Your eyes aren't deceiving you! I've re-uploaded this chapter and added to it with a new block of Regulus' story. I can't promise when the next chapter will be up but I'm going to start writing again.

An explanation of my hiatus in the author's note at the end of the chapter.

xXx

May 1978

Bess woke up in darkness. A small orb of light hovered next to her, illuminating the single chair by her bedside. In that, Sirius sat, his fingers interlaced. He was leaning forwards, staring at the floor, his expression hard and focussed. His skin was paler than usual, and he looked... off. She wondered if it was just the light, or if his face had been injured.

"Pup?" she asked quietly. "Are you okay?"

Sirius didn't answer for a moment, and then he looked up and nodded, sighing deeply. He sat back in his chair and replied, "Fine, I'm fine."

"Are you sure?" she asked, trying to sit up. Her arms felt heavy and she could barely move her legs. She gave up when Sirius moved to her bedside and leant over her so that she could see his eyes properly. She sighed. Even with his visage altered from fear and injury, his eyes were still his. Still grey. A wonderful constant.

"I'm sure," he replied.

"Your leg's okay?" she asked, noticing that he was wearing long black robes, rather than his usual jeans and t-shirt. Had he been on a mission?

"Fine," he said, looking down at his leg. "All good."

"And your arm?"

"Much better."

Bess sighed with relief. "I was so worried."

He stared at her for a moment, as if unsure of her words. "You were worried?"

"Of course."

His brow furrowed. "We thought you were dead and you were worried?"

Bess let out a breath of a laugh. "We've been over this so many times, Pup, I'll always worry about you. It's easy to be the one going through it. It's harder to watch."

"You almost died," he reiterated, frowning still, staring at her in disbelief.

Bess tried to raise her hand to his cheek but her arms felt so heavy she found that she couldn't. When he still didn't say anything, she smiled slightly. and tried to joke, "I thought the whole marriage bond thing was so you'd know if I died...? What did you say? 'I'll feel it if anything happens to you'?"

Sirius' eyes widened comically and looked to the floor in surprise. His nostrils flared. He whispered something to himself and rubbed his chin. It took him a moment, but he cleared his throat and said, "Ancient marriage bonds are unique. Do you remember how many times the band shone for- for us?"

Bess smiled at him. "Trying to make sure my memory's okay?" she teased. When he didn't answer, she sighed, and said, "You're ridiculous! What happened to 'I'll never forget that the band shone seven times. That's stronger than most love matches in my family.'" She said the last in a deep imitation of Sirius' voice.

The sides of Sirius' lips tilted upwards. "Like you said, I needed to check your memory." He sat back in his chair and interlinked his fingers. "If I answer this, will you answer a question for me?"

Bess whispered, "Of course."

"A bond like that..." He took in a deep breath and was silent for a long while until he finally said, as if reciting from a book, "'Marriage bonds are unpredictable. Depending on the strength of the bond, the death of the wizard or witch's other half can feel like a sudden jolt, a tickle, a heart palpation, or if stronger, as if their heart has been ripped out. Even the strongest matches have differing reactions and this cannot be seen as a true reflection of their love for one another, rather simply the result of factors such as distance, magical strength and circumstance etcetera. Indeed, some matches have claimed to feel physical and emotional shudders if their other half is in mortal peril or severely injured. No one witch or wizard can explain the feeling, and so instances of mortal peril could be mistaken for a loss.'" He looked back to Bess, who opened her mouth to ask how he knew that. "Mother wanted us to know the realities of a magical marriage. We've been prepared for this since birth. Now, in answer to your question, you were hurt. You were injured, and had a killing curse sent at you. Even if the bond didn't say you were dead, it's hard not to believe your eyes."

Bess frowned. She couldn't put her finger on it, but something about his voice was different. Odd. Off.

"Are you sure you're okay?" she asked, wondering if he'd had an issue with his throat due to the fight.

Sirius nodded again and Bess, suspicious now but not wanting to raise his suspicions, asked, "I have one more question for you... Back when we first started dating, what did you call it?"

"What?" he asked, watching her closely.

"After you duelled your brother, you said you wanted to date, but that you understood that I needed time and instead we'd spend time getting to know each other, but you called it...?"

"Courting," he said with a small laugh.

