Disclaimer: I don't own anything of the Potterverse and also nothing of the Batman-verse.
A/N: A very long time ago I saw TDK, thought of Bellatrix and just had to write this. Then this all expanded and compounded. I can't believe I'm still writing this in 2020. I'm currently working on revisions. This first chapter has been revised.
A/N Regarding Story World: I've taken a lot of liberties with the Black family tree and the supposed ages of the members - the story timeline and character ages are more in line with Batman Trilogy timeline. The story follows (will follow) mostly canon for Mr. Nolan's movies with some light adjustments up until the end of TDK. The magical theory and pureblood culture is inspired by many a fanfic that delved into the topic.
It was a beautiful day of May. The sky was brilliant blue, the weather was mild, and the inhabitants of the small town were taking full advantage of that. It was the weekend of the annual town fair.
The park where the fair was being held was full of families, couples, and groups of friends; there were colourful tents set beneath broad oaks and tall willows. Low swinging carousels, candy shops and contest tents were wherever eye turned – everything was colourful and there was laughter popping up on every corner.
A young, seemingly common, couple pushed through the bustling crowd or rather… The woman dragged her scowling companion along with her in the direction of the fortune teller's tent.
"Druella, this is ridiculous," the man said for what felt like the hundredth time to him.
"It is a tradition, Cygnus," the woman replied indignantly keeping her march forward. "And we will go to see the wise woman as asked," her tone booked no room for argument, but, finally, she did pause a moment to glare at her husband to emphasize her feelings on the matter. This was important to her. It should be important to him too.
"We went there three years ago. What new is she going to tell us?" he asked pulling his arm from her grasp as unobtrusively as possible and stopping. They were in front of the seer's tent anyway. "That now we have to come back after five instead of three years and that in the meantime seasons will change and it just might rain?" Cygnus didn't believe in prophecies. To be perfectly honest, he saw the whole field of Divination as utter rubbish and it was beyond him how his usually reasonable wife was so... so... hooked on that drivel.
Still. He had come this far for her.
"It is a tradition to visit the wise woman as she asks. Everyone in my family has done so and nothing bad has ever come out of it …" she explained this to him for what felt like the millionth time.
"And has something of substance ever come out if it?" he queried right back just as expected.
Druella frowned, pursing her lips in a tight line as she switched tactics. "Of course, the traditions of my family are nothing compared to those of yours," she snapped, her body stiff and her tone curt. "Butchering old house elves as your sister does is a much more honourable custom than visiting a prophet," her French accent became more pronounced with her frustration – one topic of grievance paving way to another.
Cygnus sighed, giving in and breaking the circle. One might think that the Earl of Winterbourne-Basset caved too much before his young, foreign wife, and they might even be right. But Cygnus Black enjoyed a privilege that many of those who would judge his behaviour as undignified for a Wizarding Lord did not – he was in love with his wife.
And he had no wish to let this escalate into an argument about their families that would prompt Druella into publicly airing her grievances against her in-laws. Their conversation might be covered by Druella's privacy shield charm, but their behaviour was on full display and he didn't want speculations about their possible disagreement in the next edition of Daily Prophet's society pages. Not while everyone was still talking about what had happened at Beltane.
And it was still a question how that information had become public in the first place. Cygnus had his suspicions.
Anyhow, he had met this Madam Mynatt once before – she had been the priestess officiating the blessing on him and Druella on the eve of their wedding. He had been somewhat surprised that none of Druella's other female relatives had stepped up for the role. Traditionally, a woman from a successful union within bride's family was to deliver the blessing, so as to pass on her good luck, and Druella had three happily married sisters as well as her mother, the marquise, who was a veritable matriarch of the family, but, no, out of all of them – the female blessing had been delivered by an ancient fortune-teller.
Fortune-teller who hadn't even told them any fortune. All that the old hag had told them had been to come find her three years hence.
"If you wish to consult her, dear, you can do so any time you desire," Cygnus said in attempt to pacify his wife and avoid involvement. "But why do you have to drag me along?"
"She said that we need to come together," Druella smiled, sensing a victory. "And I will find a way to make this up to you," she fluttered her heavily lidded eyes and rolled the words in her mouth before speaking, giving them a low, throaty lilt. "Promise, dearest."
That tone spoke of more promises than the bare words conveyed and Cygnus couldn't even fake a scowl. He smiled right back at his young Countess and kissed her hand before tucking it under his. "As you wish," he acquiesced, and they ducked into the low entrance of the tent before them.
As all Wizarding tents – this one was larger on the inside too. Negligibly, but still so. The light was low. As soon as the tent door flopped closed behind them, all sound from outside world died. There was a scent of something in the air – Cygnus couldn't quite place it, but it left an unpleasant taste in his mouth. Wards.
There was a raised dais in the middle of the tent. A low table surrounded by cushions was in the centre of it. An antique oil lamp illuminated the painted scenes on the top of the table. The fortune-teller sat on the opposite end and didn't even glance up to greet her visitors – she was busy laying out cards.
"Madam?" Druella ventured respectfully.
"I have been waiting for you," the prophet responded and only then looked up. Her watery gaze took in and measured them, and only then she finally gestured for them to take their seats.
She has certainly increased the dramatics of her act, Cygnus thought, uncharitably, as Druella pulled him forward.
A young boy with curiously pointed ears came forward and placed silver goblets in front of them before pouring a drink. Cygnus grimaced, looked at the concoction, and didn't bother touching it. He strongly suspected that a part of the trick of the trade for the fortune teller was lacing her clients with potions that made them susceptible to suggestions or just plain more likely to believe her.
A few minutes thus passed and the earlier compliance Druella had coaxed out of him waned. He felt young and important enough to indulge his ill humour. "Shall we come back another time, perhaps? Say in another couple of years?"
Druella held in a huff and elbowed him discreetly.
There was another moment before the seer spoke. "No." She glanced up at the Earl, "After today you will not see me ever again."
Druella vowed in silence to kick her husband if he had offended the seer that had advised the women of her family for generations. "Madam, please…"
The old witch's pale blue eyes locked on Druella, "Three times you've been named Queen of May on Beltane," it was not a question. "Three daughters you shall have."
Druella felt breath catch in her throat. Excitement and trepidation made shivers run down her spine. The seer was respected by her family for she had never told a falsehood. And while it was known that she had been named Queen this year by the Black witches, the information about the previous years wasn't public. Her words must be true, she thought.
"The Strong one, the Light one, the Sweet one," Mynatt continued without a pause. Her gaze turned to Cygnus, "Strength will flee, light will darken, and sweetness will turn sour."
Cygnus opened a mouth to protest, to comment, but he didn't manage to get a sound out before the prophecy continued. He felt circulation leave his fingers as Druella squeezed his hand tighter with every word that the seer said.
"All of them must be lost before any can be regained. That is what must come to pass else come the fall of the House of Black."
"Ridiculous!" Cygnus spat. Anger rose like a wave in him. Out of all the things he had half-expected to hear that day, the prediction that his entire Family would perish wasn't one of them. He didn't believe in prophecies, but that didn't mean that there wasn't a threat in the old witch's words. He was a Black. The words the woman spoke were grounds enough for a duel.
"Neither light nor sweet can last without strength. Should the eldest fall - it will be the end of all," there was no emotion in the Mynatt's voice. She said it flat. As if reading a fact from a textbook.
Druella grabbed her goblet with her free hand and gulped down the drink before her. What she heard wasn't an advice. It was foretelling of a doom.
"Lies," Cygnus snarled ready to take apart Mynatt's words and then the witch herself. He sought to retrieve his hand from Druella, but she kept his palm hostage, squeezing the life out of it, and making him stay put.
"I do not lie," the frail, old witch hissed with strength that belied her appearance. The ferocity of her tone made Cygnus pause. "Two score years won't go by and my words will have come true. Ignore them at your own peril."
"What would you have us do?" Druella finally found her voice. "What can we do?"
The old witch's gaze softened by several degrees as she turned it upon Druella. "The path that goes to a better future begins in a past so old it has passed into legend, but not yet into a myth."
"I do not understand," Druella beseeched while Cygnus frowned as an understanding came upon him.
Mynatt looked questioningly at Cygnus and the answer she saw in his face made her press on with her words, "Muggles, my lady. In the future that I see that is the world that must intersect paths with Strength. When she flees, that is where refuge is sure to be given. That is where Strength will find her Knight."
"What answers are in the past?" Druella continued to question. "What do Muggles have to do with the past?"
"Don't let Strength become a stranger," Mynatt ignored the questions and issued a warning.
"What… I need more than that!" Druella turned a demand into a plea. "Please! You can't tell me that I will lose all my daughters and give me just that – I don't understand! I need more! This is not enough!"
"Stop, my dear, stop," Cygnus sought to calm his wife. "We have no children presently," he said strongly. "We may yet have sons instead," he continued. "This," he glared at the seer as he emphasised, "means absolutely nothing."
