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Chapter 26 : Traitor, Traitor
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What did Moony think he was playing at, accusing him, Sirius, of betraying James and Lily? The notion was absolutely ridiculous, and yet he couldn’t shake himself of the expression in Remus’s eyes as he’d shouted at him. There was no room for friendship there, and even more than it had angered him, it had upset him. Who would think to look to their friends for that sort of perfidy?
But then again, that was exactly what he was doing.
Sirius felt his upper lip lift in a sneer of derision, a gesture unfamiliar to his face, but he didn’t care. His temper had instantly retaliated against Remus, sure that he had been the one to cross James and Lily – but Beth had calmed it, and he knew now who it was. As much of an arse as Remus was being in the first place, it hadn’t been him. It couldn’t have been him. There was one person in the entire world who could have betrayed that secret after Beth and Sirius himself were removed from the Secret-Keeping positions. One person had the power to confide their whereabouts, and now Sirius was going to find Peter, and kill him like he’d killed James.
His feet slapped roughly against the pavement, the muscles of his legs straining against the speed of the pace he’d set. On the corner of the intersection he was approaching, a tiny old woman and a tinier, older dog were hobbling along at a snail’s pace. She looked up as Sirius approached and gave him a startled, reproachful look – which, to be fair, he probably deserved, if he looked half as angry and wild as he felt.
The real question was why Peter had done it in the first place, and how he’d managed to get in contact with You-Know-Who at all. Sirius’s stomach turned as, brushing past the old woman hastily, he realized that it hadn’t been sudden. Peter had probably been hanging around You-Know-Who and the despicable lot who ran with him for months, maybe even longer than that.
“But why?” he muttered aloud, scraping a hand through his hair and rounding a second corner. He was half-running now, desperate to get to Peter’s flat, unsure of what he was going to say, but envisioning blasting the man who’d once been his friend to bits all the same.
Sirius didn’t know what to think, didn’t know who he was anymore. It was like he was living out a horrible nightmare and at any moment he’d awake in his bed, sweating, sheets twisted around him, and he’d tell James what he’d dreamt and they’d laugh about it together. Beth would shake her head and roll her eyes, and Remus would smile understandingly, and Peter –
He gritted his teeth so hard he could feel the enamel grinding together. This wasn’t a dream, and James was dead, and Remus had accused him of betraying, and Peter was a filthy, lowdown coward. That was the reality. That was the life he was living now.
The flat complex where Peter lived wasn’t terribly far from headquarters, though a bit farther than Sirius’s own building was, and he was panting by the time he arrived, a light sheen of sweat coating his cheeks and forehead. He scrubbed his hair off his forehead again, standing outside and looking up, as though Peter were about to materialize at a window. Nothing moved on the entire stretch of street, though, and certainly no one appeared behind the curtains of any of the rooms above. For a moment, he hesitated to enter – what if he was wrong?
And then he was through the door, into the cool, dim entryway before he could think anymore, and the rest of the world was shut behind him. A large woman with her sleeves pushed up to her elbows was on her hands and knees in the foyer, working a scrub brush over the tiles, red in the face from the exertion. She stopped as the door slammed shut behind Sirius, breathing hard and tucking a piece of hair into the scarf tied about her coarse dark hair.
“Can I ‘elp you?” she grunted in a low voice.
“Erm,” said Sirius articulately. He shuffled from foot to foot, his eyes still adjusting to the sudden change of light. “Are you the landlady?”
“And who is it wants to know, then?” she asked, tossing her brush back into the pail of suds to her right and drying her hands on the apron about her waist, looking a touch cross.
“Well, I – I mean, I’m looking for a friend of mine,” Sirius answered, flustered. “Erm, Peter Pettigrew? He has a room here. I think,” he added, suddenly vastly unsure of himself. He rubbed a hand over the skin on the back of his neck.
The landlady stared at him for several full seconds, and then reached over and fished her brush back out of the pail. “’E’s not here.” Swish, swish as the brush whisked over the floor. “Went out just an ‘our or so ago. Di’nt feel the need to tell me where ‘e’s going.”
“He’s gone?” Sirius burst out, violent anger rising swiftly within him at the news, along with a growing certainly that his hunch was extremely well-placed. “How is he gone?!”
