If any of the five of them hoped that the fight between Sirius and Avery would go unnoticed, they couldn’t have misplaced their wishes further. Almost immediately upon entering the Great Hall for dinner that evening whispers began buzzing among the tables, and more than one person pointed outright at Sirius’s blackened eye. All the way across the hall, even with the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables separating them, they could hear Avery moaning about his lip, which had swollen after Sirius’s fist had collided with it.
“You would have though the bloody git had lost his spleen or something,” Sirius growled; he was still slightly put-out at having been issued two weeks’ worth of detentions. Beth thought about pointing out that, to be fair, he had punched another student, but the murderous look on her friend’s face told her that probably wasn’t the best thing to say at that moment.
Peter took hold of Sirius’s elbow and steered him forcibly in the direction of their table, so as not to have another scene like the one in the corridor. “Let it go,” he said, casting a glance over his shoulder at the Slytherins, who were still jeering. “He’s not worth it.”
They were a bit early to dinner, and the end of the table nearest the back wall was virtually empty. Beth swung her legs over the long bench and looked up towards the top table, without knowing why. Her eyes fell immediately on Professor Dumbledore, in the middle of the table; he was consulting quietly with Professor McGonagall about something, just as he had done after the article about Wendell Craig was published. She frowned.
“What’s Dumbledore doing?” she said in a low voice; Remus was the only one to hear her, as the others had been distracted by the arrival of Lily and Mary and Marlene. The six of them were now beginning a vehement argument, of which the only word Beth caught was “potatoes”.
“What’s that?” he asked, leaning toward her slightly, but his question was answered before Beth could open her mouth. Dumbledore stood up suddenly from his throne-like chair, looking placidly out at the students assembled before him, and the crowd stopped talking almost at once. Apart from at the feasts at the start and end of term, mealtime speeches were few and far between; it was bound to be something serious.
“I’m sure most of you are wondering why I’ve chosen tonight to get up from the table,” he said, smiling at them and pinpointing exactly the source of the sudden silence. “And for those of you who are concerned about this sudden interruption of your dinner, let me assure you it will not become a nightly occurrence.”
There were a few weak chuckles from those assembled, but for the most part silence reigned. “However,” Professor Dumbledore continued, his features suddenly becoming grave, “there is an issue I feel the need to address.” Beth’s heart constricted in something like guilt, although she couldn’t really imagine what she had to feel guilty about. Her gaze shifted and locked with James’s; he seemed to be having similar emotions.
“You are well aware of the political strains our world is facing,” he said, placing a hand placidly on either side of his golden plate, as if he were merely making a toast or some other trifling speech. “I do not feel it necessary to mention them explicitly, but they are there, making themselves felt inside our own walls.
“What I must impress upon you is how important it is to maintain your characters in times such as these. Hold fast and do not let your morals waver; stand firmly arm in arm and do not let your friend become your enemy for inconsequential reasons. Be true and brave, and our world will not crumble.” He paused, and in the space of the silence the headmaster seemed almost to consider each student individually. It was an uncomfortable feeling.
“Remain united,” he said finally, “and they will not win.” And on that mysterious, hanging sentence, Dumbledore’s speech was finished. He sat down just as easily as he had stood; the entirety of his monologue had lasted two minutes, at most.
Sirius let out a low whistle as the chatter in the hall began to gradually increase, and everyone clustered around him turned in his direction. “Well, that was a loaded thing to talk about, wasn’t it?” he said conversationally, dunking a chip in an enormous mound of ketchup.
“I’ll say,” said Lily, turning back and frowning in the general direction of the table. “What do you suppose he was on about? Is this about that man who was killed? The one in the papers?” When no one responded, she turned back around, eyebrows raised slightly. Peter gave Sirius a very blatantly obvious look, and Beth could have smacked him for making it so noticeable.
“We’ll tell you later,” James murmured in an undertone. “Not here.” This answer didn’t seem to satisfy Lily, but apparently it was the only one she was going to get, for James refused to say another word even hinting at the subject. But she did need to know – she and her friends were going to be members of the Order, after all, just like the rest of them.
Beth’s eyes sought out the Slytherin table unconsciously; she found Severus at once, as though her eyes went automatically in his direction. He and his friends were conversing in a tight-knit group, their heads close together. A small shiver darted up her spine; they didn’t look happy at all.
Beth thought she knew exactly what Severus and his friends had been whispering about that night at dinner, and she didn’t have to wait long to have her suspicions confirmed. It wasn’t even twenty-four hours later, and considering how long he’d waited to find out why she and her friends kept conspiring over the dinner table, that was no time at all.
“Blimey, I hate Thursdays,” said Sirius gloomily the next morning at breakfast, his head almost coming to rest on the table as he fought waves of sleep. He had a very persistent habit of staying up much too late, which was good for nights when he needed to help out Remus on the full moon, but completely deleterious the rest of the time.
“What’s so bad about Thursday?” Beth said, yawning herself and smothering it by taking a large gulp of tea.