"No, Cygnus, I…"
Cygnus rose and pulled Druella with him. "We shall take our leave."
"No, Cygnus," Druella protested even as she let herself be pulled. "No, my Lord," she used every avenue available to her to beseech him – friend, lover, protector. "We can't end it like this. She said we won't ever see her again; we need more information!" Druella argued even as she found herself leaning on her husband more than being pulled. What was in that drink? She felt her agitation dying down even as she knew she should… she should…
"Druella…. Druella… Dearest…," she heard him, but she blinked away the unnatural calm only when he called her to duty by addressing her by her title. "My Lady."
"Use your portkey. Make the elf call for a Healer. I will be along shortly," he made his instructions clear and succinct.
"I…" she wavered and forgot what it was that she meant to say. "Yes," all she wanted in the world was to lie down and sleep. To dream away all the terrible things that she had heard on this day. She drew strength and clarity from the worry in her lord's eyes. She tapped a ruby on her bracelet with her wand. She was gone in an instant. Cygnus' lips kissed air instead of her forehead.
As soon as Druella vanished, Cygnus turned on the spot. His wand clutched in his hand and unmasked fury in his face.
"You may kill me as you intend, but it will not make my words any less true," Mynatt spoke before Cygnus could utter a word.
"You've threatened my Family and offered insult to my Lady by lacing her drink," he spat. There was no court that would convict him if he were to act on his impulse. To tell the truth, this act might even heal the breach between him, and his sister caused by Druella's crowning this last Beltane.
"I've offered you advice, and healing to the young mistress," Mynatt countered. "Her condition is delicate. I did not mean to insult, just calm any harmful emotions."
The words were on the tip of his tongue. The fortune-teller had made no move to defend herself. Even the boy who had served them earlier wasn't here. He could end her, and nothing would stop him. "You're dangerous."
"So says the Wizarding Lord holding the wand," she replied.
Cygnus hesitated. He had never killed before. All young lords of the House of Black were trained in duelling arts, but… He had never killed before. All that he knew of protocol, of expectations – what his own rage told him – trembled before the monumental decision. "How do I know any of what you said is true?"
"You knew what I meant when I said to look to the past."
"No," Cygnus shook his head. He protested. Vehemently. Yet in contrast his wand lowered. "No."
"Deny it all you want; we both know your words are empty for your lands still hold Avalon's secrets."
"Those are ancient tales," he still deflected.
"The crowns that were ceded still lie next to the one to whom they were sworn. The power of old oaths runs through the blood of your House. It would be wise to heed it."
"If there is any truth in it, then it is that it failed. Court of Camelot failed," Cygnus replied. This conversation touched upon subjects that just were not discussed.
The old seer sighed. "Truth be told, I do not like you, I do not like oath breakers. I would not have spoken if not for young Druella for I have nothing but respect for her mother, the Marquessa Rossier," she pinned Cygnus down with her gaze, "There is an ancient power about to be born again. Follow the path set forth by your betters or lose everything."
"That was different," Cygnus put up a hand as if that would be a barrier against what he was hearing. "Those times were different and it's ancient history."
"Doesn't make it untrue," Mynatt countered.
"No one else would go for it," he said, and knew it to be true. Even in their world – there were things that were forgotten, buried and no longer practiced.
"My words are not for all," the seer corrected calmly. "They are for you – do with them what you will but know – once Blacks believed in it so much that they conceded their crown. Surely your daughter is worth no less to you."
I don't have a daughter, Cygnus thought, but the words never made it to his lips. "I am not the Head of the House of Black. I have no power over the entire Family."
"Yet curiously your choices will determine their fate, Lord Black."
"Curiously," Cygnus repeated quietly.
"You don't need the Isle of Avalon in your possession to effect change. You are a Black," Mynatt sighed and relented. "Be comforted in the knowledge that you are not the one marked for a great change. You just have to choose which way you do your part and the rest will fall as it must."
Cygnus shook his head like shaking away a spell. "I hope the words you spoke about us never meeting again were true. I will not promise you our wands will not cross if we do."
"Don't fret young lord. We shall never meet again," Mynatt promised.
"I pray you choose wisely."
It had been months since the Earl and his Countess had returned from France. Cygnus would have expected to have long since forgotten about the visit to Madam Mynatt – except… Everything had changed since that day. His Lady was pregnant. All healers concurred that they were to have a daughter.
This was supposed to be a happy time. This was joyous news. A child in the Family. And both Cygnus and Druella smiled to all who congratulated them, they smiled at each other, yet... He had seen the shadows in his wife's eyes – how her hand trembled as it lay upon her belly when she thought he wasn't looking. She shouldn't fear losing the babe before she even holds her, he hated the fortune telling witch with a passion every time he caught such a moment.
And yet – he couldn't deny that he was terrified as well. He didn't believe in prophecies. Or rather – he wished he could afford to not believe in prophecies. Divination was such a lost art in the Isles that it was barely a parlor trick. There hadn't been a true Seer for centuries.
As days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months, he became more wrought as he struggled to come to a decision. He was a practical man and he was loath to ignore a possibility as unlikely as it was, while at the same time – everything he knew to be right and proper in the world said that he would be a fool to risk all that he had, to turn against the rest of the Family.
"Cygnus!" Druella blasted the doors of her husband's study and any and all protocols with a careless wave of her wand and a cheerful, excited voice. Her face was flushed in excitement as she strode towards her lord.
The first glance told him that the love of his life was unharmed. The second glance was a calm assessment of the heavy, two-part mahogany door that now barely hung on the hinges on either side of the door aisle. "Where's the fire, dear?" he asked, rising from his chair calmly.
This was not the first such occasion of excessive display of magic. As Druella's pregnancy progressed, she had more and more trouble controlling her magic as the unborn child's powers mixed with hers. Cygnus was mildly worried about how these outbursts affected both his wife and daughter, but healers and his lady herself had assured him several times that the only suffering parties were inanimate objects.
Druella grabbed her husband's hand and pressed the palm to her belly. "She kicked!"
And for a second there was nothing, and then he felt the movement. The absolute physical reality of it run through him like a strike of lightning. All the deliberations he had made before – vanished. It was the single movement of his unborn daughter that pushed him to his decision.
It had been so long since wizard-kind had had any meaningful interaction with Muggles that there was no up-to-date information available anywhere in the Wizarding world. That very afternoon Lord Cygnus Black Apparated to Muggle London and spent several hours locating Muggle bookstores. He took many books to help him understand the world he had been told to hate since he was a child. Because he needed to understand it – so that he could explore it – so that he would know how to teach his daughter not to hate it. For one day – she would need their help.
His daughter was reaching the ripe old age of one month and Cygnus was coming to an understanding. It had taken a great deal of wine and patience for him to understand the ways of Muggles, but in the end, he grudgingly realized that they were not that different from wizards in the way their society functioned – with one exception – one's birth meant far less than in the Wizarding world.
It also made him wonder. In the Wizarding world the name 'Black' meant a great deal, however in the Muggle world it was as good as any other which unsettled Cygnus. His daughter was precious and important - everyone in the Wizarding world had been made aware of just how invaluable young Lady Black was. Cygnus wanted the same treatment from the Muggles.
From what he had learned, the way of achieving it wasn't overly difficult. In Wizarding world status was determined by the family one was born in, the importance of said family in the Ministry which was directly related to the length of the Family Tree Tapestry, the size of the family's Gringott's account (preferably - accounts) as well as the abilities of the individual itself. In Muggle world it was much simpler - money meant power. Cygnus had a lot of money and he was willing to use it.
Cygnus had never been a patient man, but today, fortunately, his patience wasn't put to test. Adrian Burke arrived precisely on time. It hadn't been easy for Cygnus to find Mr. Burke. Whenever a squib had the ill luck of being born into an old Wizarding family they tended to disappear as soon as they could, leaving as little trace behind them as possible.
After Cygnus had made the decision to make his daughter as much of a princess in Muggle world as she was in the Wizarding one, he only had to figure out how. He didn't intend only to spend and receive nothing in return - any fool could spend money. He wanted to make money. Cygnus had decided that he was going to build an empire for his baby girl.
And to start - he needed someone that could guide him along the way explaining the terms in a way he understood best which meant that the only option was a squib.
"I'm glad that you decided to come, Mr. Burke," he spoke and indicated with his hand towards the seat opposite to him.
"Your summons raised my curiosity, Lord Black," Adrian replied sitting down. "I wonder what a Wizarding Lord would require of me."
Cygnus raised his eyebrows as if he were offended by the tone. "Nothing but the services you offer," Cygnus said after a moment of silence.
"I am an economist. My specialty is finances," confusion was evident in Adrian's tone. "But I'm also a squib and I would not be allowed to handle Wizarding accounts under the 27th point of the sixth verse – Squib Rights of the Limitations of the non-Wizarding creatures Law from the Legislation of the Ministry of Magic of Great Britain. You know this."
"That doesn't matter," Cygnus said. His lips twisted into a smile, "because I do not want for you to manage my Wizarding finances."
