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there should have been fire to burn your layers off

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i.

It is a relief when Sirius is sorted into Slytherin.

Not that anyone actually says it out loud, but Bella can sense it when Mother tells them at the breakfast table the morning after the Sorting, Cissy's letter still in her hand.

Truthfully, Bella hadn't been completely certain of it herself, either.

Sirius has just got the most rubbish ideas, and no-one in the family is really sure where he got them from. Certainly no-one in their circle thinks similarly.

But being a Black still means something, it seems, or else Sirius wouldn't have been sorted into Slytherin. It's just more proof that blood matters, and that's something that can never be changed.

*

Sirius is subdued at Christmas. There's little negative to be said about his manners, and he doesn't say anything contentious.

Bella isn't used to having peace and quiet around him, not even at Christmas.

'His closest friend is a half-blood,' Cissy whispers later, after dinner, and of course there would be something. What else should any of them have expected?

'His mother is a Prince, though, and he seems rather gifted at Potions,' Dromeda interjects. 'It's hardly something to disapprove of.'

'You do have a point, Dromeda,' Cissy concedes. 'Lucius certainly thinks he's worth keeping an eye on.'

It's not even as if Dromeda is completely wrong, but Bella is irritated anyway because it feels as if Dromeda has been jumping to the defence of every half-blood and Mudblood lately. But it's Christmas, and Bella doesn't want to lose her temper with her sister, so she excuses herself a short while later.

She finds Sirius in the back garden. He turns to look at her when he hears the door open, and a smirk appears on his face when he sees her.

'What's got your knickers in a twist now?' Sirius asks, and Bella wants nothing more than to wipe the smirk off of his face. Preferably with magic, but it's Christmas, and they are at Grimmauld Place, which means she probably wouldn't be able to get off scot-free.

'It's hardly anything that concerns a child,' Bella says in response and feels her heart lighten when Sirius's smirk disappears.

'I'll be the head of this House one day, you know,' he says, something dark burning in his eyes.

'At which point you will still hold no power over me,' Bella says, smiling and no longer in a foul mood. It's a silly thing to say, but despite that, it's something that Sirius wouldn't have even said just four months ago. Perhaps being sorted into Slytherin has done him some good after all.

*

Bella marries Rodolphus in the summer.

She sleeps together with her sisters one last time the night before the wedding.

Dromeda is utterly serious when she asks Bella if she loves Rodolphus.

'Love is hardly required for marriage,' Bella says, somewhat surprised because all three of them have always known this.

"Yeah, just look at Aunt Walburga and Uncle Orion,' Cissy adds, giggling, because she is still young enough to say something like this outloud.

Dromeda is silent, and Bella feels something foreboding.

'I'm not marrying Rodolphus because I have to,' she says. 'He just happens to be a good choice. We have the same beliefs and the same goals, and he hasn't got a problem with what's on my arm. That's more than can be said for most other pure-blood men.'

'But wouldn't you rather remain a Black?' Dromeda asks, and Bella can hear the frown in her voice.

'What, you want Bella to marry Sirius?' Cissy asks, scandalised, and Bella laughs.

'Thanks, Dromeda, but you don't have to worry about me,' Bella says once she's sober again and reaches out to squeeze Dromeda's hand. Yet at the same time, she can't help seriously thinking about the whole thing because Dromeda is right. Bella would indeed rather remain a Black, but that would only be possible if she married either Sirius or Regulus, and Bella can't imagine either option ever being something that she would want.

There isn't even anyone whom she would actually want to marry, if Bella wants to be completely honest, but it's practically unheard of for a pure-blood woman to do that, and Bella does care for the Black name.

But that hardly means she would marry just any pure-blood. Rodolphus Lestrange is not only a good match for Bellatrix Black, he is also a good match for Bella, and love isn't absolutely necessary for a good marriage.

Bella trusts Rodolphus to watch her back in a war, and that is more than enough.

*

To their surprise, Sirius actually comes up to offer his congratulations at the wedding. He is utterly polite, but there is a distance to his words that, if Bella were to be unkind, could be called insincerity.

'I can't imagine that he truly means what he said,' Rodolphus remarks once Sirius has left.

'At least he bothered, I suppose,' Bella says.

Maybe Sirius will eventually make for an acceptable head of house some day, who knows.

 

ii.

Sirius becomes a Death Eater the summer after his Sixth Year.

He's become more and more of a good pure-blood heir every time Bella's seen him, but it's still a surprise to see him kneeling before their Lord. It's hard to reconcile the youth before her with the boy whom she had known.

But then, even those closest to one can suddenly become completely unrecognisable, as Bella's learnt.

