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Breaking Even by TenthWeasley
Chapter 25 : The Next Morning
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7


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Weak, watery strips of sunlight were drifting in through the narrow window above the kitchen sink at 9 Dustund Way. Beth had retreated in there; she didn’t want to go back into the main room. She knew they were all waiting for her, but it felt safer, less dangerous, to stand with her back to the draining board, clutching a mug of tea that had long since lost its warmth. It didn’t matter how warm it was, anyway; her entire body was numb. She wouldn’t have felt it if the tea had scalded her hands.

Tea didn’t matter. The pale early sunshine didn’t matter. This place didn’t matter. She failed to see how life was supposed to continue on like it always had if James and Lily Potter were dead.

Even thinking the words didn’t feel real. And Beth was terrified of how apathetic she felt about it all on the outside – shouldn’t she be crying, or punching something, bargaining with whatever forces were in power to bring James and Lily back? She didn’t feel like doing any of those things. At any minute, James was going to come swinging through that door, eyes bright behind his glasses, teasing her about something inane or asking her if she was all right. He had been great at noticing her feelings, more than any of the other boys had. Who was going to ask her if she was all right now?

Severus, a hopeful-sounding voice chimed in from the back of her mind, but that didn’t feel real, either. Beth’s life had completely turned in its head in the past twenty-hour fours, and it was a bit like recovering from a dizzy spell, this standing around holding lukewarm cuppas like life preservers. Severus was back, and James was gone, and Sirius and Remus and Dumbledore were all clustered in the main room of the flat that poorly served as headquarters, waiting for her to emerge.

Beth set the mug down on the counter more roughly than was necessary, pressing the heels of her hands into her eyes so hard they ached. And still they remained devoid of tears, almost sticky with dryness. There was clearly something wrong with her; they should lock her up. Not even able to cry for two of her best friends…

She drew a deep breath, her lungs feeling like they could only hold half as much air as normal. She had to go in there. She would talk with the three of them, and not reveal anything about Severus. They would make plans for what to do next, and then she would meet with Severus at Hogsmeade to make more plans, and she would continue on with her life.

She felt as if she might vomit.

Dumbledore, Remus, and Sirius had all pulled out chairs by the time she reemerged into the sitting room; the rest of them were still stacked along the walls in sad-looking piles. No one was looking at anyone else, instead absorbed in their own thoughts. Beth’s eyes flitted from one to the other of them. Dumbledore looked straight at her as soon as she appeared in the kitchen doorway; she averted his eyes, afraid of what he might see in them. Remus was worrying at the cuffs of his robes with the tips of his fingernails, face pinched and drawn, the scar on his cheek puckered in even more prominence than normal.

It was Sirius that Beth was most worried about, and so it was Sirius her gaze sought last. He was staring at the small patch of carpet between his feet, forearms propped on his knees, hands clasped behind his head. It was exactly the same position she’d left him in ten minutes earlier, on the premise of grabbing the tea already waiting for her in the kitchen. She could see his face was gray, and if she watched closely, she could see that he was trembling.

Nobody knew where Peter was. Remus had been insisting in loud, angry tones when she had walked through the door in the first place that they wouldn’t do anything until he arrived, but Beth herself had been late enough to the meeting, nearly sleeping through Dumbledore’s owl’s attempts to get the letter to her. Dumbledore had said they couldn’t wait any longer. Beth’s heart had clenched in fear. Maybe he had killed Peter, too.

Beth drew a chair from the wall and propped it between Remus and Sirius, completing a rough quadrilateral. Dumbledore’s eyes had not left her as she walked from kitchen to chair, and they were still on her now as he cleared his throat with almost indecent politeness. She wished he’d look away; her former headmaster had always had the ability of making her feel guilty, like he knew something she was concealing, even when she’d been innocent. Now that she really was hiding something from him, she felt like sinking right through the floor and never reappearing again.

“James Potter left no will,” Dumbledore said, without preamble, and Beth watched at Sirius clasped his hands more tightly together, the knuckles standing out in sharp contrast to the rest of his skin. He didn’t raise his head. “Nor did Lily. There is no indication of preference where Harry is concerned. As their good friends” – he somehow managed to incline his head to all three of them at once – “it seemed natural to assemble you to discuss matters.”

