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Chapter 23 : Professor Severus Snape
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For months now, ever since Remus had told her that Severus’s memories were still intact – ever since James and Sirius had promised to help her retrieve them – she had wondered how she was going to find him again. Beyond coming upon him suddenly and unexpectedly at Order meetings, she hadn’t a clue as to what had become of him since he’d forgotten her, and those encounters had always included Dumbledore or Moody lurking on the sidelines. Restoring his memories at headquarters would have been foolhardy in the very best of circumstances.
And now he was here, in Hogwarts. She smiled inwardly, thinking of him as a potions professor – it was both plausible and extremely unlikely – but the prospect paled in comparison to the reality that he was under this roof, so close to her, and she hadn’t known until this moment.
She had had a plan before getting into Hogwarts. Get in, get the memories, get out. But this was entirely different – she hadn’t known then that Severus was in the castle, somewhere below her, perhaps awake even now…
Remembering something in a flash, she plunged her hand inside her robes, rooting around for the Marauder’s Map. Severus would show up on the map, and then she would know it was him –
But it wasn’t there. Beth jerked her robes half-off her shoulder, heartbeat increased anew, but the parchment was nowhere to be found. All her pockets, all empty save for her wand and the bottle of Severus’s memories…
The Cloak and the Marauder’s Map in one night, she thought guiltily, a lump rising in her throat. Now James and Sirius will both kill me. The last she remembered having the map out was right before Filch was screaming at Peeves, down on the first floor; she must have dropped it in her desperation to not be spotted.
It was several minutes before Beth realized that whoever Annette and Quincy had been, they had long since quitted the corridor, presumably to return to the common room or find a better place to argue. She rose to her feet unsteadily, pressing a hand to her chest to calm her heartbeat, and gingerly lifted away the edge of the tapestry. The coast was clear.
Her brain was buzzing feverishly, creating a tinny ringing in hear ears like the echoes of high, distant bells. And even before she stepped out onto the carpet runner, she knew what she was going to do. It was the only option open to her, after overhearing that chance conversation.
Beth could not leave the castle without giving Severus his memories of her.
Her feet were moving before any more thoughts had time to flit across her mind. Again clutching the bottle where it was nestled in her pocket, Beth turned sharply on her heel and ducked back underneath the tapestry of Langdon the Lackluster. The passage was dark, but she didn’t dare illuminate the tip of her wand now that she had lost the security of the Invisibility Cloak.
She braced her hands against the walls, fingers scurrying over the bumps in the stone, and tried not to think about what other sorts of creatures might be inside the passage at the same time. Beth could hear water dripping from somewhere up above her, and further along, wind whistling through cracks in the mortar. It did nothing to soothe her frayed nerves; it just made her think of ghosts, and she’d not been a fan of any of the Hogwarts ghosts since one had drifted through her not long after she’d been Sorted her first year.
The narrow tunnel stretched from the second floor and emerged in a hidden door off the entrance hall, which meant it sloped very steeply in some places. Without Lumos to help her, she continually slipped on bits of stone that had weathered away over the years, and stepped in an icy puddle somewhere in the vicinity of the first floor. Every strange noise was someone coming after her, Filch or Mrs. Norris or even Dumbledore, sensing she was in the castle. But she pressed on, feeling her way gingerly along the passage, and was painfully aware that every step she took was a step closer to the dungeons and to Severus.
She didn’t have the first clue as to what she was going to say to him, if it turned out she found him at all. He wouldn’t recognize her in the first place, but even assuming he didn’t hex her on the spot, what was she supposed to say? Hi, Sev – listen, I’m going to need to give you these, and you’re going to have to find a way to put them back in your head, because life sucks without you?
There was no sound from the entrance hall when at last, rounding a tight curve and nearly losing her balance on a patch of moist stone, she reached the end of the passageway. Beth bit down hard on her bottom lip and pressed her ear to the door, but the only thing she could hear was dripping water back the way she had come. With a deep breath, she reached for the hidden latch – Sirius had nearly wet himself in excitement when he’d found it, she remembered idly – and eased it toward herself.
