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Chapter 13: Joining Up
For Sarah, whose endless support I do not deserve and am so honored to have.
Hogwarts had had a fairly dry season that autumn, but now that winter had set its claws deep into the castle, the wet weather was following on its heels in the form of sleet and snow. The sound of small particles of ice was a familiar sound now during evenings spent in the common room, students warming themselves by the ever present roaring fire and doing homework or playing games. Beth enjoyed the sound, curled up as she usually was in the armchair with a book or roll of parchment tucked cozily onto her lap. It was peaceful, she thought, to be in here while the elements raged outside.
Remus and Peter were on the ground in front of the chair, playing Gobstones - Peter was beating Remus rather badly, and Remus kept cursing silently under his breath in spite of himself, as he more than any of them hated losing at games. James was in the adjoining armchair to Beth’s, trying to copy off her homework without making it blatantly obvious that he was doing so. And Sirius was nowhere to be seen, although she had a hunch that he was off doing something that was against at least five school rules, and probably more. The fact didn’t please her necessarily, but there wasn’t much that she could do about it.
With a clatter, Peter took the last of Remus’s Gobstones, winning the game. He cackled gleefully and proposed a rematch. “Not a chance,” said Remus, a yawn stifling his words. He reached back and stretched, rubbing his hands over his eyes. “Blimey, I’m beat.”
“You played three games of Gobstones,” said James flatly, rifling through the pages of a textbook; Beth had just covered an answer subtly with her elbow, and having to find his own answers was putting him in an irritable mood. “I weep for you if that wears you out.”
“Yes, and it’s got nothing to do with the full moon coming up,” his friend shot back sarcastically, albeit in a low voice so their surrounding classmates wouldn’t catch wind of the conversation. James said nothing, already tuned out to the conversation as he pored over a page in his book. Remus rolled his eyes and got up from the rug, stretching again.
“Beth? Up for a game?” Peter asked, rattling the bag of Gobstones in what was apparently supposed to be a winning sort of way. He looked so hopeful that she hated to turn him down, but she hated the game. She shook her head and gave him a sad sort of smile.
“Guess I’m heading up too, then,” he said gloomily, stowing the back in the pocket of his robes. “Wait up, Remus.” The two boys disappeared up the staircase leading to the boys’ dormitory, and at that moment James let out a little noise of frustration.
“For the love of Merlin,” he said through gritted teeth. “Beth, I beseech you. What on earth are goblin’s teeth used for in potion making?”
“You beseech me?” Beth smirked, not looking up from carefully sketching a diagram of a newt’s eye. She thought it rather funny to see James in such a state about his schoolwork – not only did it speak volumes about his desperation, but it was just plain fun to watch him get so worked up sometimes, simply because it was a rare occurrence.
The other Gryffindors in the common room began to trickle up to bed in small groups as the sleet gradually began to beat upon the windows with more insistency. Beth finished her diagram but stayed in her armchair, knowing that eventually she’d cave to helping James, who was still looking through his book in vain for the answer that was eluding him.
It really shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to them when Sirius barreled into the common room once more, leaping over people and furniture when he spotted his friends around the fire. He wore the same wildly excited look he’d adopted on the other occasion he’d done this, when he’d come sprinting in to confirm the existence of that secret society he was fond of blathering about. Beth watched him with raised eyebrows as he finally stumbled to a halt in front of their chairs.
“Sirius, do you know how gob-“ James started to say, his nose mere inches from the book, but Sirius cut him off with a curt wave of the hand.
“Not important. I need to talk to you in the dormitory, right now. It’s urgent. Crucial. Now move.”
“You just kicked that second year’s book clear across the common room,” Beth said helpfully, pointing to a boy seated by the window, who was now scowling mightily in their direction. Sirius rolled his eyes, positively dancing from foot to foot now.
“Is your pocket squeaking?” Beth asked, eyes now moving to the right pocket of his robes, which – now that she examined it closely – was bulging rather strangely. Sirius clapped a hand to it and snapped the fingers of his other hand impatiently.
