Chapter 9 : The Confession
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She was, therefore, taking the back staircases this time, exploring the various departments and steering as far away from level two as was humanly possible. She still had two more levels to go, and had stopped in a small niche on level four, looking out of the windows; Magical Maintenance had decided on cloudy skies today, probably because somebody had, in a temper fit, emptied the water from the Fountain of Magical Brethren out onto the wooden floors the day before.
Beth’s thoughts were quite a ways away from the false skies outside the glass, however; she was still thinking back over her conversation with James and Sirius in the Potters’ kitchen, when she had told them about Timothy. She didn’t know what had made her confess to them she had a date anyway, because nothing had been set in stone – and truth be told, she already regretted her words. She didn’t want to forget Severus, but wasn’t that the very thing she was doing?
Sirius had said that he was proud of her; she wanted to be proud of herself too. But this felt absurdly like cheating. Which was stupid; you couldn’t cheat on someone who didn’t know you from instant coffee. But the prospect of restoring Sev’s memories dangled over Beth’s head, just out of reach, and it was this that the guilty feeling was attracted to, she knew.
She let out a huff of frustration, leaning her head against the glass of the window in the vain hopes that it would cool her raging headache. It was at this moment that somebody turned the corner, and even before turning around, Beth had an instinctive feeling she knew who it was. The cheerful voice in her ear confirmed her suspicions.
“Taking a bit of a nap on the job, are we?”
She smiled, despite herself. “Hi, Timothy,” she said, turning and leaning her shoulder on the window to face him better. Timothy crossed his arms over his chest, grinning down at her and shifting his weight from one foot to the next.
“So,” he said, drawing out the word for a second or two longer than seemed necessary. “You up for our lunch date this afternoon?” When Beth didn’t say anything – she was, it seemed, temporarily rendered speechless – he grinned. “I’ll take your comforting silence as a yes,” Timothy laughed. “Meet me in the atrium at half past noon?”
“Okay,” she squeaked, feeling her cheeks grow hot. Timothy tipped another lopsided grin in her direction and strode away down the corridor’s faded carpet runner, hands in his pockets and whistling jauntily. Head spinning a bit, feeling dizzy and not at all sure exactly what had just happened, Beth walked off in the opposite direction, her resolve to avoid Mafalda’s office like dragon pox all but forgotten.
And so half past noon found Beth on one of the Ministry’s golden lifts, being jostled by dozens of impatient witches and wizards, all of whom seemed far more anxious to get to their lunch breaks than she herself was. It was very tempting to just get out and wait for a lift that would be less full and easier to breathe in, but she was running a few minutes late as it was – and anyway, a rather large man had her all but pinned in the corner, making escape virtually impossible. It seemed to take several years before they finally stopped level with the atrium, and the cool female voice confirmed that they had arrived.
“’Scuse me, there’s a girl,” said the large man in front of Beth; she flattened herself still further, letting him squeeze past. She grimaced a bit and followed him out, past the security desk, and beside the golden basin of the fountain. Timothy was already waiting there, looking about him attentively. He grinned as she approached.
“Lunch, Miss Bridger?” he said with exaggerated courtesy, extending his arm as though his manners were a century out of date. Beth’s lips twisted into a smile nonetheless, and she took the proffered arm, trying not to be aware of the occasional stare the two of them picked up as Timothy headed over to the red phone box in the corner of the atrium.
“Floo Powder’s not very optimal on a date, I’ve found,” he leaned forward and whispered in her ear. Beth tried not to read too much into his words; she was painfully aware that this really was the first proper date she’d ever been on in her life, not really thinking that any of the hurried meetings she and Severus had had over the past year were anything to write home about.
He didn’t speak again as the phone booth shuddered upwards, ascending back into central London, and for the life of her Beth couldn’t think of any proper conversational topics. Her mind was a blank: Was she supposed to ask him about his family? His schooling? His hobbies? Would those seem too intrusive, or should she wait for him to ask first?
