Beth, Peter, Remus, James, and Sirius weren’t the only ones to notice the article that ran in the Daily Prophet on Wendell Craig’s death, and certainly weren’t the only ones to see the small blurbs that followed thereafter. Although the rest of the student body may not have realized its significance for what it was, the death of a Ministry official wasn’t exactly a common occurrence, and almost nothing else was discussed in the weeks that followed the initial announcement. Ensuing coverage was thin, true, but a small mention or aside appeared without fail at least once every week. For many of them, it was one of the biggest news stories they’d ever had the opportunity to follow.
Though she hated to think it – maybe it was because she simply didn’t want to believe that it was true – Beth knew that Sirius’s inclination that the accident was more sinister than it appeared was probably correct. In class and at meals, she could see that Professor McGonagall wore an almost permanently grim look now, although it hardly differed from her usual sternness; it could only be seen if it was looked for specially. Professor Dumbledore too had changed slightly, the twinkle normally living in his cheerful blue eyes all but gone. The pair could as well have been advertising their concern in large signs hung around their necks for how obvious it was to the five of them.
Sirius, too, was moodier than normal. This was readily apparent throughout the end of January, but with his decreasing mood came a new sense of determination. On a drizzly sort of afternoon, a Sunday afternoon, in one of the early weeks of February, in the comparative coziness of the library, he embarked yet again on the now-tiresome rant he’d been issuing forth ever since the publishing of the original article.
“I just don’t understand,” he said bitterly, twirling his quill in his fingers, the homework questions he should have been working on far from being completed, “how some people can be so incredibly thick and bigoted as to actually believe it matters whether you’ve got magical blood in you or not.”
Beth was listening to him without looking up at him, staring unseeingly at the corner of her parchment, where ink was dripping and forming a rather interesting-looking ink blot.
“I mean, there are some real idiots in Slytherin,” he continued disgustedly. “If they’re supposed to be the superior people in all their good, clean blood, we might as well all cop out now. Go and mix with the Muggles like normal people.”
Peter clonked his head down on the table, giving a faint, suppressed groan. “If you’re going to keep going on about this, you can write this essay for me while you talk,” he said, the heavy wood of the table they sat around muffling his voice slightly.
“Yeah, you sound like Beth, earlier this year,” James interjected, looking over at Beth and shooting her a wicked grin completely with an arrogant wiggling of the eyebrows. “Whining about how Snivellus was going to find out about us, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a –“
Wordlessly, Beth reached over and jabbed the corner of James’s Potions textbook with the tip of her wand. The corner was instantly enveloped in bright crimson flames. James gave a little squawk and flung it to the ground in a panic, the resulting thud echoing marvelously throughout the silent library. He stomped on it quickly to extinguish the flames
“Shut up,” she intoned dully, flipping a page of her own book as though nothing had happened. James was glaring alternately between her and the slightly singed cover of his book; Sirius was slumped on the table, dark hair falling messily into his eyes, worries forgotten momentarily as he tried to breathe through his laughter.
Madam Pince’s angrily clacking heels were heard only seconds before the librarian herself rounded the corner, staring down her beaky nose at them all, small eyes alight with a malicious glint. She crossed her thin, bony arms over the ill-fitting white blouse she wore and shifted her gaze between each of them. They looked mutely back at her; both Beth and Sirius were in serious danger of busting out laughing again.
The woman’s eyes fell at last on James’s book, and she let out a gasp, as though one of them had done her a personal wrong. “Destroying literature?” she hissed, snatching the book up off the table before James could grab it and stuff it out of sight. Her shrewd eyes darted over its cover. “A textbook, too,” she spat. “I’ll just have to see what Professor Slughorn says about this, won’t I?” She stomped away amidst the stacks, effectively confiscating the book.
James whirled on Beth now, ignoring the laughter that now issued from each of the other four mouths. His own mouth was wide open in a look of incredulity at what had just happened. “You’re doing my homework now!” he said indignantly, but a ghost of a smile was flickering across his face, try as he might to ward it off. She grinned maddeningly and kicked his leg under the table in a sisterly fashion.
“Not a chance, Prongs,” she said cheerfully. From outside in the corridor came the distant sound of thundering footsteps, signaling the start of dinner; the five Gryffindors began scraping their things together and jamming them haphazardly into their school bags.
Sirius moved more slowly than the others, and this didn’t escape Beth’s notice. She instantly slowed her pace as well, and finally Remus and Peter and James moved off, seemingly unaware that they were short two members of the group.
