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Before They Fall by Jchrissy
Chapter 20 : No Turning Back
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 13

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Amazing CI by heartfelt.@TDA
Chapter 20 - No Turning Back
Bellatrix submerged her body under the bathwater, letting her mass of curls crowd around her and float to the surface. She continued to hold herself down, ignoring the feeling of her lungs begging to rid themselves of the carbon dioxide. Once she felt the ache begin to take over, and knew the black fog would edge into her vision, she broke through the glass water and allowed herself one deep breath.

As soon as her lungs were once again full of air, she repeated the process and slipped her body back under the water. Control. She had to control her lungs. She had to control her breathing. She had to control everything. Just like her Lord taught her. Control your magic. Control your spells. Control your mind.

She took a deep breath and rested her head against the porcelain tub, then raised her feet from the bath and used her toes to turn on the tap that coaxed out the hot water. After a second of waiting, the lukewarm liquid began steaming. Bellatrix’s first instinct was to pull her leg away, to stop the hot water from assaulting her flesh. But she quickly identified that as a weakness, an inexcusable break in her chain of control, and she forced herself to wait three long seconds before recoiling her leg and sinking it back into the water.

She let her body relax slightly, allowing her dark eye to search the shadows of the room. As some of the oil lamps strengthened, it seemed the others weakened. Smaller flames being devoured by the larger, their shadows not able to match those that were superior. That’s where their world was finally headed − a place where the stronger race devoured the weaker. The ones who were born to live and breathe magic, crushing out those who were too underserving of the gift. The idea of it sent a chill of pleasure shuddering through Bellatrix.

Their world had finally found someone whose power could be matched by none, and he was going to set right the wrongs that had occurred for too long. He would take back their place as the dominant beings, and all those who refused to succumb to this new order would perish under his wand.

Yes, things were finally going in the direction that the wizarding world needed. A few years from now, it would only be those of the purest blood that held their heads high in public. It would only be those who had nothing but magic in their veins that stepped through the doors of Hogwarts.

And she would be in the center of it all.

She would assist in cleansing the filth from her world, and watch as the others bowed to her Master. They would accept his position above all of society, and give him the respect he demanded. Or wish their beating hearts goodbye.

They would cringe in fear at the sight of her, knowing that it was her hands, her magic, that acted as tools in bringing the Dark Lord to his place on the throne of power.

And all she had to do to finally show her Master that she was truly deserving of his faith, was complete her mission. In less than two days the boy would be either marked or dead. If he made the wise decision, the only decision, she would be responsible for training him herself. For torturing all the filthy Muggle loving ideas out of him, and making him understand that their world was meant to be cleansed. Maybe he could even bring her traitorous cousin over to their side, or maybe she would at least get a chance to hold a wand to his throat and watch her green curse reflect in his eyes.

Bellatrix took breath of the misty air, and let her body fall back into the water.

Control. She had to have control.

Lily twisted and turned in her covers, the thick feather duvet wrapped around her like a cocoon. She tried to let her mind fall back into its sleeping state, but after a few seconds she got impatient and started opening her eyes sliver by sliver.

The soft drifts of light catching the golden brown of the curtains surprised her, but only for a beat. Her disoriented mind pieced together the memories of the previous day, reminding her that she wasn’t in her four poster bed at Hogwarts, but in the cozy, warm guest room − one of many − at the Potters’ home.

She stretched her limbs out before grabbing her watch and glancing at the small ticks depicting the hours. It was just after six. They needed to be at the Manchester Piccadilly station by nine and, as long as everything was running on time, they would be in Swansea by afternoon.

She slipped from the bed and grabbed a pair of leggings and a long jumper from her trunk, then tiptoed from the room and down the hall to the bathroom. James’s room was on the other side of the hall, and Mr. and Mrs. Potter were on the floor below them, so she assumed she was far enough away to avoid waking anyone up with her bath.

