The next Order meeting wasn’t for a few weeks after Harry was born, and so Lily had brought him along with her, much to the delight of those in attendance. He very much stole the show, blinking up at his onlookers with his bright green eyes, though Beth could see he already looked nearly identical to his father in every other respect.
She couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride now, at the meeting’s conclusion, watching him being passed around a small circle of people clamoring to hold both Harry and Alice and Frank’s new son, Neville, who had, to Lily’s relief, been born a day earlier. James still couldn’t help teasing his wife at how close she had come to, in her own words, “mimicking” her. Beth was sitting against the wall with Mary then, arms clasping her knees, watching the two small bundles of blankets being passed around the crowd.
“It’s a bit weird, isn’t it?” Mary asked her then, tipping her head slightly to the side as she watched. “Seeing all that, I mean, and knowing that it could be us. I don’t feel that old, do you?”
Beth shook her head mutely, tapping her fingers on her robes. Her eyes were trained on Hestia Jones, who’d just taken Harry from Emmeline Vance; the latter looked thoroughly disgruntled. Beth grinned a bit upon spotting Sirius, weaving in and out amongst the chattering Order members to keep an eye on his godson. He was nearly more protective of Harry than James and Lily were, she thought idly, watching him stand as close to Hestia as he could manage, on the pretense of idle chatter.
He glanced over at her then and saw her looking at him; a slow smirk twisted his mouth, and he started moving towards her place on the wall. Mary gave a little gasp when she saw he was moving towards the pair of them, her round cheeks instantly turning bright pink, and mumbled something about needing a glass of water before hopping up and quickly scurrying away in the direction of the flat’s kitchen.
“I think you scared her off,” Beth observed, grinning as Sirius sank down next to her, hugging his knees to his chest just as she was doing. “You know, I think she’s still got her schoolgirl crush on you. Poor thing.”
“It’s my wonderfully charming my good looks,” he said instantly, brushing a hand through his hair with such measured movements it couldn’t have been more fake if he had tried. Beth rolled her eyes and pushed him away from her slightly, and he laughed. “Think I should set her straight? I mean, that’s sort of a long time to be hung up on somebody –“
He stopped talking at once; she didn’t miss the quick sidelong look he shot her, nor the equal speed with which he looked anywhere but her. The slightly nauseous feeling, so common of recent weeks, had crept back into her stomach at this words; she knotted her hands together, but said nothing, instead toying with the thin silver chain on her wrist. She hadn’t had the courage yet to remove it.
Sirius glanced down and saw what she was doing, and his expression soured slightly. “You’re still wearing that?” he said, lowering his voice, although no one was around to overhear them anyway. “That’s not doing you any good, Bethy –“
“It’s fine,” she cut in, a bit more sharply than she meant to. Sirius cleared his throat and pretended to be vastly interested in the shoelaces of his trainers for a moment before, glancing to the side, he perked up slightly.
“James!” he yelled over, cupping his hands around his mouth. Beth looked around him, trying to gauge where he was looking, and grinned in spite of herself. In a far, relatively quiet corner of the room sat James, his head lolling to the side slightly, eyes shut fast behind his glasses. He started awake at Sirius’s shout, blinking blearily before his eyes seemed to focus on his friends.
“When you have kids, Sirius,” James yawned largely, scooting over towards them in an ungainly way, “I will personally be there to shout you awake from your much-needed naps.”
“Tired, then?” Beth said, patting the place beside her; James shuffled around and seated himself on her other side, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“You’ve no idea.” He yawned again, and, on her other side, Sirius caught it. “Blimey, and I used to think it was bad staying up to finish all those essays back at Hogwarts. Harry got up seven times last night, and I was too nice to let Lily get up more than once for him.”
“You poor thing,” said Sirius, voice dripping with sarcasm, and James reached around Beth to smack him. She laughed. “Should I go and pry him from Hestia, then? She might run off with him, if you’re not careful.”
James rolled his eyes. “Only if you’re not too rude about it,” he said, hopping to his feet and reaching down to help Beth up. “Lily and I will probably head home soon, I reckon. Are you sure you’re not going to run off with him, mate?”
“I’ll make sure he doesn’t,” Beth teased, grinning up at Sirius, who had adopted a mock-wounded expression at the ribbing of his friends on his behalf. Excusing herself and sidestepping one of the Prewett brothers, Beth moved toward Hestia, who was now engrossed in a conversation with tiny Professor Flitwick.
Just at that moment, however, the door leading into Number 9 opened. Beth wouldn’t have thought anything of this – until she saw who was standing in the doorway. Her heart plummeted into the vicinity of her shoes; from behind her, she felt Sirius’s hand instantly go to her shoulder, gripping hard.
“Severus.” Albus Dumbledore’s voice spoke from behind the pair of them; Severus, who had stopped just inside the threshold of the flat, turned toward the voice of the Hogwarts headmaster. “You’re rather earlier than expected.”
“It went quicker than I had anticipated.” Even his voice sent small, terrifying shivers down Beth’s spine, and, from somewhere deep in her throat, she let out a small noise, something between a squeak and a whimper. And, to her utter horror, Severus turned in her direction.
