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Breaking Even by TenthWeasley
Chapter 16 : Bathilda and a Broomstick
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 8

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“… happy birthday, dear Harry, happy birthday to you!”

Harry beamed up at the four adults clustered around his booster seat, looking a bit bewildered to have so many people’s attention on him at once. He beat the small wooden tray with his hands, and, apparently liking the sound it made, did it again. James grinned and ruffled his son’s messy black hair with affection.

“Birthdays are weird,” he said, leaning forward as though imparting a great secret upon him. “Never liked people singing to me, either. You’d better get used to it.”

“Please,” Beth scoffed, crossing her arms over her chest. “You adored having all that attention on you for a few seconds. I bet you wished the song was longer.” James only grinned at this, taking the small plate of yellow cake that Lily was holding out to him to give to Harry.

“It seems like you were bringing him home only yesterday, you know,” said Bathilda Bagshot fondly, to Beth’s right. The Potters’ neighbor, small and frail but still with a sharpness of wit that surprised anyone she spoke to, was sitting in one of the kitchen chairs, her hands clasped primly in her lap. “He has grown up very fast. Babies always do.”

Beth smiled, although the gesture felt a bit sad, even to her. Bathilda was very right; it did only feel like a few months, and not an entire year, had passed since she’s been sitting with Sirius in the waiting room in St. Mungo’s, waiting to meet Harry for the first time. It seemed like a very dim memory at the same time, considering the conversation she’d had with Sirius there. It was the first time they’d properly talked about Severus since she’d fled Dustund Way, the night he’d had his memories of her wiped.

She half-wished Sirius was here now. He probably would have understood the weird mix of emotions roiling inside her, like a pot about to spill over: Grief, anger, sadness, all mixed in still with moments of excitement and happiness and hope. How was it that one person could feel so much at one time and not just combust from the sheer weight of it all?

But Sirius wasn’t here, and so she had to push the worse memories away in favor of the happy ones. He’d been called to the Ministry late last night, in a hastily scribbled note from Mad-Eye. Beth, still not completely over the old Auror’s suspicion of her and her motives, vindictively thought that he’d pulled Sirius away from Harry’s birthday tea on purpose. He’d come over early that morning, before she was properly awake, to give her a lumpy parcel to take to James and Lily went she went over later that day, and had seemed rather upset about missing out on the fun.

Perhaps James and Lily would have understood, if she’d decided to tell them. Going into hiding, with only a select few allowed for company – though Bathilda Bagshot had been a slight bend to the rules, one Dumbledore hadn’t had too much trouble in allowing – wasn’t an easy burden for anyone to bear. But Beth couldn’t seem to make herself bring it up anyway. She was sick of moping, sick of complaining to people. In looking back, she was ashamed of how much she’d moped around this past year.

It was way past the time to begin acting strong again, and so she threw her shoulders back now, enjoying this moment, her godson’s first birthday – it wasn’t something she’d ever be able to witness again.

Harry seemed rather baffled by the candle his mum had left sticking out of the top of the cake slice, and was far more interested in the small wax stick than the gooey brown frosting he’d already laid his hands in. Lily, in seeing this, relit it with the tip of her wand.

“Can you blow it out, buddy? Like this –“ She puffed up her cheeks exaggeratedly, reaching behind her to hold her long red hair back and leaning toward the candle. Harry tried copying his mother, and blew a rather impressive raspberry, not even slightly affecting the candle flame. Everyone laughed.

“Very good, Harry-boy!” James grinned, as Lily puffed out the candle once more. Harry was trying again to inflate his cheeks with air, not quite understanding why everyone had just laughed at him. Beth reached over and poked his cheek. He looked quite shocked to see the air go out of it, and then reached up his frosting-covered fingers toward his godmother, smearing chocolate all across the front of her robes.

James only laughed harder at that; Harry looked more bewildered than ever, and then seemed to resign himself to his confusion by returning to tackling the cake in front of him, now more a pile of crumbs than anything else. Beth siphoned away the chocolate on the front of her robes and took her place on Bathilda’s other side, reaching to accept her own cake from Lily.

“I gave him a book,” the old woman said conspiratorially, leaning slightly toward Beth, her eyes trained on Harry. James and Lily were crouched on either side of his chair now, and the boy was looking back and forth between them, giggling at James’s crossed eyes behind his glasses. “Never a bad gift for a baby, that. Babies should be read to right from the start.” Bathilda turned and gave Beth a bright smile. “Remember that.”