“Used both his feet like a proper ‘uman bein’ and walked out the door,” the landlady retorted immediately, as though prepared to deliver a sarcastic remark or two that day. She sat back on her heels again, letting the brush drip water onto the floor. “Now you can off an’ find ‘im yourself, or you can keep talkin’ to me and ‘elp get a bit of this floor clean. Your choice.”
Sirius made a frustrated noise and wrenched open the foyer door, squinting anew in the bright sunlight and slamming it behind him with enough force to rattle the paper-thin walls. Then, for good measure, he kicked the edge of the sidewalk, catching the toe of his trainer on a patch of rough concrete and ripping it partially away from the sole.
Where would Peter go, if he wasn’t hiding away in his flat? The fact that he’d left shouldn’t have caught Sirius so off-guard, but it had only been half an hour earlier, after all. There were only a limited number of places that one could get to on foot in half an hour from here, and Sirius rather doubted he’d Apparated – that wasn’t one of Peter’s strengths. There was a stretch of shops about a half hour’s distance to the east; that much he knew.
With another half-groan, he closed his eyes, turned on the spot, and disappeared with a loud crack.
He reappeared in the space between one heartbeat and the next, his lungs bursting for air, in a dingy alley crowded with bulging plastic rubbish bags. A lackluster calico cat that appeared to be two steps away from starvation yowled with displeasure at his sudden appearance, skittering down to the end of the alley and around the brick of the building on Sirius’s left. He’d landed right among the worst-smelling of the bags; grimacing, he picked his way out, heading for the opposite mouth of the alley.
The sun was rising in the sky, burning off the faint wisps of fog that were still scattered over the tops of trees and buildings, and it was promising to be an unexpectedly pleasant day for the first of November. Londoners were milling about on the pavement, clutching shopping bags or the hands of their children, taking their time with the weekend’s shopping. From somewhere distant came the sounds of violin music, a street performer hoping to earn his keep for the coming week.
But Sirius wasn’t focused on any of that; his dark eyes scanned the windows of the shops he passed feverishly. Many men were among the crowds, but none was the man he sought, and he had already promised himself that he would not rest until he had found him –
And suddenly, he was there. Sirius had known Peter’s profile, his movements, since they had been boys. He knew him now, even from a distance, even without looking at his face, and his stomach turned to ice just knowing he had found the man who’d had James killed. Peter was moving quickly, jerkily, his back hunched and his hands thrust into the pockets of the ill-fitting coat he’d donned to better blend with the Muggles. Sirius hadn’t changed from his wizarding robes, but that was inconsequential, not worth even a passing thought. He set his hand around the handle of his wand, and moved forward swiftly. His motions were surer, his head clearer, than they had been since he’d learned James was dead.
He was gaining on him, he was catching him up, he would kill him, he would listen to him beg for mercy and then play God and not spare him any, because he had done the worst thing in the world, he had broken the unspoken promise of loyalty –
Sirius was feet away from him –
Almost of its own accord, he watched, as though from a distance, as he reached out a hand and shoved Peter hard in the shoulder, his ears ringing. Peter slipped into the gutter, taking a few steps into the middle of the road to regain his balance. He turned around, an apology already halfway to his lips, and then his watery eyes locked with Sirius’s cold, dark ones. The apology changed to a terrified noise somewhere between a gasp and a squeak.
“Save your breath.” He was surprised at how calm his voice was, and yet how he had managed to infuse it with such scorn, such ice. His wand was out of his pocket between one breath and the next, held to the vulnerable stretch of skin under Peter’s jaw where his heart thudded along in double-time. Peter’s eyes grew large and round with fear. “You murderous, lying, fucking bastard –“
“I didn’t!” Peter protested, hands held limply aloft, but even before he’d finished he’d given himself away in the lie. If Sirius had had any lingering doubts about his friend’s innocence, they were vanished in that instant. “How could I – he was my friend –“
“It’s the question I’m asking you right now,” Sirius growled, pressing the tip of his wand harder into Peter’s throat. A few of the passersby on the pavement had started to stare with frank curiosity; a small girl was pointing at the pair of them, hastened quickly along her way by her mother. “How could you? They hadn’t done anything to you, they were some of the best people in the world, and they had a son.”