“You okay?” she said in a low voice, sitting back down in the chair she’d just vacated. Sirius arose restlessly and moved to the nearest window, streaked with small drops from the misty rain still falling outside. He brushed a hand through his hair.
“Sometimes I don’t think they understand,” he said, launching immediately into whatever had obviously still been occupying his mind. “It’s – it’s everything my family stood for, and it’s awful. This blood purity thing, it makes no sense, and the whole world seems to be going mad over it. People here, too,” he added, waving his hand around to indicate the school. “You haven’t heard some of the Slytherins talk about it – they agree with You-Know-Who, they figure we need to eliminate Muggle-borns.” He looked helplessly at Beth.
“I understand,” she said firmly, a sense of conviction she hadn’t known she possessed suddenly gripping her tightly. And she did understand, more than she’d realized she had. “My family is the same as yours, Sirius, in case you’ve forgotten. They’re right up there with the proponents of wizard-only superiority.” Beth’s mouth twisted slightly in bitterness. “That’s part of the reason I joined the Order.”
And though she’d never expressed this before, even to herself, she knew instantly it was true.
“Exactly,” Sirius said, sounding a bit relieved. “We’ve just got to work at stopping them, Bethy.” The look he turned on her was full of earnestness and sincerity. “We need to help make this right.”
“And we will,” she said simply, nudging him slightly with her shoulder, in part to relieve the tension that had suddenly cropped up at the seriousness of his words. “It won’t be long now before we’re out there fighting for that equality you and I both know is the right thing.”
The footsteps outside were dying away as the last stragglers passed on their way to the Great Hall. “Come on,” Beth said, seeing that Sirius had disappeared into his mind again, still staring out the window. “Let’s go. I’m starved.”
After that conversation, Beth did indeed notice that some of the Slytherins seemed to be conversing more about the articles in the paper. She didn’t know quite how she’d missed it before, but there always seemed to be a group of them in the corridors or around the table at mealtimes, one of them clutching a copy of the Prophet and all of them conversing in low tones, looking up furtively whenever someone passed too near. She wondered if all of them, as Sirius said, felt the way that You-Know-Who did, that anyone who was not purely magical shouldn’t be allowed to practice magic.
She had hardly heard anything from her parents since Christmas – she suspected they hadn’t been too pleased about her lack of response concerning their bribe gifts – but had seen a small notice about the finalization of their divorce in a column in the paper, which she and her friends were now scanning cover to cover. James had hastened to cover it up with his elbow before anyone else saw, and she was grateful for it, but that didn’t stop a sick feeling to creep into her stomach for the rest of the day.
But her parents, despite being separated, were sure to both be on this side, the side of pureblood supremacists. They always had been before the split, and that wasn’t likely to change matters. It made Beth even more determined about what she was doing, knowing that joining the Order would prove, if only to herself, that she was not like them. She would not make the same mistakes as they had if she separated herself from everything they stood for.
No further word about the Order had come to them from Dumbledore, and Sirius was getting restless again in light of Craig’s murder. James reasoned that it was bound to be trickier now, what with the extra members Professor Dumbledore had agreed to take on at their last meeting, but that logic didn’t seem to comfort Sirius any.
“He’s busy, Sirius,” Remus reasoned as patiently as he could; they were walking through a seemingly deserted corridor about a week after the events in the library, heading back to the common room for their free period. “If your reasoning about Craig is right, especially. Think what that’s got to mean for the Order.”
“I know,” Sirius snapped, “I’m not a child.”
“I know you’re not,” Remus persisted exasperatedly, “but stop cramming your theories down our throats. We’ve heard them all before, you know.” Beth, glancing at him from the corner of her eye, saw Sirius’s mouth pop open to respond, but Peter interjected before things got ugly.
“What does it mean for the Order?”
“Well,” Beth piped up, “they’ve got to figure out what to do – or who to do it to. They can’t just pop up anywhere they please and start having people arrested on suspicions of being – whatever it is those You-Know-Who followers are called –“
“Death Eaters,” said Sirius promptly, stooping to tie a shoelace that had become unfastened. “And it’s not like they’ve got much to go on, finding exactly the right person or people who killed Craig –“
“Still talking about that Ministry bloke, Black?” The five of them turned around, Sirius standing up so quickly he lost his balance and had to right himself using James’s shoulder. Severus’s friend Avery was striding down the corridor, looking very much as though he owned it, a perpetual sneer lifting his top lip a bit above his bottom one. Beth heard Sirius grinding his teeth.