Whilst the other new Death Eaters look at their Dark Marks with anything ranging from awe to trepidation, though, Sirius looks at his with utter calm. It's a bit unsettling to see on someone like him, and Bella isn't sure what to think.

'He's changed a rather lot, hasn't he,' Rodolphus says later, in the privacy of their own home.

Bella only makes a non-committal sound. 'We'll see,' she says.

*

It's the process that's always brought the most pleasure to Bella, and so she finds it hard to understand why Sirius kills quickly and efficiently, especially when barely anyone else does. The boy she had known would have been like her, she is sure.

When she asks him about it, Sirius only sneers and says that Muggles and Mudbloods aren't worth any more of his time than necessary.

It's a good answer, especially for a future head of house, yet it's also a bit disquieting, seeing Sirius grow from brash, hot-headed boy to cold, collected youth. It's almost too much of a change, and a very un-Black one at that.

Despite that, Bella also thinks that she might actually respect Sirius a little now, and that is something that she had never expected.

*

By the time Sirius graduates, the war is in full swing.

Sirius is a revelation on the battlefield. He's excellent at duelling and even better at under-handed manoeuvres, and in battle he is ferocious. Here, for once, Bella has something like an equal.

And more than that, this is what it means to be a Black. They are creatures of passion, and whilst there's nothing exactly wrong with being cold and collected (Snape's certainly a fine enough dueller), it's not who they are.

Even her filthy blood traitor of a sister was one, or else she wouldn't have left them.

It alleviates, somewhat, the unease Bella has been feeling about Sirius, because it means he's still one of them.

*

Cissy finds out that Sirius refuses to allow Regulus to join them, and Bella demands to know why.

'Some people just don't make very good Death Eaters, wouldn't you agree?' Sirius says. 'You wouldn't want Cissy to join, either.'

It's a very good point that she cannot refute because he is right; Regulus would be a very loyal Death Eater, but he wouldn't be a very good one. And what they need more than anything else right now are good ones.

'That's a surprisingly wise decision,' Bella says, appraising.

Sirius grins wolfishly. 'I shall be the next head of this House, Bella. You shouldn't sound so surprised."

But she is. He'd once said something similar, and at that time, it had been nothing more than a joke to her, as well as a cruel reminder of something that she could never have because of her circumstances of birth, even though she would have been well-suited for it.

Now, it is something that Bella can take comfort in. She is reminded of a conversation between sisters long ago. 'Perhaps I should have waited to marry you,' Bella says, partly to see what Sirius's reaction would be.

Sirius gives her a look of incredulity mixed with something that Bella cannot place before he laughs. 'You would be right unhappy married to me, Bella. We'd be shouting at each other too often for it to be anything else.'

'Shouting? But you've hardly done any of that since you began Hogwarts,' Bella says. It had been disquieting at first, but they had all come to appreciate it.

'How many times have you even visited us at home? The worst sides of a wizard are often only shown toward family behind closed doors.'

'Are we not your family then?' Bella retorts. Just the thought of it makes her blood boil.

'Everyone's on their best behaviour at Christmas. You keep yourself from losing your temper, too, don't you?' Sirius asks.

'Yes,' Bella reluctantly concedes.

'Exactly, so stop being so bloody queer about it,' Sirius says. 'If you don't believe me, you can ask Regulus.'

Bella doesn't, but it's a thought that lingers nonetheless because of how unsettling it is.

Bella already knows what it's like to be betrayed by someone whom she had considered family, and this hits too close for comfort.

*

Bella still isn't sure how it happened afterward. They had been ambushed, and she remembers Sirius pushing her away, to safety. It is not the first time that it has hapepned.

She and Sirius are two of the strongest Death Eaters that their Lord has, and Regulus is distraught when he hears.

'What do you think will happen to him?' he asks.

'I don't know,' Bella says evenly.

'He'd been afraid of this,' Regulus mutters.

'Whatever do you mean?' Bella asks, and Regulus looks at her, nervous.

Finally, he says, 'He didn't want me to join because he didn't want to risk both of us dying.'

Oh. Even though she shouldn't anymore, Bella still finds it surprisingly far-sighted. He would have made a good head of house, Bella thinks.

If she had known that he would turn out like this, she might just have waited to marry.

*

Whilst still waiting for her trial, Bella hears that Sirius has been pardoned, after Albus Dumbledore vouched for him.

Being vouched for by Dumbledore can only mean one thing, and Bella is reminded of what Sirius had said about family not so very long ago.

It seems that that had been the truth after all, and it was just too bad that she had been convinced by his act in the end, despite how unsettling it had been in the beginning. But she had also wanted to be, Bella knows, because it had been what she had wanted to see.

It's the second time she's been betrayed by family, and Bella will never forgive Sirius. If she ever sees him again, she'll kill him.