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Before They Fall by Jchrissy
Chapter 38 : Forever Frozen In Time
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 20

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Amazing image by heartfelt. @ TDA!
Chapter 38 - Forever Frozen In Time

Lily stood, her arms crossed with her head cocked to the side, staring into her wardrobe. She hadn’t come to Hogwarts with this many clothes. There was absolutely no way she -- practical Lily Evans -- had packed this much stuff. She sighed, brushing at a few loose strands that had escaped her bun, then got to work.

The funny part was that no one told you magic was useless in this sort of annoying situation. Sure, she could bewitch the clothes to start packing themselves. But no spell, or at least none she was aware of, could organize the camisoles by color, the jumpers by seasons -- heavy for winter, thinner for fall and springs -- and get everything just so in her trunk.

If she wanted it done right, she’d have to do it with her own two hands.

The sky outside her window was the sort of blue that Scotland permitted only on the occasions when you couldn’t actually go out and enjoy it, but Lily wasn’t too upset. She had plenty to do and not enough time to worry about missing out on the morning sunshine.

Her trunk needed to get packed and she needed to organize her school things along the way. Then she’d put a few touches of makeup on, wanting to leave Hogwarts looking her best.

Leave Hogwarts. Did that even make sense? How could she be leaving... her seventh year couldn’t have gone by so quickly, could it?

But it had, and twenty minutes after Lily set to work on getting her room packed up, she was already nearly done. She’d even tried to stall the process, taking care to smooth out parchment before slipping it into her trunk. Nothing, no amount of procrastination, could change the fact that soon, they would be on the Hogwarts Express, returning only for graduation in a few days.

She would never take another class in the walls of the castle, never get another essay back with comments from McGonagall that both applauded her work but challenged her to keep improving.

“Well, damn,” Lily mumbled to herself as the tears swelled up. She let her body fall onto the bed, cuddling Butterscotch in her lap as she leaned back on a propped up pillow.

The kitten -- though he was very much a cat now -- nudged his small face toward Lily, burrowing his triangular nose into her neck and letting out a few encouraging meows.

“You’re going to like our new home, sweetie,” Lily whispered, running her hand down the animal’s back. “And you’ll get the whole flat to roam around. We’ll be relatively close to Diagon Alley. Maybe we can pop in and find a new bed for you?” She tickled the slender neck, ignoring the fact that all Butterscotch was probably thinking about was getting the human petting him to lay down so they could take a nap.

At the sound a gentle, “Aww,” Lily looked up. Belle and Alice were standing at her door, the former leaning contently against the frame.

Seeing them shot a jolt of confidence through Lily. She wasn’t the only one leaving, and she wasn’t leaving alone.

“Are you both all packed?” Lily asked, resulting in a nod from each of them.

Alice stepped in first and went straight to Lily’s trunk, securing the lock then casting a charm over it.

“This will protect it if anyone tries to get in and fish around,” Alice explained. “Throw me your wand, will you?”

Lily slipped it off the night table, leaning over the bed and handing it to Alice who inserted the tip into the keyhole.

“There. Your wand is the only one that will unlock it.” As Alice looked up she caught Lily’s curious glance. The brunette leaned back and let out a laugh. “Good gracious, Mad-Eye is rubbing off on me, I suppose.”

“Don’t worry, she did ze same zing to my trunk. Although, with ze expensive make-up I ‘ave in zere, I wouldn’t put it past Abigail to try and steal it.” Belle’s eyes narrowed into a glare as she spoke, already angry at something that hadn’t even happened.

“She’s been odd, hasn’t she?” Lily asked, thinking of the Slytherin’s quiet manner as of late. Whereas the other Prospects had only grown worse, making comments about moving their future in a direction that would ensure ridding the world of Mudbloods, Abigail had seemed to shrink away more and more.

“Let’s not worry about her,” Alice said. “Let’s not worry about anything, actually. Remus came with Belle and I, but the rest of the guys, apart from James, are in the Great Hall. We’re thinking we can set our trunks by the entrance so they’re reading to go, then take a walk around the lake or the pitch while we wait for the carriages?”

“Remember when we were all at ze Quidditch Pitch at ze start of ze year? We were waiting to play a match when Lily came tearing in, so angry we zought she’d blow herself up.”

Lily’s cheeks started reddening as Alice chimed in. “Oh yeah, after Violet had tried to make it seem like she’d given James a love bite! And Peter had tricked her into the truth and gotten the lip gloss from her.”

“And you,” Lily started, giving Belle a pointed glare, “were spying on James and I, you and Sirius both crouched behind the bush.”

“You and James soaked us after finding us back zere!”

Lily remember how Belle had looked, unapologetic as Lily and James came across their hideout.

Shaking her head, she said, “How appropriate that you two should start bonding over both being sneaky little prats.”

“Lily!” James’s voice sounded like it was coming from down the staircase. “Professor Dumbledore is here to talk with us.”

Lily shared a glance with the girls, the confusion printed on all their faces. They brushed away the tears that had snuck up, then Lily stood from the bed and scooped up Butterscotch.

“I’ll be right down,” she said, cueing them to go ahead without her. After making her way to the edge of the room and almost out the door, she turned around. Did she have everything? Her blanket from James, the jewelry from Alice and Belle she’d gotten for her birthday, her half of the talking pictures... it was all tucked safely away in her trunk.

“I’ll miss this room,” she mumbled, then had to wipe away another tear inching down her cheek. She didn’t care what Alrek had tried to do to her in there; she didn’t care that it had been lived in by countless Head Girls and would continue to have new owners year after year. None of that mattered, because this was very much her room.

With a flick of her wand, she levitated her trunk and sent it hovering out the door. Her eyes took in the sight for a second longer, then she eased the door closed. The lion lock on the outside flicked its tail, securing the room for another year and another student.

