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In The Red by TenthWeasley
Chapter 26 : Sirius and Severus
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 4


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The small meeting space where the Order of the Phoenix gathered was, as always, quite crowded when Beth arrived for the meeting. Not for the first time, she felt a slight, humid sense of claustrophobia upon squeezing through the front door. There seemed to be as many people there as there ever were – which, admittedly, was a good thing. Dwindling numbers certainly would have been more of a cause for concern, but the press of people did make certain things – for instance, breathing – rather unpleasant for the time being.

She didn’t know why, but there was something about tonight’s meeting that stirred faint fluttering feelings of anticipation in the pit of her stomach. She figured it was about time for another mission, and that perhaps that was the reason – she and Sirius hadn’t really been out on the streets since the evening she had run into Severus. Beth felt her cheeks redden even as she shut the door behind her; that had been the night she’d kissed his cheek, without even thinking about it… and neither of them had said a thing about it when she’d stupidly asked to see him after fighting with her parents, either. Maybe it was best that way; Merlin knew the pair of them had enough misunderstandings in their past to try and interpret exactly what that had meant.

“Beth!” At the sound of her name, Beth turned her head; Lily, Alice, Mary, and Marlene had claimed a few chairs on the opposite side of the room, and Lily was waving her hand over her head to get her attention. She motioned to a spare chair next to Marlene with her foot, and said something that was lost in the drone of conversation. Beth grinned back in acknowledgement and started making the inevitable pardons that accompanied wending one’s way across a crowded room.

It was very strange, having two good friends who were pregnant – well, strange wasn’t the word for it, but Beth, as she all but collapsed into the seat after pushing past Gideon Prewett, still felt as though she didn’t have much to talk about with Lily anymore. Hearing her currently chatting with Alice about something that sounded like baby blankets confirmed this fact; she rather thought it would be a long time before she herself needed to be discussing things like the softest sort of yarn to make them out of.

“Sort of makes you think, doesn’t it?” Marlene leaned over and said to her in an undertone, jerking Beth from her thoughts for the second time that evening. “Weird, isn’t it, that she’s the same age as us and less than three months from having a baby?”

“So weird,” Beth laughed, rather relieved to see that she hadn’t been the only one to find it that way. She leaned back in the uncomfortable folding chair and cast her eyes around for Sirius or James, but saw neither of them. Remus was talking to Frank across the way, looking rather serious about something; Peter had been cornered by Emmeline Vance, who was well-known for her ability to talk up a storm and never let her conversational partner get a word in edgewise. She smiled in sympathy upon seeing it, and was about to make a snide remark about it to Marlene when her friend spoke up again.

“How have you been, Beth? With… with everything?” Marlene adjusted the hem of her skirt and crossed one leg over the other, smoothing out nonexistent wrinkles in an almost compulsive fashion. “I feel like we’ve not properly talked in ages.”

Beth shrugged, feeling a little guilty – the past few get-togethers, she realized, had just been the boys and Lily and her, with Mary and Marlene, she now saw, rather noticeably absent. “I know,” she said, trying to sound as sorry as she possibly could, and immediately feeling even guiltier for having to consciously think about sounding apologetic at all. “My life’s not been terribly exciting, if it’s any consolation. I sort of just hang about with Sirius unless I’m needed here, discussing plans or something.” Beth thought it would have been a bit cruel to mention the rest of the boys, too, at the risk of making Marlene feel excluded, so she said nothing. “Other than that, I just… erm, read?”

Marlene laughed, and Beth gave an internal sigh of relief; no pressing questions meant no having to talk her way around sending letters to and meeting up with Severus, which, admittedly, had happened with increasing frequency in the past month. “Sirius is a character,” she grinned. “You know Mary fancied him, in school?”

“I think everyone knew that,” Beth said, cracking a grin of her own. “Especially Sirius.” Marlene laughed again, and the two looked over to their left; Mary was listening to whatever topic of conversation Lily and Alice had moved onto, her face showing her to be rather rapt with attention.

“He’s doing well, then?” Marlene questioned further, and Beth nodded. “And aren’t you two…?” She made a little motion with her forefinger between Beth and the empty space in front of her chair.

“Oh. Oh, no.” Beth shook her head, feeling her cheeks redden yet again. “No, we are very much just friends.”

“Oh.” Marlene looked mildly confused, but before Beth could divert her off that rather awkward tangent and ask her about her own life, Dumbledore emerged from the minuscule door leading into the flat’s equally tiny kitchen, and a sort of buzzing silence fell over the assembled members. To Beth’s surprise, James emerged from the door behind her former headmaster.