"Then I do not understand why you called for me," there was a hint of annoyance in his tone of voice, even though he was sure that he was about to hear something that would make it worth having had to set foot on a Wizard's property.
Cygnus leaned forward in his chair and rested his hands on the mahogany desk that was between him and Adrian Burke. A predatory smile spread across his face. "I want for you to manage my Muggle finances."
Adrian reared back as if struck. Although he spent little to no time in the Wizarding world nowadays (and whenever he did the visit was brief-ish) it couldn't have changed much in the last ten years since he had officially left it. The request Lord Black posed was unthinkable - why in Merlin's name would a Lord of a powerful Wizarding family and with a title of his own want anything to do with the Muggle world?
"We'll start out small. Buy one little business, another - destroy or evolve them - whichever suits our needs better," Cygnus continued. "I want to build an empire."
Adrian frowned. "Why me?" life had long ago taught him to think before leaping.
"Because you have no attachment – material or emotional - to anyone yet. Because you know their world and mine. Because I know you will be discreet and throughout," Cygnus replied relaxing into his chair.
"How do you know you can trust me?" Adrian asked. "After all, this could be quite a juicy bit for Daily Prophet or your sister."
"You swore an oath of secrecy only to come here and hear what I had to say," Cygnus pointed out. "That says quite a lot about you," he omitted the fact that he had done a background check on the man and they both let the fact that an oath meant a great deal less to a squib than to a wizard (because there was no magic to bind a squib to his word) pass in silence. "Besides I can obliviate you anytime at my convenience," he said frankly, "or just kill you as soon as this meeting is over," he added as an afterthought.
Adrian smiled and nodded accepting the point made – he had come here at his own risk. A Squib's life on a Wizarding property is worthless. "If you know about me as much as I suspect you do, you should know that the fact that I'm still alive means I'm very resourceful."
"I don't doubt your capabilities," Cygnus answered. "You shouldn't doubt mine."
Adrian nodded once again; he had expected no less. "Very well," he said voicing his agreement and, then with threats established and situation clear to both parties, they smoothly proceeded to discuss payments, budget, and plans of action, and no-disclosure agreements along with the most significant differences between wine brewing methods of Muggles and Wizards which of course was the most important part of the discussion.
7 years later
Little Bellatrix Black was full seven years old and would object strenuously to being called little. She was a young lady, thank you very much. And as such she was trying her best to behave while her father and godfather were in a meeting.
This was not the first time. Her father took her to Muggle London regularly enough. She did not like it much. Her mother always looked worried when they went, and Andromeda never came with them. And that was Bella's biggest peeve regarding these trips – she missed her sister, she missed being able to do magic and she hated having to watch her every word, because of the Statue of Secrecy.
Adrian's secretary did her best to entertain her charge, but Bellatrix simply was not impressed with folded paper shapes that crudely resembled regular things. This was also not the first time she was left with Amy while her father and godfather were in a meeting with other Muggles, so Bella was rather accustomed to feeling of boredom.
"Now, look," Amy said folding another piece of paper. "We put this here and this like, ahhh, like this and now," she said holding up a folded paper that resembled a boat, "tell me, what do you think it is?"
Bella frowned in thought, sitting primly on the chair before Amy' s desk. To tell the truth at first it seemed like a ruined sheet of paper to her. When her mother made something, she used either and or a brush, or a pencil and the outcome always was rather obvious even if it was just a paper with lots of pretty colours.
She pursed her lips in thought, her little arms crossed across her chest. The top thing in her mind was the prize that was promised to her if she behaved today. The gifts from these trips to Muggle world were the one bright thing in the entire affair. And Bellatrix had spied a beautiful pearl necklace in a jeweller's shop down the street of the building they were in. The necklace was as beautiful as her mother's jewels and, truth be told, she was a little magpie attracted to shiny, expensive things.
"It looks like…," she tried. "It looks like mothers candy dish," she finally said. It was partly true - if Bella scrunched her eyes and looked very hard, she could imagine the outline of the exquisite crystal bowl. "How did you know how it looks? Mother always puts it on the highest shelves," she added quickly making sure to sound adequately astounded and impressed.
Amy laughed. "You really think so?" she asked. She never minded looking after boss's little goddaughter during board meetings. The girl had such strange outlook on ordinary things that Amy rarely needed anything more than what could be found on her work desk to keep the little one entertained. "Then here you go," she said handing over the paper boat. "Your own candy dish."
Bella took the folded paper and thanked appropriately. She held the paper figure with the tips of her fingers, unsure of how solid the thing was. This new toy had to be the least worth thing of all she possessed however it also fascinated her in a way. "What do you think it is?" she asked looking at Amy.
Amy opened her mouth to answer when a phone rang. She held up a finger to motion for Bella to be silent and answered. The conversation went on for a couple of minutes and when Amy put the phone back down, she was positively glowing.
"Who was that?" Bella asked, her curiosity piqued.
"Oh, nothing. Just, you know, my fiancée," Amy said taking a quick, excited breath after every other word.
"What's a fiancée?" Bella asked tasting the word in her mouth. Her mother had told her time and time again that when encountering something new in whatever shape or form - she should explore it and only then judge. An awful serious lesson for one so young and Bellatrix didn't comprehend it fully - she just took it as a permission to nag people for answers when she couldn't make sense of things by herself which was often enough considering that she was only seven and the world still seemed a big place.
"My prince on a white horse, only he doesn't have a horse," Amy smiled and tried to explain, but couldn't stop blabbing. "The man I'm going to marry," she finally sighed dreamily.
Bella frowned. Amy was making very little sense. "How come he's on a horse if he doesn't have a horse? And why should he need a horse?" logical fallacies made her head hurt. She tried to be as clear as possible when speaking to Muggles since they wouldn't understand any magical reference, unfortunately Muggle adults didn't give her the same consideration.
Amy looked oddly at the girl. "Like a prince from a fairy-tale," she said. "Surely you too must dream to be like Cinderella or Snow White and have a prince come on a white horse to take you away from the witch and carry you to his castle to live happily ever after. Every girl dreams about it."
"No! No, I don't!" Bella suddenly got more agitated with every word. What Amy said was incomprehensible – why would someone want to be stolen from their mother? Was Amy stolen? Was that something Muggles did? Steal little girls from their mothers… This sounded like a spooky story or cautionary tale, or, "I don't dream of being taken away! I want to stay with my mother! I want to stay in my own castle! I…" I want to stay in my own home, I want to be with my mother, I don't want any princes, the more she thought of it the more the strange Muggle idea's of fairy-tales terrified the little witch.
Out of nowhere wind picked up in the well-conditioned office of 11th floor and one of the large windows groaned with a terrible moaning sound and the double-pane glass that could weather high wind, hale and all manner of other natural occurrences – cracked. And if one were to check, they would see that the crack extended from this window, encircling the entire floor, two floors above and one below.
Unknowingly Bellatrix had just cast a spell that would shape and change the rest of her life. A spell that would let her stay comfortably at home, never leaving, yet stumble on the path of her destiny that most certainly didn't involve a prince just a little boy who had a lot of growing up to do, just like her. Mynatt's not-prophecy took a giant leap forward.
Amy ran around her table to shield the child when as suddenly as it had begun the phenomenon stopped. The doors to the meeting hall burst open and Mister Black - the owner of the company- along with Mister Burke - the CEO and her boss - ran out. For a moment she sat still unsure of what to do or say then she stood up. Black hurried over to his daughter and picked the child up.
Bella snuggled to her father but was otherwise calm now. Burke went over to examine the glass.
"What happened?" Black asked his tone sharp and cold his attention focused on Amy.
"I…," what could Amy say? "We were talking about fairy-tale when a wind suddenly picked up and…," she shrugged. "The window banged close. I hadn't even noticed it was open. .. Or that it could be opened..." she hadn't done anything wrong, but she couldn't help, but feel trepidation and coldness seep into her bones under Black's gaze, that completely belied how softly he was cradling the child in his arms.
Cygnus frowned. "Bella?" he asked in a hushed and tender tone turning his gaze upon his precious offspring.
"I'm alright," Bellatrix said knowing that her father will ask her later what had triggered her latest bout of accidental magic. She looked around the hall - well, at least this time she didn't completely trash the room so the deal about the pearls might still be valid. She hooked her arms around her father's neck, content to be carried.
"It seems like it was a case of heavy draft," Burke said stepping away from the windowed wall. "This high up the winds can be tricky," he said winking at Bella.
"I think it's enough of a meeting for this time," Black said turning to the board members.
Some of them nodded, some murmured in agreement and people began to file out.
The very same night
Bella wasn't afraid of the dark. She had never been. She calmly and with mild curiosity looked over her surroundings. She was standing on a cold rock and it was dark, she heard flapping sounds somewhere above her. Absent-mindedly she wondered whether this was a dream and that she could really use a pair of shoes.