The train moaned and protested as it began to slow, the scenery outside becoming more clear with the declining speed. Belle felt her eyes threaten to pool up, but blinked the tears quickly away. They’d all cried enough. Well, she, Lily and Alice. Though, to give the boys credit, they weren’t quite as obnoxious as usual, so she assumed they were mourning the end of their education in their own way.

“Don’t be upset,” Sirius said, his voice husky in her ear as her head rested against his shoulder. It was like her thoughts were spewing from her mind so loudly that they traveled to his. “We’ll be back Saturday, after all.”

Three days and they’d be back for graduation. Then what?

They’d build new homes, Belle reminded herself. Yes, Hogwarts was the first place she’d ever truly felt happy, but then the next place would be even better.

She directed her eyes toward Lily, then Alice. They all had the same wounded look. Before she could stop herself, a laugh was bubbling through her.

“Has all that makeup rubbish she uses finally gone to her brain?” James asked, giving her a sly wink. Luckily for him, she was feeling too nostalgic to throw something at him.

“We’re all terribly pa’zetic,” she stated, her eyes still searching her female friends. They seemed to understand just what she meant, and let out spouts of giggles themselves.

“It’s just so odd,” Alice started, glancing dreamily around. “We spent so much of our lives there, and now Saturday will mark the real end of it all.”

“And by then we’ll have a house,” Frank reminded her.

“And we’ll have our own flats,” James added, absentmindedly scratching Butterscotch behind the ears as he spoke. The gesture made Belle smile, and she couldn’t help but think what an odd little family they all made. Perfect, but odd.

“Speaking of,” Lily chimed in, “whose flat is the portrait going in?” Belle laughed as she and James began to debate the point. Dumbledore had given them their painting that guarded the Heads’ Quarters before they’d departed, and knowing they would have that small piece of Hogwarts was actually rather comforting.

She glanced up and found Sirius, her watery eyes met with a pair of grey. They were softer than usual, like the color of rain clouds instead of their usual steel.

This, she thought. This feeling was what so many people lost their heads over, and she knew she’d always treasure the fact that she’d gotten to experience such an intoxicating love.

She was broken. Sirius was too. Maybe those breaks would stop them from ever really figuring out how to have a proper life together. Alice and Frank, Lily and James, they would all get married. They’d move into homes, and have babies that Belle could smother with love.

Maybe she and Sirius weren’t built for that sort of thing, their families having fucked them up so severely. But they loved one another, and that was more than Belle could ask for.

And now, she thought with a wicked smile, they’d have a million more chances to tangle one another up in the passion they were both infamous for. Having their flats just across the corridor would certainly prove useful, she was sure.

So often, people said that opposites attract, and Belle knew as she watched James and Lily grow together that there was certainly truth behind that. But she and Sirius were so much alike, and that seemed to hold their bond better than anything else could. They understood one another.

James let out a melodramatic sigh, causing them to all direct their attention to the boy.

“So, we’ll nick the map back from Filch’s office after graduation?” he asked, and the boys jumped quickly into forming a plan. Belle knew Sirius felt immensely guilty for getting it taken away when he’d snuck into the caretaker's domain that morning in an attempt to retrieve his other confiscated items. All it resulted in was Filch catching him red handed, map laying out on the desk and now property of the old grouch. The boys would get it back though, she didn’t have any doubts about it.

“I’m happy we’re all staying at James’s tonight,” Lily said as the train came to a complete halt. “None of your parents were upset?”

Peter and Remus shook their heads, Peter being the one to talk first. “She hasn’t said anything, but I think my mum may fancy that bloke who owns the joke shop she lives over. She’s seemed a lot happier in our letters recently, at least.”

Belle imagined the small woman she’d met at Christmas with a boyfriend. Peter’s mum wasn’t unattractive. She had a look about her that suggested she was always tired, but maybe a touch of romance would cure that. Belle decided to keep that comment to herself, though. Peter probably didn’t want to imagine his mother in bed with some man.

They all stood and gathered their things, then began filing out of the compartment and down the corridor. Belle realized that she was anxious to see Mr. and Mrs. Potter again. What would it be like after graduation and after they were all moved into their flats? Would they all pop over to the Potters’ home for dinners and lunches?

Noise erupted around them as they stepped from the Express, the walls of the locomotive no longer insulting them from the noise outside. Siblings ran up to one another, pretending not to have missed their older brother or sister while parents kissed cheeks and hugged small bodies.

After a few second of searching, Remus pointed to the group of their parents. His mum and dad, getting lectured by Augusta from the looks of it, stood alongside the Potters and Peter’s mum. It was a relief to see William and Olivia looking just as they had over Christmas. None of them had voiced it, but Belle knew there was an unshakable sort of worry after they hadn’t been able to make the Quidditch game that their faces would finally match their years.

As the group navigated through the platform, Lily and James in the lead, Belle began feeling more at peace. This was the new phase of their life, and it would be okay. She watched as her redheaded friend leaned into Olivia’s hug. That’s where Lily belongs, Belle thought. She hadn’t been around when Lily and James’s dynamic was more.... heated... but seeing them now and how perfectly Lily fit in with his family, it was hard to imagine her ever being anywhere else.

A large, competent hand slipped in Belle’s and she laced her fingers tightly around Sirius’s. Wanting his support, an anchor to remind her that she wasn’t really losing anything, didn’t make her weak. It made her human. If she’d learned one thing over the last year, it was that she deserved to let herself feel. To let herself trust.

She was human.

“Oh sweetheart,” came the warm voice of Olivia as she and Sirius, hands still locked, stepped closer, “we’ve missed you all so much.”

