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Brink by BitterEpiphany
Chapter 5 : Five
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2


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Authors Note: This should be known as the chapter that no one loved.  It was an exercise of sheer will power.  To make up for the fact that it’s crap, I’ll give you the next crappy chapter today too, just so I don’t drag the mood down ;)

 

Leaning against the exposed brick of the fireplace, you listened to the conversation taking place around you.  Clusters of bodies lingered throughout the room, each group discussing He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in some capacity or another.  Dumbledore refused to call it a war but the tone, even amidst passed trays of snacks and more liquor than was necessarily wise, felt like that of a crusade.  As the ice melted in your glass, you watched Lily, perched in her chair on the edge of the room, James standing protectively behind her as Moody tried to pump her full of paranoia.

“You’re hovering,” you hissed under your breath, casting a sidelong glance at your supposed friend.  He’d been under foot all night, no more than a few places behind you, wherever you were.

Lupin smiled politely, nodding a goodbye to Gideon before answering you in the cool, collected tone he reserved for placating people.  “That’s because you’re staring, mate.”

Luck had never been your kindest mistress, so it shouldn’t have surprised you when you couldn’t seem to find a moment alone with any of the people you’d intended to speak to.  Dumbledore, first enthralled with his cooking lessons and then ensconced in the study Dorcas Meadows and Caradoc Dearborn.  Or Lily, carefully directing her gaze anywhere but towards you.  “Where’s Peter?” you asked, resignation evident in your tone.

“He couldn’t make it.”  You raised your eyebrows.  Lupin continued.  “He had a minor incident with a hex.  It’s nothing, he’ll be fine.”

“Someone went after Peter?” Sturgis Podmore asked, his tone incredulous.

“No,” Lupin explained, smirking. “He was practicing and it went rather badly.  He’ll be fine as soon as they can do something about the flippers.”

“Well that, I’ll have to see.”  Sturgis’ belly laugh was so loud – so infectious – that it filled the room, bouncing off the walls in echos.  For the briefest moment, Lily’s gaze crossed yours and, in that instant, she shook James’ hand off of her shoulder.  You couldn’t hear what she said next, the chatter having picked back up again, but she broke away from Moody and disappeared into the foyer. 

Lupin had a grip on your shoulder before you realized you were moving.  “Alice,” he intoned lightly.  “I think there was someone you wanted us to meet.”

 

 

 

Lily never reappeared, though James stayed behind utterly unperturbed.  You spent the rest of your evening glancing at your watch every few moments, wondering where she was as Marie told stories in her exaggerated accent.  When you finally snuck away, digging through the closet for your jacket, hushed words drifted down the hallway.  “And Regulus?”

“I don’t see how it can be avoided,” Moody grumbled back. 

“I know you’re not keen on the idea,” Arthur started to say as you crossed the hall to lean against the door jam, his attentions turned to Dumbledore. 

Sitting comfortably in a sturdy orange armchair, he surveyed the room, and you, in silence.  It struck you that his face had changed in marked but still immeasurable ways since you’d left Hogwarts.  He’d grown older – the lines of his tired expression more pronounced and the circles under his eyes a deeper shade of purple. 

As intently as you studied him, he seemed to be searching you as well, looking for some response to your brother’s name.  You knew, without looking at your reflection in their window pane that you offered nothing.  It had been too many years since Regulus turned away from you – or rather, since you turned away from him.  Whatever responsibility you felt for his safety, whatever remorse you felt over his choices – they were his choices and you wouldn’t allow yourself to take pity on the man that he’d become.  Still, you felt your teeth clenching despite your best efforts as Dumbledore’s watched you. 

“You’re right, Alastor,” he said easily.  As you allowed your focus to widen, you realized that you hadn’t been the only one waiting for him to speak with bated breath. “It can’t be avoided any longer.  It’s too dangerous given what insight he might have into us.”

“I haven’t spoken to my brother in over a year,” you bristled, standing up straight.

