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Before They Fall by Jchrissy
Chapter 25 : Trouble on the Hogwarts Express
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 12

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Gorgeous image by heartfelt. @ TDA
Chapter 25 - Trouble on the Hogwarts Express

James rolled the golden Snitch back and forth between his fingers as he made his way through the Hogwarts Express. Prefects would be doing the remainder of the patrols, but he and Lily had taken the first shift to give everyone time to get settled. Both of them had started at opposite ends of the train and they were hoping to run into each other in the middle.

He glanced out the window to his left, not surprised to see piles of thick, grey clouds spreading out in every direction. Of course it looked like rubbish outside. It was England in January, after all. It would probably be ages until they saw the sun again. The weather wasn’t what was creating the edgy sort of tension inside of him, though. He knew it had nothing to do with the constant drizzle of rain turning all the snow into dirty slush, and everything to do with the conversation he’d be having with his friends in the next few minutes. He’d held off talking to them about what was bothering him while they’d been at his mum and dad’s house, but there was no sense in putting it off any longer. He hadn’t wanted to ruin the mood then, especially not on Christmas day when Lily had first asked him, but he knew she realized something was wrong. And he might as well tell the entire group at once.

James halted outside of a compartment as the sound of exploding snaps caught his attention. Amateurs, he thought, listening to the surprised squeals of what sounded like younger students. He shook his head and continued the patrol.

It wasn’t long until his attention was back on the small item Lily had given him for Christmas. After looking all around to be sure no one was near, he stopped and leaned against a window then gripped the ball in his palm; the cool metal felt oddly comforting to his clammy hand. The wings fluttered and the Snitch repositioned itself, allowing him access into the small compartment. He pulled out a tiny picture of Lily, smiling as her lively eyes met his.

The sudden urge to talk to the miniature Lily was one he forced himself to ignore, not wanting to interrupt her patrol. The sneaky witch had put some sort of charm on the photograph that made it act a lot like the two-way mirrors James’s dad had given him and Sirius.  All he had to do was tell the picture that he wanted to talk to Lily and it would alert the photo she had of him, then they could pass messages back and forth using their image selves. James’s smile grew even larger as he replaced the photo and put the Snitch back into his pocket. Something about knowing that he was able to talk to her anytime he wished brought a foolish sort of happiness to him. God, if any of his mates saw him acting like a lovesick puppy over this, they’d never let him live it down.

James picked up the pace of his patrolling as the steam engine chugged along, ready to get the remainder of his area finished so he could head back to their comportment. He felt a bit off, almost sulky, but he never got sulky. Sirius was always the one to stomp about like a child if he felt even slightly off. James just needed to get back to his friends and talk to them about everything that was on his mind, he was sure of it. Usually leaving England and heading back to Scotland after holiday was something he looked forward to, but this time it was more bitter than sweet.

He’d had all of his mates with him at his parents’ home this year, unlike prior ones when it’d been just him and Sirius and they’d only seen Remus, Peter and Frank during Christmas dinner. Then after Christmas day the rest of the group had gone back and forth between their houses and the Potters, except Belle and Lily of course, who’d spent the remainder of the holiday with them. James had also gotten a few days completely alone with Lily, just the two of them relaxing and spending time together. One of the days they’d gone to visit Lily’s parents and placed poinsettias on the graves while Lily chatted with them. She didn’t mention anything about Bellatrix, but instead told them of the wedding and how suitable Vernon seemed for Petunia. Well, that was absolutely true, James thought. Each of them was rather terrible in their own way.

They’d spent evenings playing games, or Lily would explain different Muggle things to his parents, or his mates would show up for the night and they’d all just mess around until Lily or Remus bullied them into studying. It was one of the best holidays he’d had, apart from the attack, of course. He basically had all the things he loved about Hogwarts in his own home where he could sleep in as late as he liked and not have to write a bloody letter each time he wanted to talk to his mum or dad.

Having Lily spend so much time with his parents had made him happy, too. An odd sort of happy. It had been a bit shocking the first few times he’d ventured downstairs to find her already up and sitting with his mum drinking tea, but not in an unpleasant way. It was almost too easy for him to see her in his home with his family, and made him realize what a large part of his life she’d become.

James wondered if it had been shocking to see her slip so well into his family because he was still adjusting to the serious relationship, or because he was afraid of what would happen if he didn’t have it anymore? Though he didn’t want to admit it, part of him knew it was probably the latter. He had a few instances, though he’d never admit it to anyone, where he’d get terrified that she’d wake up one day and remember all the times she’d hated him and call the whole thing off. They’d talked about their rocky past before, obviously. He’d told her there were instances when he’d taken things too far and did things he wasn’t proud of, even if Snivel - Snape - did deserve what he got more often than not. And she admitted that maybe she’d refused to see some of the darker parts of Snape because they’d been so close.