Torches flickered in the draft from the passageway, snapping in their brackets. The narrow arch leading down to the dungeons was directly across from where she stood now, ten times more ominous than the hidden entrance behind the tapestry had been. Beth listened hard for Peeves or Filch, but if they were still waging war against each other, they had chosen a more remote location to do it. With ghostly footsteps, before she gave herself time to think about what she was doing, Beth stole across the flagstones, keeping to the thick shadows that clustered at the edge of the cathedral-like space, and slipped through the archway.
By the time she was halfway down the main corridor below the school, her entire body was trembling so hard she knew that if she stopped, she would not be able to go on at all. Narrower halls were set off at intervals to the left and right, and she realized that she had no clue where the potions master slept, if he even slept in the dungeons at all. Maybe Severus had a flat in Hogsmeade, and every second she stayed in the castle she was only putting herself in more danger.
You have to look, Beth told herself firmly, blowing out a breath and shuffling on the spot in a poor attempt at quelling her anxiety. Her heart had not stopped racing for nearly fifteen straight minutes, and her head felt light, like it might fall right off her shoulders. At random, more because it felt right than for any rational reason, she darted through the second opening on the left, the gloom here more pronounced than ever.
At first, she thought she would have to retreat. There was nothing along this corridor but more dampness, more darkness, and cold iron brackets where torches had once burned, but clearly nobody bothered to light them anymore. And then, at the end, faintly flickering on the wall at the end – greenish hues, like those cast from other-colored flame.
Someone was down here.
Her heart stopped beating.
Beth approached the door, whispering words that didn’t make sense, praying and not praying all at the same time, and all the while not knowing what she was or wasn’t praying for –
She was in the archway. The room was dark, except for the cauldron at the far end, and tiny guttering candles at sparse intervals along the curved walls. Beneath the cauldron roared a blue-green fire, its light stretching as far as she stood, illuminating shelves stocked with ingredients too numerous to mention and glinting off the viscous liquids in their jars and bottles.
But she didn’t notice any of this right away, because her eyes had gone instantly to the man standing at the furthest point of the room. His skin was icy in the cauldron fire’s light; most of him was covered in high-necked black robes, leaving only his face and hands visible, and even his cheeks were covered with a curtain of dark hair. He was stirring the cauldron intently with his right hand, his left hovering over an open text near him, checking for mistakes he would not make.
Severus had not noticed her yet, but Beth could not bring herself to slip into the room. If she could have frozen that moment and saved it forever, a small snapshot in the corner of her mind, she would have. She had not seen that look cross his face in over a year. Her heart felt as though it had swollen in her chest, and she wasn’t sure if the ache was painful or pleasurable.
And then he seemed to have heard her – a breath out of place, or the rustling of robes against the stone archway – and suddenly Severus had looked up, and his eyes met hers. Emboldened and knowing it was foolhardy, all at the same time, she stepped further into the room as he drew his wand from the potion, scattering drops of milky silver elixir across the floor.
She had thought for months what her first words to Severus would be, once she saw him again. She had planned for them to be something comforting, and clever, something that would make him know at once that he had known her before, and forgotten her, but would not have to forget her forever.
What she managed now was, “Uh.”
Severus’s wand was trained on her, pointing straight at her heart, fury and anxiety alternating across his face in turns. “Who are you?” He stepped out from behind his cauldron, walking so quickly toward her that Beth backed into the wall behind her. The bottle in her pocket rang out against it.
“Who are you?” he demanded again, when Beth didn’t speak. She swallowed and opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Without warning, he slashed his wand at the air, and she cringed instinctively. But it was no hex or curse – thick black ropes sprang from the end of his wand, lashing themselves around her wrists and ankles.
“Get these off of me!” she cried, but he acted like he hadn’t heard her. Severus turned and snatched something off a nearby shelf, grabbing a tiny phial in his fingers and waving it tauntingly at her.
“Do you know what this is? Veritaserum. Elixir of truth.” He yanked the stopper from the top and shoved the bottle at her. “One drop of this and you’ll tell me exactly what you’re doing in my dungeon. And perhaps a few other things besides.” He smirked unpleasantly.
