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In The Red by TenthWeasley
Chapter 32 : The Remembering
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 8


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Beth sat back and twisted, trying to ease the dull, throbbing pain in her lower back. She felt very old, all of a sudden, getting aches and pains from sitting cross-legged on the floor of her flat for too long – hadn’t she sat for hours like this once, in the Gryffindor common room? But, such as it were, it was rather horribly uncomfortable now.

“I call break,” she said, wincing as she moved her hip in the wrong direction, and the pain sharpened momentarily. “I think I might lose this leg.” Across from her, Sirius looked up and grinned.

“But we’ve only been at this for two straight hours,” he said innocently, gesturing to the small mountain of envelopes heaped between the pair of them. Both of them had their wands out, and, as Beth watched, he flicked his again at the parchment in his lap, which promptly folded over and sealed itself.

Lily’s baby shower had been two days ago, Alice’s the day before; and, because she hadn’t quite remembered to think before she spoke, Beth had volunteered Sirius and herself for the labor-intensive task of writing and sealing both sets of thank-you notes. She didn’t mind doing it, per se, but as the day was wearing on, she had suddenly remembered her childhood hatred of writing exactly these sorts of notes. It made it slightly worse that Sirius seemed to be rather enjoying himself, but then again, she’d bribed him into following through with this by promising him a butterbeer at the Leaky Cauldron.

“I think the entirety of wizarding London must have sent them stuff,” Beth groaned again, feeling rather in the mood to complain about things anyway. Sirius grinned again and ducked his head over a new sheet of parchment, scribbling out something hastily in his spiky handwriting and, twisting his wand, causing it to fold in upon itself before stuffing it in its corresponding envelope.

Beth pushed the pile of her own envelopes and stretched her legs out straight in front of her, reaching down and rolling her shoulders to get rid of the cramped feeling. “I’m making a cup of tea,” she said decidedly, getting to her feet and placing her hands on her hips. “You in for one?”

“Cheers,” Sirius answered distractedly, his tongue between his teeth; he had apparently messed up in writing Mary’s address on an envelope, and was hastily blotting out his mistake with the tip of his wand. Beth grinned and shook her head at him, moving into the kitchen to put the kettle on the stove.

Just as the water had started to boil, however, and the whistle was emitting faint squeaks, Sirius’s voice called over to her from the living room. “Hey, Bethy! Were you expecting a letter?”

Frowning, she popped her head around the doorjamb. “No? Have I got one, then?”

“There is a rather serious-looking owl outside. Maybe it just likes looking in your windows.”

Beth moved to take the kettle off the stove and went back into the living room. Sirius was working on prying up the window, which had apparently stuck fast after the most recent summer rainstorm; he appeared glad for the break from letter-writing, in any case. He managed to lift it six inches before it stuck again, forcing the owl to squeeze underneath it with an irritated hoot.

“I think it’s from Dumbledore,” he said, snatching the letter from the owl’s leg, causing it to once again look angry at not being able to deliver its message to the addressee. “Blimey, he’s been pelted with letters lately, hasn’t he? I wonder how he’s got the time to answer them all.”

Beth froze in the act of reaching for the letter. Had he found out what Dumbledore knew, about her and Severus? “How do you mean?” she asked, as casually as possible, though it was a rather unprecedented effort to keep her tone neutral.

“Oh. Well, you know – our letter, about the Animagi thing,” he said. “And he’s bound to be busy, isn’t he? He can’t have a lot of down time, you know… That’s probably what this letter’s about, anyway. Probably warning me not to knock over any small children when I’m running through a park. Bet I’ve got one waiting for me at home.”

Beth ran her finger under the flap of the envelope, though not completely satisfied with Sirius’s answer, nor the quick way he had seemed to change the subject. She drew out the sheet of parchment, unable to hide a bit of surprise at the brevity of the message on it:

Miss Bridger,

Would kindly request your presence once more at Number 9 this evening at 9 p.m. in another matter of terrible urgency.

Albus Dumbledore

“It’s only for me, Sirius,” Beth murmured, panic welling within her even as she tried to quash it. “Not about us being Animagi.”