Bess smiled back at him, relieved that he'd said the right thing. So his odd speech wasn't down to some trickery, it was probably down to him being upset that she was injured again. Had he been crying, she thought with a jolt. Okay, new plan. Make him laugh.

"Okay, next question. Why're you wearing robes?" she asked.

Sirius smiled good-humouredly and raised an eyebrow. "I can't wear robes now?"

"Sorry," she replied, grinning now.

"It's okay... I didn't think, I just put them on..." he said, pondering. He sighed and swallowed thickly. "Now... I have to ask you something."

Bess tried to move but she couldn't. The movement sent a sudden wash of aching and lethargy over her. "What?" she asked, trying to focus on his reply.

"The locket..." he asked. "Dumbledore said that he was going to destroy it?"

Bess interrupted him by shaking her head. She moaned and winced when the movement hurt - it felt as though she could feel her brain banging against the inside of her skull.

"Bess?"

Bess moaned again and said, "No, no... Dumbledore couldn't..." She trailed off and sighed deeply, trying not to focus on the slow aching pains coming to the forefront of her mind.

"Dumbledore couldn't what?" he asked, urging her on.

Bess swallowed, her throat aching from the action. "Dumbledore was going to destroy it, but Vol-"

"Don't say it," he interjected, and Bess' eyes widened as his words made her focus. "Don't say the name," he repeated.

"Why?" she asked, pushing her head back against her pillows to put a little space between herself and her husband so that she could watch his face. She didn't know why, it must have been the fogginess in her head, but she felt like something was wrong, well, worse than before, and he wasn't telling her. "Is there a taboo? You-Know-You's taken over the Ministry already?" she asked, feeling bile rise in her throat.

Sirius didn't say yes, but he didn't say no either.

Bess inclined her head in a simple nod. "Of course... With... with Dumbledore gone..." She stopped to cough. "Sorry," she whispered, "with Dumbledore gone, a coup would be his next step..."

"And then he'll hide the Horcrux?" he asked, and Bess wished she could move her arms - she wanted to cup his cheek and tell him it was going to be okay. She wanted to lean up and kiss him. "The one he wears around his neck?"

"Yeah... yeah he will. I just hope we can destroy them all in time. Before it gets worse."

Sirius' eyes widened slightly but he didn't say anything.

"Where are we?" she asked, looking around at the darkness again, trying to strain her eyes to see past the chair which sat empty behind Sirius. She couldn't see anything though, it was like the darkness was thick, surrounding them, and unending.

"The Hospital Wing," he replied.

Bess frowned. "It's not usually this dark, is it?" she asked.

"I placed curtains around the bed so you could sleep without any distractions."

"Oh," she said, smiling slightly, her head feeling ever heavier, her eyelids closing slowly. "Thank you. But you hate it when the curtains are closed," she whispered. "You like to see... you like to see the sky when you wake in the night."

"To check on the Dog Star?" he scoffed, and Bess smiled at the sound, ignoring his odd choice of words. "How original."

"So we'll just pretend you weren't looking for Regulus in the sky the other night?" she whispered with her eyes shut. She was teasing him, and she thought he'd tease her back, but he didn't, and she knew she'd crossed the line. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I shouldn't have..." She opened her eyes and looked into his grey eyes. He looked surprised and... vulnerable? So she filled the silence by adding, "Thank you, my love, really. The darkness is helping. But..." she said, suddenly feeling vulnerable herself, "what if someone comes in? Am I safe here?"

Sirius hummed. "No. We'll move you soon. But the school's going to be closed soon. The children are being sent home this weekend."

Bess sighed and nodded slowly, careful not to jolt her head. "Could you put on our song? It's too quiet..."

"Here," he said, ignoring her request and moving to her bedside table, where he began to pour a clear potion out of a bottle and into a small cup. "Drink this. It'll help you sleep."

"But I don't like those," she replied, trying to shake her head when he turned back to her with the cup in his hand. "You know I don't like sleeping potions. No, please don't make me..."

"You have to," he replied. "It will help you sleep. When you wake you'll be safe and I'll be here."

Bess felt the cold cup touch her lips, and she felt her mouth open slightly against her will, letting the cold, clear potion flow in. She would have thought it was water if she hadn't seen him pour it out. She spluttered when the liquid began to burn down her throat but she wasn't in control, and Sirius gently lifted her head to help her gulp down the rest of the cup.