The feeling of having the woman’s arms around her forced another tear to inch down Belle’s face. She couldn’t even identify why -- not that she needed to rationalize her own emotions -- but it was good, she thought. Olivia’s hug was familiar, the sensation both comforting and protective. The pixie length, dark hair smelled like a breeze. Soft, clean. Olivia reached out and pulled Sirius into the same hug, and it was enough to make Belle release another giggle.

How had she, Isabelle Leclair, daughter of France’s most wealthy and prominent family, ended up in love with a hot-headed, flirtatious, unpredictable boy? And with an extended family that would embrace her openly in the middle of a crowded platform, not caring if it was socially accepted behavior or not?

Regardless of how, she knew she would be forever thankful they were hers.

A hazy dream filled Sirius. His mind was still intent on sleeping, so when a soft whisper saying, “Wake up, Sirius,” entered his ears, his brain turned it into part of the mental illusions. He rolled over, shutting his eyes tighter when a rush of sunlight came pouring in. They’d been up late playing games in James’s room after having dinner with everyone’s parents, not to mention the fact that he’d spent all yesterday on a train. He was bloody exhausted.

He went to pull the cover up over his head, but the feeling of something warm on his shoulder made him stop. Something silky touched again at the top of his shoulder, then on his neck, moving over his bare back.

With a shock of understanding, Sirius turned his head and forced his eyes to open just a crack, feeling a rush of heat when he realized that Belle’s face was hovering over him, her lips pressing soft kisses against his bare skin.

“Oh yeah, this is definitely a dream,” he said, only half joking. She smiled down at him, then laughed as he hooked his arms around her and dragged her into the bed.

“Morning, princess,” he said, burrowing his head into her hair, the smell of a shower still lingering on her. If they weren’t in his bed at the Potters’ house, Sirius would have been tempted to nudge the over-sized t-shirt off of her. Somehow, he just didn’t think making love to his girlfriend in Olivia and William’s home would be the best way to show his appreciation for everything they’d done.

“Nap time,” he mumbled, still soaking up the feel of her cuddled into him.

“Sirius Black.” Well shit, he knew that tone. He wasn’t going to be falling back asleep.

“Already?” he whined, knowing he sounded like a five year old.

“Yes, already. We wanted to get started moving by eight, and it is nearly seven-zirty.”

“But it’s the first day of Holiday.”

“It’s ze first day of moving day.”

“The rest of the blokes are probably still sleeping.”

“Fine,” Belle said. “If you want to stay up ‘ere and nap all day, ‘ave it your way. But I will not save you and of Mrs. Potter’s breakfast.”

Stay asleep and have to cook for himself later, or get one of Mrs. Potters better-than-Hogwarts breakfasts.

Fine, he thought as he rubbed his eyes and forced them to open all the way. He’d get his arse out of bed.

As his movement shifted the weight of the mattress, Belle sat up and grinned. “I zought you’d see reason. Besides, we need to be finished moving by noon. We’re meeting Alice and Frank at our new flats, and zen we’re headed to your mum’s house.”

A wicked smile jumped over Sirius’s face. “And Lily got her instant camera thing ready?”

“Yes. She tested it out and took a picture of ‘er, Alice and I zis morning. It’s rather fascinating. It spits out zis odd sort of parchment, but not parchment, and she shakes it and ze picture forms right zen and zere.”

The thought of their plans possibly going smoothly, and of course getting into their new flats, was perking Sirius up. He gave Belle a noisy, sloppy kiss -- which she promptly wiped away -- then took off for the bathroom to have a shower.

By the time he’d resurfaced from the mist covered bathroom, breakfast was ready and everyone else was up and dressed. Alice and Frank left shortly after, then Remus and Peter took the floo to their own houses to pack their stuff. Sirius, Lily and Belle still had their things packed up from leaving Hogwarts, and James seemed inclined to leave most of the odds and ends in his room at his parents’ house.

Just as the clock chimed, signaling it was nine, they were finally ready to go. Thank god the Potters had a large fireplace, Sirius thought as they prepared to leave, or else they’d never fit with trunks in tow.

James stepped in first and called, “London’s Landing.” The green flames shot around him, hot and wild until they disappeared only moments later. Sirius severely hoped there wouldn’t be a mix up. With their luck, they’d probably end up in some bloke’s room just as he’d started watching Busty Babes or something.

After the girls left Mrs. Potter gave Sirius one last kiss on the cheek, then he was off.

The morning of unpacking, meeting with the Landlord and signing the agreements that none of them actually read, and doing this all in the sweltering heat, had exhausted them.

The flats were better than any of them had imagined, large rooms with soft wall to wall carpet and dark wood floors scattered about. The kitchens could barely be called that, the space cramped and hardly big enough for one, but Sirius didn’t see any of them spending much time in there. Hogwarts tended to every meal, meaning they were all shit at cooking. Except for Lily. They’d just have to beg dinner from her most nights

They’d propped both of the flats’ doors open while they unpacked, and he and James could hear the girls giggling from down the corridor.

“Why is it that they laugh while they do everything?” Sirius asked as he and James began setting the protective charms around their flat. Remus and Peter were still unpacking their things, but when they were both done all four of them could work on the spells and make the place a damn fortress, then move to the girls’ flat.

“No bloody idea. We don’t laugh while we do everything, now do we?”

“Exactly,” Sirius agreed. “So why are they always acting like everything's so damn funny?”

“Oh Sirius,” James said, making his voice higher than usual and changing it around so it would mimic one of the girls. “We’re casting spells, this is so funny,” he gave a false giggle and added a mock hair flip just for good measure.

“And we’re casting them together,” Sirius added in the same ridiculous tone, covering his mouth with a few fingers as he giggle back at James.

“You boys enjoying yourselves?” Frank asked, appearing at the door to the flat and leaning against the frame.