At first, she felt the whirl of magic around her and only then the softness of her boots. She cocked her head to a side and tried again. This time she thought about having a more appropriate clothing than her pyjamas. A moment later she was dressed in pants and a sweater. Neat.
She took a couple of steps forward. Never had she had such a conscious dream. She was aware of every breath she took. It felt like an adventure from the stories her mother told her before bedtime. Feeling all giddy and excited she rushed forward.
The way was hard. She slipped and tripped but continued with the determination and fearlessness one only possesses as a child. A few bouts of accidental magic helped her not to fall, though she did not notice them. She saw light somewhere ahead and went in its direction.
After she crawled through an opening that reminded her a bit of the drawings of Cerberus' jaws in her story book; she found that she was not as alone as she had thought she was.
"What are you doing here?" she asked her voice full of suspicion. This was her dream and her dream adventure - she felt rather protective of it. Dreams were important to Wizard-kind.
Bruce watched in wonder at the strange girl who had crawled out of the same place the bats had come. He couldn't get his mouth to move to form an answer, so he just stared at her half-heartedly wondering if she'd turn out to be a bat too.
Bella took a cautious step forward. She watched the boy on the ground for a moment more before putting her hands against her hips and frowning. "Are you mute?" she had inherited her father's impatience.
Bruce started to think that he was hallucinating. He glanced upwards and hoped that his father or Alfred would come soon. He wanted to get out of this strange place as soon as possible. He saw nothing, but the clear, blue sky in the frame of the well.
Bella followed his gaze and looked up as well. "You fell?" she asked, her tone softer. The fall looked like quite a big one, she didn't envy the boy - on the other hand it was probably his own fault. How hard is it to notice a well? And doesn't not going close to big holes in the ground make sense?
He looked back at the girl. He couldn't make out whether she was a hallucination or a dream, because she couldn't be real. Nobody could live down here. Finally, he decided that it didn't look like she was going to harm him as mysterious as she was. He hesitantly nodded. He still didn't feel like talking. He was half-expecting the bats to attack him again, in a way he was glad that she would be first in their path. She didn't seem to be afraid of anything.
He looked up when he heard his father's voice. He reached for his father's arm. When he was safely in the grasp of his father he looked back down, but saw no trace of the strange, nameless girl.
It was not long until he saw her again, though. It happened the very next day. He was in his room, in his bed and unwilling to get up. He supposed that his dad or Alfred would soon come to wake him if he did not get up on his own, but he wanted to drag this out if possible. He did not notice from where and when she came. For all he knew she could have been there for a very long time before stepping into his line of vision.
Bella stood in front of the boy who was obviously not asleep, but apparently too lazy to get up. She glanced around the room and noted that it was not bad, a little bit too classical for her tastes with all the dark wood panelling and 17th century walnut furniture, but altogether rather fine looking.
Bruce watched the strange girl with interest. He wondered what she was going to do. At the moment she stood by his bed and stared him down – her stare didn't affect him much as he already was on his stomach in front of her and only the floor was lower. He tried to figure out if he was imagining her, or if she was some sort of a ghost that was now haunting him.
Finally, a couple of minutes later Bella lost her interest in the mute boy. She resisted from huffing but indulged in rolling her eyes before going over to a window. The grounds were beautiful. There wasn't anything but a low, green hilltop, a plain and woods in distance. It was pleasant to see so far. Hills at her home were higher and blocked the view – sometimes they made her whole world seem way too small. She took a deep breath as if she could breathe in the vastness, the freedom.
"Who are you?" Bruce asked when finally, he tired of the silence. If his privacy was to be invaded by this ghost, he felt he had the right to ask.
Bella turned around. There were traces of surprise on her face although she masked it rather quickly. "So, you can talk," it wasn't a question. She walked over to the bed and plopped down not waiting for an invitation. "This is my dream," she stated. "Who are you?"
Bruce frowned and sat up. "This is my house," he stated back at her.
Bella huffed. "I know I am asleep. This is my dream," she said. "My dream hence my house, my everything and I am not going to share," her tone was rather hostile. Her mother had never said anything about having to be excessively polite or considerate when dreaming.
Bruce shook his head. "I know I am awake," he said his expression thoughtful. "That means you must be a ghost!" he exclaimed.
Bella felt insulted. "I would never make a cowards' choice!"
"What do you mean?"
Bella regarded the boy silently for a while. She wasn't fond of explaining things to people – which were why her relationship with her sister Cissy was rather strained. Cissy just kept asking a question after question about simple things and that infuriated Bella who preferred Andy with whom she had barely a year difference in age. However, her mother had told her time and time again to be more patient with people so Bella supposed she would humour her absent mother this time. "When you die you have a choice – either to cross over or to stay on earth and become a ghost," Bella explained. "Staying is considered cowardice."
Bella gave him an annoyed glare and chose to ignore the question. She frowned in thought – if this really was his house and he was awake, and she knew she had gone to sleep – what was happening?
"What are you thinking about?" Bruce asked. It was evident by the frustrated expression on her face that she was trying to work something out and failing.
"That you're a very annoying dream-boy," she snapped.
"I said, I'm awake and I know I'm real," he replied, not offended by her tone.
She opened her mouth to say something scathing and harsh, and unladylike when the door to the room opened and a man already in the latter part of being middle-aged stepped in. "Ah, good morning, Master Bruce," he said. "Already awake as I see, well, get dressed then," he urged.
"Good morning, Alfred," Bruce said casting a quick look at Bella who was still sitting at the foot of his bed.
"Miss Rachel has been up for quite a time and told me to pass a message that she's 'bored stiff' and you should get ready quickly, if you please," the butler said with a warm smile on his face before turning around and leaving the room.
"He didn't see you," Bruce started.
"I noticed," Bella snapped, unsure of what to make of the turn of events.
"Maybe you're my imaginary friend," Bruce said in an absent-minded manner.
Bella rolled her eyes. "Or maybe I have the power to be invisible!"
Another day later
Bruce got up earlier than usually. He didn't know for certain if the girl would appear again, but if she did - he wanted to know her secret. He wanted to know where she came from, especially, if she had such an easy access to his room. He sat at the foot of his bed and watched around intently. About half-hour later she simply stepped out from the shadows at the back of the room.
Bella took a couple of steps forward and frowned. This hadn't been very funny previously and certainly wasn't getting more amusing as the time passed. "You," she ground out. "Again!" she stumped her foot against the floor. She felt cheated at her dream-adventure.
He watched her with mild interest before deciding to speak his mind, "It makes sense, you know." He tilted his head and took a pause before continuing, "You're my imaginary friend, so you have little choice, but to come here."
"I am not your imaginary friend!" Bella snapped. She was irritated at the gall of this boy - she was way beyond anything he could ever imagine. "If anything - you're something of my imagination because this is my dream!" she said, her voice slowly rising. "And you're ruining it!"
He smirked. "I'm not the one who's invisible," he said.
Bella was young and short, her temper was even shorter. She made a move to grab a toy soldier from a nearby shelf to toss it at Bruce and hopefully bash his head in when she realized she couldn't. Her hand just went through the figure. "Oh, no," she murmured and tried again only to see that her hand had less effect on the toy than a gentle breeze coming from the open window. She gritted her teeth, of course, only she could have a dream where she was something akin to a ghost.
"See! You're a ghost!"
"I'm not a ghost! And I'm not your imaginary friend!" she hissed. "I just… I am ME," she ended putting as much conviction into her words as she could muster.
Bruce shrugged and got off the bed. "If you say so," he said.
"I didn't say anything."
Both Bruce and Bella turned to face the owner of the voice. It was a rather tall girl of their age with what Bella thought was ridiculous hairstyle. Bella sniffed in disdain, everything about the girl screamed plebeian. "I don't suppose you see …,"
"Rachel!" Bruce called out interrupting Bella and earning a glare from her which he didn't notice.
"Who were you talking to, Bruce?" Rachel asked seemingly confused.
Bruce cast a quick glance at Bella before replying, "Nobody. Just thinking aloud."
Bella snorted. "Thinking aloud like this will get you in St. Mango quickly enough," she said before getting comfortable in one of the two armchairs in the room. Come to think about it, maybe that was it - her dream quest/task was to get this boy into a hospital to help him. Bellatrix grinned. That wasn't a bad idea.
"Oh, well," Rachel paused trying to remember what she had come to tell. "I just thought we could use the new garden chairs to…," she stammered suddenly feeling cold. "To try and finally get that condensed milk from the top shelf, you know?" she shifted from one foot to another unable to shake off the feeling that somebody was dancing on her grave.
"It's a great idea," he said enthusiastically. "Why don't you go, and I'll follow in a moment?"
"Okay," she said smiling widely at him. She quickly backed out of the room and run down the hall. She had never in her life felt so out of place – unwanted and uncomfortable. When she reached the top of the stairs she shrugged and decided that she had probably mostly imagined it.
"What did you do?" Bruce asked turning to face Bella.
Bella blinked. "What do you mean?" she asked with no real curiosity behind it.