That was as much as they’d ever said, and probably ever would say, about it all. Sometimes James wanted to ask her why she’d overlooked all the fucked up things Snape had done, but he knew it’d make her either sad or angry... he really didn’t want to do either of those things. And it wasn’t like he and his mates hadn’t done their fair share of pretty terrible stuff. The trick that Sirius played on the Slytherin to lull him into the Willow had been particularly awful... and the time James used a curse on Snivellus... Snape... without really knowing what it would do.

James supposed that when you cared about someone enough it was easier to ignore the stupid things they’d done and focus on the good. Just like he and his mates did for each other and just like Lily had done for James. The redhead knew he wasn’t that same person he’d been a few years ago; surprisingly enough James Potter had grown up. Not that he’d never do anything mean to Snape again, but he’d wait until the boy did something first. Or was acting funny... like he was up to something. Or if the bleeder and his gang ever went after one of James’s Quidditch players again. Then they’d really be in for it.

“Hey there.” James looked up to see Lily stepping from the compartment. “You nearly walked past us.”

“Well Lily,” he started, his face quickly morphing into the picture of confidence, hiding all of the things that had been brewing under his surface only moments ago. “Some of us take our duties as Head student seriously. Couldn’t be bothered to remember the compartment everyone was in when I’m trying to check the safety of our sacred train, now could I?”

James’s face broke into a grin as Lily placed her hands on her hips and narrowed her eyes into a glare. God, he loved being able to get her all worked up. He needed to start keeping track of all the things that worked best to put Lily Evans into Angry Mother Mode.

“Well then, I suppose − because you take your duties so seriously − you’ll just want to continue patrolling the portion of the train that I’ve already seen to. Just to be certain.” Her eyebrow raised as she spoke, and he wanted so much to throw her over his shoulder and wipe the smirk right off of her face. Instead, he hung his head and faked the most sincere voice of shame he could manage.

“No Miss Evans, I’m sure your patrol was done to standards that were more than satisfactory.” He peeked up through his lashes and saw her smirk transform into a smile before she simply shook her head and laughed, then turned to walk through the glass paned door of the compartment.

James followed her, his mood much better than before. He still wasn’t looking forward to the conversation he was about to have with his mates, but at least everything would be out in the open. It wasn’t as if he was telling them anything especially surprising, just not the best thing to start the term off with.

Oh well, he thought as he pulled the curtains of the compartment closed, might as well get on with it.

“There’s someone at Hogwarts watching us. And not just to get us in trouble like always, but really watching us.” James's voice rang through the now silent compartment.

For the first time since the start of the journey from Kings Cross, Sirius stopped fidgeting. He'd never been good at sitting still for long, especially on the ride to Hogwarts when he was usually just excited to get back, but now not even his fingers dared to move. He felt Belle sit up straighter beside him and glanced around for any indication that he’d heard his best mate wrong.

“You mean... someone like Avery or one of his bunch? They’re always watching us, James,” Sirius asked slowly, narrowing his eyes.

“No. Well, I might mean it could be them, but I don’t know. I figured something out over holiday but I didn’t want to say anything until we left my parents’ house.”

So it was something James didn’t want Mr. or Mrs. Potter to find out about... Sirius knew that most things James kept from his parents were for the sake of avoiding any sort of worry that would be put on their shoulders.

“James, who do you zink is watching us and why?” Belle snapped, and Sirius could tell she was just as nervous as he was.

“Is this something we should really be discussing here?” Remus interrupted. Always the practical one, Sirius thought. Though he may be on to something with this.

“Yeah,” Alice agreed. “It sounds like, if you’re serious about what you’re saying, it might be safest to wait until we can go into the Heads’ Quarters.”

Sirius didn’t know if he could wait that long to hear what was eating his best mate up. James was never very good at hiding things... and Sirius had noticed he’d been a little off during holiday. He’d seemed quieter than usual, but Sirius had just assumed that it was because of the attack.

“I can do something about that,” Lily said, standing up and pointing her wand at nothing in particular. “Muffliato.” A gust of wind came shooting from the tip of her wand.

“Erm, Lily...” Peter said kindly, and Sirius was sure he was also wondering if Lily had gone barmy. “I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of that spell. Or if it did anything...”

