The bright March sunshine wasn’t particularly warm as it beat down on the houses in the tucked-away neighborhood, but Beth found that she was glad for it anyway. Even before weather factored into the picture, she was tense: Back rigid, arms crossed tightly across her chest, face set and determined about the task at hand. A bit of spring rain wouldn’t have helped to lighten the mood, but now, with some rare sunshine, she felt just a shade or two better, however slightly.
This had been a visit she had been putting off for months – over a year, if she was being honest with herself. Amelia Prescott – formerly Bridger – had been writing to her daughter at least once a month, and usually more, ever since Beth had moved away from home at the end of seventh year. She had stayed with Sirius that summer before finding a flat of her own, but she had resolved never to return home unless it was absolutely necessary, and she had stuck by that promise.
But though she might never admit it aloud, and it was rare that she brought up either the Bridger or the Prescott name in any conversations with her friends or other members of the Order, Beth missed her parents in a way that she supposed was as natural as anything else she felt. She was still mildly angry with them for using her as they had during the divorce, tossing about petty bribes and poorly-concealed barbs about each other, but they were still the people who had raised her, and that had to count for something.
And yet she’d been very reluctant to return either to her home – the Bridger mansion, where her father, Calvin, lived still – or to her aunt’s home, where Amelia was currently staying, despite the fact that each was mere blocks away from the other. Despite her mother’s entreaties at catching up with her only daughter, Beth had seen her only a handful of times since actually leaving, perfunctory holiday visits and the like, and all of these had been in public places: Parks and restaurants, all stiff and uncomfortable, visits that made her feel more like a stranger than a daughter.
She had only agreed to come today because James was running by his parents’ old home, too, and it was a couple of subway stops away from where Beth was headed. He had finally sold the massive house a few weeks previously to a pair of disgustingly rich Muggles – it had been great timing, as he and Lily had just finished unpacking most of the boxes at their new complex – and was returning today for a “final inspection.” This was actually, as he’d told Beth, a guise for fixing all of the little charms his mother had placed on the house to make things more convenient for the Potters in their old age, so as to preempt a need for the Magical Reversal Squad in the future.
Lily was nearly six months pregnant now, and maybe as a result of this, James had been acting just a bit more protective than normal – not just of Lily, which was natural, but in some weird extension, of Beth as well. He’d told her more than once on the way to her parents’ that if anything went wrong, she had every right to let him know at once. In a way, it was nice, having James back in her life as a sort of brother figure, something that had understandably waned since he’d gotten married. Unfortunately, she also knew she was too proud to ever really take him up on the offer – to admit she couldn’t handle a bit of parental tension. It seemed cruel, somehow, to force that upon a man who no longer could talk to his parents.
Beth stepped to the long wrought-iron fence that bordered the property the house sat on, looking down at her knuckles as she clenched the bars, which were turning white. Her mother had agreed to come to this house, to be in the company of her ex-husband, just for her daughter. And she hadn’t seen them in months. The leaden weight in her stomach shouldn’t have been there, and yet it increased with the guilt of knowing this.
She’d managed to mend the hole in her best robes for the occasion, knowing that her parents would never have tolerated knowing their daughter paraded about looking like a Muggle, much less that she strongly considered wearing jeans out today just to shock them. She had changed so much since her parents had known her – really known her – and she always worried that they might find out just how much. An hour or two of conversation, and hopefully Beth would be back at her flat, or maybe at James’s, doing everything possible to wipe the mantle of being an out-and-out Bridger off her shoulders. She blew out a forceful breath through pursed lips, a strand of her hair jumping in the gust. Might as well go inside and get things over with.
Beth crossed a few steps to the left, coming to stop in front of a slightly higher portion of fence, topped with a curling iron letter B. She hated this gate – one of her great-grandfather’s apparent guilty pleasures had been making the house as ludicrously opulent as he could possibly manage – but its one redeeming quality was its apt ability at keeping out anyone the Bridgers didn’t want in. There was no gap in the gate, and it merely looked to be just an extension of the fence, but when Beth laid her palm flat on the metal, it creaked open easily.
“Here goes,” Beth muttered under her breath, although she didn’t quite realize it, and started up the walk towards the house’s front doors. It felt a bit ominous, almost like a mission, and she had to forcibly think of this as anything but. It probably wasn’t a good mindset to enter in, anyway, thinking of one’s own parents as she would of facing down a couple of Voldemort’s supporters in the middle of the street.