"You had to have done something!" his tone was accusing. "Rachel never stammers! You must have scared her or something!"
Bella quickly changed her satisfied smile to a more innocent one. "She couldn't even see me," she stated.
Bruce thought for a moment before nodding, "Fair enough." He moved towards the door but noticing that Bella had made no move to follow him, he stopped. "Are you going to just sit there?"
"Why? That's boring. Come with us!" he invited.
She shook her head. "No way," she said. "I'm not about to go and 'steal' sweets from the kitchen."
"But that's my kitchen - it's not really stealing," he explained hastily.
"It's stupid," she protested. "I'm not going and that's final."
He sighed. He didn't know what to say to get her to come and he didn't want to leave her by herself to the mercy of boredom or the room at her mercy. He frowned in thought for a moment. "Come," he tried again. "You'll be able to stand guard for me and Rachel and… And make fun of people because they can't see you!" he coaxed.
Bella shifted in her seat. That did sound rather tempting. She thought it over for a minute before nodding in agreement and walking over to Bruce.
"Great," he said. "Just… Just no hurting anyone okay?" he asked hesitantly before opening the door. As far as he knew ghosts were practically required to play nasty, practical jokes on people and he wasn't convinced that she wasn't a ghost.
"They can't see me," Bella echoed her earlier statement. "And I can't touch things," she hissed as she walked out of the door. She really hated repeating things. "It's not like I can do anything."
They walked a couple of steps before Bruce asked, "How come you don't fall through my chair then?"
During the month Bruce and Bella discovered that nobody in the Wayne household could see or hear her. Neither could she touch things directly however she could walk, sit, stand and jump on the furniture without hesitation. It took one run in with a door to realize that she couldn't go through walls or doors. They also came to an agreement that she wasn't a ghost or an imaginary friend nor that Bruce was an unfortunate by-product of a dream adventure even if he was a Muggle.
It also became clear that she didn't appear just in mornings, one day she had walked in the dining room in the middle of dinner and surprised Bruce so that he had almost spat his mouthful of soup all over the table.
Bella also discovered that her magic was unaffected by whatever this was and worked just fine when she got herself in a tizzy. It was possible that nobody was ever going to find out why all the glass in the veranda suddenly cracked one fine afternoon.
Sometime in late October…
Opera. Bella liked opera. After more than a month of appearing in random shadowed places, most usually in Wayne manor, this was a nice change. She walked down the aisle to be closer to the stage and sat down on the steps to enjoy the performance. Her joy didn't last long. There was a commotion in the row below her. Some people were trying to get out. It didn't take long to recognize the Waynes.
Bella sighed. "What's the matter?" she asked getting up and falling in step beside Bruce.
Bruce wasn't surprised to see her. After a month he was more or less used to her habit of appearing anywhere at any time. "Bats," he whispered.
Bella abruptly stopped to take a look back at the stage. Martha didn't see her and passed her through – both shivered after the experience. "Drafty," Martha mouthed to her husband. Bella resisted the urge to roll her eyes at the comment however she made sure to go around Martha to catch up with Bruce.
Martha opened the doors and Bella slipped outside before Bruce who seemingly hesitated to let her pass. She frowned at the dingy alleyway. The opera had seemed decent enough - nothing much compared to the Wizarding opera house her family co-owned, but decent enough -, however the alley was simply disgusting.
Bella closed her eyes for a moment and imagined boots instead of slippers that she was wearing at the moment. Now she was more grateful than ever for the possibility to change her clothing at will in her 'dream', she shivered at the thought of having to wade through this sludge with slippers even though she generally passed through things.
When she opened her eyes, the Wayne's were already going away. She grimaced. Bella was used to people waiting for and on her – having to quicken her pace to catch up again wasn't something she was very familiar with. She was beside Thomas when a man walked up to them and pointed a gun at the eldest Wayne.
Bella watched with eyes wide open at the events unfolding in front of her. Everything happened so fast that she didn't even have the time to feel threatened. In the wake of two gunshots the wind picked up and the buildings seemed to groan under some unseen pressure, but mentally Bella seemed to catch up with what was happening only when the elder Waynes were lying on the ground and Bruce was visibly fighting to contain his tears. As suddenly as the wind had picked up everything was still and silent once again.
Bellatrix slowly trod by Bruce's side silently taking in the tragic scene. She didn't have anything to say nor did it seem appropriate to speak. She didn't know how to offer comfort and her hand would pass him through were she to squeeze his shoulder, so the little witch just stood close by his side just being there until the police arrived.
She stood by his side at the police station too. It didn't matter that nobody but him could see or hear her – she wasn't here for them, although she supposed it wouldn't have hurt if she could snap at them and that they would actually hear. Now the only one who could hear her remarks was Bruce and he didn't need them right now so Bella wisely held her silence.
The people who infuriated her the most were the ones who said that 'It's okay'. Because it wasn't okay – not by a long shot. Bruce's parents were dead and that most definitely wasn't okay. Bella distantly wished that she was older and could punch some of those people – or at least visible so that she could kick them were Adrian had taught her to kick people who said or did mean things. She filed the idea for a later time though.
Now she just stood there by his right shoulder behind him and offered what comfort her presence could give. She wished she could strike out to calm the raging anger she felt about the unfairness of what had happened, because it was anger that she felt. She wished there was something she could do, but for the first time in her life she was helpless. She already knew she hated the feeling. There was nothing she could do, but talk (and only to one person too) and she didn't know what to say to Bruce who was so quiet and still that she kept tripping back down the memory lane to the first time she had met him. This time his father wouldn't be able to come rescue him.
Bella stood by his side until Alfred arrived.
The next day she found herself walking out of the familiar shadows of Bruce's bedroom. It was late morning, but he still was in his bed. Bella walked to the window making sure that she was in his line of vision, but she still said nothing.
At first Bruce had been an irritating annoyance she was forced to deal with and gradually he had become a simple annoyance that she didn't mind dealing with. Bella was hesitant to call him a friend. She didn't have friends. She had Family and the rest of the world. She had been taught to try to be courteous and considerate of others while maintaining a strong sense of self-worth, but to tell the truth, while she had picked up the occasional courtesy - it simply wasn't in her nature to be considerate of others. As a child she did try – seldom, though. The point is she didn't know how to offer any comfort beyond her own presence through lack of experience in both comforting and empathizing.
She stared at the grounds that had fascinated her the first time she had seen them. She still loved the sight. There was nothing special, no delicate gardening or glamorous tea-houses just a flat hill and green field that stretched as far as she could see before ending in a dark green blur by the horizon that could be a forest. The simplicity appealed to her. The space made her feel free, freer than she had felt anywhere else in the world – she liked that.
Bruce watched her for a moment before turning on his other side to face the distant wall. She wasn't unwelcome although he was grateful for her silence. He didn't want to hear any more 'Its okay's' or 'I'm sorry's'. He was thankful for not being alone, but more for being left to his own thoughts.
The silence was interrupted when the door opened, and Rachel peeked in. Seeing that Bruce was awake she walked in completely and closed the door behind herself.
"Alfred sent me up to ask if you want some breakfast," she said.
Bruce sat up in his bed. "No," he said, his tone quiet and timid.
Rachel seemed saddened by his answer. "You didn't eat anything yesterday evening and mom said…," she stopped involuntary. She felt it again – the thing she had experienced rather often in the last month – the fight or flight instinct at the back of her head or rather superiority around her, crushing her, making her feel as low as grass for no reason. It was as if someone hated her very much, but there was no one there.
Bruce laid back and snuggled into his blankets turning on his side so that he could still see her. He didn't say anything.
"I'm sorry," Rachel said sadly a minute later before turning and leaving the room quickly.
Bella kept herself occupied by watching the window, trying to touch things, and thinking to herself. Bruce neither resented nor acknowledged her presence. The morning hours passed quickly, and lunchtime came around. This time it was Alfred who came up – he was refused just the same as Rachel. It was close to dinner time when Bruce sat up in his bed and finally fully acknowledged Bella's presence.
She felt the stare although she waited for a moment before turning to face him, "What?" her tone was flat with a hint of annoyance.
"Do you think I should go to the dinner?"
Bella blinked. "I'm not a Healer," she said, "so I'm not the one you should be asking that." Seeing his taken-aback expression she huffed before continuing, "Although common sense says that you should go."
"I don't want to face them," he whispered.
She didn't have much to say to that. "You have to," she said logically. "Maybe not now per se but you will have to. Locking yourself in this room wouldn't be very smart. I hear that death by starvation is not pretty."
"Will you be at the funeral?" he asked not trying to pretend that it wasn't important.
Bella frowned for a moment – both serious and considerate for once. "I'll try," she finally said after a while of silence. She felt a tug on her awareness. She slowly had learned to recognize a pull in her mind that called her to wakefulness, back to where she had come from.
Soon Bruce was alone in his room. When an hour later Alfred came and asked Bruce about dinner, he was surprised to find the boy already dressed and ready to go.
