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Life Unexpected

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Belle French traversed the roomy train corridor twice before finally accepting defeat. Her hopes of finding an empty compartment dashed, she reserved herself to the fact that the train was full. Unless she was prepared to awkwardly introduce herself to a new group of people or settle in with younger students, she’d have to amble back to the single compartment that wasn’t teeming with strangers.

The newest fourth year of Hogwarts retraced her search to the opposite end of the train until she, once again, found the compartment with only a single occupant. A lone young man of about her age was settled in the window seat watching the families on the platform say final goodbyes.

In an act of perfect politeness, Belle knocked on the door before sliding it open. Despite her warning, the young man startled at her sudden presence. As he swiftly glanced her way, Belle caught a glimpse of dark eyes before curtains of shaggy brown hair hid them. 

"Sorry to bother you," Belle began earnestly. "But do you mind if I sit with you? Everywhere else is full."

The young boy turned his attention back to the window with a snort. "How unfortunate for you," he muttered.

Taking that as something less than a concrete no, the beauty deposited her owl cage and dropped into the seat across from him. Though she was trying her best not to stare, they were sharing a compartment and there was little else to look at this side of the window. 

The boy had donned his school robes already, a blue patch on his chest indicating his house as what Belle believed to be Ravenclaw. At first glance the boy seemed to be from a wealthy family. However, the more she looked, the more Belle began to doubt that thought. His robes looked to be made of the finest material, yet they were dodgy and had obviously been patched a few times. Scruffy brown hair covered a gaunt face.

He had a hunted look about him as well. While outwardly his manner was calm and uninterested, an uneasiness seeped from him. As if he was tensed and waiting for her start yelling.

It was his voice which broke Belle from her revelries. "Are you sure you want to sit with me?" She noted that he hadn’t even turned to look at her as he spoke.
Shrugging, Belle shot the stranger a friendly smile. "I was late. I don't really have much of a choice. Everyone else seemed chummy and I really don't relish sitting with a group of younger kids."

His eyes flashed quickly back to her as a furrow appeared in his brow. "I didn't think you looked like a first year," he acknowledged, catching her by surprise. She hadn't expected such a quick turn of conversation.

"I'm not. I think this will be my fourth year at Hogwarts."

"You think?" 


"Well," Belle said drawing out the word as she gathered herself for yet another explanation. "My father travels a lot for work. I spent a year at Ilvermorny in America and then I've spent the last three at Beauxbatons. This will be my first year at Hogwarts."

"Sounds like you don't get to stay anywhere too often," he observed not taking his eyes from the window. 

"I don't. But I've informed father, that Hogwarts is my last school. I'll not change anymore."

A loud whistle interrupted them as the train lurched forward. A few minutes later their journey began. Belle found that she rather liked traveling by trains. It was far more comfortable than that airplane contraption her father had forced her on while in America.

Once more it was the young man who broke the silence first. "You don't know who I am?" 

He asked with such innocent curiosity that she looked up at once and caught him staring at her. For the first time she got a good look at her companion's face. He was rather handsome in a non-traditional sense, with keen dark eyes that looked out at her from a furrowed brow. His face was all rough edges and sharp features, framed in a manner that provided him with a hint of danger. Yet there was something about him that seemed boyish and rather battered. 

"Ummm, you haven't introduced yourself yet," Belle quipped easily.

That drew something close to an actual smile from the strange boy. Despite his attempts to be off-putting, Belle found that she was rather enjoying his company. In a low and even brogue that hinted at Scottish decent, he accented each word carefully. Providing weight and meaning to everything he said. 

"How rude of me," the young man asserted playfully. "A proper gentleman always introduces himself." He flashed her a crooked smile that Belle discovered she rather liked. 

Yet instead of answering, he continued staring at her in the oddly intent manner she was beginning to realize was common for him. "You still haven't told me your name," she pointed out doing her best to suppress a giggle at the affronted look he shot in return.

"Well I was always taught to never speak to strangers..."

They had each other's full attention now as the two players waded through their game. 

"Sounds like you're avoiding to me," Belle implored. "But, if you're going to be difficult about it. My name is Belle. Belle French."

"That's a lovely name."

"I rather think so." A moment of quiet passed before she could take it no longer. "This is the part where you tell me your name. I'm not a stranger anymore and it's only fair."

Some emotion flashed across his face too quickly for Belle to catch of understand. "I'm afraid you'll laugh when you hear it."

Crossing her heart Belle implored, "I'd never do such a thing."

"You promise?"

"Promise."

Gazing intently at Belle he took a deep breath. "Rumpelstiltskin."

"I beg your pardon," Belle asked confused.

"That's my name. Rumpelstiltskin."

He looked as if he was waiting for some horrible reaction, but Belle found she rather liked it. Certainly it was odd and quite long, yet it suited him. However, despite her earlier promise she couldn't help as smile began tugging at the corners of her mouth. He looked so worried and the taboo of her promise weighed heavily upon her. The drama of it all left her a bit flustered.

"That's quite the mouthful isn't it," Belle admitted doing all in her power to suppress a laugh.

Unfortunately Rumpelstiltskin noticed her struggle. Looking slightly betrayed he exclaimed, "you promised you wouldn't laugh!"

Belle could contain it no longer. Laughter bubbled up from within her and needed an escape. "It's not your name Rumpelstiltskin, I swear! It's that you're so worried. I was expecting something horrible."

"More horrible than that atrocity," he asked with a slight hint of bitterness.

"You could be named Mildred." The crooked almost smile returned at her teasing. Noting her success, Belle continued her list. "Or Leroy. Or something dodgy like Bilius."

"I suppose it could be worse," he admitted with a chuckle of his own.

"Do you have a nickname. Something everyone calls you."

This time there was no doubting the dark look that crossed Rumpelstiltskin's face. "I've many of those."

"Really like what?" Belle asked, hoping that she would find something else she could use. However, Rumpelstiltskin didn't answer. Instead he returned his attention to the landscape flying by outside the window. "What did your friends call you?"

"Does it look like I have many of those?" He snapped in return.

Belle wasn't sure what had happened, but all of the sudden their clever game had turned sour. Luckily, Rumpelstiltskin seemed to lament the loss as well because he shot her a repentant glance at her out of the corner of his eye. 

"Some people call me Rumple," he relented quietly. 

"Do you like that one?"

This time it was surprise that etched its way across his still expression. He gave Belle a curt nod as answer. "Then Rumple it is," Belle affirmed.

The two returned to easy conversation. Belle told stories about her time in America and in France and about the many places she'd seen.

With some coaxing and a lot of questions on her part, Belle slowly pulled the strange boy out of his shell. It turned out that Rumple was in the same year as her. When prompted, he explained each of the four houses and their core values to her. Providing far more detail than any book she'd found thus far. 

Rumple was in Ravenclaw, he disclosed showing her his patch and tie. Secretly, Belle hoped that would be the house for her as well. People who valued knowledge and learning were the best type to be around. Then there was also the added bonus of her already knowing a member of said house. Whenever she ended up she hoped she wouldn't lose the new friend she'd just made.

"I thought Slytherin was supposed to be the bad house?" Belle asked as Rumpelstiltskin extolled its traits. 

"I guess it depend on your perspective," the strange young man answered wisely. At her raised eyebrow, Rumpelstiltskin elaborated. "One of the qualities of Slytherin is an emphasis on who or what you're born. It's what gave Slytherin such a bad name. And until Voldemort it was a big deal. Not so much now. Things are different. So Slytherin is more about being cunning and ambitious, which doesn't have to be a bad thing. There’re bad people in every house and there's good people in every house. No Slytherin sees their house as a place for villains only."

"That takes off so much pressure," Belle revealed with a sigh. "I was kind of worried."

Fondness sparked his eyes as he chuckled at her relief. "Wherever you end up, it'll be a lucky house, Belle French."

Before she could even think of a reply their compartment door slid open to reveal a dashing older boy, with a badge pinned to his uniform. Rumpelstiltskin immediately tensed at the intruder’s presence. His expression hardened as his face fell into a blank mask. 

"You Belle French," the boy asked in a deep voice. Rumple’s reaction worried Belle more than she wanted to let on. All she could do was provide the stranger with a curt nod. 

"You're to follow me." Seeing that he hadn't convinced her, the boy divulged further, "I'm supposed to take you to speak with Mr. Clark. He'll give you information about where to go for sorting and all that."

Understanding dawned on Belle as she recalled her father’s reminder this morning about such a meeting. Feeling beyond silly she made to follow the newest stranger, giving a parting glance to Rumpelstiltskin. He remained tense and continued glaring at the boy who'd come to retrieve her. 
Wanting to reassure her traveling companion she shot him a tight grin, "I guess I'll be right back. Don't get to carried away without me here okay Rumple."

For the barest moment a softness appeared in his eyes, only to be quickly swallowed up by darkness once more.

Belle followed her guide down the long corridor leaning to the lead car.

“I’m Gaston by the way,” the former stranger stated giving her a smile.

“Nice to meet you Gaston,” she replied. “I’m–”

“Belle,” he finished for her. “I know remember.”

Her cheeks reddened ever so slightly. In her confusion over Rumpelstiltskin’s hostility and her renewed nerves over being sorted as a fourth year, she’d forgotten that the young man beside her had been sent to retrieve her.

“Sorry, I forgot.”

“It’s no matter,” Gaston gave her the smallest of winks and a waggle of his eyebrows.

Belle rolled her eyes at that. She’d been on the receiving end of such implications for as long as she could remember. Her long curls and round face were apparently considered desirable to most of the men she came across. It was difficult to find one who didn’t flirt shamelessly.

As they walked in silence, Belle gave Gaston a quick once over. He was well-muscled and athletically built. With perfectly coifed dark hair, a square jaw, and bright eyes; she guessed that he was considered quite a catch himself.

It also seemed that silence wasn’t his preferred state. “So, you’re not a first year then?”

“No,” Belle answered graciously. Technically this will be my first year, but I’m fourteen.”    

“Ah. That’s a year behind me. Do you know anyone in your year or others?”

“Well, there’s you now. Other than that, only Rumpelstiltskin.”

Gaston’s eyes flashed at the name of Belle’s travelling partner. A somber expression tore across his face as he waded carefully into a new conversation. “I feel like I should warn you about him.”

“Whatever for?” the beauty asked curiously.

Gaston stopped and turned to her as they reached the back of yet another car. “What do you know of Malcolm Gold?”

While the name did ring familiar, Belle couldn’t place it. “Who’s that?” she shrugged.

Gaston blanched at her response. “Who’s… nevermind. Have you ever heard of Voldemort?”

Now that one she knew. “Of course.”

“Malcolm Gold was a Death Eater, rather prominent one at that. He and his wife both helped You-Know-Who take down the Ministry. Course afterwards, when his wife was dead and he was a single father, ole Malcolm claimed to have been under the Imperius Curse. He greased the right palms and influenced the right people to keep himself out of trouble. Sold his bloody story and got to walk free.” Gaston looked around at this point, before taking a step closer to her and lowering his voice even further.

“That’s horrible,” Belle exclaimed.

Gaston nodded sagely. “Politics is politics. Never gonna change. After You-Know-Who was defeated, and Malcolm was a free man, weird things started happening. Nothing serious at first; just a few released war prisoners here, coupla dead muggles there. Nothing overly suspicious. Then about three years ago, right before I was in my third year, Gold made a move against the Ministry. Outed himself and his group of followers and Death Eater buddies as Supremacists. They care how pure your blood is as a wizard, but they want the muggles gone. Following some of Voldemort’s doctrine and Grindelwald’s as well. Nasty stuff they’ve been doin’.”

Belle couldn’t help but be interested in the story Gaston was spinning. It was horrible to imagine that so many people thought that way. But then people could be the worst sort of monsters. Yet she still hadn’t managed to connect how all of this pertained to Rumpelstiltskin.

“I’m sorry, I am interested, I really am. But what does this have to do with Rumple?”

“Rumpelstiltskin is Malcolm’s only son,” Gaston delivered his words with an almost practiced severity.

Belle’s jaw slackened at that reveal. Rumpelstiltskin hadn’t struck her as a dark wizard, but if he was the progeny of someone so horrible could he be anything else? His aversion to her and quiet affect made sense now. The resignation and horror of telling her his name, the quips about her misfortune of sitting with him. But he’d been so nice. Surely Gaston was mistaken.

Belle attempted reason. “That doesn’t mean that he’s like his father though.”

“You don’t grow up with all of that without it leaving a few marks, Belle. Trust me,” something in her expression must have shown Gaston that she wasn’t convinced, because he tried again. “There are quite a few students at this school whose parents were Death Eaters. Not a lot, but a few. Some of them are the slime of the earth, just like their parents. But most sort themselves out in time. I’ve known Rumpelstiltskin since he got here, he’s the bad sort. Up to his eyeballs in the Dark Arts and he won’t hesitate to utilize that knowledge. Won’t provide information on his dad to the Ministry either. They know Rumpelstiltskin knows more than he lets on.”

Belle wasn’t certain she believed much of what Gaston was saying. The parentage seemed true. Why else would Rumpelstiltskin be so averse to sharing personal information with her. But the shy, quiet boy would reassured her when she admitted her fears about sorting, couldn’t be as dark as all that.

Lost in contemplation, Belle barely heard as Gaston reiterated his past point. “Just fair warning and all. I’d hate to see you get hurt.”

Belle nodded her thanks and let him lead her to Mr. Clark’s compartment. The man she’d been so nervous about meeting a few minutes ago, could barely hold her attention now. What was she going to do about Rumpelstiltskin? She would have to face him at least once more after this. Should she give him the benefit of the doubt, or should she take Gaston’s warning to heart?

She hadn’t even made it to Hogwarts yet and things were far more complicated than she’d ever believed they could be.

 

***


Rumpelstiltskin watched Belle as she followed the great oaf out of the compartment. Well, he thought to himself, it was nice while it lasted. Belle had been a breath of fresh air and so easy to talk to. Pestering him with questions and life stories, until he'd finally given in and joined her conversation.

She was a bright spot to start the year off, likely the only he'd see. It was such a rarity to meet someone who didn't know who he was. Usually they found out quickly enough and it never ended well. He'd lived for so long in the shadow his father had created, he knew how people saw him.

 Rumpelstiltskin tried to convince himself he was used to it by now. That when she returned with full knowledge of his lineage it wouldn't bother him. When she turned away from him, he wouldn't let it hurt. If nothing else, he was adept at pretending it didn't matter. Belle though, Belle's rejection would hurt. As many times as he repeated to himself that it wouldn’t, he knew the truth.

In their short time together, he'd experienced what it must be like to have a real friend. She'd burst into his life in a flash of brilliance and her light had brightened his day. If nothing else Rumpelstiltskin assured himself that he could cherish these moments. The moments before she began to hate him. It would happen anyway, it always did.

The sliding of the compartment door brought the lone young man back to himself. In a moment of proper idiocy, Rumpelstiltskin gazed longingly at the door, hoping it was Belle. Praying she didn’t hate him.

It wasn’t.

“Well, well, well,” the cocksure voice of Rumpelstiltskin’s nemesis called as the handsome young Slytherin waltzed in, his ever-present groupies following. “If it isn’t my favorite crocodile.”

Killian Jones flopped down beside him on the seat, causing Rumpelstiltskin to tense immediately. Dark hair styled in a perfect mess complimented steely eyes in a manner that, apparently, gave his fellow fourth year a roguish danger that no one could resist. With a wink at his mates, Jones threw an arm over Rumpelstiltskin’s shoulders. “How was your summer?”

Rumple refused to answer or even acknowledge that the group of six boys were in the same compartment as him.

“Looks like he’s feeling a bit shy,” Thomas Herman called from his spot leaning against the now closed door.

Thomas was a dashing fifth year Gryffindor who’d been dating the same girl since his second year. To most he seemed perfectly kind and polite, but Rumpelstiltskin knew better. The blonde hair and dimpled smile hid something much darker.

“Come on now Crocodile, don’t ignore me,” Jones lamented. “It’s no fun at all.”

When Rumpelstiltskin continued ignoring the boys, they got a bit restless. He knew this game well though, he couldn’t get pulled into their games. If he pretended they didn’t exist there was a chance they’d leave with nothing more than taunts. If he gave in, well he’d had enough run-ins with Killian’s crew to know it wouldn’t end well.

He and Jones had been enemies almost since the moment they met. But things certainly escalated in first year, after Malcolm decided he was tired of hiding behind the scenes and outed himself as a direct opposition to the Ministry. Jones’s friend group had grown in the years since, but the core seven remained the same.

Eric and Phillip Prince were Gryffindors like Thomas, but not nearly as bright. Between the two of them, they might have enough brain cells to outsmart a rock – but just barely. Both had dark brown hair, bright eyes, and square jaws. Phillip, who was starting his sixth year, was the slighter of the two but neither was lacking in muscle.

Then there were the Nolan brothers, David and James. They were the only fourth year twins, and identical at that. Both had short cropped blonde hair and startling blue eyes. The perfect picture of Prince Charming, the brothers were the darlings of Hogwarts. But their looks were about the only thing they had in common.  James, like Jones, was a Slytherin while David was a Gryffindor. James was sly and shifty. Always on the lookout for number one. In contrast, David was the noble sort. Honorable and kind to almost everyone. Rumpelstiltskin found himself to be the exception to that rule. Though even he had to admit that David would call the others out for taking things too far.

Rounding out the group was William Smee, Jones’s right-hand man. The two were rarely seen apart, not even their own common room saw them break away from each other. Constantly doing the others bidding and acting as muscle when needed. Smee was a round boy with beady eyes and mousy brown hair that he kept covered by a hideous red toboggan.

“Proper manners usually dictate that you welcome guests,” James chimed in as he took the seat across from Rumpelstiltskin. The Nolan boy leaned forward in a manner that suggested a threat, the sharp kick he delivered to Rumple’s right ankle seemed to solidify that threat.

A hiss of pain slipped from the Ravenclaw’s lips as his bad ankle singed at the contact. Shooting a glare at his tormentor, common sense fled from Rumpelstiltskin. “Proper manner also dictate that you not look like the backside of an ass, and yet here you are.”

The smirk fell from James’s face as thinly veiled rage took its place. “Those clever little comments of yours are going to get you in trouble this year Gold,” James growled.

“I’m terrified,” Rumpelstiltskin quipped with a roll of his eyes.

“Let’s not get carried away just yet,” Jones interjected, giving James a cautioning look. “We just wanted to check up on our friend. You know, make sure you’ve been doing all right.”

“Go away Jones.”

Killian gave his shoulder a squeeze as he leaned over to whisper in Rumpelstiltskin’s ear. “You know I can’t do that. I’ve actually heard that you’ve met someone. Word on the train is, she’s quite the beauty.”

The blood drained from Rumpelstiltskin’s face at Jones’s words. “The other compartments were full. She got the short end of the stick.”

“Yeah and you got lucky Crocodile,” Jones replied easily. But something about his tone sent a chill up Rumpelstiltskin’s spine.

For the first time he turned to face his tormentor. “I did, but she knows who I am. If she didn’t, she certainly does now.”

Jones leaned in until their faces were centimeters apart, both refusing to back down. “Good. Because we wouldn’t want you hurting one of the other students again now would we. Leave her alone. She deserves better than having you ruin her reputation before she ever sets foot in the castle.”

Feeling his temper flare, Rumpelstiltskin’s voice grew dangerously quiet as he glowered at the boy next to him. “Belle can do whatever she likes.”

“Belle?” Thomas implored. “So, we’re on first name basis then.” It hadn’t been a question.

Rumpelstiltskin grabbed the cane he had left leaning against the window and stood. “I’ll leave you to your assumptions.” Gripping the handle that concealed his wand tightly, he tried to walk away. He made it less than two steps before strong hands grabbed his arms and slung him back around. Phillip grabbed him roughly and shoved him into Eric. They each took an arm and twisted them painfully behind his back. His cane clattered uselessly to the floor and rolled under the bench seat.

Struggling wouldn’t help him now. Even if by some miracle he broke free of Phillip and Eric’s grip, his bad ankle wouldn’t support him. Rumpelstiltskin knew this routine well.

Jones stood in front of him with James right beside him. “I think over the summer you’ve forgotten your place around here. You and your father can take your supremacist shite and shove it. We can’t have you spreading your agenda and lies around to new students, now can we?”

 “Let. Me. Go.” Rumple snarled.

He received a blow to the stomach in response. Long years of practice didn’t mean it hurt any less.

“Leave the new girl, and everyone else for that matter, alone. Understood?” Jones commanded.

“Go to hell,” was the only comeback Rumpelstiltskin could think of as he stood at the mercy of his long-time tormentors.

Ten minutes, a bruised rib cage, bloody lip, and a now aching ankle later and Rumpelstiltskin was alone once more. Picking himself up from the floor of the compartment, the lonely young man dusted himself off and sunk back into his seat. It was going to be a long year.

Before he could contemplate that further, Belle breezed back into his life. One look at her told him all he needed to know. She’d been warned about him. Someone had told her all about Malcolm Gold’s son and now she hated him. She had only come back to gather her things and then run away.

Yet it wasn’t hate that filled her eyes when she looked at him. Instead concern filled her every feature. Walking over she leaned down and put a gentle hand on his cheek. “What happened?” she asked quietly.

It took a moment for Rumpelstiltskin to realize that she was asking about the bruises that must have formed on his face. “S’nothing,” he assured her.

“Doesn’t look like nothing,” Belle persisted as she gently removed her hand.

“It’s not important. What was that all about.”

While she didn’t seem happy about the change in conversation, she did allow it. “Sorting and everything. I have to ride the boats to the castle and wait with the first years.”

Belle continued talking with him as if it were the most natural thing in the world. As if it were as easy as breathing. Rumpelstiltskin wasn’t certain what he’d done to deserve her company for this train ride. But he was ridiculously grateful for the brief comradery.

He couldn’t know that as he praised his good luck, Belle firmly decided that the boy sitting across from her was in desperate need of a friend. Despite all the warnings and rumors she’d heard so far, she was going to give Rumpelstiltskin a chance.

Chapter Text

The chill of the night air was quickly suppressed as light and warmth spread over the students entering the large castle for the first time. While traveling to Hogwarts by boat had been thrilling, the fog floating atop the water made the trip a cold one and the students now walking through Entrance Hall were grateful for the warmth. Standing several heads taller than the rest of the group, Belle was able to view the castle in all its glory at every point. She was quite certain that her jaw would be permanently fixed in a gape before much longer.

Having seen her fair share of Entrance Halls to schools such as this, Belle originally believed that she had seen it all. Yet now her breath was taken away at the magnificence of it all. The Entrance Hall alone was beautiful in an old-world manner. Stone walls lit by torches and hanging lanterns created a warm and comforting light that surrounded those who walked through the doors. A large staircase led up from the Entrance Hall, promising adventure with each step. Doors led away from the Hall in every direction implying the ridiculously large scope of the castle.

Belle’s attention was peeked as a severe looking witch in a pointed black hat cleared her throat at the front of the crowd. “Welcome to Hogwarts,” the witch began in curt tone. “I am Professor McGonagall and I will be leading you into the Great Hall in just a moment. Each of you will be sorted into one of the four houses here at Hogwarts. Your house will become like your family while you’re here. You will sleep, eat, and go to classes with your house and you will be given opportunities to earn points for your house. Any rule breaking will result in loss of points for your house.”

The Professor continued her introduction, but Belle’s mind began to slip as McGonagall named each of the four houses and the heads of each house. Not for the first time, Belle began worrying about which house she’d be placed in. She desperately hoped to it would be Ravenclaw. The thought of a houseful of students who valued learning and knowledge above all else thrilled her beyond words. Maybe there she wouldn’t be such an oddball. She held no allusions that she wouldn’t still be considered nerdy, but perhaps in a house of similar individuals it wouldn’t be as noticeable. 

Plus, there was the added bonus of already knowing a Ravenclaw in her year. Spending more time with Rumpelstiltskin certainly appealed to the young beauty for reasons she had yet to fully contemplate. Truthfully though as long as she wasn’t placed in Slytherin, she assured herself she’d be happy.

Before Belle could fret any further the large double doors behind McGonagall swung open and the flood of first years poured through. Stay calm, its okay. Belle reassured herself, stamping down her nerves as best she could.

All of her worries flew from her mind as she beheld the Great Hall. Four massive tables full of students lined the path to a stool at the back of the hall. Candles floated through the air providing the area a surprising amount of light. However, it was the ceiling which brought a gasp from her lips. Enchanted to mimic the night sky, the ceiling gave the room the appearance of having no roof. Tonight, it seemed the would dine under the light of the millions of stars which filled the galaxies.

Reluctantly pulling her gaze back down to earth, Belle searched the faces at the surrounding tables. She recognized Gaston sitting amongst a group of guys at the table to her far right. Try as she might though, she couldn’t find the one face that she was most desperate to see. At least not until she made it to the end of the hall closest to the staff table. Finally, she found him, sitting next to a blonde witch with a crazy look about her. Despite being close to the other students, it seemed as if Rumpelstiltskin determinedly kept himself at a distance from them. 

Catching her eye, a small smile tugged at Rumpelstiltskin’s mouth. Good Luck he mouthed. Belle felt her heart skip ever so slightly at that and the weight on her shoulders lessened just a bit.

Belle turned back to face the stool as McGonagall placed a ratty old hat on the stand. The history behind a magical object like the Sorting Hat was enough to excite Belle but knowing that said hat had also been used to help defeat Voldemort just a few years prior made the whole event even more surreal. The garment would decide much for her in just a few moments, yet all she could feel at the moment was pure awe.

A seam along the bottom of the hat opened as the strange little object began singing. Its song extolled the virtues of each house as well as the history of the school. As his song came to an end, Belle found that she no longer cared which house she was placed in. She was at Hogwarts, and nothing could ruin that.

While the sorting felt as if it strung out for hours, Belle knew it was barely fifteen minutes before she was called up to the stool. She’d sat and listened as a dozen students were sorted into the varying houses. Each one had cheered as a new member joined their table. It seemed as if Hufflepuff had done the most cheering so far.

Shaking the whole way to the stool, Belle tried her best to calm her nerves. As she took her place on the stool the old hat was placed on her head and fell down to cover her eyes.

Hmmm a wizened old voice spoke in her ear. I know just where to place you.

“Ravenclaw,” the same voice shouted for all to hear.

The whole ordeal had taken less than ten seconds and yet Belle’s heart was beating far faster than normal. Apparently, she was perfectly suited to the house of her choice. Sliding off the stool with a huge smile plastered across her face, Belle’s eyes found Rumpelstiltskin’s. Cheers exploded from the Ravenclaw table as she made her way over and slipped into the seat beside her new friend and housemate.

High fives, handshakes, and pats on the back left her feeling elated, but it was the quiet “I knew it” from Rumpelstiltskin that meant the most.

Belle continued smiling as dinner was served and as she made pleasant conversation with those around her. She’d finally found a home and she’d be damned if she would allow her father to move her from this one.

Chapter Text

October brought with it a frigid change to the air, promising that winter was well on its way. The inhabitants of Hogwarts spent any free time out on the castle’s lawns, enjoying the sunshine and warmth as much as possible. October also brought with it the first Hogsmeade trip of the year. Students from third year up spent the days leading up to the trip in a state of frenzied excitement.

Rumpelstiltskin found himself warring between excitement at the prospect of getting out of the castle while potentially spending time with Belle and terror at the prospects of leaving the relative safety of his routine. Last year he skipped out on most trips to the quaint little village. There were just too many places for him to be jumped. However, this year he had a valid reason for wanting a little alone time. Or at least alone time with someone special.

In the week leading up to the fated trip, it took Rumple two days to decide he was going to Hogsmeade this time. It took him another three days to work up the courage to ask Belle to join him there. All of that limited courage and time making his decision led him to the cluster of armchairs closest to the fire Ravenclaw tower. Tomorrow was the day and it was now or never. He had to ask Belle.

It’s not like I’m asking her out on a date, the nervous young man assured himself. Just to spend the day with me in Hogsmeade. We do it all the time here. She probably expects to hang out with me tomorrow anyway. Right?

Continuing his stream of encouraging thoughts, Rumpelstiltskin dropped heavily into the armchair next to Belle’s. The girl in question was curled up comfortably in the overly large chair with a book propped up on her knees. For several minutes Rumple simply watched her, knowing that she was too engrossed in her book to have noticed him. He admired the way her nose crinkled as she read something distasteful and the way her eyes seemed a blur as the skimmed across the page, drinking in every word.

Shaking himself from such odd thoughts, Rumpelstiltskin cleared his throat. “I could sit her and watch you read for the rest of the evening, or I could simply go to bed.”

To his amusement, Belle startled at his words. He’d been right, she hadn’t even noticed him.

“Rumple,” she breathed as she pulled herself from the book, “I didn’t see you there.”

“Well you were rather fixated,” he teased easily. “You know, I think it’s rather fortunate that we have homework every now and then or I’d never actually be able to talk with you.”

With all the grace and poise of an adult, Belle stuck her tongue out at him. “I’d make time to talk with you anyway. As long as I was allowed to finish a chapter first,” she conceded the least with a sheepish grin.

“At least I know where I stand.”

Belle marked her spot in the book with a loose strip of paper and sat the book on a rickety side table. Stretching and looking about the common room, she seemed to realize just how late in the evening it was. “What time is it?”

“A bit past nine.”

“Time got away from me!”

“I had noticed.”

The bookworm swatted at him for his cheek as he stifled a yawn. “Where’ve you been then?” she asked.