She made it quick, just to be on the safe side, and in under half an hour she was dressed, had her hair braided loosely over her shoulder, and was growing more and more anxious about the events that would unfold that day. She tried to curl up on her bed again and read a book that Belle had lent her, but her concentration was far from willing to cooperate.

Just as she was about to pull out some material to revise, a soft knock came at her bedroom door, followed by a rough whisper of, “Lily?”

She rushed over, opening the door slowly so it wouldn’t creak, and was met with a wave of dark hair and a lopsided smile.

“Sirius? What are you doing up?” she asked, stepping aside so he could come in, then shutting the door behind him to prevent them from waking rest of the house.

He just shrugged, then plopped himself on the bed and began fidgeting with the book Lily had been trying to read.

“You never wake up early at Hogwarts,” she continued, “and careful with that. It’s Belle’s.” She snatched the book from him before he could continue to bend the paper, then made herself comfortable next to him.

“I just couldn’t sleep, I guess. I tried waking James, but the bloody git went for his wand. He was about to curse me in his sleep, I’m fairly certain.”

Lily studied the boy, noticing the way his face betrayed a very rare sense of nervousness, his grey eyes − lighter than normal − not meeting hers.

“You’re scared about what’s going to happen?” she asked gently, realizing that Sirius was probably even more worried about how Belle’s confrontation would go than she was.

“Not so much what’s going to happen,” he answered, glancing at her through his dark lashes. “But what if it isn’t a good thing for her like I think it will be? What if I pushed her into doing this and it ends up just hurting her more?”

Lily’s heart ached for her friend. She knew this was hard for Sirius. Hard for him to see someone deal with what he’d gone through, and even harder because of how much he cared about her.

“You really think that you’d have been able to push Belle into anything she didn’t really want to do?” Lily answered, hoping her voice held enough seriousness that he’d understand she wasn’t just teasing.

“S’pose not.”

“She’s already half terrified that she won’t be strong enough to do this, Sirius. You don’t need to have those same fears. What you do need to do is believe in her one hundred percent, and make sure she knows it.”

“You know, you sound an awful lot like Remus sometimes.”

Lily chuckled at the compliment − which was what she was taking it as. She felt herself suddenly wishing he was there with them, along with Peter, Alice, Frank, and Belle. Not that she wasn’t more than happy with Sirius and James’s company, but things just felt weird when the whole group was split up all around the country. Remus had seemed so happy to see his parents though, and Peter equally happy to see his mum.

“Sirius,” Lily started, with the thoughts of Peter still turning around in her mind. “Do you think Peter was upset that his dad wasn’t at the platform yesterday?” She knew it probably wasn’t any of her business, but she had to ask.

“Peter stopped expecting things from his dad a long time ago. I think he was more relieved than anything.”

The idea of that pricked against Lily’s heart like needles, but she couldn’t help wanting to know more. “His dad can’t be that terrible, can he?”

“He didn’t used to be. I don’t know if Mr. Pettigrew was ever the picture of fatherly perfection, but I know things didn’t get bad until he started seeing someone else. Then he wanted a divorce, but Peter’s mum can’t work and... this all stays between us, yeah?” Sirius added quickly, glancing at her.

“Of course.”

“Good. Well, his mum can’t work much, because her magic isn’t that strong. She might be a squib, Peter never really said. And they wouldn’t be able to survive without his dad’s income. His mum said that she wouldn’t agree to a divorce, and if he tried, she’d take everything from him because he’d committed adultery. That was years ago, and ever since then Mr. Pettigrew has been a lousy drunk. Hardly remembers who Peter is half the time. They don’t live together anymore, but they’re still married.”

Lily stayed silent, taking in everything Sirius had told her. She knew that Peter’s dad wasn’t the best, but she hadn’t known how bad he really was.

“But,” Sirius continued, “his mum is really great. She’s one of the sweetest ladies there is. You’ll get to know her a bit more at the Christmas feast.”

