A cold, salt-scented wind shrieked through the corridor. Screams and moans echoed into her room, distorted and twisted by the wind. Waves crashed in the distance. Goose bumps rose along her skin.
Frost spread across the floor. Sea-spray and condensation froze into intricate patterns.
‘Oooh, pretty.’ She brushed the tatters of her black dress out the way and used the tip of her finger to draw her name in the ice. ‘Bella!’ She giggled. ‘That’s me!’
A chill settled over her cell. A dementor hovered beyond the bars; its rattling breath and old, foul reek clouded everything nearby.
Bella bounced to her feet. ‘Unless you’ve come to take me up on playing noughts and crosses, you can go away. We’re not friends!’
The cold seeped into her, sliding deep beneath her skin.
Andi’s shocked, horrified face swirled through her thoughts. Cissy’s scream. A marble balustrade slipped away from her small fingers and fear crashed over her like an avalanche as the floor rushed up to meet her. Her shriek echoed from years ago.
‘Stop it!’ Bella scraped a handful of ice off the floor and hurled it at the dementor. ‘You’re so annoying!’
It gripped the bars with skeletal fingers and took a long, rattling breath.
No! Bella! Her mother’s raw screams rang through her mind. Andi! Cissy! What were you doing?!
Fire flashed through Bella’s veins. ‘I said stop it!’
A ripple of air tossed the dementor away down the corner. Bella pressed her face to the bars and stuck her tongue out at it. ‘That’ll teach you!’
A low groan rose from the opposite cell. ‘Bella, leave them alone. They don’t like it when you mess with them. And the rest of us aren’t batshit crazy and will actually feel it when they all come to investigate.’
‘Shut up, strange boy.’ Bella watched the dementor float away. ‘Nobody asked you, did they?’
A deep sigh echoed from the cell. ‘No, Bella.’
‘Yeah!’ Bella stuck her finger through the bars at strange boy’s cell. ‘So be quiet!’ She twirled on the spot near the door. ‘I’m a – I’m a – I’m a… weird sister.’
‘Can you please shut the fuck up!’ A man’s voice yelled from her left. ‘You’ve been singing that one line of that one song for almost fifteen years! It’s not even a good song!’
But it’s the only song I know. Bella pouted. It’s not my fault Andi kept singing just the one line. It stuck. She twirled once more. Who was it that hates my singing? Oh, of course, Sirius hated my singing.
‘Is that you again, Sirius, you mutt?’ Bella shouted. ‘I’m not talking to you! You ran off! You didn’t even tell me we were on the same side all along!’
He left us…
She cocked her head. ‘Wait, didn’t you escape, Sirius? Why did you come back?’
‘That’s not Sirius Black.’ Strange boy pounded his fist on the metal door. ‘You all shut up and stop antagonising her. You know what happens!’
‘She’s fucking insane!’
Bella huffed. ‘That’s a bad word and I don’t even know you!’
‘Are you joking?!’ The man yelled back. ‘We’ve been here for fifteen years and we knew each other for almost fifteen years before that!’
‘Well, you must be very boring, because I’ve forgotten all about you!’ Bella twirled around and hummed Andi’s song to herself. ‘I’ll probably forget all about you again when we get out of here!’
Another groan echoed from down the corridor. ‘The Dark Lord’s dead, Bellatrix. The Potter child killed him somehow. We’re not leaving here.’
‘Nuh uh.’ Bella giggled. ‘This is why you all always lose. You don’t think right. If you’re good, you make sure you’ve got a trump card.’
Strange boy’s grimy, bearded face appeared behind the bars of his cell. ‘Well, if he’s not dead, then why are we still in here?’
‘Maybe he’s busy.’ Bella shrugged. ‘He’s got to play the game, he can’t take his eyes off it to come rescue us. We should probably try and escape, really. I’d expect us to try and escape.’
‘No!’ The other man’s voice echoed down the corridor. ‘We’re not trying another one of your stupid escape plans!’
Bella stuck her tongue out at the wall between her and the voice. ‘Awww, why not?’