“Shove off,” he said hotly. “Just because I’m actually informed as to what goes on in the world –“
“You haven’t got a clue,” Avery drawled lazily, examining his fingernails as though bored; he’d come to a halt in the middle of the carpet, and he and Sirius were now facing off squarely, the rest of the Gryffindors bunched around them like spectators. Tension fairly crackled in the air, white-hot and dangerous.
“What do you mean, I haven’t got a clue? I can read, can’t I? What are you on about?”
“It doesn’t matter whether you can read or not,” Avery said, as though talking to a three-year-old he didn’t particularly like. “What matters is whether you can read between the lines.”
James stepped forward to stand alongside Sirius. “Close your mouth if you know what’s good for you,” he snapped at Avery, nevertheless trying to pull Sirius back around in the direction of Gryffindor Tower again. “You shouldn’t be running your mouth about things you’re not involved in, no matter if you believe in them or not.” Beth caught the underlying meaning – both boys were talking about You-Know-Who – and she could tell Avery saw James knew it, too. He raised an eyebrow and Sirius turned to leave.
“If you want to go on being friends with his kind,” Avery said, jerking his chin in Remus’s direction, “then don’t let me stop you.” His voice dripped with contempt, and Sirius whirled back around, brows contracted, anger bubbling inside him and staining his cheeks. Beth’s insides gave a nervous twist; Remus was, in technical terms, a half-blood.
“His kind?” he said angrily. “Care to explain?”
Avery smirked knowingly. “You know. People with dirty blood.” He turned to look at Remus and made the motion of spitting on the ground at his feet.
The reaction was instantaneous, and happened so fast Beth couldn’t have stopped it even if she had been absolutely prepared. Sirius left the ground in a leap that was more animalistic than any action she’d ever seen a human perform, his arms outstretched. It was as though he hovered in the air for a brief second before his curled fists met Avery’s torso. The latter gave a grunt and fell back, Sirius crashing on top of him.
What followed appeared to be a whirlwind of fists and kicking feet as both fought equally, Sirius raining punches down on every bit of Avery he could reach and Avery trying his hardest to deflect them while keeping his face intact. Curses flew as thick as the punches and James darted about, seeking for a way to pull his friend off Avery without getting whacked as well.
“Don’t – ever – say – that – again - !” Sirius grunted between blows; Beth saw that one of his eyes was already swelling magnificently, the skin around it becoming puffy and almost pure black. She couldn’t ever remember seeing him so angry, and it was almost terrifying just to watch.
“Sirius, mate! Get off him!” James cried, ducking one of Avery’s blows and trying to grab Sirius's shoulder, missing in the attempt. “He’s not worth it, let it go!” But if either of the fighting, squirming boys heard, they chose to ignore him. The sound of fist meeting jaw fairly echoed in the corridor, and Beth winced, averting her eyes despite herself.
Students, apparently having heard the commotion, began to appear at either end of the stretch of corridor, eagerly clamoring for a better view at the excitement going on. A small group formed around the five of them, standing back so as to not be associated with the proceedings, and still Sirius and Avery scrabbled on the ground, throwing punches just as hard as ever.
“What is going on here?” The loud and extremely angry voice of Professor McGonagall sliced through the din of students’ voices and pounding fists, somewhere behind the near-solid wall of spectators. A small group of them parted and McGonagall broke through, closely followed by Professor Flitwick, who looked taken aback at the sight of the two seventh-years on the ground.
“Black! Avery!” she barked, but they were deaf to everything other than their mission to pound the other into dust. Mouth set into a thin line, she shook back the long sleeves of her robe and took out her wand from a pocket. The boys were blasted apart at once, hitting opposite sides of the corridor; Avery’s robe flew over his head.
“No!” Professor McGonagall barked, waving her wand again as Sirius scrambled for Avery again. Some kind of field seemed to materialize, splitting down the middle of the hallway and preventing him from reaching his opponent. “Enough, Black! And you, Avery – enough!” Her beady stare swiveled around to the other four Gryffindors clustered there.
“All of you!” she said grimly, eyes glinting like steel. “My office, immediately.” She gave an irritable jerk of her head in its general direction. “And the rest of you, to your classes!” she added, addressing the people still clustered around to watch the fight. Talking excitedly amongst themselves, the student body dissembled slowly, casting backwards glances over their shoulder as though hoping to catch a glimpse of something they might have missed before.
“You idiot,” James muttered as Sirius walked over, nursing his elbow and shooting absolutely filthy looks at Avery, who was still disentangling himself from his robes. “You didn’t have to go and hit him, you know.”