The back of her neck ached from the pressure of him lifting her head at such an odd angle, and she let out a long sigh when he dropped her head against her pillows again.

"Pup?" she asked, as she felt the sleepiness overtake her suddenly. "Kiss me?" Her words slurred. Her eyes closed. Her body felt weighed down, and her head tipped to the side.

"Later," he replied. And when Bess fell asleep again, she didn't feel his lips press to her forehead.

xXx

Regulus watched Bess' eyes close and her breathing ease.

He hadn't wanted to use the Draught of Living Death on her, but if anyone found out that he'd been there... Well, it didn't bear thinking about.

He waited until she was definitely asleep, and then he removed all evidence of his being there, pocketing the potion and the cup he'd used to administer it.

Waving his wand, he allowed the dark mass of curtains he'd conjured around her bed to fall down, and he squinted slightly as his eyes adjusted to the bright light of the Hospital Wing.

He walked over to Madam Pomfrey, who lay slumped across her desk, knocked out from a simple stunning spell. He moved her slightly, gently placing her into a more comfortable position, and then he began to move his wand, wordlessly removing the memory of his visit to the ward. It would be best for them both if she didn't remember.

Hearing the sound of footsteps echoing down the hall outside the Hospital Wing door, he retreated to the Matron's office and removed a small pouch of Floo powder from his pocket, throwing a small, expertly measured amount of the powder into the empty grate, which burst into green flames when the powder touched it.

"Lestrange Manor," he said, stepping into the flames.

He didn't want to stick around to see the confusion his actions would cause. In any case, he was too distracted by the information he'd gathered from Bess, and he needed to concentrate. He had mere moments to hide the information away in the filing cabinets of his mind, lest The Dark Lord search his thoughts.

Spinning uncomfortably within the fire, he took the time to reset his expression into one of blank indifference.

Behind his mask, his thoughts swirled and sorted.

Yet, despite trying his best, when he arrived at the manor and stepped out into the dark, tapestry filled entrance hall, he was still thinking about what Bess had said - when he had posited his impossible idea that The Dark Lord's immortality had been gained through the darkest magic imaginable, she had not batted an eyelid. And when he had asked about one Horcrux, she had said them.

"Where have you been?" asked an impatient voice.

Regulus tensed his jaw, glad that he'd taken the time to transform his features back to his own mere seconds before Bellatrix had found him in the entrance hall. It wasn't lost on him that most thought that Sirius was the Transfiguration prodigy of the family, when Regulus could transform himself to so closely resemble his brother that even Bess couldn't tell the difference.

"Do you understand how difficult it is to leave Hogwarts?" Regulus asked with a roll of his eyes. He knew he was baiting her, but he couldn't stop - if he didn't, she would think something was wrong with him. "Or have you forgotten the rules of the school in your old age?"

His thoughts and heart stopped when he heard a loud clap and felt the cold sting of the slap across his cheek.

His nostrils flared and he turned on his cousin with a face of thunder, showing as much barely restrained anger as he could even though he'd anticipated her violence. "Might I remind you-"

"Might I remind you," Bellatrix hissed angrily, "that you may be a Black, but if you continue to show me up with your insolence your parents will have to deal with the loss of their heir."

"What?" he said, trying to keep his voice level. "If I disobey you, you'll kill Sirius? That's hardly a threat."

Bellatrix's glare turned into a sulk and he allowed his lip to twitch up.

"You know exactly what I meant," she replied, talking through her teeth. "You are the last worthy male heir."

"And I'm to pretend you haven't thought about who would inherit should I perish as well?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. "Would it not go to the next eldest?"

Bellatrix had the decency to meet his eye as she raised her eyebrow. "As if dear Aunt Walburga would ever let that happen," she replied with the smallest hint of a smile. "She's requested the greatest of protections for her perfect boy."

Regulus felt himself relax somewhat. This by no means meant that Bellatrix didn't want him dead, but at least the family hierarchy was still in place.

"Ah, Regulus, you've arrived. Though here I was thinking you could stand up to your cousin," came a drawl from the corner of the room. "You should slap him again, Bella. His other cheek is far too pale in comparison."

