By Your Side
“Bloody hell, I need to go back.”
I push myself away from the chair and move towards the Portrait Hole, but a hand grips my arm. I look over my shoulder to see Remus and the rest of the gang behind him.
“Cecilia,” Remus starts firmly, “you need to tell us what’s going on.”
“Yeah, it’s one thing when Sirius is yelling at us to do this and that because you’re in danger, but now that you’re back, you two have some explainin’ to do,” calls James from his place next to Lily. “Whatever’s going on, Sirius can survive for a minute or two. Tell us what’s going on.”
Lily takes a step closer to me, worry lining her face. “Cecilia, we can help.”
My eyes pass over each of them, seeing the genuine looks of concern in their expressions. And suddenly, I know exactly how Sirius was feeling when he was hiding everything from me. He was right. This whole mess he’s in – it’s the most bloody dangerous situation I’ve been involved in in my life.
And this lot.
I care about them… so much. I can’t even be angry at Sirius for keeping it all from me because right now at this very moment, every part of me just wants to do the same. Even if this whole Dark Lord situation is going to blow up into a war, is it wrong to want to protect the ones you love just a while longer?
But maybe protecting them is selfish rather than selfless.
I need to trust them.
I swallow and relax the tension in my body to grip Remus’ hand back.
“It’s… a long story,” I begin in a steady voice, “and I don’t have time right now to explain everything, nor do I think I even know all the details. You guys know about the rebellion, don’t you? The one in the Daily Prophet.”
James’ expression hardens and Lily says slowly, “Yes… the Death Eaters, right?”
“The Dark Lord?” a voice squeaks from behind James’ back.
I glance over to see Peter cowering behind his friend. But… the expression on his face. My brows furrow. I can’t read it. If I didn’t know how frightened Peter gets over even just spiders, I would think he looked almost fanatical when he said the Dark Lord’s name. But, no, that doesn’t make any sense.
I quickly shake my head, knowing that all this pondering is just wasting more valuable time.
“The Death Eaters have been trying to recruit Sirius for the past few months,” I continue hastily. “Sirius hadn’t been responding so Lucius decided to kidnap him temporarily to speak to him. It’s twisted, I know, but who’s to say any of us know what these madmen are thinking.”
“So, Sirius is surrounded by Death Eaters right now?” asks James. It came out more a statement than a question.
I nod grimly. “Well, just two,” I correct myself. “But I have no idea what’s going on back there. There could be twenty by the time I go back.”
“Go back?” Lily repeats, aghast. “You can’t go back there alone! You’ll get yourself killed!”
“Sirius risked his life so you could be back in Hogwarts,” adds Remus, his hand gripping mine even tighter now. “We can’t let you go back there. James and I will go.”
I shake my head fiercely. “Sons of well-known blood traitors? They’ll kill you two before you even get a word out. I come from a family of Slytherins. The mere fact that my relatives are potential followers gives me some amount of protection.”
“But—” Remus starts.
I give his hand another squeeze before pulling away. “Lily, do you have Sirius’ and my wands?” I call to her. “Lucius disarmed us in the forest.”
“O-oh, yes!” Lily stammers out before rummaging in her coat pockets and tossing me the two wands.
I pocket Sirius’ wand and raise my own. “Accio broomstick!”
My Silver Arrow soars down the dormitory staircase and I grab it before rushing to the Common Room window, the gang sprinting after me.
“Wait a minute, what are you planning to do?” demands Remus, still looking like he’s about to grab me and pin me down to prevent me from leaving.
I grab a textbook that someone left on the window sill and tuck it in the waistband of my pants against my back. “I’m going to fly out of Hogwarts borders and then Portkey to the Malfoy Manor like Lucius did,” I reply matter-of-factly.
“Hold on, isn’t creating a Portkey illegal?” Lily exclaims.