Three hundred and sixty four days later (not a leap year)…
Bella opened her eyes and found herself in a cemetery. Immediately she looked around for Bruce – she noted the Wayne manor on the top of the hill in the distance, but landmarks weren't what she was interested in. It wasn't landmarks that she was drawn to.
She had long since abandoned the idea that this was a purely imaginary, adventure dream sort of, well, an adventure, and that as bizarre as this was - it was real. She had no idea how yet, but she was a clever little witch and she was a Black. She was sure that eventually she'll know all she wants to, but for now - she looked for the one thing that always called to her whenever she closed her eyes for the night – Bruce.
And there he was. A bit scrawny boy with dark hair and looking so infinitely sad and lonely standing before the huge tombstone with his parents' faces engraved in it – it hurt her teeth to look at him and see him so miserable. She bounced forward and bumped her shoulder against his.
"Hi," she greeted quietly.
He nodded but didn't say anything.
Not one to force a conversation, Bella did what she perceived she did best in these kinds of situations – she just stood there quietly, by his side and tried to offer support and being yet too young failed to feel as surprised as she will be later in life at actually feeling the emotion – sympathy.
She didn't know how long they stood there, nor did she care. The passage of time was meaningless to her. Suddenly Bruce grabbed her hand – the one closest to him – and squeezed hard. She winced.
"Bella. Tell me – where do you go when you're not here with me?" his eyes seemed large in his face and he sounded afraid of the answer, but his tone was determined. He had to know.
Bellatrix frowned, but didn't think for a second before answering honestly, "Home, of course." Then she wrenched her arm from his grasp.
Ever since she had become more solid – at least for him - Bruce terribly abused the privilege by pulling her along when she hesitated, patting her back and on one not-very-memorable occasion he had even hugged her. She wasn't sure what to think of it, especially, when he had the gall to push her aside if she irritated him, because no one ever had dared to treat her as an absolute equal – to shove back when she shoved first or shove first if necessary. She was either a child or Lady Black, never a … friend, not to anybody, but Bruce who was a Muggle of all things. Even her favourite sister treated her with more reserve and respect.
"What's home?" Bruce asked. He had so many ideas about who Bellatrix could be, but the one he feared most was that despite all she had told him about ghosts and how much she despised them, that she was one and he couldn't bear to think that when she wasn't here – she wasn't at all. Surely, in his mind, if anyone deserved to be in heaven then Bella must be there right alongside his parents.
"Well, the Manor of course, unless it's summer, because then we sometimes go to our summer home on the coast and then there's Mama's châteaux in Corsica. But mostly I'm at the Manor unless we go out or travel, or Father takes me with him to work and then we sometimes visit my Aunt in London or at the Black Castle. Also, of course, there's grand-mère and …"
"So it's not like you fall asleep and there's nothing there?" he interrupted finally asking what had been bothering him the most. "It's not just darkness and emptiness?"
"No, silly!" Bellatrix laughed. "When I'm not here, my eyes are wide open and it's a whole other world! The Wizarding world," she exclaimed. "And when I go to sleep, I come here. There's always something." Come to think of it – she rarely if ever simply slept.
"Good," he said, calmed by her responses.
"What exactly brought this on?" she asked frowning.
"It's been a year since… Since… "
"Since that brute killed your parents, I know, Bruce," she said softly. "But still. Standing alone in a cemetery?" she wasn't sure what she thought of it, but aside from the fact that being just quiet, somewhere with Bruce suited her just fine, it did seem somewhat… Weird.
"You're here," he remarked.
"Of course. If you're silly enough to be standing here, I suppose somebody has to be with you," she replied smartly.
"I didn't ask you to come, you know," his tone turned defensive and angry.
"Not this time, no, but I did promise to try to be with you on today and this is me trying," she replied with equal force in her voice and though she hadn't intended it at all – she replied like she cared, and what's important – she really did care.
His anger dissipated. "Only have to ask you once, huh?" he questioned softly. Sometimes he thought he had to ask for thousands of times before anyone listened and nobody ever really heard. And why should anyone? He was a child who was nobody to anybody. His only family was right beneath him in their graves.
"Only the important things," she grinned.
A year and two months later…
Bella frowned. She tried to resist the instinct to lean closer to the table. Her hands were in her lap and she was trying to appear as calm as possible while trying to think up a strategy that would finally end the game. She liked scheming, but three hours of chess was close to crossing the line.
"Which ones do you like better – dogs or cats?" Bruce suddenly asked.
"What?" irritated at having her thought process interrupted, she glared at him.
"See, if you're going to keep this up I think I should write a will and I think I will donate to an animal shelter in your name," he explained. "So which ones do you like better – dogs or cats?"
She blinked. "I'm not fond of animals, you know that," she said turning her attention back to the board.
"Still – dogs or cats? It's a simple question."
She sat silent for a moment before making a move with the knight. "I suppose dogs, they're at least loyal," she said. "Big dogs," she added looking up at him. "Intimidating ones."
Bruce stared at her, or more precisely at her hand. In a little over two years in which he had known her she had never been able to directly touch or punch a solid object (except him, but he really didn't think of himself as an object). And now she had just moved a knight on the board like it was normal for her.
"What?" she asked impatiently when he suddenly fell silent. His chattering irritated her, but his silence worried her – she preferred to suffer the irritation.
"You moved the knight," he whispered.
"Of course, I moved…," she stopped in mid-speech. "Oh," she breathed. "Well – finally," she said a moment later, a light smile on her face.
"What do you mean?" he asked, frowning.
"Well, things are supposed to change as time goes by, it's natural," she said smartly. "Your move."
Bruce shrugged, unsure of what to say or think so he did what was now coming naturally to him where she was concerned – he accepted it and moved on. "At least it makes playing chess easier," he said tentatively before making a move with his Queen.
"You think so?" Bella smiled and made a move with her Bishop. "Check!"
A month later…
"I saw this in a shop, and I knew you would love it," he said while tossing around various toys and books, obviously looking for something in the shelves.
Bella wasn't so sure but managed to keep an expression of vague interest on her face. The last time Bruce had said that he'd thought she'd like something - he'd offered to induct her as the Ghost of the Wayne manor. He had figured that as she could move things sometimes, they now could prove that she was there. Luckily for him her hands had passed through the vase she had wanted to throw at him.
"What is it?" she asked. While creating mayhem was fun – watching someone make a mess of a perfectly fine room was not.
"It's a game," he said, still digging through his stuff. "It's called Monopoly and there are businesses which you can buy and then build hotels and…," he launched into an explanation and Bella let the words wash over her.
She carefully looked around the room. It took a couple of minutes, but she finally saw the box he was speaking about. It was on the top shelf. She dragged the chair till the shelves and stepped on the seat before climbing on the backrest. "I found it," she said reaching for the box.
So far Bella hadn't found out what exactly triggered moments when she could touch things and when she passed through them as usually. Maybe she became incorporeal when she concentrated too much or too less or maybe it was triggered by her emotions like most accidental magic, although at home she was already receiving magical schooling. Anyway, suddenly she fell through the chair on floor.
Ironically, the thump was rather audible. Bruce rushed by her side and dragged the armchair to a side – it was rather weird to see her head sticking out of the seat. "You okay?" he asked kneeling by her on the floor.
"I'll live," she grunted massaging her ankle and sending mean glares at the unfortunate armchair.
Bruce grimaced. "Ok, come here," he said standing up and extending an arm to help her up.
Bella looked at his arm for a moment before accepting offered help and wobbly getting on her feet. Bruce helped her to hobble to the bed. After listening for several minutes to her various scenarios of 'kicking the bloody chair into next Sunday' he got the game and they actually played it. As Bruce had thought – she loved it, although she didn't say it. She didn't have to.
A bit more than two years later – early June…
He heard soft steps and looked up from his book at the intruder. A smile graced his face, "I didn't expect you today."
As they grew older their 'meetings' became more apart. For first two and a half years Bella visited every day – sometimes for all day, sometimes for barely an hour, but then she took to showing up only every other day and by now she was popping in only two times a week – rarely three.
She smiled a small smile and plopped down at the foot of his bed. "I don't want to go to Hogwarts come September," she said petulantly.
Bruce closed the book and put it aside. Bella had told him years ago that she was a witch and that made sense to him, besides that definitely beat the idea of her being a ghost. She had told him bits and pieces of her world, which only served to enforce his belief that she wasn't completely real either and he knew of her ambitions regarding the schools.
Secretly he was glad that she had been forbidden Durmstrang – it seemed a bit too dangerous. "Look at it from the bright side," he suggested cautiously.
"You mean through the hole in the roof?"
He chuckled. "It can't be that bad."
"It is not," she said. "It's worse," she sniffed in apparent and dramatic disdain.
Bruce recognized the expression on her face and wisely chose not to pursue that line of discussion – it was obvious that her mind couldn't be swayed at the moment. "Still, you're at least finally going to a school," there was a smirk on his face.