“You heard what he said, didn’t you?” Sirius snarled, jamming his fists into his pockets.
“Hard to miss that,” said Peter, glancing over his shoulder at Avery, “but still.”
Throughout the entire ordeal, Beth suddenly realized that Remus had kept absolutely silent. He remained so now, staring unseeingly at the floor as though deep in thought. He was chewing his lip concernedly, and she reached out and touched his arm. He looked up; there was something in his eyes that shocked her, almost a sort of pain.
“Are you okay?” she said, and the other three turned when she spoke; they seemed to see for the first time, too, that Remus was bothered by something.
“All this time,” he said in a low voice, and now the hurt was even more evident, “I never even thought that what I’d be judged for was for not being a pureblood.” His eyes swiveled to Sirius, whose mouth had dropped open slightly. “I’m sorry, mate.”
“You’re not going to be so thick as to apologize for who you are,” Beth burst in angrily. “I know you didn’t just – Remus, it doesn’t matter.” They had all forgotten Avery was still walking behind them, but she could have cared less at that moment. Hot, bubbling anger was welling inside her at what this notion – this idiotic idea of blood purity, that some wizards were actually better than others – was already doing to the school and the students.
“Well, it’s already gotten him in trouble, hasn’t it?” said Remus defensively, gesturing at Sirius and the large, purplish-black bruise around his eye. “It’s already turned him against us!” He gestured again, this time in Avery’s direction.
“Yeah, because he liked us so much before,” James said sourly, but Beth shot him a very pointed look, and he shut up quickly.
“Remus, anyone who cares what sort of blood you’ve got is no one you should associate with,” Beth said firmly, her heart swelling already just with the conviction of her words. And she knew she meant it.
“Well, Mr. Black,” said Professor McGonagall sarcastically, not looking up from the parchment she was writing on with decisive motions, “I must say that you might have outdone yourself today.”
“He was provoked, Professor,” James argued, shifting in his seat slightly and gripping the edge of the desk urgently. Avery had already been sent away with two weeks’ worth of detentions with Filch, the caretaker, and now it was only the five Gryffindors left in McGonagall’s office.
“Nonsense,” she replied crisply, pausing to refill the nib of her quill from the ink bottle on the upper right-hand corner of her desk. “If anyone was provoked, it was Mr. Lupin, and I don’t see him sporting any sort of fighting injuries.” She looked up as though half-expecting such injuries to have blossomed in the time it took her to make the statement.
Sirius scowled as best he could through his black eye. “The git,” he muttered, kicking the leg of McGonagall’s desk idly with the toe of his trainers. Beth secretly felt like doing the same – although she hadn’t been punching Avery, she had been just as outraged as Sirius – but was glad in the next moment that she had refrained from kicking.
“Mr. Black,” said the woman now, replacing her quill in the ink pot for good. “You are going to have to learn to deal with these sorts of things in a calm and rational manner.” She peered at him over the tops of her brown spectacles, making sure he was listening. “When you’re working for the Order of the Phoenix, you can’t go attacking people left and right simply because what they’re saying isn’t what you want to hear,” she added in a softer voice, though with no addition of gentleness. “It’s exactly that that will get you killed.”
Sirius seemed to see the rationale in this; at any rate, he looked slightly ashamed, which was a step in the right direction. “Yeah,” he muttered, withdrawing his foot under the hem of his robes once more.
“You’ve got to control your temper,” McGonagall finished, and rolled up the parchment she’d written on in a sharp snap. “Two weeks of detention with Professor Slughorn, starting next Monday evening.” Sirius’s mouth dropped open; it was clear he hadn’t expected to be punished in the same vein as Avery had been.
“Next meeting is February twenty-seventh,” she said in an undertone. “Professor Dumbledore will send for you as he has done in the past.”
“Lily, too? And Mary and Marlene?” James spoke up hastily. The woman’s mouth tightened slightly - McGonagall still didn’t much approve of how many students would be joining the Order after the end of the year, which was understandable. But she nodded, and James suddenly looked happier than he had all day.
“You may go,” she added, and the five stood up simultaneously, filing out of Professor McGonagall’s office in one line.
A/N: Any sorts of wind-like sounds you might have heard during this chapter would be me, sighing over it. Because, as I've said before, I just love reading over old chapters -- it puts the newer ones in a different light, which is great, especially now I've started the second book. And this chapter in particular, with Sirius and Beth and all their hot-headed attitudes... Got to love them!
Thank you guys so much for the reviews, seriously. They honestly make my day, each and every one of them, and I can't tell you what it means to have them!
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