Chapter 30 : The End
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Sirius had lost track of the days. How long had he sat here, back aching against the roughness of the concrete walls, fingers and toes perpetually numb from the iciness of the sea wind that crept through every crack and crevice? He splayed his hands against the wall and stood on tiptoe with difficulty; the top of his head just brushed the bottom of the narrow window, brushing the iron bars, but he could tell it was snowing outside. Tiny flakes dotted his dark hair and he shook them out.
It had to have been nearly two months, even though he had stopped keeping tally within five days of being shut up in his cell; his fingernails had cracked and bled from scraping out the marks, and he’d deemed it a useless effort. But if he was correct, it was nearly Christmas outside. Not inside, never inside – seasons and holidays weren’t marked in Azkaban.
Christmas. He’d always loved Christmas, seeing his friends and exchanging parcels and eating his fill of food at Hogwarts. He threw himself back down onto the ground and gripped his long, dirty hair in his fingers, letting out a noise that was a cross between a sigh and a canine growl of frustration.
It’s not me, it’s Peter, Peter’s the traitor, not me… He had to continue to tell himself this, or he’d forget. Before long, he thought he might really believe that he’d turned Lily and James over to You-Know-Who, and then everything would be worthless. He would stop making plans to get out of here, and instead resign himself to his fate. Slinking Dementors, bitter sea, rough stone, the screams of those who had already gone mad – but someday Peter would be rewarded with these things in his place, and as long as he kept that thought in his head, they were bearable.
There was a shuffling sound at the end of the corridor that his cell bordered onto. Sirius lifted his head from his hands, waiting; they were footsteps, sure and unmistakable. Dementors did not take steps, and he heard that sound rarely enough that it was important to mark its reoccurrence now.
“Sirius?” His name, on someone else’s lips, sounded at the narrow entrance into his cell. He shifted and moved so that his visitor was thrown into sharper relief, the better to see her. Slim hands wrapped themselves around the bars, and the figure sunk low to the ground to balance on the balls of her feet to see him face to face.
Sirius knew that voice, and he recognized the face that peered at him from outside the door. “Sarah,” he said, voice hoarse and cracked with disuse. “You should have sent an owl to tell me you were coming. I’d have had my hair done.”
Sarah Wright gave him a brave smile. “I didn’t believe it when I heard,” she said in a low voice, as though worried people would overhear. Sirius wasn’t worried about that; most of the rest of his cellblock were much too crazy to care about conversations like this one. “You’re innocent, aren’t you?”
Sirius didn’t respond to that. Instead, he reached a hand out, palm up, and placed his fingertips along the place where the bars met the floor. He felt her hand reach for his with a feather-light touch. Her skin was cool against his.
“I’m glad you came,” he said instead, and indeed, he didn’t think he’d ever been happier to see anyone in his life.
Snow was drifting past the window in large, lazy flakes, and the sill outside was already piled high with a snowdrift. Beth and Severus were watching the fire instead, sitting on a loveseat opposite the hearth, their feet extended toward the warmth. It still felt a bit strange to Beth that this was where she lived now – this flat was foreign to both of them, after living in their own respective buildings for so long – but it was a good strange.
Severus’s long fingers were toying with the ring on Beth’s finger as they read books in front of the fire, but she didn’t mind. A plain silver band sat on his own fourth finger now, purchased about a week after the wedding ceremony, but he’d insisted he didn’t need one in the first place. It had been enough, he’d told her, to know that they were married, but she’d felt it was the least she could do.
In the far corner, a miniature Christmas tree, glowing with even smaller candles, turned the snow outside into a fire of its own. Beth looked up distractedly from her book for the fifth time in the past five minutes and watched the tiny flames waver and dance.
“What are you smiling about?” Severus told her, and she looked over at him; he was smiling, too. She lifted a hand from her book and felt her cheek, as though she didn’t believe him.
“I’m happy,” she said, closing the book without bothering to mark her place. “About this. Our first Christmas.”
Severus ducked his head back toward his book. The light from the fire caught in his dark eyes, making them spark. But even though she smiled, and even though she was happy that she had the opportunity to have this moment with her husband, Beth found that something sad still twisted inside of her, even still. It probably always would.
She had tried to write to Remus, inviting him over that night or the following night for dinner, but it – like all of her letters to him – had been thoroughly ignored. It was strange to have grown up with four boys, and in the space of a few months, all of them had been taken from her – through death, through madness, through a selfish desire to distance oneself from one’s past. If a year earlier she had been asked if such a thing could ever happen to her group, Beth would have used every breath she had denying it. And here she was in the rubble of a friendship, and everything had gone to ash.
She hadn’t visited Sirius in Azkaban – and she didn’t know if she ever would. A quiet voice told her that she ought to, or wasn’t she any better than Remus? But it was hard to come to terms with the man she thought she’d known forever, turning James in to You-Know-Who and then turning right around to kill Peter to prevent him from speaking about it. She had never taken Sirius for that kind of man, but he was that man, and she had nothing to say to someone so far gone.
