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Breaking Even by TenthWeasley
Chapter 10 : Bridger
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 8


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Three shadowed figures crouched low along a stretch of brick wall, heavily defaced in Muggle graffiti. A woman was flanked by two men, each of the three of them holding a wand tightly in front of their chests, each of the three of them as still as statues. It was almost easy to think that they were statues, had the anxious rise and fall of their shoulders, evidence of their nerves, not given away their humanity. Sirius Black’s eyes were fixed unseeingly on a point in front of him, only half-listening to Frank and Alice Longbottom’s conversation to his right. They had been arguing almost nonstop ever since the mission had set out, and if he had to hear one more cyclic back-and-forth between husband and wife, he thought he might scream.

“You shouldn’t have come,” Frank was saying to his wife, speaking softly, trying to pretend Sirius wasn’t close enough to hear every word. He shifted position a bit, and a few loose chunks of mortar clattered down onto the asphalt beneath him. “That’s all I’m saying, Al. It’s nothing personal –“

“This is my job too,” his wife replied staunchly, folding her arms over her chest and nearly poking Sirius in the shoulder with the tip of her wand. “We’re in the same boat, Frank.”

“But you’ve got Neville –“ he began exasperatedly, and Sirius could have uttered the counterargument right alongside Alice at this point, so often had he heard it repeated tonight.

“You’ve got him too!” she interrupted her husband heatedly. “And I’ll be damned if you’re going to use that as an excuse against me, because I’m just as much up to taking these risks as you are. I know the cost, but he’s still your son. And he’s with your mum, Frank. He’s fine, and I’m here now. That’s the reality of it.”

Sirius blew out a great breath and dropped his chin into his hand; his eyes flicked up and down the dark garden the three of them sat facing. Nothing moved apart from trickling into a gutter several feet away, evidence of the rainstorm that had blown through earlier in the afternoon. From somewhere behind him was the sound of new leaves, rustling on damp tree branches.

It could be cloaks, he thought to himself, perking up slightly at the thought of a bit of action. Sirius knew it wasn’t; he’d already fooled himself into thinking as much several times. The entire night had seemed to repeat itself, one event after another after another, as though time were folded over onto itself. But he rose to his knees slightly anyway, peeking his head over the waist-high brick wall. Frank and Alice stopped talking immediately to watch him.

Nothing.

“What’s there?” Frank asked, in a hushed whisper. Sirius shook his head tersely, sinking back down into his crouch and wondering how unprofessional it would look to stretch his legs, just enough to work out the slow-forming cramps.

“Right, we’ve been here an hour,” Frank said, as though coming to a decision. Alice looked at him sharply from the corner of one of her dark eyes. “Alice, you go –“

“If you say ‘Go home’ then I’m hexing you,” she said brusquely. “Fair warning.” Sirius sighed again, the noise already lost amidst the repetitious argument, and dropped his chin back into his hand as the married couple went at it again.

He had known that tonight’s mission would be a bit milder than ones he had previously ventured out on, solely because of part of Frank’s argument: Alice was a mother now, and whether or not she liked it, Sirius knew that Dumbledore took that into account when assigning her duties, which he did with less frequency. That had been a point brought up earlier, as well, and Alice had not been happy to hear her husband state it so boldly.

The whole thing, in fact, reminded Sirius so much of Beth that he would have laughed, should the thought of Beth have not currently wanted to make him crawl into a gutter and hide for several years. Alice was just as stubborn, just as attached to her job – but there was a large difference between Beth and Alice, and that was that Alice was still able to go on missions at all. Meanwhile, Beth was stuck in the Ministry, doing menial labor.

And it was Sirius’s fault. The look on her face, when he’d told her what he’d done… He touched the yellow-and-purple bruise just under his left eye, wincing as he did so – he deserved that bruise. He deserved ten times worse. But she had said she never wanted to see him again, and not even a trace of disbelief had laced her voice. Sirius’s insides twisted painfully at the thought.

