She laughs.

She laughs as she runs away from just another one of her many tragically silent victims, a victim that hardly any shall ever know the name of, the glory of her terrible power yet again unknown. She laughs as the Potter boy chases after her, screaming and shaking and firing spells with all the ability of a toddler in his incoherent rage. She laughs as she turns to face him fully for the first time and sees the tornado of fury and pain in his physique, sees his mouth foams and muscles seize and his eyes flame, sees the disgusting way he childishly fails to conceal any of his emotions.

She laughs as she sees the expression she would bear if she had the option to show her emotions, if she still remembered how to show them.

She laughs as she Apparates away with Her Lord to safety. She laughs as He paces through His chambers, but she laughs softer now, for He is angered that the Potter boy has escaped yet again and that so many of His other Death Eaters are to be thrown back in Azkaban, and she does not want to upset him further.

She is still laughing hours later, alone in her well-protected home, cushioned among old luxuries nearly forgotten about after all her many long years in Azkaban. She settles further into the contours of her chair, arms draped over their intended places of respite, legs folded beneath her, eyelids fluttering shut. Her giggles, muted and slow but still steady, play a continuous refrain in her ears.

But the refrain isn't loud enough to silence the gentle plink of a tear as it hits the satin upholstery.

Her eyelids snap open and her hand jerks angrily across her eyes, then the wet streak upon her left cheek, then the splatter upon her furniture. No. Her laughter, forgotten in her one moment of pure emotion, resumes, vibrating in her throat and pleating her wasted mouth into a smile. She will not cry. She has no reason to cry. She is not upset. Not at all. The laughter rumbles full and warm in her belly and bursts in bubbles from her throat. In fact, she is beside herself with joy. She is ecstatic. She has not been in a state of such bliss since first laying eyes upon Her Lord after a fourteen-year interlude of prison.

The laughter hurts her belly and burns like acid up her throat.

"What's this?" a voice that is not her own drawls into the empty house. "Aw, no. Does ickle Bell-Bell have a li'l case of the sniffles?"

She does not jump out of her chair, does not spasm with surprise. Her head only falls limply against the back of her seat as the reason for her torment manifests in front of her eyes, hands looped into his pockets, hair dangling in front of his eyes, lips hanging in a lopsided smirk. He saunters out from behind her chair as though he owns the place and not her, as though he's been here the whole time and it's the most natural thing in the world.

As though he were still alive.

She stares straight ahead, right through his stomach, increasing the volume and pace of her laughter until it fills her entire body and froths through the room and makes her feel like she's about to vomit.

"C'mon, Bella," Sirius Black taunts, leaning towards her, close enough for her to count the flecks of stubble on his emaciated cheeks, or the shades of gray in his eyes that are the exact mirror of her own. "You know and I know that you can see me. And you know and I know that ignoring me won't make me disappear. On the contrary, it's just going to make me more persistent. Or haven't any of your old hallucinations taught you anything?" The smirk grows. "I mean, I'm sure your imaginary lord isn't nearly as pleasant or handsome as I am, but – "

"What do you want?" she interrupts, quieting her shrieks of laughter to intermittent giggles, narrowing her eyes upon his.

He promenades over to the bookshelf and grasps a bottle of brandy by its neck. He raises it in her direction, eyes alight. "To your good health."

"Don't," she says, but it is too late: his mouth has already met the bottle's in a long kiss. Her belly, still warm and nauseated with the laughter, churns as the alcohol splashes inside.

"So you want to make me ill?" she asks, gritting her teeth against a wave of nausea as Sirius takes a second chug from the bottle and a second splash of alcohol lands in her stomach.

He pauses, cocking an eyebrow. "Didn't you hear me? I drank to your health – and, if you recall, I am the only Black who never lies."

She snorts her disbelief. "You're as good at lying as the rest of us, Sirius. You can't eradicate everything that's in your blood."

"Careful, Bella," Sirius warns softly, something that could be mistaken for tenderness brushing against the syllables, "you're forgetting to lie just now."

For a moment, she just stares, uncomprehending. Then with a jolt she opens her mouth wide and laughs joyfully, crowding her body and the room and both their ears with the ecstatic sound, swiping at the tears she had not heard fall.

"What are you talking about?" she chortles her reply. "I'm not lying about anything. I couldn't be happier – I was the only Death Eater to escape tonight because He favors me – I am still free from Azkaban – and – most importantly – "

Her lips widen in a travesty of a grin. Her hallucination replaces the brandy bottle upon the shelf, but her stomach recoils as though she's just downed the remainder.