Regulus closed his eyes for a moment and then looked to Bellatrix, who had the same unimpressed, exasperated look on her face. Their spat had already ended, and this outsider's words weren't needed - he didn't want Bellatrix's anger to reignite.

"Ignore me all you want but hurry. He's waiting," Rodolphus added when he was ignored by his wife and cousin-in-law.

"After you," Bellatrix said, holding her hand out in front of her. But Regulus knew better than to go before her. He gestured his hand as well and Bellatrix huffed, but went first.

"I didn't realise this was a whole-family affair," he muttered when they reached a large pair of double doors, through which he could hear the muffled voices of numerous people.

"It's not," Bellatrix replied shortly. "Just a few individuals who needed a little persuading to join our cause. A few of us were hand-chosen to persuade our guests, and I was asked for the use our home as a display of the power the Dark Lord's followers hold," she said proudly, her dark eyes glimmering as she added the last in a more boastful tone. "Stay here. I'll get you when he's ready."

Regulus rolled his eyes as Bellatrix swept inside the room, the sound of chatter growing loud as she opened the door, only to be dulled once more at the click of the lock.

Trust Bellatrix to scold him for being late when he was early, he thought, glancing at the landscape portrait on the wall.

He waited for less than a minute before the doors opened and around twenty people left the room, walking quickly towards the entrance hall. He could tell who were the invited and who were the ones who had 'needed persuading' - the ones leaving first were white as ghosts and looked sick, whereas the rest were happy enough - they'd heard the 'sell' before.

Only one person met his eye as she walked past, and he tipped the side of his mouth up into a small smile of recognition. She did the same before she swept out of view alongside her husband. Narcissa, Bellatrix's sister, had always been kinder to him than Bella had.

"Come," came a high-pitched male voice from inside the room, summoning Regulus.

xXx

Regulus placed his knife and fork onto his plate, which was taken immediately by an invisible servant. A House-Elf, he knew. But one he had yet to meet.

He watched his cousin as she did the same, and her husband, and the other three people who had remained to dine with the Dark Lord.

He had eaten the meal of Chateaubriand slowly, refusing to rush and draw attention to himself. He had added to the conversation where his input was desired, and he had played the part beautifully.

Yet he found the idea that he was dining with The Dark Lord to be interesting, since at no point did the red-eyed man eat anything. No plate was set in front of the terrifying wizard. No cup. Nothing. Voldemort simply sat at the head of the table in someone else's dining room and held court.

And he was terrifying. Even he thought so. Those red eyes. The unnaturally pale skin. The long thin fingers. The stature. The soft, unnaturally high voice. The knowledge that with a flick of The Dark Lord's finger, the doors that led into the room could be sealed off and within an hour Regulus could be begging for death if The Dark Lord chose. Terrifying.

Regulus stopped himself from jumping when he was addressed by name. Instead, he raised his eye to meet Voldemort's, and concentrated on not letting the fearsome wizard access his thoughts.

Not that Voldemort had any reason to use look into Regulus' mind, but in any case, Regulus concentrated everything he had on making sure that his self-taught Occulmency would not let him down in the case of Voldemort suspecting any weakness. For if he could not keep his mind strong, he would not leave this room. Not after what Bess had told him about Voldemort and the way to defeat him.

Regulus emptied his mind.

"Leave," Voldemort commanded, surprising everyone.

Regulus did not move. He didn't know how, but he knew the command was not to him, but to the others. He was right. Within a minute he was sat alone at the overly large dinner table with Voldemort for the first time.

"You are my servant?" Voldemort asked, raising his fingertips to meet each other underneath his chin.

Regulus nodded. He expected his words were not needed. Again, he was correct.

"And yet you do not have my mark," Voldemort said, looking at Regulus' robed left arm.

This moment had been coming for Regulus for a long time. He'd seen his brother run from it, run from his 'duty to the family', run from his 'birth right', and Regulus knew that he would not have the same chance. He had known that for years.

"If you wish it, I shall take it with honour and gratitude, My Lord," Regulus replied, controlling his words and pitch.

"Honour and gratitude..." Voldemort said, as if chewing the words, savouring them.

Silence filled the room and Regulus could hear his heart beat in his chest.