“Just doing a bit of thinking.”

“How terribly exciting,” Belle quipped with a wink.

The past month had provided the two with an easy companionship. Truthfully, Rumpelstiltskin had never been so pleased to be teased by someone. Belle somehow turned a quip or snarky remark into a form of endearment. Having never really had a friend before, Rumple found that he rather enjoyed the easy banter that often existed between them.

“Thinking about something important?” she inquired leaning her head back. The fire glinted off her eyes adding an odd shade of amber to the deep blue. The shadows painted a fierceness that didn’t quite fit the bookish girl. And yet it stirred something in Rumpelstiltskin’s long abused heart. Something dangerous and ridiculous that he quickly shook off.

Not knowing how else to broach the topic, the nervous boy’s mouth began speaking before he’d fully given it permission. “I was actually thinking about Hogsmeade tomorrow. I’m going and if you’re going, would you like me to show you around.”

Unless he was very much mistaken, Belle’s eyes took on a hopeful look for a split second. But the next moment an oddly uncomfortable look snuck onto her features. “I’m sorry Rumple, I, I didn’t figure you’d be going. You’re always talking about how much you dislike large groups of people and all that and I just,” Belle stopped suddenly, aware that she was rambling something awful. Her eyes slipped down to her folded hands as she continued. “I’ve already got plans for tomorrow. I’m meeting someone at the Three Broomsticks first thing. I don’t know how long it’ll last, but I’d love to see you afterwards.”

She’d added the last in a rush of words that were obviously meant to be some form of apology. An apology he didn’t need. Belle was popular, of course she had plans. They were friendly in classes and at lunch, but she had other people to talk to and hang out with. She couldn’t be with him all the time.

“Of course,” Rumpelstiltskin relented hurriedly. “I just… wanted to put the offer out there. I usually don’t go, but I figured… it’s no matter. No matter at all.”

Sensing that he was about to flee, Belle reached out and took his hand. It shamed the boy to no end when he twitched at the contact, but if she noticed she didn’t say anything about it. “It’s really sweet of you to offer that Rumpelstiltskin. I really would love to hang out with you afterwards. Maybe I can talk him into leaving early and we can meet up with you at Honeydukes.”

A strange stab of something almost like jealousy hit Rumple at the mention of “him.” Belle was meeting up with another guy. More than that, she was going on a date. It really wasn’t any of his business, but it still stung a bit more than he thought it should. So, what if Belle found a guy she fancied. It didn’t matter to him, did it?

Rumpelstiltskin plastered on the best fake smile he could manage before answering Belle’s kind offer. “I’d really rather not. I don’t usually go anyway. I, I just wanted to make sure that you had someone to show you around.”

“Rumple- “

“Seriously Belle, it’s fine. I hope you have fun tomorrow. I’ll be waiting to hear all the details.”

With that Rumpelstiltskin picked himself up from the chair and made his way up to his dormitory. A sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach caused him to question his sanity. Who Belle decided to hang out with wasn’t his concern. She could do whatever she liked.

Despite all his reassurances and assertions that he didn’t care, Rumple spent a sleepless night shifting through various nightmares concerning Belle and a horde of nameless, faceless young suitors.   

 

***

 

Finding the Three Broomsticks had been easy enough with Ruby’s help. The young fourth year Gryffindor and Belle had hit it off immediately. Now they were rarely far from each other’s side. In fact, if it wasn’t for her friendship with Rumpelstiltskin, Belle figured that she and Ruby would only ever part when they had to leave for their respective common rooms. However, Belle had discovered that being friends with Malcolm Gold’s son didn’t earn her popularity points. The friends that she’d made so far couldn’t understand her continued relationship with Rumple and they point blank refused to hang out with him. But as long as he wasn’t in the picture, Belle found the people of Hogwarts to be ridiculously friendly.

It had taken every bit of coercion and will power to get Ruby to leave once they’d arrive. It took even more than that to convince the young lady to leave. Now Belle found herself seated at a cozy corner table twenty minutes early.

To say that she was nervous about this meeting was an understatement. It was officially her first date. She’d spent thirty minutes picking out the perfect outfit, with help from the other fourth year Ravenclaw girls. This morning Belle had made sure that she looked her absolute best before walking down to meet Ruby. Excitement bubbled within the young woman’s stomach, mixing with a nervous anticipation that caused her to feel slightly unwell.

Belle gave herself a mental shake. She was behaving like a child. There was no reason to be so nervous, Gaston had proven himself a proper gentleman time and time again. He’d talked her up in several classes and had walked her to dinner each day this week. In fact, she’d seen more of Gaston than she had Rumple here lately. Shoving her insecurities to the back of her mind Belle focused on her guilt over ditching her best friend.

She truly hadn’t expected Rumpelstiltskin to have any desire to come to Hogsmeade today. He hated crowds and disliked being around people in general. That coupled with the isolation that went hand in hand with the long walk down to the village created a combination of reasons for him not to come.

And yet he’d been willing to deal with his own discomfort just to show Belle around. Unwilling to admit it to herself, Belle felt her stomach do a flip at that thought. Rumple had swiftly become her dearest friend at Hogwarts. Despite all that was said about him, she found him to be kind, witty, and caring. He certainly had a temper and wasn’t afraid to display his rather extensive knowledge of jinxes and hexes, but behind that he was different that what she’d been told to expect. He was unexpected in every way.

Belle’s thoughts turned from her guilt as time ticked away until Gaston was meant to arrive. She waved the waitress away several times explaining that she’d simply been early and was waiting on her date to arrive. Yet as the time drew nearer, Gaston didn’t appear. Patiently, Belle waited, assuring herself that he was just a few minutes late.

A few minutes turned into thirty and that then turned into an hour. He must be caught up with something, she thought, convincing herself of the idea. But an hour turned into two and Belle had to admit to herself that perhaps he just wasn’t coming.

The students sitting around her shot her sympathetic looks as time ticked by and Belle played with the straw in her drink. This was turning into quite the horrible day. No matter how many times she convinced herself that it was a mistake and that maybe he’d just been held up, Belle couldn’t shake the knot in her throat. She’d been stood up and that was that.

About the time she finally decided that he wasn’t coming a slim figure slipped into the seat in front of her. Hope and anger rushed through Belle’s veins as she looked up… and smiled in pleasant confusion. It wasn’t the sturdy figure of Gaston sitting across from her. Instead Rumple had, seemingly from nowhere, appeared in his place.

He was wearing that crooked half smile of his that she found so endearing as he gave her a wink. “Sorry, I’m so late. I got caught up with Professor Flitwick. Apparently, Peeves has taken it upon himself to enchant pumpkins so that they’ll chase unsuspecting students down the hallways. I, of course, was the unlucky guinea pig for his latest project.” He spoke loudly enough that those sitting around them could hear as well.

But when he continued it was in a low whisper that only she could hear. “I decided to come and meet you and crash your date. But it looks like it’s my lucky day.”

“How’s that?” Belle asked her voice thick with either tears or laughter, she couldn’t tell.

“I don’t have to pretend to be interested in whoever it was, and I get to spend the rest of the day showing you around Hogsmeade. Sounds like a good deal to me.”

An earsplitting grin forced its way across Belle’s face. Returning her smile with equal fervor, Rumpelstiltskin began perusing the menu. Two butterbeers later and the two were well on there way to another grand adventure.

Whether either of them knew it (or even admitted it) or not, Rumpelstiltskin had just firmly won a piece of Belle’s heart.

Chapter Text

The showers were never a safe place for Malcolm Gold’s son. Often isolated from the watchful eyes of teachers, they were the perfect place to be cornered by those he hoped to avoid. Last year Rumpelstiltskin had taken to showering on the fifth-floor bathrooms while everyone else started to dinner. That floor was generally empty after lessons and almost everyone went to the Great Hall immediately and remained there for the duration of dinner. Meaning he had a solid hour of alone time in which to get to the showers, bath, dress, and quickly head back to the common room without any confrontations.

By making use of secret passages, he’d managed to go all last year, and thus far this year, without incident. Much to the chagrin of his tormentors, he seemed one step ahead of them in this at least. He’d grown comfortable with his routine. Which is why he never noticed the three figures that entered the bathroom a short while after him.

Completely unaware of his visitors, Rumpelstiltskin allowed the hot water to wash over him for a few minutes longer than normal as his thoughts returned to Belle French. It had been almost three months since their meeting on the train and yet she still sought out his company. She sat next to him in Charms, Transfiguration, and Potions. She didn’t mind partnering up with him and she never took advantage of that to throw a cruel jinx or hex at him. She even went so far as to have lunch with him every day. The girl was strange, there was no question about that. For whatever reason, Belle wasn’t afraid of him. And he found that he liked that about her. In fact, he found that he liked more and more about his friend.

The young man was so deep in his thoughts that it wasn’t until he’d stepped out of the shower that he noticed something was amiss. Staring at the spot where his clothes had been, Rumpelstiltskin swore loudly. Checking his stall, he found nothing more than a hand towel to cover himself with. When a quick inspection of the other stalls provided him with nothing else, the youth slumped to the floor with his head in his hands.

This was bad.

 

***

 

Belle French made her way up to the Ravenclaw common room discussing Flitwick’s latest essay with Jasmine. The assignment wasn’t due for another three days, but the two hoped to finish the blasted thing tonight in order to have tomorrow evening free.

“Why is a raven like a writing desk?” the door’s guard was asking.

A moment of thought and a blank stare from Jasmine prompted Belle to give the only answer she could come up with. “I’d say that commonality can be found between any two things if one only looks hard enough.”

“Well answered,” came the reply as the door swung open.

Laughter erupted from the common room as Jasmine and Belle entered. A surprising amount of people were present for this time of the evening and whatever was happening seemed to be centered around the stairs to the boy’s dormitory. Curiosity drew Belle and Jasmine towards the commotion. A gasp escaped Belle as her eyes found the source of all the laughter. 

A group of sixth year boys, of which she only recognized Kathryn’s boyfriend Frederick, blocked an infuriated Rumpelstiltskin’s way up the staircase. An event which in and of itself wasn’t completely out of the ordinary. What made Belle’s stomach twist was the fact that Rumpelstiltskin was covered by nothing but a hand towel, while the boys in question dangled his robes and cane in front of him.

“Get out of my way,” Rumpelstiltskin growled dangerously. He was putting on a good front, allowing anger to mask anything deeper. But Belle could see humiliation in the red tint of his cheeks and the shame swimming in his eyes.

“Or what?” one of the boys – a dark haired student with a deep voice – mocked in return. “Going to call daddy on us?”

The boys surrounding him, as well as half of the common room, laughed. “You have to answer the riddle to get by. Rules of the house,” one of the other boys – she thought might be called Jekyll – taunted.

Looking around Belle could hardly believe her eyes, no one was stepping up to help. They were either enjoying the show or pretending that nothing was happening. Her newest friend let his head fall as he looked to the ground in an obvious attempt to prevent his rage from taking over. This movement exposed his back to her, and those crowded around beside her, in a new light. She barely had time to notice the collections of scars present there, before Rumple seemingly gained control of his emotions.

“I’ve answered your damn riddles. Now move… please,” Rumpelstiltskin insisted his voice tight as he practically begged them to simply let him by.

“You’ve got to answer one from each of us–” the one beside Frederick returned.

Belle found she could stand it no longer. “What the hell is going on here?” She interrupted as she moved to her friend’s side. The dumbfounded looks on everyone’s face told her all she needed to know. No one else was going to step in. “What are you doing?”

The dark-haired boy who’d spoken first regained his footing the quickest. “We’re just having a bit a fun.”

“Doesn’t look very fun to me,” Belle spat as rage built within her. “Looks more like you lot are being complete pricks.” When no one answered that, Belle’s anger carried her further. “Frederick you’re a prefect. Isn’t this the kind of the thing you’re supposed to prevent?”

The young man in question had the grace to look abashed but that didn’t stop the git from defending his actions. “He deserves it.”

“Really? Why is that then?” The whole of the common room was shamelessly watching the exchange now. Though no one backed her, the room went silent. “I thought Ravenclaws were supposed to be clever,” the young beauty snapped in a righteous fury as she snatched Rumpelstiltskin’s belongings from the hands of his tormentors.

Her tirade seemed to be all the distraction Rumple needed. As she retrieved his clothing, Rumpelstiltskin shoved his way past the group of sixth years and hurried up the stairs. Turning her glare on the whole of the common room Belle found she had nothing left to say. Following her best friend up the staircase, Belle felt hot tears trickle down her face.

Stopping half way to the fourth year’s landing, the young beauty leaned back against the cool stone. Rumpelstiltskin didn’t need her anger or her pity right now. In truth she didn’t know what he’d need, but she couldn’t leave him alone after this. Pulling his bundle of clothes to her chest, Belle noticed a stain on the front of his robes. Unfurling them another shocked gasp escaped from the young woman.

Supremacist had been written across the front in bold white lettering. She didn’t know if Rumple had seen that yet. Desperately, she hoped he hadn’t. Pulling out her wand, Belle attempted a quick spell to remove the letters, but nothing happened. She tried spell after counter spell, jinx after jinx. Nothing she tried could even make the words fade. Without any permission her tears started up once again. She had to do something.

Unceremoniously Belle stuffed the clothes into her school bag and fled back down the stairs. Providing glares to those left in the common room, she fumbled her way out of the portal. It was late, but not quite past curfew. If she was quick about it, she could be back in less than ten minutes.

Belle followed the few secret passages she knew and made certain to skip around the staircases that enjoyed changing as she made her way down to the kitchens. Just last week Rumpelstiltskin had shown her the way in their search of a late-night snack. She didn’t even fully contemplate her actions until she reached the large portrait of fruit that marked the entrance.

What if the house-elves weren’t here? What if they refused to help her? Sure, they’d given Rumple a few cauldron cakes last time, but he seemed to have a rapport with them. Would they help her if she mentioned him?

Mentally shaking herself, Belle shrugged off her doubts. She’d never know if she didn’t try and right now she really needed to try. Do the brave thing and bravery will follow, she thought repeating her mother’s old mantra. A tickle of the pear caused the door to swing wide, welcoming her into the warm and cozy kitchens.

Most of the elves paid her no mind as she strolled through the door, but a loud squeak of “Mistress Belle” reminded her that she did have a friend down here after all.

 “Pongo!” She exclaimed as the tiny elf ran up to her beaming. “How are you?”

“Wonderful, Ms. Belle. Just wonderful,” Pongo gushed. “What can I do for you? Did you miss dinner? Hungry? Let me get something for you!”

Belle couldn’t help but laugh at the little elf’s excitement. “Whoa Pongo,” she chuckled reaching out and putting a hand on his shoulder. Big eyes turned to her at the contact and she only narrowly avoided being hit in the face by bat like ears. “I actually need something to take to a friend. He missed dinner and he really needs something to lift his spirits.”

“I know just the thing Ms. Belle, just the thing.”

Three minutes later, Belle had a whole chicken, roasted potatoes and carrots, a variety of sweets, and four butterbeers (from the elf’s secret stash) packed away into her now exceedingly heavy school bag. Pongo had refused to take no for an answer when it came to providing extra sweets. He’d insisted that any ailment could be cured with a pumpkin pasty or a cauldron cake. Belle hadn’t really had the heart to argue with that.

“Thank you, Pongo,” she said giving the little elf a quick hug, “I owe you one.”

 “No, Ms. Belle, I’m happy to help. Happy to help.”

By the time Belle made it back to the common room, it was well past curfew. Few individuals remained in the common room and none of them dared look at her. She made it as far as the fourth year’s door before she met another soul. Jefferson Hatter and Victor Frank stood outside their door apparently unable to enter.

“Oi ya right git,” Jeff was yelling as he pounded on the door, “let us in!”

Victor noticed her first. “Belle, thank God. He’s locked the door. And jammed it shut.”

“Yeah,” Jeff added loudly enough for the entire tower to hear, “we can’t get in.”

“Let me try,” Belle insisted quietly as she knocked gently on the door. “Rumple, I have something for you.” There was no reply and the door didn’t budge. “It’s Belle, please open the door.”

The door held fast refusing to budge. Just as she was about to suggest just sleeping on the couches, a light click emanated from the lock. A turn of the handle and the door slid open easily.

“Finally,” Jeff breathed fully exasperated.

Belle jumped in the way preventing either of the boys from entering. “Five minutes,” she pleaded. “Give me five minutes, please.”

Surprisingly, Victor gave her a small nod and pulled a protesting Jefferson from the landing. Belle took a deep breath before entering, steadying her nerves as best she could. The curtains to Rumpelstiltskin’s bed were pulled closed. If she strained her ears she could just hear the soft catching breaths of her best friend.

“Rumple,” she mumbled as she pulled open the curtain not facing the door. He was curled up under a mound of blankets in the center of the bed. She couldn’t see his face, but his messy hair indicated that he’d had his head buried for some time. Reaching out she placed what she hoped was a comforting hand on his shoulder. It broke her heart a little further when he flinched at the contact, but she didn’t let go. He needed to know she wouldn’t hurt him. He had to believe that, or there was nothing she could do to help him.

“I have something for you,” she whispered soothingly, gently rubbing his shoulder. “But I need you to come with me.” A slight shake of the head was his only reply. “Please. I promise it will be worth it.”

It took a bit of encouragement and her shoving Jeff and Victor out of the room once more, but finally she managed to pull Rumpelstiltskin out of the fortress of his bed. Belle grabbed a few of the blankets and bundled them under her arm. Handing over his cane, Belle guided her friend out of the room past an irate Jefferson.

Rumple kept his head down as she took his hand and led him up the stairs instead of down. Belle was certain he would follow her if she let go, but after everything today, she found that she was reluctant to release his hand. It was warm and solid and proof that despite everything Rumpelstiltskin placed some small amount of trust in her.

With Rumple’s ever-present limp the going was relatively slow, but they reached the trap door at the top of the stairs in little time. While Belle felt as if each step took them a life time, she wasn’t certain that her friend had any clue that they’d actually been moving at all.

“I don’t technically think we’re allowed up here,” she acknowledged as she pulled Rumple through the trap door onto the top of the Ravenclaw tower, “but I figure it’s the perfect place for a little stargazing and a late dinner.”

Rumpelstiltskin’s mouth twitched ever so slightly as she took a thin blanket and threw it across the floor. “Belle French breaking the rules, what a development,” his voice was quiet. The humor she heard within his words was forced, but at least he was speaking.

Turning to face him Belle got her first good look at his face and it took every ounce of will power to school her expression. She wasn’t entirely certain that she managed. The puffy red eyes and tear tracks still visible on his face, displayed that Rumpelstiltskin had obviously spent much of the last hour or so crying.

Pasting on her best smile, Belle stuck her tongue out at him and settled onto the blanket. “I’m not that much of a stickler.”

“Of course not,” he mumbled joining her on the makeshift pallet.

Belle threw a thick blanket around their shoulders attempting to banish the frigid air. Any other night, she would have balked at spending time outside on such a cold night. But tonight, it seemed important that she huddle as close to her friend as possible.

The two sat in silence as she guilted Rumple into eating and studied him. He didn’t have much of an appetite, but she knew for a fact that he’d skipped lunch. A quick story about how eager to help the little house elf had been provided the right amount of guilt and persuasion to have him take a few bites.

It seemed that Rumpelstiltskin had dressed in several layers before burying himself in his bed. Belle was quite certain that those layers had little to do with the frigid night. The long-sleeved black t-shirt that he wore hung loosely from his thin frame, making him seem smaller than normal. It was obviously an old shirt because she could see a white undershirt peeking through from the several holes littering the garment. In contrast, his thick flannel pants seemed to be almost too small. Too much of his ankle peered out from the legs and they seemed tighter than sleeping pants ought to be.

Despite their time together, Rumple remained a mystery to her. He had fine clothing, truly expensive garments that he rarely wore. Instead he favored ratty older clothing that had no hope of fitting him. It wasn’t just his wardrobe though. It was everything about the young man. Around her he was sweet, caring, and kind. Wickedly clever and hilariously snarky. Yet he showed that side of himself to very few others. That sixth-year blonde girl, whose name Belle could never remember, could elicit such responses from him and she’d seem him act friendly with Jeff and Victor. But it was as if he wanted the rest of the school to hate him. He’d become so entrenched in his role at Hogwarts that he’d forgotten it wasn’t actually who he was.

From a seemingly great distance Rumpelstiltskin’s voice reached out to her and pulled the beauty from her thoughts. “Thank you, Belle.” She stared at him blankly, not fully understanding his words. When she didn’t answer, Rumple tried again. “For everything. The food, the butterbeer, saving my arse back there. All of it.”

“Of course,” she replied around a mouthful of pumpkin pasty. “It’s what friends are for.”

“I wouldn’t know much about that,” he sniffed turning his gaze to the heavens above.

Belle didn’t know what to say, this was uncharted territory for her. How did you comfort someone so completely unaccustomed to basic human kindness? She’d learned so little and so much about Rumpelstiltskin in the past three months. He was bullied ruthlessly by the other students all because of who he’d been born. Though he seemed to resent that to some degree, he usually accepted his fate with cold resignation.  

 “They should have helped you,” she insisted in a low voice.

“Why would they?” Before she could answer him, he changed the subject. “Did you happen to get my robes?” Belle hesitated and prayed that he hadn’t noticed. Her prayers went unanswered this time, he knew her far too well. “What’s wrong?”

“Rumple, I… it’s just that, well…” Belle stammered trying to find the right words.

In the end there weren’t words to properly explain her horror or discomfort at how the other students treated him. Belle pulled the ruined robes from her bag and spread them out, displaying the hateful marks. “I’m sorry,” was all the beauty could say.

Rumpelstiltskin’s face paled and then went completely blank. The walls she worked so hard to pull down were now firmly locked in place. “Hey, hey,” she began, desperate to bring him back from the brink. “It’s o-”

“Please don’t say it’s okay,” he interjected bitterly. “How is this okay? How will it ever be okay?” Rumpelstiltskin moved to stand up and leave. “It doesn’t matter.”

He was shoving her back to arms-length, desperate to keep her from getting too close. Belle wrapped an arm around his neck refusing to allow distance between them and refusing to let him leave. “I’m here okay,” she whispered pulling his head to hers until her forehead rested against his. “I’m right here and I’m not leaving. Don’t push me away.”

“You’ll leave too.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“Maybe not today, but soon. You’ll see.”

Resignation and regret laced Rumple’s words, splintering a piece of Belle’s heart. She had to make him understand, somehow. Putting her hands on either cheek she forced his face up until he was looking her in the eye. “Rumpelstiltskin, I am not leaving you. Not today. Not ever. I’m your friend and your mine and I’m sorry but you’re stuck with me forever.”

Disbelief radiated from the broken young boy in front of her. But she saw a flicker of hope in the depths of warm brown eyes. Whatever happened next, whatever challenges they faced or obstacles that stood in their way, Belle knew she and Rumpelstiltskin would face them together.

Chapter Text

"You're really making a habit of ending up in here," a snide voice commented from somewhere behind him.

Startled Rumpelstiltskin turned in his seat trying to find the voice's owner. Seeing no one but the usual portraits of Headmasters he shrugged to himself.

"I mean really, it's a bit ridiculous. This is the third time this month," the voice came again.

This time he was certain that it was speaking to him.

"Oh, like you didn't spend a fair amount of time in here as a boy," an older wizened voice pointed out.

"Even I didn't manage it this often," the first voice returned.

"He's misguided that's all," the second assured.

"That's a strange way to say miscreant."

Unable to take the back and forth any longer, Rumpelstiltskin interjected. "You know I'm right here," he called out as he looked at each of the portraits in turn. "I can literally hear everything you're saying."

"Snappish as well," the first voice called once more, this time from directly behind Rumple. "I told you he was a miscreant."

Finally, Rumpelstiltskin pinpointed the voice to a rather new frame. Dark and gloomy, the portrait framed its centerpiece quite well. A gaunt faced man with pale skin and an abnormally large nose stared at him through locks of greasy black hair.

Directing his words to the portrait Rumpelstiltskin snapped, "I'm not a miscreant."

"Yes, none of you ever are," the man replied.

"Severus," said the other mysterious voice, "let the boy be. He's having a hard-enough time as it is."

Rumpelstiltskin identified this speaker as the portrait hanging directly behind the Headmistress's desk. A wizened old wizard with a kind face and half mooned spectacles smiled down at him. A long flowing white beard and matching hair identified the man readily enough. Which could only mean... Rumpelstiltskin did a double take back to the first speaker.

Slowly a smirk spread across the Ravenclaw’s face. “I’m being criticized for causing trouble by the man who acted as a double agent during the Wizarding War? Typical.” Rumpelstiltskin made certain that both portraits caught sight of him rolling his eyes.

“He’s got a point Severus,” Albus Dumbledore chuckled from his place on the far wall. Shooting Rumpelstiltskin a wink, the old Headmaster continued prodding his predecessor. “Besides, I seem to remember you having quite the attitude at that age as well.”

Severus Snape let out a withering sigh in reply. “I had to deal with Black and Potter, even you would have had an attitude Albus.”

“I daresay you might be right in that at least.”

Rumpelstiltskin sat listening intently as the two war heroes continued their banter. They were little more than paint on parchment, but this was the closest anyone could come to actually speaking with two of the great minds that helped bring about Voldemort’s defeat. To say the boy was a bit starstruck, would have been a vast understatement. Not even fear of punishment from the Headmistress could stem his excitement. He’d been in this room many times, but never had the portraits spoken to him before. Of course, he’d usually been in the middle of being reamed out by Blue, so there was little opportunity for such a discussion.

But one name caught his attention and Rumple couldn’t keep quiet any longer. “Potter?” He asked his mind quick at work. “You went to school with James Potter?” Rumple knew that name well. Whenever Malcolm talked about his time at Hogwarts, he made certain to mention James Potter and his Quidditch skills.

However, it was apparently the wrong question to ask the previous Headmaster. Snape’s face contorted in disdain. “Yes, I had the pleasure of being graced by the presence of James Potter and his friends while I was a student here.”

The portrait spoke with scathing derision. A tone Rumpelstiltskin understood exceedingly well. That kind of hatred was born from years of dislike. He spoke about Jones in a similar fashion.

“My father went to school with James Potter,” Rumple explained. “He was a year behind Potter and that lot. Played Quidditch against him.”

An odd look flashed across the old Potion Master’s face, to quick for Rumpelstiltskin to catch. But it was Dumbledore who filled the silence first. “What house was your father in?” The old man asked with polite curiosity.

“Slytherin,” Rumpelstiltskin breathed. He shouldn’t have mentioned his father, he rarely did. But these two men were personal heroes of his, especially Snape, he’d wanted to contribute something. Now though, he would be forced to explain who his father was and the two men he so respected would look down on him like everyone else. Warmth crept to the boy’s face at the two penetrating looks he received.

“Who is your father?” Snape enquired.

“Mal, Malcom Gold,” Rumpelstiltskin stammered quietly. He kept his head down eyes fixed on the hands folded in his lap as he awaited their ire.

While quiet permeated the office, the young man silently berated himself for bringing up his parents at all. Snape would’ve met his father and his mother several times. They’d all been deeply entrenched in Voldemort’s plots and plans.

When Snape next spoke, his voice had lost its sharp edge. “You’re Malcolm Gold’s boy.”

Rumpelstiltskin nodded without looking up, scared of what he might see.

“You’ve grown quite a bit since I last saw you,” the former Death Eater acknowledged without a trace of scorn in his tone.

At that Rumple’s head snapped up as he turned to face the portrait. “I don’t remember seeing you. And trust me, that’s something I would’ve remembered.”

“Well you were far more…portable at the time,” Snape quipped. “Fiona didn’t like brining you around that crowd and after she passed…” The stricken man stopped suddenly, realizing he’d spoken callously.

“It’s okay,” Rumpelstiltskin admitted as he stood and walked over to the portrait. “I never really knew her all that well. And Malcolm refused to talk about her.”

The knowing look he received from Snape at the use of his father’s name instead of title, left Rumpelstiltskin feeling uncomfortable. What more did the man know about his father?

“I never really figured Malcolm to be the father type,” Snape commented, answering Rumpelstiltskin’s unspoken question. An understanding passed between the young boy and the portrait. One that certainly didn’t need words and yet conveyed more than either could express.

“I don’t ever think he did either.”

The conversation ended abruptly as Headmistress Blue entered her office a harried look on her face. “Gold,” she snipped, “why am I not surprised to see you in here again.”

Rumpelstiltskin moved slowly back to his usual seat across from her desk, head down and eyes on the floor as he received yet another scolding from the Headmistress. Taking his two weeks of detention for hexing the “blameless” Phillip Prince in stride, Rumple stood to leave. Before going he shot the portrait of Albus Dumbledore a cheeky wink causing the old man’s eyes to crinkle with a grin.

Walking out the door, the young man shared another long look with Severus Snape’s portrait. Perhaps it was simply paint on a piece of enchanted paper, but his conversation with the Potions Master left Rumpelstiltskin feeling as if maybe there was someone in the world who actually understood him.

Chapter Text

Minerva McGonagall was easily the most intimidating woman Belle French had ever met. Head of Gryffindor house and Deputy Headmistress (by choice), the woman exuded authority and wore her severity like a thick cloak. Belle had never met anyone quite like this professor whose office she currently sat in. She was doing her best to contain the nervous excitement that threatened to overwhelm her, but the young Ravenclaw wasn’t certain that she succeeded.

“Normally this type of meeting would take place between you and your head of house,” the professor explained. “But given your previous circumstances and your performance in my class, I wanted the opportunity to personally discuss your progress at Hogwarts.”

