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Breaking Even by TenthWeasley
Chapter 12 : The Reparation
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 9


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It was all Sirius could do to keep up with James as the two of them emerged at last through the Hogwarts gates, still flanked on either side by statues of winged boars. He couldn’t say what had made his best friend flee in such a hurry, but he’d looked as though he was about to be sick. Mind, they had just nearly been caught snooping in Professor Dumbledore’s office, and the prospect of that happening would have been enough to liquefy the intestines of far braver men.

“Slow down, James,” he panted, and only then did James appear to remember he had someone following after him. He slowed to a walk, and they rounded the first bend that would take them back towards the village of Hogsmeade. The anti-Apparition enchantments protecting the school extended up until the village’s boundaries, for further protection, which was a pain if you weren’t actually a student there.

“Sorry,” he apologized, running a hand through his hair and making it stand on end, as though he’d just rolled out of bed.

Sirius glanced at him askance. “I’m sure Dumbledore didn’t really see what we were up to,” he said, trying to make it appear as though he felt much braver than he actually did. When hadn’t Dumbledore known exactly what they were up to? And of course they knew how close Beth was to each of them… But then why hadn’t he said anything about it?

James obviously wasn’t confident, either, for he made no reply to this. “I’m sure that was the bottle,” he said instead, talking so quietly it was almost as though Sirius wasn’t meant to hear his thoughts. “That’s what memories are supposed to look like.”

“You could have shown it to me,” Sirius said. “I could have snuck it out! Done a diversion, or something!”

“Not like I didn’t try,” James answered ruefully. “You were messing about with your books, weren’t you?” After a brief pause, he added, “Besides. Beth might want to get them herself, don’t you reckon?”

It was Sirius’s turn not to answer. They’d only just come out of the school a few moments ago, but somehow, up until then, he’d forgotten that he and James weren’t just heading home after their brief reconnaissance mission. He didn’t know how this leg of the trip was going to go at all, because as far as he knew, Beth was still absolutely furious with him for being the one who told Dumbledore that she and Snape were in contact. Judging from the fact that he hadn’t heard a word from her since, either spoken or by owl post, he guessed that betting on her continuing anger was a safe one. And James didn’t know a thing about the row they’d had, either, which meant Sirius would either have to tell him, or he’d have to play along and go to Beth’s flat like they were the best of friends.

Coward that he was, he didn’t feel like confessing his sins today. The latter option it was.

His bravado had faded distinctly, however, by the time the two men had Apparated out of Hogsmeade Village and appeared on the corner of the block Beth’s flat complex sat on. The smell of asphalt was thick in the air, dredged up from the late spring sun, and the windows of the buildings reflected the glare, winking like eyes behind glasses. Sirius followed James to the door with heavy, remorseful steps, his stomach turning more and more leaden with each passing moment. He really didn’t want to see what awaited him behind that door.

Maybe she’s forgiven you, a hopeful voice inside his head piped up cheerfully. But he already knew that wasn’t the case. Wouldn’t he have heard from Beth if it had been? Granted, she could have just been keeping quiet about it as a sort of punishment for what he’d done, but he’d made Beth mad on enough occasions over the past few years for him to know when she was good and truly angry. This was the maddest Sirius had yet made her, too; the silent treatment didn’t extend to cover this sort of thing.

James paused on the landing one flight below Beth’s. “You all right?” he asked, concerned. “You don’t look so good, mate. You look ill.”

Sirius pulled at his cheeks with the palms of his hands. “No, I’m fine,” he lied. “Just – you know. Climbing all these stairs.” It was a horribly feeble lie, and he knew that even before it had left his lips. James gave him an odd look.

“Stairs?”

“Maybe it was those spiral stairs,” Sirius amended. “Which are still… stairs. Technically.” James mercifully made no response to this, although his eyes still showed liberal amounts of confusion behind them. He didn’t look so well himself, though, and Sirius knew he was still worried about whether or not Dumbledore had divined their true purpose for being in his office. That was probably what James thought he, Sirius, was worried about too. And as long as he was going to be handed an excuse not to tell James that he had, in fact, been the reason that Snape forgot everything about Beth, then he was going to take that excuse.

They climbed the last flight of stairs, and James raised his arm, rapping on the door to Beth’s flat with the back of his slightly-curled hand. Maybe she’s not home, Sirius thought suddenly, and light, feathered hope blossomed within him. They’d have to return later, and he could make some excuse to not return – maybe pretend he really was ill –

There was the clatter of a chain, and the door swung inward. Sirius’s insides plummeted to sit somewhere in the vicinity of his ankles.

