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Before They Fall by Jchrissy
Chapter 18 : Baby Steps
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 14

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Awesome chapter image by heartfelt @tda
Chapter 18 - Baby Steps

Lily popped the top off of the glass phial, then swirled it around under her nose. It smelled spicy, but in an odd way. Kind of like paprika, she thought. But it did seem to have a hint of sweetness to it, which was a sure sign of the Pepper-Up potion having soured. She secured the cork tightly before tossing it into the bin that Madam Pomfrey had labeled disposables.

After writing down Pepper-Up potion on her list of the ones that she’d put into the rubbish bin, she continued going through the large cupboard full of different colored and sized phials. Lily knew it was a bit odd, but she was rather upset that this was her last detention with Madam Pomfrey. When Professor McGonagall had told her that she would have them every Sunday morning until the end of the month, Lily was sure they’d drag on. But now that it was the first day of December, she almost couldn’t believe how quickly the time had flown.

And, if she was being honest, she knew cursing Rosier was worth every hour she spent in the hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey hadn’t even made it feel like a punishment. The matron had given her fairly exciting things to do every detention, and even took the time to explain the injuries and why a certain potion would work best. As long as the injury hadn’t been an emergency, of course.

With all the thinking Lily had been doing about her future, it was probably a good thing she’d been given the detentions. A few weeks ago, she was still on the fence about a career. But now she was certain that she’d be asking Professor McGonagall for an applicant packet to the Healing Academy of Magical Medicine first thing Monday morning.

Yes, there was a war going on. Yes, it would be hard. But Lily had realized with each student that she watched the matron care for and send on their way, that she wanted to be a part of that. She wanted to take broken things and fix them. To watch a person’s body heal before her eyes and get to be the reason they could still walk, still see, or in some cases, still breathe.

Of course, there was no saying she’d get in. If it was only Great Britain she was competing against, then she’d feel fairly confident about earning a slot in the school. But The Academy was one of the best in all of Europe. That created a fair amount of competition. She could handle it, though. If she didn’t get in, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. She could always reapply. At least this way she’d be able to say she tried.

Lily stood up from her position on the polished floor and stretched her legs. The hospital wing was exceptionally quiet for a Sunday morning. Probably the quietest she’d seen yet. There was a Ravenclaw girl laying in the bed closest to the office, but she hadn’t made a peep. From what Lily gathered, the fourth year had been up late into the night writing essays and making notes. At some point, her hand had cramped up so severely that the pain was enough to convince her to go to the hospital wing. That was before Lily arrived, though. And really, it didn’t surprise her. Quills were far from easy to write with. You had to add more pressure than a pencil or pen, and just when you were finally getting a sentence together, you’d run out of ink. Irritating things.

She closed the cabinet door and replaced the lock, then scanned the room to be sure all the potions were put back before clicking the bolt into place.

“Okay now, into bed with you. We’ll disinfect those cuts and heal the wrist, then you can rest a while.”

Madam Pomfrey’s voice echoed through the hospital wing and into the small office that Lily was working in. She checked the lock one last time, then rushed to bundle her hair up in a tie, anxious to see what kind of injury they’d have this morning.

“It’s not so bad, really.” Lily paused at the sound of the male voice. It was more hushed than Pomfrey’s; she couldn't make it out perfectly. It sounded like... no it couldn’t be him. While trying to convince herself of that, she hurried through the office door, shutting it firmly behind her. Her steps involuntarily rushed forward as she made her way to the bed that she’d seen the matron draw the curtain around.

“Madam Pomfrey?” she said through the thick fabric, ignoring the lump of worry forming in her throat.

“Ah, excellent timing, Miss Evans,” came the reply. Lily struggled not to open the curtain, knowing that would be an unfair invasion of privacy. “Go get bezoar and honey salve, put a few drops of Sea Eel blood in it, and bring it here. Grab the Porlock hair swabs, as well.”

She turned from the spot, her mind still twisting around the sound of the voice that had yet to speak again. It could be anyone in the school. Just because it sounded exactly like Remus didn’t mean it was him.