“Harry isn’t –“
“So it’s all right because Harry survived?” Sirius snarled. “Even though you fucking killed his parents?”
“You have to understand,” Peter whimpered, moistening his lips with the tip of his tongue, hands still held out at the level of his chest in a gesture of surrender. “You don’t know what it was like, Sirius –“
Sirius laughed, the sound moving through his throat like sandpaper. “You made the choice, Peter.” He spat the word from his mouth like poison. “No one told you to double-cross in the first place. Wanted a chance at glory? Thought you weren’t doing enough to save your thick skin in the Order? You give me one good reason why I shouldn’t rip you limb from limb right here in the middle of the street, where everyone can watch.”
“Excuse me?” A policeman in an open-necked white shirt, helmet pulled low over his eyes, stepped out into the street and touched Sirius on the shoulder with a white-gloved hand. “Can I help you two gentlemen with something?” Sirius turned just slightly at the interruption, and that was all the distraction that Peter needed. Quicker than Sirius had realized he could move, he had removed his wand from the pocket of his frayed trousers, pointed at the corner of the nearest building, and the air exploded.
Sirius dove away, swearing as loudly and fluently as he knew how, bits of brick and concrete rubble raining down on his head and neck. Terrified screams rent the air as he landed, hard, on his knees, waves of pain radiating up and down through his legs. He looked up quickly, wiping blood from a cut on his cheek that was already trickling down to his chin. He scrambled to his feet, scrabbling for his own wand.
The policeman was motionless in the middle of the road, clearing not having moved away in time, face pale with dust already drifting down to settle on those remaining at the scene of the explosion. Others lay in similar positions nearer to the spot Peter had targeted, eerily still. He couldn’t see how many, perhaps a dozen – and then, almost out of sight, a dark, rodent-like shape, scurrying away down the narrow side street.
Sirius paused, watching the spot where Peter, the rat, had disappeared. And then he was laughing, and he could not stop laughing. He didn’t care what happened to him now, what they would make of him. It was all over, wasn’t it? James was dead, and Peter had escaped, and Beth –
He had never found out if Beth had gotten Severus’s memories or not. He had never told her how to restore them. But she would figure it out, because she was a good person, better than he’d ever been, and she would be all right. She didn’t need him for that, or for much of anything. He had been the one to ruin her life in the first place, she would probably be glad to be rid of him.
Sirius was laughing still when they came for him at last.
Two such meetings in a day were far from normal. No, not even normal – far from right.
Beth pressed her palms together in her lap, staring at her hands, because it was much easier than looking at Remus, sitting next to her on the sofa in his flat. He was staring at the wall blankly, and didn’t move his head at any sound she made, as though he couldn’t hear her at all. He didn’t know what to say any more than she did, it seemed, but that didn’t make it all right that they weren’t talking.
But then, he had just come back from James and Lily’s not an hour before, streaked in soot and dust and whatever other rubbish had been clinging to the scene of the crime, to find Beth slumped at his doorstep, where she’d been waiting since soon after hearing about Sirius and Peter earlier in the morning. She had thought going to Remus would be a good idea, but it now looked as though she’d been rather wrong in that respect.
She sighed, shifting a little on the cushion, but still he didn’t react. Beth had finished speaking her piece fifteen minutes ago, and it had only taken about five to do that – details were thin, much thinner than she would have liked, but that was how these things went.
What she had heard from the scraps of information she could glean from the Ministry – hardly anyone had told her anything even remotely important – was that Sirius had found Peter in the middle of a city street about half an hour from Peter’s apartment. After speaking with him with apparent heat, he had exploded the street corner, without warning. Twelve Muggles were killed along with Peter; only his finger was found for evidence.
It turned Beth’s stomach just to think of it, and over and over she replayed in her mind the last conversation she had ever had with Sirius, with him coming to a conclusion she now knew was murder. Telling her that he would talk to her later, as though he had planned to get away with it all along. And there had, of course, been the incident earlier in the year when she’d found out he’d effectively betrayed her as far as her relationship with Severus had concerned. He’d had almost no regrets in writing to Dumbledore about it as soon as it made sense in his own mind. And all that certainly lent credibility to Remus’s theory that it had been Sirius who’d had James and Lily killed in the first place, but it didn’t mean she had to accept it. Not yet.
