In the earliest hours of a Thursday morning, the maternity ward of St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries wasn’t a terribly busy place to be. The rest of the hospital was, as usual, jumping with all sorts of activity, the resulting mayhem and madness from spells gone wrong, or vengeful neighbors, or lovers’ spats. Amid all this, nobody seemed to have much time for having babies. In fact – Beth looked up from counting the linoleum squares for the fifth time that evening – ever since that nice, brain-addled old man from the Permanent Spell Damage ward had wandered off somewhere, she and Sirius had been left quite to their own devices.
There was, of course, one rather crucial exception, which had brought her here in the first place.
She had been ready to crawl into bed that night when loud knocking on her door had nearly sent her into cardiac arrest, and she hadn’t been able to prevent a small flame of hope from flaring in her chest, even as she knew that what she was hoping for wasn’t possible. The past few weeks, Beth had spent a lot of time reading too much into otherwise-innocent noises and actions, staying inside much of the time, obsessively checking her windows for letters, constantly thinking she heard someone at her door. Somehow, her brain was refusing to allow the possibility that Severus really was gone, that he really didn’t remember her anymore.
It might have been a hoax, she found herself thinking rather often, lying awake in bed and staring unseeingly at the ceiling while the moon completed its overheard arch, slowly rising out of sight of her bedroom window to make way for the sun some time later. It could have been a lie, couldn’t it? Severus might have told her his memories of her were being taken, just to keep her away from him. And somewhere, he was lying awake too, thinking about coming to see her…
But it wasn’t a hoax. The rational part of her brain, however diminished, knew that much to be true. If Severus had been lying to her, she wouldn’t have received that letter from Dumbledore the next morning – the last in a long string of communications with him – commanding her not to seek Severus out, not to try and find him, and not to attempt to tell him about what had been taken from his mind. He’d gone on to try and explain the procedure to her, but Beth hadn’t been able to read the rest. She’d balled up the parchment and thrown it onto the floor of her wardrobe, in fact; the letter was probably still there.
Tonight, however, there really had been someone at her door, though of course it hadn’t been Severus. She hadn’t known whether to be angry or relieved when she swung the door wide to see Sirius standing there, excitement radiating off of him in tangible waves, a doglike expression of pure and unadulterated joy on his face.
“What’re you doing here?” she’d hissed at him, looking up and down the hallway to make sure that none of her neighbors had poked their heads out of their own doors to give her rude looks. “Blimey, Sirius, it’s got to be at least midnight –“
“James sent me over.” Sirius had hopped from foot to foot impatiently, waving his wand about as though he’d forgotten he was carrying it; bright green sparks had spurted from the tip of it, nearly setting the wallpaper alight. “Lily’s having the baby! Come on, grab your things – we’ve got to get to the hospital!”
In retrospect, Beth couldn’t remember the last time she had moved so fast. She’d yanked on a cloak over her pajamas and twisted her tangled hair into a hurried plait, only just remembering to grab her own wand from the table by her bed before following Sirius outside. He’d grabbed her hand and Apparated her straight outside the dusty shop windows that concealed the London entrance to St. Mungo’s, and they’d rushed inside, shooed away by a beaming reception witch, who Beth was sure she saw giving Sirius a broad, flirtatious wink as they’d rushed past.
The pair of them had now been sitting in the extraordinarily uncomfortable waiting room for close to three hours. The sky outside the windows of the hospital was still dark, though it had lost some of its velvety midnight quality, slowly inching toward sunrise. There had been no reason to rush, now that Beth thought about it. By the time they’d reached the waiting room in the first place, a Healer in lime-green robes had informed them that James was with Lily, and he, the Healer, would let them know if anything developed further. Besides the spell-damaged wizard – and Sirius, of course, who was now flipping through a sorely outdated copy of Which Broomstick? he’d found lying underneath a chair – the Healer had been the only person Beth had seen all night. She had been rather grateful for the rush, though. Sirius might have been a bit lacking in some qualities, but he knew how to take her mind off of what was troubling her, and Beth was grateful for that.
“When do you think they’ll be out, do you reckon?” Sirius spoke up now, closing the magazine with a snap and chucking it onto the chair next to him; it missed, skidding across and zooming across the floor. He didn’t make any moves to pick it up.
“I don’t know. I’ve never had any kids, have I?” She shifted restlessly in the chair. “Or any siblings. You’re the one with a brother. You should know how these things go.”
Sirius’s mouth twisted slightly, and Beth felt like kicking herself for mentioning Regulus, but he seemed to take it in stride. “You’re the female in this room,” he instead pointed out helpfully. She shot him a withering look, and he grinned. “Well, you are,” he added.