Strange boy smeared dirt off his face with his sleeve. ‘Because the last few times, you let us all out of our cells and just stayed in yours. Rookwood has a point.’
Bella crossed her arms. ‘But that wasn’t an escape plan!’
‘You said it was!’
‘Of course I did.’ She grinned. ‘It was the only way to get you and the dementors to play hide and seek together. I wanted to watch someone play hide and seek. It’s been ages since I played with Andi and Cissy.’
Strange boy sighed. ‘You’re mad, Bella.’
Bella pouted. ‘So? You’re boring strange boy. And you stare at me all the time.’
‘That’s because your dress is basically rags,’ the other man shouted. ‘And even though you’re fucking insane, you’re still hot! Why did they have to put bloody Lestrange opposite you, we all know him and his brother would rather stare at each other!’
Fire exploded in Bella’s blood. ‘Be quiet!’ A ripple of magic shook through the walls. Dust trickled down from the ceiling. ‘It’s not nice to stare, especially at girls who aren’t wearing much. I’m not talking to you now, fake Sirius!’
Strange boy brushed the dust out of his hair. ‘Enough, Rookwood! Keep winding her up and see if she doesn’t bring the place down on our heads or all the dementors back again!’
Bella listened to the scream of the wind and the crash of the waves. Thin, cloaked figures swirled through air the beyond her window. This place is boring. Maybe I should take another nap?
‘I’m a – I’m a – I’m a… weird sister. I’m a – I’m a – I’m a… weird sister. I’m a – I’m a – I’m a… weird sister.’ She twirled on the spot. ‘I wonder what Andi and Cissy are doing? I hope they’re not having fun without me.’
She danced from one side of the cell to the other, prancing from the rough wall to the smooth, mirror-bright one. Frost flecked all the walls.
‘Stupid floating skeletons, they make it so messy.’ Bella tore off another scrap of her dress and polished the frost from the smooth side of her cell.
Her reflection’s bright purple eyes stared back from the smooth stone. Her tangled, black curls hung to her knees. Pale, dirt-marred skin spread where the rags of her black dress didn’t cover her.
‘Hi Bell.’ Bella gave her reflection a wave, then wagged her finger at it. ‘You look like you need a bath, young lady.’
We really are kind of mad, Bella. Bella cocked her head and stared into her purple eyes. Not really, Bell. We know we’re talking to ourself, so we can’t really be mad.
‘But we still do it, I guess.’ She shrugged and sat down on the floor. ‘Well, Bell, if the Dark Lord doesn’t decide to come and let us out soon, maybe we should find our own way out.’
Sirius managed it. Bella stared into her reflections eyes. He really should’ve taken us with him, Bell.
She huffed dust off her tattered dress. ‘I wonder why he didn’t?’
Because we’re better than him at the game, Bella. Nobody wants to lose.
‘Maybe.’ Bella stared up at the arched ceiling. ‘Still, you have to play, Bell. It’s not fun for anyone if you sit out. I hate it when people try and ruin things for other people. Everyone loses eventually, even those of us with trump cards.’
We should use ours, Bella. Her reflection’s purple eyes glowed. It’s boring in here. It’s soooo boring. We should leave.
‘Strange boy doesn’t even want to play noughts and crosses with us anymore,’ Bella murmured. ‘Maybe we’ll go, Bell.’ She closed her eyes and let the faint threads of violet magic guide her.
A pair of little girls swayed and danced in the eye of her mind. Their eyes burnt with purple flame. Violet light stretched from their limbs like strings, reaching off into the dark.
Footsteps thudded down the corridor.
Bella opened her eyes. ‘A visitor, Bell!’
Maybe it’s an auror, Bella.
Strange boy stuck his head up in the cell door window again. ‘Been a long time since anyone’s come down here. Not since Sirius Black escaped.’
‘Silly mutt.’ Bella huffed. ‘He should’ve taken me with him. Aunt Walburga meant to look out for me.’
A sharp-collared, black-robed auror stepped in between them. He clutched a small envelope in his fist. ‘Bellatrix Lestrange?’