Belle nodded as McGonagall spoke. Previous experience with changing schools prepared her for expecting this conversation she’d been expecting since September. Rudimentary checks on her progress catching up as well as a discussion about how she “fitting in.” Generally, she hated these meetings, but this time was an exception.

Her longtime hero and role model sat opposite her engaging Belle in a conversation. Being in class with McGonagall didn’t hold a candle to this more intimate setting. Belle had read every book she could get her hands on concerning the Second Wizarding War. The topic fascinated her in the way most subjects did. Mild obsession followed by countless hours of research. However, Minerva McGonagall had stood out to the bookworm in a way that few others had. This woman was the queen of resilience and courage, and yet she was humble enough to have stepped back down to a teaching role a few years after the war. Belle idolized this professor.  

“Thank you for taking the time to check in on me professor,” Belle replied, careful to calm herself before speaking. It wouldn’t do to look a starstruck fool in front of one’s hero.

The stern woman provided a curt nod in return. “Honestly, in your case this is more of a formality than anything. You’ve excelled in my class,” Belle couldn’t help but beam at that praise, “Professor Flitwick is more than impressed with your ability in Charms. Professor Sprout reports that you are making top marks in Herbology. And every other professor has similar remarks. They agree you’re a splendid student and have no trouble catching up and staying on task.”

Belle’s cheeks burned red at the high praise. She’d never taken compliments well. It befuddled her why teachers were always so impressed by those students who cared about learning and doing the work set to them. “Thank you, professor. It’s really nothing, school is just my thing.”

McGonagall fixed her with a piercing stare that Belle struggled to return. “It’s no small thing for a student to put in so much effort Ms. French.” Another nod followed that statement before the professor continued. “Now I do have notes that you struggled with Defense Against the Dark Arts and Potions earlier this semester, but things seemed to have leveled out there as well.”

Belle grinned enthusiastically. “Potions has just never been my thing, my eternal Achilles heel and there wasn’t much in the way of a DADA class at Illvermorny or Beauxbatons. It just took a little extra work and I had a good tutor for those subjects.”

“Might I ask who your tutor was, I have quite a few students who refuse to learn from the professors. Perhaps some detentions and forced tutoring would help,” the words were spoken in a firm manner, but Belle didn’t miss the twinkle of something playful in McGonagall’s eyes.

“Rumpelstiltskin Gold,” the young woman answered.

The smallest of furrows appeared on McGonagall’s brow. “So, you’re the young woman I’ve been hearing so much chatter about,” Belle’s heart skipped a beat at that acknowledgement. What kind of chatter could there be? “I can’t really say I’m surprised. You seem to have a better head on your shoulders than most.”

Unsure if she’d just been complimented or reprimanded, Belle replied with caution. “I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, always seems the proper thing to do.”

“Well heaven knows that boy needs a friend,” McGonagall commented. A slight tug twitched the corner of the witch’s mouth, leading Belle to believe that she might just have earned a little extra approval from her hero. “How are you fitting in here at Hogwarts Ms. French?”

“Oh, wonderfully,” Belle gushed. “I’ve written to Father letting him know I’ll not move again. Hogwarts feels like home already.” The bookworm lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Besides, the library here is the best I’ve ever seen. I fear Madam Pince might ban me if I don’t start leaving at a decent hour.”

To Belle’s great delight that earned a snort from the professor. “You remind me very much of one of my former students. She spent more time with her nose stuck in a book than most people do breathing.”

“That does sound familiar,” Belle chuckled.

“Well Ms. French, thank you for taking a few moments out your day for this short check-in,” McGonagall concluded as she stacked papers neatly on her desk. “It’s been a pleasure speaking with you outside of class.”

“Thank you, Professor. You’ve all been so helpful and wonderful, I really do love being at Hogwarts,” Belle responded earnestly as she stood. Unsure what the proper protocol in such situations might be, the bold young woman stuck out her hand before turning to go. “I appreciate all that you’ve done,” she added hoping she wasn’t being too awkward.

However, it seemed she’d earned McGonagall’s respect at some point since September. The older woman extended her own hand and shook the hand of her strange student. “Take care Ms. French. And should you need anything, my door is always open.”

Belle left the office with a level of giddiness she hadn’t known was possible to reach. Minerva McGonagall thought she was a good student and held some manner of fondness for her. She’d been acknowledged by her hero. What more could she want out of life?

Chapter Text

Christmas at Hogwarts was always a splendid affair. The castle was decked in holiday cheer that rivaled anything the students could have imagined. Christmas trees were strewn throughout the castle and decorations seemed to appear out of nowhere. Their classes remained studiously on task, but even homework couldn’t dampen the cheer of the holiday.

When break was two days away, even McGonagall had to admit that her students were retaining little from her lessons. In a rare moment of defeat the old professor liberated her students five minutes early wishing them a Happy Christmas as they eagerly packed up. Belle shot a grin at Rumpelstiltskin as they gathered their things and made for the door.

“We’re free!” She exclaimed as they walked from the room.

Rumpelstiltskin snorted at her giddiness, “You’re the last person I’d expect to be happy about not having homework.”

“I don’t live for schoolwork Rumple.”

“’Course you don’t,” he replied, but the smirk he sent her way implied that he didn’t believe her.

“I do need to stop by Flitwick’s office before lunch,” Belle admitted sheepishly. “Just to ask about our exam this morning. I feel like I might not have answered the question about cheering charms as completely as I could.”

To his credit Rumplestiltskin merely rolled his eyes at her as they parted ways agreeing to meet in the Great Hall in fifteen minutes. Rumple pulled the strap of his bag tight across his shoulder as he made his way down to the Great Hall. There were plenty of eyes around at this time of day to make him feel comfortable enough to walk alone. So, the young Ravenclaw allowed his mind to drift as he slowly meandered the castle’s halls.

He would be spending the holidays at Hogwarts, as per usual. Very few students stayed over during Christmas break, making it his favorite time of year. Especially since Belle had informed him that her father would be out of country for Christmas and she’d decided to stay as well. With an empty common room and most of her other friends leaving for the break, Rumpelstiltskin would have plenty of alone time with his best friend. It was shaping up to be a lovely holiday indeed.

Lost in his own thoughts, Rumpelstiltskin almost didn’t notice Thomas Herman slinking across the Entrance Hall in the direction of the dungeons. In fact, if the young man hadn’t met Jones there, Rumple probably wouldn’t have noticed at all. Whatever those two were up to it was obviously no good. Forget about it Rumple thought to himself as he quickened his stride down the great staircase. It’s none of your business.

Unfortunately, at that moment he noticed Gaston sneak away from the Great Hall as well. Curiosity and the hopes of catching those two up to no good won out over common sense. Shaking his head at his own stupidity, Rumpelstiltskin slipped out of the throng of students and followed the two troublemakers.

Rumpelstiltskin made it to the end of the hallway leading to the dungeons before he heard muffled laughter and a good deal of cursing. Following those sounds brought Rumple face to face with a rather unfortunate situation. Joined by James Nolan and (to his great annoyance) Milah, the three boys he’d followed had some poor sod dangling in the air by his ankle as they taunted him.

The good news was that they'd yet to notice him, providing Rumple the opportunity to escape quickly if he moved now. Silently debating that option, he sat watching the scene unfold as the face of the poor unfortunate soul turned his way. Swearing to himself Rumpelstiltskin knew he couldn't simply walk away this time. Not when they had Neal.

Taking a deep steadying breath, he gathered his minimal courage and did the right thing. Drawing his wand quietly, he fired a disarming spell at James causing Neal to fall into a heap on the floor. Rumpelstiltskin managed to disarm Gaston and Thomas before the group zeroed in on him.

Nose twitching like a bird dog, Jones was the one to spot him first. "Well, well would you look at that, the crocodile does have a spine," the Slytherin spat.

Shooting the now forgotten Neal, a get the hell out of here look, Rumple limped forward to confront the group. "It's really sad when you have to resort to picking on young kids for kicks. I expected more from you Jones," he responded coolly, keeping his wand trained on Jones.

"I don't think you've got a lot of room for moral superiority, Rumple," Milah spat in defense of her long-time boyfriend.

"Since I'm not the one currently picking on a kid half my size with four of my mates backing me, I think I’m entitled to the moral high ground this time," Rumple snapped back with a venom he didn't realize he still possessed. Milah drove him to such extremes though. She was the only girl he'd ever dated and subsequently the first to break his heart. She could elicit a response from him like no one else.

Neal made a break for it as Jones shot a disarming spell at Rumpelstiltskin. Being prepared for it, Rumple deflected it easily. However, he wasn't prepared for James to full form tackle him and there was no deflecting that.

The two boys hit the ground hard with Rumpelstiltskin taking the brunt of the force. Stars burst across his vision as Rumple's head connected with the stone floor. Breathless and still in shock, the outnumbered boy couldn’t stop James as the boy snatched Rumple’s wand and chucked it into the adjacent wall.

"I had a bone to pick with that kid, cripple," the oaf now seated on top of him growled. "But since you're so willing, you can deliver a message for me instead."

Expressing himself with his most colorful vocabulary, Rumpelstiltskin told James exactly what he could do with his message.

"Such language," James tisked shoving Rumple roughly into the ground and once more pulling out his wand. Once in hand James pointed the wand right between the prone boy's eyes. "I should clean out that filthy mouth of yours,” he added with a nasty smile. “Scourgify."

Harsh soapy water filled Rumpelstiltskin's mouth choking him. Doubled over and desperately gasping for air, the young man felt the sharp sting of humiliation as James stood above him laughing with the others.

A flash of light following a shout of Incarcerous and Rumpelstiltskin felt his arms bind to his sides while his ankles locked together. If a thick bubbly froth hadn’t been cutting off his airway, he knew his fear would have been on display for all to see. This wasn't going to end well.

Spluttering and struggling against invisible bonds, he barely heard Jones voice as the other boy spoke. "I’m glad you decided to stop by Crocodile. I wanted to give you a Christmas present before leaving for Holiday."

Jones's present ended up being a string of stinging jinxes that left Rumpelstiltskin doubled over as best he could while his tormentors continued laughing. Finally, as the cleaning charm wore off, Rumpelstiltskin was able to take a pained breath from his huddled position against the wall. At least until a swift kick to his stomach left him gasping once more. "Bastard," he mumbled from the haze of agony. That got him another kick to the ribs, but at least this time he'd earned the hit.

However, he was quite certain that he hadn't earned the next handful of kicks from James and Thomas. As the blows rained down Rumpelstiltskin wasn't certain whether or not he regretted playing the hero.

 

***

 

Chatting away with Emma Swan (a Gryffindor friend of Mary Margaret Blanchard’s) Belle walked into the Great Hall. Her eyes swept across the vast room in search of Rumpelstiltskin. When he was nowhere to be found, a sharp sense of dread filled her stomach, he should have beaten her here. Just as she decided she was being silly, a young man rushing into the hall collided with her back, knocking them both to the floor.

“I’m so sorry,” the dazed young man spluttered as he found his feet and helped pull Belle to hers.

The young man had messy black hair and warm dark eye that were currently a little crazed. Fear permeated his round face. As he helped her to her feet, Belle realized that he was a short little thing. He couldn’t be very old, or at least no older than her.

Emma was the first to recover from the incident. “You want to watch where you’re going next time?”

“Sorry, I’m in a rush and looking for…” It seemed as if the young man finally realized who he was talking to. His eyes went big as they found Belle’s. “You actually,” he said suddenly. “You’ll do.”

“Me?” Belle asked. Confused as to how this boy knew her.

“Yeah, you’re Belle French.”

It wasn’t a question, but she answered him anyway. “The one and only.”

“Good, we have to go right now.” He grabbed her hand as he spoke and pulled her through the double doors back into the Entrance Hall.

Belle pumped the breaks with haste. “I’m not going anywhere with you until you do some explaining,” she informed him pointedly as she tore her hand from his grip.

“There’s no time,” he shouted, his hands running through his hair with frustration. “It’s Rumpelstiltskin, he’s in trouble.”

The young man didn’t have to say another word. Belle pushed him into action, “what kind of trouble and where?”

“By the old potions room, there’s a whole group of them,” the stranger answered quickly. “Down the hallway and take three rights. You won’t miss them.”

“You’re not coming?” Belle asked suddenly wary.

The dark-haired youth shook his head frantically, “I’m going to get more help. Hurry, okay,” the boy added before sprinting back into the Great Hall.

Never one to hesitate, Belle took off in the direction he’d pointed her without haste. To her surprise, Emma joined in right beside her as they raced down the hallways into the dungeons. The maddening sound of laughter reached them first. Laughter followed by quite a lot of swearing.

Turning one final corner, they came across three Slytherins from her year along with Gaston and his friend Thomas. In the air in front of them, Rumpelstiltskin was dangling by his foot. His robes hung around his shoulders exposing scrawny white legs and a greying pair of boxer shorts. What she could see of his face was red with humiliation and anger. At the moment it was hard to decide which emotion was winning out.

“Put him down,” a voice to her left shouted. Once again it was Emma who came on balance first. The young woman may be brash and stubborn, but Belle was finding that she was rather handy in a pinch.

“Swan,” Killian Jones exclaimed as a goofy smile split his face. “Come to join the festivities?”

“Stop being an ass Killian,” Emma responded angrily. “Let him go.”

 “Come on Swan,” the smarmy young man asserted as he sauntered forward, “you’re not going to spoil a bit of fun, are you?”

Slipping her wand out of her pocket, Belle took matters into her own hands. A quick nonverbal counter spell sent Rumpelstiltskin crashing to the ground harder than she would have liked. But at least he wasn’t at their mercy any longer. Another flick of her wand brought her friends wand to her hand.

“Belle,” Gaston began.

He never got the opportunity to finish his thought. “Can it Gaston. If I were you I’d leave now before Professor Flitwick gets down here. Wouldn’t want your father to know you got detention again this close to break, now would you?”

He shot her a seething glare in return but he and Thomas both fled immediately. Now only outnumbered by one, Belle felt increasingly better about their odds.

“It’s bad form to lie to a bloke’s mates,” Jones informed lightly, though Belle didn’t miss the flash of anger in his eyes nor did she miss the note of steel in his voice.

“It’s bad form to attack someone five to one,” Emma spat back.

A young woman with dark brown hair and a deathly blue gaze jumped forward to defend Jones. “Like he hasn’t done that before to some unsuspecting muggle?” She accused tilting her head towards Rumple’s slumped form. “That’s what you’re protecting girl. Sure, you’re on the right side?”

 For the first time Emma seemed to recognize the boy who she’d jumped to rescue. The Gryffindor didn’t bat an eye. “Yeah, I’m right where I should be.”

Neither of the girls dropped their wands as the sound of hurried footsteps reached them. Glancing from the corner of her eye, Belle noticed the terrified boy from earlier had reappeared with what he apparently constituted as aid. Help turned out to be a sixth year Ravenclaw, Belle had seen several times. Though Belle had yet to make her acquaintance, she knew that the blonde girl was friendly with Rumpelstiltskin.

The mysterious Ravenclaw swore instantly as she approached the scene. “Killian Jones, you pig-headed prat. What in the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?”

For the first time in her memory, Jones appeared at a loss for words. “Alice… I, I… well.”

“Save your lies,” the girl interjected shutting Jones down.

For a moment, Belle almost felt sorry for the Slytherin. He looked upset and at a loss and so much like the young boy he was. But a soft groan from her best friend instantly tossed aside any lingering sympathy for Jones. Belle rushed to Rumpelstiltskin’s side, content that the others could handle the remaining Slytherins. Grabbing his hand and placing the other on his shoulder she began looking over her friend.

“Rumple,” she said softly giving the boy a shake. “Hey, Rumple. Can you hear me?”

He merely grunted in reply, eyes shut tight, but she felt a slight squeeze of her hand which gave her some encouragement. Behind her, Alice and Emma were tearing into the three Slytherins. Neal stood behind the two women, watching them make verbal mincemeat of the bullies with a smug look on his face.  

“Belle,” a whisper from Rumpelstiltskin pulled her back to her friend.

“Well hey there.”

“What are you…” he started groggily as he tried to sit up.

Carefully helping him, Belle did her best to throw on a cheeky smile. “Well when you didn’t meet me for lunch, I figured you’d either stood me up or found some form of trouble. Since I doubt you’d ever so be so rude as to ditch me, it stood to reason that your proclivity for trouble had gotten you into another mess.”

A quick flash of warm brown eyes appeared from between the curtains of too long hair. “Do you have my wand?”

Belle nodded and handed the object over to him. A sudden flash and bang interrupted their quiet conversation.

Emma was sprawled out on the floor, cursing the female Slytherin. Before anyone else had a chance to react, Rumpelstiltskin’s wand arm flew up and a jet of red light hit Jones square in the chest knocking him back into the wall.

“You little-” James hissed as he lifted his own wand, but he never finished his sentence.

Neal, wand aimed at the Nolan twin, beat him to the punch. “Petrificus Totalus,” he shouted.

James went limp and crashed to the floor even as Milah and Jones leapt into action. Belle pulled Rumpelstiltskin close to her, ripping his wand from his hand. He’d had enough excitement for one day.  Alice proved to be exceptionally proficient in hexes and jinxes, while Emma proved to able to hold her own. In the end Jones resembled something that belonged in a swamp and Milah held tight to a bloodied nose – courtesy of Emma’s fist.   

Leaving the Slytherins to their fate, Alice walked calmly over to Belle and Rumple. “Up you get,” she intoned calmly, helping Belle pull Rumple to his feet. The older girl grabbed his cane, while Belle slipped his arm around her neck. Leaning heavily against her, Rumpelstiltskin seemed determined to walk back to the common room.

“Get him back to the Common Room,” Alice instructed giving Belle a hard look. “If you follow this hall and take the last door on the left, there’s a secret passage that’ll dump you out on the fifth floor.” Turning her attention to Rumpelstiltskin, the strange girl’s voice took on a gentler tone. “You’re a mess Rumple. Let her clean you up and then you stay in bed for the evening okay. I’ll take care of these three.”

Blood caked to his face from a large scratch over his eye and looking as if he would fall from his feet any moment, Rumpelstiltskin nodded slowly. “Thank you,” he mumbled.

 

***

 

Throwing a withering glance at the three Slytherins, Alice led Neal and Emma out of the labyrinth of the dungeons. The three companions walked in silence until they reached the Entrance Hall. “You two head out,” Alice instructed. “I’m going to find someone to deal with our unfortunate friends.”

With that, she turned on her heel and left the two third years standing together awkwardly. Neal couldn’t help but feel like he’d bonded with this Gryffindor over the past few minutes. You didn’t usually take on three prats without forming a connection with those who fought beside you.

Unsure of what to say, but certain that he needed to say something, Neal did what he did best. Throwing on a smile he presented his best impression of a normal teenage boy. “You're Emma Swan, right?”

Emma shot him a look that clearly said she didn’t have time for him, but she answered anyway. “I'm sorry, I have no idea who you are.”

“Neal Cassidy,” the boy introduced himself with a tilt of his head. “Hufflepuff... we have Herbology together,” he added noticing that she had no idea who he was.

Recognition flited across her features. “So how did a third year Hufflepuff get Rumplestiltskin to stick his neck out for him?” Emma asked, leading the way to the Great Hall.

Neal shrugged lazily, “He's my cousin. He’s pretty much been doing that my whole life. Ready to run yet?” He flashed her a roughish grin which she, surprisingly, returned.

“Not quite. You're awfully chipper for a guy who just had his ass handed to him,” Emma pointed out as the two stopped in the doorway of the Great Hall.

“Maybe I like the danger,” Neal quipped.

“I don't need to know about your weird fetishes, it was just a comment,” Emma responded rolling her eyes. But there was a playfulness about her that encouraged Neal to no end.

“Emma Swan would you have lunch with me?”

For a moment she hesitated. She didn't know this boy and he was obviously not averse to making trouble. Then Neal gave her a cocky grin and she found herself saying yes. The smile that split his face, revealing just how nervous he'd been, made Emma think that she might have made the right decision this time.

 

***

 

Striding purposefully down the long tables of the Great Hall, Alice found who she was looking for with little trouble. The well-muscled and roguishly handsome figure of the sixth year Slytherin prefect was an easy one to pick out.

“Oy, Arthur,” she shouted from right behind the boy, causing him to startle violently.

“Alice,” he breathed as he turned and found her beside him. “What the devil are you doing?”

Dropping down to the seat next to him, Alice made herself comfortable. “I just wanted to let you know that I left a few members of your house lying across a hallway down in the dungeons.”

As she expected, Arthur swore loudly before apologizing for doing so in her presence. “Alice we’ve talked about this,” the older boy whined. “You can’t just hex them into oblivion because they’re picking on someone you actually like.”

“There were five of them against just him. Only three were Slytherin, but that Gryffindor tosser won’t listen to me. So, here I am. Letting you know that the only three who actually stayed to fight were the ones from your house.”

“So much for being brave and chivalrous,” Arthur snorted into his pumpkin juice. “I’ll take care of them. Thank you for coming to me first Alice.”

Shooting him a flirtatious wink, she stood to go. “Actually, handle them this time and I’ll let Gwen now what a real catch you are.”

Alice walked away before he could respond, but she didn’t miss the blush that crept into his cheeks nor the hope that spilled across his face. Now that everything else was handled, she had a fourth year Ravenclaw to confront.   

 

***

 

As Alice and the others disappeared behind them, Belle led Rumpelstiltskin down the corridor to the door Alice insisted would get them away from the dungeons.

"We need to get you to Madam Pomfrey," Belle insisted gently.

"No." Rumpelstiltskin’s response was far harsher than he’d expected. He cast his eyes down, unable to look at her after that.  

Yet Belle persisted as if he hadn’t just yelled at her. "Yes, Rumple. It's a safe bet that you have a few bruised or broken ribs. You need to see her-"

"Belle no." Seeing he wasn't winning he begged, "Belle please. I don't want to go to the hospital wing."

By the time they'd taken the secret passage that led them to the 5th floor, it seemed that Belle could stand it no longer. Facing him as best she could under the circumstances, Belle began her now usual rant.

"This is wrong Rumple. You have to go to a professor. We'll fix you up and then you go."

Generally, he loved her stubborn nature. It was frustrating and endearing all at once. But today, it only tired him further. "It won't do any good."

"You can't know that until you've tried," she insisted.

"Belle, I have,” Rumpelstiltskin admitted. “Flitwick and McGonagall both know. They can't watch over me 24/7."

"Then we tell them about this time!"

"And let Jones and everyone else know I'm a rat as well as a 'supremacist?' No thank you. They'll take the Mickey out of me for certain then." Attempting to lean on her a little less, Rumpelstiltskin picked up their slow pace as they reached the sixth floor.

"As opposed to now?" Belle fired back at him. "They’re going to continue either way. What’s the difference?” he didn’t have an answer for that, and Belle clearly took that as a win. “What about the headmistress, surely she can help. She-"

"Belle," he said with a shake of his head. "She won't help me."

"She will."

Belle’s certainty that everyone was basically good was refreshing at times and terrifyingly naïve at others. The world wasn’t always black and white like she wanted it to be. Sometimes, people just sucked.

"No. She won't," Rumpelstiltskin supplied in a voice barely more than a whisper. A long moment of silence as they limped up the stairs to their tower promised Belle would be asking for this story. Knowing her as he did, Rumple didn't disappoint. "Her entire family, husband and two kids, died during the Second Wizarding War. Tortured for information and then killed... by my father. She won't help me."

"But you're not your father."

"I'm the closest thing."

Silence pervaded as they found themselves at the door to the Ravenclaw common room. Answering the riddle and stepping through the portal, the two found a basically empty common room.  

"It's not right," Belle broke out again once they made it to the stairs. "You don't believe any of the crap your father stands for. Do you?"

Her last question had been tacked on to the end as if she wasn’t certain she wanted to ask it. If there had been any form of condemnation or worry in that question, Rumpelstiltskin knew that he’d have shut down with her then and there. But she was just checking. Making certain that her trust hadn’t been misplaced.  "Course not," he answered.

Rumpelstiltskin hated just how much he was depending on her strength by the time they reached his dormitory. But Belle acted as if he was no hinderance at all. Instead, she focused on her continued questions.

"Then why target you. Why blame you for his crimes," she asked, completely unaware of why people could be so cruel.

"It's easy. They can't get him, so they take it out on me. Most of the kids here just need a target and I'm convenient. No one is going to stop them, no one in their right mind would help me," he flashed her a humorless smile at that comment. "In the end most of them really don't care. They just know it's right to hate me and it's better for everyone if they think I'm the monster." He hadn’t meant to sound so bitter there at the end, but he couldn’t help it. He was in a great deal of pain and Belle’s soothing nature brought such emotions out of him.

Sitting him down on his bed she faced his resignation head on. "You're not a monster."

"You've not known me for very long.”

"I've known you long enough. You don't deserve this. It's wrong, Rumpelstiltskin."

He didn't reply. She didn’t understand, and he was loathe to help her in this case. Rumpelstiltskin knew he deserved so much worse than what his tormentors here at Hogwarts did to him, but he treasured that Belle believed he didn’t. She would understand eventually, but, for now, he’d live happily knowing she didn’t.

"Pull down your robes so I can take a look at your chest," she ordered, pulling him from his dark thoughts.

He gaped at her at her boldness, but his eyes quickly fell to his hands. "I can take care of myself," he insisted, terrified at what would happen should she see him.

"Don't be ridiculous, I know a good healing spell. Let me take a look."

"I know it as well and I'm rather adept at such spells, so leave," he tried in a snarky tone. Hoping to goad her to anger. At least then she wouldn’t see-

"Rumpelstiltskin Gold, when a woman tells you to pull down your robes, so she can help you. You do so. Now let me take care of you." It was her steady blue gaze that finally did him in. Her eye held none of the hatred or disgust he was so accustomed to. Instead he was faced with something far more terrifying. She cared about him.

---

Belle recognized the change in his features that signaled she’d won. Shyly, Rumpelstiltskin pulled his robes down over his shoulders until his back and chest were exposed. Both were a patchwork of purples, blacks, and yellows, exposing the fact that this obviously wasn't his first beating of the year. Yet for the life of her Belle couldn't remember him being or even acting hurt.

Focusing her energy on taking care of her friend, Belle moved her wand from one spot to the next as she slowly knit bones and skin back together. As the bruises healed, Belle noticed long scars marring the exposed skin. The sight stirred a faint memory of seeing these, to a lesser degree before. The marks covered his shoulders and back but also marred his chest and abdomen. She noticed that not even his arms had been spared. Some of the scars were small thin things while others were large and had obviously been painful.

Swallowing the lump in her throat, Belle looked up into her friend’s face. Rumple's lips formed a tight line as his eyes fell shut as she asked the question that she wasn’t sure she wanted an answer to. "Where did these come from?"

No reply crossed his lips. Rumpelstiltskin sat still as a statue, unwilling to even look at her.

"These aren't from other students, are they?"

Shaking his lowered head Rumple's shoulders slumped as he shrunk in on himself.

 

***

 

Belle ambled slowly down the stairs back into the common room. After cleaning him up, she’d stayed with Rumpelstiltskin until he’d fallen into a much needed sleep. Her friend had continued, shaking with fear or anger she wasn’t certain, for an hour after they’d returned. Today’s round with his tormentors and Belle’s prying questions had left him spent.

Walking into the mostly empty common room, Belle found the young Ravenclaw girl who’d helped them sitting in a chair next to the fire, facing the stairs.

“So, you’re this Belle I’ve heard so much about then.” The girl (Alice?) called as Belle walked over to join her.

Once again it hadn’t been a question. “I am. I’m sorry, I don’t really know who you are.”

 I’m Alice,” the girl said sticking out a hand. “But my friends call me Tilly.”

“Tilly?” Belle asked as she grasped Alice’s hand.

“Yeah, I don’t know where it came from either,” she answered with a shrug. “But it’s stuck.”

“How do you know Rumple?”

“Straight to it all then, I rather like you.” A mischievous glint took hold of the other girl’s eyes. “I’ve known him all his life.” Tilly smiled at the confusion on Belle’s face before continuing. “He’s my cousin. That pathetic sod you met earlier, is my brother Neal.”

Understanding hit Belle like a freight train. “That’s why Neal helped him.”

“More likely the other way around. Not sure if you’re aware, but Rumple’s a bloody idiot. He’s always looked after Neal, but he doesn’t have the self-preservation habits to know the difference between looking after and changing someone’s target. Bloody idiot like I said.”

Belle had learned so much about her mysterious friend in the last few hours. To the point where she wasn’t certain that she’d ever really known him at all. But removing this layer from the thick skin that Rumpelstiltskin buried himself beneath was an accomplishment like none she’d ever known. However, she needed to know more, if possible. Maybe Tilly could help her with that.

“You’re his family then?” Belle began hoping that she’d masked her blatant curiosity well enough.

Tilly nodded. “Yeah, he’s stayed with us quite a bit in the past few years. Ever since his father outed himself as the gigantic ass everyone always knew he was. Not that my own is much better,” she admitted in the end.

“Rumple’s father-”

“Let me stop you right there, bookworm,” Tilly interrupted suddenly guarded and fierce. “Rumpelstiltskin is a lot of things, but he’s not his father. That man is a blight on the wart that is humanity and he left everyone else to deal with the fallout of his decisions.”

“I, I know. I’ve gathered that much actually myself,” Belle replied, appalled that the girl would berate her for no reason. “My question isn’t about politics anyway.”