She grabbed the supplies, stirring the blood into the salve as she walked, and rushed back to the occupied bed.

“I have the things you asked for, Madam Pomfrey.” Lily could hear the matron reach up and grab hold of the string before sliding the curtain open, just enough so Lily could step inside.

She felt her heart fall as she took in the sight of Remus laying on top of the covers, his pajama shirt pulled up, exposing dried blood that caked the majority of his ribcage.

“Remus, what-”

“I’m fine, really,” he interrupted quickly, not meeting her eyes.

“Let’s save the pleasantries until after we’ve healed him. Miss Evans, Get to work clearing the blood while I fetch a sling and potion for the wrist.”

Lily hadn’t noticed Remus’s wrist at first, but as she glanced down at it, swollen and angry, she was sure that it was broken

She nodded at the matron, who stepped from the curtain and closed it behind her. Lily dabbed a Porlock hair pad into the salve and kneeled to the side of the bed, keeping her hand steady as she began the first stroke down his ribs to remove the dried blood.

“Oh no,” Remus groaned, leaning forward an inch or so. “I didn’t live through one of Hagrid’s crazy animals attacking me just to get killed by James,” he added, obviously trying to force a bit of humor into his voice before snatching the salve from Lily.

“Don’t be an idiot. Give that back to me.” He couldn’t put up much of a fight with only one hand, and Lily had the container of salve back in her grasp in seconds, then continued her work on the gashes. “One of Hagrid’s animals did this to you?” she asked in a gentler tone, forcing her fingers to remain steady as she realized how deep the injury went.

“Yeah. My fault. I went out there early to help him with-” he cut himself off, tensing up for a moment. Lily knew the eel blood could sting something awful as it disinfected, and tried to slow down with the salve to let his body adjust to the feeling.

“To help him with a feeding,” he continued after a moment. “He warned me that he was caring for an orphaned hippogriff until someone from the Department -” The tensing came again, and Lily waited patiently for him to relax his abdomen. “The Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures could come get him. I must’ve not been paying enough attention, because I went running back there to get some more squirrels and scared the thing half to death,” he finished, laying back as the worst of the sting subsided.

“Remus, Hagrid shouldn’t have an animal back there if it isn’t safe. Maybe we should go down and talk to him about-”

“No!” The intensity in Remus’s voice caused her to look up from her work. His eyes, still a bit glossed over from the pain, were pleading with hers. “No, you can’t say anything to him or anyone else. He would feel terrible, Lily. You know that.”

She held their gaze, wanting so much to ease the fear that seemed to be pulsating through him, but something felt off. Something was wrong with what he was telling her.

“Lily, please,” he begged, his voice shaking. She let whatever was holding her back crumble away as she reached forward and grabbed his hand.

“Of course, it’ll be just between us,” she answered, giving it a tight squeeze, relieved to see him relax back against the pillow. “But you know that you’ll have to tell Madam Pomfrey how you got injured. She’s going to ask you the second she comes back.”

“Ask what?” As if on cue, Madam Pomfrey slipped through the curtains, a tall glass of a thick, purple potion in her hand and a sling draped around her arm.

“Oh, Lily and I were just discussing how I got injured,” Remus said with a sheepish smile, taking the glass from her willingly.

“Well now, I’ve learned in my years at this school that some things are better left unasked.”

Lily was surprised at the matron’s brisk answer. She usually insisted on knowing exactly what happened, in case whatever it was counteracted the kind of treatment she was going to administer.

“Lily, if you’ll excuse us I believe that’s all the assistance I’ll need.” Lily stepped away reluctantly, handing the salve to the matron. “You’ve done a marvelous job these past few weeks. I’d say your detention has been well served. You’re excused, and feel free to come see me when you fill out your packet, if that’s what you decide on.”

“But I can stay and help-”

“No, that’s not necessary. Good day, Miss Evans.”

Remus tilted up the corners of his mouth, offering her a weak smile, and with the stern glance of the matron on her, she had no choice but to turn and slip through the curtain.