“Of course.” Beth tried to pretend she couldn’t feel her cheeks warming up, and quickly lifted a forkful of cake to her mouth in distraction. Though James said that she came over quite often to keep Lily company, Beth had only met Bathilda Bagshot a handful of times, and was still a bit shy around her. It was somewhat of a surreal experience to talk to a well-renowned author as though it were an everyday occurrence, and an author who’d written one of her old school textbooks besides.

Bathilda said nothing more for a few minutes, continuing to gaze at Harry. Beth ate another bite of cake, and then, swallowing, asked, “Did you ever have children?”

“Oh, yes,” Bathilda said fondly. “Brought them up right next door, too. Goodness, I’m old.” She laughed heartily. “I had three very wonderful sons, yes. All dead now, of course.” She sighed a bit, and then added, “My youngest, Wulfric – he was quite good friends with Aberforth Dumbledore. Albus’s brother,” she added, apparently at seeing the look on Beth’s face.

“Dumbledore has a brother?” Beth blurted out. Somehow she couldn’t picture it. She didn’t think there was even room for two Dumbledores in this world.

“And a sister,” Bathilda sighed, glossing over the information as though it were of no consequence. Beth frowned, but the old woman didn’t dwell on the information. Her mind was still cast back in her own memories, and it didn’t appear at the moment that they were focused on any sisters Dumbledore may or may not have had.

“My sister Callista – she married into the Mainwaring family, you know, that stuffy old lot – her daughter Chyna married Antoni Grindelwald, and she had a son called Gellert. Such a handsome boy. He came and stayed with me one summer. Oh, he and Albus were fast friends.” A wistful smile crossed her face. “Those boys loved each other like they were brothers. Much more than Aberforth loved Albus, I daresay – though I suppose it isn’t my place.”

Beth didn’t say either of the things that she was thinking at that moment – namely that it was no wonder Bathilda had a mind for history, with a family like hers, or that she must be very old indeed to have had a great-nephew young enough to have known Dumbledore in his younger days. Bathilda turned back to look at Harry, who had progressed to wiping frosting all over his face.

“We are not long for this world,” she said reminiscently. “Life is much, much too short, my dear. We would do well to remain as young as we can for as long as we can. It takes some of the burden of life from our shoulders.”

Beth swallowed; the hair on her arms had risen in chills at Bathilda’s words. “Yes,” she agreed, a lump rising in her throat. She tried not to think of her father, of Marlene, and Gideon and Fabian Prewett, and Caradoc Dearborn. She tried not to think of Severus, who might as well have fit into the first group, for how much he was in her life now. She felt suddenly angry with the world, and fought against the overwhelming urge to hit something, or scream, or just go to sleep only to awaken when everything was back to how it had been before.

She rose from the table then – skirting the cat, who had just made an appearance into the room from around a corner – and came around to the small pile of parcels for Harry at one end and plucking the package she’d brought over in Sirius’s place from the bottom of the stack. She offered it to Lily, who was watching her husband wipe the frosting from Harry’s mouth with a tender smile on her face.

“Right, I’m actually dying of curiosity to know what’s in this,” she grinned, as Lily took in skeptically into her hands. “Sirius nearly made me sign a contract promising I wouldn’t forget to bring it over tonight. I think he’s bought him a small country or something.”

Lily laughed, but James stood up, reaching for a napkin and wiping his fingers on it. “Actually, he’s still got a load of money from his great-uncle,” he said with a small frown. “He’d be stupid enough to buy something like that.” He gave the package in Lily’s arms a wary look, as though at any moment it might jump up and bite. “Careful, Lils.”

The package was poorly-wrapped – it was a skill Sirius had never taken the time to properly learn – and the brown paper fell away easily in her hands. Beth craned her neck to see what was inside, and nearly laughed aloud, the reaction only intensified by the look of slight disbelief on Lily’s face. A tiny broomstick just right for a one-year-old lay across her legs.

James let out a sort of triumphant noise, punching the air with his fist. “Yes!” he crowed. Harry was looking up at his dad and grinning, although he obviously didn’t understand the implications of the broom on his mother’s lap (or, indeed, what a broom was).

“Oh, this is perfect,” James said happily, picking Harry up from the booster seat and lifting him onto his hip, bouncing him up and down in his excitement – Beth had a sudden wish that he wouldn’t spit up. “You’re going to be a great Chaser like your daddy, aren’t you, Harry-boy? Good old Sirius!”

“He is one year old,” Lily said staunchly, gingerly setting the broom on the table and adopting a decidedly stubborn expression. “He is not riding a broomstick, James.”

