Chapter 33 : All Fall Down
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Why hadn’t she been able to predict that it would come to this? After everything – seeing the example his friends set, and knowing about his own made-up spells, and especially having heard, and argued about, his views on blood purity – she had blindly forged ahead, forgiving and forgetting. No one went out with their friends to practice spells, after all, and especially not the extremely challenging Patronus Charm, without strong and possibly dangerous reasons. It had all been a sham, a way to get closer to Lily while furthering his goals as well. And whatever goals these were, she wasn’t all that sure she wanted to know about them. They wouldn’t have been in line with what she would have wanted.
Yet, she did want it – at least a small part of it. And that was the worst admission of all.
Her change in attitude did not go unnoticed, however. Subtly – or as subtly as she could make it – she had tried to stop talking to Severus, wanting to break things off without harsh exchanges, but she had seen the hurt expressions on his face when she had ignored his greetings in the corridors or before meals. She had become a bit quieter as well, despite her efforts to pretend like nothing had happened, and James was constantly asking her if she was all right. He had been there when Beth had seen Severus’s Patronus, after all, and even if he didn’t know its implications, he had definitely noticed that it had upset her.
One weekend afternoon in the common room, the four boys were playing Exploding Snap as usual, this time under a small window near the door to the girls’ dormitory. Beth had tried playing with them, but had lost on purpose and gratefully bowed out of the game. She didn’t feel like herself anymore, and felt stupid for taking this so hard. It shouldn’t have meant all that much to her – she had seen it coming.
James wandered over to her as she drew up her knees on one of the squashy armchairs by the fireplace – currently cold – with a book open on her lap, although she wasn’t reading it. He sank into an adjacent chair and said nothing for a few moments, drumming his fingers idly on his knees. Beth chose not to acknowledge him, knowing why he had come over.
“What’re you up to?” he asked at last, a bit lamely, and she raised her head to look at him levelly. The expression on his face was so sincere that a lump formed in her throat, and she desperately wanted to tell him all of it, no matter how immature and foolish it sounded – the hurt that, after this entire year, she has discovered that Severus really didn’t like her as she’d thought he might have; the shame that she had been deceived so that Severus might get closer to Lily; and, most of all, the guilt that she hadn’t stopped to consider the numerous warning signs and save herself all this trouble before it had even happened.
“Studying,” she said instead, looking back down at the book. The words on the pages didn’t make any sense, though, and she couldn’t figure out why until James awkwardly reached over and turned it on its head, righting it. She felt hot patches bloom on her cheeks.
“What’s wrong, Beth?” he asked gently, now closing the book he had so embarrassingly turned over and taking it from her hands. “You haven’t been yourself since the night Sirius decided to throw that little engagement party.” He swallowed a bit uncomfortably, suddenly deciding that his glasses were in need of a desperate cleaning. He hunched over his shirttail, polishing from the lenses, and from this stance he muttered, “It doesn’t bother you that I’m going to marry Lily, does it?”
Another surge of guilt – now for a completely unprecedented reason – washed over her, and she shook her head vehemently. “Not at all,” she said, reaching forward and setting her hand on top of his, squeezing it lightly. “I am so happy for you, because I know you’re happy, and that’s really all that matters.” There was a slight pause, in which James ventured no other suggestion, and for lack of better things to talk about she asked, “Have you set a date?”
“Almost,” he said, a smile transforming his face. “Sometime in early July, I think. We don’t want to wait.” He grinned a bit at this, and she laughed at his eagerness, squeezing his hand again before returning it to her lap.
“That’s great,” she said honestly, but watched his smile fade almost as quickly as it had come.
“Will you tell me?” he said, and her smile disappeared as well at the question. She forced a small amount of air through her pursed lips, nerves and guilt twisting her stomach. But this was James – James, perhaps her best friend in the world, more a brother to her than anyone else, whose company she’d bullied into having more than anyone else. He’d helped rescue Severus earlier that year, and she was the first person he’d told about wanting to marry Lily. And that certainly couldn’t have been easy for him, either. She owed him.
“Can we go to the library?” Beth said in an undertone, and it was her turn to drop the eye contact. James stood up at once, gesturing to the other three, who were continuing their game still.
“We’ve got a book to return,” he called over. “Be back in a few minutes.” Sirius raised his eyebrows, and he shot James a rather pointed look that Beth didn’t miss, but James shook his head almost imperceptibly. She didn’t miss that either.
“Have fun, then,” Sirius said with extremely forced nonchalance, breaking the slight tension that had arisen by snatching a card off Remus, who had also been watching the exchange. He turned back, and Beth led the way out of the common room at that moment, James following close behind.
