Part 2: Chapter 8

December 30, 2003

She felt horrible. The nausea was thick in the air, her stomach pains were sharp and every limb throbbed like the ripple of liquid in a rattled bottle - too fast and too slow all at once, impossible to adjust to.

She crawled to the bathroom. It felt overwhelmingly horrific in every way except for the punctuation of small waves of relief after every round of sick. It was a blood-letting, she thought, a way to let poison seep out. Finally, she sat in the shower, letting the water run over her as she shivered.

She got a potion out of a cabinet but put it back, wishing to let herself feel every horrible tug of illness she'd brought on herself. Was this not pathetic enough, she thought, that it was important to remember and feel and live this, to truly plumb these depths of self-loathing? Instead of downing the potion she walked slowly back to the bedroom, grabbed her wand as she sat on the bed naked and sopping from her shower and spelled herself dry. She then pointed her wand toward the windows to let them open, allowing the stale air out. Shivering, she summoned some clothes and got dressed. She walked slowly downstairs and made herself a large breakfast, hoping against hope it would help. Midway through her cooking she had to sprawl helplessly on the kitchen floor, heaving with nausea, her mind gripped by that very specific disorientation she thought of as hangover fog.

She supported herself on a chair as she got back up to check on her food and saw the note left for her. In absence of anything better to do she cried - God, it was true, wasn't it? The rest of her life.

She drank coffee and ate her pancakes, letting it roll around in her stomach, trying to feel if it would settle there or not.

When it seemed definite that she felt a bit better she walked into the garden and stood there, looking at the little house that was visible only to the two of them. The wind was filled with cold, salty droplets of water that were whipping their way across her face. There was too much salt in the air for snow, and the day was a dark and muddled shade of grey. The trees and bushes stood bare, framing her view. It was useless.

She went back inside and gathered her things before stalking determinedly through the garden and knocking on the door. Bellatrix answered, looking solemn.

'I'm here to install the wireless.' Hermione said. Quickly adding 'You're welcome.' she simply strode in, feeling the impenetrable silence her curtness had evoked. It ballooned between them, tense and solid. Bellatrix remained in the doorway to the sitting room, looking uncertain, as Hermione charmed the necessary charms to circumvent any signal blocking.

When she left Bellatrix stared after her, wide-eyed and brightly outlined by the candlelight of the hall behind her.

...

December 31, 2003 outside Hohenfurch, Germany

Erinyes Dalca plunged 40 meters, narrowly avoided crashing into a bludger while swooping upward in a spiral, then swerved to the left while sending the quaffle in a hard pass directly into the arms of Ginny Weasley, who whipped past in an arch that lead right to a scoring goal.
The match had lasted 3 hours and the star players of Niedersachsen Nachtkrapp were on top form during the annual customary friendship match with the top team from Schleswig-Holstein. Hermione found herself holding her breath involuntarily each time either of the two players swooped or turned – it had by this point put her in a both socially awkward position and made her a bit light-headed. She had been trying to seem disaffected by Neville's eager eyes following Erinyes but felt herself failing miserably.

Hermione was still too hungover for all this shit, she decided. She wondered if Bellatrix liked quidditch and if she'd been listening to the match, remembering the figure in the hall. The woman had followed her (as she frankly often did these days) into her dreams, and she was uncertain if that meant she was adjusting to her new reality or if her subconscious was vigorously rejecting any notion of doing that. She felt quite awkward about her drunken antics and while she couldn't quite recall in detail what Bellatrix had said to her she had the gist of it. She hadn't figured out an appropriate response to Bellatrix's apology, either. Installing a wireless set didn't seem quite like it had settled anything.
She didn't know what to say around her anymore. Were they friends now? Each others therapists? Victor and loser, guard and prisoner, doctor and patient, researcher and subject? She found that she kept thinking about Bellatrix, wondering what she should say to make them go back to whatever neutral ground they'd been on before – the complication of camaraderie hopefully removed forever. Truth be told she suspected it was the tense silence that had her on her toes, not really camaraderie. Oh, God. It was all so much more than she wished to take on.

When they entered Ginny's little house, the elves had already assembled a feast complete with elf-made wine (thank the Heavens!). Hermione grabbed a glass and soon after another before sort of sitting and sort of falling into a seat next to Roger on a plush two-seater.