Belle’s indignation seemed to cool Tilly’s momentary anger. “Oh, well why didn’t you start with that.”

The beauty managed to catch herself before her eyes rolled. This girl was infuriating, but Belle’s next question was sensitive. “Did… does…” she stammered unable to find the words to properly ask her questions. Taking a deep breath, she squared her shoulders and tried again. “When I was helping Rumple upstairs, and before that really, I noticed… well I’ve noticed, that he has some… scars. And I was wondering if you knew how he got those?”

Tilly’s face quickly fell into a blank mask, answering Belle’s question without a word. “You should ask him about those, not me.”

“I did. And he shut down. He’ll tell me eventually, I’m sure. But…”

“But you need to know now.”

“I just want to help him. I can’t do that without all the information.”

Fixing Belle with a long calculating stare, Tilly made up her mind about the fourth year. “Malcolm is the worst sort of bastard. He was bad before Fiona died, but her death sent him over the edge. He blames Rumple for her death. Takes it out on him and calls it love.”

Belle’s mouth fell into a silent “oh” as her worst fears were confirmed. “But he isn’t with his father now, right?” She inquired, hoping for a spot of good news.

Tilly neither denied nor confirmed her question. “Rumple stays with us a lot. Not that that is a much better situation, but his father comes for him from time to time. Takes him for a month or so every summer, to wherever it is he’s hiding out. Neal and I tried to stop him one time, but I think we might have made it worse.”

“Why does he come back. If he hates Rumple that much…”

Tilly shrugged, “Old Malcolm is funny about family. He may despise his own kid, but that kid is his. It’s sick and it’s twisted Belle. But Rumple always goes, and he rarely says a bad thing about his father. Doesn’t usually take it well when others speak ill of the man.”

“Sick and twisted,” Belle agreed quietly.

Tilly cleared her throat and a crazed smile lit her face. “Now, though. Now comes the part where I tell you that if you hurt him, you get to deal with me. And when I’m through with you, it’ll make what I did to Jones look like child’s play.”

A darkness that seemed both fitting and unreal filled Tilly’s bright eyes as she threatened the girl she just met. Belle didn’t know if it was a bluff or if the girl was dead serious, but she took Tilly’s threat at face value. This wasn’t someone she wanted to cross.

“I won’t hurt him. Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“That’s good. Cause I rather like you Belle.”  

Chapter Text

Generally speaking, this wasn’t the type of thing Rumpelstiltskin usually allowed himself to get involved in. Truthfully, he loved Christmas and everything that went along with the holiday. However, he typically stayed away from any social obligations the holiday brought forth. Aside from the annual Christmas feast at the castle, the solitary young man tried to keep to himself as much as possible during the respite from the normal hustle and bustle of the castle.

All of that changed since he met Belle.

Which is how Rumpelstiltskin found himself sitting in the Ravenclaw common room late Christmas Eve night. The worst part of it being the six other people sitting around the fire along with him and his best friend. Belle had been the brains behind calling this little gathering, even going so far as to get students from other houses permission to spend Christmas Eve in the Ravenclaw tower. The bright-eyed bookworm was a persuasive little vixen when the mood struck her.

“So now that Rumpelstiltskin has graced us with his presence, can we get on with it?” Jefferson asked obnoxiously from his position leaning against Victor’s armchair closest to the fire.

Sticking her tongue out at the anxious offender, Belle answered with all the grace she could muster. “Pipe down, Jeff. It’s not like you’ve got some pressing matter to attend.”

Providing his friend with a hardy nudge, Victor threw in his own two cents. “Yeah, no one in their right mind would choose to spend Christmas with a git like you.”

“And yet here you are,” Jefferson countered.

“I said right mind.”

“It’s okay boys, you’re both pretty,” Regina (who’d decided against going home to her mother for Christmas) interjected with a snarky smirk. “Now listen to the bookworm.”

Belle provided Regina with a warm smile as the former slid into the seat next to Rumpelstiltskin. With a large bowl of popcorn in her lap and several spools of thread at her feet, Belle welcomed everyone. “I figured that since none of us can spend time with our families, we could spend tonight together.”

The circle of people surrounding them contained no one that Rumpelstiltskin would ever have personally chosen to spend such a significant night with. In fact, he’d really hoped for a night alone with Belle, but this was what she wanted. And he was finding that he couldn’t really deny her anything.

Belle continued speaking, pulling Rumple from his thoughts. “Anyway, I thought it might be fun to participate in a little Christmas tradition.”

Rumpelstiltskin couldn’t help the quiet swear that passed from his lips making all faces turn to him. Cheeks burning slightly, he placed his comment firmly before the group. “Please tell me this isn’t another silly American tradition like the one you forced us to suffer through last month.”

Smirks from Tilly, Emma, and Neal helped the timid young man realize that he wasn’t alone in that particular fear. Belle’s pout though almost undid his mock ire.

“You loved Thanksgiving,” Belle reminded him and the others. “You ate more food then, than I’ve ever seen you eat before. And no this isn’t like that. Loads of people do this all over the world… Not just in America at least.” The last was said with a sheepish grin that brought a snort from even Regina.

“So, you just pull the string through the popcorn?” Neal asked picking up a spool of the thread.

Belle nodded enthusiastically, “Yes, almost just like needlework.”

“I’ve never been taken with needlework,” Regina’s Slytherin friend Mal piped in for the first time.

“It’s easy as-” Belle started but was cut off by an excited Jefferson.

“Oh, come now Mal,” the infuriatingly handsome fourth year crooned. “It’s not that difficult. With a little cunning I’m sure you can handle it.”

“With a little wit, I’m sure you could actually handle being useful for once. Unfortunately, we are what we are,” Mal snipped back.

With a feigned hurt cascading across his features Jefferson started to launch into one of his, certainly interesting, diatribes about the values of his own intelligence. Luckily for those gathered, Victor wasn’t having it. “For once in your life Jeff, shut up and listen to someone else talk.”

“But I so enjoy hearing a sane person speak,” the other pouted.

“Then it’s a good thing Belle is talking.”

Taking that as her cue, the bookworm jumped back in. “Anyway, what I was saying is that it’s a simple matter really. You just thread the needle through a soft spot in the kernel and then pull. We can put needles on both ends of the string and everyone can work with a partner.”

“Then what do we do with them?” a thoroughly interested Emma asked.

Shocking even himself it was Rumpelstiltskin who answered the girl. “We’ll put it on the tree.”

“Question,” Jefferson called with his hand in the air.

Belle barely contained her eyeroll as she looked over at him. “Yes?”

“Are we allowed to eat the popcorn?”

Rumpelstiltskin chuckled at the surprise that momentarily cut Jefferson off as he the whole group responded, “NO!”

As everyone got to work on their strands of popcorn, Belle grabbed a wireless radio and found a Christmas station. Settling back in next to Rumpelstiltskin she placed a hand on his knee. Leaning in the beauty lowered her voice until only he could hear her. “Thank you for doing this Rumple. It means a lot and I know it’s not easy for you.”

Hands well practiced with a needle and thread stuttered at the intimate contact and kind words. Looking up he found himself lost in the deep blue seas of Belle’s eyes. “If it makes you happy, I’m happy.”

“You’re sweet. Don’t forget that.”

Tucking her knees up under her, Belle snuggled in close to him as she grabbed the other end of their popcorn string. Surrounded by the chaos of Jefferson, Tilly, and Neal chucking popcorn at one another, Regina and Mal sneaking a piece to eat every other kernel, and Emma and Victor’s studious work Rumpelstiltskin felt something odd settle in his chest. With Belle pressed against him solid, warm, and constant that feeling began to grow.

For just a moment, Rumpelstiltskin allowed himself to relax around these people. Within the safety of his Hogwarts common room malicious wizards, bastard fathers, troublesome bullies, and the worries of the world seemed far away. For once in his life, he felt safe and wanted. Next to Belle Rumpelstiltskin felt like he was home.    

Chapter Text

David Nolan couldn’t believe his luck as he practically skipped to the library. He’d gained an invite to a study group tonight. More importantly, he’d gained an invite to a study group from Mary Margaret Blanchard. Having been hopelessly in love with her since their first year together, David saw this as quite an accomplishment.

His nerves were on fire, but his heart felt lighter than it had in years. Nearing the library, the charming boy took a deep calming breath. This was his chance, his big moment. He couldn’t screw this up. As David rounded the book stacks to the table Mary Margaret spoke of, he could hear low voices rebelliously whispering in the all too quiet area.

“Really he’s not as bad as you think,” a light accented voice was saying.

The response came from a voice that he immediately identified as his long time crush. “I wish I could believe you, but I’ve known him a bit longer than you.”

“But obviously not as well,” was the waspish reply.

David couldn’t make out the next few exchanges. Breath caught in his chest, the Gryffindor’s anxious mind assumed they could only be speaking of him. Who was speaking to Mary Margaret? He didn’t really recognize the voice, so they couldn’t be talking about him, right? Was Mary Margaret not interested in him after all? Had pity been the reason she invited him today?

Despite his nerves, David knew that he had to face her if he ever wanted an answer to his questions. Like a proper representative of Godric Gryffindor’s house, the young man pushed his anxiety down and did the brave thing.

“Hey guys,” he said quietly as he stepped out from behind the bookcase.

To his great relief, Mary Margaret’s face instantly broke out in a warm smile. “Hey David! Glad you could come.”

His attention focused on the lovely way Mary Margaret’s yellow blouse accented her dark hair and green eyes, David didn’t notice any of the other table occupants until he settled in beside his adorable housemate. Which meant that when David finally decided to take notice of his surroundings the gigantic grin slipped from his face. He’d sat directly across from one Belle French. This isn’t going to end well, he thought as he tried to school his features into something friendly. The unfamiliar voice from earlier and the mystery of their subject solved, David did his best to not make a complete ass out of himself.

Directing his attention elsewhere, David noted that both Emma and Ruby had decided to join the little study party along with Regina Mills and her constant companion Mal. All the girls at the table shot him smiles ranging from welcoming to downright seductive. All except one. Belle’s steady glare never wavered as he pulled out his Charms book and assignment.

Luckily Ruby saved him as she leaned across Mary Margaret with a humorous glint in her eye. “So, David,” she whispered theatrically. “Mary keeps trying to drag me to the Quidditch match tomorrow and since I keep refusing, she’s in desperate need of a friend. Do you happen to know anyone who’s going?”

Blood rushed quickly to David’s cheeks as he glanced helplessly between the other occupants of the table, hoping someone would save him. When no one spoke up, he felt the blush deepen.

“I, I mean… I’m, I’m, or at least I was, I was planning… what I mean is,” he stammered, voice cracking over the words.

Emma broke first as the girls began shamelessly giggling at him. David could feel his ears turning an, if possible, even deeper shade of red.

“Oh dear,” Mal called from the other end of the small table. “I do believe we’ve broken him.”

“Leave him alone,” Mary Margaret ordered finally.

Seeing that her face was just as red as his, gave David the courage to finish his offer. “I’m going to the match tomorrow. If you want someone to go with, I don’t mind going with you.”

The embarrassed but pleased smile that split Mary Margaret’s face sent butterflies aflutter in his stomach. “I’d like that,” she answered quietly.

From the triumphant looks on Emma and Ruby’s faces it seemed that a few others were as excited about this accomplishment as him. Even Regina shot him a grin of smug satisfaction.

“Are we actually going to study tonight?” inquired the only sour face at the table. Belle’s glare seemed to have darkened even further as she leveled her eyes at him. “Because if not, I do have other things to do.”

“Calm down bookworm,” Regina instructed. “Let them have their fun so Ruby and Emma can stop obsessing over playing matchmaker.”

Ruby shrugged and shot that mischievous gaze Regina’s way. “Yes, I’d hate to have to set you up with a decent fellow like Robin Locksley.”

If looks could kill, Ruby would most certainly have been a puddle on the floor from the scowl Regina shot her way. Having been friends with Robin for years now, David couldn’t help but snicker at the insinuation. Robin had been making eyes at Regina since Christmas and obviously those feelings were mutual. I’ll have to nudge Robin into making a move soon, David thought.

As the group turned to their books, silence dominated the table. Occasionally, someone would bring up a point or question that involved group discussion, but overall David had to admit that it was a peaceful way to get homework out of the way. The young man found himself enjoying the banter between friends and the, sometimes silly, conversations that seemed to occur around all females of a certain age. It was refreshing. And spending time with Mary Margaret certainly had its benefits as well. Much to David’s enjoyment, he’d even managed to make her laugh a few times.

There was only one problem the whole night. Belle French. When she wasn’t steadfastly ignoring his comments, questions, or just him in general, she shot him dirty looks full of disdain. Knowing that he’d earned those looks, David did his best to make the best out of a horrible situation.

As the girls began to pack away their things, he found himself torn. He’d made plans to spend most of tomorrow with Mary Margaret, but he wanted more than anything to walk her back to the common room tonight. However, if he held back he could catch Belle and attempt to make some headway with that relationship. If he wanted to date Mary Margaret, he had to have the approval of her friends and Belle was one of those.

As Belle slung her bag over her shoulder and departed alone, David made his decision. “I’ll catch you guys later,” he called to the remaining girls (shooting a parting smile at Mary Margaret) before darting out after the Ravenclaw.

A flash of clothing at the end of the corridor had David racing to catch his intended goal. Reaching the cross section of the corridor he fell into step just behind the bookworm.

“Belle,” he called breathlessly.

The girl stopped walking and turned curiously, giving him to time to catch up. Seeing that it was the object of her ire, Belle’s face dropped back into the glower she’d worn all night. “David.”

“Look,” David began earnestly, “I-”

An irate Belle didn’t let him finish. “You what? Do you really think there’s anything for you to say to me right now?”

“I just-”

“You’re the worst sort you know,” she chided, picking up venom as she spoke. “You know that something is wrong, and you don’t do anything to stop it. Instead you egg it on, or watch from the sidelines, or pretend that nothing is even happening. So, don’t start with me David Nolan. Because I don’t want to hear anything you have to say.”

David felt his stomach hit the floor as Belle scolded him in righteous anger. The beautiful young woman who was kind to everyone she met, couldn’t stand him. The worst part was that he didn’t have any defense for himself. Correct as ever, Belle lay his sins out in front of him without hesitation.

Swallowing his pride, David answered her accusations with the only words he could think up. “You’re right.”

“And anoth- …” Belle paused as confusion swept away her fury. “What?”

“I said, you’re right,” the Gryffindor repeated. Shock overran any other emotion Belle might have displayed in that moment. Taking advantage of that, David plowed ahead. “I’m the worst sort of person. I, I’ve known that James and Killian and all of them were out of line for years now. But I’ve never done anything about it. Stopping them from going too far a few times doesn’t wipe out the times that I just walked away or pretended it wasn’t wrong.”

Guilt that had been building within him for years spilled out at the feet of an angry woman. David might have come to Belle to beg for forgiveness just so he could date her friend, but now he found himself begging her forgiveness because he knew he needed to take a stand. He’d put of facing these truths for far too long because it terrified him. But for Mary Margaret, he could brave anything.

“I’m sorry,” he continued his voice gruff with emotion. “I know that doesn’t erase anything, but I truly am. If I could go back and make different decisions I would, but…”

Realizing that words had failed him, Belle’s gaze softened minutely. “You shouldn’t apologize to me.”

“I know.”

“Why then?”

David sighed. “I’m not sure you would understand.”

“Try me.”

Glancing up and down the deserted corridor, David leaned heavily against the wall and looked down at the books clutched in his hands. Gathering himself, he admitted a truth he hoped would never become common knowledge. “My father was a Death Eater. He was never very prominent within that circle, but he held enough sway to be sent to Azkaban after the war. I haven’t seen him in years. Mum refuses to have anything to do with him.”

A soft gasp had escaped Belle, but other than that the girl was completely silent as she waited for David to continue his tale.

“I guess…” the Gryffindor swallowed a hard lump in his throat. “James and I, we’ve looked out for each other since then. We he was sorted into Slytherin and started hanging around Killian I knew it could end badly. But he’s my brother. His friends are my friends and vice versa.”

A silence snuck between them as David tried to put his reasoning into words. But it seemed that Belle’s resolve finally broke. “That doesn’t give you the right to torment someone for four years David.” The fire was back in the bookworm’s voice.

“You don’t understand,” he pleaded. “My father’s reputation followed James and I. No one wants to be friends with a Death Eater’s kids. Especially not here. We had to find a way around that. Especially with me being a Gryffindor. Gold stands for everything that was wrong with the Dark Lord’s ideology. He and his father are the worst kind of wizard Belle. Taking a stand against that showed everyone where our true loyalties are.”

“But Rumpelstiltskin is not his father!”

“He holds the same beliefs.”

“How do you know that?” Belle questioned practically yelling now. “Have you ever actually asked him what he believes?”

“I didn’t have to. Everyone knows he hurt that muggle kid during the summer before our second year. He picks on students who are muggleborn as well.”

This news obviously startled his companion. “What muggle kid? And which muggleborn students?”

Realizing that she obviously didn’t know as much about the person she was defending, David took a gentler tone. “Ask him about the first. And as for the muggleborns, Eric and Phillip are prime examples.”

Belle scoffed his final statement but turned the conversation. “That still doesn’t give you the right to pick on someone four to one.”

“I know,” David admitted. “I know and that’s why I’ve tried to hold them back. But it isn’t easy when you know that the kid they’re picking on deserves it.”

The young woman’s eyes flashed dangerously. Feeling a surge of fear David took a step back as she leaned towards him. “You listen to me David Nolan,” she spat, “he doesn’t deserve half of the shit that’s happened to him. Especially not being tormented by pricks like you and your buddies who are looking to make themselves feel better by beating up an easy target. You just told me about how you’re trying to get away from your own father’s actions and then have the audacity to tell me that Rumpelstiltskin deserves everyone’s hatred because of his father?”

She had him pinned to the wall with one finger digging into his chest. David felt his chest constrict as Belle leveled him with truths he’d been ignoring for far too long. And she wasn’t finished yet.

“If you want to know what he believes or thinks, then talk to him like an actual human being. Do you really think I’d hang around someone who believed all that shite? You’re using him as a scapegoat to make yourself look good. Maybe if you got your head out of your own ass, you wouldn’t feel so bad about yourself all the time.”

Having the kind girl curse at him was too much. David felt his beliefs begin to crumble around him. As she turned to stalk away, David grabbed her arm.

Belle whirled on him in indignation but stopped at the obvious tears welling up in his eyes. “I know,” David breathed. “You’re right.”

Bright blue eyes widened as the star of the Gryffindor Quidditch team broke down in front of her. “David-”

“I’m sorry,” he sniffled. “It’s wrong. I’m wrong. I don’t, don’t-”

The horrified young man felt guilt that had stayed buried for far too long begin bubbling to the surface. Belle was right, he’d known that ganging up on Gold was wrong for so many reasons. But facing those, meant he had to admit he’d been a selfish prat. It seemed that under the glower of a brown headed Ravenclaw, he was finally ready to admit that.

Some of Belle’s anger melted as she watched the young man collect himself. Collecting himself ever so slightly David took in a deep breath before continuing. “You’re right. I’m wrong, I’ve been wrong. It was all just so… easy.”

Belle stared at him with that hard look for a few more moments before her resolve finally broke. “I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that,” she admitted. “I’m sorry.”

David shrugged heavily. “I needed to hear it. Needed to deal with all of this before I try to move on in other parts of my life.”

Once again silence persisted between the two as David dried his eyes and came back on balance. Giving the bookworm a sheepish grin, he begged her not to tell anyone about his little breakdown.

The corner of her mouth twitched as she replied, “You’re not who I thought you were David.”

“Is that a good thing?”

Belle gave him the tiniest of smirks before turning to leave. “Apologize to Rumpelstiltskin. Take a stand and it might be a good thing.”

David nodded as he watched the Ravenclaw girl walk away. Heading towards his own end of the hall, he almost missed Belle’s parting words.

“By the way, Mary Margaret really likes you.”

With a much lighter step and a heady feeling in his chest, David Nolan made his way back to the Gryffindor tower.

Chapter Text

It had been an odd day. One that started normally enough when a few third years (who should have been terrified of him) had knocked Rumpelstiltskin’s books from his arms in the hallway. The strangeness began when he’d bent over to gather his things from among the mass of teeming legs and found that he wasn’t alone. Bent down and retrieving Rumpelstiltskin’s books was David Nolan. In a state of complete shock, the Ravenclaw had taken his things from David with a small nod before scurrying away.

Now here he sat in his usual corner of the arithmancy classroom with the same Gryffindor sitting right beside him. Puzzled, Rumpelstiltskin did his best to ignore David while trying to figure out what prank the Gryffindor and his buddies were trying to pull.

As professor Vector assigned problems, David leaned over and whispered. “Do you actually understand this?”

Surprise at being addressed led Rumpelstiltskin to look up at the other boy. However, surprise wasn’t enough to keep him from replying in his normal sharp voice, “of course I do.” Believing that would be the end of their brief odd moment, he turned back to his work.

“Well I have no bloody clue,” David sighed leaning back in his chair and tossing his pencil onto the table. Rumpelstiltskin ignored the boy beside him and continued working. But David was having none of that. “How did you get to that point?” He asked pointing to the problem Rumple was currently working on.

“I moved the numbers around,” Rumple snapped. Despite himself, the Ravenclaw felt bad as David’s face fell at the sharp retort. After settling himself with a deep breath, Rumpelstiltskin explained his work step by step to the other boy.

“You make it sound easy,” David acknowledged.

Rumpelstiltskin snorted. “I’ve had a lot of free time to devote to studying it.”

David grew visibly uncomfortable at that. “I guess so.”

The two spent the rest of class in an uneasy silence, broken occasionally when David had a polite question about the work. It was easily the strangest class Rumpelstiltskin had ever been a part of. He was accustomed to people giving him a cold shoulder, pretending he didn’t exist, or harassing him endlessly. He knew how to deal with that. Having someone acting downright friendly towards him, left the young man feeling awkward and unsure.

Noticing that David seemed to be taking his time collecting his things, Rumpelstiltskin hurriedly stuffed his notes and book into his bag. Stalking from the room, Rumple didn’t notice as David began shoving materials into a bag as well. To Rumpelstiltskin’s great dismay, the other boy caught up to him on the stairs down to the Great Hall.

“Hey Gold,” David huffed as they both came to a stop on the landing.

“Nolan?” Rumpelstiltskin replied warily. Casting a quick glance around him he noted that they were completely alone and not close to any secret passages that he knew of. His sense of unease grew.

“Look,” the blonde said running a hand along the back of his neck in a manner that almost looked nervous. “I… Well…” David took a deep breath and turned his gaze to Rumpelstiltskin. “I wanted to apologize.”

Rumpelstiltskin felt his mouth fall open. No amount of self-control could force him to school his expression or shut his now gaping mouth. “For what?”

“Everything really,” David responded. “I know that it doesn’t make up for all the crap we’ve done, but I’m sorry for not stopping them. And for not taking the right stand. You’re not your dad and I never should have treated you like shite for who you were born. Especially without asking what you actually believe about the whole mess.”

What the actual hell, the boy thought. Uncertain of how to progress Rumpelstiltskin merely nodded at the Gryffindor. David had obviously rehearsed these words and given them a lot of thought.

But he wasn’t finished either. “I can’t condone what you’ve done, Gold. That muggle girl from second year-”

“Was a rumor and nothing more,” Rumpelstiltskin growled as anger took over every other emotion at the reminder of that particularly vicious rumor.

It was David’s turn to look gob smacked. “What?”

“It was a rumor. I’ve never hurt anyone that didn’t hurt me first.”

“I’m sorry,” David finished lamely.

In the face of everything that had transpired today, Rumpelstiltskin couldn’t say he blamed the other boy’s lame finish to an otherwise great speech. He couldn’t understand the change that had overcome his (former?) tormentor, but he had to admit it was nice to hear someone besides Belle apologize to him.

Rumpelstiltskin was startled further as David stuck out a hand. “Truce?”

Giving the Gryffindor a long hard look, Rumple slowly grasped the outstretched hand fully expecting it to be a trick of some form. After waiting several moments for the hammer to fall, he was once again surprised when David didn’t turn on him. “Truce,” Rumpelstiltskin replied.

As the two boys parted ways, Rumpelstiltskin couldn’t help but reflect once again on just how odd his day had been. 

Chapter Text

It was turning into what could easily be called the best summer of Rumpelstiltskin’s life. While it certainly had begun like any other, the past week and a half had been marvelous. After running away from his aunt and uncle’s house, the young man found himself with a room at the Leaky Cauldron until the start of term. An occurrence that was becoming more frequent during the summers away from Hogwarts had turned into one of his smartest decisions.

Three days after booking a room, none other than Belle French had turned up at the popular inn as well. Business had once again taken her father away and she’d elected to stay at Diagon Alley until term began. The two friends had been ecstatic over their good fortune.

Barely a minute had passed where they hadn’t been stuck together like glue. Rumpelstiltskin found himself dreading September like never before. Going back to Hogwarts would have its benefits, but it would also mean that he and Belle would be forced to spend some amount of time apart.

However, he refused to allow those thoughts plague him at the moment. For now, he would soak in every moment with his favorite bookworm. Rumpelstiltskin wasn’t certain who had been watching out for him the day he’d met Belle, but he was eternally grateful. She grounded him in a way that no one else ever had. Belle made him feel as though he might actually be worth something. That he might, one day, escape from the shadow that was his father’s name.

Laughing Rumpelstiltskin pulled Belle up the stairs to his bedroom to quickly drop off their new school supplies. The two had plans to spend the rest of the day at Fortescue’s and nothing was going to stop him from enjoying every moment of Belle’s company. At least that was his plan, fate, it seemed, had other ideas. Eyes fixed on Belle’s wide grin Rumple didn’t notice the figure standing in the center of his room until he’d shut the door behind them.

“Hello there laddie,” an all too familiar voice called out.

Rumpelstiltskin felt his blood run cold as the smile fell from his face. Subtly moving Belle behind him, he looked up to face the intruder. “Malcolm,” Rumple said coldly.

Malcolm’s hair had grown a bit greyer since they'd last seen each other. However, the youthful twist of the man’s face and the malicious glint in his eyes remained. “Now, now. Is that any way to speak to your father?” The older man quipped as he took a few steps forward. Rumpelstiltskin tensed, ready to get Belle away from his father at any moment. “Thought I raised you better than that.”

It was a fine line he needed to walk in this moment. Drawing Malcolm’s ire towards himself would keep the man from asking too many questions about Belle, but he didn’t want to draw too much anger. A little irritation wouldn’t be too harmful and being polite might even earn him points for later, yet he had to keep the man’s attention on him.

Carefully Rumpelstiltskin measured each of his words. “I apologize father. I didn’t intend to seem rude.”

The flash of smugness that flitted across Malcolm’s expression brought a breath of relief to the younger man. He’d played that one right at least. “It’s been far too long since I’ve seen you laddie. You’ve grown a fair bit.”

“That does tend to happen over time,” Rumple quipped before he could stop himself. Mentally kicking himself, Rumpelstiltskin lowered his gaze to his father’s nose. He’d grown adept at faking eye contact throughout the years and knowing what might come as a result of his cheek, the boy couldnt help but look away from the intense gaze. 

The corners of Malcolm’s mouth twitched down at the snarky response. The man’s eyes flicked to the side and rested on the only other person in the room. “Now who do we have here?” he crooned. “What’s a pretty lass like you doing with a worthless thing like this boy?”

Rumpelstiltskin could feel Belle’s indignation rise on his behalf. “She’s not important,” he replied quickly, moving his foot ever so slightly to nudge Belle’s. He could only hope that his message to stay silent was received.

“Course she is,” Malcolm protested. The man walked forward until he was within a few inches of his son. “You’ve never had friends before. Yet now you’re bringing a girl up to your room. How much is he paying you sweetheart?”

Fury roiled in Rumple’s stomach and he could literally feel the anger pouring from Belle, but he kept himself calm. Anything else would invite more attention than either of them could stand.

“I’m not paying her anything. She’s borrowing a school book, that’s all.”

“What’s your name then lass,” Malcolm asked, clearly not believing a word his son said.

“Don’t tell him,” Rumpelstiltskin ordered more sharply than he’d intended. He could apologize later though.

Steel entered Malcolm’s face as he turned back to his son. “It’s impolite to bark orders at a lady Rumple. Perhaps that’s why you’ve never actually had one before. And I wasn’t speaking to you son. If I want you to talk, I’ll ask you the question.” Malcolm’s words filled the air between them with open hostility. “Do. Not. Interrupt me again,” Malcolm hissed before turning his attention back to Belle. “I’m sorry Miss, I swear I raised him better than that. Now, what might I call you?”

Panic engulfed Rumpelstiltskin. If he spoke again, he’d most certainly push his father too far. If he didn’t though… His mouth made the decision for him. “You don’t have to tell him anything.”

A strong hand reached out and grabbed his collar, yanking him forward hard. “What did I just get done saying boy. You-”

“Lacey!” Belle interrupted frantically. “You can call me Lacey.”

Turning his attention to Belle, Malcolm released his hold on his son. Rumple stumbled for a moment before he was able to once more insert himself between his father and Belle.

“It’s my pleasure to meet you Lacey,” Malcolm said in a charming voice. “Tell me about yourself Lacey.”

“She was just leaving,” Rumple noted as he pushed Belle to the door.

“Rumple don’t be an idiot. Let the girl stay for a while,” Malcolm insisted in a voice that said his suggestion was nothing less than a command.

