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Breaking Even by TenthWeasley
Chapter 18 : Boys' Night
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 5


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A warm draft of air rushed out to meet Remus Lupin as he opened the door to James and Lily’s, light spilling over the threshold and reaching out to meet him along with the sound of laughter – Sirius’s, he knew at once. There was no mistaking that sound. His insides felt ten times lighter than they had in a long time, and he grinned a bit to himself.

If he was being honest, Remus couldn’t even genuinely remember the last time the four of them – James, Sirius, Peter, and himself – had hung out like this, without the pretense of meetings or plans or anything related to the Order of the Phoenix at all. This, too, was the first time all of them would be meeting at James’s. No one talked about the Fidelius Charm in place over the house, and, if Remus was being completely honest, he wasn’t entirely sure how it was supposed to work. He and Peter had been granted direct entry for the first time tonight, a process he knew had been run through Dumbledore, and that was as far as his expertise on the subject extended. He knew Beth was one of the Secret-Keepers, too, but she had decreed the night was a “boys’ night,” and so wouldn’t make an appearance that evening.

It made him sad to realize that it had been so long since they had just been allowed to be together, although he supposed that was a natural part of growing up that none of them had ever thought to discuss. They all certainly had other obligations – James to his wife and son, Sirius to the increasing amount of mission work that had come into his hands in the past few months, Remus to the corresponding amount of Ministry paperwork he’d been forced to wade through, and Peter to the work James and Lily had left behind when necessity had required them to focus more on Harry.

But this warm room, those warm sounds, and this feeling of being almost carefree – he could have stepped back through several years to stand in the Gryffindor common room, boys in a bubble aside from the rest of the world, for how good it made him feel.

He stepped into the house and shut the door behind him, and the sound of the latch brought the sound of hurried footsteps from the direction of the kitchen, where the laughter had issued from. Sirius scampered down the hall, his face splitting into a wide grin at the sight of his friend, and threw his arms around him haphazardly, fingers digging into Remus’s shoulder blades.

“Punctual Moony, the last one to arrive!” James called, appeared over Sirius’s shoulder, Peter following close behind, and Remus could see the same delighted light in their eyes that he had seen in the first man’s. Sirius stepped back, graciously allowing him to breathe again, and Remus rubbed his ribs wryly, as though massaging away aches.

“And here Peter’s nearly had all of the crisps,” Sirius added, turning and thumping Peter genially on the back; Remus gave him a sympathetic smile as the blonde man winced. Sirius often forgot his own strength.

“Well, aren’t your wands all in knots,” he said happily, thumping himself down on one of the loveseats in the sitting room and slinging his feet up on the coffee table. Peter took the seat next to him, yanking a throw pillow from the armrest and hugging it to his middle. Sirius thumped back into the kitchen, returning with the bowl of crisps – which, despite his earlier comment, was piled high enough with crisps to curve across the bowl. He and James took the two armchairs facing Remus and Peter.

Remus glanced askance at Peter while Sirius, having set his eyes upon the morning’s Daily Prophet on the table, immediately engaged James in a play-by-play of yesterday’s Tutshill versus Puddlemere match that had been recounted in the sports pages. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he seemed vaguely sad when he didn’t think he was being looked at. It was something Remus hadn’t ever seen before, a mask that fell away when he thought no one was looking. He was watching James and Sirius’s conversation with eager eyes, arms clamped firmly round the pillow, and Remus felt a sort of twisting in his gut that was strongly connected to guilt, though he didn’t know why.

His eyes drifted back towards Sirius, who was talking with almost theatrical fervor. He, too, seemed different, a different mask across his features. He was putting on an act, Remus realized with sudden clarity, and the warmth of the night dimmed slightly. He, Remus, had wanted this to feel like old times, and it was obvious – too obvious – that Sirius felt the same.

Absently, Remus reached up and traced the thin scar that ran from his left temple to just under his nose, a scar of one of his monthly transformations, obtained so long ago that the skin was pink and shiny with the way his skin had stretched as he’d grown up. Did he wear a mask, too? Maybe that was what life was – concealing what you really felt from others, hiding emotions you felt behind ones you didn’t. He suddenly had the sensation of being adrift in a sea, without anything but his own merits; it was an incredibly uncomfortable sensation.