“I’ll take him.” Remus and Beth turned their heads in Sirius’s direction immediately. He had raised his head at last, and looked, if possible, even worse than he had when he’d kept it bowed. His face was even grayer, and Beth saw now that the skin was drawn so tightly over his cheekbones she was almost afraid it would tear. His eyes were dark hollows; the corners of them, and the corners of his mouth, were furrowed with dark sorrow lines. She was startled to see how much James’s death had aged him overnight.

Finally, finally, Dumbledore looked away from her, responding to Sirius’s offer. “He is to live with his mother’s sister Petunia and her husband Vernon in Surrey,” he said patiently.

Sirius’s expression tightened. “Bullocks. I’m his godfather.”

“There are reasons for the decision that I’m afraid we have no time to delve into at the moment,” said Dumbledore firmly, but not unkindly. Sirius gritted his teeth and looked about to snap back with another retort, and Beth found herself speaking before him, loath as she was to have Dumbledore’s attention back on her.

“Then what are we here to discuss?” Her voice sounded belligerent to her own ears; she didn’t really care. At the moment, Beth found that she wasn’t entirely pleased with the older man about much of what he’d done in the past year, starting with aiding Snape in forgetting her, however much of a good idea it had seemed to the two men at the time. Snapping at him now felt like a bit of release, however minute.

Somehow, as he returned his eyes to her, she felt that he could sense that. Her eyes dropped to the ground like she was a child who’d just been scolded. For a moment, Beth thought that Dumbledore might even shout at her, but his voice wasn’t raised even a fraction more than normal when he spoke again at last.

“Rubeus Hagrid has volunteered to collect Harry from Godric’s Hollow,” he said, as though Beth had never interrupted him at all; she felt her cheeks heat up again in slight embarrassment. “He will bring Harry to Surrey. We will leave a letter with Petunia explaining what has happened, and that she must care for the boy.”

“Fat chance,” Sirius muttered, his head bending towards the floor again, though she was still able to hear him clearly. “James hated his sister-in-law –“

Dumbledore had continued speaking. “The house itself will be searched by members of the Order and then placed under protective enchantments, so that followers of Voldemort” – Remus, Beth, and Sirius all shuddered at the same moment – “will not pilgrimage there in search of mementos.”

“So it’s true then?” Remus piped up for the first time, fingers hanging limply in his lap now that he had stopped picking at the stray threads of his sleeves. “L – Lor – You-Know-Who is gone for good?”

“He vanished without a trace when he turned his wand on Harry,” the older man said, nodding gravely. “Whether he is gone for good is not for me to say, but he is gone for now, and that is all we can ask for.”

“What happens to the Order, then?” Beth spoke up, voice catching on a rough patch in her throat. “Do we continue on when there’s nothing to fight against?”

“For a time, we will retire our services, yes,” Dumbledore said. “You and Mr. Lupin may, of course, keep your Ministry jobs” – he bowed his head slightly in Remus’s direction – “and something can be arranged for Mr. Black, as well. We will evacuate headquarters as well.”

Beth didn’t tell Dumbledore that Sirius would take a Ministry job only when every circle of hell froze over; somehow, it didn’t seem appropriate. And other unspeakable thoughts were flitting through her mind as well: That it was unfair that her godson should have lived when he would never know his parents. That she couldn’t even begin to understand how a baby had prevailed against a powerfully evil wizard where two capable members of the Order of the Phoenix – and so many members before them – had failed. She glanced at Sirius, but he had lifted his hands to cover his eyes, rubbing tiredly at the skin on his brow.

“I want to go search the house,” Remus said now, sitting up straighter on his collapsible chair. Dumbledore nodded his assent, and a thick silence descended over the four of them. Beth wondered if she should volunteer as well; she knew even before she had finished the thought that there wasn’t a chance of that happening. She wanted to remember Godric’s Hollow as she had last seen it, before the Fidelius Charm surrounding it had barred her from entering. A small, warm, bright place that was never without James, or Lily, or Harry…

When they continued to hold their peace, Dumbledore sighed heavily and rose from his own chair. Beth caught a glimpse of a conjured chintz cushion on the uncomfortable chair before it vanished with a flick of her former headmaster’s wand. “I must be off,” he said, voice laced with apologies, as though it was the last thing he wanted to do. “Hagrid will be waiting for me, and it is a long journey to Surrey and back.”