"I require sacrifice to prove your loyalty," Voldemort said finally. "It is the smallest of requests to confirm that our interests are aligned."

"Ask and it shall be yours," Regulus replied.

"I have been told that you have an old House-Elf in your employ," Voldemort said, tilting his head to one side, as if peering closer to Regulus without moving an inch.

"I do," Regulus replied immediately.

"I believe it is loyal only to your family?" Voldemort asked.

"Yes. My father and mother first, myself second. He will answer to no other unless we command it, and he speaks to no one apart from us," Regulus said, trying to reaffirm that Kreacher was not an 'it', but a valued member of the family (to him at least).

"I have a task for it. Bring it to me," Voldemort commanded, ignoring Regulus' words. "Now."

"As you wish," Regulus replied with barely contained unease. "Kreacher," he summoned.

xXx

Bess moaned slightly and shifted, feeling a warm weight over her chest, flowing over her legs. She heard a shuffle and then felt a hand brush over her temple, pushing her hair back.

"Hey. Hey. Are you... Bess? You're- you're awake?" Lily whispered frantically, her shaking hands trailing over Bess' face and shoulders.

The sides of Bess' mouth tipped upwards and she sniffed in a long breath, filling her senses with Lily's beautiful and calming orange scent.

"Did you just sniff me?" Lily asked, laughing slightly.

Bess opened her eyes and smiled properly now. "Maybe... How long have I been out?" she rasped, her voice cracking and breaking as she tried to use her vocal cords for the first time in a while.

"A while..." Lily replied, her red rimmed and tired eyes telling Bess all she needed to know.

"How long?" Bess asked again, her eyes widening. She tried to move but the weight of the cover was constricting her arms. She began to fight against it, the feeling of constriction worrying her, but then Lily moved and untucked the covers, walking around the bed to slowly release Bess from the confines of the sheets. She sighed in relief - this was much better than when she'd last woken.

"I don't-" Lily said, sitting on the side of Bess' bed again.

"Fine. Don't tell me how long," Bess said, sighing. "Just tell me the date."

Lily stared at her. Her tongue darted out to lick her lips, and then bit her bottom lip and avoided Bess' gaze.

"Lily," Bess said again.

Lily breathed in a long breath through her nose and whispered something that Bess couldn't quite hear.

"What?" Bess asked, trying to move closer.

Lily sighed again and looked up at the ceiling. "I just- I don't- I don't want to- can we just wait for-"

"Lily." Bess' commanding tone made Lily look her in the eyes now. "You have to tell me."

"But you'll get upset."

"Why would I get upset?"

"Because you'll say that it was just like last time and you should have been here, and-"

"What?" Bess asked, trying to figure out what on earth Lily was talking about. The thought that she'd only been asleep for a week began to fracture in her mind as she saw an emerald sparkle, the stone sitting proudly on Lily's left ring finger.

"I- I think I should just tell Sirius you're awake and-"

"Lily. What. Is. The. Date?"

Lily bit her lip again and pulled the sleeves of her cardigan down over her hands, rubbed her hands together, and then crossed her arms. "It's... It's June. June the nineteenth," Lily replied.

"Ju- June? June?! You're... No..." Bess stammered, staring at her friend. She let out a laugh and shook her head. "A month. Over a month? No. No way. That... It can't be. I wasn't even... Lily! You're joking, right? This is some sort of weird joke?"

Lily bowed her head and wiped a tear from her cheek as she shook her head.

"I left you all again?" Bess asked.

Lily shook her head again. "No. No. This isn't your fault, and you didn't leave us. You were always here. Just... Just after everything happened with Volde-"

"Don't say the name!" Bess said frantically, sitting up against her pillows more.

Lily's eyes widened but she hesitantly continued when Bess asked her to. "Well... Well you just never woke up. I... Well... Madam Pomfrey said you must have had a bad knock to the head, and we waited in the Hospital Wing, but... But you just didn't, and... And then after Dumbledore's funeral you seemed to get worse and we moved you here, and..."

"What?" Bess asked incredulously. "I... I woke up. Lily, I woke up! I was awake. I... I had... I chatted to Sirius, and..."