“History of Magic too early in the morning,” he said grumpily, poking the remains of his toast glumly, as it had become soggy from the heaps of butter he’d slathered onto it as normal. Remus laughed at him from across the table.
“That’s gross,” he said, pointing at the toast in question. Sirius’s response was to rest his forehead on the table’s edge, groaning a bit.
“Oh, no – hang on a minute,” Beth said, Sirius’s words suddenly processing themselves fully in her brain. “I’ve forgotten my textbook – shoot –“ She reached down and heaved her school bag onto her lap, rummaging a bit and hoping she was mistaken. The book wasn’t there; it was more than likely still in her trunk from where she’d pitched in on Monday.
“See you guys in class,” she said, and popped up from the table quickly, silently cursing herself. Gryffindor Tower was a fair journey from the Great Hall, and History of Magic was quite a ways off besides. She wondered if Professor Binns would even care if she was late – although she’d never tested it before, she couldn’t imagine how much he’d be affected by it, or indeed if he’d be affected at all.
“Hey – Beth!” A shout from behind her made Beth turn, and a smile crept onto her face unwittingly. Severus, also smiling a bit, was jogging up the base of the grand staircase to where she stood at the top. She waited for him to catch up.
“You’re in a hurry,” he said, panting only slightly and brushing a strand of his dark hair out of his eyes.
“Forgot my textbook,” she said, rolling her eyes again at having done so and not enjoying the thought of walking up to the tower. She began to head in that direction, and Severus fell easily in step alongside her, as though he was meaning to walk there the entire time.
“Some busted lip Black gave Avery,” he said after a while, and Beth’s eyes quickly darted to him, wondering how she should respond. The smirk on his lips reassured her and she laughed aloud.
“Nothing compared to his black eye, though,” she pointed out. “I don’t think he was expecting Avery to fight back so hard.” In her mind’s eye, the whole scene again, how genuinely livid both boys had been. When looked upon objectively as she was doing now, it didn’t even make a whole lot of sense.
Severus had grown sort of quiet next to her, and she looked at him out of the corner of her eye again. He was staring firmly head and was chewing slightly on his bottom lip, apparently in deep concentration. She waited a few moments longer, wondering if she’d said something amiss; furiously she wracked her brains, trying to find what it was she might have said to offend him.
He didn’t speak until she’d stepped onto the staircase heading up toward the tower, and he nearly missed it. “Sorry,” he said hastily, and then leaned back against the banister, staring at one of the steps. “So, erm – about the fight – where do you stand?” He said this last in a great rush, as though he couldn’t wait to be rid of the thought.
“Where do I… what do you mean?” she repeated, frowning. A sick, sort of icy feeling had started to manifest itself in her lower abdomen, slowly crawling upwards. “Are you talking about blood purity issues?”
“Yeah,” he said at once, head jerking up. His dark eyes bore a feverish sort of intensity; the icy feeling grew that much stronger, and she swallowed to try and counteract it. It was extremely unpleasant, almost nauseating, and she willed it to go away, knowing that they were embarking upon a discussion she had feebly hoped she and Severus would never have.
She knew where he stood on the matter; she knew he, like his friends, believed those with non-magical blood were inferior to purebloods. It wasn’t something she liked to accept, and so she never thought about it. Before this year – before these past few months – she had never had cause to dwell on it, because he had never paid her any special attention. Severus had been the boy she could admire from far away solely for superficial matters, but now they were something close to friends, and hiding from it was no longer an option.
She sucked in a deep breath and prayed that whatever happened, he wouldn’t hate her.
“I don’t believe any wizard is better than another just because of where their heritage comes from,” she said shakily, gripping the strap of her shoulder bag so hard her fingers hurt. Something shifted at once in Severus’s eyes, as plainly as if it had been tangible, and a lump formed in Beth’s throat. She forced herself to continue on. “There is no reason that having one or two Muggles for parents should in any way affect your magical ability.”
“But you’re pureblood,” he broke in heatedly, blotches of red appearing high on his cheekbones with the outburst. “You’re completely – it’s like – “ He was scrambling for words as they became lost in his frantic exclamations. “You have everything,” he finished at last, a note of desperation in his voice.
Beth stared at him in shock. “That doesn’t mean a thing,” she said, her own voice rising slightly as her emotions caught up with her. “You’re loads better in Potions than I am, aren’t you, and your dad’s a Muggle. My parents split up and they’re purebloods.”
She hadn’t realized how passionately she’d felt about the issue until that moment, but it was as though one realization after another was crashing over her like breakers. He knew how messed up her family was, knew how much she couldn’t stand either of her parents’ attitudes. Her heart was beating rapidly, sharp pains under her ribs, but she stowed the thought away. She needed to search for redemption in all of this, the like-mindedness she knew that they must share. They had to.
Severus’s brows had contracted sharply, angular lines marring his forehead. “They don’t deserve to live in our world,” he said hotly, “they’re not us –“
“And yet we live in theirs!” Beth cried out sharply, flinging her arms wide. “It’s prejudice, Severus – that fight, that got started because of Remus, and not because of what he actually is. Avery said what he did because of something imagined, something that will never, ever matter.” She breathed deeply, raggedly; a stitch had formed in her side.