“No, she has somewhere to be.”

Knowing that he would pay the price for his insolence in a matter of moments, Rumpelstiltskin grabbed Belle and pushed her roughly out the door. Giving her a significant look, he slammed it in her face and bolted the lock.

“Now that wasn’t very nice laddie,” Malcolm sneered. “You’re lucky something as vile as you managed to get a girl like that up here in the first place. That will certainly never happen again.”

He pushed his limits too far already, he couldn’t rise to his father’s taunts. Staying as silent as possible Rumpelstiltskin moved away from the door.

“She’s a pretty one though,” his father continued. “Maybe I’ll find her again once we’re through here.”

“Leave. Her. Alone.” Rumple growled.

“Oh, so she is important to you then.”

“What do you want Malcolm?”

A vein throbbed above his father’s forehead at Rumpelstiltskin’s continued insolence.

“You’ll address me properly laddie, or you’ll find yourself in even more trouble,” the man responded angrily.

“What do you want father?” Rumpelstiltskin intoned in the same harsh voice but using the correct vocabulary.

It didn’t settle Malcolm’s anger in the slightest. “Can’t a father just want to visit his son?”

“You usually don’t.”

Malcolm eyed the obstinate young man for a long time. Silence stretched between them like tar, thick and heavy. “Take off your shirt laddie.”

Knowing the moment was coming and facing it were two very different things. Rumpelstiltskin felt his stomach drop to the vicinity of his knees. He might be able to outrun his father if he went now. It was unlikely but was it worth a shot?

Apparently reading the look on his son’s face Malcolm’s wand shot up quickly, sealing the doorway. “I’ll not be repeating myself boy. You obviously haven’t learned proper respect.”

With trembling hands Rumpelstiltskin obeyed his father and slowly pulled his shirt over his head. Having had this routine well ingrained in him he knew what to do next. Bare chested, he turned his back to Malcolm and braced himself against the wall.

Hearing movement behind him, Rumpelstiltskin did his best not to tense as the first strike hit. Pain seared through his back as his nerves were lit on fire. Another crack sounded as the belt struck him again. Gasping, Rumpelstiltskin bit down on his bottom lip determined to keep every other sound held in. If he cried out, Malcolm would only give him something else to cry about.

“When I’m done here with you, maybe I’ll go pay Lacey a visit.” Malcolm jeered from behind him as the belt lashed out again. “Show her what a real man looks like.”

“I swear, she’s no one,” Rumpelstiltskin pleaded breathlessly.

“Doesn’t seem like no one.”

“She’s not important.”

Several more whips followed in quick succession leaving the young man seeing white as pain flared through his body. He’d be covered in welts for the rest of the week, and if he took another hit from the buckle he’d be lucky if he recovered before going back to school.

“Ask me nicely,” Malcolm ordered as he continued his lesson in proper manners.

“Please,” Rumpelstiltskin conceded as yet another strike crossed his back. The only thing running through his mind was that he couldn’t allow Malcolm to hurt Belle. To realize just how important the young woman really was.

“Please what?”

“Please leave her alone,” the young man begged as he felt his knees start to buckle.

A fist grabbed a handful of his hair and pulled his head back until he was nose to nose with his father. “If I ever catch you acting like that again in front of me, she’ll be the one to pay. Do you understand me boy?”

Rumpelstiltskin nodded quickly. “Yes sir.”

Malcolm threw him to the floor. Writhing in agony as his back took the brunt of the fall he never saw his father’s boot coming. Several kicks made it into his gut before he could properly protect himself. The final blow connected with his nose, shattering it with ease.

Unable to bite back his cry, Rumpelstiltskin’s hand shot to his face to guard it as best he could. Curled up in a trembling mess at his father’s feet, he knew that this time it had been worth it. If it kept Belle safe, it was worth it.

“You’re such a pathetic little worm,” Malcolm spat. “Don’t know why I even try with you.”

The infuriated man walked away from his huddled son. Rumple could hear his father slipping his belt back into place and smoothing out his clothes. Aside from the tremors that raced through his body, Rumpelstiltskin didn’t move. Instead he made himself as small as possible, knowing that any further movement or unprovoked words would only land him with another lesson.

“I came for a reason boy,” Malcolm said in a level voice from his position by the bed. “I need a favor from you.” Without waiting for a response, Malcolm continued with his order. “You’re to watch that Jones boy closely this year. His older brother has been causing me too much trouble and I may need to remind him just how far my reach extends. If I send word to you, you’re to make an example out of the kid.”

Rumpelstiltskin’s stomach turned as he realized what his father was ordering. Killian might be an ass and Rumple’s worst tormentor, but he didn’t deserve to have Malcolm Gold using him as leverage. Yet if Malcolm ordered him to do something and Rumple refused, would his father hurt his son or Belle? Rumpelstiltskin wasn’t certain, but he was terrified of the answer.

Pain exploded from his bad ankle, pulling the teenager from his frantic thoughts. Malcolm’s foot pressed down with more force at his son’s strangled cry. “I asked you a question laddie. Do we need another lesson in listening?”

Recalling his father’s last teaching with perfect clarity, Rumpelstiltskin shook his head. Blood from his nose splattered the floor and his head swam at the movement, but Malcolm seemed to accept that answer.

“Good. Now, if I send word to you, you’re to rough the kid up. Send him to the Hospital Wing or something along those line. Clear enough to send a message, but nothing to get yourself expelled. Am I understood?”

 Rumple nodded and whimpered out a quiet “yes sir.”

Shaking his head in obvious disgust, Malcolm removed his foot from his son’s bad leg. “You’re a Gold laddie. People ought to respect you and if you keep acting like this they never will. We don’t pay women for their services, we take what we want. Understand?” Malcolm waited for his son to nod once more before scoffing once more. Sighing in disappoint the man mumbled as he turned away. “I’m glad your mother died before she could see what a pathetic waste of breath you are.”

With those parting words Malcolm disapparated, leaving his only son a trembling mess on the floor.

Hearing his father’s departure, Rumpelstiltskin let out a shaky breath as the tears he’d been fighting finally began to fall. Curling into himself the teen allowed sobs to wrack his body as he realized just how often fate screwed him over.

 

***

 

Belle was worried sick. She’d been pacing her room for hours now, waiting for Rumpelstiltskin to come and get her. Waiting to find out how much damage his father had done this time.

The bookworm had never met Malcolm Gold before today, but her initial impression wasn’t good. The man had a gleam in his eyes that spoke of cruelty and a soul crushing darkness. Judging by his expensively tailored clothing Malcolm obviously thought highly of himself and his position in life. Confidence had eaked from him in a manner that few others could pull off.

Yet what worried Belle, was Rumpelstiltskin’s response to seeing the man. His walls had instantly flown into place. She’d rarely seen him so tense. Despite his obvious attempts to draw the man’s ire, she’d also noticed that Rumple was entirely compliant in the face of his father. He’d thrown her from the room, but not himself. For whatever reason he’d stayed with Malcolm. Hadn’t even defended himself when his father grabbed him. How could-

Belle’s thoughts were cut off by a quiet knocking at the door. Crossing the room in four strides, Belle flung herself at the door as she yanked it open. Tears welled in her eyes as she took in the sight of her best friend.

Rumple’s nose was crooked in a manner it hadn’t been a short while ago. The skin around it and his eyes were a dark purple. He’d changed into an old dark blue shirt that didn’t speak of the obvious elegance she’d seen in his father. As he took a step in and shut the door, Belle noticed that he was obviously in pain. His hunched shoulders and the way he winced as she put a hand on his shoulder, confirmed that thought. He looked like hell.

“Rumple,” she started but stopped short at the look he gave her. Instead she gently wrapped her arms around him, careful not to hurt him. At first, Rumpelstiltskin froze solidly in her embrace, but slowly he melted into her arms. Before long he was gripping her like she was only solid thing in the world. Tears cascaded down her face without Belle willing them to fall.

When she heard a muffled sob escape from Rumpelstiltskin, Belle lost it completely. Soundlessly she pulled him over to her bed and settled him onto his side. Pulling the hefty quilt over them both she slid in beside him, shifting until they were facing and comfortable.

The two spent the rest of the evening in absolute silence, taking whatever strength they could from each other. Rumpelstiltskin fell into a light sleep before Belle. As her own eyes slid shut and she drifted into her own dreams, Belle whispered, “I love you Rumple,” into the darkness. She couldn’t be certain, but she thought she saw the corner of his mouth twitch up.

   

***

Rumpelstiltskin awoke to the most beautiful sight he could imagine. Even in sleep Belle was the most stunning creature he’d ever seen. Tousled hair, droll, and all. For a moment he lay in the early morning glow forgetting everything but the curve of her jaw and the way the sun highlighted the various shades of brown in her hair. Rumpelstiltskin felt certain that he could remain here content for the rest of his life.

Then he shifted in the bed and recalled why, exactly, he had slept in Belle’s bed last night. Pain radiated through his back and head as his body recapped each of his father’s blows. Yesterday had been a stern reminder of why he held on to so much hatred for his father.

The young man wasn’t certain what had prompted him to come here after picking himself up and cleaning off. But Belle was the only one he’d thought about after his father’s visit. He’d worried that Malcolm might have paid her a visit as well, worried that she might have been frightened by his father, worried that she might want nothing to do with a weak and worthless thing like him.

But she’d been alright, concerned for him, but alright. Belle had anchored him through the worst parts of last night. Something he certainly wasn’t accustomed to from anyone other than Neal or Tilly. The warmth that spread through his chest at every thought of Belle had grown to something more than just friendliness.

And that was precisely the reason he had to pull away from her now.

“Good morning,” his favorite bookworm groaned pulling him from his dark thoughts.

“Morning,” he replied.

Belle carefully sat up, obviously doing her best not to jostle him. Such a small kindness meant more to Rumpelstiltskin than anything else. He would miss Belle.

“You look like hell Rumple,” she said looking him over in the fresh light of day. At his shrug, she continued. “Can you sit up at all?”

Rumpelstiltskin took a deep breath before attempting such a difficult feat. With her help and a good deal of pain, he managed it. Belle’s eyes never left his as she pulled the blankets down from around him and stood up. Shifting behind him, the bold girl lifted his shirt in order to get a proper look at his back. Her gasp was lost in his hiss of pain as something moved across one of the worst welts.

Belle’s voice shook with anger when she next spoke. “Let me grab my wand and we can heal those right up.”

Fear coursed through the teenager as she spoke. “No!” he shouted far louder than he’d meant.

Belle startled but held her composure as she walked back to face him. “What do you mean no?”

“You can’t-”

“It’s a simple spell, of course I can. Don’t be silly Rumple.”

He shook his head frantically and grabbed her wrist. Everything within him begged the beauty not to meddle in this affair. “I know you can, but you can’t heal me right now. If he comes back and I’ve evaded his ‘lesson’ then it will be worse.”

Rage flashed through Belle’s expression, but for once, it wasn’t directed at him. “Rumple, I can’t leave you like this. I can’t do nothing.”

“You have to,” he said matter-of-factly. “It’s just until we get on the train. Then I can fix it. Until then though…”

Luckily, he didn’t have to finish. Belle understood. She didn’t like it and she wasn’t happy, but she understood. “What can I do?”

Rumpelstiltskin shook his head helplessly. “Nothing really.” Seeing Belle’s face fall to sadness, struck something within the boy. Wracking his brain for anything at all to make her feel useful, Rumple patted the bed next to him. “Tell me about your father’s business trip,” he said, hoping that she would give in.

To his great pleasure, she did just that. Plopping down beside him gently, Belle prattled on about her father and all that his job entailed. Rumple asked polite questions where he could, but he mostly sat and listened to the peaceful cadence of her voice.

He would savor every moment with her that he could. Once they got back onto the Hogwarts express he would be forced to put distance between them. Rumpelstiltskin refused to risk Belle’s safety. Malcolm could hurt him as much as he pleased, but he’d be damned if he would let his father touch Belle.

Their friendship had been the highlight of Rumpelstiltskin’s life and he would never forget the plucky beauty who’d so captured his heart. But he couldn’t put her in danger. Her association with him would only draw his father’s attention and nothing good could come from that. Besides, he thought to himself, I’m not good enough for her. She deserves so much more.

Resigned to his fate, Rumpelstiltskin basked in the warmth and light that was Belle French one last time.

Chapter Text

To Belle’s great shame, she didn’t notice that Rumpelstiltskin had been avoiding her until Killian Jones mentioned it in potions class. Slughorn had them beginning a new potion and had insisted on partnering capable students with less capable ones. The Professor’s first move had been to split his “dynamic duo,” sticking Belle with Jones and Rumple alone. Not that her best friend seemed to mind working by himself, but she’d seen the dark look he shot Slughorn when the man announced who would be paired with Belle.

In an act of solidarity with Rumpelstiltskin, Belle had spoken to Jones as little as possible. Saying only what was necessary to get through the class, she’d focused her mind on the complicated Calming Drought they were expected to complete by the end of class. This one might actually come in handy with a certain high-strung best friend of mine, the beauty thought to herself. She didn’t get much further in her thoughts before Jones interrupted her.

“I am glad to hear that you've finally come to your senses,” the dashing boy crooned loud enough for only her and Rumple, sitting at the table in front of them, to hear.

Carefully monitoring their work Belle didn't respond immediately. “In case you haven’t noticed, which you likely haven’t, this is a rather finnicky potion. So unless you have something relevant to say, please shut up.”

The young man raised an eyebrow at her snappy remarks. “I’m just trying to compliment you Belle.”

“Since I don’t really care what you think, you can understand why I’d rather you keep your mouth shut.”

Jones startled her by laughing. “I can see why you spent so much time with the Crocodile. If anyone could temper that one, it would’ve been you.”

Despite her concentration, Belle picked up on Killian’s use of past tense. “What are you about Jones?”

“You've left the Crocodile,” Jones replied as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

One row ahead of them she saw Rumpelstiltskin’s shoulders tense, displaying that he was listening to every word they spoke. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about Killian,” Belle said turning to face the infuriating Slytherin.

“Come on Belle, lay off,” Jones snorted. “You've stopped hanging around with the bastard. Everyone’s noticed.” Belle’s ears started ringing as her vision turned red at such implications. Her rage was so thorough that she almost missed Jones’s next words. “Honestly, I'm happy to see that. You’re too good of a person to get mixed with someone like that.”

Taking a deep, calming breath, Belle attempted to correct the obnoxious boy’s claims politely. “I haven't stopped hanging out with him. And you’ve no room to judge or determine what kind of person he is.”

“Come off it,” Jones smiled. “The whole school is talking about it.”

“Well the whole school is wrong and needs to mind their own business,” Belle huffed.

Turning her attention back to her work, Belle began contemplating everything she’d learned from Jones while steadfastly ignoring her partner. Thinking back on the past few days, Belle couldn’t remember seeing Rumpelstiltskin for more than a few moments at any given time. The first few weeks back were always hectic, but now that she thought on it, she’d spent less and less time with her best friend.

He hadn’t been showing up to lunch and had been staunchly avoiding her and the other Ravenclaws at dinner. The more Belle thought, the more she realized just how often Rumple had rejected her offers of studying together or sitting by the fire and talking. He’d even taken to going to bed early. What could possible warrant such a change in behavior from him?

Certainly, the incident with his father at the end of the summer had been unpleasant, but she was under the impression that it had brought them closer not torn them apart. She finally understood the dynamics between Rumple and his father. However, she also now had first hand knowledge of just how dangerous Malcolm Gold really was.

Her head full of such dour thoughts, Belle barely noticed the bell ring. By the time she realized the class was slowly filing out the door, Rumpelstiltskin had slipped away as well. Mulling over this newest mystery, Belle’s day passed by in blur. No matter how many times she attempted to pin down her best friend and question him, she couldn’t catch him for more than a few seconds at a time.

As morning dawned brightly the following day, the bookworm found herself unable to concentrate on anything else. She focused on little else until she took a seat next to Jefferson and noticed the look of disgust prevalent on his face. Noses deep into the morning’s Prophet, he and Victor were having a quiet conversation about the contents therein. Curiosity pulled Belle from her long reprieve.

“What’s happened now?” she asked grabbing a piece of toast.

The two shot her identical uncomfortable looks. Without a word, Jefferson passed the paper over to her. Lost Boys Strike Again, read the front-page headline. Sydney Glass had stuck again it seemed. Belle’s eyes scanned the page, quickly soaking in every word.

Former Death Eater and current menace, Malcolm Gold – along with his band of avid followers- have struck once more at the Wizarding populace in London. A peaceful protest turned deadly riot led to the deaths of six muggles, two witches, and three wizards (see page 6 for obituaries and complete list). While gathered for a protest against the Secrecy Bill currently passing through the Ministry, two wizarding families met tragic ends yesterday evening.

Gold’s followers – the self-named Lost Boys – appeared at the peaceful rally to protest the protesters. As several of these individuals openly or covertly supported You-Know-Who during the Second Wizarding Wars, it comes as no surprise that things quickly turned violent. Among the wizarding families who lost loved ones (see page 6 for interviews with the Prince and Frank families) six muggles also met a tragic end.   

Ministry officials arrived on scene too late to make any arrests, though a certain Boy-Who-Lived has made a statement about how Aurors plan on dealing with this case (see page 3 for interview). Malcolm Gold remains at large and Ministry officials strongly urge citizens to remain on guard. However, Minister Shacklebolt’s only comment so far, “we’ve dealt with Dark Wizards before, we’ll deal with this one as well,” leaves many – this reporter included – wondering just how long it will take before something is done about the crazed Supremacist (for life story of Malcolm Gold see page 7).

Belle’s stomach dropped as she read through the article. Quickly flipping back to page 7 she read through the long article detailing Malcolm Gold’s rise to power. Her throat tightened when she got to the part about Malcolm’s only living child and that child’s current stint at Hogwarts. With a sinking heart she caught sight of a picture of Malcolm and his wife with a young Rumpelstiltskin holding tightly to his father’s leg.

Damn it, Belle cursed inwardly before glancing up at Jeff and Victor. “This is bad,” she said, stating the obvious.

A quick scan of the Great Hall showed members of every other house with noses buried deeply in their own copies of the Prophet. Even the staff table showed obvious interest in the article as Professors Sprout and Flitwick held a quiet but tense discussion with Professor McGonagall. Only Headmistress Blue seemed unfazed by the current scandal. Though, if Belle wasn’t mistaken, it seemed as though Blue moved more tensely than usual. It wouldn’t take long for the backlash of this to reach the one person who truly didn’t deserve it. Scanning through the article once more, something else struck the beauty. The victim’s surnames were intimately familiar to her.

Glancing over to the Gryffindor table she saw a bleak David with his arm around a sullen Mary Margaret’s shoulder. Eric and Phillip were nowhere to be seen. Turning her attention to Victor, she tried her best to find words to express how sorry she was. Yet nothing came to mind.

“It’s okay,” Victor assured his wide-eyed friend. “My father had as little as possible to do with me. They didn’t even send word to me that he was gone, if that tells you anything. This is the first I’ve heard of it.”

Though his words sounded sturdy enough, Belle couldn’t help but notice how pale the young man was or how Jefferson had wrapped his arm protectively around his best friend. Regardless of the relationship, it had to be hard losing a family member like that. A father especially.

Before her heart could fully go out to Victor, an eerie quiet overtook the Great Hall. Every eye in the room turned slowly towards the lone figure at the entrance, piercing the young man with an all too familiar venom. This wasn’t the first time The Daily Prophet had written an article about the atrocities perpetrated by Malcolm Gold, but it was the first that had hit so close to home.

Uncertain of whether she should go to him or not, Belle sat glued to her seat watching the student body lay the blame at her best friend’s feet. Rumpelstiltskin stood in the doorway, stunned by the blatant hostility, for what felt like an eternity before slowly backing away. As soon as he was out of sight, the Great Hall filled with the angry buzzing of a hundred plus upset teenagers.

Five years had passed since Voldemort’s defeat. People were no longer afraid to speak his name. No longer frightened that their loved ones would be stolen away in the night if they spoke against a Death Eater. Harry Potter and those who’d fought in the Battle of Hogwarts were lauded as heroes. Life was good for most of the wizarding world. Light, hope, and peace were meant to have taken the forefront.

But that just wasn’t life. People were still capable of great good and great evil. Politics still played out in cruel and unfair ways. Good people continued to get hurt, while bad people got away with it.

Voldemort was gone, but the world remained.

And Malcolm Gold was doing his level best to make sure he held significant power within that new world. He wanted for wizards to be out in the open and it seemed as if he’d stop at nothing to obtain his goal. And despite everything, it was his son who would pay for most of Malcolm’s crimes.

The buzzing grew louder as students, especially those Gryffindor’s and Slytherin’s who were friends with the Prince brothers, began ranting about the Supremacist’s, the Lost Boys, and their horrid ideology. However, the name she heard most often in association with these evildoers wasn’t that of Malcolm Gold, but instead his son.

Snatching her bookbag off the table, Belle hurried after Rumpelstiltskin hoping that she would be the first to find him today.

Chapter Text

Over the years Rumplestiltskin Gold had grown rather accustomed to the undertones of avid dislike he received from pretty much everyone. It was routine for him to expect insults and harassment of some form or another. After his second year, he decided to never hide away in his room because his father had been mentioned in the Prophet for yet another crime. If he did, he’d never manage to leave. So, when he found himself stared at by the entire hostile student body he knew it would be one of those days.

Putting on his usual brave face, Rumple dealt with the constant pushes and trip ups he experienced in the hallways. He ignored the snide comments and nasty words directed at him. He even managed to avoid Jones and his crew successfully for most of the first day. However, the fourth year girl who’d cornered him after Ancient Runes almost made him reconsider hiding in his dorm. The girl yelled a stream of insults and curses at him that caused others to stop and gawk at the spectacle. Knowing how it would end if he tried, Rumplestiltskin did nothing to defend himself which only seemed to incense the girl further. He'd no idea who she was or what house she belonged to, but when she spat on n his face before walking away he made a mental note to find out.

All in all, he'd had worse days. He just couldn't quite recall those at the moment.

Yet it wasn’t the stream of dirty looks, cruel words, and unkind actions that caused the current pain in his chest. No that had been the moment he’d finally decided to stop dragging Belle down with him.

She’d chased him down as he made his way across the grounds to the greenhouses. It was dangerous to be alone so soon after whatever news had just broken. But he couldn't find it in himself to care. To his great surprise, Belle caught up with him halfway to the first greenhouse.

“Hey,” she attempted in a falsely cheerful voice.

“Hey,” he shot back without looking up.

To his utter dismay, she cut right to the heart of the matter. “Did you see the Prophet yet?

“I really don't care,” he sighed as he finally stopped his race to nowhere.

“Yes, you do,” she corrected, bumping his shoulder with hers.

The smallest of smiles tugged at the corner of his mouth. She knew him too well at this point. “What's happened then?”

“Malcolm and the lost boys took over a protest. The Prince brothers lost their entire family and Victor lost his father.”

“Shit,” he replied eloquently.

“That seems to be the sentiment. How are you?”

“It's going to be a day.” While he’d never admit it to anyone, it warmed his long-abused heart that Belle so quickly dismissed the pain of others in order to find out how he was doing. At least in her books, he came first. Which is why what he had to do next hurt so damn much.

Belle nodded in agreement, “But you don't have to face it alone.”

“Yes, I do,” he replied turning his back to her.

“Rumple,” she pleaded putting a light hand on his arm, “I'm here for you. Don't push me away.”

“Thank you Belle, but I can handle this on my own. It's not like it's the first time.”

“Don't be a prat you're my best friend I'm not just leaving you.”

“I. Don't. Need. You,” he replied with more venom than he intended. But if ever he had a chance to break ties with her, it was now. Spinning back to face her, he pulled darkness around him like a shroud hoping it would mask the ache in his heart. “I don't need your help or your pity. So, spare me your meddling.”

Belle looked as if he’d slapped her. “Rumple I don't pity you. Surly, you know that.”

“No, I really don't. Now go.”

The stubborn set of her jaw gave him his answer before a word left her mouth. “No,” Belle said forcefully. “I'm not letting you push me away right now. Not when you need someone in your corner.”

“I don't!” Rumpelstiltskin shouted. “You want to know truth of it. I am glad that it was the Prince brothers. They deserve it. After everything they've done to me I don't give a shit about them or their family.”

“You don't mean that.”

“Yes, I do Belle. I don’t care about anyone at this damn school. Why should I?”

With her eyes full of tears she refused to let fall, Belle put her face inches from his. “Because a few of us actually care about you, you prat.”

With that Belle stalked away. Instead of heading for the greenhouses, the bookworm made her way back into the castle. Which Rumple took to mean he wouldn’t have to sit through an awkward Herbology class today. Sighing as he resigned himself to loneliness once more, Rumpelstiltskin walked back to face the onslaught he knew would be his life for the next several weeks.

 

***

 

"Well if it isn't my least favorite crocodile," an all too familiar voice called across the courtyard.

Well damn, thought Rumpelstiltskin as he looked up from his (obviously not as isolated as he thought) corner of the courtyard. Killian Jones and three of his cronies had snuck up on him while he'd been absorbed in a book. Quickly coming to his feet, the Ravenclaw's hand flew instinctively to his wand.

Noticing this movement Jones flashed a dangerous smile and held up his hands placatingly. "No need for all of that Crocodile," Jones said. "We just wanted to check in on you. Make sure you're doing all right after that nasty row with the French girl."

Rumple's cheeks flushed an annoying shade of red at the mention of his fight with Belle. "I'm just fine thanks," he snapped back.

Noticing the upcoming confrontation, the other students in the courtyard began gathering around them, effectively removing all possibilities of a quick escape. The greedy faces of his peers told him they wouldn't allow it anyway. They were looking forward to seeing the "Supremacist" git get what he deserved.

The anger that generally boiled within him cooled into a chilling resentment and resignation as he realized that now they had reason to openly hate him. Before, their dislike had been a thinly hidden thing. Now that the war hit close to home, they had no reason to hide behind masks of polite indifference. Blatant hatred of Malcolm Gold's son happened to be the latest fad.

"Come now Crocodile," Jones continued in show of false concern, "it's always difficult when you fight with friends. Course I can understand why you wouldn't know what that feels like. Never having had any friends before."

"Still can't believe you managed to hang on to one for a whole year," Thomas added. Scattered laughter coursed through the crowd.”

"Better no friends at all than the moronic followers you call friends," Rumpelstiltskin fired back. To his satisfaction, James Nolan and Gaston both bristled at that comment. Gripping his wand tighter, Rumple waited patiently for the attack he knew was imminent.

However, Jones merely smiled and changed subjects. "Do you think they allow you and your father joint cells in Azkaban?" The boy asked. "Might make it a bit less lonely for you."

"I doubt he'll want for company," Thomas chimed in once again, smiling darkly.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Rumple growled, berating himself for rising to their bate at all.

"I'm sure you'll have plenty of bodies to keep you warm at night," Thomas supplied. "If they can stand the sight of you that is."

When nothing but prolonged silence that followed, Gaston decided to make plain his friend’s intent. "He's calling you the bitch. Might even enjoy the attention. Merlin knows you won't get some any other way."

The blush that had been growing since the altercation began firmly planted itself on Rumpelstiltskin's face, while the anger he'd been pushing down for the past several days rose to new heights. Ignore them. He repeated over and over to himself. It's nothing new. Don't make the first move. If he made the first move, Blue would have his hide and he really couldn’t afford another weeks’ worth of detentions.

"Oh, I'm sorry Gold," Thomas continued. "Did you not want everyone to know you're that pathetic?"

"Like you've ever had someone you didn't pay for," Rumple sneered. "Which I guess is better than Jones's obvious attempts to overcompensate and Gaston's inability to hide that he doesn't really care for women anyway."

All three boys blanched at the Ravenclaw's words. Thomas reacted first. Drawing his wand in apparent fury he pointed it directly into Rumpelstiltskin's face. "You've got a lot of nerve-"

Killian cut him off before the boy could act. Grabbing his friend's arm, he pulled Thomas back. "Think you're clever don't you Gold," Killian commented allowing an edge to creep into his tone.

It wasn't a question, but Rumple answered Jones all the same. "It's more of an ingrained knowledge of my own cleverness."

"Want to know what I think?"

"I don't particularly care."

"I think you're scared," Jones smirked.

"Scared?" Rumple scoffed wondering where the other boy was going with this.

"The Ministry's being pressured into providing results when dealing with your father. The public is outraged, the Ministry's being exposed for the group of fools it really is, and your father's gaining followers. They have to do something soon. I'm willing to bet they come for you within the month. Cart you off for questioning or toss you in a cell until you cooperate."

Rumpelstiltskin let out a low whistle while he rolled his eyes. "That's a bold prediction Jones. What makes you think they haven't already talked to me?"

"Prophet article from this morning. Seems there are a lot of people tired of the Ministry refusing to hold you accountable."

"And I'm supposed to be frightened?"

"I would be," Jones admitted. However, the hungry smile that followed that admission quickly dispelled any false sense of understanding. "When they start asking your friends about your character at school... well that'll be a short conversation. You'll finally be exposed for the git you are. I think you're scared because you know deep down, that you just alienated the only person who didn't realize just how worthless you are."

A pin dropping would have made more noise than those students standing in the courtyard at that moment.

But Jones's eyes were fixed solely on the boy he considered his worst enemy as he continued. "Poor Belle French. So misguided when she first showed up. Tell me, what happened to finally make her see sense? To understand why no one else can stand the sight of you?"