“Wait.” Sirius shot up straight, hands still cupped in the air as though they were still cradling his face. With an almost painfully laborious motion, he fished in his pocket, withdrawing a rusted key on an even rustier hook. He proffered the key to Dumbledore. “Have him take my motorbike. It – it flies.” His cheeks turned ruddy. “Confund the lobby guard if you need to, I don’t care. But the key should still work in the bike.”

“Thank you, Mr. Black.” Dumbledore took the key and slipped it into a hidden pocket of his star-strewn robes, tucked beneath his long silver beard. “It will be much appreciated, I’m sure.” Beth looked again at Sirius, and this time he was looking at her with dead, lifeless eyes. She felt her insides twist, looking at that expression.

“James Potter was a great wizard,” the old man said at last, “and Lily was his equal. The sacrifice they made for their son will not be forgotten.” Dumbledore’s eyes came to rest on Beth again, and for the second time that morning, she felt as though he knew exactly what had transpired in the castle last night. She swallowed hard.

He turned, and passed through the corrugated metal door leading out of 9 Dustund Way. Dust and silence floated uncomfortably in his wake, motes swirling in the thin crack of nearly-nonexistent sunshine wavering through the crack beneath the door. Beth didn’t know where to look, what to say. Conversation hadn’t ever been this uncomfortable among the group, but James was dead, and Peter was currently absent. There were definite fissures in what had once been.

“So –“

“So –“

Remus and Beth spoke at the exact same moment. She had been about to bring up Severus, to let them know the events of the night, a thing she hadn’t gotten to tell anyone since it had happened in the wake of the tragedy in Godric’s Hollow. But, not ungrateful to be spared the chance, she motioned awkwardly for Remus to go ahead with whatever it was he’d been meaning to say. He cleared his throat, raising his head high.

“So… which one of you was it?” he asked coldly.

It took a few moments for the full effect of his words to sink into Beth’s mind. Her brain was still so focused on what she had been about to say, about Severus’s memories and the Hogsmeade meeting planned for later that afternoon, that by the time she’d caught up Sirius had lifted his head, and was eyeing Remus with eyes like steel.

“Begging your pardon?” Frost dripped from his words. “I certainly don’t hope you’re implying what I think you’re implying.”

Remus’s cheekbones bloomed with pink patches, but if anything, he raised his chin higher. “You heard me. Someone betrayed James and Lily. It stands to reason that since you knew where they were –“

“You’re calling us traitors?” Beth blurted out. Her hands in her lap curled into fists of their own accord.

“Well, not both of you,” Remus replied languidly, not even looking in her direction. His eyes were trained steadily on the man across from him, one slim eyebrow raised in derision. “But I’m speaking logically, aren’t I?”

She could hear her pulse in her ears, thrumming along at a terrific speed. Sirius bolted up from his chair so quickly that it clattered to the carpet with a muffled crash, but he didn’t so much as flinch. His wand had made its way into his hand, too, something Beth had blinked and missed. It was pointing straight at Remus.

“James was my best friend,” Sirius spat venomously; the tip of his wand quavered, but his gaze was steady. Beth’s mouth had dropped open, unable to do anything but watch the pair of them as though they were a particularly riveting Quidditch volley. “If you even dare think that I would ever turn in my best friends – I would die –“

“Oh, I’m doing more than thinking it,” Remus hissed. He’d risen from his chair as well, though his own wand was still firmly lodged in his pocket. “Your whole family’s with that lot, aren’t they? God, they shouldn’t have taken Beth off missions, they should have taken you.”

Sirius let out an inhuman sound, a roar of fury and disgust, and bright yellow sparks ricocheted from the end of his wand. They sizzled on the carpet, bringing the acrid smell of burnt fibers to Beth’s nose. “And what about you?!” he shouted, face going red with fury. “You’ve hardly been around all year, have you? Didn’t we say all the time how Remus was never around? Didn’t everyone notice it?” he added, whirling on Beth, seeking her assistance. She was still rooted to the chair, eyes wide with fear.