‘Just Bella!’ Bella stuck her hand through the bars. ‘Is it a present? Is it my birthday?’ She cocked her head. ‘When is our birthday, Bell?’
We don’t remember. She clawed her way back through endless days in her room to before. Grey eyes shone back from her hand mirror as Cissy struggled to braid Bella’s dark curls. Her sisters’ laughter rang through a light, bright, London townhouse. Andi’s terrified face loomed out of her memories and the marble floor flashed up toward her. Don’t think about then, Bella.
Bella glanced back at her reflection. Her purple eyes shone like stars. ‘We’ve forgotten, auror. Can we have it anyway, please?’
The auror opened the letter, then ran his wand over it. ‘Yes. It seems clean.’ He gestured with his wand. ‘Step back.’
‘Oh, I wouldn’t go in.’ Strange boy pressed his face against the bars of his cell. ‘The last auror who went in had to be cleaned off the floor using a mop.’
Bella giggled. ‘He was rude and he smelt.’ She hopped back from the door and waggled her finger. ‘You shouldn’t snatch.’
The auror slid the letter through the bars, turned on his heel, and strode away. Bella grabbed the letter out of the air and listened to his footsteps fade.
‘You didn’t do anything, Bella?’ Strange boy scowled. ‘You should’ve ripped him apart.’
She cocked her head, swiping her tangled curls off her face. ‘Why? He wasn’t rude?’
‘Because he’s the enemy!’
Bella shrugged and unfolded her letter. ‘It’s from Cissy!’ She scanned the small, cramped lines of text. ‘Urgh, she’s gotten so boring. Look at all this writing.’ Bella shook the letter up near the bars.
‘What does it say?’
She stuck her tongue out at strange boy. ‘It’s my letter, from my sister. You get your own.’
Strange boy sighed. ‘You’re a terrible wife.’
Bella huffed. ‘It just talks about boring stuff. My husband’s worried. My son’s stressed. Wow, ickle Draco’s grown up quite a bit, I thought he was just a baby?’
‘He was, fifteen years ago…’
She glanced at her reflection. Crow’s feet marked the corner of her eyes and faint lines creased her forehead. We’ve been in here for a while, Bella.
‘Huh,’ Bella murmured. ‘I forgot that would happen.’ She skimmed through the rest of the writing. ‘Anyway, just more boring stuff. Harry Potter’s turned up, doesn’t seem to get on with Draco, which is a shame, because they’re both part of the family.’ She cocked her head. ‘I guess you can’t always get on with your cousins, though. Sirius has always been mean to me, the mangy liar.’
Strange boy sighed and banged his forehead against the bars of his cell. ‘Bellatrix? Is there anything in there about us?’
Bella finished reading. ‘No.’ She shredded the letter into tiny bits of paper and flapped it about the room. ‘Look, it’s like snow, strange boy!’ She watched it drift to the floor. ‘It’s been ages since we saw any snow.’
‘I hope, if we get out of here, you go back to the usual level of mad, Bella.’ Strange boy continued bumping his head into the metal bars. ‘You’re really a bit much like this. Though, the frustration of dealing with you has kept me somewhat sane, I suppose.’
‘Oh!’ Bella found another piece of the letter beneath the shredded bits. ‘I missed a bit.’
An ink serpent coiled on pale parchment, then crumpled to ashes.
He’s back, Bella. She stared at the fading glow of the ashes, then down at the tattoo on her arm, then back at the ashes. The mark on her arm turned dark and writhed beneath her skin; it stung like fire. This means – this means it’s time to start playing again. A broad grin spread across her face and a laugh burst from her lips. Guess we can wait a bit longer before we leave, Bell.
‘Bella?’ Strange boy froze. ‘Bellatrix?’
Bella held up her forearm. ‘I told you, strange boy. The best players always have a trick up their sleeve.’
‘The Dark Lord,’ strange boy whispered. ‘He’s coming back for us.’
‘Game time,’ Bella crowed. ‘Ohhhhh, it’s been so long. I’m probably all rusty.’