Lily frowned and shook her head. "You were improving for a bit, yes, but you didn't wake up, Bess. Sirius was beside himself. He kept saying he was meant to be here when you woke up but he was in St. Mungo's for a week for his leg and when he got back you were... Well... You'd taken a turn for the worse."

"No... Sirius' leg... It... I spoke to him... His leg and his arm were healed... He was wearing robes..."

Lily opened and closed her mouth and blinked rapidly. "I don't... I don't know what to tell you," she replied.

Bess frowned. "Was that..." She stopped and motioned for some water to buy herself some time, but her hands shook too much when Lily tried to hand her the cup and so Lily had to help her to drink some, and then she tried to speak again. "Was I asleep for so long because of the sleeping potion?" she asked, thinking of the last thing she remembered - Sirius getting her to sleep more.

"Sleeping potion?" Lily replied, frowning deeply. "I hadn't realised anyone had given you one... do you know who did?"

Bess frowned and shook her head. Her memory of seeing Sirius had been so vivid. She didn't think it was a dream...

"We should we do this later," Lily said, when Bess' eyes closed and she groaned. "You need more rest. I know... I know it's a lot to take."

Bess shook her head. "No, s'ok," Bess replied, her words slurring slightly. "I'm just a bit confused," she said, wondering why Sirius hadn't told anyone that he'd given her a sleeping potion. And if he hadn't really been here, why she'd concocted such an odd conversation.

She licked her lips. She could still remember the feeling of the potion flowing down her throat. It couldn't have been a dream. No. It wasn't. Sirius knew about the Horcruxes. Why would she make it up? It...

"Kinter said you would be confused if you woke up," Lily replied slowly, "because of your... your coma? And you're on a few potions for your symptoms and they can't be helping."

"Symptoms?" Bess asked in a whisper.

"The curses..." Lily replied. "Kinter said he wanted to take the opportunity to try and give you a clean slate health wise. He said it would- he said it would help if you... If you woke up."

Bess blinked. "So he got tired of me pretend-"

"-pretending you're okay?" Lily finished for her with a light laugh. "Yeah. Yeah... It was cool though, he let me brew a few of the potions," she said with a proud and watery smile. "Yesterday he said my Wiggenweld Potion was the best he'd seen in years. But James pointed out it's was a First Year potion... Anyway, how- how d'you feel?"

Bess, who'd been staring at Lily as she spoke, said, "Fine. Are we in the Hospital Wing?" she asked, looking around at the dark room she seemed to be in.

Lily shook her head and waved her wand. The walls surrounding Bess' bed warped and changed and fell, revealing a bright white ceiling and light grey walls. Her eyes widened as she saw the gigantic windows to her right and recognised it as her and Sirius' bedroom at their London flat.

"What? Why are we- Password?" Bess asked suddenly, her breathing increasing rapidly as she began to move backwards, trying to put space between herself and Lily, just in case it wasn't her. She had no idea why they were back here. Not after what had happened with her and James here.

"Redheads. Like father like son," Lily replied, and Bess sighed in relief but didn't move closer until Lily explained, "It's... It's easier to hide in multiple locations, and we all know about..." Bess didn't need her to say Horcruxes - she knew what she meant. "After Dumbledore's funeral everything imploded. There's... So much happened, Bess. So much has changed already."

Bess nodded. "So I missed the funeral," she whispered, unsure why that was a sticking point for her.

"You wanted to go?" Lily asked quietly, wringing her hands together in her lap now, glancing over her shoulder towards the door.

Bess shrugged and followed her anxious gaze. "I did see him die... Sorry..."

Lily remained silent for a long moment and then looked back to Bess and moved to hold her hand. "It was nice," she said, sighing. "It felt safe being back here... Seeing the teachers. But then... Fawkes..."

"Sang and flew away never to be seen again?" Bess asked, knowing that was what happened at his funeral in the books.

"Yeah... It was a... it was a goodbye I don't think I realised I needed. A goodbye for Dumbledore but also for Hogwarts. I sat through it all but I left straight after and came back to sit with you. The boys stayed though. They talked to Peter. Told him they knew he was scared but it was still possible to choose the right side."

Bess gulped. "What did he say?"

Lily shook her head and swore under her breath, looking up to the ceiling. "He- he uh... He's definitely not coming to the wedding, that's for sure," she laughed. "He continued in the Order for a few weeks but Jasper fed him some bad intel to see if he would pass it on, and he did... So..."