She made missions fun, he thought ruefully, shifting again as his right leg began to tingle from lack of blood flow. His mind floated almost unwittingly back to their last mission together – had it really been months ago? – and he tried to ignore the deepening sensation of guilt. He missed joking with her, talking with her when the minutes grew long; he missed his best friend. But he, Sirius, was the reason she was no longer here.

But that wasn’t true, was it? He hadn’t stopped anyone from hexing a Death Eater. That had most definitely been all her. And yet, if Severus had remembered Beth in the first place – if his memories of her were intact – things would have been different enough that hexing wouldn’t have crossed his mind…

“Do you hear that?” Alice’s voice was taut with nerves, and Sirius nearly pitched forward as it jerked him out of his thoughts, unsteadily balanced on the balls of his feet as he was. He wrapped his fingers more tightly around his wand, which had nearly slipped from his hand in the process of almost falling over.

“What?” he hissed back, noting that Frank had gone, if possible, even more still than he had already been. In response, the older man pressed a finger to his lips, setting his ear against the worn brick near his head. And this time, Sirius heard it, too: Voices and footsteps, heading their way, though he couldn’t make out anything that was being said. Whoever was approaching, they were too far away as of now for their conversation to be made clear.

Sirius knew what this meant; Frank and Alice knew it, too. Over the past several months, even before Beth had stopped doing mission work, one of the team’s larger goals had been pinpointing the location of wherever the Death Eaters had their headquarters. Through little more than random chance, they had narrowed in the location where known members were frequently seen; it was not an optimal method of espionage, but, Sirius thought wryly, it had gotten the job done. The area they had been sent to tonight had been specifically chosen for its proximity to other sightings, and indeed, the place where Beth had stopped Sirius from hexing Severus was only a few blocks east.

Which meant that there was a fairly good chance that any voices heard now, at this time of night, were enemy voices.

Holding his finger to his lips in a mirror of the movement Frank had just done, Sirius slowly rose up from his crouch, trying to ignore the fact that the feeling had once again left his legs; his calves were prickling uncomfortably. Frank and Alice watched as he poked his head over the top of the wall. The thought came to him that he probably looked a bit like a six-year-old playing at being an Auror, and hastily tried to think more serious thoughts.

Two men were passing down the street now, not far at all from the wall where Frank, Alice, and Sirius had hidden themselves. The streetlamps had gone out along this stretch of road, though there had been enough light to see by before he had sunk down behind the wall; his heart thudded in his chest. He couldn’t see their faces, but cloaks fell from their shoulders, draped around their silhouettes. He would have bet whatever amount of Knuts were currently in his pocket that these two were Death Eaters.

“I think we’ve got someone,” he said as loud as he possibly dared, curling his fingers over the rough tops of the bricks. There was a shifting noise, and Frank had popped up next to Sirius, as well. The figures were almost level with the mouth of the alley that the brick wall sat at the head of; a few more steps, and they would be within hailing distance. Sirius hunched down slightly and turned his ear toward the mouth of the alley.

“… wouldn’t matter,” one voice was saying to the other, apparently not bothering too much to keep his voice down. “As long as –“

Whoever the first voice was speaking to must have interrupted at this point, for their side of the conversation was cut off abruptly. The second person, though, was speaking much more quietly, and Sirius pressed the side of his face even harder against the wall, straining to catch the words; the men were moving away at a good pace, and before long would be out of earshot.

“ … find Bridger.”

The first voice spoke again, sounding resigned. “All right. Far be it from me…” Their footsteps died away down the pavement, and then were gone; nothing else sounded apart from Alice, below the two men, fidgeting with slight impatience.