She wasn’t sure what she was expecting. A small part of her hoped that, once he had seen her, anything Dumbledore had done to remove his memories might have been reversed. Talking about it was one thing, but didn’t she mean enough to him for her to recognize her in some way, however small?
But Dumbledore was a great wizard, and his memory charms looked to be proof of that. There was no recognition in his dark eyes, no indication that he had ever seen her before. Her own memories belied it – the letters, the conversations, the bracelet on her wrist. But Severus had absolutely no idea who she was anymore.
“Snape.” Sirius forced the words out from between his teeth, laced with evident and malignant dislike. Severus looked away from Beth and up at him, and his lip curled in disgust, an expression so long forgotten by Beth that it sent new waves of nausea rolling over her.
“I might request a private word with you, Dumbledore,” said Snape coolly. “Our conversation is for – ah – worthy ears only, I’m afraid.” Dumbledore nodded mutely, his lips folded into a thin line. Without another word, the two men moved off towards the small room set at the back of the flat, once intended to be a bedroom. The rest of the Order, who had grown somewhat quiet upon Severus’s entrance, resumed chattering as soon as they were out of earshot.
Beth remained staring at the place where Severus had entered, her knees weak. She very much thought that the grip Sirius was maintaining on her shoulder was the only thing still keeping her upright. He was saying something, but his voice was faraway, distant, as though it were coming from somewhere underwater.
Severus really didn’t remember her.
Slowly, even as Sirius still talked, Beth slumped onto the carpet, her legs collapsing under her at slightly odd angles, and put her face in her hands.
“And she saw him tonight, Albus?”
Albus Dumbledore turned and began pacing the other way, hands clasped tightly behind his back; he had been walking the space behind his desk at his office in Hogwarts for the better part of half an hour. “I didn’t think Severus would be back so soon,” he admitted frankly, turning to look briefly at Minerva McGonagall before resuming pacing. She looked quite as quietly stunned as he felt. “But Miss Bridger gave nothing away to him.”
“Of course she didn’t.” Despite herself, the Transfiguration professor sounded slightly offended that he would suggest otherwise from one of her former students. “Beth Bridger was always a very intelligent girl.” The older woman’s voice dropped a few octaves, however, as she added, “Will she be all right?”
“Severus was adamant that he do this to keep her safe,” Dumbledore answered, though carefully avoiding the real question. How could he say if she would be all right? Beth Bridger was intelligent, as Minerva had said, but intelligence could lead quickly to folly, if one was not careful…
“I don’t like it,” the Transfiguration professor sighed at last, toying with her wand, a look of consternation evident on her face.
“Nor do I,” admitted the older man frankly, removing his spectacles from the end of his long, crooked nose and polishing them deliberately on the cuff of his robes. “But it is much too late to change circumstances now.”
But as he spoke, his gaze wandered over the tall, sturdy shelves behind his desk. Books lined the walls, small nooks in between the stacks cleared to make way for trinkets and gadgets. The Sorting Hat snoozed gently in a small corner near the ceiling; it would be performing its new song for a new group of students before too long.
On the far left shelf, however, and almost at the very bottom of the stack, was a small range of crystal phials, set on a small stand. Most of the phials were empty, but the far right one glowed anew with a silver substance, still swirling slightly in its container. Dumbledore might have removed them, but he could never have brought himself to destroy them completely.
Severus Snape’s memories of Beth Bridger.
Just in case.
A/N: It's very interesting how moments like this one -- posting the very last chapter of a story -- seem to magnanimous in the leading up to them, and so ordinary once they're actually here. Ever since I finished writing In The Red this past September, I've been anticipating posting this last chapter. But now that I'm actually doing it, that I see the words I just pasted and edited and know that I'm going to hop right over and mark this story as complete... it doesn't feel like it at all.
But there's the end of the story! What did you all think? I know it ends on a very unresolved note, and I sincerely hope that if you've made it this far, you'll return for Breaking Even once that starts posting. The first chapter of that will go up on February 17, 2013 (which happens to be both Beth's birthday and mine!), and I haven't yet decided if I'll continue to post every Sunday, or change to every other Sunday due to the slight pressures of this semester. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it!
And, as always, there are an enormous amount of people to thank for helping make this story possible. Always first is Sarah/Toujours Padfoot, because I have been extremely and incredibly blessed with both an extremely loyal reviewer and someone who genuinely loves this story. Ardeith has also been so supportive in her reviews, and I'm incredibly grateful to have her opinions, too! Of course thanks to Susan/violet ephemera, who made the gorgeous banner that I've gotten to stare at for almost a year now. I know I'll forget a few names, but I've had so, so many other reviewers that have made this story what it is: tragicYETmagic, Jchrissy, firefly910, MrsJaydeMalfoy, CassiePotter, and ValWitch21 have my thanks forever. And to anyone who has ever reviewed In The Red, or favorited it, or even read one chapter -- thank you. ♥ You guys got this story to Dobby and Golden Snitch finals; you all are the reason I'm still here.
Thank you so much for everything, and I very much hope you've enjoyed this second installment in the Beth Bridger trilogy! Don't forget to check back on February 17 for Breaking Even!