The front door wasn’t locked, and she let herself into the entrance as quietly as possible, the door squealing a bit on hinges in desperate need of oiling as she shut it behind her. There were no voices to be heard in the dim corridor – someone had overlooked lighting the lamps – and the heels of her shoes sounded unnaturally loud on the black-and-white checked tile as she moved slowly into the house. There was a knot of fear writhing in the pit of her stomach; this was her house, and she still felt like she was breaking in.
Nothing much had changed since she’d left this house at the end of her seventh year, but she took the time to briefly look around anyway, a luxury she hadn’t been able to afford the one or two times she’d been back here to snatch a few of her things. The same gilt mirrors were spaced at intervals down the hall, the same gray-patterned wallpaper visible everywhere else. She’d never liked how dark this hall was; it was a very large factor in her insistence at painting her bedroom yellow, to sort of counteract that.
The wide, spacious sitting room was off to the right, through a wide and open archway; a large, straight staircase right beside the arch led to the second floor, to bedrooms and bathrooms and not much else. Down the hall and to the left was the kitchen that Calvin and Amelia had hardly ever set foot in, preferring house elves for their manual labor. Through the heavy black door at the end of the corridor was her father’s study, somewhere Beth had rarely been allowed to visit as a girl; it had, she knew, been where her father had met all of the important pureblood men, like Abraxas Malfoy, who’d visited the house, greasing their palms with prodigious amounts of gold for news and Ministry gossip.
A surge of curiosity coursed through her upon seeing this door – really seeing it – for the first time in uncountable years. Still not hearing any footsteps or voices from the sitting room or any of the rooms upstairs, Beth crept tentatively toward it. If her father was still seeing those men, still paying his way through life with Galleons and Sickles, then it was just possible something in there might prove beneficial to the Order in some way. She grinned slightly, Sirius’s voice suddenly whispering encouragement in her ears, and she imagined how thrilled he’d be at the prospect of snooping about in forbidden drawers and desks. For half a moment, she almost wished he was there with her; surely he’d find some way to have fun in a situation like this one.
The study’s windows were thrown wide, and the room was freezing; her father had always kept the house as cold as he’d dared, a frequent source of arguments between him and Beth’s mother. She shivered as she quietly shut the door partway behind her, careful not to let it hit the door frame too loudly, and turned her attention toward the desk in the center of the room. It was neatly kept; only a few sheets of parchment were on its surface, neatly aligned so as to be parallel with the edges of the desk. They were all blank.
She frowned, moving over to a long bookshelf along one wall, nearly empty of books. Nature’s Nobility: A Wizarding Genealogy was placed prominently in a position of pride on an eye-level shelf, and the sparse other books had similar, self-important titles. Mouth twisting in a wry smile, she pushed the book with her forefinger, and it fell over with a thump, a small cloud of dust puffing up from the shelf.
She whirled around, hand instinctively reaching for the wand in the inner left pocket of her robes, heart hammering in her throat. Calvin Bridger and Amelia Prescott stood in the doorway, now opened wide, each looking as though they were trying as hard as possible to be as far away from the other. Her mother’s delicate features were creased into a small frown, clearly wondering what on earth her daughter was doing.
“Mum.” Beth’s hands folded behind her back as though of her own accord, cheeks flushing slightly. “Dad. It’s… it’s really good to see you both.” She watched as her father’s gaze slid to Nature’s Nobility on the shelf behind her, and back to his daughter. He frowned too.
“I’ve told you that you’re not to be in this room, Bethany,” he said, crossing his arms loosely over his chest. In the light coming in from the open windows behind her, Beth could see a prodigious amount of gray sprinkled in her father’s dark hair, much more than she remembered, and her heart wrenched despite the fact that she felt like a child being reprimanded for wrongdoing.
“Your father and I are taking tea in the den,” Amelia Bridger said, her voice coated with a thin layer of frost. “Please join us.” Despite the polite words, it was very clearly an order, and not a supplication. Beth bit back a sigh and nodded, following her parents back down the dim corridor, through the more formal sitting room, and into the small, family-only den behind it.
Her mother had decorated this room – she had demanded it be added on once she’d married Beth’s father, claiming she felt imprisoned in the sitting room and needed her own sort of space – and her mark was everywhere on its walls. Though Calvin had been in Gryffindor when at Hogwarts, like Beth, the Prescotts had been in Slytherin for decades upon decades, and it was hard to ignore that fact here. The large fireplace along the wall was made of jet stone, set with small silver designs; the walls were painted dark green, and more silver was studded among them, mirrors and candelabras with bright white flames instead of the normal orange. Beth hated this room; it felt stark and austere, and nothing like the relaxing room her mother claimed it to be.