“Is it noon already?” James asked, bypassing Franks comment completely.

“Yep, just a little past. Alice is in the girls’ flat checking it out. Nice places,” he added.

Sirius made an agreement sound at Frank's compliment, but his brain was already spinning ahead.

He couldn’t believe they were so close to carrying out Belle’s plan. He felt an odd sense of nerves pound into him as he said, “Well then, let’s get the girls over here and go through it all again.”

Frank nodded then disappeared, and James gave out a loud, “Remus, Peter, it’s time!”

Within a few minutes they were all standing around the kitchen counter, and Sirius realized just then that they’d need to get a bloody sofa. He hated being uncomfortable.

Sirius scooted over making room for Belle, then watched as Lily cuddled into James and made a mental note to ask his mate if they were finally going to take the next step tonight. Though he figured he’d save the question for when it was just the two of them. James got a bit grumpy if Sirius brought up his and Lily’s, er, intimate stuff in front of anyone else.

“Alright,” Belle started, tapping her fingers as she looked around at them. Her energy felt similar to Sirius’s, and he was sure it reminded her of when they’d gone and stood up to her parents. “Zis is ze last time we’re going to be able to talk about zis. Once we Apparate away, we ‘ave to know what we’re doing and nothing can go wrong. We all know Walburga isn’t going to give up ze key to Sirius’s vault, even if it’s now legally his. Maybe blackmail won’t be ze most honest tactic, but it will work.” She glanced at Sirius, urging him to take over.

“Right, so we know the goal and the picture we need to take of her. Lily, you’re sure that,” he pointed to the large box looking thing around her neck, “whatever it is, will take the picture?”

“Positive. I taught Belle how this morning so she’s ready to go, and If something goes wrong, we’ll fake that it took anyway...”

“Perfect,” Sirius said with a nod, unable to stop fidgeting. “Alright, then. Peter, Remus, Alice and Frank, you four are going to stay outside the house just to the side of the door so you can be right there if anything seems funny. Have your wands ready. James, Lily, Belle and myself will go in. We know what we’re going to say to antagonize her from there, so all we need is to get the picture before she realizes what’s going on.”

“It’ll go brilliantly, Sirius,” James said, and he figured his mate could pick up on the nerves spreading through him.

“And then,” Frank added, “the Leaky Cauldron afterward to celebrate tricking your mum, Alice and I getting the house, and...”

Sirius eyed the two as they exchanged a look, their sneaky smiles breaking into grins.

“And,” Alice continued, slipping something from the pocket of her shorts onto her finger, “the fact that we’re getting married!”

Never in his life did Sirius think he’d been closer to having his hearing destroyed. The shrieks that filled the room, assaulting his eardrums so violently that he to clamp his hands over his ears, were something that he could die never hearing again and be completely satisfied.

When he was able to shake the ringing out of his head, he noticed that Belle and Lily were jumping around holding Alice in a hug type of thing.

“Why didn’t you tell us sooner?” he heard Lily demand.

“It only just happened! At the house, after I told Frank I thought it was perfect, he led me into the backyard and under this gorgeous old willow. There was a blanket laid out and-”

Sirius tuned the rest out and turned to Frank. Now that his hearing was gradually returning to normal, he was feeling the happiness set in.

“Congratulations, mate,” he said, shaking his friend’s hand. “A Celebration is definitely in order. You guys don’t have to come deal with this if you’d rather-”

“Absolutely not,” Alice said from over the the dark, tiled counter top. “We’re coming with you, and then afterward we’re going to have even more to celebrate.”

Sirius felt a sloppy smile inch over him as he it started sinking in. Alice and Frank were getting married. She held out her hand for him, which he took obligingly and glanced at the glinting diamond set into a ring. He didn’t know shit about diamonds, but this one sure looked shiny. That had to be a good thing, right?

He caught Belle’s eye and watched as her cheeks grew red at the apples. A blush from Isabelle was probably more rare than certain solar system explosions. He felt a nervous steak shoot through him. He wasn’t supposed to start thinking about popping the question anytime soon, was he? He was still learning to be a boyfriend, for Christ’s sake. A husband? Fuck, he’d have a long way to go if he ever got to that point.

Not now, Black, he thought as he gave his head a little shake. He knew Belle, and he knew she wasn’t any more ready for that than him. Right now, the only thing he needed to be analyzing was how the hell to pull this off.

Sirius noticed a funny sort of look on Peter’s face as he leaned against the counter.

Walking over he asked, “Everything okay, mate?”

Peter shrugged, but Sirius knew him better than that. “Come on,” he coaxed. Usually Peter was the most level of them. Never overly happy like Prongs would get after too much time with Lily, never depressing and sad like Remus would be before a full moon.

“It’s stupid, really,” Peter said, lifting his shoulder and letting it drop again. “I guess I just worry that I won’t get lucky like you guys.”

So Wormtail was worried about being alone. Sirius almost started making a joke about it, but the look on Peter’s face changed his mind.

“Hey, ‘course you’ll meet someone. You’ll start your job at the ministry in a few weeks, bound to be loads of single girls around there.”

“S’true,” Peter said with a nod, and that seemed to cheer him up. “I guess if all else fails, I can always get back in touch with Elli.”

“You left her hanging after a date,” Remus said, cluing into their conversation as he moved to stand beside them. “Good luck rekindling that.”

“Excuse me,” Sirius said, feigning insult, “he’s best mates with Sirius Black. Master of Romance. If he wants Elli back, we’ll get her back.”

James came over next, not wanting to be left out of a group meeting, Sirius was sure. “You girls going to gossip all day, or are we ready to get this shit taken care of?”

Sirius clasped James around the shoulder. “Let’s get this over with,” he said with a smirk.