Shame cut through the rage that had been building within Rumpelstiltskin. Jones was right, he'd led Belle on for far too long. He'd allowed her to believe the best of him, when, truthfully, there was no best side of him. The truth was that he'd always been as useless and pathetic as his father said. He never stood up to his father or Malcolm's followers. He'd taken a stand against them once and immediately learned just how futile resistance was.

However, admitting that to himself and admitting it to Jones in front of a crowd of his peers were two very different things. Allowing the rage to rule him, Rumple raised his wand and cast a Furnunculus curse at Jones quicker than any of his tormentors could react.

Jones scream of pain as his skin burst out in painful boils distracted the others long enough for Rumpelstiltskin to disarm James as well.

Before he could cast another spell, he found his wrists and ankles encased in charmed ropes that only squeezed tighter as he struggled. Gasping as the ropes tightened around his bad ankle, Rumple overbalanced and hit the ground hard. His wand skittered away as Gaston and Thomas covered him with their wands.

The onlooking crowd that had broke out in excited chatter as the boy's began dueling let out a few cheers as Rumpelstiltskin hit the ground.

He quickly pulled himself into a sitting position, hoping to find some leverage with which to dive towards his wand. But apparently Jones had been provided with enough time to master his new painful condition. Disfigured though Jones was at present, Rumple could still make out the malevolent smile crossing his face.

Rumpelstiltskin stopped struggling against his bonds as he looked at the tip of Jones's wand, now centimeters in front of his face. "That wasn't very nice Crocodile," Jones laughed.

“I think he’d better apologize,” James growled stepping into place beside Jones.

With all four tormentors surrounding him and no one from the crowd coming to his rescue, Rumple knew the situation was hopeless. Not to mention, he’d attacked first, which meant that Blue would lay the blame completely at his feet. Everything boiled down to the fact, at this point, he had absolutely nothing to lose.

Which meant the suggestion of exactly where James could stick his apology that followed his eloquent statement of “Fuck you,” couldn’t get him into more trouble than he’d already found himself. Or at least that’s what Rumpelstiltskin thought.

“Such language,” James tutted. “I think a stinging hex for each curse word might teach him a lesson. What do you think Killian?”

Laughter from the crowd was all Jones needed to encourage his already growing smile. A few hexes later – one landing in a very uncomfortable place that left Rumple gasping for breath and with tears in his eyes – and Rumpelstiltskin was, once again, utterly humiliated. Beyond wishing he could sink into the ground, the young man wished he’d never had the audacity to get out of bed this morning.

“I’ve got something for you Crocodile,” Jones was saying as he walked around his prone prey. “Little gift I found just for you.”

A nod to Gaston and Thomas and the two boys pulled the still bound Ravenclaw to his feet.

“You can keep your gifts Jones,” Rumple growled as the other boy walked up to him.

“Now that’s not very polite,” James insisted. “Didn’t we just have a lesson about this?”

Rumpelstiltskin wisely kept his mouth shut this time. He had no interest in any more well-placed stinging hexes.

“I think you’re really going to like this one Crocodile. I picked it out especially for you,” Jones continued as he sauntered forward. Grabbing his left arm forcefully, Jones pulled up the sleeve of Rumpelstiltskin’s robe exposing his forearm. Leaning in Jones whispered so that only Rumple could hear his next words. “You disgust me Crocodile. Wanting to follow in the steps of your pathetic father and his supremacist bullshit. If anyone deserved to die at that protest it was him… or maybe you.”

Rumple felt as if he’d been doused with cold water as he stared Killian Jones in the eyes and saw nothing but honest hatred there. The boy wasn’t lying, he truly wished for Rumpelstiltskin’s death. Rumple could see it written in every feature of his face. He felt hollow after everything he’d suffered this summer for refusing to hurt Jones. He’d tried to protect a person who hated him to his very core. A person who didn’t even know him.

In that moment Rumpelstiltskin knew that his father had been right, it would have been better if he’d never been born. He was a pathetic, worthless, waste of space that didn’t deserve happiness or peace. Whatever Jones did next, that’s what he deserved.

Grabbing his wrist in one hand, Jones fished in his pocket with the other. Jones pulled out a clear piece of plastic that had something drawn on it.

“Ever seen those Muggle temporary tattoos?” Jones asked the crowd at large. “This is kind of like that… only I don’t plan on it being temporary.”

Before Rumple could even react to his words, Jones slapped the plastic down onto his forearm and performed a fancy bit of spell work. Pain radiated from the area causing Rumple to cry out. As fire raced through the veins of his arms, Gaston and Thomas threw him to the ground. Cradling his arm carefully, Rumpelstiltskin looked down to see what Jones had done. The sight knocked what breath was left right out of him.

There seared onto his forearm was a perfect replica of the Dark Mark.

Chapter Text

Walking down the corridor which led to the courtyard, David Nolan had a hard time concentrating on anything. He tried to join in with Emma and Neal as they discussed the upcoming Quidditch match between Gryffindor and Slytherin, but his heart just wasn’t in it. He and Mary Margaret were fighting yet again. As usual, his friendship with one Kathryn Midas had been called into question.

Mary Margaret had every right to be jealous, he and Kathryn had been friends since they were toddlers and her father still had grand plans of marrying them. However, he had absolutely no interest in the blonde Hufflepuff. Besides Kathryn couldn’t keep her eyes off a certain housemate of hers who also happened to be Quidditch Captain.

None of that mattered though, because as long as he remained friends with Kathryn his relationship with Mary Margaret was in jeopardy.

“Come on man you’ve got to stop mopping,” Neal said pulling David from his melancholy thoughts.

“Neal’s right,” Emma added bumping him with her shoulder. “Mary Margaret will come around. She knows you love her, she just gets jealous.”

“I know,” David sighed as they broke out into the courtyard. “I just wish it wasn’t such a big-” David’s words came to halt as he noticed a large crowd gathered around the courtyard. Cursing under his breath, David recognized his brother and Killian standing over a figure.

“Three guesses about who they’ve cornered,” Emma said letting out her own stream of swear words.

David shook his head and led the way over to the mob. He really didn’t need to deal with such immaturity on top of everything else today.

The trio walked up as Killian grabbed Rumpelstiltskin’s forearm and lowered his wand. “…I don’t intend on this being temporary.”

David heard a loud cry as Killian released the smaller boy allowing Rumpelstiltskin to fall to the ground. Shoving his way through the crowd, David arrived just in time to watch Rumple’s face turn to blank shock as the boy looked down at his forearm. David pushed past the last few people and stalked up to a victorious looking Killian Jones.

“What do you think you’re doing Killian,” David said as he moved to stand between Rumple and his tormentors.

“Just having a bit of fun mate,” the dashing boy replied with mischievous grin.

“You two,” David pointed to Killian and his brother, “have a Quidditch game in a few days and you’re going to threaten your ability to play for ‘a bit of fun?’ How thick can you get?”

Before David could continue laying into his friends a strangled sound cut him off. Turning his back on the four troublemakers, David watched as Rumpelstiltskin frantically rubbed his bound arms against his knees. “You bastard,” the boy cried out as he examined his arm once more. “Get it off!” Brown eyes brimming with hatred met David’s as the Ravenclaw shot a glare Killian.     

“Rumple its-” David began.

“Get it off,” Rumpelstiltskin shouted again as he struggled to his feet only to be shoved back down by Gaston.

“Lay off,” David yelled at the same time Killian sneered, “That’s a permanent sticking charm Crocodile. Guess you’ll have to get used to it.”

Rumpelstiltskin slumped to his knees in defeat with wide desperate eyes as he looked back down to his arm. His movement finally allowed David to get a good look at what Jones had done. Red, irritated skin surrounded the ugly black mark now permanently seared into Rumple’s flesh. The dark mark reared its head once more. A rage unlike anything he’d experienced before filled David as he understood what his friend had just done.

“What the hell were you thinking Jones,” David growled. The crow collectively let out a startled gasp as David Nolan uttered a swear word. No body dared to move as they watched the Prefect turn to face off against Jones.

“Mate, it’s just a laugh-” Jones attempted holding up placating hands.

But the Gryffindor refused to let him finish that sentence. “It’s just a laugh? Was it a laugh when Voldemort murdered hundreds of innocent people? Was it a laugh when he ripped apart the lives of two generations? Or maybe you find it funny that some people will never see their families again because of that maniac and his followers.” David advanced upon Jones and grabbed the boy’s robes roughly.

“I certainly didn’t find it funny when my father left us to join him. I still don’t find it funny when I think about how he sits rotting away in Azkaban. That mark isn’t a fucking joke you immature prick!”

If the fear crossing Jones’s expression was anything to go by, David would say that Killian might be rethinking his previous course of action. But then the fool had to open his mouth. “If he’d been born a few years earlier, Gold would have the real thing. Back off David.”

The stubborn set of Killian’s jaw should have told David it was useless to argue, but he couldn’t stop himself. “You think just because his dad joined up that he would have? What do you think of me or James then Killian? Think we’re a generation too late to be Death Eaters as well? Or what about your father, didn’t he-”

“Shut up,” Jones shouted, shoving David off of him. “That bastard killed Eric and Phillip’s family and you’re going to defend him?”

“Rumpelstiltskin had nothing to do with that. And that doesn’t change the fact that you royally screwed up this time Jones.” Turning his ire onto his brother, David left Killian. “I’ll be writing a lovely letter to our mother about this, James. And having a discussion with your heads of houses. Now don’t the rest of you have something better to do?”

In later years David would recall that he’d never seen an assembly of students disappear so quickly. In a matter of moments all that remained in the courtyard were Neal, Emma, Rumpelstiltskin, and himself. Jones and his group had shot several dirty looks and gestures at David before leaving, but finally they were alone.

Neal knelt on the ground next to his cousin releasing the boy’s feet, while Emma worked his hands loose. Rumpelstiltskin sat completely shell shock despite the gentle prodding’s of his savior’s. Running a hand along the back of his neck, David approached the others.

“I’ve never actually seen Hogwarts students obey an order so quickly,” Neal observed as he got to his feet.

“I’ve never heard David curse before,” Emma added as she finally got Rumple’s hands free. “I think one kid actually pissed himself,” she grinned.

Ignoring their comments, David squatted on the ground next to Rumpelstiltskin. “You okay Rumple?”

The boy didn’t move. His eyes remained fixated on the mark.

“We’ll see what we can find about removing it,” David offered. “Maybe there’ll be something in the Restricted Section.”

Still Rumpelstiltskin didn’t move.

“We need to find Belle,” Emma suggested.

That finally got a reaction from the comatose Ravenclaw. “No,” Rumple whispered. “She’s… we’re… just don’t bother.”

“She’ll want to know,” David said as he moved to place hand on the other boy’s shoulder. However, when Rumpelstiltskin flinched away from the contact, he dropped it quickly. “Let’s get you to your common room then.”

“I’ll be fine on my own,” Rumpelstiltskin replied, the usual hostility returning to his voice.

“You might be,” David agreed, “but we’re still going with you.” Extending a hand to help the boy from the ground, David effectively ended the argument.

Dark eyes met blue for a long moment as the two boys had a silent battle of wills. After a long moment, Rumple finally conceded and took David’s hand. Hauling the Ravenclaw to his feet, David couldn’t help but feel as if something between them had changed. As if, for once, he’d earned a bit of respect from Rumpelstiltskin.

 

***

 

“Well, well, well, it seems Mr. Gold is still alive after all,” the now familiar drawling voice called to Rumpelstiltskin as soon as he entered the Headmistress’s empty office. “And here I’d thought you’d given up on your days of wrong doing.”

Turning to face the occupant of his favorite portrait, Rumple found that he didn’t have it in him to reply with his usual snarky attitude. Instead, he faced Snape’s painting with shoulders slumped in defeat.

“Come now Severus,” Dumbledore chided from his place above the Headmistress’s desk. “Don’t give the boy a hard time.”

Upon seeing the obvious despair in the young man’s gaze, Snape eyed Rumpelstiltskin with less than his usual contempt. “Sickle for your thoughts?”

“I’m afraid you’d be overpaying,” Rumple quipped half-heartedly.

Unable to hold himself up any longer, the teenager sank to floor in front of the former headmaster. The past few weeks had easily been some of the worst of his life, and they were up against some rather stiff competition. Since pushing Belle away, he’d faced the onslaught of contempt from the student body completely alone. Something he’d once been rather used to. However, his friendship with the bookworm and her uncanny ability to tempt him into social settings had provided Rumpelstiltskin with something he’d never experienced before. Friendship. Before he hadn’t known what he’d been missing out on, now though…

Rumpelstiltskin knew that if he still had Belle by his side he’d be able to face the current storm without too much strife. But now, dealing with the outright hatred of Hogwarts’s populace alone was slowly killing him.

Student’s who’d once concealed their dislike behind avoidance and ignoring him now found it perfectly acceptable to trip him in the halls, shove him as they passed by, knock his books into the floor, throw hexes or curses at him in passing, and overall make his life even more of a living hell. Meanwhile, Jones and his crew had taken Rumpelstiltskin’s existence as a personal insult. They made it their mission to avenge the Prince family by doing everything in their power to make Rumple suffer. Providing him with his own Dark Mark had only been the beginning.

He’d held out hope that the hostility would pass, as it usually did, within a week or so. But the article detailing the attack at the Ministry had been followed by three more discussing other atrocities of Malcolm Gold and his Lost Boys. One had even dared to mention that Rumpelstiltskin ought to be brought in for questioning as well.

All in all, the past six weeks left the young man feeling lower than he’d ever felt before. If only he hadn’t needed to push away the one person… Shaking his head, Rumple refocused his thoughts. Hopelessness threatened to drown him if he continued thinking in that vein. Belle had to stay safe. To be safe, she had to stay away from him. It was the only way.

Black eyes pierced through the young man as he fought his way through his own misery. “Are you going to mope all night or are you going to talk about it,” Snape said unable to hold his tongue any longer.

Rumpelstiltskin’s head snapped up at the bluntness of the other man. Shock must have been plainly written on his face because the painting shrugged before continuing. “You can keep your misery locked inside and let it fester and eat at you… Or… You can talk to someone who might understand some of what you’re dealing with. Your choice.”

“Severus don’t be so harsh,” Dumbledore exclaimed as he forced his way into the dour man’s frame. “These past weeks haven’t been kind to our Mr. Gold.”

Twinkling blue eyes looked down on him kindly, mixing oddly with the hard, black gaze of the man beside him. The pair (oddly enough) created an oddly comforting picture for the dejected young Ravenclaw. Taking a deep breath, Rumpelstiltskin told the two headmasters his sorry tale. He began with the summer visit from his father and ended with the latest Prophet write up that claimed he had some vestige in his father’s endeavors. Conveniently, he left out all mention of the brown-haired beauty whose presence he missed more than any.

One of the other portraits let out a low whistle alerting Rumple to the fact that the entire office was listening to him. Flushing brightly, Rumple lowered his head until he could hide behind curtains of hair.

“You’ve left something out,” Snape said after a long silence.

Rumpelstiltskin’s gaze slipped up to the other man’s, uncertain of how to proceed. “No, I haven’t,” he lied.

“Yes, you have. People like you don’t fall apart because of a little bad publicity and hardship. There’s something more.”

“Severus, Mr. Gold has plenty of reason to be upset,” Dumbledore began, but Rumpelstiltskin cut him off quickly.

“You don’t know the first thing about ‘people like me,’” Rumple growled as he picked up his cane and levered himself to his feet. He wasn’t sure where the anger was coming from, but it boiled inside him at Snape’s insinuation.

The infamous sneer of the Slytherin followed Rumpelstiltskin’s movements, as the young man began to pace across the office. “I know plenty,” Snape replied.

“YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT ME!” Rumpelstiltskin bellowed. “You and the others who fought for so long to bring peace to the wizarding world only to find that it isn’t possible. People just suck like that. They don’t know when or how to hold on to something good. You spent your whole life fighting for a cause that just wasn’t worth it. Look at the shit hole you people left for us. Sure, Voldemort’s gone, but the old prejudices remain. There may be good and bad in every house, but it still matters what you’re born. How can anything good come from a lineage of so much evil?” Rumpelstiltskin found himself out of breath as he paused in his berating of the painting.

Dumbledore looked at him with a face full of sadness that felt somehow ageless. As if the old man knew exactly what Rumple was talking about. But Snape’s face held something too much like disappointment for Rumpelstiltskin’s taste.

“You think either of us died for something as trivial as peace?” Snape asked in a quiet hiss. “That anyone who gave their lives to stop Voldemort hoped that doing so would ensure a bit of quiet for a few years?”

Confusion tempered the teen’s anger for a moment. “What else?” he asked.

The two paintings shared a look before Dumbledore gestured for Snape to continue. The Potion’s Master took what appeared to be a calming breath before starting again. “The Order of the Phoenix was formed to stop Voldemort and to bring justice to the overly corrupt Ministry. But I never fought for the Order alone and neither did any of the others. Remus Lupin and Sirius Black wanted to protect the family they had left and to fight against the unjust system that ran our country. The Weasley’s fought for one another, but also to protect the muggleborns and muggles they valued as people. Potter wanted to protect the people he cared about and because facing Voldemort was the right thing to do.”

A long pause allowed Snape’s words to permeate the room. Surprisingly it was Dumbledore who spoke next. “I wanted to right the wrongs of my own past. To ensure that every student with a drop of magical blood had the same opportunity to enter our world. And because I allowed Riddle to become Voldemort. I could have stepped in when he was a boy or forced Headmaster Dippet to see the truth. But I believed too much in second chances. I was too hopeful.”

Rumpelstiltskin didn’t know how to handle the information being thrown at him. Having his world altered was an unsettling experience. He’d had a jaded view of the world for so long… “What about you?” he asked turning his attention back to Snape. “Why did you fight?”

Snape eyed him for several seconds before answering. “I let myself get carried away by my own idealism, my own desperation for some control or power over my wretched life. In the end, my foolishness cost me my best friend. The only woman I ever loved died because of my idiocy. I could have fought harder to hold onto her, I should have fought harder.” The professor took a long shuddering breath. “I didn’t want anyone else to watch someone they loved die. To know that they were the cause of that death. I swore to protect her child, but also the students of Hogwarts. So that they might never be forced to make the same choices I made.”

The truth of the man’s words resonated deeply with Rumpelstiltskin. He wanted control of his own life so badly. The freedom to make his own choices, away from his father’s shadow and name. Which was why he found himself fighting so hard to protect a person he didn’t even like. A person he hated. At least that way he had a choice. By refusing to hurt Killian, he was refusing to work for his father. The only other choice in his life was to keep Belle safe. And that one certainly hadn’t been any fun.

“There’s a girl,” Rumpelstiltskin whispered before he’d fully given his mouth permission to speak.      

Dumbledore visibly brightened at that admission. And, unless Rumple was mistaken, even Snape’s mouth tugged up a little at the corner.

“Of course, there is!” The eldest man said clapping his hands together.

Snape wore a smug expression that had Rumpelstiltskin rolling his eyes. “What’s the issue with her?” the Slytherin asked.

“We… we can’t,” Rumple stumbled as he tried to properly explain his situation. “My father threatened her,” he sighed finally. The stunned silence that met his words confirmed his suspicion that he still had the attention of every portrait in the room. “When I met him over the summer. He gave me a target. Another student in the school, one I very much dislike. He wants me to ‘rough the kid up’ if necessary to keep a family member in line.”

“We need to have a discussion with Blue,” Dumbledore interrupted abruptly, starting to move out of the frame.

“No!” Rumple shouted in a panic. Realizing that he’d just yelled at the portrait of the most respected wizard of his time, he blushed slightly before ploughing ahead. “I can’t tell her. It will only be worse if they know. And it’s Belle who’ll pay. He can do whatever he wants with me, but I couldn’t… if he hurt her…” Rumple’s eyes found the floor as he gathered himself together.

“What does she think about this?” Snape asked cautiously.

“She doesn’t know.”

“It might be worth your while to talk with her,” the Potion’s Master advised. “She deserves to make her own choices.”

Footsteps on the stairs alerted the room of the Headmistress’s approach. “Please,” he begged the portraits, “please, don’t say anything. I can handle being alone. I can’t handle him hurting someone else to get to me. If we aren’t friends anymore then he has no one to use against me. No way to force me.”

Dumbledore’s reluctant nod was followed by similar agreements from around the room. Snape’s eyes narrowed as he met the eyes of the desperate young man once more. A brief nod was all Rumple received before the door flew open and Blue once again berated him for his use of “dark magic.”

Accustomed to her derisive tone and general dislike though he was, even Rumpelstiltskin was surprised by the venom of her accusations this time. He and Thomas Hermann had been in yet another scuffle. It didn’t matter that he’d been defending himself as best he could. Apparently blowing up a school statue wasn’t acceptable under any circumstances.

Accepting his weeks-worth of detentions, Rumple began limping from the room. As he once more made his way past Snape’s portrait, the painting gave him the smallest of smiles. The look of approval on the man’s face meant more to Rumpelstiltskin than anything he could have imagined.

Perhaps he could find a little hope somewhere along the line. Perhaps he could find something that was worth fighting for as well.  

Chapter Text

He’d dreamt of his father’s death once again. Despite the frequency of the dream, Rumpelstiltskin found it disturbing each and every time. He disliked his father and everything the man stood for and yet… the man was his blood. Before his mother’s death there had even been happy memories. A few spots of light among an ocean of absolute darkness. Those few moments allowed him to mourn that which might have been. And that grief seemed to be expressing itself in a morbid fashion.

The dreams of losing his father confused him more than anything. It grieved him that they would never have a relationship that he could look on with fondness. More than that though, he was ashamed of the relief he felt every time he had the dream. Knowing that his father could never again threaten or hurt him, lifted a weight off of his shoulders for a few blissful moments in his dreams. That relief troubled him. He wanted his father gone, dead even. What kind of person did that make him?  

A soft scuffle on the steps alerted him that someone was approaching his position. While unlikely that anyone would actually wander through the trap door by accident, Rumpelstiltskin found himself unable to care if he was caught. Perhaps a teacher finding him out of bed and sitting precariously on the edge of the Ravenclaw tower would be the final straw in sending him away. Blue had threatened to expel him if he didn’t stop fighting with the other boys, his explanations had, as always, fallen on deaf ears. She wanted him gone, the majority of the student body did as well. For that matter, most of the wizarding world wanted him held accountable for his father’s actions. Maybe now they would get their wish and maybe just maybe he could find a little peace.

Not bothering to turn around, Rumple heard the door open and light footsteps walked towards him. A small part of him hoped that whoever it was wouldn't notice him and would go about their business. Unfortunately, that rarely happened and the tower, after all, was a rather small area.


"Rumple?" An all to familiar voice called to him, making his stomach drop to his knees. Turning his head afforded him the view of Belle walking towards him.

"Hey Belle," he muttered quietly.

She approached him cautiously. "What are you doing up here? Brooding alone?" She asked sitting a little back from him and the edge.

Still unsure if he wanted her company or not just yet, Rumple merely shrugged. "I just decided it might be a quiet place to think."

"Brood you mean," she corrected him. "Well this is a strange place for quiet," she continued acknowledging the continuous hooting and rustling of the owls that had decided to perch here overnight.

Rumple consented to both of her points. "Well maybe not so much quiet as devoid of other people."

"Ahh," she said quietly nodding her head.

Despite himself, he hoped that she didn't take his words to mean he wanted her to leave. He still wasn't sure if he wanted company, but she’d always been a comfort to him. And the dark thoughts swirling through his mind insisted that he might need a bit of comfort at the moment. His life had been on a downward spiral since the summer. Life had always been rather cruel to him, but this year had taken it to a whole new level. And pushing Belle away had left him with nothing to hold onto. There was little left for him to live for without her by his side.

Yet, pathetic as it sounded to him, he remained far too cowardly to end it all. He burned to prove the world and his father wrong. To force everyone to realize that he did have something to offer. However, now he wondered if even that was enough to keep him here. Having made and lost a friend, put life into a new perspective forcing him to realize that spite wasn’t enough to live for.

Clearing her throat, Belle pulled the morose young man from his dangerous thoughts. "So, I take it that you aren't afraid of heights then," she said, indicating his legs swung out over the edge.

Rumple shook his head and after a moment of quiet decided to take her up on the offer of conversation. "You know, supposedly, the reason that we are afraid of heights isn't the prospect of falling, but the fear that we will throw ourselves off." He realized a little too late that that might be too somber for the moment but found he didn't care that much. He knew that Belle would take it in stride. It was one of her best qualities.

"I'm pretty sure my fear comes from a traumatic childhood experience involving a tragic sliding incident," she replied easily.

"Sounds serious."

"Oh it was. It was a very tall slide. Like at least 5 feet." Belle said the last while directing a small smile at him.

"That does sound traumatic," Rumple replied without looking at her. Knowing that she would stay beside him all night if she had too warmed Rumple’s heart. He’d hurt her unforgivably and yet here she sat, pulling him back from the edge once more.


"Well since you so carelessly have your legs slung over the edge of the extremely tall tower, I’m going to assume it’s not the heights you’re afraid of?" Belle asked unable to mask the strange note of fear creeping into her tone.

"Oh no I'm terrified of heights actually,” Rumple admitted matter of factly. “But I'm not looking down and that's supposed to help and all.”

"So you fear throwing yourself into the abyss then," Belle returned. It hadn’t been a question and he didn't answer. His refusal to look her in the eye apparently provided her the conformation she needed. After a very long pause she continued, "Is this because of what Jones and his crew did a few weeks ago?”

Rumple’s closed his eyes tightly as the mark now seared onto his forearm began to itch. He’d never truly hated before, but Jones was slowly moving him in that direction.

Belle must have noticed his distress because she continued, “or is this because of the Prophet?” He didn’t answer. “You have to talk to someone before anyone can help you Rumpelstiltskin,” she insisted vehemently.

Wasn’t that just the crux of it all though. If he spoke of what bothered him, he risked getting someone else hurt. Despite what the papers said about him, Rumple had no love of bloodshed. He wasn’t his father. He shook his head before trusting his voice, “there’s nothing to help Belle.”

Though she’d recently admitted her fear of heights, Belle moved to the edge right next to him. Refusing to be daunted by her close proximity, Rumpelstiltskin stared down his folded hands. “There’s obviously something wrong Rumple. You were attacked in the worst way, and no one did anything to help you. Jones and his crew are still walking around the school like nothing happened. How does that not bother you?”

“I’m used to it,” he shrugged. It didn’t bother him anymore. The indignation he might have once felt sat hollow in his chest. The discussions he’d had a few days ago with the portraits of those now dead had boosted his morale for a moment, but now even those hopes felt hollow.

“Well you shouldn’t be. It’s absolutely ridiculous,” Belle’s anger on his behalf threatened to resurrect that hope. But her next words spurred something else inside him. “Professor McGonagall agrees, but with Blue’s involvement at the Ministry it’s out of her hands.”

“So, you’ve been talking with the professors about me then?” Rumpelstiltskin challenged. “And what do they have to say hmm? Are they ready to chuck me out as well? How about doing everyone a favor and minding your own business. While you’re at it, leave me alone.” He’d intended for his words to be calloused and cruel, but somehow, they just came broken.

Apparently, they sounded just as pathetic to Belle. “Your professors think nothing of the sort. Despite your best attempts to push people away, there are people here who care about you Rumpelstiltskin. If you could just get that through your incredibly thick skull maybe you wouldn’t be so miserable all of the time.”

Her time as his best friend, meant that she knew exactly which of his soft spots to prod to drive home a point. Unfortunately, all of the anger that had been simmering under the surface now had the perfect outlet. Rumpelstiltskin tried to reign in his temper to absolutely no avail.

Turning a glare on the bookworm he took a deep breath before hissing, “No one here cares about me. Not really. If they do, they’ll realize how mistaken they are soon enough. Maybe if you’d get your nose out of book and your head out of the clouds, you’d realize that the world isn’t some fairy tale with knights in shining armor and all that shit. In reality, people don’t need sleeping curses or poisoned fruit to be evil or hated. All they need is an audience. Ask anyone Belle, I’m a scourge of humanity, a waist of breath and space. If I jumped off this tower tonight how many people would mourn?” He snorted at her prolonged silence.

Belle sat silently staring at him with a deep sadness engraved in her expression. “I would.” At the confused expression that stole away his anger, she bumped his shoulder lightly with her own and continued. “You’re my best friend. Even if you seem to have forgotten that fact in the past few weeks, it’s true. You’re the first person who’s ever felt real to me. I would miss you ridiculously if you were gone. So, would Neal and Tilly, David, Mary Margaret, Emma, heck even Regina might admit to missing you. We’ve all been worried about you.”

“Yeah right,” he scoffed, but he refused to meet her eyes. She was lying to him. Trying to make him feel better. Why would anyone care enough to miss him?

“Stop that,” she ordered, pulling him from his own darkness once more. “There are plenty of reasons why people would miss you,” Belle continued as if she’d been reading his mind. “You’re witty and clever, kind, the brightest person in our year… probably the whole school. And despite everything you’ve been through, you’ve got a good a heart.”

Rumpelstiltskin couldn’t help the way his heart soared at her description of him. Having someone believe in him was a novel experience. But he could quickly disavow her of those beliefs, he had to if he hoped to keep her safe.

“I’m not a good person Belle.”

“I think you are.”

“You’re wrong. You don’t know what I’ve done… how I’ve…” he trailed off unable to bring himself to muddy himself in her eyes.

“Then tell me, so I can decide for myself,” Belle prodded.