“You know who I am!” Beth meant for the words to sound forceful and confident, but they were barely audible through a scream of frustration. And to her immense shock, he paused, looking at her. With slow, deliberate movements, he replaced the cork in the tiny bottle of Veritaserum, rolling it in the palm of his hand.
“You’re Bethany Bridger.”
She felt as though she’d been suddenly doused in icy water. “Yes,” she managed, her voice even fainter through trembling lips. How did he actually know now? Was it possible he remembered her already? But he couldn’t remember her as he had known her once, not when he was looking at her with such anger, such hatred…
“Your father was Calvin Bridger,” Severus continued.
Beth closed her eyes briefly. Of course. Her mother’s words from so many months ago came back to her: “Your father was involved in all sorts of things he didn’t understand.” Of course that had meant You-Know-Who. Of course Severus would have known who he was.
“So maybe my first question wasn’t quite correct,” he was saying now, and a small sneer twisted his mouth. “What are you doing here, where you very clearly don’t belong?” The tip of his wand had found its way to rest beneath her jaw again.
“You know me –“
“We’ve established that, if you were listening.”
“No,” Beth snapped, and her fear trickled out of her in a sudden rush, desperate to make him understand, before she ran out of time. “Get these bloody ropes off me and I’ll show you.”
Severus frowned, but at last, though very grudgingly, he jabbed his wand in her direction. The black ropes fell from her wrists and hit the floor beneath her feet; they vanished instantly in a puff of black smoke, hissing and smelling of burning rubbish.
Plunging her hand into the pocket of her robes, she withdrew the bottle of memories, holding the neck between her thumb and forefinger and raising it so that it was on level with his eyes. “Do you have any idea what this is?”
Severus let his gaze rest on the bottle, and his eyes narrowed. He frowned, twisting his mouth to the side, and did not answer. But that was all the answer she needed.
“You had your memories of me removed,” she accused him frankly, almost ashamed to hear the break in her voice. Beth cleared it and tried again. “Over a year ago, Sev, right before you joined the Order of the Phoenix –“
“I – what did you call me? How did you know about that?!” His eyes flashed, and he pressed the tip of his wand harder into her skin. She coughed, breathing deeply, but did not look away.
“You did it for me,” she said firmly. “Take your wand away from my throat.”
Severus glared at her, but let up slightly. Whatever or whoever he thought she was, Beth knew she had caught his interest. She massaged her throat ruefully, glaring right back, and as she did so Severus’s eyes focused on her wrist. He suddenly snatched her hand from her, holding it up to the light of one of the small candles. Her bracelet sparked against the light from the flame.
“You recognize it,” Beth said, heart fluttering against her chest, so hard she reckoned Severus must have been able to hear it. She remembered an Order meeting, several months ago, and the way he had looked at her then, the way his eyes had lingered on her bracelet. “You gave it to me, Severus.”
He cursed softly under his breath and turned away, threading his fingers through his hair in agitation. He muttered something about “headaches,” but the walls absorbed the sound too much for her to hear him clearly. When he spun back to face her, there was a wild look on his face.
“I’ve been seeing you. In – in my head –“ He gestured vaguely at his forehead, and Beth’s stomach leaped. “And the bracelet…” And then he made a frustrated noise, low in his throat. “I removed my memories of you? You’re lying.”
“Why the hell would I lie about something like that?” Beth snapped. She clutched the bottle so tightly that for a second she was afraid it would shatter.
He stared at her. “For blackmail.”
Beth let out a harsh laugh, looking up at the ceiling at hot, painful tears sprang into her eyes. “You said you did it to protect me,” she said, still looking at the arched stone above her head, knowing that if she watched him act like this any longer, she would cry, and he wouldn’t take her seriously anymore. “Because you thought you owed it to me to be someone you weren't. And the truth is – God, I can’t believe I’m telling you this – but the truth is that I always wanted you to stay exactly the way you were. That’s it.”
Severus began pacing again, pressing the tips of his fingers to his forehead, hunched in concentration. His potions burbled away at the other end of the dungeon, long since forgotten. “Okay,” he said at last, with the air of someone trying to understand an intensely confusing concept. “If… if that’s true…” And he looked at the bottle as though it might bite him before turning his gaze back on Beth, who was biting her lip so hard she could taste blood. “Why would I want them back?”