I turn to grin at her. “You forget I’m a Vance, Lil. Rich pureblood megalomaniacs get away with everything. Send a letter to Mum for me will you, Sonata?” I add to my sister, who is standing a ways behind everyone else, looking overwhelmed. I can’t blame her. Sonata’s never been all that great during stressful situations.
“This is a pretty crazy plan, sis.” She laughs nervously, as if trying to lighten the tension in the room. “Risking your life for Sirius? You’re acting as though you actually like him.”
It’s the last sentence that finally gets to me.
Sixteen years. I’ve spent sixteen years letting Sonata live her carefree lifestyle and have whatever she wanted, simply because she always acted like she wanted them more than me and I didn’t care enough to argue. Not anymore. Right now, I’m about to fly off and possibly get myself killed and, Merlin help me, I am not going to die letting this girl think she can take this one last thing away from me.
“You know what, you’re right, Sonata,” I say finally, uncaring that everyone else is watching. “I do like Sirius Black. I like him a lot. And for once in my life, I don’t even care that you like him more or that you want him more than I do because he’s the one thing I care too much about to let you have.”
Sonata blinks, seemingly speechless.
“It doesn’t matter that you’re my sister,” I continue simply, “if I have to fight you for him, I will.”
I turn away from the stunned look on her face to push open the window and swing my leg over my broomstick. “If we don’t come back by the morning, tell Dumbledore. Contact the Ministry.” I kick off into the night sky. “Wish me luck!”
“DON’T GET YOURSELF KILLED, YOU CRAZY GIRL!” I hear Lily bellow from behind me.
I just throw her a wave over my shoulder before flattening my body against my broomstick and speeding towards the edge of the Forbidden Forest. My heart feels like it’s going to pound right out of my chest, but, at this point, I welcomethe extra blood pumping through my veins. I’m not going to lie. I am bloody terrified.
Am I going to die tonight?
Is Sirius already dead?
What’s happening in the wizarding world?
Is this the start of an all-out war?
Sirius, just be alive. Don’t do anything brave or even bloody stupid. That’s all I can think about right now. And some part of my mind hopes that our bodies are still connected enough for him to hear me.
Don’t be a hero. Don’t be a hero. Don’t be a hero.
I spot a clearing in the forest some distance away from the castle grounds and throw myself into a steep dive before screeching to a stop and hopping off my broom. I quickly pull the spare textbook out from the waistband of my jeans and point my wand at the cover.
Immediately, the book glows a brilliant blue in my hands and I feel a jerk behind my navel. My surroundings turn into a blur as I soar through the Portkey stream away from the Scottish Highlands and towards the Malfoy Manor.
Mere seconds later, I hear Sirius’ voice through the whirlwind of settings and sound. “Come a little closer, cousin dearest… and I’ll show you just how threatening I can be.”
“This is the last straw, you traitorous scum!” Bellatrix’s voice shrieks. “Step aside, Lucius! CRUCI—”
Before she can even finish her curse, I feel myself hurled out of the Portkey stream and – thankfully? – straight into Bellatrix’s body at the speed of a cyclone. We’re thrown to the ground in a tangle of limbs and the Cruciatus Curse is flung into the ceiling, spraying a cloud of dust from the impact.
Coughing, I shove myself away from her and scramble to my feet. I point my wand at Lucius and Bellatrix before either of them can react and shout, “Expelliarmus!”
The force of the spell throws them back and their wands fly into the air and out of their reach.
“Cecilia!” I hear Sirius’ gasp out from behind me, coughing in the dust. “What the hell are you doing here, you idiot?!”
I quickly turn to Sirius and point my wand at his binds. “Diffindo! Helping you, you bigger idiot!” I hiss at him as I rip the severed black ropes off of him.
“That’s my job!” he retorts as I toss his wand to him. “You’re supposed to be back at Hogwarts, safe and not about to bloody die with me! We only need one person making stupid sacrifices out of the two of us!”
“There’s a difference between trying to be a hero out of panic and knowingly leaving you here when I know exactly where you are!” I counter angrily. “Don’t tell me you’re not the least bit glad I’m actually here saving your arse!”