She knew she should walk across the room and out the doors, thankful that her detention had been cut short. But the dark shadows that had haunted Remus’s face were still vivid in her mind. She couldn’t let it go, not just yet. So, instead of leaving, she found herself easing open a curtain that was a few down from Remus’s, and sliding onto the bed so her feet wouldn’t be visible. She listened closely for the sound of Madam Pomfrey walking across the room to head back to her office, trying to get her heartbeat to remain even. She shouldn’t be nervous... she had every right to be in the hospital wing seeing her friend. It was visiting hours, after all.

She tried to ignore the guilty tug of her conscience, and instead focused on just why she was hiding two beds down, waiting to get a moment alone with him.

Remus had gone to help Hagrid with the feedings. Okay. Hagrid was harboring a dangerous animal at his hut... that wasn’t surprising. But the rest didn’t add up. If he was waiting for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, that meant that he’d already reported the animal. So he shouldn’t get in any trouble for it being there, which should leave Remus free to tell Madam Pomfrey the details of his incident. Although, if word got around, then there was still the possibility that an angry parent would complain. But they were in a school to learn magic, for Heaven’s sake! A few gashes from a creature was far from the worst thing that could happen. Still though, some parents would never understand that. And Lily knew Remus would feel terrible if he said something and it resulted in the animal being executed.

It still didn’t add up. Why hadn’t any of the boys gone with Remus? Sure, it was earlier than they liked waking up, but that wouldn’t matter. And why was he still wearing his pajamas? How had Madam Pomfrey met up with him... why wasn’t Hagrid with them if his animal had been the cause of all this?

The quick swoosh of a curtain brought Lily’s focus back to the situation. She held her breath and listened to the clicking sound of the matron’s shoes as she passed the bed, then a few seconds later came the solid thud of the office door being closed. Before Lily could talk herself out of it, she ducked out of the curtain and slipped inside Remus’s now closed off area.

“Lily, I thought you’d left.”

Her curiosity was pushed to the back of her mind at the sight of her friend struggling with the sling. She moved to the other side of his bed and adjusted his elbow to get his arm placed in more comfortable position.

“You’ll only need to wear it for a day or so while the wrist finishes mending,” she said in a gentle tone, relieved to see the swelling had already gone down. “Remus,”
she stepped back, ignoring the chills that prickled over her skin as she struggled to think of the right words. “Something else happened.”

It wasn’t said as an accusation, but as a fact. A hippogriff, even a young, temperamental one, wouldn’t have caused this.

“Well, I had to eat a few of Hagrid’s awful pastries, if that’s what you mean.” He smiled, but Lily just stood there with her arms crossed and her eyes hooked to his.

“A hippogriff didn’t do this,” she whispered, trying to make him understand that she’d seen through his story. “If it was a Slytherin, if another student did this, we need to see the Headmaster.”

“I told you, Lily,” he started as he sat up in bed, his features getting harder with every word.

“You told me a lie, Remus.” She watched for his reaction, for some sort of guilt to spread across him that would make her sure what she was saying was true. “If you’re in some sort of trouble, we can figure it out. Were the rest of the boys with you when this happened?”

“Lily, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” The clipped tone he spoke in, the way his always friendly eyes pleaded with her to stop talking, forced shame into Lily. He wasn’t admitting that he’d been lying, and he wasn’t continuing to insist that he’d been telling the truth. But whatever it was, whatever happened to him, he needed to understand that he could tell her.

“You can trust me,” she finally whispered, sitting on the end of his bed. A blush crept into her cheeks as she remembered what she’d done when James had been in Remus’s position, laying injured in the hospital wing. She veered her thoughts back to the situation, knowing now wasn’t the time to think about kissing James. “Whatever it is, whatever is going on... I can help.”

She averted her gaze from his and glanced down at her hands. Something about Remus’s eyes, a break in their soft brown, was too much for her to look at, so instead she tried to concentrate on the creases in her palms.

“I wish you could.” He said the words so softly that Lily was sure he hadn’t meant for her to hear. But maybe he’d hoped she would?

There’d always been something different about Remus, ever since their first year at Hogwarts. Something that set him apart from the other boys, the other children. A kind of aged feeling, like you weren’t exactly talking to a peer when you spoke with him.