Beth looked surprised to see James and Sirius standing on the other side of her door – which, Sirius supposed, wasn’t an adverse reaction. “Hi,” she said cautiously, and then her eyes found Sirius’s. It was as though a thin film of ice immediately coated them, angry fire burning brightly beneath. The corners of her mouth tightened perceptibly.

“Can we come in?” James asked, apparently not having seen Beth’s reaction to the appearance of the other. “We’ve got some news.”

She appeared to struggle internally for a moment – the fact that Sirius would have to set foot in her flat weighed against the prospect of learning whatever news he had brought to her. Finally, wordlessly, she stepped back, allowing them entry. Sirius kept as wide a distance between them as it was possible to have in the small span of the doorway.

James stood against the wall separating kitchen from sitting room already, hands in his pockets, fidgeting nervously. “We won’t stay long,” he promised, as Sirius moved awkwardly to stand beside him. “I just – I thought you’d want to know what we found.”

Beth made no response to this; she crossed to lean against her loveseat, folding her arms across her chest, a small frown turning down the corners of her mouth. She looked straight at James, as though Sirius wasn’t even in the room with the two of them. “Yes?” she asked at last.

James glanced sideways at Sirius, who shook his head once – no way in hell he’d be breaking this news.

“Sirius was on a mission yesterday,” James began, and his friend could have kicked him for starting out the sentence like that. The lines around Beth’s eyes and mouth grew still firmer in displeasure. “And on the pretense of telling Dumbledore about it, we went to school today – you know, to see…” He licked his lips. “About the memories.”

The angry look melted from Beth’s face instantly. “You did?” she asked softly.

“We know where they are.” Sirius thought that this might have been his moment to speak, but had guessed wrong; Beth glared at him anew, and he popped his lips right back together again.

James looked at Sirius again, forehead furrowed, as though waiting for him to speak. When Sirius kept his mouth shut, James added apologetically, “We didn’t get them back. But we know where they are.” Briefly, he outlined the shelf behind Dumbledore’s desk, the exact location where he had seen the little silver bottle. Sirius watched Beth intently, though she was still choosing to pretend he wasn’t there. Her eyes were wide in her pale face; there were dark circles beneath them, as though she hadn’t slept properly in a long time. He felt even worse seeing those shadows, knowing that, in some way, he was the cause of them.

By the time James had finished, Beth had raised her hands to her mouth, pressing her fingers against her lips. She looked as though she wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. “So they still exist,” she said, at long last, as though she had to hear it one more time.

“They still exist,” James confirmed, grinning at her lopsidedly. She smiled back, and for the first time in a long time, it reached the corners of her eyes.

“Thank you,” she said, her voice cracking slightly on the second word, and leaned forward to wrap her arms around James’s waist. He laid his hands on her back, looking a bit surprised. Sirius looked out the window across the sitting room instead, fiddling with a stray thread on the hem of his cuff and pretending he was back in his own flat.

“Look, we really ought to be going,” James said apologetically, as soon as she had pulled away from him, still smiling. “You’re okay?”

“’Course,” she laughed. “I’ll see you around, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Sirius piped up; Beth pretended not to hear him. Not feeling like standing around only to be made to feel like a statue anymore, he brushed past her for the door, not looking around to see if James was following. The sound of footsteps on stairs a few moments later, however, indicated that he was indeed following.

“What is with you two?” James burst out, as soon as they’d reached the landing of the floor below. “Did you have a row I don’t know about, or something? Merlin, she wouldn’t even look at you properly. You must have really shoved your foot in your mouth this time.” His best friend was grinning, apparently feeling no trace of his earlier nerves, but Sirius didn’t really feel like returning the gesture. James really had no idea how accurate his little joke was.

But as the two men descended the last flight of stairs, finding themselves once more in the building lobby, Sirius stopped, his hand still trailing along the bannister. This wasn’t fair. He had done something wrong. He knew that. But if he was turning tails, so easily shamed into accepting the silent treatment without a prayer of an apology, then he wouldn’t be doing the right thing now.

“Look, mate, I – I forgot my cloak upstairs.” The words were out of Sirius’s mouth before he could stop them, borne on an impulse he couldn’t quite reckon with. “You go on without me. I’ll owl you later tonight, if you want to grab dinner later.”

James turned back to look at him, frowning. “What?”

“My… cloak.” The second time around, the argument seemed infinitely more feeble.

“But you weren’t wearing a cloak.”