Sirius makes a face. “Alright, fine, I’m glad you’re here,” he admits, the corner of his lip tilting upwards. “But all jokes aside…” He shakes the tension out of his arms and raises his wand to point at Bellatrix as I do the same for Lucius. “A bit out of the frying pan and into the fire, ‘innit?”
Unfortunately, the two Dark wizards had used the short amount of time I took to help Sirius to grab their wands, both of which hadn’t rolled nearly far enough away as I intended with my Disarming Spell.
Lucius straightens up, his wand pointed right back at me.
“Cecilia Vance,” he drawls, a sneer forming on his face. “I have to admit, you look better now than with your face in the dirt. Missed me already?”
“You wish, Lucius,” I spit back.
“How did they get in here?” Bellatrix demands, her eyes not leaving the tip of Sirius’ wand. “Lucius, you third-rate, did you tell the entire world where you took Sirius Black?”
Lucius scowls. “I am no such fool,” he answers scathingly. “I didn’t give any indication of where we were going. Vance had no way of communicating with Black!”
“Then explain how she is standing in your basement, cretin!”
“You two are like an old married couple! SHUT UP,” I bellow, finally getting tired of their quarreling.
Both Lucius and Bellatrix glare murderously at me and Sirius lets out a snort of laughter.
“It doesn’t matter how or why or when I got here,” I continue hastily. “The point is now I’m here, it’s two-on-two. You no longer have the advantage.”
I step slightly to the left to hide the textbook from view on the floor. I had dropped it when I was helping Sirius, but right now it’s our only way back. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Sirius shift a step as well and I know he’s thinking the same thing.
“Why don’t you two…” Sirius says in a pacifying tone, “just drop your wands and let us go before this all gets out of hand, yeah?”
Lucius lets out a bark of laughter. “A pair of underage wizards against two Death Eaters? Don’t make me laugh.”
“You’d be a fool to think we’d let you go that easily.” Bellatrix’s face morphs into a deranged grin, spreading from ear to ear. I feel Sirius tense beside me. “And where would the fun in that be?! Everte Statum!”
The spell hits Sirius in the chest and throws him back across the room.
“Sirius!” I yell as he pushes himself back onto his feet, but before I can move an inch towards him, I catch a sharp movement from the corner of my eye.
“Don’t get distracted, Vance!” Lucius roars. “Oppungno!”
The wooden chair beside me shoots towards me at lethal speed and I dive out of the way, rolling over my shoulder to get back onto my feet. I point my wand at the chair as it soars in the air for a second attack. “Flipendo!” I shout, swiping my wand towards Lucius.
The chair explodes into a cloud of dust before my jinx can repel it back towards its owner. I cough in the haze, my wand still raised and my stance defensive. The dust clears to reveal Lucius in a similar stance and a sneer plastered on his face.
“Thought you’d doing Black a favor by coming here and saving him, did you?” he taunts as we circle each other warily. “Tell me, Vance, how did you find us?”
“My enormous magical powers, Lucius,” I reply dryly.
My eyes glance over at Sirius and Bellatrix as I circle around to face them. Their wands are moving so fast that I can’t even follow the spell-casting. Attacks. Defense. They all blur together in a mass of red and green sparks. Both Bellatrix and Sirius are of perfectly equal dueling skills, as are me and Lucius.
If we don’t do something quickly, this could go on forever.
And being right in the middle of Malfoy Manor, where clearly Death Eaters just walk in and out of at their leisure, that would definitely not end well for me and Sirius.
I need to end this somehow. Fast.
“Has it occurred to you that perhaps your people are the source of my information?” I remark, my voice taking a pompous air. “I came for Sirius because we’re engaged – the obligation certainly stretches that far. But with the Vance and Black families so intertwined now, what’s to say I didn’t get recruited as well?”
“Recruited?” Lucius eyes narrow at me suspiciously. “A bluff, Vance. You’re fooling no one.”