Lily knew that his attitude, the way he seemed to hold himself like an adult at even such a young age, had always upset Severus. People respected Remus, whether they knew him or not, whereas Severus had continually been struggling to get the same kind of treatment, but never seemed able to. But her former best friend had insisted that he wasn’t jealous of the Gryffindor, only that there was something funny about him. And as Lily ran through all the details that didn’t add up, as she thought about the injuries currently marring his flesh, she heard the theories and accusations Sev used to make bounce through her mind.

She’d refused to give them any merit then. Not because she hadn’t believed they could be possible − she’d learnt not to consider anything impossible in the wizarding world − but because Severus had no right to pry into Remus’s business. Even if she hadn’t acknowledged the theories then, that didn’t mean she ever forgot them.

“Remus, no matter how bad something is, or how bad you think it is... I’m still your friend. I’ve always been your friend,” she finally managed. Part of her thought she saw a flash of understanding dart through his eyes, but maybe her brain was playing tricks on her. Was she getting carried away, letting an idea that Sev had told her years ago take root so strongly in her mind? She didn’t think so.

“That means a lot to me,” Remus finally said with a half smile. But Lily knew he was just trying to appease her so she’d drop it. And honestly, if that’s what he wanted, shouldn’t she play along? But if she could help him, even by making him understand that nothing could change her opinion of him, shouldn’t she try?

“You know,” she began, her mind suddenly spinning back to the night before James's celebratory party when he'd made captain. How, only hours before she'd made a fool of herself with the help of Sirius's firewhiskey, Remus had told her the story of the little boy he used to know. Lily could almost feel the answer slide into place as she realized what the story had really been about. “I heard this story once. A few months ago. It was about a little boy and a monster.” She met Remus’s eyes, refusing to stop despite the warning that seemed so obvious in them. “This monster hurt a little boy. But not just that. He tried to kill everything in this little boy that made him good. To destroy his soul. But what the monster didn’t understand was that too many people loved the little boy to care about scars, no matter how deeply they ran.”

“Lily, you don’t know what you’re-”

“Talking about? I do know what I’m talking about, Remus. And I know that you’re one of the best friends I’ve ever had. Nothing would ever change that.

Remus was silent for longer than Lily liked. She could almost feel the conflict fighting inside him. Was this really so surprising? After all the facts Severus had laid out in front of her, after trying to ignore Remus’s conveniently timed plans that kept him away during the same phase every moon, could she really say that she hadn’t known? That would just be insulting her own intelligence.

“But,” she began again. If he needed to let himself believe that his secret was his own, she would allow him that. He’d always know that she was there, ready and willing to talk to him. “If you say it was a hippogriff, then it was. And you’re right, I don’t want Hagrid getting into trouble, so I wont’ mention it to anyone.”

“Thank you, Lily,” Remus said, sincerity coating his words. “You’re one of my best friends, too. And if I ever want to talk about... the hippogriff, I’ll come to you.”

She nodded and gave him a small smile before kissing his cheek and telling him to get some rest. Then she finally left the hospital wing like the matron had instructed her to at least half an hour ago.

As she stepped through the door and into the silence of the hall, she felt a ball of emotion strangle up inside her chest. Maybe this was why she’d spent so long pretending not to know what was always right in front of her face. It was so much more painful than she was prepared for. Part of her had realized Severus was right back in the start of fifth year, when he'd convinced her to read the section on werewolves in their Defence Against the Dark Arts book. But even back then, the idea of Remus Lupin having to suffer through all of the things the passage talked about was so terrible that she’d refused to believe it was true.

She slowed her pace and stepped behind the statue of a large sphinx, her eyes blurry with tears that she probably had no right to shed. She wasn’t the one living through it. As she let her emotions leak out over her cheeks, she made herself promise that whenever Remus did decide to talk to her about it, she wouldn’t act like this. It was the last thing he needed. But for just a few minutes, she let the pain of what one of her best friends had endured for so many years take front and center in her mind. She sat next to the tail of the sphinx and cried for the little boy whose scars would always run deeper than just flesh.