“I – Sirius, that’s not –“

“Tell him!” Sirius had turned on Remus again, wand slashing wildly through the air. “Tell him how suspicious we all were of him! But we trusted him because he was one of our friends, and clearly the same trust isn’t extended in the opposite direction –“

Remus jammed his hand into his pocket so forcefully that there was a sound of ripping fabric. He was breathing heavily, nostrils flaring, eyes wild, and Beth almost fancied she could see a bit of the wolf in him. “Deflecting blame, Sirius?” He grinned nastily. “Tell me, are you mourning James, or the disappearance of the man you’ve –“

“NO, SIRIUS!” Beth shrieked. He had lunged for Remus, and Beth, jerked from her spot on the sidelines, had leaped to her feet, screaming his name, hands reaching for his shoulders. More sparks shot from his wand as she jerked him back, fingers digging into his shoulders, thrown off balance by the coiled force that kept him straining for Remus. “We can’t turn on each other, we’re all we’ve got –“

“Because he had James killed!” Sirius hollered, still struggling to lay his hands on his friend. Beth didn’t think he even remembered his wand as anything more than a physical tool to cause Remus as much pain as possible; in any case, he didn’t try any spells or hexes. Remus had backed up several hasty steps, and stood with his back pressed against the wall now, hands splayed against the drywall.

“Look what you’re saying!” she pleaded, struggling to keep her grip on her friend. “You’re mad, the both of you, completely daft, we can’t do this! James wouldn’t want –“ But the words stuck fast in her throat, behind the lump of tears that still refused to manifest itself in her eyes.

Remus laughed, the sound coming out as more of a snarl than anything else. “I’m done here. I’ve got to get ready to go to Godric’s Hollow.” Before Sirius could try and get at him again, he shoved his wand back into his robes, more fabric ripping as he did so, and shoved the door open before him. Sirius pulled at Beth’s restraint, but as soon as Remus was out of sight, he relaxed, seeming to sag where he stood.

“Sirius?” Beth released him gently, coming around and standing in front of him. “Sirius, look at me.” He was heaving with breath, like he’d forgotten to breathe at all during the entire time he’d been shouting at Remus. He raised his chin to look at her, and with a painful squeezing feeling around her heart, she saw the deadened expression had returned to his eyes.

“Remus – “ he began hollowly, but Beth shook her head firmly, reaching out and grabbing his shoulders again. Without realizing it, she’d clamped her lower lip between her teeth.

“No. Sirius, no. We have to stick together. James is gone, but we’re not.”

Something sparked in Sirius’s eyes, and he raised his head, gazing suddenly at the blank stretch of wall that Remus had been pressed against only a minute earlier. He moved a hand across the dark stubble that shadowed his jaw, evidence from the sleepless night. She looked behind her, confused, but it looked as ordinary as it always had, enchanted candles cold and unlit in their wall sconce, the rest unadorned.

“I have to go.” Life returned to his face, his cheeks gaining back some of the color that had been washed away in grief the rest of the morning. “I have to go do something.”

“What? No, listen to me –“

“I’ll be back,” Sirius cut her off. He brushed dark hair off his forehead impatiently, his jaw set. “I just – I have to do this.”

She frowned, but it appeared that was all he was going to say on the matter. He was already moving toward the door, wand held purposefully by his side, and in that moment he looked just as he had always done: Bright, energetic Sirius, always with a purpose, a plan, a goal. He could have been the Sirius of a year earlier, trembling with excitement at the prospect of mission work. Or even earlier than that, a Sirius anxious to try out his latest idea for a prank on a poor, unsuspecting gaggle of third-years. And somehow tears pricked her eyes at that, when they would not for James and Lily.

“Sirius?”

He turned back toward her, his palm resting flat on the door, prepared to push it open. Beth tried for a smile, and found, somewhat to her astonishment, that she still remembered how. “Just… be careful?”

And he gave her that grin only Sirius could ever give her. “Always, Bethy.”

He lifted his wand to her in a sort of salute, and then he was through the door, and it had shut behind him. She was left alone in the middle of a dim room, a headquarters now abandoned.

A/N: Ugh. Poor Sirius. Poor Beth. Poor Remus. Poor everybody. This is where things basically just slide exponentially downward, and everybody's angry at each other, and coming off of a very emotion-ridden week on my end (nothing major, but everything's making me cry, for some reason), I'm tearing up remembering just how shoddily I treated my characters towards the end of this novel. There's a lot of tension and emotion to come, too, and oh wow, I feel like I've run a marathon just thinking about it. But I'm excited to post new chapters, too! Can you believe we're at chapter 25 already?

Oh my God, five more weeks. Nope. I'm in denial.

Thank you guys so much for reading and reviewing, as always! I don't mean to sound like a broken record, either -- I truly am so thankful for all the encouragement. ♥


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