I let out a derisive laugh that hopefully doesn’t sound as forced as it felt. “Your self-importance is your downfall, Lucius,” I reply scathingly. “The Death Eaters network is more vast now than you could ever imagine. Just how well-informed do you think you are? Do you even know of the Ministry attack tomorrow night?”
It was a blind lie, obviously. But the Ministry gets assaulted by rebels at least once a week. Anyone who reads the Daily Prophet properly knows that. An attack tomorrow isn’t all that far-fetched.
I see Lucius’ wand arm falter and I know I’m on the right path. He just spent the past hour getting called a third-rate by Bellatrix Lestrange. He’s clearly trying to climb the ranks. I’m just feeding his existing doubt.
“And here you are in the basement of your own house trying to recruit an underage wizard that doesn’t give a rat’s arse about you,” I continue. “Tell me, Lucius, you may trust the Dark Lord, but does he even trust you enough yet?”
Lucius furrows his brows at me, clearly conflicted. “How… do you know all of this?”
I have to repress a satisfied smirk from forming on my face. And Sirius says I suck at acting! Who’s got the brains in this relationship?
“Because you’re dueling the wrong witch here,” I answer simply. I turn to point my wand at Sirius instead. “Come, Lucius. Let’s help Bella finish off this blood traitor.”
The uncertainty in Lucius’ face quickly relaxes as he redirects his wand as well, doubt clearly clouding his judgement.
“What an idiot,” I mutter to myself.
The moment I’m no longer his target, I spin around again and jab my wand at him before he can even react to my betrayal. “PETRIFICUS TOTALUS!”
The force of my curse throws his entire body back as it strikes him in the chest. He hurls into the wall behind him before landing face first on the floor, his body completely rigid.
Lucius lets out a muffled roar of anger through his closed mouth and I step over to him to pluck the wand out from his grip and toss it to the side.
“On the contrary, Lucius,” I comment wryly, “you look way better than me with your face in the dirt.”
A loud cackle of laughter rings through the air behind me and I quickly turn back towards the pandemonium to see Sirius standing behind a Shield Charm and Bellatrix with her wand arm raised and the Cruciatus Curse just barely forming on her lips.
I jab my wand at the shield and hastily shout, “Fianto Duri!” just as Bellatrix shrieks, “Crucio!”
The curse bounces off of the strengthened Shield Charm before ricocheting off into the room and striking the wine bottles against the far wall.
“Nice one!” yells Sirius over the ear-splitting crack of the glass bottles. “Locomotor Wibbly!”
The Jelly-Legs Jinx hits Bellatrix in the legs just as she brushes a sleeve over her wine-splattered face and she stumbles rather comically to the floor, her legs rendered completely useless.
Sirius lets out a bark of laughter as Bellatrix growls and raises her wand again. “Why you… Confrin—”
Both Sirius and my spells shoot out of our wands simultaneously before Bellatrix can get another curse out. Her wand flies out of her hand and black ropes shoot around her arms, finally incapacitating the Dark witch.
“That took longer than expected,” Sirius pants out. “Come on, let’s go!”
He turns to grab my hand and sprints towards the textbook lying in the far corner of the room. I nearly collide with him as he screeches to a stop and snatches the textbook off the floor. I slap my hand over the book as well, just as the cover starts to glow a bright blue again.
“SIRIUS BLACK!” Bellatrix shrieks from her place on the floor. “I’ll make sure the Dark Lord has special plans for you, blood traitor! You’ll pay for this! HE’LL DESTROY YOU!”
Before either of us can even react to Bellatrix’s threat, I feel a jerk behind my navel and we’re thrown back into the Portkey stream. The blur of sights and sounds are even more dizzying in the aftermath of the duel. Then just as the nausea starts to become overwhelming, my feet hit solid ground again.
I feel myself stumble, but Sirius wraps his arms around me, pulling me tight against his chest.