“Doesn’t matter! Up! Dormitory! Now!” he said; he really sounded as if he might burst from whatever he needed to share. Beth and James shared a swift glance across the end table that separated their chairs. Shrugging, James closed his textbook and put it in his bag. With nothing else to do, Beth followed suit, and the three of them quickly ascended the staircase and barricaded themselves inside the seventh year boys’ dormitory.
With an almost impatient flick of his wand, as though he didn’t have the time to do it, Sirius lit the lamps ranged along the circular dormitory walls. The two lumps in the beds that Remus and Peter occupied stirred sleepily, roused by the sudden light. Remus rubbed a hand over his face.
“D’you mind?” he croaked, burying his face in his pillow now, so his voice was oddly muffled. “Some of us like sleep, mate.”
“I have news,” said Sirius importantly, climbing atop his own bed and balancing himself carefully on the bed’s footboard to survey them from his newfound height. Peter let out a rather undignified snort from the far wall.
“If it’s as important as the last time you did this, it can wait until morning,” he said, sounding a bit more awake than Remus but not much. “Honestly, I was just about to –“ He stopped in midsentence, frowning in Sirius’s direction. “Why are your robes making funny noises?”
Sirius made a noise of disgust deep in his throat. “Will you all stop talking about that?” he cried impatiently. “This is serious!” He waited, eyeing them each in turn to make sure he had the full attention of the room, and only then did he continue.
“Remember that secret society? The one I’ve been telling you about for months?”
“You mean the one you overheard McGonagall and Dumbledore talking about?” said Peter. Beth rolled her eyes, unable to help herself after the already-trying night she’d had with James and his inability to do his own homework.
“Can you think of another one?” she asked. Peter looked a bit embarrassed, and made a sort of general motion for their friend to continue with his announcement. Sirius cleared his throat and again surveyed his small audience with a bit of pomp.
“Well, I’ve been talking to Dumbledore, and-“
The effect of these words was immediate: Beth clapped a hand to her mouth, eyes wide. Peter tumbled out of bed, James leaped up onto his own bed, bag of books forgotten, and Remus pursed his lips in obvious skepticism. “You talked to Dumbledore about this secret society?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
Sirius frowned; it was clear to Beth that he hated the continuous flow of interruptions. “Yes,” he said testily, crossing his arms moodily over his chest. It was Remus’s turn to snort, this time in evident disbelief.
“And how exactly is it you came to be talking to Dumbledore?” said Beth, not without doubts of her own. Sirius had certainly been known to spin a tall tale or two before now – and even if he was telling the truth, there was no innocent reason as to why he would have been wrapped into a conversation with the headmaster. Sure enough, a fleeting look of guilt crossed his face.
“Never mind that,” he said hurriedly, suddenly becoming engrossed in picking an invisible piece of lint off the arm of his robes. “It’s not relevant – look, do you want to hear what I’m trying to say, or not?” A note of desperation crept into his voice.
James was now doing a ridiculous sort of series of hops on his bed, clutching the bedposts excitedly, and Beth giggled. Like Sirius, the idea of belonging to something covert, something that would be working to bring down You-Know-Who, appealed immensely to his sense of adventure. She had to admit herself that the prospect of a plan for once she left Hogwarts – a plan where she knew she’d be doing something important – intrigued her greatly.
“So, did he say exactly what it is?” Remus continued, looking a bit more convinced but still unable to rid his mind of the more practical aspect. “Like, do we know anything more than we knew before?”
“I can’t say,” said Sirius a bit vaguely, adopting a haughty expression.
“More like you don’t know,” Beth piped up, grinning and leaning against the bedpost on Sirius’s bed. He scowled down at her, and James laughed.
“You ruin all my fun, Bethy,” he said sulkily. “You’re worse than Remus, sucking all the fun out of everything.”
“I don’t - !” Remus began indignantly, but Sirius just shot him a winning smile.