Belle stood next to Sirius on the step of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, James and Lily behind them. The boys and Alice were flanking each side, standing next to perfectly manicured flowers. They couldn’t be seen unless Walburga stepped out and peered her head around, and Sirius seemed convinced that she wouldn’t do that.

Belle glanced at him, his eyes looking stormier than ever. Was he excited? Nervous? Afraid? The worst case scenario would be Walburga not falling for it... she couldn’t hurt them with there being an eight to one ratio. At least, Belle didn’t think she could.

She felt Sirius’s palm grow sweaty against hers. They hadn’t knocked yet, and she was waiting for him to make that move. She felt him take in a deep breath beside her, then whispered, “Fuck it. Here goes nothing,” and raised his hand to the door, clanging the knocker against it.

The sound of it echoed out to them. A sudden wind picked up and created a spooky sort of feeling as it blew around the leaves of a nearby tree.

Belle fiddled with the camera, nervous that Walburga would be suspicious of it hanging around her neck. Sirius assured her that she’d have no idea what it was and probably think it to be just some odd fashion thing, but she still couldn't completely dull the worry.

The door opened and a small, terribly ugly house-elf appeared. Before they could say anything, it started screeching. “Mistress! Blood traitors at Mistress’s door! Blood traitors and!" He craned his neck around Belle, able to see James. “Blood traitors and Muggle lovers at the door!”

Belle stared at the thing, unable to understand how a house-elf could look so completely... mean.

She felt Sirius grow stiff next to her, his body rigid. If she was able to see his eyes, she was certain they’d be cold, emotionless. Out of the shadows came a woman, not large but still towering nonetheless. Dark hair was tied in a bun at the top of her head, making the planes of her face look more angular than necessary. The sharpness had no contrast, no soft mouth or gentle eyes to tone it down.

As Walburga stepped closer, Belle realized how pretty she was. She’d always imagined Sirius’s mum looking like a terrible hag, but she supposed since her son was so handsome, it had to come from somewhere.

Despite her features mirroring beauty, the coldness of her eyes, the harsh way she held her lips, overshadowed the looks. A chill ran through Belle... the woman hadn’t even said a word yet she already seemed utterly unbearable.

“What are you doing here?” she spat at Sirius, who grabbed Belle’s hand and pushed their way in, with James and Lily following. The entrance hall was as cold as the women it belonged to, nightmarish looking artifacts hung about the walls. What in God’s name was wrong with these people, Belle wondered as she caught sight of a noose, framed in glass and hung on the wall.

“I came to talk with you,” Sirius said, his voice demanding.

“And why did you bring these...people?”

“Well, mother-” Belle could tell how hard it was for Sirius to spit the word out. “As you know, James is a Pure-blood. This is Isabelle, also a Pure-blood witch from France. Her family has done business with ours before. This is James’s girlfriend, Alice Christopherson.” Belle held her breath, her heart beating as she waited for Walburga to discover the lie and realize that Lily Evans as not Alice. The woman didn’t seem to... maybe Sirius was right. He said she wouldn’t argue about a Christopherson being present, their history solid, but that she had no idea what Alice looked like.

As Walburga’s eyes turned to her, she ignored the worry and forced herself to hold out a hand, shaking the woman’s. She knew how to seem more important, superior. She’d been doing it nearly all her life, and was sure to do it just then. It was crucial if they wanted Walburga to believe what was coming next.

“Belle and I have a relationship, and I’d like to further it.” As Sirius started speaking, Lily and James moved slowly toward Walburga, pretending just to be shuffling around, but the woman kept her eyes on them regardless.

“Her family shares the view point of ours, and Belle is not comfortable continuing a relationship unless I’m willing to rethink the decisions I’ve made.”

This seemed to fully capture Walburga’s interest, and the intensity with which she focused on her son allowed Lily to slip a few feet over, now almost behind her.

“What exactly are you saying, Sirius? You’ve disgraced us, buried us in the scandal of your decisions.”

“I know mother, but I’m ready to see the poor judgement I’ve had in believing myself a friend to Mudbloods. I’ve brought James with me to try and help make amends, to allow you to speak with him about the dangers of the lifestyle we’ve been leading. I’ve drug our family name through mud...” Sirius let his sentence trail as James moved closer to Walburga, pretending to be glancing at the paintings lining the wall she was standing a few feet in front of. Lily was almost in place, the women not even realizing where the redhead stood.

Belle moved her fingers slowly to the button on the camera, pretending to fiddle with her hair. This would be up to her. It would happen any second, and it would be up to Belle to make sure she caught it.

“I’ve disgraced you, and I understand if you’re unhappy about me bringing James here. But I hoped, since his family blood is pure, there might be hope for him to see reason as I have. If he does not, I’ll never speak to him again.”

Waburga’s face started softening, and Belle wondered what kind of woman enjoyed hearing these sort of things.

“I’ll do whatever is necessary to prove my loyalties to this family again. I’m through with blood-traitors and Mudbloods.”

That’s it, Belle thought, thankful the woman was too preoccupied with Sirius’s words to notice her lifting her camera. Sirius leaned forward, taking one of his mothers hands in both, then saying, “Let me prove myself to the family, mother.”

The woman’s face flicked into what could only be described as a smile, even if it wouldn’t have passed as one for anybody else. Belle raised a thumb and Lily and James leaned in, making it look as if they each had an arm around Walburga.

Their faces were spread out in grins, and before Mrs. Black could process what just happened, Belle had already snapped the button and that odd piece of parchment thing was spitting itself out. She yanked the wand that she’d hidden in her bra, running it parallel against her sternum. Her hand was steady as she said the spell, causing the picture to duplicate itself four times. Walbruga started shouting, wanting to know what was going on by that point, and Belle rushed to step out the front door and pass four out of five of the images to Alice, whose hand was extended out and ready to take them.