Was this something else to do with Severus? It had perhaps been too much to hope that he would just let them be, what with Severus’s allegiances lying where they did; she had been foolish to assume as much. But what more could possibly be said? They both knew and accepted the risks, and really, even Dumbledore himself had said that there was nothing much he could do about the matter…

Sirius tried to grab the letter, but Beth clutched it to her chest, instantly regretting doing so; he furrowed his eyebrows. “What’s it about, then? Are we due for another mission? I thought Moody said we wouldn’t be going out for a while because of Alice and the baby.”

She folded her arms and tried to look casual. “It’s… my parents.” The lie did not come easily to her lips; truthfully, she’d thought almost nothing of her parents since her last rather disastrous visit to them, which had lasted all of ten minutes. “They’ve… given me a bit of gold.”

Sirius opened his mouth to say something, but – rather uncharacteristically – closed it at the last moment, and only nodded. “Okay,” he said, in a somewhat strange voice. “Well then, you’re paying for drinks tonight.” She made a passable attempt at a smile, and he added, “Let’s get these notes done, yeah?”

“Yeah.” But just as he turned away, Beth looked back down at the letter in her hand, mouthing its single sentence aloud to herself before pocketing the paper and moving back toward the kitchen for the tea. Her insides already ached with nerves; whatever she was being summoned back for tonight, she hoped it was nothing too horrible.

But then again, perhaps things had been going too well lately for it not to be horrible.

*

The closer and closer she got to the dingy alleyway where Number 9 was located, the faster and faster Beth’s pulse raced; it felt as though she had been running for miles, instead of only walking a few blocks. Something about the night itself felt different than any other night she had been here before, on this stretch of pavement. It was a bit odd to be making the journey without one of the boys along beside her, but she’d done this alone only a few days ago. This was nothing like that, either.

The letter made a slight rustling sound in her pocket as she walked, and she reached down to press her palm flat against her robes, stifling it; it would be infinitely more preferable at the moment if she forgot that it was there. What was going on, and why had Dumbledore said nothing in his letter? Why was she being called back so soon? Had Severus gotten an identical letter, or was she the only one?

Beth forced her feet to a stop beneath a small, wavering pool of lamplight, bracing her forehead against the metal of the pole and sucking in deep breaths. You have to calm down, she told herself, and this time her voice of reason didn’t have its normal undercurrents of condescension; that was one of the scariest things. It was desperate, nearly pleading. You cannot walk into this acting as agitated as you are right now. You have to be strong.

She summoned up a mental picture of Sirius – Sirius, who hardly ever cracked, who looked forward to taking stupid risks in the name of doing the right thing. It was him she held in mind as she looked up and down the street, rather thankful no one had seen her, and started off again.

The alley was deserted as well, save for a townhouse across the street, where an old Muggle was taking out his bulging rubbish bins and cursing at nothing simultaneously. Beth ducked into the shadows that the mouth of the alley cast quickly, before he could see her, and slid down the wall towards the narrow metal door set there.

She laid her hand against the door. It opened obligingly, wailing as always, and she ducked inside quickly before shutting it behind her.

The room inside was dimly lit again, as it had been a few days’ previously; the lamps on the walls had not been lit in favor of the candles that littered the end tables scattered around the room, as well as a long bureau along one wall. Normally they worked in conjunction with the lamps to try and make the room as bright as possible, of course; tonight, the choice seemed ominous. Beth repressed a shiver as she stepped inside. Nobody appeared to be inside the room, and for a wild moment, she wondered if she had been tricked into coming down here – whether this was an elaborate sort of Death Eater trap.

“Hello?” she called into the emptiness, hoping both that someone would respond, and nobody would. There was a noise from the kitchen, and Beth jumped, backing against the door and slapping her hands flat against it, her wand forgotten in the pocket at her side.

To her immense relief, Albus Dumbledore emerged from around the corner at that moment, and she couldn’t stop a sigh of relief from escaping her. “Have I frightened you?” he asked mildly, by way of greeting, and even in such nerve-wracking circumstances, Beth could hardly deny just how bizarre Dumbledore tended to act at times.

