bellatrix's left, crouching down by the chair so she could see the older woman's face.
"Bella?" Hermione placed her hand on Bellatrix's thigh comfortingly, but the dark witch didn't respond. She just stared down into her lap and mumbled incoherently between quotations from her mother's note to herself.
Hermione's heart started to beat faster, a fear response. The last time Bellatrix was unresponsive like this was before she cast the Cruciatus Curse on her. She sucked in a shaky breath.
"Bella, baby, can you hear me?"
Bellatrix's eyes snapped up to the letter and stared at it for a moment.
Suddenly, the severity of Bellatrix snatching the letter up in her hands and crumpling it in her fist made Hermione immediately back away towards the wall, watching the Slytherin slowly lose her mind.
"Love always?! Where was that love when I needed it, where were you when I needed you? Bitch!"
"Bella, calm down," Hermione tried to reason, tried to get her lover to push through the red haze that was blinding the part of her brain that thought logically.
"I will not calm down!" the Death Eater yelled back, but the way she was looking at Hermione made the brunette think that she didn't know it was her again, that she was just lost in her madness.
So, Hermione stayed silent.
"Rodolphus was her idea to begin with, she planted that seed into father's mind! She has no right to talk to me about abusive arranged marriages. As for questioning my morals…" the dark witch didn't stop, her rantings turning to Parseltongue, which Hermione found sounded much more vicious.
Tears slipped down Bella's cheeks as she hissed out each word that Hermione didn't know the meaning to.
When Hermione thought Bellatrix might start breaking things, she tried to get through to her again.
"Bellatrix, please," she advanced, reaching out to touch the older woman's cheek.
Bellatrix's Parseltongue ceased so that she could spit out in English, "Stop!"
Hermione found herself being backed up quickly until she thumped against the wall. Bellatrix's fists slammed into the surface either side of her head and the Gryffindor screamed. "Bella, please–"
"Who does she think she is?!"
Hermione stared pleadingly into her lover's eyes, but it wasn't Bellatrix looking back at her. The woman in front of her was cold and dark, sadistic. She was an animal. She could not determine friend from foe, and Hermione believed that she may well have dug her own grave walking into the animal's den that evening to check if it was okay.
"All those things he did to me," one of Bellatrix's hands hooked delicate fingers into the front of Hermione's jeans, holding the belt buckle firmly in her hands, "do you have any idea…"
"Bellatrix–" Hermione tried to speak, but Bellatrix tugged on the belt firmly to silence her, mashing their hips together.
"Shut up," she spat, face a mere few inches off Hermione's. "You don't know what that's like."
Hermione felt her hands shaking as she reached up and gently caressed Bella's cheek. "I don't," she managed, although her voice was uneven, "but you don't have to live like that now. You're safe from him now."
"You think I'm scared of him now? He's scared of me now," a hint of a smile tugged at the Slytherin's lips, but it was gone in an instant. "He wouldn't dare try anything like he did before, but that is not my point."
Hermione was glad that Bellatrix's voice had lowered and she seemed to slowly be returning to normal, but her hopes were extinguished when the Death Eater's voice raised once again and her grip on the girl tightened.
"Everyone around me has played me. They've done exactly what they need to do to get exactly what they want and I'm sick of it! How about you, hm? How do I know you're not just the same as all the others?!" Bellatrix laced her free hand into Hermione's hair and pulled her head back.
The Gryffindor whimpered. "I'm not, Bella, I'm not like them. I promise!"
"That's what they all say, but in the end, you're going to pack your things and you're going to leave."
The grip on Hermione's hair tightened and she was unable to hold back the cry. "Please, let go of me, Bella. It's me. You love me. Please, stop hurting me."
"Why should I?" came the deranged hiss, but Hermione could hear the dark witch's voice break and she knew she was getting through to her.
"Because you love me," she whispered, "and you're hurting me. You're hurting me. I know this isn't you, this part of you, it was the result of years of mistreatment. You didn't deserve all of that and you can't change it, but you can change this."
Slowly, Bellatrix's grip on Hermione loosened.
When Hermione could tilt her head forward enough to see Bellatrix's face, she met distraught dark eyes filled with regret and self-hatred. Tears slipped down the Death Eater's cheeks again, but they were for an entirely new reason.
"No," Hermione shook her head, voice soothing as she reached up and held Bella's face in her hands, "it's okay. You're okay."
Bellatrix dropped to her knees, burying her face into Hermione's stomach, and her entire body shook with silent sobs. "It's not."
Hermione had seen Bellatrix on the verge of a breakdown, but this was an entirely new experience. She wasn't sure what to do besides comfort her. She still wasn't very accustomed to Bellatrix showing much emotion towards her.
"It is," she sank down into a sitting position on the floor opposite the older woman, stroking her cheeks and banishing the fallen tears with her thumbs. "I'm okay, see?"
"I'm becoming him," Bella choked out.
"You are nothing like Rodolphus," the Gryffindor shook her head.
"No," Bella's hands rested on the tops of Hermione's thighs, almost gripping them as she continued, "my father."
"Absolutely not," Hermione said firmly, "you are not becoming him. All those things he did, you would never do that to other people, to your own child. I know you."
"Are you sure about that?" Bellatrix asked.
Hermione nodded. "I am."
Slowly, the Gryffindor leaned in to kiss the dark witch.
"What are you doing, Hermione?" Bella mumbled against soft lips, her tone tired and resigned. It reminded Hermione of the time they'd kissed in the hotel in Sterling, when the older woman had asked her the exact same question.
This time, Hermione didn't try to be smart. Instead, she was honest.
"I don't know," she said with a small humourless laugh, meeting her favourite set of dark eyes, "but I don't care."
Bella rested her forehead against the brunette's, slipping her fingers around the back of the young witch's neck where they rested happily in a bed of curls. "Please don't do anything you're going to regret."
Hermione's heart sunk as the thought of the letter from Druella and it's ending, and she felt guilty for having read it. However, she just shook her head. "I won't."
"It'll kill you, the regret," Bellatrix whispered, almost as if these were state secrets she was sharing and not life advice, "so just don't–"
"I'm not going to regret this," Hermione fixed Bellatrix with a sincere gaze, one that promised certainty, and after a moment of silence, Bellatrix closed the distance and kissed Hermione's lips passionately, as if it might be the last time.