“Thanks for noticing, Padfoot.” Beth wiggled on her chair, trying to get comfortable; whoever’s idea it had been to install such horribly uncomfortable wooden chairs in the waiting room should have been hexed, or worse. The initial adrenaline of the rush over the hospital was beginning to wear off; something invisible was squeezing her chest and making it hard to breathe, and she could not think about that here, not tonight…
There was a creaking sort of sound as Sirius scooted to the side, to the chair next to her. She felt him nudge her with his elbow, but didn’t look at him. “Are you all right, Bethy?” he asked; all traces of joking were gone from his voice now, too.
“Nope,” she responded, trying to sound flippant and not managing to pull it off in the slightest. She hated how weak that made her sound, and cleared her throat, rubbing at her nose and hoping that Sirius wouldn’t press her.
How was she even supposed to begin to tell him what this felt like? He knew, of course – all her friends knew about what had happened. This wasn’t something Beth felt she could have hidden at any rate, because it was too damn obvious just how much it hurt. But how were you supposed to describe something like this? How were you ever supposed to be okay?
Sirius sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Look,” he started, as gently as possible, although she could detect the trace amount of annoyance laced through his tone, all the same. “I know what you’re feeling. I know it’s got to suck – but you have to understand that he was doing it to protect you. Severus may not be much of a –“
“Don’t say it,” she snapped. He swallowed visibly.
“Okay. But Beth, I – look, we didn’t get along. But he cared so much about you. He really, really did. It’s because he cared about you so much that he made the decision to forget about you. He’s keeping you safe, Bethy. And this isn’t the sort of thing I’d lie about to make you feel better, like I would with something else.”
But Beth didn’t want to hear all that, didn’t want to hear his rather sorry attempts at making jokes. Hadn’t Severus said the same thing that night? She knew he was keeping her safe this way, but that didn’t mean she had to agree with it. She folded over and pressed her palms to her eyes, determined not to cry. “I didn’t even say good-bye,” she whispered through her fingers. Sirius bent down closer to hear. “I just – I just – “ She hiccupped. “I just ran. Oh, God –“
“You didn’t do anything wrong.” Sirius’s tone was so sharp that Beth couldn’t help herself; she looked up at him, brushing away some of the tears she’d sworn she wouldn’t let out. “Beth, you’re going to destroy yourself over this. And I don’t want to see that happen.”
“You don’t understand!” she cried, brushing yet more of the hot, frustrated tears off her cheeks. “All your life you’ve been so – so independent. I’m not like you, Sirius. I can’t just bounce back, okay?”
There was a small, pointed silence, and finally she felt Sirius drape his arm over her hunched shoulders again. “I know it hurts, Bethy,” he said in a low voice. “I really, really mean that. But you’re going to be okay. And,” he added, “you’ve still got me.”
It’s not the same at all, she thought hotly, but the words wouldn’t come out. “And we’ve got our Animagi forms on our side now, out there in the field,” Sirius was saying. “We’re unstoppable, Bethy, you and me. There’s not a thing in the world we can’t do.” He gave her a little shake. “Eh?”
Beth gave him a watery sort of smile – he was trying, after all – and opened her mouth to respond, but before she could get any words out, someone appeared at the door leading back into the maternity rooms – not the Healer from before, but a very tired- and happy-looking James. Beth and Sirius stood up from their respective chairs in one swift motion.
“What’s going on? Is it -?” It was amazing how rapidly Sirius’s emotions could change, a thought that she had experienced before; where only a moment ago he’d been quietly serious, he was now fairly dancing with excitement and anticipation. Beth quickly scrubbed the last evidence of crying off her face with her sleeve and tried to recompose her features.
James grinned at the pair of them, shoving his glasses up his nose a bit. “Sure you want to know?” he grinned. “I could wait a few minutes longer –“
“Aargh!” Sirius grabbed James’s shoulders and shook him a bit. James burst out laughing.
“All right, all right! It’s a boy!” he crowed, shrugging Sirius’s hands off his shoulders and reaching out to slap his best friend on the back good-naturedly. Sirius let out a loud whoop and threw his hands up, nearly smacking James in the face as he did so.
“James!” Beth threw her arms around his neck, almost relieved to feel a smile slip across her face; and she was, once again, genuinely happy, however briefly. “Oh, congratulations! You’ve called him Harry, then?”
“Yeah, Harry James –“ James started to say, but was interrupted again with another raucous shout from Sirius.
“I told you it was going to be a boy, didn’t I?!” he crowed, doing a sort of victory dance on the middle of the tea-splotched linoleum. “Aha! I’m right, I’m so right! Aargh, I’ve got a godson!” He reached out and yanked Beth toward him, jerking her around in a variation of his victory dance. She felt as though her arms were going to be pulled out of their sockets. It was a bit painful and stupid-looking, really, but she appreciated it nonetheless; she knew, without his having to explicitly say so, that it was an attempt to make her forget about Severus as much as it was an expression of overt happiness at getting to be Harry’s godfather.