Steeling himself to earn her ire, Rumpelstiltskin finally made eye contact with the young beauty. “The Prince brothers. I wish it had been them instead of their family. I don’t really feel bad about that either.” Seeing that she was about to interrupt, he held up a hand. “Let me finish.” Belle nodded for him to continue.

“Worse than that, I’m the reason he knew about their family in the first place. They were targeted, not accidentally killed. My father wouldn’t mourn an accidental death, but he’s usually not that messy. I told him about the Prince’s being heavily invested in the Ministry two years ago. I told him that their father would be a force to be reckoned with in regard to the Secrecy Bill. Phillip and Eric had talked about little else that year and after they decided it would be amusing to throw me into the lake that winter, I spilled my guts to my father. I thought if I could make him happy, he might talk with the Headmistress and have them expelled.”

A cruel smile worked its way onto Rumple’s face as he thought of his own foolishness before turning his attention to his many other sins. “I’ve provided Malcolm with information about the school many times. Especially Blue and the professors who follow her like the god she pretends to be. I’ve kept tabs on students when he’s ordered me to, like the Nolan brothers or Graham. Kids whose parents were Death Eaters or sympathizers. I’ve gotten into fights with students on his orders. To send a message to their parents. I’m a chip of the old block as it were.”

Silence reigned around them as Belle took in all that he had to say. “Is that what he wanted when he came to see you over the summer?”

An unbidden shudder coursed through Rumple at the thought of his father’s lesson from this summer. He’d suffered far worse at his father’s hands, but never had he been so terrified afterwards. His father’s threats reminded him of why he needed to keep Belle away from him. Why he couldn’t have the luxury of friends. His own actions sense reminded him of why he didn’t deserve them.

“Malcolm wants to use Jones to keep his brother in line. He wants me to keep tabs on Killian and to threaten him if necessary. At first I refused… but after…” Rumple trailed off not wanting to admit just how week he truly was.

“After the mark,” Belle supplied.

Nodding Rumpelstiltskin started again. “After that, I told Malcolm everything I know. About Jones and his brother, their absent father and lovely mother. I gave him everything he asked for because I wanted revenge.” Rumple took a long steadying breath, “Like I said, I’m not a good person.”

He refused to look back at his former best friend. Rumpelstiltskin could face many things without flinching, but he knew seeing hatred or disgust on Belle’s face would shatter him completely. Even if it was a necessity, that pain wasn’t something he would be able to move past.

Resigned to the absolute worse, Rumple was taken by complete surprise when a hand reached over and took his. Fingers laced through his and gave his hand a light squeeze. Hiding his eyes behind curtains of long hair, Rumpelstiltskin looked over to Belle.

Instead of hatred, disgust, or fear, he saw compassion and something almost like understanding. Eyes bluer than any sky met warm brown and Rumpelstiltskin felt his heart soar. “I don’t think making acting out of anger makes you a bad person,” Belle offered.

Rumple clung to her words like a drowning man clings to a life raft. She’d offered him awfully close to hope and he wasn’t strong enough to resist her. “I put them all in danger, to save my own skin,” he argued. “If nothing else it’s a cowardly thing to do.”

“Under the circumstances, I think there are a good number of people – myself included – who would make similar decisions. That doesn’t make you a bad person, it makes you human.”

“But-”

“Rumpelstiltskin Gold, you listen to me,” Belle ordered as she turned his face to her. “Your father is a horrible person and he’s repeatedly put you into impossible decisions. But he is still your father. I can’t even begin to understand what your feelings towards him are, but I’d be willing to bet there’s a part of you that still wants his approval. What you did wasn’t right, but you are not a bad person because you’ve made a few mistakes. If that was true, we’d all be screwed. If you want to blame someone for the deaths of those people, blame Malcolm not yourself. He’s the monster here, not you.”

Tears that had been threatening for far too long began to trickle down Rumple’s face at Belle’s acceptance. She didn’t hate him. At least for the moment, she wasn’t going to leave him. It was more than he’d ever dared to hope for. Too many people had discovered that he couldn’t measure up to what they wanted and had walked away from him. Yet Belle didn’t leave. She remained steadfastly by his side.

“He can’t know,” Rumple said in a voice gruff with tears.

“Can’t know what?” Belle asked.

“That we’re friends. That I care about you.” Panic began overtaking him as he realized that he couldn’t keep pushing Belle away. He couldn’t allow his father to ruin whatever it was growing between them. But he also couldn’t let him hurt Belle.

“Rumple, it’s okay,” Belle assured as she put an arm around his shoulders. “I can take care of myself.”

“No!” he shouted startling a few of the owls perched close to them. “You can’t think like that. He’ll use you, hurt you to get his way,” he was rambling and completely unable to stop himself. “He hates me Belle. If he thinks he can use someone against me, he won’t hesitate. Being close to me puts you in more danger than you could possibly understand. I can’t… I can’t lose you. He can’t know. I- “

Belle pulled him into a tight hug effectively cutting off his fearful ramblings. The two sat perched on the edge of the Ravenclaw tower holding onto each other desperately tight. “You aren’t going to lose me. Ever. You’re not lucky enough for that.” The last was said with a watery laugh that somehow found itself spreading to Rumpelstiltskin.

As the darkness encroached ever tighter around them, Belle and Rumpelstiltskin found that they had created a small light of their own. It wasn’t much, but it allowed them to find a rare spot of happiness in even the darkest place.

Chapter Text

December blew upon them in a frigid flurry of snow. Piles of the white menace covered the grounds of the castle creating a lovely sight to all fortunate enough to behold it. Despite the pleasant views, students forced to trudge across the grounds to the greenhouse grumbled constantly about the conditions. On top of the frigid temperatures and long walks through the snow drifts, students had to worry about those mischievous enough to spend their idle time bewitching snowballs to fall on unsuspecting heads. Such a climate ensured that a consistent rain of swear words could be heard at any given moment on the grounds of Hogwarts.

As he made his way to Herbology, David Nolan ducked behind one of the greenhouses to avoid Jefferson and Victor - the most avid participants in the current snowball wars. His goal was to make it to class at least once this week without being pummeled by a thousand snowballs from the two trouble makers. Considering the upcoming match between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw, he’d been a favorite target of the two.

Rounding the corner to his proffered hiding spot, David stopped short. Crouching behind greenhouse number two was his favorite person on Earth. He couldn’t stop the stupid grin that crossed his face as he noticed just how beautiful she looked out in the snow. Her short dark hair stood in perfect contrast to both the snow and her pale skin. Beauty didn't even begin to describe Mary Margaret.

"And who might you be hiding from?" asked David startling the young lady.

"David," Mary Margaret gasped in surprise. "You scared me!"

Sauntering closer he wrapped his arms around the love of his life and planted a quick kiss on her cheek. "Surely I'm not that frightening."

An eye roll was all he received in response. Chuckling David repeated his original question. "So really, who are you hiding from?"

"If you must know," Mary Margaret whispered as she peered around the corner of the building, "I’m waiting for Jeff and Victor to make it back to the castle. Those two are impossible this time of year!"

The stupid grin he'd been wearing since he first saw her broke into a full-blown idiotic smile. "Same," David responded. "I think they've made it their goal in life to terrorize more students this year than ever before."

"Well mission accomplished."

"Did you hear about how they stuck fireworks from the Weasley's store in a few and sent them after Jones and Smee?"

"It's terrible isn't it," Mary Margaret agreed in a somber voice. The effect of disappointment in her fellow students would have been complete if she hadn't been wearing the smirk David loved so much. At his knowing look she rolled her eyes again and conceded, "If anyone deserves to be pummeled by enchanted snowballs it's those two."

"Mary Margaret Blanchard wishing ill on another?" David mocked. "I can hardly believe it. I can't wait to tell all the professors that their favorite do-gooder is actually just as much a miscreant as the rest of us."

"I am not a miscreant."

"You're laughing at the misfortune of others. That certainly doesn't qualify you as a Disney princess or anything so noble. I guess that means you're stuck as a miscreant like the rest of us."

"Now you're just being silly," Mary Margaret scoffed as she buried her hands in his coat and wrapped her arms around David’s waist.

A moment of sheer bliss followed before the young man gathered his wits and continued their friendly banter. "Don't you usually have a dashing prince or some talking animal to defend your honor? Let one of them disagree with me."

"Charming prince?" She scoffed. "I'm sure those same teachers would also love to know just how many times noble and all around good guy David Nolan has snuck down to the kitchens in this past week alone."

“Hey, you benefit from those trips too!" He laughed.

Mary Margaret looked up at him with a serious expression that promised an end to their light-hearted banter. "Speaking of charming princes and noble deeds, I heard about what you did for Gold the other day. That was really wonderful of you."

"It's what anyone should have done,” David shrugged.

“Yeah but no one else bothered."

Rubbing a hand through his hair David sighed heavily. "It was bad this time. There were at least twenty other people just standing around laughing. I mean I get disliking someone, but that's messed up.

“People suck,” Mary Margaret responded wisely.

“Yeah,” conceded David. “Then Gold turned around and hexed the crap out of Thomas and Gaston for no reason. So much for no good deed going unpunished.”

Mary Margaret ran a comforting hand up and down his back. “You did the right thing David, don't doubt that.”

“I didn't think you liked Gold.”

His girlfriend’s brow crinkled in the adorable way that meant she wasn’t quite certain how to feel. “I'm not his biggest fan especially after he started ignoring belle. But no one deserves all of that.”

David couldn’t contain his smirk. “There's the Disney princess I know and love.” The fateful word left him before he could fully consider its implications. But the shock of Mary's gave said she certainly didn't miss it.

“Love?”

“Well... I mean" he made up his mind surprisingly quick. "Yeah, of course I do."

The smile that graced his love’s face in that moment would be forever seared into David’s memory. “I think I love you too," she whispered.

David’s heart soared. He was quite certain that he would float the entire way back to the castle. Just as he leaned in to show her how much he loved her, a voice called over to them. "Well isn't this adorable."

A grown of dismay thought its way past David’s lips immediately.

“Just beautiful” another voice chimed in.

“It's almost like on of those horrible, cheesy Christmas movies you keep making me watch,” Victor Frank said as he leaned against the end of the greenhouse closes to the couple.

“The school is going to be ecstatic,” Jefferson added as he joined his best friend, a mad twinkle settling into his eyes. “I think McGonagall and Flitwick have had a running bet on how long it’d take.”

“Oh sod off,” Mary Margaret said with more exasperation than normally colored her tone.

“Whoa princess let's watch the language now,” Jefferson exclaimed in mock indignity.

“It's not very becoming,” Victor agreed with a nod to his friend.

“Go away,” David begged.

“We could,” Jefferson began.

“But where would be the fun in that,” Victor finished.

“You see it gets so boring– “

“Just hanging around the castle-”

“Waiting to run across some unsuspecting first or second year-”

“To prank or joke around with,” Jefferson allowed his sentence to draw out before continuing with a wink at his best mate. “And here you two are.”

“Cuddled up nicely together,” Victor smirked.

“A two for one.”

David had had enough of their joking around and honestly the way they finished each other’s sentences was vaguely frightening. “If you throw one snowball at us-“

“Who said anything about one?” Victor laughed.

Five minutes later David and Mary Margaret dashed back into the safety of the entrance hall holding hands, laughing, and soaking wet. They’d held their own against the two marauding boys, but Jefferson and Victor had their act down to a fine science. Whether he’d admit it or not, battling his way through a torrent of snowballs with the woman he loved beside him had been the most fun David Nolan had ever had. He knew that whatever came next in his life, be it darkness or light, as long as he could find Mary Margaret by his side, he’d be alright.

Chapter Text

“So,” Neal asked dragging out the word in a sigh, “what are we doing down here again?”

Rumpelstiltskin shot him a glare over the cauldron that sat between them. “We’re brewing a potion.”

Rolling his eyes at his cousin, Neal leaned forward demanding attention. “Right… I can see that. But why are we down in the old potions classrooms, brewing a potion that we weren’t assigned?”

“Because I think might have found a solution for this travesty,” Rumple answered with a nod towards the mark on his left forearm as he minced a few sprigs of rosemary.

“Really?” Neal asked peering over the rim of the cauldron.

“Maybe,” came the short reply.

Neal allowed Rumpelstiltskin to concentrate for a few moments longer before boredom forced him to speak up once again. “And why exactly are we brewing this potion in the abandoned part of the dungeons?”

Rumpelstiltskin sighed. “We’re avoiding the general populace of the castle.”

“While neck deep in Slytherin territory?”

“Where else would one brew a potion without interruption?”

“I don’t know, I can think of a few other possibilities. But none of them involve hanging around an area full of people who hate us.”

A shrug was Rumpelstiltskin’s only response. The long-haired boy haired boy added the rosemary into his cauldron along with a few other ingredients and began stirring the concoction cautiously. As he worked, he continued their conversation. “Only a select few of the Slytherins hate us. Several of them still cling to the old pureblood ideologies.”

Shocked at that revelation, Neal couldn’t contain his curiosity. “Like who?”

“Regina’s sister Zelena for one.”

“Isn’t she the chick who had a thing for you a couple of years ago?”

“That’s the one,” Rumple shuddered. “I do my best to avoid her these days. But she’s the type that believe Malcolm has the right idea. She might hide it behind pretty words and fancy clothes, but she’s wicked clever and psycho to boot. Just the kind that crave superiority.’”

Neal pursed his lips at that little revelation. He couldn’t believe that there were still those at school who actually ascribed to the crap that had torn the wizarding world apart on multiple occasions. “Aside from the nutjobs, who else would admit to believing in that crap”

“Older kids from the pureblood families. Not that many though and not only in Slytherin. The Hyde brothers are a great example.”

“Purebloods?”

Rumple nodded as he lowered the concoction down to a simmer with a wave of his wand. “And both in Ravenclaw. Their parents never outright supported Voldemort, but they thought he had the right idea.”

“But they hate you! Sorry,” Neal added as he received a glare from his companion.

“They can believe in my father’s ideology and still despise me. Apparently, the school body shares that common denominator regardless of beliefs or ties.”

“At least they all agree on something,” Neal quipped drawing a rare smile from Rumpelstiltskin.

Why the world insisted on hating his cousin, Neal couldn’t understand. Rumple might be a reclusive prick at times but around those he liked, and he knew liked him in return, the boy was wicked sharp and witty with a dark sense of humor. If only the rest of Hogwarts gave Malcolm Gold’s son a chance.

“Didn’t you want help with Transfiguration homework?” Rumple asked turning his full attention to Neal.

“Oh… yeah about that,” the latter replied sheepishly.

“You forgot it.”

“I forgot it.”

With yet another roll of his eyes, Rumpelstiltskin turned his attention back to his potion. Unfortunately for him, Neal had no intentions of allowing the silence to continue.

“How are things between you and Belle?”

“Things are good,” the other replied with a sigh and without looking up from his work.

“Now that you've stopped acting like a complete and total prick.”

“I think she used the word moron.”

“Well whether way. I'm glad you came to your senses.” Neal stood and stretched before walking around the room, completely bored with sitting around watching someone else work. Yet curiosity of the room could only contain his attention for so long. “What happened there anyway?”

“I’d rather not talk about it.”

“Malcolm?" Neal asked ignoring his cousin’s sudden tension. Rumple nodded sullenly. "What'd he do this time?"

Sighing heavily, Rumple fell onto his stool. "After I left your place over the summer, he paid me a visit. He saw Belle. I refused to do what he asked, and he threatened her.

“So, then he beat the shit out of you and you did it anyway,” Neal replied angrily.

Rumpelstiltskin shrugged, running his hands through his hair. “Not right away, but yeah I couldn't risk her. If he knew just how much she means to me...”

“It would be bad,” the younger man supplied. “What did he want you to do?”

“Jones's brother is causing trouble again.”

“And Malcolm wants leverage?”

It hadn’t really been a question, but Rumpelstiltskin answered him anyway. “And Malcolm wants leverage.”

“What did you do to Jones?”

“Nothing,” Rumple exclaimed earnestly. “I've just kept tabs on him. Told Malcolm a bit about him and his relationship with his family. Likes, dislikes, people he's close to, the usual.”

Completely unfazed by Rumple’s willingness to rat on Jones, Neal nodded and dropped onto the stool next to Rumple’s. “And you pushed Belle away to keep her out of it all.” It made sense now. Of course, his cousin would think pushing someone away would make things better. The stubborn guy just couldn’t get it through his head that there were people around him who actually cared about his well being.

“For all the good it did,” Rumple muttered.

“It might be more dangerous for her, but I'm glad you have someone else on your side.” Neal shot a sidelong look at his companion before diving into his next question with Gryffindor like tact. “So, have you told her you love her yet?”

His question was well worth the reaction. Rumpelstiltskin’s eyes grew large and his mouth fell wide as he grappled for something to say. He finally managed to splutter, “I'm not in love with her!”

“Come off it,” Neal grinned. “Course you are. You'd be daft to not be,” noticing the other boy’s discomfort, Neal took a more serious approach. “Rumple, you're my brother in every way that matters. All I want is for you to be happy. If Belle is what makes you happy, then I'm rooting for you two. But you'd better tell her how you feel before someone else realizes how amazing she is.”

Several beats passed as Rumpelstiltskin digested that information. His face fell into something close to despair. “It won't matter. She doesn't feel the same.”

The sudden change in mood shocked Neal. “You've already talked about it?”

“No,” Rumple answered, “but, how could she? I mean… she’s Belle. Wonderful, beautiful, kind, Belle… and I’m, well me.”

Seeing the disastrous nature of this course, Neal jumped in to save Rumple from his own self-doubt. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, cut that right out. You are one of the best guys I know. Despite all the crap you deal with, you find the time to watch out for a little shit who loves to find trouble and his wayward sister who can't keep her mouth shut long enough to make a good impression on anyone. You deserve a bit of happiness too. Don't forget that.”

Rumpelstiltskin smiled sadly in a manner that told Neal he disagreed, but the boy didn’t offer any dissent. The two sat and watched the potion simmer for another hour or so before agreeing that curfew was too close to linger any longer. Rumpelstiltskin pulled a lid tight across the cauldron and sat it and its contents on a shelf in the back corner of the room. The two walked in silence back towards the Entrance Hall.

“Emma and I are going to Hogsmeade together next weekend,” Neal said as they reached their parting point. “You and Belle should come with us.”

Uncertainty crossed Rumple’s expression as he replied. “Sounds an awful lot like a double date Neal.”

“Nah,” Neal insisted. “Just a few friends hanging out on the weekend.”

“Except that two of those friends happen to be in a relationship.”

“Technicalities,” Neal replied with a wink. “I’ll take that as a yes and we will meet you two right here, bright and early next Friday.”

Before Rumpelstiltskin could offer up any more excuses or flat out refuse, Neal turned and walked quickly to his common room shouting a hasty good night over his shoulder. His cousin might not be prepared to tell Belle how he felt, but Neal could certainly give them as many chances as possible to find each other.

Chapter Text

It was only the second day of the month and already December had left its fingerprints all over the castle. Snow drifts stacked high out on the grounds of the castle, creating a scene that looked like something out of a storybook. The only fault that could be found with such scenery was the fact that the denizens of Hogwarts were subjected to the freezing temperatures of the Scottish Highlands. While the castle had layers upon layers of heating charms within it’s walls, it couldn’t completely keep out the constant draft.

Yet not even the frigid air or the sense of confinement such days brought could dampen the spirits of Belle French. Christmas decorations had begun springing up almost overnight leaving a festive sense roaming the halls. Her favorite season in the castle coupled with the return of her best friend, left Belle with the inability to be anything other than exceedingly content. For the moment at least, life was good.

Thoughts of how she might engage the time of her newly reinstated antisocial best friend this Christmas carried the Belle down from transfiguration to the girl’s bathroom. Stepping in to freshen up before heading to the Great Hall, Belle didn't expect to hear quiet snuffling from the back stall. A quick mental check confirmed that she was not on the second floor and therefore she couldn't be hearing the cries of the infamous moaning Myrtle. 

Uncertainty held her for only a moment before curiosity got the better of her. “Hello,” she called out knocking lightly on the stall door. “You okay in there?”

“Go away,” came the unmistakable voice of Regina Mills.

Sighing softly, Belle ran through her options. While she rather liked Regina from time to time, they were most certainly not close friends. In all honesty they could hardly be considered cordial most of the time, but that might have more to do with the ongoing Quidditch rivalry between Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw and less to do with any real animosity. However, they were close enough that Belle consistently made it a point to include Regina in any event she planned with other students in their year. The young woman had a crazy enough home life that Belle knew she needed all the support from her classmates that she could muster.

Stealing herself, Belle made her decision. “It’s me Regina. It’s Belle.”

“Not sure how that makes a difference to my previous statement,” the other girl snapped.

“Prickly as always,” Belle muttered before continuing in a louder voice. “Look Regina, you can either continue moping around in there or you can come out here and vent to someone who cares. You’re choice.”

Silence permeated the room for so long, that Belle felt certain Regina would choose to remain alone. However, the other girl surprised her by opening the stall door. Tear marks tracked down Regina’s face leaving long smears of massacre in their wake. Judging from the redness of her eyes and the soft hiccups Belle could hear punctuating her sniffles, it seemed that Regina had been in here for a long while.

A couple flicks of Belle’s wand locked the bathroom doors and procured two plush cushions for the two girls to sit more comfortably. Sliding down the wall, Belle did her best not to pry too quickly into the Hufflepuff’s issues. “So what’s going on,” she said utterly failing attempts at subtly.

“Nothing,” Regina sobbed wiping angrily at her eyes.

“Yes, most people tend to sit crying in the loo over nothing,” Belle quipped gently, hoping that snark would be the best way to reach her usually sarcastic companion.

To Belle’s delight, that brought the smallest of smiles to Regina’s face. “I must look an absolute mess.”

“I’ve seen worse,” said Belle, “What’s up?”

 Regina sighed before admitting, “It’ my sister.”

“The red head who is way too excited about her house colors?”

That startled a small laugh out of Regina. “That would be the one.” The other girls face fell as she admitted the truth behind her soured mood. “I caught her making out with Robin earlier. They were in front of God and everyone out there.” 

Bell was surprised enough to actually gasp at that. “But he hates her!”

Regina and Robin had been flitting around actually dating for months now. Ever since Ruby had spilled the beans on Regina’s attraction last year, the two had been seen together more often than apart. This latest development would certainly throw a wrench into their developing relationship.

A line appeared between her brows as Regina’s eyes narrowed. “According to Mal, Zelena’s been purchasing quite a few items from Weasley Wizard Wheezes over the past few weeks.”

Belle was exceedingly familiar with said store having spent a large portion of her summer walking through the store’s shelves with Rumple. “A love potion?” she asked recalling the large display she’d observed during one of their visits.

Regina nodded. “I don't see how it could be anything else. At least that's what I'm hoping.”

“It has to be!” Belle exclaimed lying a hand on Regina’s shoulder. “He's absolutely nuts about you. There’s no way he’d be caught dead with anyone else, least of all your sister.” Another thought struck Belle as she contemplated Regina’s predicament. “But why would Zelena do something like that”

“Jealousy,” Regina supplied simply. “Zelena is under the impression that our mother cares more about me than her. All because her father is no longer in the picture and mine is.”

Shock was the first thing that registered in Belle’s mind. How could someone be that twisted. “Regina don't take this the wrong way or anything, but your sister is nuts.”

“You’re telling me.”

“You and your mom…” Belle paused choosing her next words with care, “I mean, not trying to be nosy or anything…but isn’t she the reason you’ve stayed here during every possible holiday?”

Leaning her head back against the wall, Regina nodded. Her eyes fixed on the ceiling she tried her best to keep tears from falling once again. “Mother is a complicated woman. She wants the best for us, but she doesn’t always know where to draw the line between wanting the best and wanting to control our lives. Honestly, Zelena can be her favorite for all I care.”

It was perhaps her first candid conversation with Regina Mills, but Belle ardently hoped that it wouldn’t be the last. The girl beside her could be stand offish and snarky; however, it seemed as if that humor and sass hid something so much deeper. And Belle found she rather liked the individual hiding beneath Regina’s rough exterior.

“So tell me the truth here Regina,” Belle added seriously, “do I need to go and hex her to oblivion? Because I happen to have a very sneaky friend who is good at that type of thing.”

“Emma’s already offered to beat the shit out of her multiple times,” Regina snorted.

“In all honesty, I think Rumple might actually enjoy hexing Zelena to oblivion. He’d probably agree in a heartbeat.”

“I can handle it. Thank you, Belle,” Regina muttered the last almost to quietly for Belle to hear.

“Of course,” the bookworm replied with a smile.

 

***

 

“Word around the school is that you did a good deed,” said Rumpelstiltskin as he slipped into the seat beside her for dinner.

“Vicious rumor I’m sure,” Belle replied.

 The soft smile that only she could pull from him graced Rumple’s face. “Oh I very much doubt that. So, I do need to go hex anyone?” Rumple added with a wink.

“I figured it would be a win win for everyone,” Belle laughed. “I know how little you like Zelena, though I’m still waiting on that particular story.”

All humor fled Rumpelstiltskin’s face as they approached apparently dangerous waters. “It’s not a story I enjoy telling.”

Attempting to keep the mood on the side of light, Belle bumped his shoulder with hers. “Best friend, remember. We don’t keep secrets from each other. I’m perfectly fine with hating people on the principle of your dislike, but I at least need to know why I’m supposed to hate them.”

Thankfully that returned the smile to her friend’s face. “I guess you do have a point. Want to take dinner to go?”

Nodding in reply, Belle offered swift goodbyes to Jefferson and Victor as she threw a few sandwiches and other goods into her bag. Fifteen minutes and a few heating charms later and the two sat in their favorite spot at the top of the Ravenclaw tower admiring the millions of stars that spread out above them.

Knowing that Rumple wouldn’t begin his tale on his own, she reminded him why they were there. “So, you owe me a story.”

“Do I?” He responded cryptically.

“Yes. And I intend to hold you to your promise.”

“It’s not a nice story,” he sighed.

“That’s why you should share it,” Belle reasoned. “You can’t keep everything bottled up inside, it’s not healthy.”

“You are determined to have all my secrets aren’t you.”

“Best friend,” she winked.

The two settled onto the blanket they’d spread out and divided the food between them. Sitting side by side, Belle and Rumpelstiltskin allowed the rest of the world to melt away leaving them completely alone – as they preferred it. Here on the top of Ravenclaw tower, with his best friend at his side, Rumple found peace unlike anything he’d ever known. Thinking back on the past few months he wondered how he ever survived without the beauty beside him.

Heaving a long, exasperated sigh, Rumple noted the eager looks Belle shot at him. Knowing that the tale to come wasn’t pleasant, he squared his shoulders and plowed ahead.

“You know Regina and I go way back,” Rumpelstiltskin began, to which Belle nodded urging him to continue. “Her mom and my dad were friendly during the Second Wizarding Wars.”

“Was she a supporter of Voldemort?” Belle interrupted. Of course she interrupted, she wouldn’t be Belle if she didn’t.

“Not officially. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you the truth of that one. Cora is far too clever to get caught up in something as scandalous as poor politics,” Rumple’s voice was colored with an odd fondness that Belle had never heard before. Making a mental note to dig into that relationship later, Belle turned her attention back to her best friend.

“Even now it’s impossible to tell who Cora supports and doesn’t support. But that’s beside the point. While growing up, Regina and I got stuck together far too often. We were never what you might call best friends, but we were rather close for a time. I always had a safe place at Cora and Henry’s. If Malcolm was in a rut or if things were particularly dicey, Cora would let me come around.”

“I thought you said she and Malcolm were friendly?” Belle asked interjecting again. “I can’t imagine him remaining so with someone who helped you.”

Rumpelstiltskin tensed ever so slightly at her words. “Well,” he drew out the word as he collected his thoughts. “Cora didn’t mind me escaping to her home, but she always made certain that I knew I would face the consequences of my actions alone. Unless she felt she absolutely had to step in, she wouldn’t be taking the blame.”

“That’s horrible!”

“She did the best she could,” Rumpelstiltskin argued vehemently. Cora had more than earned his loyalty over the years. “Anyway, still not the point. Zelena is a few years older than Regina and she was always jealous that Regina had a friend who could come over at odd times and she didn’t. I don’t think she’s ever really fancied me, but the idea of dating the son of the darkest wizard in current knowledge… well apparently it has some kind of appeal to her.”

“So, you’re saying she’s a few crayons short of a full box?”

“That would be an understatement. I’m not even sure she has half the box. When we got to Hogwarts, she looked after the two of us for a while. Made sure we knew how to get to classes, introduced us to the right professors, that kind of thing. For a while there, I thought she might actually be okay. But when I started hanging around Milah in first year…” his words ran out as Rumpelstiltskin shuddered.

Belle leaned in towards him subconsciously offering him support. “I take it she wasn’t a fan of that arrangement.”

“Not at all. She would tail me from class to class and find anyway possible to involve herself in mine and Milah’s plans. After a while I cut all ties with her and even went so far as to have a conversation with McGonagall about her. When Milah decided I wasn’t worth her time, Zelena tried to swoop in. But after that Malcolm stepped into the spotlight and she didn’t have to vie for my attention anymore.”

“She had you were she wanted you,” Belle supplied softly. “Did you ever entertain the idea?”

“Absolutely not,” Rumple insisted fixing Belle with a hard look. “Even if I was interested in dating someone I wouldn’t choose her. I may not have many choices – if any – in that department, but even I have standards higher than that.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Belle smiled. Refusing to admit just how much her heart had soared at his admission that he didn’t have designs on any girls at the moment. Pushing that thought away for now, Belle pushed into dangerous waters once again. “So Milah…”

Rumpelstiltskin grabbed a goblet of pumpkin juice and took a long drink. “Is old news.”