Sirius felt as though his mouth had suddenly gone bone-dry. In a wild flash of impulse, he stuck his head over the brick wall and leaned out, trying desperately to see who the two men had been. Their forms were quickly disappearing, but he was almost sure he recognized one of them. That had to be Severus Snape was on the right, he recognized the walk, the way the man held himself. Or was he only seeing that because he wanted to have something to report to Mad-Eye, something more substantial than the information at hand?

“Get down, Black,” Frank said, yanking on the neck of Sirius’s robes. He sounded frustrated, though apparently not because his partner had just risked exposing his neck. “Couldn’t hear a damn thing,” he added, rubbing the side of his head. “Could you?”

Sirius swallowed hard against the cotton feeling in his mouth. “They said Beth’s name,” he said hoarsely. “One of them said ‘Bridger’.” Frank moved his jaw, but said nothing.

Alice, however, did speak up. “Why would they say that?” She lifted up her hand to her husband, and he pulled her to her feet wordlessly. Brushing down the front of her robes, she continued, “That doesn’t make any sense. Unless she’s still got some sort of connection –“

Another sick wave of guilt crashed over Sirius. Not anymore, he thought, before he could stop himself. He was positive that he had heard the name Bridger, but perhaps there was no connection; it wasn’t such an uncommon name, was it? Maybe there was a Death Eater called Bridger…

“I don’t know,” he said at last, feeling suddenly nauseous. Could Snape have said her name? It was absurd, ridiculous. But, said a small voice in his head, not completely impossible. Memory charms could wear off, couldn’t they? Dumbledore was a powerful wizard, but surely he had made mistakes before…

“Let’s go after them,” Sirius said at once, only then realizing at that moment that Frank and Alice were both staring at him, as though waiting for him to say something.

“They’re too far away,” Frank said warily, eyes shifting in the direction that the two Death Eaters had disappeared, though there was no way he would have been able to see them even if the wall of the bordering building hadn’t obstructed the view. “I’m sure they’re long gone by now, mate.”

Sirius hated to think that he was right. He felt suddenly restless – he could have done more, surely… But there was nothing for it now.

“Right,” he said instead. “ I guess we’ll head out, then?” He glanced at Alice, as though for affirmation; she gave a small nod of her head. “I’ll pop by the Ministry tomorrow and give Mad-Eye the report,” he added.

“Thanks, Sirius,” said Frank, clapping him on the shoulder. But Sirius barely heard him; his mind was still fixed on whatever it was he’d just heard, the nauseous feeling rolling in the pit of his stomach. He should tell – but no, Beth was furious with him. Rightfully angry, of course… But he had to tell someone. Not Mad-Eye; he thought Beth was a traitor. Not Dumbledore, not McGonagall…

“See you around, Sirius?” Alice’s voice broke into his thoughts for the second time that night; it sounded as though she’d already asked the question once before. Both of them were looking at him still, anxiety now etched on their faces.

“Yeah,” he amended quickly, trying to wipe all emotion from his face. “Yeah – see you.” Frank gave him a small smile, reached for his wife’s hand, and turned on the spot; they both disappeared with a loud crack. As soon as they had gone, Sirius too turned, but he did not go home… Not yet.

First, he thought he might to pay a visit to Godric’s Hollow.

*

James looked rather surprised to see Sirius appear on his doorstep, though perhaps less surprised than he might have been to find someone else. “Got a minute?” Sirius asked without preamble, stepping over the threshold into the hall even as he was speaking. James closed the door behind his friend wordlessly.

“Who is it?” called Lily from upstairs; Sirius could hear the sound of water running in a bath.

“It’s me, Lily,” Sirius called back, again not letting James get a word in. “I won’t stay long – got to talk to James for a few minutes, that’s all.” When there was no further response, he assumed that permission had been obtained for him to stay, and wandered back into the kitchen without further ado.

“I don’t suppose you’re actually going to get to the point, mate?” James asked, slightly exasperated, following Sirius into the kitchen and dropping into a chair at the table. Sirius himself leaned against the sink, folding his arms across his chest, still feeling too restless to sit in a chair.