She leaned over to Lily and made a sort of waving motion, straining to tap her friend on the leg. Lily looked at her in mild surprise. “Where’s –“ Beth started to ask, but then Dumbledore stepped to the middle of the circle, and the room quieted even further. Not wanting to be the sole noise in the silence, she leaned back into her seat.

James, Sirius, and Remus were all aligned along the wall separating the main room from the kitchen, and none of them made any move to sit down. Beth’s forehead puckered. What is going on? Her gaze slid involuntarily to Peter, who’d had to sit near Emmeline on the floor. His eyes, too, were focused on their friends, and his cheeks were rather red.

“Does anyone have any sort of announcements to begin our evening?” Dumbledore asked mildly, sounding rather as though he thought this were some sort of innocuous social function. His long fingers stroked his silver beard as he waited for someone to speak up, but now Peter and Beth were not the only ones to have noticed the three men still standing. From the outer edges of the room, querying murmurs began to work their way inward. Beth looked again at Lily; she was staring determinedly at her hands, clasped together over her rather large stomach.

“Well, then, that takes care of that.” The old man smiled pleasantly. “Then, if I may, I would like to call up Remus Lupin to share a bit of news.” He cleared his throat. “Mr. Lupin?”

It was apparent that old habits really did die hard; Remus looked faintly embarrassed at being addressed like he was once again a Hogwarts pupil. He cleared his throat in a rather good imitation of Dumbledore and picked his way to stand beside him, muttering apologies upon nearly squashing several fingers and hands in the process.

He looked, Beth thought, rather more ill than he usually did, though it was still a little more than two weeks until the full moon was once again due to appear in the sky. After a brief pause, and a nonverbal confirmation from Dumbledore, he drew a deep breath.

“As some of you may have noticed,” he said dully, the words coming from in a monotonic rush and sounding very much like a prepared speech, “tonight’s meeting is missing the – ah – presence of Caradoc Dearborn.”

Renewed mutterings broke out at that; Beth looked around, though she knew that she wouldn’t see him amongst those squeezed into corners or sitting stiffly on the chairs. Her eyes locked with Sirius’s, across the way, and she mouthed, What’s going on? Sirius shook his head once, flexing his hands nervously in front of them, and nodded back at Remus, who was apparently waiting for the room to settle down once more.

“After not showing up to work several days in a row, an – an investigative team was sent to his flat, and found the place empty. We suspect Dearborn was being watched and are almost certain his disappearance involves foul play, but – but all measures are being taken to find him.” Remus’s report was peppered with pauses; Beth would sense not only her friend’s nerves, but also what lay beneath, how shaken up he was over the disappearance of someone he had worked alongside for over a year. There was a slightly awkward pause, and then Remus resumed his spot next to Sirius.

“And what’s that supposed to mean, then?” a rather indignant voice squawked, just as Dumbledore made to move into the middle of the circle once more. Edgar Bones had risen to his feet, his eyes popping slightly; he looked almost mad. “Are we all going to be snatched from our beds, with the rest of you searching for our bodies? And when there’s no one left?” His voice was rising steadily.

From next to Remus, Frank Longbottom spoke up coolly. “You knew the risks when you agreed to help us, Edgar. Caradoc knew them, too.” Edgar opened his mouth at that moment to snap back a retort, but Dumbledore raised his hands and interceded.

“Gentlemen,” he said calmly. “There is a time for debating, but this, unfortunately, is not it.” Still bug-eyed, Edgar sank down the wall and resumed his place on the uncomfortable carpet. Beth caught Marlene’s eye, and Marlene shrugged, twisting her mouth in a somehow helpless way.

“As a result of this news,” Dumbledore continued on, speaking calmly and smiling, though his eyes had rather lost their characteristic twinkle, “I urge each of you to do all you can to maintain a mindset of utmost caution in the coming weeks and months. We will not underestimate the power of our enemies; yes, they are strong. Caradoc’s disappearance is proof of this.”

He took a brief moment to adjust the half-moon spectacles on his long, crooked nose. “Keep valuable information close; your lives and the lives of those you hold dear, equally so. Our enemies are strong, but there is strength in our numbers, as well.” Dumbledore seemed to be taking it upon himself to personally look each member of the Order in the eye as he spoke. His gaze fell on Beth, and goosebumps erupted up and down her arms.