They weren’t five paces from the portrait of the Fat Lady, however, when he burst into speech. “Okay. Go,” he said anxiously, looking down at her, and Beth’s mouth twisted into a wry sort of smile before she could stop herself.
“It’s stupid,” she muttered, and the feeling that stones had decidedly settled into her stomach returned at once as she faced the prospect of having to speak her thoughts aloud.
“No, it’s not,” he argued, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Or you wouldn’t be so reluctant to say anything about it.” He shot her a look over the tops of his glasses, and she crossed her eyes back at him. But now that she thought about it, perhaps talking about it would put it in perspective, and make it not seem so serious to her. She drew a deep breath.
“All right. Well… that night – the night of Sirius’s party – you and I saw those people on the lawn, practicing spells.” Beth shot an anxious look up at James, but he just nodded, willing her to go on. “And we saw that Patronus, that doe Patronus, and you commented that it was like Lily’s… and I know whose Patronus it was. It was Severus’s.”
“Wait,” James interrupted, frowning slightly. “But why does that even matter?”
“Patronus charms are supposed to be kind of symbolic, remember?” she said. “We did all that research on them – yours is a stag because that’s your Animagus form, stuff like that. And so it’s like… his matches hers. And before Christmas,” Beth rushed on, seeing James was about to interrupt again, “Lily had warned me against Severus with the implications that they’d been friends before.”
“They were,” said James. “Really good friends, apparently, until he started acting like a git and – “ He cut off that sentence rather quickly. “Sorry,” he added.
“Well, doesn’t it seem obvious to you?” Beth cried out then. “He was using me, James. He just wanted to get closer to Lily and I completely fell for it.”
The pair of them had stopped in the middle of the corridor, their voices echoing along the stone walls, and she turned around then, squinting in the sunlight coming in through one of the high windows. James waited a long time before he spoke. “Did he confirm that?”
“No,” she snapped. “I don’t exactly like to get on good terms with people who do things behind my back.” She crossed her arms tightly across her chest and tried to blink back the hot, shameful tears that had welled up in her eyes. She looked up at James, whose own eyes looked sad and sympathetic. The expression didn’t make her feel any better.
“I don’t understand,” he said at last, ruffling his hair as always, making it stand up even straighter than normal. “You guys seemed like you’d really gotten along.” Beth remembered then that he probably didn’t know about that occasion when she and Severus had screamed at each other, but she certainly wasn’t about to bring it up now.
“I just didn’t see it,” she said instead. “Besides, he –“ But she suddenly decided that she didn’t want to tell James about Severus’s extremely strong pureblood views, or the fact that he had made up spells and written them in an old textbook. Those were things she could afford to keep to herself.
James kicked at something invisible on the flagstones with the toe of his shoe, seemingly at a loss for words. “Do you… are you still interested?” he asked. “Or would you rather just sort of break it off?” The question seemed to cause him some degree of embarrassment, if the sudden increase in color on the tips of his ears was any indication.
Beth hesitated for the briefest moment. “No,” she said firmly. “We’re done.”
But she knew even as she spoke aloud that she was lying. Her heart was too weak for that.
But when Beth woke up the next morning, she was almost positive that she had convinced herself of the resolution she’d made to James in the library corridor. If she kept telling herself that she was through, by some sort of logic she might really be through. Time would pass, and she would get involved in work for the Order, and maybe someday find someone else – although that, she knew, would be a long, long time coming. But time was something she had plenty of.
She had not anticipated external factors, however. The very next morning she was heading down to breakfast with Peter and Mary, and the three of them were talking rather quietly about how glad they were they wouldn’t have to take the extraordinarily difficult Potions N.E.W.T., which was taking place next week. Beth was about to ask them what they were supposed to do with their Potions textbooks – normally turned into the instructor at the end of the exam – when she felt a tap on her shoulder, and turned around to see who it was.
She felt as though her heart had plummeted straight down to the floor as she looked up at Severus – the very last person in the entire world she wanted to see at that moment.
“I need to talk to you,” he said quickly, his dark eyes glinting slightly, and she thought that she had never seen him like this since the beginning of the year, before the two of them had really become on speaking terms. She swallowed against the panicked feeling that has arisen in her throat and glanced sideways at Peter, whose eyes were darting between the two a bit nervously.
“Can it wait?” she said coolly, hating herself even now for how disgustingly rude she was acting.
“I’d prefer it didn’t,” he responded in an equally chilly voice. “Will you walk with me?” He jerked his head slightly in the direction of the doors to the grounds, to his right, and she felt the palms of her hands go cold and clammy with sweat.