“Sorry,” he said, only now realizing that he might have sent an owl – he really had to stop acting on impulse. “I know it’s late, but I’ve just got off a mission.”

The skin on James’s forehead wrinkled almost immediately as he frowned, eyes narrowing behind his spectacles. “Are we in danger?” he asked, his voice so low Sirius could barely hear him. “Lily –“

“No, no,” his friend said, so hastily his tongue stumbled over the words. “You’re fine, mate. It’s nothing… nothing like that.” He felt even worse now – what James must have been thinking when Sirius showed up at his door… “We found a few Death Eaters walking along near Brook’s Bend,” he continued. “Didn’t catch them, but I heard a bit of what they were saying.

James said nothing, but made an impatient motion with his hand as Sirius paused. “They said Beth’s name,” he said at last. “Well – they said ‘Bridger’, but I feel like there can’t be too many of those for Death Eaters to be talking about, can there?”

James’s frown deepened. “And you’re sure?” he said, after a slight pause. Sirius nodded.

“It was Snape, James.” James’s head shot up, and his mouth fell open.

Snape? But why – he’s not supposed to –“

“I know.” Sirius crossed to the table and back again, his arms still folded, the helpless feeling inside of him welling with each passing moment. “I just –“

But he couldn’t tell James. He couldn’t tell anyone. No one else knew what he’d done – no one else knew that it was his fault that Dumbledore had discovered Beth’s connection to Snape. James, Remus, Lily, Peter, all of them still thought that some nameless, faceless culprit was behind it all. Selfish as it was, Sirius much preferred to keep it that way. And so he only said, “You know how we’re trying to find an excuse to get into Hogwarts? To look for the memories?”

“You think this is it?” James sounded skeptical, which only annoyed Sirius. “Don’t you think it’s going to be a bit odd, us strolling up to the castle and waltzing right into Dumbledore’s office to tell him about one small piece of a conversation?”

“Why shouldn’t we?” Sirius burst out in frustration. “It’s no problem – we’ve got the charm Dumbledore put on all the Order members allowing us into the gates, haven’t we? I have to make a report to Moody at the Ministry early tomorrow, but it’s not far-fetched for me to think that Dumbledore should know, too. Besides” – and here a grim smile pulled up the corners of his mouth – “I don’t think he’s going to take whatever excuse we come up with too seriously. We could probably get away with laying claim to feeling of nostalgia.”

James’s lips turned up in an identical smile. “That’s true,” he admitted, and Sirius let out a short bark of laughter. “Right. Okay.” He stood up from the table, running his hands through his hair from force of habit, making it look as though he’d just been on the wrong end of a bad shock. “We’re doing this, then?”

“This week,” Sirius decided at once. “Or it’ll look weird, my holding onto the information. I’ll have time to go to Moody, and then we’ll head for school.” James nodded his consent, and blew out a long breath, as though he’d been holding it for the past minute.

“What happens if we get them?” Sirius didn’t need to ask what “them” meant.

“I don’t know,” he answered honestly. “Then we tell Beth, I suppose. And if she really wants to restore them, then we’ll help her do that.”

James nodded a second time, and it was only then that the weight of what they were preparing to do descended upon the pair of them. Sirius told James that he would stop by Godric’s Hollow around eight o’ clock the following morning, and then took his leave.

Neither man slept well that night.

A/N: And the plot thickens! What did Sirius overhear, who did he overhear it from, and what do you think it means? I always feel a bit don't-change-that-channel at the end of these chapters, but I'm just really excited about where this story is going. And I hope that you are, too!

I'm so close to finishing, too -- finishing up chapter 26 today, and then just four more to go. My goal's still to finish Breaking Even by the end of April, and I've been writing about two chapters a week, so I'm pretty sure I'm still on target. Exciting stuff! Thank you all for being so awesome to this story as I go, and I hope you enjoyed this update. ♥


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