“No,” she said, the breathlessness of her voice rendering her words false even as she spoke them. “I, erm – did you send me a letter?”

“I did.” Dumbledore stepped a bit closer to her, the tiny flames of the candles glinting oddly off his half-moon spectacles. “Though I must beg that I wait to divulge the reason for a few more moments; Severus will be joining us again this evening.”

“Oh.” It felt as though a chunk of ice had just plummeted inside Beth’s stomach; she raised one hand to rub at her nose. “No, I – yes.”

“Would you like a chair?” he asked politely, gesturing to the stack of folding chairs still ranged along the wall to her right. But she shook her head no. She didn’t quite trust herself to speak again; her throat felt as if it had suddenly swollen from anxiety to three times its normal size. She could hear the ticking of the clock’s second hand again, still unseen, and squelched a mad urge to find it and rip it down from the wall.

Dumbledore had conjured up another chintz armchair for himself – identical to the ones he had produced at their previous meeting – and had seated himself in it, bracing his elbows on the arms of the chair and steepling his long fingers before him. Beth paced around the perimeter of the room, walking circles around the former headmaster and trying not to make it look as though she was glancing at the door every few seconds.

Finally, however, the sound of distant footsteps from the alley outside the flat reached her ears; Beth turned instinctively towards the noise, her fingers twisting themselves in the hems of the sleeves of her robes. Dumbledore rose quietly from his armchair and moved towards the door, drawing out his wand as he did so.

“Can’t he get in?” Beth blurted out, before she could stop herself – surely that shouldn’t have been the most pressing question on her mind at the moment.

“There are certain doors I have locked against those I have not deemed trustworthy to enter,” Dumbledore said simply, and he left it at that. Beth wanted to scream at him to be quiet, that Severus was trustworthy, but the latch clicked at that precise moment, and the door swung inward.

As Severus stepped into the small living room, his eyes immediately moved to land on Beth, standing directly across from the door. Even she didn’t miss the small breath he drew in, and then, just as quickly, he turned to look at the floor.

“I’m late, then,” he said, though there was no apology in his voice.

“Miss Bridger and I are simply early,” Dumbledore interjected, locking the door behind Severus. Beth furrowed her brow as Severus looked back up at the older man and nodded curtly, though he still didn’t spare a glance in her direction again.

“Could I talk to her alone?” he murmured under his breath, though she heard every word. The request poured more icy-hot fear into her, and she felt her knees beginning to quiver already. You have to be strong.

“But of course. As it so happens, there is a bit of cocoa in the kitchen, and I fancy a cup.” Severus looked at him somewhat incredulously as, with a small but somehow meaningful look in the former’s direction, he disappeared back into the room he’d emerged from when Beth had entered, and closed the door behind him.

And at last – at long last – Severus met Beth’s eyes again. There was a long, thick silence between the pair of them, and then he reached into his pocket, withdrawing his wand and pointing it at the wall that separated kitchen from living room. “Muffliato.”

Beth frowned. “What was that for?”

“I’d prefer it if he didn’t eavesdrop.”

“But he knows what you’re about to –“

“Look,” he interrupted quickly, talking over her protests. “I don’t have a lot of time to say this to you, Beth. I owe you an explanation.” He took a step toward her, holding out a hand, almost as though he were asking for her to forgive him… Instinctively she took a step back from him, and a measure of hurt crossed his face.

“I’m the reason you’re here,” he blurted out. “Beth, I just –“ He ran his fingers through his hair on impulse; he looked so torn that, instantly forgetting she’d just stepped away from him, Beth crossed to him and placed a hand on his.

“You can tell me,” she said, her voice halfway to a whisper. Severus slowly lowered his hands and looked at her, swallowing hard against unvoiced emotion. She was distinctly aware of how close they were standing; barely six inches separated them.

“I wrote to Dumbledore after our last meeting a couple of weeks ago.” Severus’s voice was low, urgent. “I – I wanted you to be safe, Beth. And I know you said that we’ll be fine, but you don’t understand. I don’t want anything to happen to you, ever. I couldn’t bear it if you got hurt.”