'How's things?' he asked her in a pointedly casual tone.
'I'm not drunk, Roger. Stop it.' she grumbled, closing her eyes and leaning back into the sofa.
'Could've fooled me, Hermione.' he answered, shoving a tiny sandwich into his mouth. 'Christmas is over – what's wrong?'
'Everything. Do you suppose Ginny arranged this as a setup to, you know, torture me?' Hermione can hear she's being insufferable, and yet she can't help it.
'No... why do you ask? It's not that bad, is it?'
Unwilling and unable to explain the true source of her discomfort, she settled on a secondary annoyance. 'I hate seeing my ex with someone else. It's childish of me, I know, but I just... am not quite over it yet, apparently. Erinyes... god, it was so stupid. I should've just told Ginny I didn't want to come. I should just tell her now.'
'Probably.' Roger acquiesced.

When she was attempting to retrieve her third glass of wine Erinyes put her hand softly on her shoulder and guided her into the hall. Hermione clutched the glass for support, turned and was met with a discerning brow wrinkle. Erinyes had her dark hair waving free now and her skin was still tinged with colour from the exertions of the day, her face full of emotions Hermione felt herself unable to discern and decode at that moment.
'Hermione, this is silly.' Erinyes began, bypassing all attempts at civility. 'If you're not alright with this Neville and I will just leave. Stop scowling and looking wounded.'
'I am not!' Hermione sputtered, colouring instantly. 'I... I am getting used to it. Give me a second to adjust!'
'It's been almost a year-' Erinyes began as Hermione burst out 'And it's been a shit year for me, alright?!' They stared at each other.
'I'm sorry I hurt you, really I am. ' Erinyes said, softly, 'I want things to be civil between us. We're bound to run into each other.'
It felt like a physical blow, but she had no response besides the truth.
'I want that, too. It's not personal, alright? I am just having a tough time of it these days. I'm sorry to be such a...'
'Twat?' Erinyes smiled. She returned a strained smile, drained the glass and went back in to find Harry. She whispered urgently to him that she wished to leave, now, would he please help her and within minutes they had got a Floo to Grimmauld Place.

'Hermione' Harry begun, 'what happened with you and Erinyes?'
She stood there for a long moment, thinking it over. 'I'm still put out about the way she dumped me for Neville, I suppose. So naturally I made a tit out of myself over it.' she finally confessed.
'Ah.' Harry responded, 'I thought that might be it. But I also had another thought about... well. It's not a great time to be you.' He stared at the ground. He'd suspected it, that much was clear, that she'd have an outburst today.
'Do you hate me for ruining the evening? I thought I'd be alright, honestly.'
'No, I get it. We've all been there. Are you... adjusting to things? It's always going to be complicated for you now, isn't it?'
'I just wish I could have what they have, you know? Not literally, I mean Erinyes and I were never serious like that, but I just... feel so alone now.' she admitted, defeated.
'Yeah. I understand that.' Harry offered no consolation. He hadn't really dated in years himself, as far as she knew. 'You're too careful, Hermione. You and me, we both are. You have to jump sometimes, you have to risk things. You have to put yourself forward, put effort into it. Risk something, you know?'
'Well, I have trouble with that.' she plucked at the hem of her pockets.
'I had the same trouble with Ginny, you know. It was difficult to be around her for a long time. It goes away eventually. But she will always be that last uncomplicated relationship, I think. I have too much baggage.' He smiled a half-smile but she remained unconvinced.
'Yeah. I mean, it's not been uncomplicated since Ron, really. But it occurred to me yesterday, due to some uh... correspondence I received that I would have to isolate so much of my life from any person I chose to spend it with that it just seems pointless to even try now. It's, well, I feel like I'll never get another chance at it.'
'You'll find someone, Hermione. Someone who doesn't mind that you're bound to that house forever or that your work is often secret in all but the vaguest details and that you keep a prisoner somewhere only you know about.' he smiled.

She pondered it for a minute, letting the possibility fill her up before disappearing.

'Thanks, mate.' she punched him softly on the shoulder. 'But doesn't the same go for you?'
'Don't be absurd, I don't keep any prisoners.' Harry smiled. They both did, neither willing to dwell further on the subject.
'I'm going to go home now, I think. Happy New Year, Harry.' she stepped forward, enveloping him in a tight hug before she kissed his cheek.
'Happy New Year, Hermione.' he gave a tired smile as she stepped into the night outside, vanishing before he'd managed to close the door.

