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Chapter 28: A Suspicion Confirmed
Summer was approaching. The night outside was warm, a soft breeze blowing through the sparse trees lining the lane and causing their leaves to rustle pleasantly. Sirius grinned happily at nothing in particular as it swept over him and lifted his hair off his forehead, and he hugged the cloak he’d draped over his arm a bit closer to him –there had been no need for it tonight, not with such mild temperatures. Of course, he was on his way to Beth’s, and suspected that this was a large contribution to his excitement. Even just thinking about it again, his shoes making pleasant, slapping sounds on the concrete, his spirits rose a bit further.
It felt like a long time since he had been at Beth’s flat, though in reality it really hadn’t been too long – only a month, he realized, ever since that night he’d intercepted Severus there, and had been tasked with the returning of her bracelet. But that was something that made him feel a little uncomfortable, and so he simply chose not to think about it. Tonight, Sirius mentally resolved, was a night that would be untainted by anything even remotely unpleasant, and Severus Snape was most definitely included in that list.
He reached deep into one of the pockets of his robes, closing his fingers around his favorite pack of Exploding Snap cards – his lucky ones, even if Beth hated it when he called them that. He rather thought, though, that that was mostly because she tended to lose whenever they played a round with them. There was absolutely nothing that could destroy his good mood tonight.
he opened the door leading into the lobby of her complex, whistling jauntily and pausing to let a man pass him on the stairwell. The man looked at him rather oddly, his top lip rose just slightly in condescension. “Going to a costume party?” he smirked. “Or is that some ridiculous new fashion I’m going to be expected to buy into?”
Sirius blinked at him mildly. “I don’t think you’ve got to worry much about fashion,” he informed the passerby, “as your tie is roughly fifty years out of date.”
The stranger bristled, his nostrils flaring in annoyance. “Not that it’s any of your business,” he said coolly, “but I’ll have you know that I bought this from a department store last –“
“Mate, I would very much enjoy the witty retort I am no doubt about to bear witness to, but unfortunately I have previous engagements to which I must attend.” Sirius adopted the most posh accent he could think of, standing ramrod straight and inclining his head slightly. “I look forward to verbally sparring with you again in the future.” And, without a further word to the man, who by now looked extremely baffled at what had just occurred, Sirius hurried on up the stairs, not even trying to conceal his laughter.
Beth was already waiting in the doorway when he swung himself onto her landing, her face twisted in a mixture of amusement and exasperation. “I could hear you from two floors away,” she said, rolling her eyes good-naturedly. “What poor neighbor of mine did you pester this time?”
Sirius tried his hardest to look offended, and failed entirely; the pleasant night outside had put him into a rather giddy mood, and he was still very pleased with the confused expression on the strange man’s face. “He had it coming, darling,” he drawled, sticking his nose in the air and keeping his posh accent. Beth giggled and stood back, allowing him entrance, and he accordingly stepped into her small living room.
“Do you want coffee?” Beth yelled from the kitchen, already clanking away with mugs and spoons; apparently, his decision had already been made for him. He didn’t bother to respond, sinking instead onto the couch and extracting the pack of cards from his pocket while she made various clattering noises from the tiny room. She reappeared quickly, and passed him a mug.
“Cheers.” Sirius took a long drink and spluttered, nearly dropping the mug onto the carpet. “Merlin, Bethy, that’s hot!”
She gave him yet another mildly exasperated look. “I’m not rude enough to serve you cold coffee, am I? And you can put those away,” she added, jerking her chin at Sirius’s Exploding Snap cards before blowing across the surface of her own coffee. “I’m not playing with that deck, if you’re going to insist on a game. We can use mine.”
“You’re a sore loser, you know that?” he asked, nevertheless slipping the cards back into his pocket and grinning at her. “Have it your way, then.” He picked up his mug again and made to imitate her, blowing across it. Suddenly, Sirius looked at her – really looked at her – and slowly replaced the mug onto the table.
“Are you okay, Bethy?” he asked hesitantly. There were deep lines by the corners of her eyes that he couldn’t remember having seen there before, the sorts of lines that he associated with older people – life lines, he thought idly, that meant you’d seen your share of the world’s hardships. Nearly identical lines creased the corners of her mouth, and her eyes themselves looked worried, even behind the joking and front of good humor.