Bess took in a deep shuddering breath. "He... He would be smarter than that? Surely?"

Lily let out a bitter laugh. "Yeah... Yeah, I thought so too. But like I said... things have changed... it's... it's worse. It's all worse. But I'll tell you more about it later. I think you'll need your strength," she said, looking over her shoulder again.

"What're you looking for?" Bess asked, worriedly.

"There's an Order meeting soon... I was meant to go but your hand started twitching and I thought I'd stay a little longer," Lily replied with a small smile. "I just don't want James bursting through the door and scaring you if he gets worried that I haven't turned up. You need rest, not jump scares."

"I've rested for a over a month," Bess said, placing her other hand over Lily's. They sat in silence for a long while until finally Bess said, "Congratulations by the way," nodding down at the emerald ring which rested on Lily's left ring finger.

Lily smiled happily and looked at her hand as well. "He always says my eyes are like emeralds."

"I agree," Bess whispered. "Come here?" she asked, holding out her arms.

Lily wrinkled her nose. "I love you too, but you haven't brushed your teeth or washed in a while..."

Bess let out a surprised laugh. "Not at all? No one helped me?"

Lily chuckled and shook her head. "Sirius has some cleaning spells he's been using. Said you'd be horrified if you knew you smelt so bad. Apparently fighting in a leather coat leaves you very sweaty, but he hasn't been here in a few days." At the look on Bess' face she said quickly, "He's been on a mission. He'll be back soon."

Bess nodded, frowning slightly. She didn't expect Sirius to stay by her bedside, not at all, but it felt odd that she was awake and he was gone. Especially when she needed to speak to him about the sleeping potion he'd given her.

"Is it just us two?" Bess asked, trying to clear her mind. She looked around the spotless and unusually clear room.

"Sirius moved to a room down the hall, don't worry," Lily said, misreading Bess' worry, "and we all take turns checking on you. Euphemia and Fleamont have really stepped up as well. They're in proper battle mode. They're in the kitchen actually... Merlin, I should tell them you're awake."

"Merlin?" Bess asked with a sad half-smile. "That's very magical of you..."

Lily smiled. "Well that's what happens when your best friend leaves you with a load of magical people for a while..."

Bess tried to make light of the situation and grimaced as she leant down to lightly sniff her left underarm. "Not too bad," she said, but still she sat up and began to get out of bed. "But I should..." She gestured towards the ensuite.

"The Order meeting starts in ten minutes," Lily said, immediately understanding why Bess was getting up. She walked around to the side of the bed so that she could help Bess to stand, and walked her towards the bathroom. "We'll be late, but I think this is the morale boost everyone needs. Moody's got us all on crazy schedules and..." She trailed off.

"The Order's on its last legs?" Bess asked, grimacing.

Lily sighed and nodded slowly. "There's only a handful of us who can fight full time. Loads of people are being watched now. It's only a matter of time before it's too dangerous to even meet."

xXx

Note: The Draught of Living Death is clear, and the Wiggenweld Potion is an antidote to it but also a powerful healing potion, so that's why Bess was able to wake up from her month-long slumber. A massive thank you to CharlotteGryffindor for letting me use the orb of light idea - I first properly read about it in her Amelie (OC) X Teddy Lupin story.

In true FF style, here's a synopsis of my hiatus: I took a mental health break in late March 2022 and intended on coming back in June, but I had a family bereavement in late May and at the funeral in June I found out I have a stepmum I didn't know about, and saw my dad for the first time in ages. Then work went through a restructure and I managed to get a new job (yay!) and then we decided to start thinking about another baby and suddenly I'm knee depth into the trenches of having a newborn, having battled intense morning sickness and exhaustion, and I blink and he's one and I'm writing this... So yeah, bit of a crazy time, and this chapter has taken me over a year and a half to edit/write. I think also because I don't want to let you all down, but I know my writing has changed since I wrote the last chapters, and I feel like I rushed them but hey. A finished story is a finished story, eh?

Thank you to everyone who reviewed in my absence, and thank you to everyone who checked in on me to see if I was ok. I'm, as you know, determined to finish this work. It's more about me having the confidence and mental space to write at this point! But even my husband is constantly on my case!