It was this latter option she took by default; as soon as they had set foot on the pavement, Timothy began leading the way, and she naturally fell into step beside him, suddenly quite conscious of every one of those steps she took, every sound she made that she was never aware of making before. “So,” he said easily, stepping infinitesimally closer to her. “Tell me about yourself, Beth. In all our run-ins up to this point, I’ve been sorely lacking in information about what makes you who you are.”
Well, until about a year ago, I was attracted to a Death Eater who ended up having his memories of me wiped right after he kissed me for the first and last time. “I don’t know,” Beth said, lifting her hand to rub her nose before catching herself and lowering it again hastily.
“You don’t know?” She glanced sideways at him; Timothy was frowning slightly.
“Okay, well… my parents are divorced,” Beth began slowly, and instantly regretted starting with something so depressing. “Erm, I’ve got this little group of really great friends – and I’ve got a godson.” Beth smiled proudly, thinking of Harry. “He’s fantastic, although he’s got a drooling problem.”
Timothy laughed. “Delightful!” He grinned down at her conspiratorially. “And you? Do you want kids yourself?”
Beth nearly gasped aloud; she hadn’t been expecting that question, and quite frankly didn’t know how to respond to it. Was this the sort of thing that happened on dates, these conversations? Why was she unfortunate enough to be so in the dark about this? “Someday, maybe,” she muttered, staring down at her shoes, falling in step with his on the concrete.
Timothy nodded, but didn’t say anything else; he was craning his neck, looking down the pavement at the fronts of the small shops they were passing. Beth realized she hadn’t been paying attention to where they were going, and thus didn’t have a clue as to where they were now.
“Here’s the place,” he said cheerfully, stopping in front of a door set with leaded glass. The façade of the restaurant was wooden, painted maroon and badly in need of a fresh coat or two. There were no other windows set into the restaurant, but above the door, in gold letters as badly painted as the rest of the building, swung a small sign reading “Digby’s.”
Beth wrinkled her nose, and apparently Timothy saw; he nudged her with his elbow. “Best cottage pies in London. I promise,” he said, holding his hand in the air as though swearing an oath.
“I believe you,” Beth said, smiling, but just as the words were out of her mouth, something across the street caught her eye. She spun around before she could help herself, nearly stumbling into Timothy, who had leaned over at that moment to open the door into the pub.
“What?” he asked, a bit nervously. “You all right, Beth?”
Beth could feel her heart beneath her ribs, racing along much faster than it should have been. Nobody was there; nothing moved across from a piece of rubbish, blowing down the street, dislodged from the overflowing bin on the corner. She swallowed hard against a lump that had arisen in her throat.
“Sorry,” she said, and found that she had to clear her throat to get the words to come out properly. “I thought I saw someone I knew.” She turned back and shot him what was supposed to be a reassuring grin, though it felt forced – and judging by the wary expression on his face, it looked like it, too. He propped the door open a bit wider, ushering her into the pub.
Beth’s brain was still whirring, though; her heartbeat hadn’t yet resumed its normal pace. That wasn’t him, she told herself, again and again. That wasn’t Severus. But the thought remained nonetheless, eating away at the back of her mind for the rest of the afternoon.
By the time Beth and Timothy arrived back at the Ministry after lunch, she was driven to such extreme distraction that she could hardly recall a single thing Timothy had said, either throughout the course of the meal or on the walk back to the telephone booth. Thankfully, he was a natural talker, and never once suspected that she was less than attentive to whatever it was that he was saying.
“So,” he said at long last, once the both of them were back inside the atrium again. “Beth. Lunch with me, eh? Wasn’t so bad?”
“Not bad,” Beth replied automatically, instantly realizing how disinterested and rude it probably sounded to his ears. She blushed, shaking her head slightly. “I mean – no, that sounded wrong,” she corrected hastily. “Thank you. Really. It was nice.”
“Good to hear it.” And then, before she could understand what was happening, Beth heard him clear his throat – and then he was leaning toward her, his lips slightly puckered, aiming for her cheek… Beth stepped backwards so fast she nearly tripped over the hem of her robes.