She leaned back in. The woman’s face was now ghostly white. It was clear she had no idea what was happening, but knew it wasn’t something that would benefit her.

“Mother,” Sirius started, his voice full of humor. “Always so ready to believe you were able to sink your claws in me enough to ever make me change, aren’t you? No amount of your Pure-blood mania shit you raised me around would ever change my mind. And now I’m going to ask for the key to the vault that holds my inheritance, so I never have to step in this godforsaken house again.”

Walburga whipped her wand from her robes, her eyes hot with rage.

“No no no,” James said, and she jerked around to see both Lily and James pointing their wands at her.

“Expelliarmus,” Lily said, then when the wand flew into her hand she shrugged. “Better to err on the side of caution.”

“You won’t get a sickle from me, you worthless blood-traitor. You will never see that vault, and the money meant for you is going to sit there for the rest of eternity before I let it fall into your hands.”

It was Belle’s turn to cut in. “I wouldn’t be so sure about zat,” she said, and held up the now developed picture. It was a bit messy, but you could clearly make out James and Lily with their arms around her, and Sirius holding her hand warmly. “You see, zis red ‘ead isn’t Alice Christopherson, zis is Lily Evans. A Muggle born. And in zis image, I believe I see you clear as day standing in what appears to be a happy little circle of blood traitors and Mudbloods. Unless you wish for zis to be the image on the front page of the Daily Prophet, reading something along the lines of: Walburga Black makes amends to Muggle born, James Potter, and son, Sirius Black. She’s ready to accept and understand muggles, starting with muggle-born, Lily Evans.” The woman's anger was nearly tangible, but they didn’t back down.

They knew they had her and she knew in. There was nothing she could do from here.

The low rumble of noise in the Leaky Cauldron was a welcome contrast to the deadly silence that had filled the Black House. Belle was still jittery, feeling the giddiness that came from too much adrenaline and the almost preposterous fact that their plan had actually worked

They’d gotten the large, brass key from Walburga and made it clear that if it wasn’t the right one, her picture would fill every wizarding paper in the UK by tomorrow morning. They needed to go by Sirius’s vault and check, but no one was in the mood. Right then, they all just wanted to celebrate.

“Another round,” Frank said to the barkeep as she came back. Belle didn’t remember what they were drinking. Some sort of champagne, she believed. What it was, it tasted like bubbly heaven going down, and she knew that by the time they were done for the evening they would all be struggling to get back to their flats.

Their flats.

“Lily,” she said, her eyes dancing as she glanced across the table. “We have flats!”

“We have flats,” Lily confirmed with a laugh, and they lifted their glasses and toasted to that before drinking the last few gulps down.

Belle ran her fingers through her hair, then realized what a mess it must be. She glanced at Lily, about to ask her and Alice to go to the restroom with her, but both of her friends were so caught up in their conversations that she didn’t want to disturb them. Besides, they couldn’t tease her for taking ages if she went alone.

“I’m going to use ze restroom, I’ll be right back,” she said, then waved her hand at the girls when they started to stand. “No, no, it’s fine. I’ll be just a moment.”

She glanced around, seeing a corridor that she was certain must lead in the general direction. The light grew dim as the lanterns in the main area flickered away, but she was able to find the door with ease and slipped in. Her focus was completely on her own face in the mirror, touching at her and lips dabbing at her eyes. So focused in fact, that she didn’t see the boy enter the room and start sneaking up behind her.

When it finally registered that someone was just inches away, his arms were already moving around her, fingers grabbing her handbag and throwing it across the room, assuring that her wand was unreachable.

She moved to run, but the blow to her face came too quickly. Burgess Mulciber’s hands were on her. She moved to try and claw him away, but he covered her mouth with some sort of cloth. The smell was sweet and she struggled to breath past it, flinging her arms wildly. Not even a few seconds had passed, but all the sudden a heaviness overtook her limbs. Black fog filled her mind, and the last thing she remembered was the nauseating feeling of spinning. He was Apparating them away from the bar. Away from safety.

The first thing Belle was able to establish was that she could breathe. One deep gulp of oxygen assured that, and she struggled to orient herself. The image of Burgess Mulciber came rushing back, forcing her to snap her eyes open.

For a brief second, comfort washed over her. It was their new flat. Her brand new home with her and Lily’s things already tucked away in the closets. The perfect two bedrooms, just a wall away. Their small kitchen covered in homey touches, lanterns hung everywhere so they’d have plenty of sources to illuminate the flat.

But that comfort disintegrated faster than an extinguished flame, and she realized her limbs were bound together, her body pushed up against a wall and too heavy to move even if she tried.

She would figure out how to negotiate with Burgess. She had all the money in her vault, she’d even stoop to writing her sister for a loan if she needed more. Her mind was so busy churning up ways to escape whatever situation she was in, that the hot tears filling her blue eyes hardly registered.

Right now she was unharmed. That was all that mattered. Part of her wanted to scream, wanted to ask if they hadn’t all been put through enough already. What would it take to get these bastards to stop going after them?

Well, sitting in here wasn’t doing her any good. Now her anger was taking prominence over even fear, truly enraged that this was happening again. “Fils de salope,” she yelled, kicking her tied legs in frustration as she tried to make the heaviness subside.

“That’s not appropriate language for a proper young woman, my dear.” The voice sent a stab of recognition through Belle, and she felt her body go cold, like she’d just been submerged into a frozen lake.

“I would say it’s a pleasure to see you,” Belle spat back, “but it seems you’re choosing to stay in ze shadows.”