It was your turn to be scrutinized as all eyes snapped to you, but you didn’t care – Dumbledore’s reaction was the only one you were interested in.  He contemplated you for the briefest of moments before shaking his head and waiving a hand in your direction to ease the tension.  “Sirius, I only meant that Regulus knows you – which means he knows us.  I certainly didn’t mean to imply that you’ve been passing him information.”

The room remained silent for a few moments before anyone had the stomach to speak.  When someone finally did, it was Edgar Bones.  “I can make myself available,” he offered.

Dumbledore started to thank him but you shook your head, throwing your jacket on in a gesture that seemed aggressive in the tiny, overcrowded study.  “I’m going.”

“Sirius,” Moody started to argue, but you ignored him.

“He’s my responsibility.”

“Don’t be impulsive, Sirius.”  Dumbledore was on his feet, and despite your height, he still seemed to tower over you.  “It gets people killed,” he added gently.  “If you’d like to go along, I won’t stop you, but no one is running off after anyone tonight.”

 

 

 

 

 

Dumbledore’s choice of words was still resonating in your mind the next morning as you shoved a few key items in a rucksack haphazardly, James and Lupin chatting conversationally in the hall.  The ‘won’t’ that had hung ominously in the office last night still felt as if it was suspended overhead.  ‘I won’t stop you,’ – not ‘I can’t’ or ‘I wouldn’t try’ but, ‘I won’t’ - as if you had no say in the matter.  Irritably, you tugged so hard at the leather strap on the bag that it snapped.  “Repairo” you muttered before shoving your wand into your jacket’s interior pocket and turning towards your companions.   “You have keys, right?” you asked Lupin, patting your own pockets to be sure you’d given him the spare.

He nodded, smiling politely.  “I appreciate the hospitality,” he replied in practiced tones, far too stiff for familiarity.

“You always know you’re welcome to stay as long as you like,” you urged, throwing the bag over your shoulder and looking expectantly at James.

“Lily wants me to talk you out of this,” he said wearily.

Her name caught you off guard - it was the first time you’d thought of her since your argument with Dumbledore the previous evening and thinking of her now cut at your sense of ease.  It occurred to you only as you made your way to the door, James eager to make the meeting time with Moody, how much time you’d spent thinking of her in the last week.  “I told her you weren’t to be talked out of it,” he added, apropos to nothing but bringing it up again anyway.

Despite everyone’s best efforts, the sense of shame you felt for your family and their collective past had stubbornly refused to fade in the years you’d spent away from them.  Out in the muggle world, you weren’t judged by their mark, but here – in the realm in which you belonged – your family name spoke louder than your individual actions.  It had been bad enough when your families reputation had been only rumor, but when Regulus branded himself as one of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s supporters, the situation only degraded further.  As you walked, you pondered the last time you’d spoken to your younger brother – your own words replacing Dumbledore’s as your internal chorus. You wondered, now, if you would have the opportunity to replace them or if they would remain your last exchange of words.

“It’s just,” you started, remembering yourself as a car nearly crashed into a lamp post to avoid hitting you, “I have to do this.  Regulus is my responsibility,” you admitted.  It had been so long since you’d confided honestly in anyone, least of all James, that the action felt foreign to you.  Even his relaxed answer felt strange.

“That might be taking things a bit too far, don’t you think?”

“I should have done something.  I could have done something – I just, didn’t,” you answered, trying to remain as honest as you could bring yourself to. 

James fell silent, as if he was considering his answer very carefully, and you permitted the quiet spell, taking your paces one at a time – first right, then left.  “There’s nothing you could have done,” James said finally, the sign for the launderette you were to meet at in plain view.  “And even if you could have – it’s not your fault he’s a git.  It’s a miracle you turned out as well as you did, all things considered,” he added jovially, trying to bring up the mood.  You gave pretending it helped your best effort, but he saw through your vague smile and shook his head.   “You know,” he added, more seriously now, “This could get rather…dicey.”