“Only kidding, Moony, mate,” he said cheerfully, and relieved the slight tension in the dormitory by deciding to aim a kick in Beth’s direction for her comment. He hadn’t really been intending to make contact, but accidentally nudged her in the temple with his foot, unused to his lofty height from where he stood on his bed. Looking rather pleased at how that had turned out as he watched her rub the side of her head in a wounded manner, he turned back to the others, who still looked mildly expectant; James looked as though he might wet himself with excitement at the news.
“Okay, yeah, Dumbledore didn’t say a lot. Or, well, much of anything. But,” he added defensively, “he said that he’d send word within the week. Guys, don’t you see? We’re going someplace!” He leaped off his bed, seemingly unable to stand still any longer, and paced up and down in front of the end of his bed.
Beth felt a shiver of excitement of her own run up her arms, tingling the back of her neck and around the place where Sirius had kicked her in the head. Peter was still sitting on the floor, a look of creeping anticipation creeping slowly across his face, and even Remus looked like he was warming to the idea.
For several moments no one said anything – everyone in the room seemed to be basking in the prospects of things yet to come, possibilities as yet untouched but very real. Beth could only imagine what sorts of things would be occupying her mind this time next week; thoughts of Potions homework and Gobstones suddenly seemed trivial and far from her mind.
True to Sirius’s word, only a few days passed between his announcement and the day that a letter was delivered to him over breakfast. Since their tension-fraught exchange in the dungeon corridor, Beth and Severus hadn’t exchanged a single word – she assumed that he didn’t really know what to say about the divorce and his knowing about it, and she supposed this was natural.
No further letters had arrived from either Beth’s mother or her father, which was expected but still not appreciated. The more she tried to make things make sense in her mind, concerning the divorce, the more glad she was that Sirius had stuck with his secret society plan. Not only would it be something to do, but it was guaranteed to keep her far away from all but necessary contact with her parents – a plus from every angle.
She still felt a bit guilty about not letting James, Sirius, Remus, or Peter into this secret, although it wasn’t as though they had a right to know. She was well-practiced, it seemed, at hiding bits of her life from them. But, foolish as it was, she couldn’t get rid of the slightly romantic notion in her head of having a secret just between her and Severus.
Would she have let her friends in on it, she wondered, if Severus hadn’t intercepted the letter first? She told herself that she didn’t know, although she had a pretty good idea what the answer was. But dwelling on her parents’ divorce, and who did or didn’t know about it, didn’t do anything for her mental situation. Turning her attention to the big news – this anti-You-Know-Who secret society, which she was all but already enlisted in – was what needed to be her sole focus at the moment.
When the unfamiliar, regal-looking tawny owl landed gracefully in front of Sirius’s pancakes a few mornings after his news about his society, the five of them at the table looked at it with equal measures of reverence and apprehension. Lily, Mary, and Marlene, who were eating with them, were the only ones who didn’t seem to register its appearance. After all, it wasn’t as though owls were uncommon.
Trying to look nonchalant, but fully unable to hide his evident excitement, Sirius reached forward and quickly untied the letter from the owl’s leg. The slanting handwriting on the scroll was unfamiliar, but there was absolutely no question as to who it was from.
As to the matter discussed three evenings ago, I request that you and your friends kindly join me in my office this evening at eight o’ clock. Professor McGonagall will meet you outside the large gargoyle in the entrance courtyard to escort you there.
The look of ecstasy that crossed Sirius’s face upon finishing the rather brief letter could not have been any plainer. “Told you!” he gloated in a frenetic whisper, hastily stuffing the roll of parchment into an inner pocket of his robes. “What about it, eh? Shall we go?”
“Are you mad?” James asked incredulously, a wide grin of his own nearly splitting his face in two. He glanced to his right at Lily, who was talking animatedly to Mary, and leaned forward a bit toward the others. “Of course we’re going, this is nearly all you’ve been able to talk about the whole year!” This seemed to settle the matter, and everyone reverted back to breakfast as normal, although a sort of electric current of adrenaline seemed to be running through the lot of them.
Picking up her fork once more, Beth cast a furtive look up at the high table, where Dumbledore was chatting pleasantly with Professor Flitwick. Upon turning in her seat, however, his gaze flickered over to her for the briefest of moments. She was sure he winked at her over his goblet.