If she hadn't known that he was baiting her, he would have been cursed or at least kicked to kingdom come for the implication. "I've had education," she said stiffly. "Besides – you're one to talk. You're also being home-schooled."
He laughed at her tone. "I've got a governess. It's different, but not important," he had learned to not let her occasional mannerisms offend him a long time ago. He stood up from the bed and grabbed her hand, "Come, I'll show you the pictures Rachel gave me. You won't believe the size of her new cat! She feeds him like seven times a day!"
"I don't like cats," she told him spitefully as she followed reluctantly.
"I know, I know… It's dogs for you. Big ones," he winked at her before dragging her behind him into his private study.
"Seven times a day, though?" Bellatrix asked a moment later. "Is she crazy?"
Bruce shook his head and shoved her lightly towards the desk. "It's just hungry," he explained shrugging.
Bella shook her head, "You clearly haven't had any pets."
Bruce bit his tongue so not to reply, 'No, but I have you.'
She glared at him as if she knew what had been on his mind.
One year and six months and two weeks later…
Bellatrix dragged her feet as Bruce dragged her for a roundabout around the garden. It was late January and there was no snow – in her opinion the weather was as dreary as it could be, but it wasn't what vexed her at the moment.
"This year is a complete waste of my time. I hate it," she proclaimed kicking a few loose pieces of gravel.
Bruce glanced at her and shrugged noncommittally. He had long since realized that if he let her stew for a while she would explain where the problem lay in her opinion. It was far more productive than trying to guess it himself.
"I mean the first year is the first. It's all about getting to know the place, getting used to being in such a pitiful excuse for a boarding school. The third year is when I get to select electives and have some new and hopefully more useful subjects. Fourth year is when I can attend a school ball without having some older creep escorting me. Fifth year is the year of exams. On sixth year I'll be of age and since it's another of those useless years, but I'll be of age – I'll be able to do whatever I want! And seventh year is the last. Now the only completely bloody," she felt better when she used the swear word, "useless year is this one. I'm twelve and bored to death!"
She knew she was dangerously close to whining, but something about Bruce destroyed most of her reservations making her able to just let go – be open in a way she couldn't even with Andromeda. Not to mention that she was on the rocky edge that marked the beginning of puberty and was practically required to whine.
"Be happy about it," he replied. "You have a year more to figure things out – for me; this is the last year when everything is right."
"Oh? How come?" she asked, not in the least embarrassed about not thinking of asking before. Bruce should know by know that if he wanted her attention and sympathy, he should bloody well clearly ask for it. It's not like Bellatrix was a naturally giving and sharing and caring kind of person.
"Rachel's mom is only qualified to teach the elementary school level of education which means that next year – none of us will be here. I'll go to some boarding Junior High and I've no idea what will happen to Rachel. I suppose she'll go where her mom goes. This is the last year we're all together," he didn't say it out loud that it felt like his family was breaking apart for the second time. Everything he had known would be gone by the end of winter semester.
"Sounds like an interesting year," she said and tactfully left out the part where she was excited about finally being rid of Rachel. Honestly, the more years went by the more homicidal the provincial girl made Bellatrix feel.
"That's one way to put it," he said dejectedly.
"Oh, Bruce," Bella drawled. "Don't be a sentimental idiot. Think about it! You'll see new places, meet new people – you like that sort of thing! New friends! Maybe even some guy friends, because let's be honest up until now you've spent most of your life hanging around girls."
"You say it like it's a bad thing," he looked at her quizzically and tried hard not to smirk.
"It's a wonderful thing, but you're the kind of person who needs more friends than just me," Bella said earnestly.
"I've got Rachel too," he reminded her.
Bella's nose twitched. Precisely my point. "Fine. More friends than me and just Rachel," she rephrased.
Bruce smiled lightly. "It's just…," but the sombre mood soon won him over again. "I may not see Rachel again for a long time and you…"
"Well, I'm always were you are, so I'll be there," she interrupted. "Wherever there is."
He didn't say 'I hope so', but he certainly thought it. "It feels monumental, you know. Like the end of something."
Bella hated playing the optimist. She was much better at being rational or a realistic pessimist, if the occasion called for it. "Every end is a new beginning," she echoed dully.
"Yeah, you really sound like you believe that," he didn't hide the scepticism in his voice.
"Bruce, your life won't end just because Rachel won't be there anymore. Get a grip for Merlin's sake!" and she would have stormed away if she didn't feel that that would be far too dramatic even for a witch in her early teens.
"It's not about Rachel!" he insisted.
She grimaced. "Well then what is it about?"
He opened and closed his mouth several times never managing to make an audible sound. Finally, frustrated and somewhat scared he yelled in her face, "I don't know!" He took a calming breath. "I don't know," he repeated. "I don't know I just don't like it."
Her face was scrunched up in annoyance and her hands were on her hips – she was ready to make a stand in this argument, but his last admission took the wind from her sails. She exhaled loudly and contemplated for a minute whether his words deserved an answer before muttering under her nose, "Oh, sod it!"
She pushed him around a bit and grasped his shoulders and said the most inane and appropriate phrase she could think of, "It's going to be alright," she promised putting as much conviction into her words as possible. And for some reason the promise felt more like an oath.
One year and a couple of months later…
The last trimester of Bella's third year at Hogwarts was almost over and she visited now only about one time a week. She stepped out of the shadows to find Bruce intently studying math in bed.
"That is the most pathetic sight I've seen lately and I still study at Hogwarts," she said.
Startled, he dropped the pen before turning to face her with a grin on his face. "I always strive to be first at everything," he said.
Bella smirked and settled in an armchair by the table. His dorm room was spacious enough for a dorm room and it was for him alone, which was a factor she infinitely envied him for, because at Hogwarts she had to share.
"How've you been?" she asked with honest curiosity in her tone. They didn't meet as often as they used to so information didn't flow between them as easy as before.
"Same old, same old," he said with a smile and got off the bed, before walking over to the table and dropping in the chair opposite to hers. "I've learned which chemicals just don't go together and it took just one afternoon. And an entire school wing."
Bella laughed shortly. He had tried to explain some basic chemistry to her, but his version and the one in the book differed on so many points that she could easily imagine the results of his attempts at attaining a particular chemical reaction. Boom.
"What about you?" he asked.
Her expression clouded for a moment. She didn't want to say it out loud, but she could feel it – the student body was slowly but definitely dividing. There were tinges of something foreboding in the air and everybody felt it. A new Dark Wizard was rising and then there was the matter of... "I'm losing my patience with those pranksters in my school," she finally said.
"They're not targeting you, are they?" there was a frown on his face and an edge in his tone.
"No," she replied simply. "However, the chaos that suddenly erupts in one or another place of the castle is driving me mad. Once something goes up everybody rushes to see it like vultures to a corpse and that makes moving around without being pushed around practically impossible."
"Ignore it," Bruce advised knowing that that would have been her first response.
"There is only so much I can ignore, I swear that the next time chaos erupts because the Marauders did it again I am cursing the whole bunch into the oblivion, consequences be damned," she said heatedly.
He smiled. "I'd love to have some pictures of the oblivion and its poor inmates," he quipped.
Bella arched her eyebrows. "I'll see what I can do."
Ten months and two and a half weeks later...
It was mid-April, just around Easter. Bella had just turned fifteen and she was lounging on the couch in the grand sitting room of the Wayne manor while Bruce was getting the door. It had been a while since they both had been here. She heard him invite the uninvited visitor in and frowned in annoyance. She was with him rare as it was, and she didn't want to share her visiting time with anyone else.
She didn't bother to look around as Bruce lead the other person into the sitting room.
"Uhm.. Why don't you make yourself comfortable here and I'll see whether Alfred has left something to snack on anywhere reachable?"
Bella was pretty sure that in there somewhere was a clear invitation for her to follow him to the kitchen, but she ignored him and did it silently.
"Hi," the other girl said timidly once Bruce was out of the room.
Bella turned her head and immediately recognized Rachel. She grimaced.
"Bruce didn't mention who you are… I'm Rachel," the girl Bella knew all too well introduced herself. She took a step closer and extended her hand for handshake.
"I know," Bella replied calmly and ignored the extended hand. She wasn't surprised that Rachel could see her. She had been putting a Notice-Me-Not charm on herself for a couple of years now so that unfortunate by-standers or Alfred wouldn't notice her; fortunately, for Alfred he wasn't a very nosy valet and did leave Bruce to his own devices when asked, which meant that Bella hadn't had to do anything drastic to him – like she had had to do with some of Bruce's buddies at the boarding school.
"You do?" Rachel sounded mildly confused and awkwardly withdrew her hand. She walked around the coffee table and tried to sit down elegantly on the plush couch and was even somewhat successful. She smiled happily satisfied with the small success. There was something about the other teenager that made her want to prove herself. Somehow it reminded her of her childhood.
"Sure," Bella said lightly. "Bruce has told me all about you."
Rachel frowned. The atmosphere in the room was somewhat stiff and the air of superiority that the other girl seemed to breathe out had thrown her for a moment, but now that she thought of it, "I've seen you around before. Glimpses, but I know I have. How can that be?"