“I left it there a while ago,” Sirius lied hastily, tapping his fingers to an irregular rhythm on the slightly rusted metal bannister. “Just go on ahead. Honestly.” James looked very much as though he was about to contest this statement, but, mercifully, he didn’t. Waving a hesitant good-bye, he disappeared through the door. Sirius stayed on the step, watching him go and wondering how much of the truth James suspected by now.

The latch clicked loudly in the now-empty cramped space, and only then did he turn and begin mounting the steps towards Beth’s flat for the second time. He was walking through a fog, his feet automatically mounting the steps without his head having any say in the matter. Sirius had known all along what he’d needed to do, known before he and James had arrived there to tell her about Snape’s memories in the first place; he’d probably known since she’d found out.

What was so hard about apologies?

The door to her flat was, once again, firmly shut, though they couldn’t have been gone for more than a minute. Sirius drew in a deep breath, feeling as though his lungs had shrunk since he’d been here last, and raised his hand to knock on the door. Make her listen to you. There was no answer, and he knocked again, rapid and insistent.

Beth yanked back the door so hard that it bounced off the inner wall, and she had to stick out her foot to stop it from slamming right back in Sirius’s face – though, he surmised, she probably would have liked that. Her lips were folded in a thin line, the corners of her mouth turned white from the pressure. “What?” she hissed. She sounded so terrifying that Sirius actually took a step back, immediately feeling stupid for doing so.

Nevertheless, he came here for a reason; he swallowed hard against the lump of misgiving that had welled in his throat. “I have to talk to you,” he told her, point-blank.

Beth’s stern expression didn’t waver, and – he felt the need to make a private joke of the situation, because he didn’t know what else to do – Sirius felt that she was doing a marvelous impersonation of Professor McGonagall at the moment. “About what?” she spat venomously, after a rather lengthy and incredibly uncomfortable pause.

“Look,” Sirius burst out, annoyance tingeing his own voice now. “I’m sorry, Beth, all right? I meant it when I told you earlier. I’m really, really sorry. I didn’t mean for things to – for them to happen like this. If I’d known what he’d do, what Dumbledore would do, I would never have – and now I just –“ He ran his hands frenetically through his hair, and it stood out round his head, like a small black thunderhead. “I’m sorry. You have to believe me.”

It might have been his imagination, but he thought the frown lines that creased her forehead lessened ever so slightly. Beth stared up at him, not saying a word, her hands braced on either side of the doorframe. Sirius stared back, breathing slightly heavily, as though the words had cost him physically. He moved his fingers unconsciously to the dim bruise on his cheek from where her fist had collided with it. Wish I’d known she could punch that hard…

“I do believe you,” she said at last, moving her left hand to worry her fingers across her lips. “I just…” But whatever it was that she felt, it didn’t look as though she could find the words to articulate it.

“We’re going to get his memories back,” Sirius said quietly, with the feeling of treading on very, very thin ice. “I promise you that, Bethy. We’re so close.”

“I know.” And the tiny smile she sent him then sent waves of relief crashing over him; a tide of forgiveness, come in at last. “And I know what you’re doing for me, Sirius. I really do. It… it means a lot.” She sucked in a deep breath, eyelids fluttering briefly closed. “Thank you.” And then, after a moment, she added sheepishly, “I’m – sorry for –“ She pointed at Sirius’s face, at the still-discolored spot beneath his left eye.

Sirius grinned. “Nah. I deserved it.”

The silence stretched between them again after these last three words, but it was different; this was a thick and comfortable quiet, without any unspoken secrets. Timorously, still not completely sure if it would be accepted, Sirius raised his arms to shoulder height. Beth smiled again, and stepped towards him, wrapping her arms snugly around his waist. He laid his cheek on her hair.

Sirius’s own words rang in his head. “We’re going to get his memories back.” That was a promise he intended on keeping, without a doubt – whatever the cost might be, he owed it to her in full.

A/N: Hurray for forgiveness! I don't think Beth could ever stay mad at Sirius for too long -- he does mean well, and it's sort of like kicking a puppy, being mad at him. He makes for a very good puppy. And even though they don't actually have Sev's memories in hand, they're going to get them back, and that's a start! Now all bonds are mended and they can begin to plan...

I've got three chapters left of this to write! A combination of burn-out after an intense month of writing, and finals week (which starts tomorrow!) has made progress a bit nonexistent, but it's definitely going to be finished soon. Maybe I'm just slowing down because I don't want things to end. Either way, we'll get there!

Thank you all for reading and reviewing and favoriting. I've truly got the best support team backing me up!


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