“What did you tell him?”

“The truth. I told him about the prophecy, and how… how in danger James and Lily are.” She could tell her face blanched at this; a somewhat horrified look came into Snape’s eyes. “I’m helping,” he amended quickly. “Beth, James is like a brother to you. Do you think I don’t see that?”

She closed her eyes against his words, wanting to laugh and cry at the same time, sensing for perhaps the first time in her life just how much someone standing next to her cared about her. It was a dizzying feeling – it wasn’t parental affection, it wasn’t friendship. Was there a name for this?

And then what he had said sunk in a bit further. “What do you mean, you’re helping?” Beth asked quickly, unable to keep a note or two of hope from rising in her voice, though the way he was talking made her think that perhaps it was false hope.

“I’m going to be working for the Order. As an… an emissary.”

“You’re a spy.” Surely he doesn’t think big words are a way around the truth? “And what about the danger that’s going to put you in? Am I supposed to pretend like that doesn’t exist?”

Severus sighed impatiently. “It doesn’t matter about the danger to me.”

There was a brief silence, and then she ventured to speak again. “So we’re working together? But then that means everything is okay, isn’t it?” In an act that bespoke of bravery she was far from feeling, she took a step even closer; her forehead was just inches from brushing his, bent low as he was.

“No. We won’t be working together.”

She took a step back quickly, her hand still outstretched on his arm. There was pain in his eyes now, real pain, nearly tangible, and she could feel tears prick her eyes even before she knew why she was crying. “What do you mean?” she said quickly. “Where am I going?”

“You’re not going anywhere, Beth. Listen to me – Merlin, please listen.” He took his hand off his arm and entwined his fingers in his, doing the same with their other hands, gripping so tightly it hurt, though she wouldn’t have dared to ever ask him to let go.

“There’s a second part to the deal I made with Dumbledore. And I – I don’t know how to tell you.”

“Just say it!” she cried. She could feel panic and paranoia and a thousand other cruel feelings fighting for control in her chest, shredding her from the inside out. Severus winced, as though she had physically struck him, and drew in yet another deep breath.

“Beth, after tonight… I’m not going to remember you. Dumbledore’s taking my memories of you to keep me safe.” He clenched her hands even more tightly, a think she wouldn’t have thought possible.

There was a dull roaring sound in her ears now, a sort of rushing. Beth blinked slowly up at him. “What?” she said slowly. “I – oh my God…”

“Beth, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I wanted to keep you safe.” Severus’s voice broke in the middle of the last sentence; his face crumpled for a moment, so quickly that Beth was almost surprised she didn’t miss it. “I don’t – Merlin… Beth…”

“You’re going to forget me.” Beth almost couldn’t listen to herself; her voice was flat, toneless, still fighting for precedence over the buzzing, ringing noise in her ears. With difficulty, she extricated one of his hands from “What happens after?”

“I – it could be that someday, we can – that there might be a way to –” He couldn’t finish his sentence. It was more than evident that Severus didn’t believe what he was saying; that, as far as he knew, there wouldn’t be any way to reverse the memories of Beth being taken from him.

“Listen to me.” His voice slightly cut through the fog in her brain, slicing away at it minimally. He took back the hand she’d wriggled away from his. “I don’t regret it. Do you understand me? I don’t regret a single moment of it, finding you under the bridge or writing you all those letters, meeting up with you around London. I wouldn’t trade one second of it, do you hear me?”

“But you’re going to forget it all.” Beth’s voice was breaking, too, and more than that; the air on her face was cool, and she realized that there were tears dotting her cheeks. She made no effort to wipe them away.

“Beth.” He closed his eyes and drew her marginally closer to him, their lips inches away from touching. “I would never, ever want to forget you. Not if it wasn’t the only way I could see to keep you safe. They’ll try and get to me through you if they even suspect for a second you have something to do with me. I couldn’t live with myself if that happened.”