Within twenty-four hours, James and Lily and Peter had all been killed, and Sirius had been carted away to Azkaban without even being given a proper trial. Who would it be tomorrow?
“Remus,” Beth said at last, voice sticky with disuse; she cleared it and turned toward him at a more direct angle. He slid his eyes sideways to look at her, but didn’t respond further than that. “You have to talk to me,” she implored.
“I don’t have anything to say.” He was running his fingers along the fabric of his robes covering his legs in a compulsive movement. “You’ve told me the facts. They’re facts, Beth. I accept them.”
“But this isn’t – you have to feel something about it,” she said, more hotly than she meant to. “These were your friends too.”
Beth made a noise of annoyance and fought down the urge to slap him in the shoulder, shove a bit of sense into him. “Don’t you see what this means?” she said urgently. “You scare me when you’re like this. And we’re the only ones left, Remus. There was the five of us, always five. We’re down to two now.” She paused, and then said timidly, hopefully, “Do you want to know what happened last night with Severus?”
There was stillness into which she imagined the ticking of an imaginary clock. “Not really,” Remus said at last, in a distant, almost bored voice.
“I got his memories –“
“Beth.” Remus turned to her at last, but the look in his eyes was flat. He had retreated within himself, she saw with a cold shiver. “James is dead. Peter is dead. And Sirius is responsible for both. Whatever bonds of friendship we played at possessing, they’re broken now. And for all I know, you’re going to be the next to go bad, in one way or another.” He swallowed, Adam’s apple rippling with the movement. “I just think maybe we’ve reached the end of our run.”
“Don’t be daft,” she responded automatically, but he had already shifted to look back at the wall across from him. Beth rose to her feet, heart thudding painfully. “I’m not a traitor –“
Remus laughed hollowly. “If your saying it could make it so, I’d believe you in an instant, Beth. I would.” He raised his hand from his leg, fingering the shadow of a mustache along his upper lip. “But clearly words don’t mean anything among us anymore, and probably haven’t for a long time. And for all I know, Moody was very, very right about you.”
Another shock of ice trailed its way along her back, making the hairs on the back of Beth’s neck prickle. “Come again?”
“You could still betray us all, Beth.”
He doesn’t care about Severus because he thinks caring could get him into trouble. He thinks he’s going to be killed for it. And he doesn’t trust me. “You’re being an arse,” she snapped, making a final bid for it. “If you don’t want to see me anymore, then I won’t come round. You’ve won. But on your own head be it, Remus Lupin. Just go ahead and pretend – pretend I’m dead too.”
If anything could have made him react, Beth was sure that would be it, but he didn’t even blink.
“You’re making a mistake,” she spat out finally, and moved for the door. When he didn’t move to stop her, she threw it open, slamming it behind her, and stood against the corridor wall, chest heaving in suppressed rage.
James, dead. Peter, dead. Sirius, in Azkaban. And Remus, alive, but gone all the same. Twenty-four hours, and the first and greatest friends Beth had ever known had crumbled about her like dust. She pressed the tips of her fingers against her sore temples, gritting her teeth, talking deep breaths through her nose to calm her head enough to come to her senses again.
But she still had Severus, didn’t she? Hope, warm and bubbly, bloomed in her chest, despite the absolutely disastrous and devastating events of the past twenty-four hours, and she lifted her head from her hands.
Yes. She had Severus.
A/N: I promise that this string of really, really depressing chapters is basically at an end! It really has been a rough three weeks for y'all, hasn't it? The end of this era in canon really isn't nice for anyone, but there's going to be more Severus/Beth developments on the horizon now, and these last four chapters will be considerably lighter than these previous three. I promise. Accept gratuitous coffee and pie for your troubles.
First chapter after this beautiful new skin! Isn't it gorgeous? And you can do so much more with Breaking Even now -- check off which chapters you've read, add it to your reading list. Even send it to your Kindle! How cool is that?!
But the review box is still there... and if you'd like to fill it, well, I'd be really grateful!
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