When she got home she decided to bring over a bottle of firewhiskey to Bellatrix's house. Which turned out to be a peace offering the dark witch did not know what do with as Hermione stood in the doorway attempting to hand it over.
'Granger, are you drunk again?' she finally asked, evidently concerned.
'No, but with some help I might be soon.' Hermione tried a winning smile. Bellatrix blushed. Hermione found that very unsettling. This wasn't neutral ground as she'd hoped.
'You're a very odd woman, Hermione.' Bellatrix enunciated her name carefully, consciously. It seemed as if it was a test of some sort. Hermione didn't respond. Bellatrix looked at her, drew a breath and said, finally, 'Thank you. Come on in if you'd like.' before turning on her heel and fleeing into the kitchen leaving Hermione to stare after the soft lines of her back.

Hermione caught herself and went into the sitting room where she settled in a squashy armchair. The chair was an absolutely hideous shade of orange with patches of deep purple and the Burrow-like effect it had sank into her very bones. She stretched out her arm to take the drink Bellatrix held out without thinking about it. Her robe sleeve fell far enough back that Bellatrix could see some of the scarring on Hermione's arm and the dark witch froze for a second, wide-eyed, before carrying on.

'Why aren't you out at a party or something?' Bellatrix asked as she dove for the sofa.
'Well, I... was. Didn't really like it there.' Hermione explained. 'And I think we have some unfinished business.' Bellatrix sat stiffly, as if she were holding her breath. She hung her head.
Hermione had had enough. 'I accept your apology, alright, so no need to get melodramatic about this. I brought you the firewhiskey in the hopes of keeping you occupied for a while. It has become clear that nothing is more infuriating than being the keeper of a bored prisoner.'

Bellatrix stared, so she stared back. 'What?' Hermione shot at her, annoyed.

'Oh, nothing. Should I put on some music?' Bellatrix got up and walked over to the wireless, tapping it with her left hand before remembering she was consigned to using the knobs.

They sat in silence, listening. Bellatrix hummed along clumsily to most of the songs, not familiar with them but clearly intrigued. She looked over at Hermione often as if uncertain if she was an hallucination. It would be strange, Hermione thought, if she didn't know perfectly well that Bellatrix really had hallucinated disturbingly often the last few years, so she decided to let it be. Eventually she had drained her drink, however, and it was time to go. The silence grew stuffier and stuffier, so she simply nodded to the doorway.

Bellatrix walked her to the door, leaning on it as if waiting for some sort of farewell. Her eyes were a bit glassy – it only then occurred to Hermione how long it must have been since Bellatrix last had had a drink. 'I will see you in a few days, then.'
'Thank you for the drink. And the company.' Bellatrix smiled, sort of lopsided. She looked sleepy and elegantly dishevelled, her glassy eyes staring blankly out the door.
'Happy New Year.' she said.
'Right. Happy New Year.'

She turned and hurried home, hoping a nice warm bath would wash this day away.

...

January 1, 2004

'Happy New Year, Hermione. Ready for your inspection?' Tonks trilled, bouncing into the hall followed by her more morose mother.
'Where's Ted?' Hermione responded, amending it quickly to a 'Happy New Year!' when seeing a flash in Tonks's eyes.
'Oh, with his father. The two of them are off being lads or whatever up by whatever... Balloch? Is that it? Scotland, at any rate.' she explained as she tripped over several pairs of shoes and a coat rack.
'Take a breath, Nymphadora.' her mother admonished. 'Just take a breath.'

They followed Hermione's directions into her (magically) spotless sitting room where a spread was laid out of pastries and finger foods and several bubbling cauldrons of beverages.

'You're not the first ones here.' Hermione informed them, exchanging a look with her supervisor. 'Luna's in the kitchen.'
'Ah, well, let's get some work stuff out of the way first then, shall we?' Andromeda suggested and they retreated to Hermione's office sans Tonks.

'How's the work going?' she started in immediately as the door shut. 'Have you found enough time?'
'Yes. It's been very helpful, the extra time. Thank you.' Hermione felt acutely embarrassed knowing how much of it she'd spent drinking and sulking, but she was not about to let that show. Everyone needed some downtime, right?
'Good, because I've got some more upcoming things for you, actually. We've been thinking you should be doing more weather work. It's not that big of an island, after all.'
'Well, considering it's location it's sort of... well, the climate is intense.'
'Yes, well, an upgrade in the weather here is still a priority. It is also time for some of the spellwork to be strengthened. Did you see the notes I sent you regarding the concentrations of magic in the eastern quadrant? I'd rather avoid any mutations.'
'Yes, I will get it sorted as soon as I – tomorrow. I will sort it tomorrow.'
'Very well. The memories?' she glanced interestedly around the room, 'You have the selections ready?'
'Yes. And some regarding the magic – they're the blue ones.' she handed over two boxes filled with vials – some of them blue, some clear - all sealed for now.
'Well done. Alright, I don't mean to pester you too much today and Nymphadora is waiting so just a couple of things more.' Andromeda pulled a thick book, bound in pale uncoloured leather, seemingly out of the air. 'This volume is for you. And this is your list' she handed Hermione a parchment she had pulled out of her robes, 'for all that needs to be done before next week.'