Lily opened her mouth to answer, but Alice had already started saying something. “Hey, isn’t that the spell you used when Belle wanted to tell us she and Sirius had almost kissed in the lib − Hey!” The pillow that Belle had been laying on was sent flying at Alice, cutting off the remainder of the sentence.

Sirius glanced over at Blondie, his mouth turning up into a half smile. “You just couldn’t get to me soon enough, could you?” he joked, slinging an arm around her which she promptly plucked off her shoulder.

“Don’t go getting a big ‘ead, Black. Maybe I was simply traumatized about ze idea of it all and I ‘ad to tell ze girls. You never know, do you?” He tilted his head back and laughed loudly enough to shake the bench. He always enjoyed his and Belle’s banter.

“If you two are finished,” Frank said, throwing the pillow that had been on Alice’s lap back over to Belle. “Lily, what does the spell do?”

“It’s meant to block the sounds of whatever it’s cast around. If anyone walks by our compartment, they’ll just hear a buzzing noises instead of our voices.”

“Useful spell,” Sirius said, nodding approvingly. “How did you learn it?”

“Severus came up with it in fifth year,” she replied. Her tone had changed just enough that it was clear she was daring them to say anything negative about the wannabe Death Eater. Ah well, Sirius thought, they couldn’t blame her for being loyal to the memory of a former friend. Even if he was a piece of slimy dung.

“Thanks, Lily. Going to need to remember that one. Now that we’re safe to talk...” James finally took a seat on the bench, leaning forward with his hand on his knees. “You all know what happened in the hotel room. No, Sirius, not that,” he said, cutting off Sirius before he was even able to make a joke about what he'd later learned his mate and Lily had been up to. “You all know what happened with Bellatrix. Well, I realized that she wasn’t just guessing or hoping I was there. She knew I’d be there.”

Lily was the first to point out the obvious. Of course they knew that, Dumbledore had made it clear that the intercepted letter had been tied into this.

“No,” James continued when they’d told him just as much. “No, I don’t mean she knew that there was going to be a wedding and all that. The letter from Petunia said all the details she’d need, so of course I didn’t think twice about it when Dumbledore told us. But I realized later that she knew I was going to be there. She didn’t just guess that Lily would end up going and hopefully bring me. She knew it. And she doesn’t seem like someone who would just go ahead with an idea and hope it worked out.”

Sirius shook his head slowly, his good mood falling away as the pieces all clicked together. “No,” he began, clearing his throat. “No. My dear cousin wouldn’t do anything without knowing it would go how she wanted it to. She was after you most, right, James? She said that he - Voldemort - was going to offer you and possibly Lily spots in his little group of psychopaths?”

“Yeah, she said she was going to take me to him and that I’d better give him the right answer.”

“But what if she’d just meant to go after Lily, and it happened that you were there and that was even better or something?” Alice asked in her always optimistic tone.

“No,” James began, “that’s what I thought at first, too. Or I guess I didn’t even really think about it. But she didn’t care if Lily was alive or not. It wasn’t that she ended up just getting lucky and having us both there.” Sirius watching as James glanced over at Lily, taking a step closer to her before continuing. “She wanted to kill Lily and just take me. She knew I’d be there.”

“When we came in,” Belle interrupted, a tremor in her voice, “I thought Lily was dead. I didn’t zink zere was any way...” she paused, taking in a ragged breath. “I didn’t zink we’d all come out alive. From ze looks of it, zat woman was never planning on anyone but James leaving with ‘er.”

“Except she never counted on you and Sirius turning up,” Lily said, giving them all a smile that Sirius was sure she had to force. “And that made all the difference.”

Remus stood up, pacing a few times before he turned to Lily. “Lily, you never wrote back confirming to Petunia that you and James would attend or anything?” Lily shook her head, the serious expression seeming much too somber for her usually smiling face.

“Someone in Hogwarts is watching us. Someone knows, and whoever does is part of their group. Or wants to be badly enough to pass the information along to a Death Eater.” James went silent for a moment, and Sirius knew he was gathering his thoughts. “We never really said anything about our plans to anyone. Not that I can think of, at least. Dumbledore made it clear that we should keep everything discreet after Beowulf was attacked.”

“I don’t think we were ever specific at all,” Lily added. “We told a few people, like Margaret and Mary, that we’d be spending the holiday together. Maybe we mentioned going to my sister’s wedding, but no one that would be working with them. We don’t even know who exactly works for You-Know-Who.”