“Oh, does the precious girl want the face of her killer to be the last thing she sees?” The woman’s tone was full of mockery, and Belle felt herself to struggle between fear and fury. Which would be more productive, she wasn’t sure.

“If you’re certain...” Her attacker moved silently, and in a heart beat’s time Bellatrix was standing before her. The woman looked identical to the last time Isabelle had seen her. Curls wild and long, face full of a kind of pleasure that was unnerving to see.

“'Ello, Bellatrix,” Belle said evenly, ignoring the tremors passing through her. “I suppose you aren’t 'ere to chat?”

She was getting angry at Belle’s nonchalant comments, the blonde could see it in her dark eyes, but she couldn’t stop herself.

“Is being Voldemort’s bitch getting rather boring, and you decided you needed a bit of girl time?”

Belle would like to think she expected the curse, and she did. At least she expected a curse. But as the fingers of fire licked through her veins, forcing out a scream that was immediately silenced against a gag fastening itself around her, Belle realized she never would have expected anything close to this.

Her ears pounded with the sound of her blood. Her mind struggling to block out the feeling of heat twisting and melting her bones, stabs entering in every pore on her body. Tears blurred into her ocean eyes, ones that she didn’t intend to shed, but the brutal rawness of the pain demanded it.

Even after it stopped, it didn’t actually end. When they’d learned about the unforgivable curses, she assumed once the Cruciatus was called off, it was over.

She was wrong. A radiating sort of pain continued through her, and she let her head fall back against the wall as she waited for it to subside.

“I’m going to allow you to choose one of your friends to bring back,” Bellatrix said, pacing in front of Belle and hitting her wand against the palm of her hand, then pointing it at the blonde and forcing the gag away from her lips. “And instead of torturing you so severely that your heart will finally be forced to stop beating, I’ll kill you quickly.”

“It’s risky,” Belle said, ignoring Bellatrix’s statement completely, “choosing my flat for zis. What if someone ‘ears you?”

“So sweet and naive,” Bellatrix said as she leaned down to Belle’s level and drew a finger down her cheek, over the trail of tears.

Belle tried to jerk her head away, but all it did was result in her skull being hit against the wall behind her.

“It seems you’ve been crying. Is something upsetting you? Poor must be the knowledge that no one is going to come. No one can hear you. I’d have thought you would have set up some sort of protective wards, especially considering we’d murdered that Mudblood family in this very same flat barely a month ago.”

Belle gulped, trying not to let her mind decide if that was true or not. Wouldn’t the Landlord have told them?

“It was fun, you know,” Bellatrix continued, pulling a long knife out and sharpening her nails with it as she spoke. “Tracking you these last few days. Watching you, too stupid to realize a spell had been placed in your unworthy blood.”

“The food poisoning,” Belle said automatically. Ever since she’d woken up in the hospital wing, she’d gotten these moments of unexplainable terror. Had her mind been trying to tell her how wrong something was?

“Oh, very good. Let me reward you for your perceptiveness.”

It wasn’t heat this time, but a wash of ice. It almost felt welcomed against her boiled inside, but that disappeared before it had the chance to set in, being eaten away by the rampageous fire tearing through her.

“Bring Sirius or that Mudblood and I can make it stop hurting,” the voice cooed, barely reaching Belle as she struggled to block out the pain. For the first time, something inside her realized that this might be it.

This could be how she’d spend the last bit of her life.

“You won’t hurt anymore. I might not even kill you.” It was a lie, both Belle and Bellatrix knew. The curse was again called off, but this time she was certain the leftover ache would never leave her bones. How could something hurt so completely, be so inexplicably tortuous, and the person who endured the pain still have a beating heart?

She saw a sweaty lock of blonde fall over her eye. Sirius loved her hair. He loved the blonde, the light eyes, contrasting against his dark features. Had she ever realized how perfectly they looked together before?

“You’re going to kill me,” Belle said, realizing this wasn’t for show. It wasn’t a torture committed by someone still too new to understand their flaws. Alrek had made the mistake not rendering Lily immobile. In Swansea she and Sirius had happened to be there soon enough to help. But for Belle, there was no chance to get free and fight. Part of her hoped her friends wouldn't even realize she was missing and go after her, too afraid they'd end up dead alongside her.

She thought of how her she and Sirius had come charging into the hotel room, Belle not even thinking about her own mortality as she said the spell to steal the wand trying to kill her best friend.

A deep realization washed over Belle as she replayed that night in her mind.

“You’re angry because I helped save Lily and James,” she said, trying to ignore the humming of agony that continued to pulse through her.

“I told you then that you would pay for disarming me.” The voice was soft, silky, with a current of insanity flowing just under the surface.

Without warning, a laugh slipped through Belle. “So zis ‘as been your obsession? For six months, while I’ve been living my life, you’ve been obsessing about ‘ow you will kill me and when?”

“I hope you enjoyed it,” Bellatrix snarled, lifting her hand to Belle’s face and clutching her jaw. Her freshly sharpened nails bit through flesh.

When the murdered released Belle's jaw, she could feel warm liquid pool into the places that the nails had bit into.

“Well,” she said, something inside her snapping. She was terrified, but maybe her body was forgetting how to feel afraid, because now she wanted to piss the woman off as much as she could before it was over. “I’ve spent ze last six months with ze best friends someone could ask for, and sleeping with your delicious cousin. I suppose zat means I enjoyed them.”

That earned her the same fire, and this time Belle was certain it would overtake her. She felt a scream break out in her mind, but knew it wasn’t slipping past her lips. Her vision turned to a black haze and she cried out involuntarily, unwilling to beg her to stop. She would die. There wouldn’t be a way out of this, but she wouldn’t die begging.

She thought she heard a knock on the door, though it was like she was listening under twenty feet of water. Everything blurry and muffled.