That information made Lily feel a bit less hurt for her friend. Mrs. Pettigrew was always really quiet when they said their goodbyes at King’s Cross, so she didn’t know what to make of her. She was probably just shy. That would make sense, considering how shy Peter was.

“You guys are good friends, you know.” Lily said, smiling at Sirius. “And you’re a good friend to Belle, too. Everything will work out how it’s supposed to. Trust me.”

“I’ll try and remember that. I just hope I don’t do something stupid...”

Lily nodded, patting his hand with hers. Sirius always worried about how he’d act in an intense sort of situation. She knew a lot of the students at Hogwarts thought that he was reckless for the sake of being reckless, but if truth be told, Lily knew that he couldn’t do much about it. He’d made decisions he wasn’t proud of, and he’d acted in ways that he shouldn’t have. Half the time he’d even regret it after he did something stupid. Lily suspected that Sirius had been forced to make so many split-second decisions growing up to protect himself from his own family, that he’d lost the ability to stop and think things through in the way that most people did. It took a lot to get him to that point, where he was so angry he just had to lash out, and after spending so much time growing closer with him, Lily understood that Sirius truly hated himself when he did go over the edge.

Sirius stood from the bed and knelt beside Butterscotch, petting him from head to tail. “Well, shall we go down and make some tea?” he suggested after the kitten seemed satisfied.

“Sure. Maybe we can even get breakfast going for everyone. I’ll teach you to cook the Muggle way.”

Sirius was forced to stifle a laugh. His grey eyes, no longer shadowed, smiled at Lily’s, and she couldn’t help but already feel so much better about her own nerves.

She just had to remember what she told Sirius. Everything would work out how it was supposed to.

The sound of knives and forks scratching against china dishes that were as blue as the shell of a robin’s egg, was the only thing puncturing the silence of the oppressively formal dining room. Giant windows decked the walls, but curtains were pulled tightly closed, allowing not a fleck of sun to slip through.

Conversation was nonexistent. Just as Belle knew it would be, as it always was in this kind of setting. Only animals spoke while chewing their food, her father would say.

One thing was certain, her parents never would have objected to her spending time at the Christophersons’ Mansion. It would have fit their standards perfectly. She could almost hear her father’s pretensions voice commenting on the quality of the wood used to carve the massive, ornate dining table. And her mother would have said something in that airy, obnoxious tone of hers about how suitable the meal was, and how they’d clearly trained their help properly.

It felt odd to be back here, back in the world that she’d grown up in, even if it wasn’t her family. But at the same time, it was still so familiar that it nearly seemed like she’d never left that world in the first place. Only Alice hadn’t crumbled to the picture of what her parents wanted her to be, like all of Belle’s past-life friends. Girls that would talk about things far from polite in the comfort of the Palace, then be nothing but perfect around their parents. Alice stayed Alice. She’d gotten on her mother’s case for punishing a house-elf and she was still the incredibly caring girl that Belle had the privilege of calling a best friend.

“Well, that was an adequate breakfast. I’ll be in the study,” Mr. Christopherson said, pushing his chair back and excusing himself from the table.

“Father,” Alice broke in, her voice holding a tone of displeasure that Belle often got when she was being lectured about an assignment. “I think you’ve forgotten to clear your plate. You’re going to pass right by the kitchen. It seems silly to have a house-elf make a special trip just to get it.”

The annoyance in Able Christopherson’s eyes was clearly a learnt one, and it was obvious that Alice must have spent a good amount of time saying that same thing to her parents.

“As I said, I’ll be in the study,” the man repeated, before turning away and heading through the door. Belle glanced over at Alice from the corners of her eyes, surprised to see that her friend was struggling to hold back a laugh.

“Honestly, Alice,” Caitleen Christopherson said, “I don’t know why you have to torment him so.”

“Oh he needs to lighten up, mother. I was thinking of going to lunch at Frank’s after Belle and Sirius leave, would you like to accompany me?”

Belle nearly spit out the sip of tea she’d just drank. Who on earth was this cheeky girl? Not that Belle didn’t love to see Alice this way, but it was such a change.