“The road ahead,” he finished gently, though not without some measure of severity, “is not to be an easy one. We would all do well to remember that.”

Beth looked across the room; Sirius was looking at her intently, his arms folded across his chest. There was unspoken meaning in the gesture, and for some reason, she was oddly reminded of her second meeting with Severus under the bridge, and their resolve to forge ahead with communicating with each other, despite the obvious risks.

Dumbledore had said to guard information as closely as those you held dear… but what happened when the two conflicted?

Unconsciously, Beth folded her own arms and sat back in her chair, rubbing her nose thoughtfully. He had spoken truthfully – the road ahead would not be an easy one, to be sure. She had known this – both she and Severus had – but somehow, it seemed much more real now, with one of their members Merlin knew where, as good as dead. And her stomach wrenched in guilt at the thought that perhaps, through making distant promises to Severus Snape, she had made the Order’s road that much more treacherous.

*

Severus walked briskly along the street, checking often over his shoulder just to quell the notion of his being followed. He didn’t know why it bothered him so much tonight – and who would follow him? He, who had so quickly reason in Roark’s favor these past several weeks, who was, he knew, quickly inching closer and closer to the Dark Lord’s inner circle? But it was the purpose, and not the plausibility, that made him paranoid tonight. He had resolved to himself never to put Beth in danger, and he intended to stick to that promise.

He reached a hand into the pocket of his cloak and closed his hand around the bracelet there. It had been very hard to concentrate on the meeting that night; it had been one planned rather soon after Travers had relayed the news of his overhead conversation to Roark the evening before, and had accordingly focused largely on discussing the prophecy and the dangers of those who might aid in fulfilling it, namely Potter and Longbottom. And where James Potter’s name was mentioned as far as Severus was concerned, Beth’s name inevitably tagged along.

It had been during the meeting (admittedly, when his attention should have been fully focused on what was being said) that he had resolved to return Beth’s bracelet to her as soon as it was over, without delay. Partially, he knew, he wanted to rid himself of it and thus defer awkward questions, should they ever arise – and part of it was because he wanted to see her again. It was an admission he could not keep from himself.

From a narrow alley to his right, a cat suddenly yowled; Severus stopped short, his heart leaping into his throat, jamming against his Adam’s apple. “Calm down,” he muttered aloud, stepping to the side and leaning for a moment against the wall of the office building he found himself alongside. He glanced again the way he had come, out of instinct, and steeled his resolve. Knock on the door, find Beth’s postbox, drop the bracelet in, and head home. It was a simple enough task; Merlin knew he’d done worse in the past few months…

Rounding the corner, he found himself, almost unexpectedly, on the street where Beth’s flat complex was, which surprised him a bit – somehow he’d thought himself further away from it. His mouth felt dry as he approached the building and he suddenly realized that this would really be the first time since he and Beth had reconciled things that he would be meeting her without prior consent on her part. A wave of something like panic crashed over him at this thought – what would she say? Was it possible that she’d be angry at him, that he was a pocket of her life she didn’t want to deal with when she didn’t have to?

You’re being stupid, he told himself, and drew himself up, throwing back his shoulders as though by walking confidently, he would feel more confident as a result. But if this had been the intention, it failed miserably. Severus felt absolutely no less nervous upon approaching the front door than he had a few seconds previously.

There was a sudden sound of footsteps behind him as he reached for the knob, and as though he had been expecting it – perhaps he had been expecting it – he turned wildly on his heel, hand already halfway to his pocket for his wand despite the fact that he had no way of knowing whether the approaching person was wizard or Muggle. He raised the thin wooden stick, clutching it tightly… and found him staring into the face of none other than Sirius Black.

Severus had not seen Sirius since leaving school nearly two years previously; he hadn’t changed much, he noted with a slight smirk, though he did not lower his wand. He had the same dark hair, the same dark eyes, and the same permanently smug expression, perpetually seconds away from hurling some debilitating insult at whoever passed his way.

Sirius, too, had drawn his wand upon seeing Severus there; he looked no less shocked at meeting in such an unexpected fashion than Severus himself was. The men said nothing for a short stretch of time, neither lowering their wands even a fraction of an inch, and finally Sirius opened his mouth to speak. “What,” he snarled venomously, “are you doing here?”