She couldn’t help it; Beth drew in a shaky breath then, and felt a tear escape the corner of her eye, burning down her cheek. “I don’t you if you do,” she said, voice shaking no matter how hard she was trying to make herself sound strong. “But I need you to have them. I need you, Sev. I’ve been strong for so long, and it hurts.”
She held out the bottle to him, but he continued to stare at her, only stare, apparently unable to believe what he was seeing. In a rational section of her brain, Beth couldn’t blame him at all. Here he was, in the middle of the night, and suddenly a strange woman had burst into the dungeon claiming he’d known her and had his memories of her removed. If she hadn’t known it to be true, she would have said it was mad herself.
“You’re not kidding.” It wasn’t a question. Beth shook her head, stepping away from the wall and moving toward him in miniature increments.
“I need you,” she repeated. “We can figure out how to restore memories somehow, but for right now I just need you to believe me.”
“I know how to restore them.”
It was Beth’s turn for disbelief. Her mouth dropped earthward before she could check herself, but Severus was still staring at the bottle balanced on her palm, dully. “You do?”
He nodded. “Dealing with stored memories isn’t so different from potions.” He closed the distance between them, reaching for the bottle, and their fingers barely brushed as she transferred it to him. The skin on her hand that had touched his felt like it was aflame. “But it can only be done by the person who took the memories, or the person whose memories they were in the first place.”
It took Beth a fraction of a second longer than it should have for her to understand what he meant. “You can do it?” she asked breathlessly. He nodded, and held the potion up to the light of another candle, as though trying to peer into its contents, and then looked over at her again.
“And it’s important to you?”
“I – yes.” She nearly didn’t say the next words aloud. He was so close, so close, was almost hers again –but she could never have made him restore his memories. It would have to be his choice, and he would have to make it. No matter how much she needed him in her life, she would not force this upon him. “But only if you want to. If you still think I’m lying, or whatever…” She swallowed, feeling as though her throat had swollen to three times its normal size. “You can give them back to me. And I’ll leave. Forever. If that’s what you want to do. ”
A hush descended over the dungeon, apart from the gentle hissing of the blue-green flames that still flickered beneath the cauldron. Severus looked from Beth to the bottle of his memories and back, the candles eerily reflected in the dark of his eyes. She could feel her heart beating in her throat.
Without a word, affirmative or otherwise, Severus turned and crossed to stand over his cauldron again. Beth moved closer, hovering near one of the desks that lined the room, fingers lightly brushing the grain of the wood. Severus uncorked the bottle in one swift movement and stared down into what he saw there. She saw him swallow and close his eyes, half his face thrown into spooky relief by the flickering turquoise fire.
With his other hand, the hand still clutching his wand, he plunged it deep into the bottle, the tip striking the bottom with a sharp ping. Beth moved her hands to cover her mouth. The memories instantly shifted inside their glass, condensing around the wand tip like some absurd sort of fairy floss, moving faster and faster until they were at such a speed they appeared to have stilled entirely. With delicate movements, he lifted the wand back out of the bottle. The memories hovered at the end, a swirling silver globe, perfectly spherical.
Severus raised his eyes to Beth’s, and for a full second, they stared at each other. She lowered her hands from her mouth.
He raised his wand and pressed the tip of it to his right temple.
The globe of memories seemed to hover in midair for a moment, and then, so abruptly Beth nearly missed it entirely, it seemed to move through Severus’s skin like it wasn’t there, straight inside his mind. Severus gasped loudly; his wand fell from his fingers, bouncing off the rim of the cauldron and clattering to the floor. He slumped over the cauldron, the milk-silver potion reflecting oddly off his face. The fine bones of his fingers jutted from his hands, gripping the rim of the cauldron.
“Sev…” Beth hissed, and as though her words had caused it, he slumped to the ground behind the cauldron, out of sight.
“No, no, no, no,” she whispered, pushing herself off the desk with her hands and running to the back of the dungeon. He had tipped sideways as he’d fallen, hands sprawled awkwardly on the ground. The bottle that had held his memories had shattered, bright shards of glass splayed around his head like a demonic halo. His eyes were firmly closed.