“Can we see him?” Sirius was bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet, craning his head over the top of James’s, as though he’d be able to see the baby through the swinging doors down the corridor.
James laughed. “You can come back now, if you like. Lily’s doing great.” Sirius didn’t need to be told twice – he was half-running down the hall, robes flapping around his ankles. Beth looked after him in amusement.
“I rather think he’s more excited than you are,” she teased, looking up at James, who rolled his eyes good-naturedly.
“Not even possible, Talons.” He was right, too; he didn’t seem able to wipe away the goofy grin his face was still plastered into. Even his cheeks were tinged pink with excitement, as though he’d run a race and won.
And then he leaned forward and nudged Beth in the arm with her elbow, just as Sirius had done earlier – almost in the exact same place. “You okay?” he asked, lowering his voice slightly as the green-robed Healer passed by them, heading for Lily’s room.
“Nope,” she said once more, though again she tried to use as light a tone as possible, as though to make it seem like a joke. It was poorly-executed; James shot her a concerned look over the tops of his round glasses. “Come on,” she said instead, reaching for the sleeve of James’s robes and yanked him forward a few steps. “I want to meet Harry.”
Sirius was standing at the foot of the bed when Beth and James entered the room a few moments later, gripping the polished metal footboard in his excitement. Lily was lying against propped pillows on the long, narrow hospital bed, the smile on her face every bit as wide as James’s, even if her eyes held considerably more shadows beneath them.
“Hi, Lily,” Beth said, as brightly as possible; out of the three other people in this room, Lily was, perhaps, the one she felt she needed to put on a show for the most. When she’d found out what Severus had done, she’d been ready to confront him herself, talking about how she if anyone could talk sense into him. James had reminded her that Severus wouldn’t technically understand what she was talking about, and that had been when Beth had left. It still made her feel slightly uncomfortable, whatever had happened with Severus and Lily in the past, and she knew James felt mostly the same way. She hadn’t wanted to stick around and see what other sorts of territories that conversation strayed into.
But all that looked far from Lily’s mind today, and rightfully so. “Hi!” she said cheerfully, sitting up a bit higher in the bed. The motion was made with slight difficulty for the small bundle of white blankets in her arms. “Did you want to meet Harry, then?”
With a very gentle motion – already rather befitting a mother, Beth though – Lily pushed away a small fold in the blanket, and Beth and Sirius instantly leaned forward for a closer look. Harry was tiny, and very pink; his eyes were closed tightly against the light from the lamp overhead, one of his small fists curled up by his cheek. And, perhaps most strikingly of all, he had been born with a thick shock of black hair.
“Oh, poor bloke,” said Sirius, turning to grin at James. “He got your name and your hair.”
“That’s a rather nasty thing for his godfather to say, don’t you think?” Lily laughed, looking down and lightly touching Harry’s hair. Sirius had spoken the truth, however; wherever she pressed it, it instantly sprang back into place, looking as though it hadn’t been disturbed at all. Beth couldn’t help but grin.
“Good thing he’s got his godmother around to defend him, eh?” James spoke up; he’d moved around to Lily’s other side now, and mirrored wife’s movements, reaching forward to brush the tips of his fingers over Harry’s tiny balled-up fist. It took a few moments for his words to fully sink in; when they did at last, Beth looked up at him, feeling her mouth drop open.
“I – what?” she said, rather stupidly. Sirius let out a loud bark of laughter and slugged her on the arm so hard that she gasped aloud, shooting him a half-serious glare.
“We thought you deserved it, Beth,” James grinned. Lily nodded fervently. She felt her cheeks warm, and ducked her head to look back at Harry. He made a small noise and shifted slightly in his mother’s arms, and twin smiles lit up James and Lily’s faces.
“I’d love to be a godmother,” she said honestly. At that, Sirius punched her in the arm again, though with less force, evidently too happy to say anything else. She turned around and smiled at him, and for the first time in the several weeks since Severus had had his memories of her wiped, the gesture felt totally and completely genuine.
I have a godson, Beth thought in mild bewilderment, and very nearly laughed aloud at the thought, which nearly made her laugh again, just for wanting to in the first place. Maybe this is a sign that everything would eventually be all right again.
A/N: Wee Harry makes a dramatic entrance! Which is befitting, I suppose. It's been very strange this whole time, writing about Lily being pregnant, and then writing the actual baby Harry into existence, and then thinking about how this boy is going to grow up to be the Chosen One. Sort of weird, that. But for now he's still tiny and pink-faced and scar-free!
Next week's the final installment of In The Red! It seriously just feels like I started writing these books... and I'm nearly halfway done with the third now. What is that. I'm very much looking forward to seeing everyone read it, and I would love it if you let me know what you think of the denouement thus far! Thank you all so much -- I seriously have the best readers!