The warm fire, hissing and crackling, made a perfect companion to Belle’s solitary mood. She’d almost talked herself out of coming to the library in favor of heading back to the common room, but now as she sat beside the heat, flipping through The Tales of Treachery and Treason, she was thankful that she’d come here.

She’d been meaning to start a new book for ages, and Madam Pince had suggested this. The witch that wrote it published fiction novels for both the Muggle and wizarding world, but it had yet to become popular in the former.

Belle couldn’t understand why. As she neared the end of the second chapter, she was already certain that it was one of the most capturing things she’d read. She hadn’t held much hope that anything would distract the thoughts that’d been filling her mind throughout the day, but the book was doing a decent job of it.

She knew she should have turned to her friends to help diffuse her terrible mood, but with winter holiday only a few weeks away, the last thing she wanted to do was bring everyone else down. Belle knew this was supposed to be one of the happiest times of the year, but all she could focus on was what her life had been like a year ago. Christophe’s family had dined with hers on the Eve of Christmas; her sister Adeline and Adeline’s then fiancé, now husband, had joined them. It wasn’t the warm loving Christmas Eve that some experienced, but she was still surrounded by people that she’d believed cared for her.

Would they even think about her this year? When they ate their dinner in silence, house-elves filling glasses and plates, then departed to the drawing room to discuss whatever was appropriate at the time, would they even once think about their youngest daughter?

“There you are.” She closed her book as the sound of Sirius’s voice came up from behind her. “We figured you’d gone off to the common room when you left the Great Hall.”

Belle stayed silent as the boy came over and sat on the chair next to hers. She glanced around and noticed that the library was almost empty, which wasn’t surprising. The room had so many windows and only two fires, so it got much colder than the common rooms.

“Well, that looks like a fluffy bedtime story,” Sirius commented, nodding down at her book. Belle’s expression fitted into a small smile, though she still remained silent. She still wasn’t sure what to say to Sirius after everything.

He’d explained why he left so quickly after their conversation as soon as Belle woke the morning after it all. It had been a relief to learn that he wasn’t disgusted with her, but she would have accepted it if he had been. But how he reacted instead, the way he’d been so angry with the people that hurt her, it brought too many emotions to Belle’s surface. She still wasn’t over them completely. It was almost harder to accept him being so defensive over her, when nearly everything that happened had been her own fault. But she didn’t want to question it. She was too afraid he’d realize that she wasn’t worth it.

Lily and Alice had told her that Sirius would understand what she’d been through more than anyone. But the boy sitting next to her, his eyes glancing over at her every few seconds, he never had a choice. She did. She had a choice when she walked into that villa with Christophe. She had a choice when she ignored all of her feelings telling her it wasn’t right, in favor of wanting to know what it felt like to have someone love her. But she was dealing with it, at least she thought she was. She thought getting it all out in the open would make her feel better; why did it only seem to make her feel worse?

“What ‘appened when you left your ‘ome?” Belle said the words before she could stop herself, though she probably wouldn’t have even tried. She needed to know. She needed to understand why she felt like part of her was still back in the mansion that she grew up in, cowering away from her mother’s insults.

“Well,” Sirius started, sitting back a few inches in the chair and putting his feet on the table in front of him. Madam Pince would have his head if she saw. “I guess nothing, really. They didn’t try and stop me or anything. I’d only stuck around so long for Regulus, but he’d started spending more time with my cousin Bellatrix, and I knew there wasn’t anything I could do for him. He was the only reason for me to be there, and once I realized his head was far too up their pure-blood arses to be pulled back out, I knew it was about time for me to leave for good.”

“So, did you just leave when zey weren’t looking and never come back?” Belle asked, tucking her legs up and under her.

“Oh no, far from it. They knew I was leaving. My mum and I had gotten into a row, and she let loose a pretty nasty curse.” Belle noticed that he reached his hand up and rubbed down from his shoulder to his chest. She immediately recalled the tip of a scar she could sometimes see just above his collar. “I went straight to St. Mungo’s and owled James. He and Mr. Potter met me at the hospital, and we all agreed that it was best not to tell Mrs. Potter. She’d have gone over to my mum’s house and killed the woman herself.”