His eyes flew open, confusion etched in the lines on his brow, turning down the corners of his mouth. “I’m sorry,” she blurted, hands flying to cover her mouth. Severus’s face darted across her mind’s eye again, and her insides were once more wracked with guilt. This isn’t wrong, she told herself, but her gut spoke otherwise.
“Timothy, I’m sorry,” she repeated desperately. Beth found she was holding her hands in front of her now, as though to ward him off, and couldn’t figure out how to stop. “Look –“ But she had no more words. Wanting to scream in frustration and cry, simultaneously, she bolted for the other end of the atrium, rushing past the security desk and sliding into an already-full lift, not wanting to look back at Timothy, or anyone else.
Beth left work late that night, lest she should run into Timothy, and was almost ashamed to admit even to herself that that was the reason. She really couldn’t account for her actions after lunch, other than the fact that, despite her most fervent intentions, thoughts of Severus still haunted everything about her Ministry job, her life – a life that had, because of him, changed entirely.
The Ministry was almost dead, then, by the time she joined the queue for the last fireplace out of the atrium. But where was she going? Somehow, her flat didn’t appeal to her – not tonight. All that awaited her there was a bottle or two of butterbeer and an old Fifi LaFolle novel Sirius had given to her as a joke for her last birthday, which she had taken down lately out of sheer boredom and lack of other entertainment options.
Sirius. Beth changed directions instantly, filled with a sudden, rather inexplicable longing to go and see him right now – surely he would be home, in his own flat, probably doing something similar to the course of events Beth herself had prepared to enact (she wouldn’t even be surprised, she thought ruefully, to find him reading his own Fifi LaFolle novel). That was what she needed right now, she realized: Sirius could always make her laugh, he always knew how to make her day brighter.
To her relief, the light in his flat was on as she rounded the corner and stepped in front of his building. Her legs felt wobbly all of a sudden, as though the strength had gone out of them, and she felt like crying once more. What’s wrong with me? Beth hurried up the cracked front walk and reached out a hand to press the grimy black button on the intercom; there was a burst of static, and she distinctly heard Sirius swearing.
“Cor, I bloody hate these things,” his voice rang out. “Hello? Who is it?”
“It’s me,” Beth called back, trying hard to keep her voice from wavering, though it seemed to have a mind of its own at the moment. Those were two words were all she needed; he recognized her voice at once, as he always did. There was an incessantly annoying buzzing sound, and the thick door swung outward. Beth caught hold of the handle and yanked it open, hurrying into the dim interior of the building and up the stairs to Sirius.
He was waiting for her on the landing when she got there, lounging against the cheap metal railings and grinning like he had a secret. “Talons,” he said, drawing out her nickname and nudging her shoulder good-naturedly with his elbow. “And to what do I owe this unexpected, but no less lovely, pleasure?”
“Just got off work,” Beth said, crossing her eyes up at him and shuffling around him into his flat. “Don’t you clean?” she added, taking in the tea-stained mugs and half-full plates scattered around the sitting room with a raised eyebrow.
“Too much effort,” he said breezily, nevertheless sweeping around her, stacking plates one on top of another and whisking them off to the kitchen; she heard him dump them unceremoniously in the sink. “Do you want something to drink?” he hollered out now. “I’ve got coffee, and… coffee. And milk that makes a suspicious sound when you shake it.”
“Coffee’s fine,” Beth called back, grinning in spite of herself and taking a seat gingerly on the sagging loveseat that had just played host to half the contents of Sirius’s dishes. There was a sloshing sound as Sirius filled the kettle, and he came back into the room, dusting his hands off on his jumper.
“So, what’s up?” he asked at last, flopping down beside her and tilting his head onto the back of the couch, turning so he was looking at her. Beth shrugged one shoulder, drawing her legs up onto the cushion and wrapping her arms around her knees. Now she was here, she already felt ten times better; how was she supposed to explain the weird mix of feelings that had led her here in the first place?
But, as it turned out, Sirius himself broached the subject. With a slightly mischievous look in his eyes, he asked, “Did you have your date today?”
Beth felt her cheeks flush instantly, securing her arms around her legs a bit tighter. “It wasn’t really a date,” she muttered, though even to her own ears she didn’t sound convincing. The grin on Sirius’s face widened.