Eight o’ clock seemed to be forever in coming; lessons dragged on worse than ever, and studying in the common room after supper was even worse. Beth glanced at her watch every five minutes, willing its minute hand to move faster. The closer it came, the more excited and anxious she grew about it. It was a strange feeling to be a part of something elite, a feeling she’d never before experienced.
James and Sirius had abandoned their homework completely by seven-thirty, claiming they couldn’t work, and by a quarter until eight Peter had joined them in playing Exploding Snap, essays for Herbology forgotten on the round table by the fire. At five minutes until eight, as though by mutual agreement, they all looked at each other for confirmation. Beth closed her book, the Exploding Snap cards were abandoned on the hearth, and in a group they left for the entrance courtyard.
Night had already settled over the castle, and the torches set along the walls cast long shadows in front of the group as they walked. They were quiet – something that rarely ever happened – as all tried to guess exactly what sort of thing they were about to get themselves into. Beth’s mind still bore tiny seeds of doubt, and she found herself hoping once more that Sirius knew what he was talking about. But she’d seen the note from Dumbledore – surely any misconstrued words wouldn’t have made it this far into the planning.
Just as expected, Professor McGonagall was waiting by the large stone gargoyle, a wary and slightly disapproving expression pursing her lips. The five came to stand in front of her; Beth couldn’t shake the absurd feeling that they were being punished for something. “I do hope Dumbledore knew what he was doing,” she said, more to herself than to them, and turned to face the gargoyle.
“Fudge Flies,” she said crisply; at once the gargoyle leaped aside, revealing a moving spiral staircase. Wordlessly Professor McGonagall motioned them forward and, feeling a bit apprehensive, Beth took the lead.
The stairs led upward in a tightly revolving spiral, and Beth closed her eyes – she hated spiral staircases, as they gave her a nasty feeling of vertigo, and a moving one only took it a step further. Behind her, James gripped her elbow, knowing of her fear and not wanting her to fall backwards onto him. Finally she stepped off onto a little platform, and the door there swung open, seemingly of its own accord. Still not speaking, the five of them filed in, McGonagall trailing them and shutting the door after her.
Dumbledore was seated at a desk in the middle of the large circular room, writing something with a large phoenix-feather quill. Portraits of past headmaster and headmistresses on the walls began to mutter and whisper at the entrance of the five seventh-years, but were silenced with a stern look from the deputy headmistress. An unseen clock ticked loudly into the silence; Beth, who had come to stand in front of Dumbledore’s desk, moved her feet nervously.
Finally, the headmaster looked up from his parchment, smiling warmly as though he couldn’t have been more pleased to see them all standing in front of him. McGonagall moved around to stand on the right side of his chair and a little back, her lips still pursed and a slight frown creasing her eyebrows.
“I trust that you all know why you are here, correct?” said Dumbledore mildly, folding his hands atop his desk and surveying them all from over his half-moon spectacles. Sirius and Peter shared a swift glance and Sirius nodded, stepping forward a bit as though proffering himself as the spokesman of the group.
“Perhaps you could begin by telling Professor McGonagall and myself exactly what it is you already know,” he suggested, smiling slightly behind his long silver beard. So Sirius told Dumbledore what he knew, although fresh in Beth’s ears it sounded like not much to go on at all. The whole premise from his version sounded weak and unfounded, and she idly wondered how he’d ever gotten the headmaster to believe him in the first place.
When he’d finished, Dumbledore nodded and took a moment to think, seeming to choose his words carefully. “First, I think, is the name,” he said at last. “The society you speak of, Mr. Black, has termed itself the Order of the Phoenix. And you are correct in saying that our sole aims are to work to undermine the movements of Lord Voldemort.” Beth shuddered at the use of the name and instinctively clapped her hands to her ears.
“How many people are in the Order?” James asked, stepping forward too, so as to be level with Sirius; Beth could see the eagerness had returned in full swing to his features.