“Huh?” You’d heard his implied question and your voice, teetering on the edge of anger, gave you away, even in the noisy streets. 

Yet again, he didn’t answer right away, both of you watching as a few children tossed snowballs at one another.  “No one would think any less of you if you weren’t ready to deal with that,” he explained carefully.

“Are you suggesting I’d hesitate?” you asked, falling over the edge of the knife.

He shook his head, holding the door open for you, “No, I’m just saying – if you don’t feel up to killing your brother today, we’d all understand.”

You chuckled.  The dark humor, so out of character for James, seemed to suit your mood perfectly as you approached the counter, handing your bag over to the clerk.  James did the same and, smiling significantly, he handed each of you a blank tag.  You pocketed it as if it were important.  “Shall we?” James asked, gesturing toward a poorly lit hallway on the back wall. 

Passing from the launderette proper and into the back room where you knew Moody would be waiting, you watched the patrons.  Some folded laundry while a few sat atop washing machines, tables and even inside of wire carts reading books.  The tiny TV in the far corner played softly in the background, though no one watched it.  Again the familiar rush of panic washed over you.  This room – these people – they didn’t know what they were up against.  They had no way to know that your very presence here endangered their lives or that your choices had put them at risk. 

Suddenly, the peeling paint and wisps’ of lint littering the floor seemed oppressive, as if this space was stealing the air from your lungs – suffocating you.  Still, you reasoned, the fear and the panic had to be something better than the drifting purposelessness that had plagued you of late.

“You’re late,” Moody growled, handing back your bags and picking up his own. 

“You’re grouchy,” James shot back.

Moody ignored him, turning his attention back to you.  “Ready?” he asked, drawing out his wand.  You nodded and, with a resounding crack, the three of you were off.

 

 

 

“So…what do we do now?” James asked, his disembodied voice reaching your ears from only a few inches away.  You glared at him for a few seconds before realizing the gesture was pointless.

“We wait,” Moody answered from your other side. 

The cold wind that whipped up little clouds of snowflakes all over the clearing couldn’t reach you under Moody’s spare invisibility cloak, but you shivered anyway, watching the shadows of creaking tree branches.  The tension in your muscles that plagued you since you’d heard your brother’s name mounted with each step you took toward your lamentable goal.  Now, sitting invisibly in the snow, cairns stretching out across the clearing as far as you could see, you were certain, if your brother did appear, your panic would give you away.

“Sirius!” your brother’s voice had been the last one you’d expected to hear when you stepped into the hallway outside the Gryffindor common room.  Peter, tagging along a few steps behind, slammed into your back as he tried to clamber through the portrait hole. 

“Sorry,” he started, but stopped in his tracks as he realized why you’d stopped.  “Regulus…”

Your brother shifted his weight, eying your friend warily before endeavoring to speak again.  “We need to talk,” he started, his tone firm. “Alone.”

“Peter, why don’t you go see if James needs you to quiz him for Arithmancy,” you said coldly, your eyes locked on your brother, your hand tight around the wand in your pocket.

Peter hesitated, “Sirius – I…”

“Go,” you said harshly, no longer a request, but an order.  A few seconds later, the portrait swung shut, the fat lady’s snores the only sound in the corridor. “What do you want?” you asked in the same icy tone. 

He started and stopped a few times, unable to complete a sentence, let alone a thought.  “I Just…are you come back?” he asked, finally, his own tone hardening to match steely glare.

“No” was all you offered him by way of answer or explanation.

He didn’t venture down your corridor again, nor you his. 

In the years since your last meeting with your brother, you’d wondered so many times if things might have turned out differently if you’d been able to separate yourself from the emotion or your familial exile to intervene in his future. 

“Chins up,” Moody whispered, calling your attention away from your musings and back to the present moment. 

Squinting in the moonlight, you struggled to see what he had seen – your eyes searching for movement in the distance.

“There – three o’clock,” James muttered, surprised.

Not but fifty feet away, a figure, defined only by starlight, emerged from a stony cairn.  Regulus.

 


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