Belle placed a hand over Rumple’s and cheered internally when he didn’t flinch. “She hurt you.” It hadn’t been a question. “Pretty badly, I’d wager. Can I know that story too?”

“Belle,” he pleaded.

“Please,” she said squeezing his hand. “I know it’s hard, but I want to understand why she treats you the way she does. You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” she added when he refused to meet her eyes. “But when you’re ready you know you can talk to me.”

Rumpelstiltskin continued looking down at their interlocked hands, but something warm chased the dejectedness from his expression. When warm brown eyes finally met blue, a peculiar twinkle danced within his gaze.

Nodding slowly, he made up his mind. “Milah… I was head over heels for her from the moment I saw here first year. We had Defense class together and somehow I managed to work up the courage to talk with her. We were together for about a year before she informed me that the only reason she’d ever considered even talking to me was so that she could get closer to Killian Jones. She dated me to make him notice her. And it worked perfectly.”

Belle didn’t say anything in return at first, but she didn't miss the bitterness that remained in Rumpelstiltskin's voice as he talked about the girl who'd first broken his heart. Instead she threw her arm around his shoulders and pulled him in for a hug. Sharing the warmth of their close proximity, Belle rejoiced in the simple joy of having her best friend returned to her. She'd missed him terribly. More than even she wanted to admit. “Her loss,” Belle replied simply.

Rumpelstiltskin didn’t know what he’d done to deserve Belle’s friendship, but he thanked every star in the heavens above that he’d found her.

Chapter Text

It was with a complete lack of shock that Tilly walked into the girl’s bathroom to the sounds of someone sobbing. In a school filled to the brim with several hundred adolescents such things were simply part of the norm. Everyday some young woman with her heart on her sleeves would be offended, heartbroken, or teased into to tears and would then retreat to one of the available lavatories for a good cry.

Such was the life of a teenager.

Sighing heavily, Tilly debated ignoring the sounds and simply walking away. Being raised as the oldest in a crazy pureblood family with the duty to protect her younger brother had left the young lady with little tolerance for the ridiculous problems of today's youth. However, she couldn't in good conscience turn a blind eye to the sufferings of another.

Sighing heavily, Tilly walked to the final stall and gave a tentative knock.

The sobbing within ceased immediately, turning to quiet but labored breathing. Thankfully the stall door hid Tilly's eye roll.

"Obviously I've already heard your crying, or I wouldn't have knocked," she sighed in what she hoed wasn't too exasperated a tone.

"Tilly," answered a slightly familiar voice.

The stall door opened revealing the young Gryffindor girl she'd seen hanging around Emma and Belle.

“Red, right?” Tilly asked hoping her memory wasn’t too far off.

The Gryffindor let out a watery laugh that held no humor. “It’s Ruby actually.”

“Same color at least,” Tilly shrugged. “So what’s eating you?”

“Nothing.”

Tilly rolled her eyes once again. “Look we can play the game where I say something like ‘didn’t sound like nothing’ and then you shrug and dodge until I finally drag an answer out of you. Or we can cut to the chase and you can tell me what’s going on.”

Indignation painted itself across Ruby’s face for half a moment before the girl apparently decided she wasn’t offended. “You’re not very good at this sort of thing, are you?”

“No, I’m not. Which means that you can talk and I can try my best to help you out, or you can continue moping and I can go about my day without any worries. What’s it going to be Red?”

“It’s Ruby and you’re as a blunt as a rock to the head.”

“Take it or leave it.”

Green eyes narrowed as the girl contemplated Tilly’s offer. Leaning back against the stall, Ruby let out a lingering sigh. “I’ll take it.”

With a short nod, Tilly propped herself up on the window sill on the back wall and invited Ruby to join her. Once both girls were seated and comfortable an odd awkwardness settled around them.

After several long minutes of depressing silence, Ruby began speaking. “I don’t normally talk about this, so you have to promise that whatever is said in here stays in here.”

“Wouldn’t dream of spilling another person’s secrets,” Tilly said as she crossed her heart. “Your secrets are safe with me.”

“I have a bit of a condition…” Ruby began.

“You mean you’re a werewolf, right?”

Fear and anger flashed through the girl’s eyes as she scowled at Tilly. “How did you know that?”

“I know everything Red-“

“It’s Ruby!”

“-about everyone,” Tilly acknowledged without hesitation. “Especially about those who hang around my little brother.”

“I only hang around him because of Emma.”

“Which doesn’t exactly win you points in my book but go on.”

Ruby looked as if she was on the verge of storming out, but a quick smile from Tilly seemed to hold the girl in place. “Whatever,” she sighed. “Yes, I’m a werewolf. But I take wolfsbane every full moon, or at least I have until now.”

“Isn’t that stuff supposed to be super expensive to make?” Tilly asked cocking her head in interest.

“Thus the problem.”

“I don’t get it.”

Ruby crossed her arms and rubbed her shoulders in a manner that made her look far younger and exceedingly vulnerable. For the first time since walking into the conversation, Tilly found herself invested in the younger girl’s issues. She hated seeing those who were usually strong brought low.

“My granny runs a diner that doubles as a bed and breakfast back in Lancashire and up until now there’s always been enough extra to pay for the potion…”

“But now…” Tilly prompted.

“Granny is losing business like crazy. She doesn’t know if she’ll be able to keep the place open, let alone pay for wolfsbane.” Tears began welling in Ruby’s eyes once more.  

“That really sucks, I’m sorry Red.”

“Ruby.”

“Sorry Ruby.”

Ruby let her head fall into her hands, allowing the tears to fall. “If I can’t take the potion, then I’ll be expelled from the school.”

“What?” Tilly asked in a far louder voice than she’d intended.

“Without wolfsbane, I’m too dangerous to allow at the school.” Ruby intoned the last with such vehemence that Tilly was certain the young girl had heard those words a hundred times.

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Those are the rules.”

“Blue’s rules or the Ministry’s?”

“What do you think.”

Tilly’s mind started whirring as she contemplated the problem set out before her. “So as long as you take the potion, then you can continue attending Hogwarts?”

Ruby simply nodded in return. Leaning back against the window, Tilly allowed her thoughts to take their own paths. She had an idea, a potentially dangerous and disastrous idea, but an idea nonetheless. Normally, she wouldn’t even give such an issue another thought. Tilly had enough issues of her own – thanks to the two young men in her life – without worrying about the problems of others. However, Ruby really was in a bind and if she helped the werewolf it would really get under Blue’s skin.

“Red-” Tilly began.

“It’s Ruby!”

“Ruby,” she corrected herself. “I think I might have a solution to your problem.”

 

***

 

Sitting in his own private corner of the common room, Rumpelstiltskin covertly watched his housemates. When everyone did their best to avoid you, it was the simplest thing in the world to observe them without disruption. As he looked out across the common room, he noticed the small everyday things that most people missed in their frantic attempts at staying busy. Unimportant though such interactions might seem to others, Rumple knew that even the slightest things could say so much about a person. And such information could always come in handy when you needed to blackmail someone into leaving you alone.

He watched as Katherine and her long time crush Frederick cuddled up close on the couch, completely oblivious to the jealous stares they were receiving from Jasmine who’d recently gone through a rough patch with her long time Gryffindor boyfriend Aladdin. Then there was Jeff sitting in an armchair by the fire nattering about to himself as he usually did while trying to complete his homework. His constant companion Victor had been called from the common room earlier in order to comfort the resident werewolf.

The Hyde brothers sat in deep conversation with one another in the corner closest to the door. Probably discussing their mother’s latest decision to publicly fund and support the Lost Boys. As he watched two first year students collided on their way out said door. Then there was Elsa who sat in her usual spot of isolation by the window, brushing a quill across her lips as she penned a letter.

All around him, the common room burst with little spots of life that would continue whether he observed them or not. Rumpelstiltskin took some measure of comfort in that idea. No matter how crazy life became, it would continue marching forward without hesitation. Regardless of which wizard or witch found themselves in power, the world would continue spinning and people would continue acting as people did.

Rumple was pulled from such weighty thoughts by the arrival of Neal, Tilly, and Belle. A troublesome trio if he’d ever seen one.

“There you are,” Tilly exclaimed as she fell into the chair in front of him. “We’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

“I’ve been here all day,” Rumple replied slowly closing his book and eyeing the trio warily. Belle and Neal took seats close to him, both perched eagerly on the edge of their chairs. These three searching so adamantly for him could only signal bad news.

Tilly dismissed his obvious discomfort with barely any notice. “We need your help.”

“Okay,” Rumpelstiltskin replied drawing out the word.

“It’s about Ruby,” Neal added eagerly. “She’s in a bit of trouble.”

“And what do the wolf’s woes have to do with me,” Rumple asked, raising his eyebrows. He didn’t miss the way Belle’s smile slipped ever so slightly at his tone.

Consequently, she was the first to respond. “Ruby’s grandmother is about to lose her business. And along with that all of their ability to afford wolfsbane.”

 Rumple raised hand as he saw exactly where this was going. “I’m not exactly certain why you are approaching me with all of these issues.”

“Because…” Neal said leaning forward in his chair beside Tilly. “We were thinking that maybe you…” He trailed off uncertainly at the glare Rumple shot him.

Tilly however, had never been affected by her younger cousin’s foul moods or glares. “You can help her,” the girl replied brazenly. “You have enough money to purchase the ingredients and you know how to brew the potion.”

“Absolutely not,” came his firm reply.

Belle’s face fell entirely at his refusal, but Tilly’s only set in the stubborn manner she usually wore before she got her way. “Why not Rumpelstiltskin? You have the means and the knowledge to help someone. Use it.”

Rumpelstiltskin ran a hand over his face as he leaned back into the armchair. “Tilly you know I can't use that money. Why can't she talk to Blue? Surely our kind and fair Headmistress would be willing to help.” Despite his best attempts, Rumple couldn’t quite keep the vitriol from his words regarding the Headmistress.

The look Tilly fixed him with informed Rumpelstiltskin just how little she thought of his clever advice. “Blue didn't want Red-“

“Ruby,” Neal corrected quietly.

“-Ruby,” Tilly continued as if she’d never been interrupted in the first place, “here in the first place, but she wasn’t given a choice.”

“She's right,” Belle chimed in ever so helpfully. Wearing a hopeful smile that almost did Rumpelstiltskin in on the spot. “Harry freaking Potter has put all of his pull behind the new legislation for werewolves. And after Voldemort, the Ministry can’t exactly refuse him something like that. ”

“Thank you, Belle,” Rumple muttered.

Feeding off the other two, Neal finally found the courage to throw in his two cents as well. “Yeah according to the Emma’s research, Ruby can stay here as long as she takes her potion and goes to the Shrieking Shack for her transformations.”

“Yes well blessed Emma must know everything,” Tilly replied rolling her eyes ferociously

“Lay off sis,” said Neal before continuing. “If Ruby doesn’t have the potion then…”

“She can’t stay,” Belle finished giving him a look that melted what was left of his resolve to ignore their pleas.

“So Blue refuses to help a student?” asked Rumple, bringing the conversation back on topic and away from dangerous territory. “Why am I not surprised?”

“Which is why it's up to you to help Red,” Tilly supplied as if was the simplest thing in the world.

“Ruby,” Belle hissed.

“It most certainly is not up to me,” insisted Rumple, ignoring Tilly’s slip. “There are plenty of people who could make the potion. Ask one of them.”


“Rumpelstiltskin Gold,” Tilly said fixing him with a glare that was straight from their days as kids. “You have the power and the funds to help this girl. Are you seriously going to let Blue win?”


Tilly's scowl alone would have been enough to force him to concede but that paired with pleading looks from Belle and Neal pushed him over the edge. "Fine. Whatever, I’ll brew it. But I still can't afford the ingredients."

Tilly rolled her eyes. "Stop being a prat and use the money in your vault."

"Again, absolutely not,” Rumpelstiltskin growled. “I’m not touching his money. If I do that, I won't hear the end of it."

“Rumple come on,” Belle begged. “Ruby needs your help."

“And I need for my skin to stay intact,” the cornered young man insisted, doing his best to allow his apprehension to cover the very real fear he felt at the prospect. He met each of their eyes and held their gazes for a long moment of silence. “You realize what you're asking me to do? Using his money will only lead to trouble.”

“He might not even find out,” Neal attempted.
 
Rumple just shot him a look. 

"Okay stupid comment,” the other boy admitted.

"What about the fact that your using the money to help someone he hates." Belle interjected silencing the conversation on all sides.

“What's that bookworm?” Tilly asked pulling herself back from her exasperated slouch in the armchair.

"Well think about it,” Belle continued, her gaze never leaving Rumple’s. “Malcolm hates people like Ruby. Thinks they're beneath him. So, if we use his money to help those people..."

Neal leapt to his feet in excitement. "That's bloody brilliant."

"Are you sure you shouldn't be in Slytherin?" Tilly smiled.

But Belle had eyes and ears for only one person. Rumpelstiltskin met her eyes and a silent conversation played out between them. Each warring for the other to see sense and back down. Sighing Rumpelstiltskin realized he’d lost this fight as soon as they’d decided he could help.

“I don't know,” he mumbled running a hand through his hair.

“What's there to know!” Neal exclaimed. “This is great. Real hero stuff man.”
“You'd be helping someone who really needs it,” Belle insisted.

“And throwing myself under the bus,” Rumple attempted to reason one final time.

However, Tilly refused to allow him out of his weakening resolve. “In the best way possible,” the infuriating seventh year added.

“Fine.”

Despite the bright smiles of the trio surrounding him, Rumpelstiltskin knew without a shadow of a doubt that he’d just agreed to something far worse than they could imagine. Malcolm wouldn’t be pleased when he discovered where his son’s allowance was being spent. He’d be even less thrilled when he found out his son was helping such a creature. Whatever kindness he paid forward in this instance, it would most certainly come back to bite him in the end. But in the face of his three best friends happiness, he thought it might just be worth whatever Malcolm had in store.

Chapter Text

Neal had that stupid goofy grin that she both adored and hated plastered across his face once again. He’d point blank refused to tell her where he was taking her, insisting that it would be better as a surprise. After only two weeks of dating he’d been adamant that today, their first weekend alone as an “official couple,” be a day of celebration. Just the two of them. Emma found the whole thing rather endearing, and only slightly exasperating.

As they passed a cluster of old portraits depicting creatures similar to trolls – ogres perhaps? – having a raucous party, Neal slowed his pace. Dropping her hand, he turned her to face a large expanse of blank wall.

“Stand just there,” he instructed before she could so much as ask what they were doing in an abandoned sixth floor corridor. “And close your eyes!”

Emma took little care to conceal the roll of her eyes. “This is silly Neal. I’m not closing my eyes!”

Anyone else might have had their spirits dampened at such a comment, but not Neal. Instead that goofy grin only stretched further across his face. “It is never silly to want to surprise one’s girlfriend. Now do as your told or you won’t be getting your present.”

“Yes sir,” she mocked, but reluctantly did as he’d asked.

“There’s no need to call me sir,” he called back to her from a distance that seemed further away than it had been two seconds prior.

She could hear him walking back and forth across the floor. Emma managed to resist the temptation to peak despite the curiosity begging her to do just that. Cheating at this game he’d so meticulously constructed would be the only thing that could hurt Neal’s feelings today.

Suddenly he was right in front of her. “Keep your eyes closed okay,” he whispered as he took her by the hand and led her forward.

The air around her shifted as they walked through a doorway. No longer did the frigid winter air bite at her skin, instead she was engulfed in a comfortable warmth. Neal’s hand left hers and she heard the door behind her click shut.

“Okay, you can open your eyes now.”

Emma felt her jaw drop as she opened her eyes and took in the view of the room. Floor to ceiling windows extended along the outer wall providing a perfect view of the snow covered grounds and the Black Lake. Hulking Scottish mountains sat against the horizon, creating the most breath taking view the young Gryffindor could ever remember seeing. The rest of the room was devoid of furniture or really anything. Only a large blanket laid out right in front of the window and a picnic basket that sat on top of the blanket adorned the room.

“Welcome to the Room of Requirement,” Neal exclaimed throwing his arms wide as he led her further into the expansive room. Happiness shone from him at her obvious delight at his idea.

Emma found herself speechless for several moments as she took in the beauty of the scene before her. Finally, she managed to choke out the first question that popped into her head. “How did you find this place?”

Neal’s smile, if possible, grew even bigger at her stunned silence. “Rumple showed it to me first year. Said it was a good place to hide from unsavory characters. Which I took to mean a great place to bring your girlfriend for a quiet, romantic getaway. Probably not what he intended, but hey.”

“Probably not,” Emma agreed smiling as he continuously referred to her as his girlfriend. Apparently, Neal could not bring himself to get past his excitement over that fact. Her musings paused as she took in the sheer beauty of the room. “Wait I thought this place was gone?”


Neal shot her a cheeky wink as he unpacked the picnic basket. “Look at someone knowing their Hogwarts history!”

“I do read on occasion.”

“Sure, you do Emma,” he scoffed. “I’ve seen you read Quidditch Through the Ages at least a dozen times. Hogwarts, A History though… that’s more Belle’s territory.”

“Whatever,” Emma conceded giving her boyfriend a playful shove as she said it. “Are you going to divulge the secrets of the Room of Requirement 2.0, oh great and knowledgeable sage of Hogwarts?”

“Well only because you’re using my proper title,” Neal quipped with a wink. Pulling her over to the picnic he’d prepared, Neal began his explanation. “The best we can guess – we being Rumple and myself of course – is that after the old room was destroyed in the battle, Hogwarts understood that it had lost something important. In an attempt to rectify that, it created a new room.”

Emma’s eyebrows rose as she listened to his explanation. “You don’t think that perhaps there were just always two rooms?”

Neal’s face fell as he digested her proposal. “That’s just silly.”

“More silly than a magic castle that is self-aware?”

“Emma, the staircases change on a daily basis and little elves fix our food and clean the castle. I think we’re far past self-aware.”

“I won’t spoil your ideas any further,” she promised before turning her attention to the food. “So, what did you manage to pilfer from the poor house elves this time then?” Neal shot her a sheepish smile as he pulled out a plate of sandwiches, two goblets, a pitcher of pumpkin juice, and more sweets than she could actually believe fit in the basket. “You sure know how to treat a girl.”

“I’ve been told as much.”

“No, you haven’t.”

“No, I haven’t.”

Emma sprawled herself out across the blanket and grabbed a handful of cauldron cakes to go with her grilled cheese. “At any rate I’m glad you found this place.”

“Rumple did all the work, I just got lucky,” Neal shrugged.

“Speaking of your wayward cousin, the rumor mill seems to think he’s actually demonstrating human emotion and helping Ruby with her furry little problem,” Emma remarked around a mouth full of sandwich.

Neal nodded as he chewed and swallowed like he had some decency before answering. “He’s a better guy than most people give him credit for.”

“So you keep telling me,” she smirked. “David seems to think he’s a pretty standup guy these days.”

“Yeah, well David still has a lot of ground to make up before I give a toss about his thoughts.”

“David’s not so bad. He’s one of those few good guys you hear about.”

Neal’s face darkened as he looked out across the grounds. “He may be now, but I’ve seen him stand aside too many times to forgive him just yet.”

“He hasn’t been around Jones and that crew since this time last year,” Emma protested. “Give him a chance.”

“Not likely. Sorry Emma, I can’t. Not yet at least. There’s too much bad blood there. Especially since his brother still hangs around Jones.”

Emma accepted defeat for now. David had changed, and she couldn’t help but be friends with the guy, but she couldn’t force Neal to like the guy. Especially when she considered all of the bad blood that existed between David’s friends and Neal’s. “So what's the story between Gold and Jones anyway?”

Neal shrugged again. “Not much of a story at all really.”

“That’s usually what people say before they launch into a story,” Emma pointed out with a smile.

Popping a chocolate frog into his mouth, Neal leaned back onto his elbows as he considered where to begin. “We go way back with Jones. His father and my father knew each other fairly well so we spent many a summer in play dates with Jones. Which meant that Rumple got tossed into the equation whenever things got too bad with Malcolm or when Malcolm dumped him at our place.” 

“Sounds fun,” Emma quipped as she propped back against the picnic basket.

Laughing at her cheek, something close to nostalgia settled across Neal’s features as he began his tale. "It was different then. Tilly, Jones, Rumple, and I spent a good deal of time together. It’s why Jones actually listens to Tilly most of the time. The four of us used to get into all kinds of trouble, growing up. Knowing Jones's father and knowing our father, Tilly usually tried to take the blame when Rumple wasn’t around. Save someone's neck enough times and you engender some respect. She saved Killian and I a world of trouble more times than I can count."

"Your father isn't as hard on her?”

"Just as hard, but less likely to respond physically. She and Rumple have saved my ass more times than I can ever repay them for."

"What was Jones's father like?"

"A real winner," Neal snorted darkly. "Granted, I've met worse, but he’s a real bastard for the most part. Left Jones and his brother when Liam was eighteen.”

“Liam?”

“The eldest Jones brother,” Neal answered. “Real decent type. He’s hell bent on stopping Malcolm’s reign of terror. Liam’s one of the good guys. Practically raised Killian and worked two or more jobs to do so. It’s always surprising to me that he and Killian are related.”

“Maybe Killian will grow into himself,” Emma offered hopefully.

“Not likely.”

“You still haven’t explained Gold and Jones,” Emma prodded, reminding him of the original story he’d been telling.

“Right! Anyway, Rumple and Killian used to be in charge of entertaining us when we were stuck inside all day. Those two could come turn almost anything into some kind of game or grand adventure. Definitely got us into trouble a lot of the time, but it was usually worth it. This one time Killian and Rumple were both over and the four of us had been stuck in the library all day. Somehow between the four of us we managed to turn the whole library pink. Pissed dad off to no end, but after Rumple took the blame there wasn't much he could do except ground us."

“So Jones and Gold were friends once?”

"I don't know if I call them friendly maybe less antagonistic. They never particularly liked one another, but they got on well enough, I guess. At least until...” Neal paused. His eyes darted to her and he sat straight pulling his knees to his chest. “…there was an incident. After that things changed."

“What happened?" When Neal remained quiet, Emma pushed for details. "Is this why Jones dislikes you too?"

Neal looked uncomfortable. "I guess so.”

Noting her boyfriend’s discomfort Emma reluctantly attempted to put a lid on her curiosity. “You don’t have to talk about Neal. It’s okay.”

Shooting her a quick but grateful smile, Neal ran a hand through his hair. “Naw, it’s okay. We’ve made it this far. One day during the summer before Tilly started to Hogwarts the four of us were together. Malcolm, my dad, and Killian’s dad were talking business and we’d been locked up in the library all day. Which of course meant we’d been bickering all day long over stupid stuff.

“I got so mad at Jones over something I don't even remember and lobbed a ball at his head. Problem was I miss him and nailed one of my family’s priceless antiques. This ugly old vase that I guess at one time must have belonged to Slytherin or had been part of Voldemort's collection, or something like that. I’ve never seen my dad that angry. Anyway Rumple being Rumple took the blame for it, but my father still told Killian's dad what happened and how very disappointed he was in the four of us. Pretty sure he was trying to guilt me into admitting that it had been me and I almost did, but Tilly stopped me. I don't think my dad believed Rumple’s story for a second, but Rumple refused to budge until Malcolm showed up. When it came down to protecting us or protecting Killian, Rumple made his decision. Told Malcolm that he’d gotten mad at Killian because of something stupid and had thrown something at Killian. Malcolm being Malcom insisted that both boys were at fault and that he be allowed to discipline them. Killian's father was more than happy to oblige his employer."

"Employer?" Emma interrupted.

"Yeah, Jones's father is a founding member of the Lost Boys."

"I had no idea," the Gryffindor exclaimed, thoroughly shocked.

"Most people don't I guess," Neal said. "It's the kind of thing you try to forget."

"So what did Malcolm do to Gold and Jones?"

"We don't really know. They were both tight lipped about it, still are. But Killian hated Rumple after that. He blamed him for whatever happened, rightly so I guess. It took a while before Jones acted normally around us again too though."

Emma’s brows furrowed as she considered his story. "I get why he hates Gold so much, but he torments you just as much. He would have gotten in just as much trouble if it had been you instead of Gold, right?"

"Well that incident led to Rumple's accident. And obviously Tilly and I were more concerned about our hurt cousin than our angry friend. Killian took it personally."

"What kind of accident."

"The kind that isn't an accident,” Neal responded fiercely. His eyes flashing with an old anger. “Rumple claims he fell down the steps, but its complete bull shit. His ankle was shattered and supposedly St. Mugnos couldn't fix it. But any healer worth their salt can heal broken bones."

"So he's lying about it,” Emma asked.

"If you'd seen him the next time he showed up at the house, you wouldn't have believed him either."

Emma’s stomach churned at the possibility. She’d spent most of her life bouncing from one foster home to the next. Abuse and neglect where simply things that she’d become used to seeing with certain people. However, what Neal was describing seemed extreme. According to Neal and Tilly their father wasn’t anyone’s cup of tea, but Neal seemed certain that Malcolm Gold was worse. What kind of parent could hurt their child like that and then leave them to suffer?

Shaking his head, Neal turned back to her wearing his trademark goofy grin, that almost covered up his obvious anger. “But enough about such morbid topics. Let’s talk about something riveting.”

“Such as,” she chuckled.

“How about the latest gossip of Hogwarts.”

“Oh that’s sure to be a cheerful topic.”

“I hear they’re talking about sacking Blue.”

“That’s just wistful thinking on your part.”

Laughter and a far more companionable atmosphere soon surrounded them. Hours passed them by as the two sat eating sweets and enjoying their alone time. As the sun climbed across the sky, Emma felt herself falling further for the boy with the quirky smile sitting beside her. Neal got her in a way that no one else ever had. Despite everything, he was exciting and full of life. Rules meant little and living life to its absolute fullest meant everything when she found herself with Neal. Somewhere in the past few months the Hufflepuff boy had become her favorite person to be with.

“Same time next weekend?” Neal asked as he packed up their basket

Emma groaned with disappointment. “Can't we have quidditch practice.” 

Neal smiled anyway, completely undaunted by the prospect of having to vie for her time. “David’s really pushing you guys, isn’t he?”

“We're still training Ruby,” she explained as she stretched and followed him to the door. 

“Oh yeah how's she doing?” 

The two moved down the corridors slowly as he walked her up to the seventh floor, neither wanting the evening to come to an end.

“She's coming along. If we could ever get the field for more than an hour or two, she'd be fantastic.”

Neal’s eyebrow cocked as that crooked smile which meant he was trying not to laugh quirked his mouth. “Who's hogging the pitch this time?”

“Your house mates,” Emma said turning a withering glare but ultimately unsuccessful glare on her boyfriend. “Will Scarlett is determined to win the cup this year.”

“That's the guy that has eyes for Belle, right?”  

“Glad to see you pay so much attention to your own house,” she scoffed. “Yes that's the guy.”

“In my defense,” Neal began, “I don't really like him sooo…”

Now that was surprising. With the exception of Jones and his crew, Neal liked pretty much everyone. And though he could be a complete idiot, Will Scarlet was a decent guy. “What's wrong with Will?”

“He's making eyes at Belle,” Neal explained as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Bro code dictates I can't like him if he’s interested in my mate or brother’s girl.”

“What?” Emma laughed, shocked by his statement. “You think there's something going on between Gold and Belle?”

“Of course there is.”

Emma searched his face for the joke she knew he must be concealing but couldn’t find any sign of humor. Surely, he couldn’t believe that Belle and Gold were…whatever he thought they were.

“Doubtful,” she said. 

“And why is that oh match maker?” 

“Look I’ll admit that Gold’s a nicer guy than most give him credit for, but Belle can do better.”  

“Nah she can't," Neal replied with an ease that spoke of serious confidence. At an incredulous look from Emma, he continued. "Sure, Belle can have any guy she wants, but she won't find someone better than Rumple. He can be a git but he's as good a guy as anyone could hope to find.”

“You’re his cousin you have to say that.” Emma argued, slightly uncomfortable in the knowledge that she was insulting Neal’s best friend.

“More like brother,” he clarified, “and I don't have to say that. I'll tell you right now that Tilly is a bitch and whoever settles with her is in for a ride. But Rumple is different. Plus belle is totally into him. You’ll get the chance to see what I’m talking about at Hogsmeade here in a few weekends.”

He’d chosen the exact moment they reached the Fat Lady’s portrait to lay that bomb at her feet. “So now we’re going on a double date?”

“I wouldn’t phrase it like that around them.”

“Neal!”

“Oh come on Emma, it will be fun.”

“He hates me.”

“Nah, he really likes you. He just can’t let you know that, or it will ruin his image,” Neal quipped with an ease that made Emma jealous. How could he be so laid back about everything. “Tilly’s the one you need to watch out for.”

Noting the actual warning in his voice, Emma decided to ask the question she’d been dying to ask all day. “Speaking of your sister who hates me, is Tilly really dating Robin Margot?” 

“Apparently,” he laughed. “Poor Robin.”

“Poor Robin indeed,” she smiled. “I had a great time today Neal. Thank you.”

“Of course. It’s the least I could do for the best girl around.”

Neal leaned in and kissed her cheek lightly, leaving a trail of warmth in his wake. “Good night Emma Swan.”

“Good night Neal Cassidy.”