They went over the details and when they emerged from the office four more guests had arrived. Hermione hugged Ginny and Michael. Ginny's hug felt stiff and unfriendly. Michael offered a placid 'Happy New Year, I think you're in trouble.' in her ear. Harry and Lavender greeted her more warmly.
'It's been too long!' exclaimed Lavender excitedly. She'd grown up to be quite a serious journalist, helping Luna's father turn the Quibbler into a more investigative journalism-directed publication with a dash of experimental magic to it, leaving his musings to a separate section named 'The Imaginatorium of Theoretical Magic' which was now edited rather differently. She felt like family, this woman who'd shared so many years of dormitory life with Hermione – the bond wasn't noticeable until they were adults but now... the ease of Lavender's presence around her relaxed Hermione. She gave Harry a curt nod, softly indicating Ginny. He nodded solemnly in return.

'I'm sorry I left last night, Ginny.' she began, but Ginny looked away angrily.
'Every bloody time, Hermione. I fucking hate this time of year, too, you know. But never mind, of course you and Harry go off on your own.'

Thankfully she was saved by the entrance of George. 'Hiya Hermione, everyone. Happy New Year.'

It was excruciating to play hostess. She wondered if Bellatrix had drunk the bottle by now or if maybe she could nip down for a – no. No. No more of that. Instead it was time to put on a smile.

...

January 2 2004

Her house was empty. It wasn't a work day, not really, as she'd taken care of that yesterday in order to distract herself. She'd stretched the time, exhausting herself so she wouldn't do something silly like have a drink with Bellatrix again. Now, everything was in it's place and the house had an echoing quiet to it. She started the coffee pot and turned on the wireless.

'I have served this administration and Wizarding Britain faithfully and am as big a supporter of the reconciliation route as most. But I do think there needs to be a balance. There are people still out there who have done unforgivable things and yet! Yet! We have never been given any option but to essentially immediately forgive them! An independent inquiry would at the very least determine -'

Hermione turned it back off, walked into her office and sorted her papers meticulously, labelling and organising until her mind finally stilled. She knew who Fudge was referring to, and... was the public profile of this case rising? What if he found out via the Department and decided to pre-empt criticism by explaining that Hermione, a war hero according to the official account, had custody of a certain high-profile prisoner? Would that be... how would that work out? She hated this sort of politics of empty symbolism. Fudge could stuff it, as far as she was concerned.

It was going to be a quiet day. She got her robes on, and walked the perimeter of the enchantments on the island. After 3 hours of walking she arrived at the beginning, nothing amiss. She had a sandwich for lunch. She flew the parameter. Nothing amiss. She examined the perimeter of her property. She examined the perimeter of the... garden prison.

She knew herself well enough to know that she was lingering. Distracted.

She went back into the sitting room and dug out a chess set from under a side table before striding over to Bellatrix's.

'Fancy a game? It's not wizard's chess, but the rules are the same.'

Bellatrix gave a single nod. Hermione turned on the wireless in the sitting room and set up the chess set. Bellatrix disappeared for a minute, reappearing with two tumblers of firewhiskey. They began playing in silence. When Bellatrix had won and the drinks were gone, Bellatrix walked her to the door and Hermione involuntarily slipped out 'See you tomorrow.' before walking as fast as she could back to the house.

...

January 4 2004

'That stupid shirt again? Tell me, is this considered fashionable amongst muggles?'

Hermione chuckled.

'He's a celebrity. It's a promotional shirt for a film.'
'But why would anyone wear an enormous muggle photograph of a man on a shirt as promotion?'
'He was quite the heartthrob - it's for teenage girls, I think.'
'So you have a crush on him?' Bellatrix surveyed Hermione's torso, her face shifting from an expression of distaste to one of doubt as she articulated the question.
'No, it's - you know what, never mind. It's just a comfortable shirt. You ready for me to kick your arse?' Hermione moved on breezily as she pushed through to the sitting room.

It had become a habit so quickly she didn't even think about it. After tea she'd slip down the garden and they'd play a round of chess and listen to the wireless. Once she'd realized it had been 3 days in a row, that they had begun to build a rapport... well, she panicked before deciding to simply not think too much about it.


A/N: SORRY life happened my goodness. Enjoy!