“Your face says otherwise,” he informed her, reaching out a forefinger and poking her cheek. “When can we expect wedding bells, then?”
“Sirius,” Beth said exasperatedly, frowning at him and swatting away his hand. “It was fine. We had lunch. We talked. We went back to work.” She turned to look out of the window, though all it showed was her own reflection; it was too dark outside to make out anything beyond the glass. “That’s all that happened.”
Behind her, she could see Sirius’s expression of consternation; his mouth dropped open as though to say something else, but the kettle whistled from the kitchen at that moment, and he got up to fetch it. Beth rested her chin on her knees, a slight feeling of extremely temporary relief rushing through her.
As soon as Sirius had returned and plunked a mug of coffee in front of her, though, he folded his arms, fixing her with a rather solemn expression. “What’s wrong?”
Beth slid her eyes sideways to look at him. “Who says anything’s wrong?”
“Don’t give me that,” he answered immediately, rolling his eyes. “You show up here unannounced, and you’re being extremely reluctant to say why. Or say anything, really. I may not have had Remus’s marks in school, but I’m not stupid.”
Beth breathed out a large sigh, lifting her chin and bringing her hands up to rub at her tired eyes. “I felt guilty the whole date,” she admitted, so softly that she could feel, rather than see, Sirius lean in beside her, the better to hear what she had to say. “It just felt like… like I was leading him on, or something. Like I was cheating.”
“On Snape.” It wasn’t a question; Sirius’s tone was flat with distaste. She looked up at him sharply, and saw the tightness at the corners of his mouth. “You’re still thinking about him, then?”
“Okay, Sirius,” Beth snapped, before she could remember her tone. “Because I’m just supposed to pretend like he doesn’t exist, is that what you’re saying? That he never existed?” She jabbed a finger at the dark window across the sitting room. “Because of someone I don’t even know, we got found out, and he forgot me –“
“Yeah,” Sirius said curtly. “I know.”
Beth gaped at him, mouth open; his rudeness was, she thought, a bit uncalled for, though she had just snapped at him out of virtually nowhere. “I can’t help what I feel,” she said at last. “I’m sorry. If I could control this, I would, but – but it still hurts, okay? And I just can’t help thinking that if we’d done something differently, if we’d been a bit more careful, I wouldn’t have to do this.” She paused, and then added, a bit more contritely, “I’m sorry. You had to know this was still eating away at me, though, didn’t you? You agreed to help me get his memories back.”
Sirius stood up from the couch suddenly, his mug left abandoned on the coffee table, beside Beth’s own untouched one. He threaded his fingers through his long dark hair irritably. “It’s nothing you did,” he said at last. “You were careful enough.”
“What do you mean?” Beth asked, temporarily thrown off course by whatever he’d said; it made no sense. How would he know?
He swore softly under his breath. “Beth, I’m still going to help you,” he said abruptly, turning to look back at her and lowering his hands from his head. “I promised. I’m not backing down on that promise.” Sirius looked suddenly intensely uncomfortable, and a horrible, icy feeling started to creep through her veins.
“What do you mean?” she repeated warily.
He closed his eyes and visibly grimaced, as though in physical pain, and the icy feeling doubled. “It’s not someone you don’t know,” he said. This time it was Beth’s turn to lean toward him, his voice barely above a whisper. “I – I wrote to Dumbledore. After I said he was making you unhappy –“
“I remember,” Beth interrupted dully. She wasn’t likely to forget in a hurry, though it had been almost a year ago. Her entire body had gone suddenly numb, and she actually wiggled her fingers, making sure she could still feel them.
“I didn’t mean for anything to happen, Bethy, I swear.” Sirius was pleading now, and it was worse than the whispering. “I just – I didn’t want him making you unhappy, I just wanted you to be safe –“
“You just wanted me safe.” Beth was staring up at him, hands limp in her lap. She couldn’t move, couldn’t think, could hardly breathe.