“As if I’m required to tell you anything,” Severus retorted bitterly; Sirius sneered. “I’ve as much to right to be here as you do, I reckon –“

“Like hell you do,” said Sirius coldly. He took a step forward, and Severus instinctively backed up to the door, cursing himself immediately for doing so. “I know what you are, Snivellus. You don’t need to be hanging around out here, unless I’ve caught you in the act of –“

Severus pressed forward again, the tip of his wand touching the skin below Sirius’s jaw, surprising him into silence. “Don’t you dare talk about things you don’t understand,” he said, in a dangerously calm voice. “Your life is not so valuable to me that I wouldn’t curse you limb from limb where you stand.”

“I’d love for you to try,” Sirius hissed.

And for a brief moment, Severus considered it – Merlin, how he’d love to wipe that smile from Sirius Black’s face, to see him writhing in pain on the ground, pain so unbearable he’d never recover from it… The words were already on the way to his lips; all he needed to do was speak them.

But he knew that he couldn’t, no matter how much he may have wanted to. Sirius was one of Beth’s friends, and though he would never understand it, he could also never do anything about it. And try as he might to give Sirius what he deserved, he wasn’t ever going to be able to. Not anymore.

Half-hating himself for it, he reluctantly stowed his wand back into an inner pocket of his robes and instead fished about for Beth’s bracelet, removing it gently so as not to tangle the chain. Sirius was watching him apprehensively, wand at only half its former height, and Severus held out the bracelet as though it were an offer of peace.

“Here,” he said, still trying to inject as much spite into the word as he could possibly manage. “Beth’s bracelet. She dropped it. I was returning it to her.” When the man across from him did nothing, he waved the chain impatiently. “Give it to her.”

Sirius blinked once; he still didn’t seem to be taking in what Severus was saying. Finally, with careful motions, he reached forward and picked up the bracelet, letting it coil in the palm of his hand before closing his fingers around it. “Why?” he said at last.

Severus gritted his teeth. “Because,” he said slowly, “it is Beth’s.”

This seemed to be a good enough answer for Sirius, who opened his hand once more and looked down at the bracelet. The small charm was resting on top of the chain, as though it were poised for flight. “You gave this to her,” he said unexpectedly, and Severus felt a jolt of surprise in the pit of his stomach; if he had anticipated any further passes at conversation from Sirius, it wouldn’t have been that. There was another long moment of silence between the pair of them, and finally the other man lifted his head, his jaw set and his eyes firmly locked on Severus.

“I don’t know what it is,” he said at last, “but Beth really does care about you. Okay? And if you ever” – his fist over the bracelet tightened, the bones jutting out through the skin – “do something to hurt her, I’m not going to stop until you hurt, too.” And with that, he shouldered past, opened the door, and disappeared into the dim lobby of the flat complex.

Severus didn’t know how long he stared at the spot where Sirius had vanished; his heart was thudding madly beneath his ribs, blood forcing itself almost painfully through his ears so that he could barely hear for the thumping of it. All this time, all these months, he had been so convinced that he was being selfish, that Beth couldn’t possibly… He had felt stupid for even hoping…

He dropped his face into his hands; Severus found that he had sat down on the edge of the crumbling concrete stoop, and couldn’t remember physically having done so. He was shaking – why was he shaking? – and his mind was racing at a hundred, a thousand miles an hour. He couldn’t seem to be able to wrap his mind around a single thought as it flitted by. Except –

“Beth really does care about you.”

The words jumped out at him, and he sucked in a quick breath through his hands. Now that he had the words in front of him, he knew how accurate they were – not just for her, but for him. He did care about her, and possibly more, and never in his life had he wanted anything more than to tell her just that, right now.

She deserved to know how much he felt for her.

But it would have to wait. Because before he could do that, he would have to tell her about the prophecy he had overheard. No more secrets, no more lying, no more pretending people and places didn’t exist. Such things were for fools, and he, Severus, was no fool.

And if she cared for him like Sirius had implied – if she cared for him like he cared for her – then surely she would listen.

A/N: I think it's pretty miraculous that Sirius didn't just hex Severus where he stood. Maybe he's growing up at last! I was just saying this to a friend of mine, and I know I've said it here before -- but I like getting to look back at chapters I wrote months ago, to refresh my mind on what I wrote. That bit at the end, Sirius's threat to Severus -- totally forgot all about it just now. And I love that bit!

I think I ramble too much in these notes, though. I'll try and make them shorter. Thank you so much to everyone who's reviewed and read and favorited since last Sunday, though -- I've had an influx of reviews and favorites, and it makes me feel on top of the world, basically. Your opinions are always very much welcomed!


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