“I’d rather keep to social gatherings with my own class. I’m sure you understand.”

“Suit yourself,” Alice answered, her tone now nothing but sweet. Belle understood that was their cue, and nodded at Mrs. Christopherson before grabbing her dish and walking alongside Alice toward the kitchen.

“Sorry about that,” Alice said once they got in the privacy of the kitchen. “I tried to tell myself that I wouldn’t start things with them while you were here. I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable or anything. But sometimes I just can’t help it.”

“Alice,” Belle interjected, wanting to rid her friend of the guilty look her eyes held. “I zink zat watching you give your parents a difficult time may be one of ze best parts about this ‘oliday.”

Alice smiled, letting out a sigh of relief, then turned to the subject that Belle knew had been coming all morning. “Sirius should be here in the next few hours. Are you going to be okay?”

“I’m going to try to be. I hope zat’s enough,” answered the blonde, her deep blue eyes already filling with the ghosts that she knew she’d soon be confronting.

Lily went through her mental checklist, trying to be sure that she’d packed all the necessities. She knew her decision to put the Undetectable Extension charm on her rucksack was a convenient one, but it also made things more stressful. Without a large overnight bag hanging off her shoulder, she felt like she couldn’t have possibly remembered everything.

“Well,” James said, distracting Lily. She glanced over at him, his hands tucked into his pockets and a small rucksack over his back. “I suppose I should leave my robes here, instead of wearing them to the wedding.”

“Oh no, I’m sure Petunia would be delighted to see you in full wizard attire,” Lily answered, unable to resist the playful banter.

Just as James was about to reply, Olivia and William entered the family room, distracting both teenagers.

“You two all set?” William asked, placing a hand on his son’s shoulder. “You know, it’s not too late to see if we can get a car from the Ministry. Plenty of people still owe me favors,” he added with a wink. Lily wished they had more time, she’d talk him into telling one of his old stories from his days as an Auror. For some reason she really loved watching Mr. Potter get submerged into his memories as he told them all a tale of when he was on the squad.

“Let the children travel however they want, William,” Olivia lectured, pointing a playful finger at her husband. “Besides, we all know you ran out of favors back before you went grey. And that’s saying something.”

“I’ve run out of favors?” William argued, a comical look of indignation filling his kind features. “Me? William Potter? Ha! The day I run out of favors is the day that Quidditch is played on dragons.”

“Now that’s an idea...” James mumbled, his eyes holding way too much mischief for Lily to be comfortable.

“I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear that,” Olivia said, raising her eyebrows at her son. “Between you and Sirius, I can’t imagine how I’ve managed to keep from going grey myself.”

“Did I hear ‘Sirius’?” came the booming voice of Mr. Black himself. “What, Jamesie, you’re getting both of us in trouble now?” he furrowed his eyebrows up, like he was really in shock that his best friend had said something to put the two of them in a negative light, then walked over to Olivia and draped a large arm around her. “You know, Mrs. Potter, I’ve been trying to get that one under control for years.” He clicked his tongue, then added a shake of his head as he eyed James.

“Oh I know you have, darling. You’d never be the one caught in the center of any trouble,” Olivia answered, patting Sirius’s face playfully.

For the first time, Lily got a real glimpse at just how much the Olivia and William cared about the boy who was as good as their second son. Of course she already knew that, but seeing it was something completely different. She’d never been cognizant enough during her stay at the Potters’ last summer to really pick up on it, but now that she was, it brought an incredible kind of warmth through her. Listening to James banter back, teasing his best mate and both of them playing Olivia against one another, then of course William coming in with his own one liners every few seconds... it was enough to make Lily want to just group them all together and hug them. She’d always wondered how Sirius managed to be such a caring friend, considering what he’d been raised around. But now more than ever, Lily understood.

“You two better get going,” Olivia said, breaking Lily from her thoughts. “And Lily, good luck.” The words were simple, but as Olivia pulled her into a tight hug, they felt anything but. “We’ll be waiting right here for you two when you return,” Olivia whispered into her ear, before releasing her and moving to hug James.