“I don’t want to lose you, Sev. Oh, God –“ She buried her face in his shoulder; he wrapped his arms around her instantly, clutching her, a lifeline in a storm. “I can’t lose you – I don’t want to be the person I am when you’re not here –“

“You’ll be fine. I promise.” Severus drew back and made a shaky attempt at a smile, one that neither of them believed. “And someday you’ll forget all about me –“

“I don’t want to forget about you!” The tears were coming faster now, rough sobs rising from a hidden place within her to render her throat raw. Beth brushed away at them angrily with her sleeve. “There are other ways, Sev – you don’t have to do this for me –“

“Beth, it’s done.” He reached out cautiously with his hands, as though still afraid, after all these months, that she would reject him. Placing one on either side of her face, he carefully wiped away the tears with broad strokes of his thumbs. “I need you to believe me, all right? I wouldn’t trade any of it, do you understand me?”

She nodded, his hands still cradling her face. “I believe you.”

And he leaned forward, and touched his lips to hers – gently, hesitantly at first, and then with more intensity, as though he only realized then it would be his last chance to do so.

Beth flung her arms around his neck, not caring that she was crying still, not conscious of anything other than this. Our first kiss, said a small voice in her head, and then, because it appeared she couldn’t let herself have even that moment, it spoke again: And our last.

Severus drew back at last, his own eyes bright with tears, though he hadn’t shed them. “Please remember me,” he whispered, his voice breaking a second time.

There was, rather suddenly, a noise to their right; Dumbledore stepped out over the kitchen threshold, his old, lined face rather grave and serious. Severus turned back to Beth quickly, a man racing time.

“Do one last thing for me,” he said quickly. “Just do this, Beth, promise me – go home, right away. Stay safe, all right? I need you to stay safe.” He stepped away from her, hands trembling.

“No, Sev – wait, please –“

“Beth, please!” A third break in the voice, and then she was running – the world was blurry, she didn’t know if she was crying again or if she’d gone somehow partially blind – and she was through the door, and running through the alley, and down the pavement, and the world was lurching violently under her feet –

He was gone. Severus was gone, it was all gone. Beth felt as though she was going to be sick, or faint, or both – and suddenly, there was her building, looming up before her. She raced up the stairs and hammered on the door, her brain not reminding her that she, in fact, had a key to the very door her fist was pounding on.

“SIRIUS!” she screamed. “Sirius, open the damn door!” She made to kick it just as it swung back, and Sirius stood in the doorway, looking thoroughly confused, and more than a little apprehensive.

“Merlin, Bethy, it’s – what’re you doing? What’s wrong?” He reached forward and grabbed her shoulders, and that was the last thing she needed; she lurched forward, off balance, and sank to the cold linoleum of the entranceway.

Severus…” She couldn’t say anything else; there wasn’t any way to tell Sirius about what Severus had done, or what he was doing. Her knees were folded painfully beneath her, her chest rising and falling, and still getting no air. He knelt beside her, but she didn’t want to look at him; she felt his arm drape somewhat awkwardly over her shaking shoulders, attempting and failing to comfort her.

“Beth? Beth, you’re scaring me… tell me what’s wrong…” But all she could make sense of was Severus’s voice, already fading in her memory, already starting to grow less familiar.

“Please remember me.”

How could she ever forget?

A/N: SO MUCH GOING ON IN THIS CHAPTER, OH MY GOODNESS. For the first time ever in this story, Beth and Severus kissed! And I know that I'm probably the cruelest person ever for having it happen right before Severus had his memories of Beth wiped. I am fully aware of this. Any rotten produce thrown my way is completely deserved.

There is a lot of credit due to Sarah here, who (very, very long ago) implanted the idea of Severus forgetting Beth in my head in the first place. But then, her name's cropped up so often it probably looks as though she wrote half the story herself. I owe her a lot! But I'm curious -- anyone else predict it would come to this? What were/are your thoughts? 

I am emotionally drained. Whew. But I'm so, so excited to have posted this chapter at last! I've been waiting for... gosh, four months? Excruciating, let me tell you. But please, please let me know how you liked it! Thank you so much for all the reads and reviews!


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