“Fine,” she said, taking another drink and bringing her eyes to his. And even as she said that, Sirius saw that Beth was lying. He raised an eyebrow and sat forward, balancing his forearms on his knees. She sighed and, reaching forward, placed her mug next to his. He fought a smirk; he was quite good at getting information out of people if he really wanted it, never mind the fact that he’d had a lot of practice over the years in manipulating his friend.
Beth sighed and rubbed a hand over her eyes briefly. “I fought with Severus a couple of days ago.”
Sirius’s brows contracted. “What did he do to you?” he said in a low, quick voice, making as though to stand up from the loveseat without quite being aware of what he was doing. “Did he hurt you? If he’s even laid a finger on you –“
“Sirius.” Beth was frowning at him. “Not like that. We were just… arguing.”
“About what?” Sirius snorted, flopping back onto the cushions and making yet another noise of derision, solely for the pleasure of being able to do so. “Merlin, he’s a right git, isn’t he? A foul little –“
“I thought you were over that?” Her tone had changed from one of friendly warmth to something decidedly more cool and distant in an instant. Weird, how women do that so quickly, Sirius thought to himself, though he knew it wasn’t really the time to be analyzing the mindset of the female species. She was still looking at him stonily.
“Beth, he’s a prat. You deserve loads better than him,” he burst out angrily, immediately knowing it was precisely the wrong thing to say. Beth’s cheeks turned bright red, the color creeping up into her cheekbones and causing her eyes to brighten with anger. “You shouldn’t be with someone you’re going to argue with all the time!”
“I’m not with him!” she shot back venomously. “We’re friends, and honestly, Sirius, it is absolutely none of your business. I didn’t make plans with you tonight just so you could yell at me again about my choice in friendships, and if that’s the reason you decided to come over –“
“He’s making you upset!” Sirius roared. “It became my business when he made you unhappy!”
“He does not make me unhappy!” Beth, too, had risen to her feet now, and her bottom lip was trembling slightly, as though she was trying to hold back tears. Sirius’s heart twisted painfully at the sight of it, and he felt physically sick with guilt, but swallowed it back. This was much more important than tiptoeing around her feelings, much as he might want to.
“Fine. Are you at least going to tell me what you fought about, then?” he said gruffly. Beth let out a long, shuddery breath and sank back into her armchair, wrapping her arms around herself and drawing up her knees.
“I can’t.” Her voice sounded small and watery, driving a metaphorical stake further into his insides. “Honestly, Sirius, I just can’t.” She rested her chin on her knees and looked up at him, her cheeks still pink, though not as violently as before.
Arguments to that buzzed angrily through Sirius’s brain, one after another, like a nasty horde of Billywigs: She was in the Order and shouldn’t be withholding conflicting information; he was her friend, and she should be able to tell him anything; she’d known him longer than Severus, and therefore trumped him. But somehow, all these words died on the way to his lips, and he merely swallowed and nodded, taking his own seat back and reaching for the mug of coffee, though he didn’t want it anymore. Beth did the same; he could tell that she, too, was no longer interested in coffee.
“I’m sorry,” he said at last, the painful, guilty feeling inside of him wrenching a bit further. Sirius wanted to sink right into the loveseat and possible stay there for a decade or two, until the world made sense again. Beth shrugged one of her shoulders lopsidedly, but said nothing. “Exploding Snap?” he offered at last. “I’ll let you break out your own deck.” She gave him a small smile, and nodded.
But as he stood up and crossed to the small cabinet beside her fireplace, rummaging around for Beth’s well-worn card deck, Sirius found that he still couldn’t shake that small, painful, uncomfortable feeling lodged firmly within him.
By the time Sirius had gotten back to his own flat that night, the previously perfect weather had been soured with a quick-moving storm. Thunderheads had quickly collected over the sky, and flashes of lightning were now sparking from behind their bulk, briefly lighting the air to day before plunging it back into night. And underneath it all, thrumming steadily, was the tempo of a heavy downpour. It was, he thought sarcastically, rather a fitting metaphor for how the night had gone: All promises of lightness had quickly tapered off into something much more dark and unwelcome.
He could now see that perhaps he had crossed a line in asserting things about a man he’d barely spoken to since the pair of them had left school together – but still, it was Severus Snape, and his brain was functionally unable to get past that fact, so there was no use in trying.