“Sev, no!” Beth dropped to the floor, hard enough that small darts of pain exploded around her knees and calves. She reached for a wrist, pressed her fingers to it – he still had a pulse, he was still alive –
And his eyes flew open. He drew in gasp after great shuddering gasp, like he had just broken through the surface of the ocean after being submerged for too long. For a moment he stared around him wildly, his eyes the only part of him moving, as he tried to figure out where he was. His eyes locked onto Beth, kneeling beside him, and he sat bolt upright.
She didn’t speak, couldn’t speak. If this was a spell, she couldn’t break it; a dream, she couldn’t wake from it. He reached a hand toward her, though, and she grabbed it with both of hers, squeezing hard enough to convince herself that it was real.
He shook his head like he was clearing water from his eyes – the puzzle pieces of his brain were still working to connect, fusing together the past year’s memories with what had been taken from him. He heaved himself to his feet and brought her with him, his hand still wrapped between her own.
“Beth,” he said again, and the word sounded more natural on his tongue. The sharpness and wariness that had been in his eyes when he’d looked at her had disappeared, and he was looking at her like he had the night his memories were taken, the night when they’d met in a back alley in the heart of London while fighting on two sides of the same war.
“Sev,” she gasped, and then the distance between them had closed, and her arms were wrapped around his neck, fingers yanking at the fabric of his robes as her lips slammed, hard, against his. Severus’s hands pressed into the small of her back; she could not have gotten closer to him if she had tried, and it still wasn’t enough to make up for all the time she had lost.
He pulled away at last, gasping for breath, but a grin had split his face from ear to ear. She could feel her own cheeks pink with breathlessness, and laughed shakily. Severus reached down and pressed a light kiss to her forehead; she could feel that his own lips were trembling, too.
“Oh, Beth,” he murmured, though not without fondness. “What have you done?”
“I’m not sorry,” she said, scrubbing at the tears that were spotting her cheeks – when had she started to cry? – with the back of her hand. She pressed her face into his chest, breathing in the smell of him. She didn’t realize she had missed it so much. “I’m not sorry I did it.”
“I know.” Severus played with her hair, dropping another kiss onto her head. “You’re an idiot, Beth. You could have been caught – I could have cursed you –“
“You had your memories of me removed,” she said, drawing back and grinning up at him, her eyes still blurry with swimming tears. “Severus Snape, you are absolutely the biggest idiot I’ve ever met. Don’t even start.” And she leaned in to kiss him again; there had been no time in her life, not once, that could ever compare to this happiness.
She had no idea how many minutes ticked by, but she broke the kiss first this time, looking up at him steadily. “What happens now?” Something clouded his gaze; he clearly hadn’t thought of that, any more than she had planned for it. “I’m not letting you out of my sight for a long time,” she added, only half-kidding, and he laughed.
“Fair enough.” He glanced toward the arch leading into the dungeon room, but it was still thick dark in the corridor. There were still quite a few hours left until daylight, and even longer until the school day at Hogwarts began. Severus turned to look back at her. “Can you wait a few more hours?” Beth frowned. “I’m not going to do anything stupid,” he amended, tucking a piece of hair back behind her ear, as though to reassure her. “Hogsmeade. Tomorrow night, eight o’ clock. No one goes as far back as the end of the high street, especially when it’s not a Hogsmeade weekend up at school. Will you meet me there?”
She nodded, and Severus leaned down and kissed her, quickly. She didn’t think she’d ever not get goosebumps at the feeling; it was something she thought she’d never do again. “I don’t want you to get caught,” he said. “You should go.”
“Do I have to?”
He smiled softly. “Tomorrow. I promise. I’ll walk you as far as the front doors.” He bent and found his wand where he’d dropped it when he’d been hunched over the cauldron, and pointed it at the long-since ruined potion. The blue-green flames extinguished immediately, and the room was dark save for the candles dotting the walls.