“You’re quiet,” Severus said now, and she looked back over at him. He had not gone back to his book, but had apparently been watching her, still playing with the two stones on the ring on her finger. “Are you all right?”
A sudden burst of restlessness broke over her. She set her book on the arm of the loveseat and rose, crossing to the window and throwing it open. The air outside was icy, and snow swirled in through the opening, but she didn’t mind. Beth leaned out over the sill, over the road below, and let the snow catch in her hair and eyelashes. Experimentally, she stuck out her tongue, and flakes melted as soon as they touched it.
She remembered another Christmas, in her second year. It was the first she’d spent with James and Sirius and Remus and Peter:
Remus had left the front doors of the school thrown wide; he’d been extremely cautious about being outside at this time of the night, and the yellow light from the torches inside, spilling out onto the snow, had made him feel slightly more at ease. Peter was standing up to his ankles in a bank of snow, shivering. Sirius was running about the grounds with his arms spread wide, whooping joyfully.
“Bethy! Come on!” he’d called, waving his hands above his head and flopping back onto the snow, spread-eagled. He had begun moving his arms and legs with such gusto that his impromptu snow angel was sure to look more like the results of a fight in the powdery snow.
James had come up alongside Beth, watching Sirius with one eyebrow raised on his forehead. “My, my,” he’d said conversationally. “Isn’t that a sight.”
Beth had giggled, and then tipped her head back, tongue out, to catch snowflakes on her tongue. James, after bestowing her with his strange look, had followed suit. And soon it was all five of them, dark shapes in a circle on white, catching snowflakes just as Christmas settled over the castle.
Beth turned back to Severus, who was watching her still from the loveseat, an expression of mixed apprehension and amusement on his face. She leaped back over to the loveseat, huddling close to him on the cushion, and rested her chin on his shoulder.
“Merry Christmas, Sev,” she murmured. He smiled, and angled his face back to kiss her. The fire was warm on her face, and she turned to lean against him, watching the snow fall outside and thinking of the past, and the present, and what was yet to come.
A/N: The end.
THIS IS SO WEIRD. It hasn't sunk in yet, but I just can't believe that we're here. At the end of a trilogy. That I wrote. In just under two years. And this is the very last chapter about Beth and Severus and their fight to be together, and the end of the Marauders era, and I have a lot of feelings right now. Mostly numb shock. It's going to take me a long time to get used to this fact -- it's been over four months since I finished writing Breaking Even and I'm not used to it yet!
End-of-book author's notes are always very long for me, and I hope you'll bear with me. Because at this stage, there are a LOT of people who need mentioning!
Sarah -- you're first. And you knew you'd be first, or you should have known it, because these books literally would not exist without you. ♥ Didn't I tell you there was a bit more Sirius for you?! From the very first message I ever sent you on the forums up until our instant messaging last night, you've been there. You've always been there. You've rooted for Severus and Beth more than anyone else has, and you've sparked inspiration for so many of these chapters. You listened when I needed to whine, or when I needed to be excited in someone's direction, and you smacked sense into me when I needed that, too. You're the beta for this story in name, but I don't think even now people know how much you've touched this story. And my writing. AND I LOVE YOU. I hope that you will continue to be my critique partner and advice-giver and one of my very best friends for many, many years to come!
And there are so many other people who have been reading this story and responding to it, and I can't express how grateful I am to my reviewers, either. Every increase in review count meant that out there, someone thought enough of my story to tell me those thoughts, and that's absolutely invaluable for a writer. And for a book like this, I didn't request a single review -- you guys gave me over 200 reviews on your own, and that is the most amazing thing I can think of right now. And so here's thanks to lovemesomethinSirius (whose birthday happens to be today -- happy birthday!), Gosia, tragicYETmagic, Ardeith, Pen and Pixels, Courtney Dark, ValWitch21, SydneyBlack, DefyingBoundries and Callie (firefly910), some of my most faithful reviewers. Even if you're just names on a screen, I feel like I know you all, because I got to respond to your reviews, and that's a blessing for me. Whether you've stuck with me since 2011 and In The Black or hopped on at a later point in the story doesn't matter. What matters is that you saw this book -- and me -- through to the end.
There are LOADS of others out there, too, who maybe kept silent, or only reviewed once or twice, or reviewed long ago and never returned. But you know what? It's so important for you to be thanked, too. I'm sure I've forgotten names of people who need to be named, but if you are reading this at all, it's you. Even if we've never talked via review responses or on the forums, if you read any one of these books, thank you. ♥
I THINK I'M FINALLY DONE. This certainly has gone on long enough. I'll say it one more time -- thank you, thank you, thank you for reading In The Black, In The Red, and Breaking Even, and helping me love my story and my characters, and for loving them in turn. I seriously have the greatest readers in the world.