His mouth was thin and grim, his eyes cold, so different from how they had looked only minutes ago. “I would have thought that you of all people would realize how important this is,” he spat. “It would benefit you, Beth –“ he took a fraction of a step closer – “you would stand to gain everything –“
“Not if you were getting rid of my friends,” she said firmly, standing as tall as she could, knowing that if she actually stopped for a moment she’d probably begin to cry. “I don’t understand you, your dad is a Muggle –“
“Would you stop saying that?” Severus said; he was very close to shouting now. He climbed the rest of the stairs in a second, needing to move through his anger, and she hurried up after him angrily. “D’you think I’ve forgotten, or something? He is scum, my dad, he’s the sort of person we need to be rid of. If my mum hadn’t married him –“ He broke off and made a disgusted sort of noise.
As quickly as the shouting and anger had risen, it suddenly broke off; Beth could hardly believe it had happened, and almost wanted to believe it hadn’t. Both of them were breathing furiously, staring hard at one another, as though daring each to be the first to crack.
“So, you really feel that way?” she said coldly, hating the words and their tone as they spilled out of her mouth. Severus’s mouth twitched once, and he nodded.
Something broke inside of her. Lily’s warning, several months ago – she had never heeded it. She’d thrown herself into the friendship blindly, willing to overlook anything. But this, this was Severus as he truly was, walls and façades broken down. This was the boy she’d thought of for seven years, and she’d never known him at all.
Beth hurried away quickly, without another word, tears burning her eyes so she could hardly see. She couldn’t let him see the hurt she felt. She couldn’t let him know how deeply it affected her. It would only hurt her worse in the end.
Severus watched her go, feeling as though he was about to be sick. He didn’t know why he’d asked her that question, and he didn’t know why he’d gotten so mad when her response wasn’t the one he’d wanted to hear.
But he was completely certain that he’d just ruined everything. She might have been able to forget about the spells he’d said he’d written in his Potions textbook, but this – this was something that clearly meant so much to her, more than he’d ever guessed. And what had he done? He’d shouted at her, very nearly screamed at her. Told her how wrong she was.
He pressed his forehead to the wall, breathing deeply, but calm wouldn’t come. It was all over for him now, just as it was beginning, and it was all his fault.
The argument had taken up too much of Beth’s time, and by the time she got to her dormitory and had searched her trunk for the missing History of Magic textbook, the first bell had already rung. It didn’t help at all that she couldn’t see straight; her anger was nearly blinding, especially when coupled with mingling feelings of sorrow and hurt.
She didn’t know why she was so surprised by it – and maybe she wasn’t surprised at all. Lily had told her that Severus loved the Dark Arts, and this was a natural extension of that. But it was one thing to hear it from the mouth of a friend; it was another entirely to have it played out before her. Part of her had vainly and foolishly hoped that Lily was blowing things out of proportion, or that perhaps Severus had changed. Even after telling her about his spells – the one that required him to also know how to seal wounds – she never would have seen it coming. She’d been blinded, and it was her own fault.
The castle was empty when she finally set out for class, all the students in their lessons, and Beth hurried as quickly as she possibly could to History of Magic without drawing attention to herself. She had calmed down substantially but could feel the telltale itchiness around her eyes signifying she’d recently been crying. Hopefully the boys wouldn’t notice; they weren’t always very observant.
Professor Binns had assumed his usual post behind the podium at the front of the class and was droning away at the day’s lesson as though he’d been monologuing for years on end. There was an empty seat beside Marlene McKinnon, directly behind the desk that Remus and Sirius occupied, and she slipped into it casually.
Sirius turned around in his seat, creasing his eyebrows questioningly, but she shook her head, gesturing in Binns’s direction, as though she actually wanted to hear the lesson. Sirius frowned and turned hesitantly back around; she could tell she hadn’t fooled him for a moment.
A small square of parchment landed with a small thump on her desk, coming from somewhere on her left. Turning, she saw James sitting next to Lily, trying to appear as though he was taking notes. His eyes slid over to her behind his glasses. Scooting the parchment beneath the desk, she opened it and read James’s untidy scrawl.
Are you okay?
She reached for her quill and suddenly stopped, hand poised. She wasn’t okay – she didn’t see how she’d be okay for a long while – and thought about telling it all to James. But she didn’t want to see the smug look of triumph on Sirius’s face, or the look of knowing on Lily’s, or the look of pity on James’s own. This was her own private affair, and would stay that way.
She slowly removed the quill from the inkwell and wrote two words in small, deliberate print:
A/N: I love this chapter. I just... I am sorry if that's a bit pretentious, but all the emotion makes me all super-charged and reminds me why I wanted to write this story in the first place. It was never supposed to be slow-paced, and although the first half was a bit, out of necessity, now I feel like it's getting to the vision of the plot as I first had it -- and that's really, really exciting for me!
As always, if you've made it this far, please don't forget to leave your opinion. I am seriously so blown away at your comments and reads, and I love hearing from you all. Thanks!