" – and I finally wiped you clean from our family tree more permanently than even your mother managed. I didn't even leave a black spot. Just a blank. Just nothingness. Just everything you ever were: nothing."

The word 'nothing' slips from her delicate lips like gold. Something unpleasantly warm shoots up her throat and she swallows it down.

He says nothing to this, just watches her.

"Do you hear me?" she yells, pitching up from her chair and striding towards him, slapping one hand on the shelf by his head. "What are you waiting for? A big display where I fall on my knees and wring my hands and grovel for forgiveness? Well, you're waiting in vain, Sirius Black. You were absolutely nothing to us. You could not startle us. You could not hurt us. How could a spindly weed ever impact a steady tree? But even weeds, though harmless and pathetic, need to be plucked. So I did it. I plucked a weed."

He remains silent, leaning against the bookshelf, watching her weave her own destruction.

She leans in closer to him, smiling, leering, screaming her laughter in his face. "Lies, Sirius? The only lie would be to say that picking weeds makes your blisters rupture and bleed. My fingers didn't even callus – "

She stops when she feels the foreign wetness running down her cheeks again. She stops when she realizes that her façade that covers all genuine emotions – the one she normally does not mind wearing, that she wears so naturally without conscious thought – is gone.

She stops when she realizes that Sirius Black, even in death, has won.

Her hand slips from the bookshelf. Her feet back-peddle until her legs meet the edge of her chair and her body shrinks into its folds.

She cannot laugh anymore.

"Don't," she commands when he reaches for the brandy again. "I don't want to hide the pain. I want to feel it."

This time, he listens to her request, his hand returning to his pocket.

"I didn't mean to, you know," she says as he sinks into the sofa opposite her. "I didn't mean to kill you."

He nods. Of course he knows. He only exists in her head. He knows everything that she does. Still, she feels the need to justify herself. To blot one stain from an irreversibly tattered and dirtied conscious.

"I was shooting red spells – Stunning Spells – those aren't shot with murderous intentions. But then you fell through that – curtain thing – and I didn't – I couldn't . . . I couldn't do anything."

His eyes pierce her like steel beams, like hot knives, like the throbbing truths she always avoids. "You didn't have to laugh."

"You laughed when they carted you off unjustly to Azkaban," she shoots back. "You know better than anyone that sometimes you have to laugh to keep yourself from crying."

He gives her a tiny salute. "Touché."

There are still laughs in her belly, formed but unreleased, putting a strange pressure upon her innards. She swallows again but it doesn't take away the burn, the pain. Before she knows where the words have come from she's whispering to him, "I'm sorry."

He shrugs one shoulder. "No offense, cousin, but it's a little late for remorse."

"I'm not expecting you to accept my apology or even to believe it. I just want – "

She breaks off, shielding a hand over her eyes. She doesn't know what she wants. It's a feeling as terrifying as the feeling of being unable to mask her emotions – perhaps even more so.

"You'll go on as before," says Sirius casually. "You'll eat, you'll sleep, you'll torture and maim and kill, you'll do it all over again and you'll love every second. You'll be just the same as you ever were. Oh, don't look at me like that, Bella – I know this isn't a life-changing moment for you. I know that you haven't for a moment questioned your loyalty to your lord, or the morality of your actions, or anything else that I ever heckled you about when we were younger. You'll be perfectly normal – by your definition of it, at least – by sunrise."

He rises to his feet and ambles over to her, stopping just before their knees touch. He looks down at her the way a father might at his grown child: resigned to the fact that this child is now firmly in control of their own fate, despite however desperately he might wish to change that child's course.

"But maybe," he whispers, "maybe every once in a while you will pause in your little Death Eater routine. Maybe you'll hesitate a moment to appear by your lord's side when your Mark burns, or your hand will twitch before you cast another Unforgivable."

His fingers light upon her cheek. Her eyes flutter closed.

"And maybe then you'll remember that one moment in your life when you almost felt remorse. When you almost became alive again."

The fingers disappear from her face. When she opens her eyes, she is alone. Just as she always was.

She laughs.

A/N: Wrote this over the summer in a fit of writer's block, completely forgot about it, and randomly rediscovered it a few days ago. It's always been curious to me that Jo Rowling, bless her, never again brought up how the spell that Bellatrix used to kill Sirius in OotP was red, not the green of the Avada Kedavra curse. So this little fic was inspired by that loose end.

Thank you for reading. Reviews are love.