Written for The Marauder Era Characters Competition in the HPFC forum, where I was given the character and the prompt Secret Keeper.

Many thanks to mew-tsubaki for betareading!

Waiting Is Harder Than Fighting

You sit in that little house and you can swear it's becoming smaller—the walls are practically suffocating you with the speed with which they are closing in on you.

You groan. You are so silly. As soon as you drop your concentration all those thoughts reappear and that's when you sense the panic creeping up on you from where it has lurked in the shadows behind you.

You really should stop thinking about it. For real. And now.

You have your mission, and the mission is to wait. You weren't told to worry; no one told you to look out the window every few seconds—just in case—and discover nothing but darkness, darkness, and darkness.

Oh, dear. That wasn't darkness. That was a blinding, prominent flash of light.

Maybe your waiting is over now.

You hurry to the door and then hesitate. You have been told, so many times, how you can never be sure of anyone's identity, how you are now the Secret Keeper of this particular safe house—and that the Fidelius Charm could lose all its power in the blink of an eye if you aren't careful.

But in none of those scenarios where you are supposed to be careful had you thought it would be Mad-Eye limping towards the door—alone.

You don't know what to do anymore; all thoughts are erased from your mind, all those rules and principles and safety measures completely gone, because Mad-Eye wasn't supposed to arrive there without Benjy.

There were supposed to be two. Benjy was supposed to greet you with a weak but happy smile; it was all supposed to be good.

"Hestia," Mad-Eye croaks, and he doesn't even seem to notice that you've ignored all those security things, which he never does. And that alone should have put you on guard, it would have, usually, but not now, not when there's emptiness next to Mad-Eye, emptiness that seeps into your mind and eats everything from the inside out.

"What happened?" you ask in a whisper when the locks are locked and the door is a door again that protects you from the outer world instead of letting horrifying emptiness in.

"We've lost Benjy," he says, and you stare at him and realize you already knew that, and that you aren't surprised or shocked (because that emptiness was too vast to ignore and you completely succumbed to all possibilities of something else), but Mad-Eye seems to be waiting for a reaction from you.

But the only thing you manage to do is to say quietly, "I can see that," and it scares you, that you aren't falling to the ground in a crumpled mess or that there are no tears streaming down your face. It's only your hands that shake, ever so slightly, but otherwise…nothing.

Mad-Eye looks at you.

You turn quickly and walk to the scruffy kitchen because Mad-Eye is raising a hand as though he is going to grab your arm and comfort you or something of the like—and that's the last thing you want right now.

"Coffee?" you ask over your shoulder, and you pretend not to notice how Mad-Eye flinches at your voice…and okay, maybe you should have done something else, said something else, but honestly? You can't.

He nods at last when he has entered the kitchen and has taken a chair by the table which is covered by marks and scrapes, memories of long nights awake and dinners hurriedly eaten in paranoia.

You put a cup in front of him and swallow your own coffee, into which you—unnoticed—had slipped a little bit of firewhiskey, because maybe that will make you feel something.

"Hestia," Mad-Eye says, and he sounds almost as he usually sounds, with that growling little cough at the "e." "I'd also like something stronger, you know?"

Or maybe it hadn't gone unnoticed, you reflect, but it doesn't really matter, you don't feel disappointed by your lack of stealth as you would have done any other day. You just nod and hand Mad-Eye's now spiked drink back.

He takes a sip of it, and you stay where you are, leaning against the counter.

Silence is starting to lay itself around the two of you, and before you know it, you blurt out, "How did it happen?"

Mad-Eye gives you a long look and you're just about to tell him to never mind because never have you regretted something more.

But he starts to speak, and it's about a surprise attack, how they weren't prepared, and how Benjy fought braver than ever. And it's about sacrifices and last-minute decisions, and you…you don't want to hear another single word, because it doesn't give you even the slightest of comforts to hear how he was "fantastic on the battlefield."

"Stop," you say, and Mad-Eye does so, as though he has been waiting for you to say just that.

Silence returns once more, and this time it's heavier than the last time, as if there's nothing you—anyone—can do to break it.

You sit staring at the clock on the opposite wall, and when the minute hand has passed an entire round, you speak up again.

"For Benjy," you say quietly, and you raise your refilled cup.

Mad-Eye looks up from the table which he has been pulling a finger across and makes a little twist with his mouth. "For Benjy."