And still Sirius could feel that horrible dull ache of guilt, gnawing contentedly away at his insides. He pressed a hand to his stomach without thinking about it, as though to quell it, and hung his cloak on a nail by the door (it had come in handy, after all). Water dripped steady from the ends of his hair, splotching his robes and forming small lakes on the chipped linoleum entryway.
He had to do something.
The thought of exactly what to do had been one he’d been tossing back and forth in his mind the entire way home, dodging under shop awnings and sparse tree limbs to try and avoid the worst of the rain, and finally giving up entirely. And he had come to a decision at last, waiting for late-night Muggle cars to lumber across the road in front of him – though it wasn’t a decision that he could say he was very much looking forward to enacting. But there were too many secrets, too many lies, and Sirius could put a stop to them. If he sat on this information, he was no better than Snape, and that was the sort of fact that could burn him if he let it.
He stepped quickly into his kitchen, cursing lightly as the toe of his trainer caught on the corner of the cabinet, and slapped an open palm against the light switch by the sink. Dim, brownish-yellow light flickered from the gloomy wall sconces set into the walls. He supposed he should add new oil – they’d been running on the same stuff since he’d bought the place, he thought – but this wasn’t the time for it, to be sure.
Sirius knew what he had to do, but that didn’t mean he liked doing it; even just thinking about it now made his stomach turn slightly. Beth had been angry at him before, had only recently gotten over being angry at him for yelling at her for conspiring with Severus in the first place – was he willing to risk it again?
And yet it was necessary, wasn’t it? If it meant keeping Beth safe – and maybe making her happy again – then it would be worth it, wouldn’t it? No matter how awful the short-term repercussions would be, Sirius had to believe that it would be worth it.
Yanking open one of the cupboards, he took down one of the teacups he’d pilfered from Grimmauld Place, jabbing his wand at the ancient stove under the window; a spark of blue gas-jet flame flared into existence. He sloshed a kettle onto the burner and gnawed on the fingernail of his index finger, trying to take deep, calming breaths. Why was this making him act so stupid?
The kettle whistled, and he nearly upset it in his haste to pour a measure of water into the teacup, drop in a teabag, and – for good measure – add in a healthy measure of firewhisky. Only then did Sirius cross into the sitting room, cross to the table by the window, and take out a blank sheet of parchment.
He didn’t want Beth angry at him, but surely she wouldn’t be angry if she knew the reasons why he was doing this. He was only thinking of her, and the rest of the Order, and the need to keep everyone safe. She would thank him for it, in the end.
Sirius took a long drink from the cup, set it down, and picked up a quill and a bottle of ink.
“What have we here?”
Albus Dumbledore took the scroll from the leg of the owl perched on his window, frowning slightly; it was sopping wet, though the inside of the parchment looked as though someone had placed a water-impervious charm on it. He had been expecting no letters, other than one from his old friend, Horace Slughorn. And seeing how that letter would have been pertaining to a meeting currently taking place in Albus’s very living room, he couldn’t imagine what a second missive might mean.
“Someone’s sent you a letter, then?” Horace, who had previously taken roost in an old easy chair and had showed no signs of moving, lumbered over to Albus, one fist clamped tightly around a glass of oak-matured mead. But the older man did not respond; he was now reading the letter for a second time, his eyes narrowed slightly behind their half-moon spectacles, the lines on his forehead deepening with thought.
At long last, he looked up from the paper, sighing deeply and folding it neatly in his long, thin fingers. Slughorn looked rather alarmed. “Bad news?” he asked sympathetically, raising his free hand to nervously stroke one end of his walrus mustache.
“Not bad news, necessarily. Not yet.” Albus looked up at his friend. “Although I do believe I must beg your forgiveness for inviting Minerva to crash our little gathering. A rather well-placed suspicion of hers has been confirmed.”
A/N: Oh, Sirius... what have you done now. Though I think it's not really a surprise that he's gone and blabbed, when you think about it. Despite whatever sort of healing's happened between him and Beth, he still hates Severus, and there are probably a few resentful feelings lurking about under the surface there, as well. The man is accepting hugs, if you're offering.
A quick note -- I'm sorry I'm so behind on my review responses! From Tuesday until today I received no less than 56 reviews, and I wasn't even caught up before they came in. I'm working hard to tackle them all through the course of this week, so if you're waiting for a response for a review on this or any other story of mine, it shouldn't be too long in coming. Thank you very much for your patience, and I look forward to hearing your opinions on this chapter!