“Few enough to keep us busy, but not so little as to keep us from doing our self-appointed jobs effectively,” the headmaster replied – rather cryptically, Beth thought. “Forgive me for not being as explicit as you might wish. The walls may have ears,” he added, and James nodded.
“So – if we joined,” Remus said hesitantly, sounding as though he didn’t quite believe the words that were coming out of his mouth, “what would we be doing?”
Dumbledore again took a minute to mull over his answer to this. “Quite simply, there are no set jobs,” he said. “Certain things that need doing, but there is always something else to do. I couldn’t say for certain unless and until you became active, however.” Beth’s head began to ache dully from the riddles this man was talking. Remus seemed satisfied with this answer, though.
There reigned another awkward silence; Professor McGonagall was glaring imperiously from one to the next, as though defying them to ask any more questions. Beth’s own mind was a blank, buzzing with the feeling of doing the impossible, and quite empty of any questions.
“I must impart on you the seriousness of this decision,” Dumbledore finally spoke into the silence. “This is not a commitment to take lightly. I offer it to the five of you because I trust you to bear it well. You have, after all, managed remarkably well to keep yourselves out of detention.” His twinkling gaze lingered on James and Sirius in particular, who grinned knowingly at each other. “You are all overage, and so I have no qualms. But keep in mind it is not an obligation.” He peered at each of them now, as though to judge their reactions to his statement.
Quite suddenly, Beth was filled with a surge of something like confidence. She knew absolutely that this was what she wanted to do after school. She would find ways of earning money – it was more than likely she could guilt her parents into giving her money if it came to that, especially in light of their situation. For the first time she saw a positive, albeit selfish, side to the divorce. “I want to do it,” she said firmly, so loudly into the silence that all heads swiveled in her direction.
Dumbledore nodded, and James spoke up too. “I’m in,” he said excitedly, smiling broadly.
Sirius, Remus, and Peter all replied with equal convictions; Dumbledore beamed at them all, delighted. McGonagall gave an almost inaudible sniff, but said nothing to the contrary. He rose from his desk and said simply, “I think it wise to leave further discussions to a minimum until you leave school. Professor McGonagall, if you could escort them back to Gryffindor Tower?”
And, as simple as that, the conversation was over just as quickly as it had begun. Back through the door, down the spiral staircase, and out into the courtyard. Once again, no conversation passed between them, until McGonagall left them at the portrait of the Fat Lady and swept off to her own office.
“Can – you – believe –it?” Sirius crowed ecstatically, practically dancing from foot to foot right there in the middle of the corridor. James’s own attitude mirrored that of his friend’s; they both seemed about to take flight from giddiness. It was infectious, and Beth found herself laughing without quite knowing why.
“We’ve done it!” she said, unable to believe it herself. It was a bit much to take in, but she only knew that she was happy – deliriously so – that she had agreed to be a member of the Order of the Phoenix. She, Beth Bridger, would be working towards the betterment of the entire wizarding community – the entire world!
It was only once she’d crawled in bed nearly half an hour later, unable to return to her school work after the excitement of the night, that her mind drifted back at all to the still-pending news of her parents’ divorce, still unshared with her friends. She shoved it down, turning over to look out of the window at the sliver of moon in the sky.
That news could wait; it had waited thus far. No harm in prolonging the secret she shared with Severus just a bit longer, if only for her own selfish and slightly foolhardy pleasure.
A/N: I forgot to mention this in the last author's note, so I thought I might as well talk about it quickly here - better late than never! I'm writing an original fiction novel for National Novel Writing Month, and as such, I won't be focusing terribly much on this story until December. That being said, however, you can still expect fairly regular updates, as I've got a pretty healthy backlog of chapters to submit. But in case I seem a bit distant (as if most of you could tell, anyway!), that's why.
I am so, so grateful for all of you - the fact that you read this and leave reviews, you cannot begin to know what it means to me. You are the reason I keep doing this, and I thank you so much. It is the world to me. But of course, that little box below is always hungry. Toss him a line or two if you've got the time! Thank you!