“But you were ‘urt! Zer was proof of ‘er abuse. She should ‘ave been arrested!”

“Belle, my family has their claws into the Ministry so deeply that they’re as good as untouchable. They’ve had at least half of those people on their payroll for as long as I can remember. All that would’ve happened if Mrs. Potter found out, is she would have ended up in Azkaban for committing murder.”

Belle nodded weakly. She understood, but it still wasn’t right that Sirius’s mother could just do what she wanted. But her own mother had been the exact same way, hadn’t she?

“Anyway,” he continued, “They saved the arm and healed me up. Mr. Potter told me I was moving in with them, and that we’d go to my house when I was doing better to get my stuff. And that’s what we did. You should have seen my mum’s face. A retired Auror standing in her front room, smoking his cigar and making pleasant conversation just to piss her off. That was the summer before sixth year, and I’ve only talked to my parents once since.” Belle could see the shadows fall over Sirius’s eyes as he remembered that one time that they’d talked. The fight that resulted in an accident that he’d probably never forgive himself for.

“I just left,” Belle said quietly, fidgeting with the edges of the book. “I didn’t get to see zeir faces when I told zem I was was leaving. Zen when my mom came to my sister’s, she’d left fully zinking I’d be back on zeir doorstep by the next morning.”

“You never really got any closure to it all,” Sirius said gently, his grey eyes looking wiser than ever.

“Maybe zat’s what’s upsetting me,” she agreed. “I feel like zer is all zese loose ties. All zese zings that keep me from really letting go and moving on.” Why was it that she was able to be so honest with Sirius? Because he’d been there? He understood what it was like to be nothing but an insignificant problem to his parents? But he’d been stronger than her. He faced it all head on, and she’d slipped away in the night, fled to another country.

“Well, let’s find you some closure. Write to them. Tell them you’ll be joining them for a few days over the holiday.” The suggestion sent Belle’s nerves into a panic. She couldn’t do that. She couldn’t meet with them face to face. She’d end up telling them how much they hurt her, telling them that she’d spent her entire childhood fighting for an approval that they’d never give.

But that was just what she wanted, wasn’t it?

“I don’t know,” she started tentatively, though the new kind of light that was glowing in Sirius’s eyes made her feel a touch more confident about the idea.

“If you think it’s what you need to stop feeling guilty about all this, to stop killing yourself because of something you couldn’t have changed and never should have had to deal with it, I say go for it. But if you don’t think you’re up to it...”

He was challenging her. Belle knew that. He’d already decided that confronting her past and ending it all was what she needed to do, and now he was trying to dare her into following through. She was sure of that, because it’s the exact same thing she’d have done if their roles were reversed.

“I still ‘ave a number of contacts zat I could use to acquire a Portkey. But Sirius, with ze way we left zings and zat letter my sister wrote to me a few months ago... zey will zink I’m crawling back to zem.”

A wicked smile ran over Sirius’s face and something about it fed into Belle’s energy, making her want to do this even more. To face it all and leave nothing unturned, so when she came back she would be rid of all the guilt.

“Let them think that. Then the slap will just be even better when you walk out again and tell them it’s for good.”

Could she really do this? What if when she got there, she chickened out? She meant to say that much to Sirius, but instead it came out as, “What if I can’t leave once I get zer? What if I forget ‘ow much it all ‘urt, and zey make me zink zat zey love me again? It used to happen all the time, Sirius. I would be so close to snapping, to telling zem zat I never want to see zem again, but zen she’d do something nice and I’d zink zat she cared still and I’d bite my tongue.”

“Well,” Sirius started, the same smile finding it’s way into his eyes. “That’s why I’ll be there. To remind you of what you’re there to do. And Belle, can you honestly think that after spending so much time with us, after seeing what it’s like to have people really care about you, you’d mistake their pathetic games for anything but manipulation?”