“Fine. Peter, you’ll save me a seat?” she said, unable to hold Severus’s gaze anymore and instead turning to her friend. Without waiting for an answer, she walked boldly toward the oak doors, her nose tilted into the air, and Severus followed quickly after.
She didn’t know why her feet led her where they did – it certainly wouldn’t have been her first choice of a conversation spot, should her head have been allowed to actually do the deciding – but by some amount of painful irony, she wound up at the tree where she and Severus had sat together the last time they had properly talked. She turned sharply on her heel as he covered the distance between them and crossed her arms.
“Yes?” she said, without preamble, and Severus’s brow lowered slightly.
“I’d just like to know whatever it was I did wrong,” he said bluntly through gritted teeth, “or whatever other reason you’ve decided to ignore me this week, because I can’t think of a damn thing.”
The sort of anger that contorted his face now – and she took a step back in spite of herself, unprepared for it – was not like the passionate rage that had led to their yelling match on the staircase when discussing blood rights. This was calmer, cooler, and carried a much more distinct undertone of hurt and wounded pride. She felt so bad then that she almost gave in, but her own pride was on the line too, and that was rather a precious commodity.
“I really don’t want to talk about this,” she said, rolling her eyes and biting her lip – the tears were already beginning, and unless she was extremely careful, they would let loose at any moment.
“Look, we’re not going to have a lot of time to talk about it –“ Severus began impatiently, his teeth still gritted, but Beth cut him off before he could get more than these words out.
“No, we’re not, are we? You and your little friends running off to perform those spells you made up – probably dangerous ones, aren’t they? – and doing Merlin knows what to everyone who doesn’t meet your expectations.” His mouth dropped open, but she plowed on, unable to stop the words now if she tried.
“And maybe if you had actually stopped to think about what you were doing, you could have left me out of this entire mess, but you didn’t think and you did drag me into it and I just…” She trailed off, gasping in a deep breath, and brushed her hair out of her face, her vision going blurry now, but she would not let herself cry. Certainly not in front of him.
“What are you talking about? Beth, I thought –“ But Severus broke off too, as though he didn’t know what to say. “I thought you were along for it, you know – I thought you’d changed your mind, that we were on the same page!” His right hand was clenched around his left forearm, gripping it so tightly the skin there was bone-white.
This latest sentence gave her brief pause – changed her mind about what? – but she shook her head firmly. “I’ve got my own things to do after school, and it’s recently become clear to me that you just – I don’t want to do this anymore, it’s not good for me,” she said, her hands, her knees, her entire body shaking. She bit her lip in an effort to keep her voice from shaking as well.
“I thought you… I thought…” But he couldn’t manage what he was trying to say any more than she could, and Beth shook her head again.
“I know about your Patronus, all right? And Lily warned me and I just didn’t listen, but it’s okay now – I’m sorry, it’s fine, I just wish you hadn’t dragged me into it,” she repeated lamely, and that was when the first tear, warm and fast, hit her cheek. The others followed quickly.
Severus’s forehead was creased again. “What’re you –“ he said, but, yet again, he wasn’t allowed to finish whatever thought had been forming. Beth wanted to get this over quickly, and the less he had to talk, the less of her heart she’d take with him. The conversation she’d had the previous day with James had not prepared her for this at all.
“I can’t do this, Severus. I can’t. Seven years, and it’s just too much, and it’s so much better if we’re not – not friends.” She swiped at her cheeks, ashamed of the tears and the way she was carrying on, blabbering as usual, but there was absolutely no way to stop it anymore.
“Beth, please.” It was one of the only sentences he had finished in its entirety since coming out to the tree. And, to her horror, he reached out a hand, as though meaning to take hers. And she knew that if she allowed that to happen, then she wouldn’t be able to let go, and she would just get sucked into his trap again. She could not let that happen.
“I’m sorry,” she said, her breath coming in short, shallow gasps, and she backed away a few more steps, away from the reach of his hand. “Severus, just please – I need to go to breakfast.” His face fell, and he looked at his hand for a moment as though wondering why it was extended out into the open. He let it fall back to his side.
She saw his mouth open again, to say something else, but she had already begun to walk up the grounds towards the castle at this point, and anything else that might have been uttered to urge her not to go was lost before it had the chance to be spoken. Something was shouted behind her, into the wind, and she was grateful the words were lost. Clutching her ribs and feeling as though she very well might be sick, she hurried back into the relative safety of Hogwarts.
She did not go into the Great Hall – the state she was in made appearing in front of virtually the entire school unsuitable – and did not return to the common room, either. Instead, Beth began blindly climbing staircases. Any she found, she took, trick ones and hidden ones and carpeted ones and stone ones, and did not stop until she had reached the very top floor of the castle, and found a corner in which to hide herself away from everyone else.