“If I’d known it would come to this, I wouldn’t have written to him. I swear, Bethy, you have to –“
“Don’t call me Bethy.” She had risen from the loveseat, and couldn’t remember doing so; there was a stinging in her palms, and she found that, quite unintentionally, she had curled her hands into fists, her fingernails biting into her skin. “Why haven’t you told me? Merlin, Sirius, do you know what you’ve done?!”
“Bethy – Beth – I was doing it for you!”
Beth laughed, hating the way it sounded even as she did it: It was cruel and mirthless, and she could hardly believe she was capable of making such an ugly sound. “Sirius, I can’t do mission work anymore. Nobody trusts me, Severus is gone – he doesn’t remember who I am. He had his memories of me erased because of you.” She swiped her hands at the angry tears that had risen to her eyes. “And you’ve sat on this secret for a year?!”
Sirius said nothing; what was there to say? He couldn’t deny any of it. “I’m sorry,” he croaked at last. “I’m so, so sorry, Beth.”
But Beth only stared at him, her chest rising and falling rapidly in shallow breaths. She couldn’t think now what had driven her here, to Sirius’s flat, and wanted to be anywhere but here. Her mind was buzzing, thoughts flitting about like doxies, and she couldn’t grab one to study. It was all because of Sirius, everything that had happened in the past year. Sirius, her best friend…
“You’re not sorry you did it,” she said in a low voice, eerily calm even to her own ears, even while her heartbeat still stuttered along at twice its normal pace. “You’re just sorry you got caught.”
“I was wrong,” Sirius said quickly, apparently having taken that sentence as encouragement, though she didn’t understand why. “I know I was wrong. I do know that now. It’s why – we’re going to get his memories back, Beth –“
The calm broke. “He didn’t have to have them removed at all!” she screamed, and her vision blurred again as more tears pooled in the corners of her eyes. “You spoiled everything because you were too damn selfish to think of anyone but yourself, Sirius!” And before she could stop herself, her right hand had curled, fingers digging into her palm, and she slammed her fist into Sirius’s cheekbone.
The sound of flesh on flesh reverberated throughout the small flat for what seemed like hours, along with a half-scream, half-sob she did not remember letting out. Her knuckles throbbed; she didn’t think she had broken anything, but knew without doubt they would be purple with bruises come morning. Sirius only stared at her, and then gingerly touched the tips of his fingers to the area she had punched. He had barely flinched at the blow.
Beth’s chest rose and fell with rapid, near-hyperventilating breaths, and she pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes, until bright lights swam in front of her. She would not break down; not here, not in front of him.
When she lowered them at last, he was still standing there, helpless as a child, fingers lowered away from his face at last. It didn’t seem as though there was anything else for either of them to say; the silence stretched on for what seemed like an eternity. At last, Sirius held one hand out toward her in a wordless entreaty of forgiveness.
Beth ignored it. “I never want to see you again,” she said in a low voice, knowing even as she did so that it was completely the wrong thing to say. But she didn’t care – she skirted past his arm and moved for the door. She hadn’t wanted to return to her flat alone, and in some ways, she still didn’t. But it had been Sirius…
She slammed the door behind her with a bang large enough to rattle the thin wall of the flat, and only then, as she started to walk home as quickly as her feet would carry her – only then did Beth allow the build-up of tears to spill over.
A/N: A date with Timothy and punching Sirius in the face, all in one chapter! I don't know which one's more shocking, personally, although if I'm telling the truth I don't blame Beth a bit for giving Sirius what he had coming to him. Asking her to forgive him is quite a large thing, to be sure. Whether she does forgive him, well, that's another matter. (I know, of course -- but I'm not telling!)
And in keeping with the tradition of letting you all know where I'm at with this story: I tried to write a nice, tidy chapter 22 for this story last week... and then it got away from me and ended up being nearly 10,000 words long. So I split it into two, leaving this story standing at 30 chapters instead of 29. And I'm about halfway done with chapter 24, too, so that's progress!
As always, I really do thank you all for the support you've shown this story so far. Nearly 50 unsolicited reviews on 8 chapters is incredible, and it does mean so much to me. I'm honored! ♥
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