He’d tried to distract her with the end of that sentence, to throw her off, but it hadn’t worked. “What do you mean zat’s why you’ll be zere? I don’t ever recall inviting you.” Her words were much stronger than they’d been before. He’d already done more than enough; she wouldn’t drag him into this, too. Besides, if he wasn’t there, then that still gave her the chance to change her mind and never even step foot in the Leclair Mansion.

“You didn’t need to invite me, Blondie. I invited myself. It’s getting late, we better head back to the common room. I’m thinking of turning in early, didn’t get much sleep last night.”

She was nearly spinning at his quick change of moods and subjects. She couldn’t allow him to accompany her. It wouldn’t be fair to him. And her parents would never be pleased with...

But that didn’t matter. Her parents didn’t have to be pleased. They didn’t have to be anything because Belle was going there to end this all. To stop making herself feel like she owed them something. She owed them nothing.

But that didn’t mean it was okay for Sirius to join her. He didn’t need to take on that sort of responsibility.

“I appreciate ze offer, I really do, but I’ll be fine. I’ll ‘andle it, and I’ll come back better for it.” She smiled reassuringly, ready to put the topic to rest.

“Belle, there’s nothing wrong with getting help. If Mr. Potter and James hadn’t been with me when I faced my parents, it might have gone much differently. I know you can handle it, but there’s no reason for you to handle it alone. Plus,” he added, standing up and taking her by the hand to pull her up as well, “nothing would mean more to me than to watch their faces when you walk out again for good. You need to let me have that, or I’ll eventually just go to France to tell them off myself.”

The image of Sirius stomping into her parents towering entrance hall, his hair wild and eyes even wilder, was enough to bring a genuine laugh to Belle’s lips.

“James and Lily will be at the wedding for the first few days of the holiday,” Sirius continued. “We can go then, so no one will miss us.”

Belle stretched her legs out as they stood, her eyes looking into the fire instead of at Sirius’s. Could she really let this all happen? Was it even fair to go back to her parents with Sirius by her side, so much happier than she’d been the day she left?

Alice and Lily had told her that she had to stop punishing herself. Sleeping with Christophe was a mistake, but it wasn’t completely her fault. Hadn’t he already punished her enough for that mistake? When he’d turned his back on her, looked at her like she was nothing but a pathetic slag, did she really deserve to be punished any more than that? And the baby... she may never be able to stop blaming herself for that... but she had to try. She couldn’t keep wondering how she’d possibly let a little human being slip away. Why she couldn’t even manage to protect the life that had been growing inside of her.

Sirius must have felt all the conflicting emotions swirling around through her, because he reached down and grabbed her face in his hands like she was a small child who wasn’t paying attention.

“You can do this. We’re going to do it together, and you’re going to leave France understanding that you did nothing wrong. And I’m going to find Christophe so I can break his nose.” She knew the idea of watching Chirstophe’s aristocratic nose get bent out of shape, literally, shouldn’t have been amusing, but is was.

“Okay. We’re going to France,” she whispered after a moment, and something inside her felt like it snapped away from one of the suffocating ties.

She wanted to laugh at the change of direction her evening had taken. Just an hour ago, she’d been set on being alone, trying to forget about everything filling her mind. Now, all of the sudden she was going to France in three weeks time. She was going to look her mother in the identical blue eyes and tell the woman what she’d done to her.

Then, when her parents sat her down to inform her that they’d decided to take her back if she was able to maintain an appropriate attitude, she’d be able to tell them that she didn’t want to be taken back. That she’d started carving out a life of her own, and one day they’d regret missing out on it.

“We’re going to France,” Sirius echoed, giving her a smile that sent butterflies through her stomach.

Thank you to me awesome beta reader, CambAngst. I didn’t even have this chapter completed until Friday afternoon, and Dan (who was currently running on about three hours of sleep after driving all night) edited both versions of this chapter and got them back to me in less than a day.

So! What did you guys think? This is our last chapter before the group heads back for Christmas! I know we didn’t see all of our characters in this, so I hope that was okay. Don’t worry, they’re not doing anything fun. Just getting their essays completed and all that. ;).

Thanks so much for reading ♥ I’d love to know your opinions, good or bad, of this chapter!

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Before They Fall: Baby Steps


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