“You tell us if he’s anything less than a gentleman,” William added, putting his arm around Lily and pulling her into him. “And you two look out for each other.”

Lily knew they’d only be gone for one night, but it still felt so grown up to be going away with James.

They said their goodbyes to Sirius as well, wishing him luck on his own excursion with Belle, before linking hands. She glanced up, meeting James’s stare. He raised his eyebrows at her, and she gave him a small nod.

After one last farewell, James tightened his grip on her fingers and they turned to head through the room and out the front door. As soon as they got past the wards, they’d pop to the Manchester Piccadilly station. Then they’d be boarding a train, and by the time the sun set, she’d be eating dinner with her sister.

“Maybe I shouldn’t be doing zis,” Belle said, her voice shaking as she checked the watch that dangled from her wrist one more time. Sirius would be there in a matter of minutes. Then she had no choice but to go forward. He wouldn’t let her turn back.

“If you don’t, you’ll regret it,” Alice reasoned as her fingers twisted through Belle’s hair, catching the fly-away strands and pulling them into a braid.

“I know, but if I do it, it might turn out ‘orrible.”

“But if you don’t do it, you’ll never know if it would have turned out horribly and you’ll still regret it.”

“What if zey missed me? And zey ask me to stay?” The fragility of Belle’s voice upset her, and she knew Alice heard it as well.

“Do you want to stay with them?” Alice asked after a moment’s silence.

“No.” She knew that. But it didn’t make it any easier to stop herself from imagining her mum hugging her, and telling her she was sorry and that she loved her.

But that wasn’t her mum. There was no danger of Mrs. Leclair doing that. She’d never said those words when the two of them were on good terms; she certainly wouldn’t say them after her daughter had run away for so long. If her mum was that kind of person, the kind to take her daughter into her arms and tell her how special she was, maybe Belle never would have ended up in this situation.

But Belle had made mistakes too. It wasn’t fair to lay all the blame on her mother. And if she never had ended up where she was, she wouldn’t have met Alice or Lily. Or any of the group. She wouldn’t have met Sirius.

The last thought stuck into her mind, and she tilted her head back so she was able to meet Alice’s eyes, then took a deep breath and prepared herself for what she’d been wanting to say for weeks. “I zink I really like Sirius.”

She expected Alice to laugh, or giggle, or scream. Something. But instead, she just gave her a quizzical kind of stare.

“Well, that’s nothing new,” Alice finally said.

“I know,” Belle argued, lowing her head back down and letting her lips form into a pout. “But I never really said zat I liked him before.”

“I’m not the one you need to tell that to.”

Belle frowned at Alice’s words. “Zat’s too much right now. I’ll get zrough zis first, zen see if ‘e even wants any’zing to do with me.”

“Isabelle,” came the strict tone of Alice as she yanked her blonde hair back so that Belle was once again staring into her eyes. “Stop doubting Sirius. If you think anything your family could do would make him turn and run from you, you clearly don’t know him as well as you think.”

Once Alice loosened up on Belle’s hair, the blonde leaned forward again so that Alice couldn’t see her face and let a small smile fall over her lips. She knew what Alice said was true, but actually hearing it, having someone else confirm what she desperately wanted to believe, felt so much better.

A loud crack filled the room, though neither girl flinched. They were both more than accustomed to hearing house-elves pop in and out.

“Madam Christopherson sends Kitts up here to tell Miss Leclair that Sirius Black is being downstairs.”

“Thanks, Kitts,” Alice said, her voice as warm as ever, before smiling at the elf and sending it on its way.

“Well,” Belle sighed, twisting her hands together in a rare display of anxiety. “I zink zat means it’s time, doesn’t it?”