A gust of cold wind rushes past us and I shiver, still panting to catch my breath. The night is quiet. The breeze is gentle against my skin. The rustle of leaves trickles through the air.
“We… we’re back,” I gasp into his shirt. “We’re back at Hogwarts.”
“Yeah,” he breathes out.
I swallow, unable to stand the sudden noiselessness. “Pretty good Jelly-Legs Jinx you did back there.”
He laughs. “Says you. Wish I could’ve actually seen you faceplant Malfoy into his own basement floor.”
His words are muffled against my hair and I can feel his heart pounding against my ear. I slip my arms around his waist and his hold on me tightens. I don’t know if it’s from shock or just plain relief, but neither of us seem to be able to move. And… is it just me? Or is he shaking…?
It’s only after a long moment of silence that Sirius finally speaks up again.
“Are you…” His voice comes out hoarse and he coughs to clear his throat. “Are you hurt anywhere? Are you okay?” He pulls back from the embrace to look me up and down, his face lined with concern.
“No, I’m not hurt.” I shake my head. “Sirius, are you—”
Before I can even finish getting my words out, Sirius clasps both his hands around my face and kisses me.
Did he just—
My eyes widen in surprise at first, but then flicker closed as his lips move against mine. Suddenly, all other thoughts are pushed out of my mind at his touch. His lips are soft, much softer than I imagined for a boy, but they’re anything but gentle. With the adrenaline still pumping through our veins and the near-death experience just seconds behind us, the kisses are steeped with a myriad of emotions.
Without thinking, I let my hands drift up the wide expanse of his back and my fingers twist into his hair. Sirius makes a soft sound against my mouth and he breathes out something that vaguely sounded like, “bloody hell…”
One of his hands moves to the back of my neck as he presses closer against me and I don’t know if it was the overwhelming feeling of Sirius pervading every one of my senses or just something amazing he did with his tongue, but I feel my knees buckle. Sirius’ arm immediately shoots around my waist, but we stumble backwards and my back hits a tree trunk, the impact knocking the wind out of me.
Or was it just from the kiss?
“Whoops,” Sirius chuckles, his breath hot against my cheek. He leans down to kiss me again. “Too much?”
I let out a soft laugh before pulling away to look up at him. His fringe is plastered against his forehead from sweat and he has this somewhat dazed grin on his face.
“You tell me,” I joke, rather dazed myself. “Is this something you typically do after a tension-filled, high-risk, narrow escape from death?”
“Only on Tuesdays,” Sirius counters, grinning. He takes a deep breath before resting his forehead against mine and closing his eyes. “Sorry,” he finally says. “I didn’t mean for the kiss to be so explosive. I was just so bloody relieved that—Cecilia, you know I was this close to getting myself killed before you got there? I know I seemed angry at first that you were there, but, goddamn, you have no idea how happy I was to see you again.”
“I know,” I whisper softly.
I don’t need Sirius’ words to remind me that he was mere seconds away from pulling the exact same suicidal stunt I was going to pull before he switched our bodies back. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being around Sirius all the time, it’s that sometimes we are just too bloody alike for our own good. That’s why I knew I had to go back there.
I wasn’t just going to leave him alone.
I realize my hands have the front of his shirt clenched tight into fists and I relax my fingers before whispering, “But we’re okay now. We’re still alive.”
“Yeah,” he breathes out. “We’re alive.” He pauses for a moment and opens his eyes to look down at his shirt. “I’m not so sure about this t-shirt though. It’s definitely been through the wringer tonight, no thanks to you.”
I make a face and hit him in the chest, but Sirius just laughs.
He brushes a strand of hair away from my face and peers into my eyes, a gentle expression on his face. “Ready to go back?” he asks.
“Yeah, we better go before Lily freaks out and actually goes to the Minister of Magic or something. But…” I pause as my face turns a shade of pink, “maybe after my legs feel like they can hold up my body weight again.”
Sirius grins. “I’m that good huh?”