Sirius felt his anger slowly begin to boil. He knew someone who walked through the corridors of Hogwarts wearing the Dark Mark like a fucking badge. He tried to keep his voice stable as he spoke. “Whoever it was that told works with the Death Eaters closely enough to know that Bellatrix or Voldemort or whoever the fuck was in charge of this, needed information about you guys. None of us would ever sit there and talk to a Prospect about our plans, or even talk about plans near one. But it got back to them. And it got back to a Death Eater. Probably the same one who’s sitting in our fucking school every day.”

“Sirius,” James started, a warning in his voice. “You don’t know that your brother had anything to do with this. You’ve said it before yourself, Regulus wouldn’t be up to doing any dirty work. Voldemort probably just marked him to get more money from your family.”

“I don’t know what Regulus can and can’t do anymore than I know what my nutter cousin is capable of. I never thought she’d actually try to kill me, but if she’d had the chance in that hotel room I’d have been the first person she offed.”

“No,” Belle said, shaking her head. “She’d ‘ave killed me first. She was quite angry when I disarmed her.” Sirius knew Belle was trying to bring some sort of humor into the situation, but he couldn’t handle that.

“Sirius,” Remus said, trying to reason. “He isn’t the only student here who supports Voldemort-”

“Yeah, but he’s the only one we know who’s Marked, isn’t he?” He was a Death Eater. They all knew it. None of the other Slytherins had been caught bragging about being a fucking follower like Regulus.

“That doesn’t prove anything,” Lily said gently, but Sirius barely heard her. His mind was already slipping farther away from the conversation and focusing on what he needed to do next.

He felt his fingers aching to ball up into fits. His own flesh and blood had tried to get his best mate killed. The person that Sirius had done everything he could to save, to pull away from the Black pure-blood beliefs.... the boy who had been the only one in the family to tell Sirius he didn’t mind that he was in Gryffindor...that same boy was the reason James and Lily were nearly murdered. Sirius knew he and his brother had gone their separate ways, Regulus too set on pleasing their parents to ever abandon the values he’d been raised with, but he’d never believed him capable of this sort of thing. Even when he’d learned that Regulus had been marked, Sirius was certain he would be nothing more than a connection to the vault of Black family gold.

“I swear, I’ll fucking kill him,” Sirius whispered, standing up. He felt Belle’s small hand reach over and grip his arm. He shook it off, ignoring the voices of his mates as they tried to get him to sit back down. A cloudy kind of color blurred his vision as he tore open the door to the compartment and set out into the hall. Regulus, the little mommy’s-boy bastard, had probably sat there and laughed at the thought of Sirius being alone again. He’d probably wanted to take away the family that Sirius had been welcomed into. Wanted to rip the mate that was more of a brother than anyone ever could be away from him, so he and the rest of the sick family could laugh at Sirius.

Regulus walked two innocent people into a massacre, for fuck’s sake! The idea that he was capable of that sent a churn through Sirius’s stomach. He was just a kid who would never stand up for what he wanted. Sirius had tried to keep talking to him after he fled to the Potters’ home, but it had quickly been made clear that his parents wouldn’t allow communication to continue and Regulus would never do anything that his precious mummy didn’t like. They’d never been real brothers, but Sirius had wanted to save him from the Blacks. Sirius had tried, and he didn’t want to be saved, so he’d wiped his hands clean and not let himself be bothered by it.

But now... now, knowing that little coward had been so close to destroying two people Sirius loved...

He raced by the compartments, ignoring James and Belle’s voices coming from behind him, and used his wand to shoot the curtains aside on every covered door. After he’d made it nearly halfway through the train he heard a greasy laugh he’d recognize anywhere.

And he was nearly certain where Mulciber was, he’d find....

“You,” Sirius spit, tearing open the door and pointing a finger at Regulus. He heard an angry shout from Abigail, and pointed his wand at her. “Get out here, now," he ordered Regulus, his fingers aching to clench into fists and give the boy what he deserved for ever getting involved in this life.

“Sirius, stop!” Belle shouted from behind him, placing her hands on his shoulder.

“Leave,” he growled, his eyes still burning into the boy across from him who resembled Sirius more than the latter would ever want to admit. Regulus sat there looking almost amused.

“Don’t worry, my brother is partial to temper tantrums,” began the younger of the Blacks, tapping his fingers impatiently. “Though I’d rather hoped he’d outgrown them. What is it, Sirius? Mum refused to give you your inheritance again so you’re going to come shout at me about it?”

“Ignore ‘im Sirius. ‘E isn’t worth zis, let’s go back right now.”

“This has nothing to do with you. Get out of here,” he said, turning on Belle. He saw the worry in her eyes morph to hurt before flashing quickly to anger.