Beth buried her face in her knees, sobbing as loudly as she dared, her hair falling in thick, messy clumps around her face and shoulders. Now that he knew that she knew – and that she had told him exactly what she thought – she knew she’d be lucky to ever speak to him again, but she knew it would never happen.
For all intents and purposes, and after seven years, she was determined to forget Severus Snape had ever existed. It was the only option left to her.
Severus watched Beth hurry back up to the castle, feeling as though someone had just punched him in the stomach extremely hard. His heart was beating uncomfortably loud in his ears, and he shook his head just slightly, trying to block out the noise, but to no avail.
There were parts of that conversation that had completely confused him – he didn’t understand what his Patronus had to do with it – but he’d gotten enough out of it to know that Beth had for all intents and purposes shut down whatever sort of relationship they’d had, and for the life of him he could not figure out why.
He sat down numbly on the ground and realized that, like Beth’s had minutes before, his hands were shaking with shock. He tried clenching them into fists, willing the tremors to go away, but his brain wasn’t listening to him anymore. He pressed his temples with his fingers, closing his eyes and breathing through his nose and willing himself to think…
He had been wrong about whatever her plans were for after term ended – that much was plain to him – but he couldn’t see where else he had gone wrong. Merlin, he’d even thought things were going well… A derisive, mocking sound escaped from his mouth unconsciously, laughing at his past and optimistic self. He certainly was spectacular at losing the girls he cared about – first Lily, and now Beth…
But now Lily was gone, and for some reason, it hurt worse this time around, because he had been so sure of a viable chance.
He pressed the tips of his fingers harder into his forehead, something about that argument not quite sitting right within him. Something clicked slightly in his brain, and found himself wondering – and he didn’t know why he hadn’t thought to ask her before – how she had even known about his Patronus. He hadn’t had time to tell her or show her, she’d been too busy ignoring him…
He gritted his teeth, anger flashing through him briefly. One of his friends must have let something slip, and had ruined everything. Before he could stop to think anymore, he was on his feet, his legs moving in unconscious and long strides along the grass, mind intent on one goal. Without pause, he turned left, still aware of the sounds of voices from those eating breakfast, and descended the steps to the dungeons. He would wait in the common room until his friends got back.
But to his surprise, Mulciber was already sitting on one of the long, low couches in the center of the common room, reading a letter. He looked up as Severus entered the common room, and opened his mouth to speak, but the latter cut him off before he got the chance.
“Did you say anything to Beth Bridger recently?”
Mulciber frowned; if he had been expecting a question, it certainly hadn’t been that. “Bridger? Isn’t she that girl that hangs around with Potter and Black?” Severus offered the barest of nods, and his friend scoffed. “Uh, no, thanks. I’ve got nothing to say to her.”
Severus’s hands curled into fists, and he thrust them slightly behind his back so Mulciber wouldn’t see. “Did anyone else?” he persisted, and Mulciber shrugged.
“I don’t know. Why do you care? What’s any of us supposed to have said?” He peered up at Severus’s face curiously, but Severus didn’t bother responding – there was far too much to explain, and he didn’t even want to explain it, anyway. Instead he turned abruptly on his heel, sweeping over to the door leading to the boys’ dormitory and descending the stairs into his own room.
The seventh year dorm was, thankfully, quiet and empty, but he locked the door behind him just in case. He sat down limply on the bed, rolling his wand between his fingers and still trying to maintain a normal rhythm of breathing. It was over. It was all over, and he could almost have sworn that this time it had been different…
Anger surged through him again, and he lifted his wand blindly, bringing it down in a slashing motion. His trunk sprang open, books tumbling out of it at random and lying spread-eagled on the stone floor. And again, and a large rip formed in Wilkes’s pillow, feathers bursting from the seam and floating slowly through the air.
Again, and again, and still more times he slashed at nothing, slowly wrecking his own dormitory in his anger, upsetting books and lamps and hangings until he had exhausted himself. Severus slumped back on the bed, finally dropping his head into his hands, his entire body shaking with suppressed emotion.
He was, once again, utterly and completely alone.
A/N: I don't want to say too much here, for fear of saying something that'll give away either the last chapter or the events of next book, but -- WE ARE SO CLOSE. One more short chapter and this entire thing will be all finished and posted and tidy! Can you believe it? I realized recently that it's been almost an exact calendar year since I first started planning this story. And now I'm entrenched in the second book... Life. What even.
I hope you'll turn in for the next chapter, and please let me know what you thought of this one! Thank you!
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