A small silver tea service was set on the dark-wood coffee table, in the middle of a circle of overstuffed chairs in a dark chintz pattern and a matching sofa perpendicular to the fireplace; it was steaming gently, gray-white vapor curling up to the dark beams overhead. Amelia took one chair, Calvin the one opposite it, and Beth sank onto the middle of the three-person sofa, feeling extraordinarily awkward with the seating arrangements.
Amelia poured a cup of tea and handed it to Beth; again, it was a silent command, not an offer, and though Beth didn’t particularly want to drink it, she took the cup nonetheless. Her mother poured a second cup and sat back in her chair, and Beth’s father shot her a dark, covert look before reaching for the pot himself. “Mum,” Beth said pointedly, hoping beyond hope to avoid any arguments for the time being, “how have you been?”
Amelia took a sip of tea between her tightly clamped lips. “Fine,” she said curtly. “Not that I haven’t given you ample opportunity to –“
“Amelia.” Calvin voice cut across his ex-wife’s, and she stared at him for a few moments before turning her eyes to the ceiling and taking another sip of tea. Beth’s stomach squeezed unpleasantly as her father turned toward her, clenching the handle of his own cup tightly. “We haven’t seen you in a long time, Bethany. I daresay we’d both been hoping” – he flicked his eyes over to Amelia’s, though she was still staring at the ceiling – “that you might have been more in contact with us before this.”
Beth ran a finger idly around the lip of her cup. “I’ve been busy,” she said weakly, the claim sounding lame even to her own ears. Amelia made a ‘tsk’ sound, but said nothing.
“Busy with what?” Calvin interjected sharply. “You’re never seen in our social circles, you don’t work – you’ve completely withdrawn from every value we’ve instilled in you since birth, everything we ever sought for you. You’ve thrown it away.”
“I still see James Potter,” she argued, a bit flippantly, but it was the best she could do while trying to quench her anger. “And Sirius Black, too. Or isn’t Walburga still a part of your circle, Mum?” She made air quotes around the word ‘circle,’ hating the elitist way the word rolled off the tongue.
Amelia smirked. “Orion and Walburga are members of a respectable pureblood family,” she said coolly. “Their oldest son has abandoned that family. You should have disassociated with him long ago. As for the Potter boy…” She sucked in her lower lip briefly before continuing. “The Potters have always been more – ah – lenient in their views than is desirable.”
Beth gritted her teeth, rubbing her nose absently. “It’s not like I’m doing nothing,” she spat, more venomously than she intended. “I’ve told you, Mum, it’s not something –“ But she stopped, because she always stopped. She couldn’t tell her parents about the Order – that much she knew, without even having to think about it. Even with the amount of dissention between them, they agreed on one thing, and that was that Voldemort and his supporters had the right idea in seeking to eliminate Muggles and Muggle-born witches and wizards from being associated with the wizarding world.
“Bellatrix and Narcissa Black have both made decent, respectable marriages,” Amelia spoke up, setting her tea onto the table with a somewhat ominous clink. “You have no prospects, Bethany, no direction in your life. If you would just let me set you up, perhaps with one of my friends’ sons –“
“No.” Beth stood up from her chair, nearly upsetting her tea in the process. Amelia raised her eyebrows high on her forehead, but she, Beth, didn’t care if it was a strange thing to do. “I’m fine, Mum,” she said forcefully. “I don’t want you to do that.”
Her father folded his lips into an obviously displeased frown. “Bethany, grow up,” he snapped. “You’re acting like a child.”
“I’m not.” She reached into her pocket, fist closing around her wand, feeling anger rising within her like a thick, hot liquid. “You can’t possibly understand it, but I’m doing what I want to be doing, and I’m happy. I’m fine with the way I’m handling my life, can’t you see that?! Just because it’s not attending social functions every evening and talking up Ministry officials –“
“That is enough,” Amelia interrupted quickly. “You will not speak like that in our – in this house.” She folded her lips again, standing up to face her daughter; Beth was almost exactly the same height. “Disrespecting both me and your father –“
“Because you two don’t respect me.” She wasn’t yelling any more, not even close; her voice had gone quieter than even she’d meant for it to. “I knew this was the sort of thing you’d do, as soon as I agreed to come back here. Why do you think I’ve put it off for so long?” She began moving toward the door to the den, feeling the neck of her robes tightening around her throat, choking her air supply.