"Because I was around," Bellatrix replied honestly amused.
"But Bruce has never told me about you. How long have you known him?"
"For years," Bella stuck to short answers.
"I've known him for years and this is the first time I'm talking to you. I don't even know your name!" Rachel felt offended and somewhat threatened. She had always thought that she was Bruce's only childhood friend – the most important one, but now there was this other girl who claimed to have known him for… "How many years?"
Bellatrix rolled her eyes. Playing with Rachel when she was talking back was even more fun than playing with her when the silly girl had no idea what was going on. Not that she had any idea now – Bella was pretty sure of it. "Eight years, if you must know and you don't know me, because why should you?"
"I'm Bruce's friend!" Rachel exclaimed.
"So am I. That doesn't make me your friend," Bella made herself even more comfortable on her dark leather couch. It was so pleasantly soft she felt she could fall asleep, if she wouldn't be afraid to wake up back in Hogwarts.
"But he told you about me! Why hasn't he ever…"
"Well, think a little," Bella interrupted forcefully. She really wasn't trying to insinuate anything much, besides the fact that she was the more important one and that Bruce was hers. Her friend.
Rachel had a lovely expression of distress on her face and Bella would have loved to let the girl angst some more, but she heard steps in the distance and knew that Bruce was coming, and she had pretences to keep up. She whipped out her wand and pointed it at Rachel. "Obliviate!" she hissed.
It wasn't her best spell – her being an astral projection caused and powered by an outburst of accidental magic as a child – but it would hold. At least until Rachel had the misfortune to run into her again – then the girl would most likely remember everything up to the spell. Maybe even the spell.
"I found cookies!" Bruce called cheerfully entering the sitting room. "No condensed milk, though. I think Alfred hides it better these days," he set the tray he'd been carrying on the table.
Bella stood quickly knowing that the daze in which the spell had left Rachel wouldn't last much longer. "Well, now that you've got other company, I think I'll get going."
"Bella, you don't have to!" he protested quietly under his nose. He had had years to practice and he had discovered that there was no way to talk to yourself in public and appear normal.
"I think I do," she said. "I'm far too old to get my kicks by mimicking someone and enjoying being unseen," she knew her words came out somewhat bitter, but she couldn't help it. It might be more than a month before she'd get to visit again and who knew if Rachel wouldn't deign to darken the doorstep again on that precise weekend.
"I'm sorry," he said subdued.
She shook her head and rolled her eyes. "Don't be. It's of no use," she squeezed his shoulder and concentrated – knowing that there was a mental hook she just had to tug in her mind to get going. "See you sometime later," she said before vanishing before his very eyes.
"Cookies … Bruce?" Rachel asked blinking rapidly. She was pretty sure she had spaced out for a couple of minutes, but unsure why. She looked at Bruce staring sadly at an empty space. "Bruce?"
"Yeah, cookies," he turned to her and dropped down onto the couch in Bella's previous place. It still held her warmth.
Three more years later – late June…
Bruce was on a sofa in his bedroom in Wayne Manor, reading his History textbook – he had finished his exams and had no need for extra studying, but he found the activity to be soothing – kind of like leaping through the Physics textbook and enjoying everything you don't have to know anymore. Suddenly he looked up.
During the years he had known Bella, he had learned to sense her arrival. It was like an instinct he had developed. Her coming was something softer than wind – the replaced air rippled around the room in waves just like water in the lake ripples when a stone is thrown in. And, yes, there she was – stepping out of the shadows like usually.
Bella took a step forward and graced him with a small albeit rather forced smile. The graduation party had ended, and she had finally found a place to lay her head. She had found herself exactly where she had expected to be once she had closed her eyes.
He stood and walked up to her. "You look great," he said sincerely. "What's the occasion?"
She glanced down at herself and frowned. She was still in her evening gown. Strange. She had thought about a change in outfit the moment she took the first step in the room. Strange, but not unexpected. Dread settled somewhere in her stomach. She walked over to the armchair and sat down. "Graduation party," she said quietly and motioned for him to sit in the other chair, opposite to her.
"Is something wrong?" her expression worried him. He sat down in the armchair.
"You know," she started looking somewhere over his shoulder. She had little time and a lot to say. She had never expected anything from their continued and initially forced acquaintance and found the coldness and indescribable fear slowly seeping into her bones both surprising and painful. She had put this conversation off for far too long.
"You know, how at first I 'visited' every day and then gradually I showed up rarer and rarer," she said finally turning her gaze to him. She gritted her teeth and suppressed a shiver. Maybe contrary to what she claimed, she did know what being a friend was and maybe this was how it felt to lose one.
Bruce nodded. He was frozen in his seat. He wished to any god that would listen that he wouldn't see where she was going with this, but he had known her for too long. He knew what she wanted to say even when she didn't say it.
"I used to change outfits every hour at my convenience in the beginning," her short laugh was forced and seemed hollow as she recounted their early antics. I've known you for half my life, she couldn't look him in the eyes. How am I to let you go now?
"It was funny when you accidentally ended up in a tux that was way too big for you," he said quietly forcing a small smile. If they delved into past maybe they could stave off the future – at least for a moment.
Bella nodded, an unconscious smile mirroring his graced her face. "I also used to have bursts of accidental magic," she continued.
"I remember when you vanished the grand staircase for an hour," he chuckled. "It was a good thing that poor Alfred was sick with flu and was sleeping at the time." He blinked to lessen the burning he felt behind his eyes.
She exhaled. "I've tried to research our situation and a few months ago I realized – this has to have something to do with my accidental magic as a child," she said. "The thing is that with years I gain more and more control of my magic which is why I 'visit' less and less."
He stared at her, tried his hardest to burn her picture in his memory. Childhood was over. The dream was over. "Bellatrix…" His voice broke over her name.
"This is the last time," she said with finality in her tone. Bellatrix could hold his look for only a moment – she could not stand it a second longer. She saw too much of herself reflected there. Too much of things she would not say. He was a Muggle and she was a witch. It was never meant to be. "We are from different worlds."
Bruce shook his head in denial and rose from the chair; he walked over the window and turned his back to her. He hastily wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and proceeded to stare at the darkness before him trying to find words for a goodbye.
She didn't even start to try to understand how he felt – she could not take that and pile it upon her own pain. It was too much. She did know that she was hurting him. And the worst part about it was that she was lying. She could have chosen not to do this. They existed on the same planet, in the same time, in same universe, just... in different albeit parallel worlds – the Muggle and the Wizarding one. He must never know.
"Will you not look at me?" she asked, her voice quiet but unwavering.
He hastily turned around. There was a stricken look on his face for a moment before he composed himself.
"Hold me," Bruce pleaded suddenly.
She saw pain and longing in his face and it almost cracked her own mask. She could see he needed her by the very way he was standing – the manner in which he was slightly leaning towards her and barely holding himself together. Bellatrix wished she could care less. She wished she could hate his neediness, his dependence on her. She wished she could see him as weak and useless for it. She wished her hands wouldn't shake. She stood and extended her arms towards him.
He rapidly closed the distance between them and enveloped her in a hug. He held her closely and absent-mindedly noted that she had never seemed as real as now. He could feel the warmth she radiated, he could smell her perfume and the material of her dress was the softest piece of cloth he had ever touched. She was aggravating, offensive and downright nasty at times and she had been his friend, the best friend he had ever had. He had asked her to hold him, but it was him clutching her.
He didn't want to let her go. Ever. "Please don't go." Please.
She reluctantly returned the hug. She had kept him as a closely guarded secret for half her life. He had become closer to her than any other – he was more than a friend, more than confidant. He knew her she knew him, and … It was for the best if he didn't know that her world existed right there, truly beside his. It was for the best if he thought that he would never see her again, that she wasn't real. Her world was on the brink of a war that might very well destroy it and she had a part to play in it while Bruce had nothing to do with any of that mess – it was her world, her heritage and her mess.
Bellatrix Black could not afford to have a friend. Much less a Muggle friend. That was how it was to be, but she wasn't sorry. Not for the time, effort – not for the life that she had lived with him. She wasn't sorry for growing up next to a Muggle boy. But then why should she? She had had a friend and she will always have the last eleven years and Bruce will always be there – in her memories. The thought made something constrict painfully in her chest.
She pressed a light kiss to his temple. She cherished him more than she had ever admitted to him or herself and even though she knew that he knew – it helped now that it had never been said aloud.
It all just might have been imaginary. A childhood fancy.
In the end she was glad he didn't ask if there was anything she could do. She would have hated to lie more.
He clutched her close and hard - as hard as he could and not minding that he might be crushing her or leaving bruises. He kept his eyes closed and his face pressed in her hair. He didn't let go. At all.
His empty arms fell against his sides sometime around the middle of the night, but he stood unmoving near her favourite windowsill until the first rays of sun lightened the horizon. He felt that he had to see whether a new day truly came after the darkest hour.