He suddenly became aware of the fact that all three of the others were staring at him, and realized that Sirius had just asked him a question. “Sorry?” he said sheepishly, hastily replacing his hand in his lap.

Sirius shot James the briefest of looks, causing Remus to feel even more embarrassment. “How’s lycanthropy?” he repeated.

Remus shrugged. “Same as ever,” he said, because he didn’t know how else to describe it. One night of every month was hell, the nights leading up to it almost as bad, but it wasn’t anything to write home about, as far as his friends were concerned. After all, they’d seen it all before.

“You look good,” Peter said helpfully from beside him. Remus shot him a thankful grin, even though he knew he looked worse after every month, paler and sicker and covered in small and large scars he couldn’t remember getting. And then he remembered another piece of news he had to share, something he couldn’t believe he’d let slip his mind until now.

“I think I know how to get into Hogwarts.”

James leaned forward in his armchair, propping his forearms in his knees. “The memories?” he asked, and when Remus nodded, continued, “Are we getting them back for her, or…?”

Remus frowned. “If we snuck them out of the castle somehow,” he said slowly, “then she’d have to get them to Snape fast. And that would require knowing where he is, before Dumbledore has opportunity to find out that they’re missing.” He didn’t add what he was thinking – that Beth probably did know where Snape lived, at least in general terms – and waited instead for someone else to speak again.

Sirius steepled his fingers, pressing the tips of them to his lips, but kept silent. James piped up, “How do we get in, then?”

“The Imprinting Charm.” All heads turned to Sirius, who moved his fingers away from his mouth. “Moody said something about it. A long time ago – it’s something about Dustund Way. Dumbledore’s got it charmed so that anyone who enters is Imprinted to allow them to get past the Hogwarts gates in case of an emergency or something.” He tipped his head in Remus’s direction. “That’s it, right?”

Remus nodded; this had been in some of the Order paperwork he’d been going over a week earlier in the Ministry. “One of us could slip in with the map and your Cloak, James,” he said, “and sneak up to Dumbledore’s office. We’d have to get the password,” he added, frowning slightly. “But it could work. If we were very, very careful.”

“We’ve got the tools to be careful,” Sirius said now, a grin slowly spreading across the lower half of his face. “That could work, though! And then she’d just take the memories over to Snape and –“ He stopped short. “How do you restore memories?”

Nobody answered.

“Right. That’s what we need to find out next.” Sirius rubbed his hands together, as though he wanted to dive into the task straightaway. “Someone should pop over and see Beth tomorrow morning and tell her about this. Blimey, she’s going to be thrilled.”

Remus said nothing to this; the twisting feel of guilt in his gut was back, albeit slightly less strong than it had been earlier, looking over at Peter. He didn’t think Sirius had noticed it, and James had probably overlooked it, too, but he, Remus, saw Beth weekly at the Ministry. She hadn’t looked capable of being thrilled about anything for a long time, and even more so after her father had died just over a month ago. She was quieter, more withdrawn, and more solemn – almost unrecognizable, from what she had been only bit over a year earlier, or so it seemed to him.

Then again, maybe this was what she needed. Still, He tried to catch Sirius’s enthusiasm, wondering why he couldn’t feel that sort of excitement about his own plan.

Trying to muster it now, he looked over at Peter again – and was surprised at what he saw. Peter seemed, judging by the expression on his face, to be thinking along these same lines. He was clutching the pillow to his stomach so tightly that the veins in his hands were popping out from the skin, faint blue lines under white. Remus reached out and laid a hand on his friend’s arm.

“You okay, mate?” he asked, trying to be quiet, but Sirius and James turned in his direction at once. Peter gnawed on his bottom lip with his upper teeth in a rat-like fashion, and sucked in a breath, turning watery eyes on Remus.

“I don’t like it,” he said quietly.

“Could you be more specific over there?” Sirius was trying to make light of the situation, but the crease in his brow spoke otherwise.

Peter tossed the pillow away with sudden, surprising vehemence; it fell with a thump onto the fireplace hearth. “Snape chose to have his memories removed. Putting them back into his head seems like a really sorry way for Beth to thank him for what he did for her.”

“Beth thinks he only did it to protect her, because he didn’t know she could protect herself,” James spoke up patiently, removing his glasses and wiping them carefully on the edge of his shirt. He resettled them on his nose and added, “We need to support her in this, Wormtail.”