“Bethany,” her mother said sharply, stepping closer to her; behind her, her ex-husband stood up and mirrored the movement. Beth pressed her hands to the door behind her, searching for the knob.
“Whether you want to believe it or not, I am happy,” she repeated firmly. “I have great friends, and I’m doing something I know is – it’s what I need to be doing.” She couldn’t say anything more; they wouldn’t understand, and they never had understood. They weren’t ever going to. “I’ll write,” she said, and, when neither her mother nor her father made a move to stop her, she turned the door’s silver knob and stepped into the sitting room.
Not even an hour had passed, and already she was fleeing the house – surely this was some kind of record. She pressed her lips together firmly and flung open the front door, not bothering to shut it behind her as she stormed down the front walk, through the iron gate, and back onto the pavement. James was nowhere in sight; that wasn’t surprising. He was doubtless still at his parents’ place, sorting out his mother’s charms. Was it right to be jealous of that – was that even ethical?
She brought her hands up to her face and repressed a groan of frustration. It was as she’d told her mother – she’d known exactly what sorts of conversation topics would come up when she’d walked into the house, and still it upset her. She wondered if it would ever not upset her, and despite the fact that she disagreed with so much of what her parents stood for, she didn’t necessarily want to have to keep a large part of her life secret from them.
Beth glanced up, casting her eyes up and down the pavement, but still James was nowhere in sight. He had told her to contact him if things got out of control, but all she wanted to do now was go home, away from here. And when he came back, her parents certainly wouldn’t make it a secret that she’d left in such a rush – they were too mindful of their own image to cover for her…
Taking a deep breath, and looking once more up at the house, Beth closed her eyes, turned on her heels, and vanished with a crack.
There was no sign of Beth at the Bridgers’ house when James walked up the pavement, almost an hour later. James looked up towards the top of the house, one hand resting idly on the fence, brow furrowed in puzzlement. She’d given every indication of making the return journey on the Muggle train, and this was the time her visit with her mother and father was supposed to have ended. He could only assume things hadn’t gone well, although that wasn’t something he would take as news. James gnawed on his lower lip, wondering if he should just head home to Lily.
There was the distant sound of a door shutting at that moment, and, peering up through the gaps in the iron bars, he could just make out a figure descending the long walk towards him. It wasn’t Beth – he could tell that almost at once – but it was a woman, and she shared enough characteristics with Beth for James to know who it was almost at once.
“Mrs. Br – erm, Ms. Prescott?” He cursed silently at nearly calling Beth’s mother by her married name. Evidently, she’d heard the near slip as well; her mouth pursed in an unpleasant frown as she looked up, pulling on a pair of gloves. “Is Beth there?” James called.
“She left about an hour ago,” Amelia Prescott said icily, looking at James rather as one might look at a piece of rotted meat. “I do not know where she went.” She smirked unpleasantly. “It’s a wonder she didn’t inform you. I’d say she tells you more than she tells me.”
James frowned. “Erm. Right.” He rubbed the back of his neck with his right hand – what was he supposed to say to that? “Well, I… she’s probably gone on home, then,” he said, a bit lamely. “So, I’ll just… head there.” Amelia raised an eyebrow in mild disdain, but said nothing more. James stepped back as she passed through the gate, walking right by him as though he wasn’t there, and turned right.
As soon as she was out of earshot, James let out a long breath. With a mother like that, he thought idly, I’d have headed home, too… He felt bad that he hadn’t been able to act as a buffer, but then, Beth probably would have rejected the offer, even if he’d been able to make it.
He glanced back up towards the house, but all the windows were dark; he had no reason to disbelieve Beth’s mother’s claim. Feeling slightly guilty for a reason he couldn't specifically pinpoint, James turned and started in the opposite direction, back towards the train and his own home, resolving to send Beth an owl as soon as he got back to his flat.
A/N: Beth's parents do still exist! And their divorce is still as ugly as ever, I'm afraid. They're not large factors in this story (or, really, in any part of any of these three stories), but it's still important that they're mentioned every so often. We did see a quick glimpse of Amelia back in the second chapter of In The Black -- gosh, that feels ages ago -- and now we've seen Beth's father. Hooray for plot developments! I did enjoy writing this chapter, though, and hope that you enjoyed reading it, too. Thank you, and I'm excited to see your opinions!