“It’ll be fine. And no matter what, you know we’re always here for you,” Alice said, helping her friend up off the floor and hugging her tightly. “I didn’t mention to mother and father that there was a Portkey on the estate. They’d have thrown a fit about the Ministry thinking they can step foot onto their property, or something along those lines. You go down to Sirius, and I’ll keep them busy. That way they’ll just think you walked outside of the wards and Apparated off to your Portkey. Just go out the back doors and follow the path that leads to the left through the garden. That’ll take you right to the bench.”

“And you’re sure zat it’s okay if I return late?” Belle asked, not wanting to impose on her friend.

“Of course. I’ve asked an elf to be on the lookout for you. I don’t want you walking back to the house in the dark or anything, so she’ll meet you back at the bench whenever you get here and walk you and Sirius to the house. He can use our fireplace to floo back to the Potters’.”

Belle nodded, and she knew her eyes must’ve looked pathetically scared, because Alice pulled her in for another tight hug.

“Thank you, Alice,” Belle whispered before Alice ushered her out to the room and down the stairs.

They parted ways on the main floor, where Alice went to distract her parents. The closer she got to the family room, knowing Sirius would be waiting there, the slower her feet seemed to move. She knew she was doing the right thing, going to France. Deep inside her heart, she was sure of it. She couldn’t keep making herself feel like it had all been her fault. She needed some sort of closure, some way to tell them that she was done. She was never coming back, and what they’d done to her, how they treated her, had nearly ruined her.

If she hadn’t found Lily and Alice... well, if they wouldn’t have badgered her into eating with them at the Gryffindor table, she truly had no idea where she’d be. She probably would have started convincing herself that running away to Hogwarts was a mistake. She would have gotten lonely, and let her mind forget about all the terrible things her family did. Maybe she’d have lasted a month until she went back home, back to the life where she was nothing but a porcelain doll meant to look pretty and stay silent.

Yes, she was certain that without the friendship that Alice and Lily had given her, she wouldn’t be here.

She’d never have gotten this close to Sirius.

She would probably already be betrothed to a boring man who enjoyed keeping playthings on the side. She’d have ended up as the Lady to a large manor with a husband who didn’t care for anything but her looks, and a life that would have suffocated her to death.

But she didn’t have to be that. And she never would be.

“Hey there,” Sirius said reaching a hand out to her as she stepped into the room. His eyes were steady. The look he gave her was neither one of nerves nor sympathy. Thank God. She couldn’t handle any more sympathy, or any more doubts piled on top of her own.

She took his hand and let him pull her into a tight hug. This wasn’t new for them, but each time he hugged her she was surprised at how easy it was. She didn’t back away from the physical contact − something she’d done with Christophe. She didn’t feel like she was supposed to say something dumb and charming about how strong his arms felt, like her mother always instructed her to do.

Though he did have very strong arms.

“Zank you again for coming,” Belle said after he eased his grip.

“I already told you, there will be none of that. I’m coming because I want to. You don’t need to thank me for doing something that I want to do.”

Belle smirked at him, wanting to match his playful attitude. But on the inside, a heavy weight seemed to lighten by just a fraction. She hoped he was telling her the truth.

“Alice is distracting ‘er parents. Something about zem not knowing ze Portkey was put on zeir estate.”

“Well then, I believe it’s time we go. The Portkey leaves at noon, right?”

“Yes, in just under ‘alf an ‘our.”

“Belle,” Sirius said as they began walking toward the back of the house, stopping in his tracks and drilling her eyes with his. “You can do this. It’s going to be fine. Yeah?”

She let out a deep sigh, then placed her small hands on his shoulder and stood up on her tip toes. “Thank you,” she whispered, touching her lips gently to his cheek. The feeling of his stubble grazing her soft flesh sent a shiver through her, and she lowered herself back down before she let the friendly kiss on the cheek become something more.

If everything went okay today, if she still felt like herself when it was all over, maybe then she could think more about Sirius and the real kind of kiss she wanted to give him.

But first, it was time to face her ghosts.

She could do this.

As always, thank you to my wonderful beta, CambAngst ♥

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