“Peter.” This time, Remus was the only one to hear what Peter said, correcting his nickname, and his mouth nearly dropped open in surprise.

“It’s all going to work out –“ he started to say, but that, if anything, seemed to make him more frustrated. The other three could only sit and watch him, not sure where this was coming from, or what to do about it. In living memory, none of them could ever remember Peter rebelling against a plan any of the three of them had set out. They had never had to deal with this before; it was almost frightening.

“How do we even know we can trust him?” Peter spat now. “We hated him in school, didn’t we? All of those Slytherins are – were – whatever, they’re horrible. You know that,” he added, looking directly at Sirius. Remus knew why; it was, after all, Sirius who had punched Avery in their seventh year for nothing more than nasty talk about Remus’s blood status.

Sirius goggled at James, whose lips were pinched so tightly they were bloodless. “Wormy –“ James started.

Peter stood up so fast he smacked his legs into the coffee table. “I’ve got to go. Sorry,” he added, and it couldn’t have been clearer that he didn’t mean it. Sirius twisted round in his chair and opened his mouth, as though to appeal to his friend, but no words came out. There was a thick, heavy silence as he moved toward the front door, limping slightly, and yanked his cloak down from the stand beside the door, knocking Sirius’s down with it.

The door clicked shut behind him, and Sirius turned back around. “What,” he said slowly, “the hell was that about?” His eyes flicked between James and Remus, but they both shook their heads in the same dumbfounded motion.

Remus clenched his hands together, twisting his fingers into knots in his lap. He didn’t want to say what he was thinking: That James had now ignored Peter’s requests to be called by his own name twice, that he hadn’t been listened to the only time he’d spoken in defense of his own ideas in the first time he, Remus, could recall.

Sirius blew out his breath in annoyance and crossed his arms over his chest, sinking so low in the chair that his chin was nearly level with his knees. “I say we still go ahead with Moony’s plan,” he said, looking over at Remus. “Peter’s just having an off day.”

“Sure,” James said, wriggling his shoulders slightly, as though throwing off the uncomfortable scene they had just witnessed. “Erm – still telling Beth tomorrow morning, then?”

“Yeah.” Sirius reached forward and grabbed a fistful of crisps, and turned back to James. “So, okay, that Tutshill Beater…”

Remus tuned them out again, worrying his lip with the tip of his index finger. He was staring towards the dark window looking out onto the little lane, but he wasn’t seeing anything beyond it. Sirius might be able to throw off Peter’s behavior like it was nothing; James might have been able to push it from his mind for the time being.

But Remus didn’t like it one bit.

*

The night air was cool on Peter’s face, rushing over his flushed cheeks and lifting his hair back from his brow. He closed his eyes and sucked in a lungful of it, blowing it back out forcefully through his lips, willing himself to calm down.

He hadn’t meant to lose it so violently in front of his friends – and if they had never suspected anything before, then surely they would be on their guard now. Involuntarily Peter clenched his teeth at his own stupidity, the muscles in his cheeks growing rigid with self-loathing.

He could not do that again. Never again. He had risked far, far too much to be stupid about it now.

Peter cast a glance over his shoulder at the small lights of James’s house at the other end of the street and, ignoring the nauseous feeling in his stomach that he knew was borne of betrayal, twisted on the spot, and Disapparated.

A/N: I think the friendships of the Marauders had to have been interestingly altered during the First Wizarding War -- not only because of Peter (even though "suspicious" isn't really sufficient to cover his behavior), but even just looking at the aftereffects of the war itself. Remus thought Sirius had betrayed the Potters for twelve years, and something had to have happened to make him think one of his best friends was even capable of such a thing. Although this story is definitely Beth/Snape, I found I loved exploring the Marauder friendship dynamics more than I thought I would, something I've mentioned in several review responses. But now they're well out of the Hogwarts bubble, and fissures are appearing in the relationships, and it just makes me very sad.

Anyway! As a heads-up, this time next week I'll be helping lead a junior high camp for a weekend stretch (Friday through Tuesday), so chapter 19 of Breaking Even will be put off a week. Sorry about that! But I hope you enjoyed this one, and if you do have the time, I'd love to hear your comments, as always. Any review is more than welcome! Thank you, guys!


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