“Come on, Lily,” James pleaded, waggling his eyebrows at her. He was still wearing his stupid grin. “I rode my first broom before I was two! It’s perfectly safe. Isn’t it, Bethy?”

Beth held her hands up, palm out, at chest level, and took a step back. “Nope. Not getting into this,” she said immediately. James turned as though to appeal to Bathilda, who was watching the proceedings in amusement; he seemed ignorant of the chocolate handprints now dotting the front of his robes.

Lily let out a long sigh just then, staring at the tiny broomstick. “Five minutes,” she said, “and then you’re putting him back on solid ground.” She folded her arms across her chest. “God help you if he breaks a limb on his birthday, James Potter.”

“I’ll hold onto him the entire time, Lily, I promise.” James was already motioning for Beth to hand him the broom, speaking rapidly through his excitement. Harry was wriggling his feet, happy to see his father so happy, and clearly not knowing what on earth was going on.

Beth knelt beside James, steadying the broom with both hands. It was already hovering over the ground, which, she assumed, was some sort of special touch for brooms for such a tiny person. James gingerly lowered Harry onto the small padded seat.

“Buckle him in,” Lily called over. She hadn’t moved from her spot at the table. James grinned reassuringly at her over his shoulder, and Beth noticed she couldn’t keep from smiling back. He fastened the small strap over Harry’s lap and put his index fingers into his son’s small fist.

“You ready, buddy?” he asked excitedly.

“Dada!” Harry giggled, swinging his legs back and forth. He seemed fascinated by the fact that his toes only barely skimmed the linoleum now. Making whooshing noises with his mouth, James slowly inched forward across the kitchen in his socks; Harry, clinging to his father’s fingers, trailed after, hovering on his tiny broom.

James’s grin was so wide Beth thought she could have counted every single one of his teeth. “You’re flying, Harry!” he said happily, and nearly fell over with delight when, slowly prizing one of his fingers from his son’s hand, Harry leaned forward in a moment of unsteadiness and wrapped his fingers around the broom handle.

Beth turned to look at Lily, who was watching the scene with a smile of both amusement and wariness. “They’re going to destroy the house,” she said fondly.

“Boys always do,” Bathilda interjected indulgently, leaning over to watch as Harry and James made laborious progress into the sitting room. “My Lemeul, he was always getting into things when he was young – got a caning on quite a few occasions, if I’m right. I remember one summer evening –“

There was at that moment a terrific crash from the direction of the sitting room, and all three women still in the kitchen leapt to their feet as one entity. Lily’s hands had flown to cover her mouth, her freckles standing out more than ever now that her face had gone eerily pale. James rushed into the kitchen at once, holding Harry tightly to him, and wearing a look of intense guilt that Beth knew extremely well. She fought very hard to keep herself from beaming outright.

“Before you get mad,” he said hastily, “Harry is absolutely fine. Not a scratch on him.” He held Harry out at arm’s length, as though inviting Lily to check him for injuries. The baby’s mother scooped him into her arms and planted a quick kiss on his hair.

“The bad news,” said James hesitantly, “is that that vase Petunia sent you last Christmas – erm, it fared considerably worse.” He shoved his hands into the pockets of his robes and stepped to the side. Lily, her lips folded together, trooped into the sitting room her husband had just vacated; Beth followed at once, unable to withstand the curiosity, and flashed James a wicked smile as she passed him.

It was as he’d said: On the rug, next to an end table, was a rather neat pile of completely smashed green-and-pink patterned china. Lily was staring down at it with an utterly blank look on her face. Beth and James watched her from the doorway, Bathilda still sitting in the kitchen behind them, looking as though she didn’t quite know what to do about the entire situation.

At last, she slowly turned to face her husband. “I really, really hated that vase,” she said at last, and all three of them burst out laughing. Once they had got going, too, it seemed extremely hard to stop; the more they looked at the smashed vase, the funnier it became. Harry was giggling and bouncing up and down in Lily’s arms, just to see the people around him so happy.

Beth didn’t think about her father, or Severus, or anything else, for the rest of the night.

A/N: Excuse me for a moment while I roll around on the floor a bit for all these feelings. ♥ Beth needed a bit of a reprieve -- let's face it, this book can get rather depressing, and I'm not above admitting that -- but wee Harry's always around to break the tension! J.K. Rowling knew what she was doing when she made Harry a baby during all of this, because it selfishly suits my purposes quite well.

I hope you enjoyed reading this chapter as much as I did looking over it again! And major, major thanks to anyone who's made it this far in the first place; sixteen chapters is an impressive amount of time to stick with me, and it means so much to me that all of you are doing just that. Reviews are always so, so appreciated!

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