“The protection you ordered me to set up is being challenged,” came a deep voice. “They’re here. They’ll get past any second.”

They’re here, Belle thought with a fleeting rush of hope. It was the last thing she felt before a shower of green light doused over her.

Sirius had lived his entire life not being afraid of anything. He flew his motorbike too high and too fast, fucked with people bigger than him and dared someone to do something about it, just to push himself further toward the edge of fear.

Maybe he’d been scared as a child, and maybe that’d been the reason he loved curling up in the back of his closet until he’d gotten old enough to fight back. But once he learned that the braver he was, the more cowardly they were -- his parents, his cousins -- he stopped remembering just what fear tasted like.

As his feet pounded through the corridor, unaware of anything around him, the memory of it came pouring back.

The moment they’d decided Belle had been gone too long and couldn’t find her, then tried to Apparate into the flats, he knew he had every reason to be terrified. And it wasn’t the hot sort of terror that takes over when you’re up against something awful... it was cold, fucking freezing as it tore through him like blades.

The fingers on his hand didn’t feel like they belonged to him as he grabbed the door handle, the rest of the group behind him shouting at him to wait for their cover in case someone was in there.

He hoped someone was. He hoped with every cell in his goddamn body that if Belle had been hurt, the person who did it would be waiting on the other side of that door. He knew without a doubt not only would he kill them, but he would enjoy it.

The door swung aside and it took Sirius’s eyes a moment to adjust. Some sort of curtain had been hung over the window, lanterns being the only source of light.

After barely a beat, he saw her.

It was her hair first. The golden strands clinging to the sand colored wall, the limp way her head rested against it.

Everything inside him snapped.

He was at her side before he ever realized he’d crossed the room, the marks of torture covering her ivory skin. Her face. Her perfect fucking face held deep gashes, her eyes completely closed. Sirius's fingers moved clumsily over her throat as he struggled to find a pulse.

“Please,” he whispered, but the muted sound quickly turned to a scream. “Please! For fuck’s sake, please let her be alive!”

He lowered his body to hers, unable to look past the parts where her wrists had been bound, still red and angry. Gently nudging her over so she rested flat on the carpet, he pressed his ear against her heart, clutching her limp hand. His eyes squeezed shut as the emotion began slipping through them, falling into puddles against Belle’s shirt.

No. No!

“Sirius,” he heard James whisper from behind him, then felt his mate's arms reach down to pull him up. He fought against James, clutching tighter to Belle’s body.

“No!” His chest shook as his hands moved to her wrist, trying once more to feel any sign of life.

The sound of a sob behind him was too real, too conclusive of what he was begging any fucking God out there not to be true.

“James,” Lily said with a strangled cry, and Sirius glanced over to see her picking up a long knife from the counter.

He knew that knife.

He knew the monster who wielded it.

Carefully, he inched himself away from Belle, feeling a red fury wash over him. Without meaning to, he started screaming, shouting something at the top of his lungs as he pulled his fist back and aimed it at the wall. The satisfying crack of splintering wood did nothing to slow him down. He aimed again, harder this time, faster, wanting to break everything apart until it didn’t matter anymore, until nothing mattered.

James caught his arm before he was able to plow another fist into the plaster and muscled him back, pulling him by his elbows.

“Leave me alone,” Sirius shouted. “Leave me the fuck alone!”

James ignored him and turned to pin Sirius’s back against the counter, placing two large hands on either side of the belligerent boy's shoulders and giving him a strong shake before holding him in a half hug/half restraint. They had no idea how far Sirius would go, how badly he would injure himself. Not even Sirius could say what the boundaries of his own rage were, if he had any boundaries at all.

“I know,” James whispered, keeping his grip tight around Sirius as he clutched the back of his t-shirt, balling it into his fists. “I know.”

After one last attempt to push James off, overpowered again, Sirius let is head fall onto the shoulder in front of him. The sound that escaped his lips was that of an animal, scared and angry, beaten and battered.

When Sirius looked back up, he could see over James's shoulder and was able to make out Lily and Alice’s bodies bent into each other as they sat by Belle, their shoulders shaking with sobs.

“No,” was all Sirius could say again as the scene played out in front of him. Remus and Frank casting charm after charm, searching for any sign of life, then finally nodding at Peter who draped a duvet over half her body, leaving only her face and shoulders visible.

Sirius felt himself weaken. James’s tight hold was the only reason he didn’t crumple to the ground.

“Get Dumbledore,” he managed to choke out. James hesitated, then released his hold slowly, probably testing to waters to see if Sirius would throw his body back into his assault against the wall.

He didn’t.

Everything seemed to disconnect as his feet carried him back to Belle’s side, collapsing inches away from Lily. Sirius kept his touch gentle and eased Belle -- somehow even smaller than before -- onto his lap.

His eyes traveled to James, watching in a fog as his mate lifted his wand and repeated the spell over and over. Finally, the white stag poured out. But it did nothing for Sirius. It meant nothing. His happiness was dead in his lap, forever frozen in time.
*Fils de salope (according to google) translates to son of a bitch in French.

A huge thank you to my awesome beta, CambAngst and the lovely Arithmancy_Wiz for helping me get through this chapter.

I could never have been prepared for how hard it was to write Belle's death, and there's a reason for it which will come to light next chapter. This story started with me knowing, because of that reason, she would die at the end of it, and I can't tell you guys the number of times I've almost backed out of my decision. I hope next chapter you'll understand and not think I'm a terrible monster, because I promise I didn't do this without really thinking of every other option to avoid it.

And I really am so sorry and I hope you guys know how hard this was for me. I ended up loving Belle way more than I ever planned to.

Thank you so much for reading, and I'd love to know any opinions you had on this chapter. It wasn't an easy one for me... one more to go!

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