Severus’s fingers were threaded through Beth’s the entire way back up the entrance hall, two dark shapes moving in a mass of denser darkness. The castle was still silent as they ascended the steps back up, shafts of moonlight stretching long across the flagstones and bathing the space in silver.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Beth told him, coming to a halt in front of the great double doors and looking up at him. He nodded, and slowly disentangled his fingers from hers. He pushed the door open, and the cool night air rushed into the castle, lifting her hair from her forehead. She slipped through the gap, and was halfway across the lawn before she stopped, turning around.
Severus was still framed in the doorway, watching her go. She could have sworn she saw him smile, even from this distance. Heart swelling, pulse racing, she turned and fled the rest of the way to the gate, Apparating outside the castle boundaries.
Dumbledore sat behind his desk in the headmaster’s office; Minerva McGonagall and Argus Filch were both standing before him. The former was watching the two men, looking as though she’d swallowed a lemon whole, but couldn’t get a word in edgewise over Filch’s blustering. Outside the many windows lining the tower room, the sky was still the deep black of very late night, perhaps close to eleven o’ clock.
“This is proof, Dumbledore,” he was saying wildly, spittle flying from his mouth in excitement. “Students out of bed! That corridor was spotless when I patrolled it the first time, and then I come back around, and what do I see? This piece of paper, that’s what!” He waved it wildly in the air. “Corporal punishment, that’s what we need. Good, strong –“
“I’m afraid that will not be happening today, Mr. Filch,” Dumbledore said calmly, peering at the caretaker over his spectacles. “I do appreciate your bringing the matter to my attention, however.” He raised his eyebrows, and Filch took that as his cue to leave. Grumbling and stuffing the grubby folded parchment – his rather pitiful evidence of misdeeds – into his pocket as he went.
Dumbledore looked after him for a time before turning to Professor McGonagall, who looked to have swallowed another lemon in the time it took Filch to depart. “I’m assuming that’s not why you called me here,” she said irritably.
“Indeed it is not.” Dumbledore reached beneath his desk and drew out a bundle of slick, folded silver fabric. “Does this mean anything to you, Minerva?”
“Fancy dress?” The deputy headmistress did not appear to have time for guessing games.
“This,” the older man continued patiently, clasping his hands atop the fabric, “is James Potter’s Invisibility Cloak.”
She frowned. “And why have you got it?”
“I suspect,” Dumbledore said, “for the same reason that Severus Snape’s memories of Beth Bridger are no longer where I put them a year ago.”
“Or Sirius Black, or Beth Bridger herself.” Dumbledore smiled in spite of himself. “They’re a very close-knit group. I’m sure James would have had no reservations lending the Cloak out to his friends.”
“But – we’ll have to find out!” Professor McGonagall’s nostrils, flaring dangerously, had gone very white. “Breaking into school property, stealing – these are very serious matters, Albus.”
He did not answer; he was stroking the folds of the Cloak absently. He did not tell her, but Dumbledore knew what had happened, and further knew that it was much too late to reverse the restoration of the memories. He would not do well by reversing the procedure, either; subjecting a man to memory removal twice in such a short span of time as a year would have possibly detrimental effects.
“You know,” he said at last. “It is very possibly that removing Miss Bridger from Severus’s memories was a mistake in the first place.” He tucked the cloak into a drawer, shutting it firmly. “I am not above making them, Minerva,” he added, seeing the shocked look on Professor McGonagall’s face. “We must let them be, I think.”
And if she disapproved, she did not say a word about it.
A/N: Guys, I am SO glad to be posting this chapter for you! Not only because of its contents -- but man, have I been waiting ages and ages to get to this particular scene -- but because last night, my laptop completely fritzed out. Absolutely dead. And I wasn't 100% sure I was going to be able to get the last 7 chapters of Breaking Even back. Thank goodness my parents are awesome, amazing people, and that my dad's friends with a former IT guy, because they managed to save all my writing onto a brand-new laptop!
But that's not really the news, is it? SEVERUS IS BACK. If you are picturing a girl hunched behind her computer giggling in excitement right now, you are probably picturing me. Finally, after months and months and months, Severus is back, and he remembers Beth, and surely all is right with the world! Right? ... Well, you'll have to find out, won't you?
You guys are incredible. ♥ Thank you for reading, and if you have time to review -- well, thank you for that too!
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