“So I’m ze only one zat ever needs any ‘elp? My family ‘ad nothing to do with you but I wanted you around to ‘elp with zat, didn’t I?”

“This isn’t like that, Belle,” Sirius answered, getting steadily more annoyed at the blonde. “Just leave. I don’t want you here right now.” He didn’t want her to see what he was about to do, but he also knew that it wouldn’t be long until the last string of control snapped inside of him and he buried his first into Regulus’s jaw. It would be nothing like the clean punch he’d delivered to Christophe, Sirius would make sure there was much more blood this time.

“I want you all out, now!” shouted Mulciber.  “Or we’re going to tell Slughorn you’re harassing us.”

Sirius almost laughed at the statement. Did the Slytherin think he cared? Did he think the threat of getting in trouble was worth walking away, despite the fact that he’d almost lost his fucking best friend? The thought of it caused the red to ebb back into his vision, and he launched his body at the Regulus. He heard a shout from one of the Slytherins and saw a wand aimed at his direction, but he didn’t care. All he cared about was making the Death Eater pay.

Before he could even swing his fist he felt someone come up behind him and grab hold of his elbow, forcing him back.

“This isn’t the way we’re going to handle it,” James whispered.  Sirius tried to shake him off but he felt more hands clamp around his other arm. Remus was on the left side of him, both boys forcing Sirius back toward the door of the compartment. He fought against them, then raised his wand, wanting to at least curse the piece of shit if he couldn’t punch him. Peter was too fast and plucked the wooden tool from his fingers.

They managed to yank him from the compartment and he felt his body get pinned against the wall, then was face to face with James and the tip of his mate’s wand.

“I swear to God Sirius, I will petrify you if that’s what it takes to get you back into our compartment,” James threatened, and Sirius was certain by the look on his face it was the truth. “I don’t think it was him, or else I’d be attacking him too,” he continued, lowering his wand a few inches. “Go back to the compartment and I’ll tell you the rest. Don’t make us drag you there.”

Sirius tried to fight off the part of him that wanted to knock James out and go back into the compartment. Why didn’t he think it was Regulus? Why wouldn’t it be the piece of Death Eater shit?

“Just, trust me,” James said, answering his questions before Sirius could ask them. “Remus, Peter, get him back to the compartment. I’ll clean this mess up so we don’t find our arses expelled.”

Sirius took a breath, trying to calm himself down. If James asked for his trust, there had to be a reason. But now he sort of wanted to punch Regulus just for sounding like such a conceited wanker.

“Let’s go,” Remus said as James stepped away. Sirius gave the compartment one last hard look, then turned to follow his mates. He noticed James and Lily disappear back into the Slytherins' area, but Remus prodded him along before he could ask what they were going to do to fix it.

The tension was still steaming off of him as they slipped back into their section of the train. He’d wanted so badly for it to be Regulus, to make someone pay for what had almost happened. He sat back down on his cushion, not looking at anyone. He knew no one there was surprised at his actions. He’d never had the best control of his temper... he didn’t need anyone to explain that to him. Sirius turned his head and looked at the window, the train heavy with silence. He watched the air around them grow cloudy as they passed through fog, and finally let out a long sigh.

Maybe he should have let James finish explaining before he’d gone after Regulus.

He turned his head to tell Remus that he’d gotten stronger since the last time he’d had to help hold Sirius back, but instead Belle’s face caught his attention. Her jaw was set tightly, her light eyes not even glancing toward him.

“Hey,” he began, reaching a hand out to touch the blonde’s. She yanked hers away and he felt his heart sink. Maybe not everyone was used to his temper.

“What, are you going to tell me to leave zis compartment, as well?” she snapped, still not meeting his eyes. He started to say something else but caught Alice shaking her head out of the corner of his eyes. He shut his mouth. He’d never made Belle actually angry before. They’d bickered and everything, but not like this.

He shrugged his shoulders and relaxed into the seat. Maybe she needed time to cool off, or maybe he should try and explain that he hadn’t meant to make her mad. But she shouldn’t have been trying to stop him. Maybe he had no idea what the hell he was supposed to do.

Well, from the start of it, it looked like this was going to be a brilliant term.

Yay we're back on regular posting schedule! Thank you all so much for understanding the last few crazy weeks. But my life is back to its nice quiet self now and Saturday postings shouldn't get off track again :).

Thank you, as always, to my lovely beta reader CambAngst!

I also wanted to thank Kiana , Val. Their reviews leave me seriously speechless.

What did you all think of this one? Was Belle's anger at Sirius justified, or do you think she was over reacting just a bit?

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