Chapter 27 : A Trip to Hogsmeade
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She knew she was early, nearly two hours ahead of the time Severus had told her to meet him in Hogsmeade, but it had been the only place she could think of going after her less-than-pleasant encounter with Remus. Going back to her own flat would probably have only led to more sulking and brooding, and anything to take her mind off the shambles of her friendships sounded great. She didn’t want to think about James or Peter being dead, or Sirius being responsible, or how much of an arse Remus was being about all of it. She would love herself instead of school memories of these shops and this street, and wait to meet Severus later.
A breeze whistled around Gladrags, to her right, and lifted small wisps of hair from the back of her neck. She’d twisted it up into a knot on top of her head, with difficulty, upon arriving here, a decision she was already regretting. It got it out of her face, but it made her newly-exposed skin damn cold.
Getting away from Remus wasn’t the only thing on her mind, despite the fact that it had been a large part of the reason she’d retreated here. Truth be told, she wanted to have enough time to get accustomed to the idea that it was Severus she was going to be meeting with, finally, after months and months of dreaming and wishing and fretting. Adrenaline had fueled her through last night’s memory restoration, and it had been over almost before she knew it or could comprehend the sheer impossibility of what was happening. Things looked different now that the sun had risen on a new day apart from the shadows and secrets kept in Hogwarts’s dungeons.
Who was she to say that he was the same man she had fought for in the past year? Perhaps he had changed, irreconcilably so. He had kissed her last night (she blushed now, remembering it), had seemed so glad to see her, but how much of that had been fueled by his own adrenaline, the rush of memories his brain had lost? She knew that he had been under the impression that he had been doing what he’d done for Lily’s sake, and if that still lingered…
She clamped down hard on her lower lip, balling her hands inside her cloak to stop herself from reaching up to rub her nose in anxiety. It would be fine. She had done the right thing – and anyway, he had known who she was, somewhat, even after everything Dumbledore had gone through to make sure that wasn’t the case. There was something in that. She had to trust him.
Beth walked purposefully down the cobbled street, smiling benignly at the two pipe-smoking wizards as she passed by. Neither returned the gesture, instead glowering at her austerely from under thick eyebrows, and she hastened by the pub. Across from The Three Broomsticks, however, was Zonko’s, and she ducked in there gratefully; no one would judge her there, surely.
There was a familiar smell in here, gunpowder and wood and a colorful, cheerful odor – she knew no other way to describe it – that she’d never really identified. Brightly varnished wood and equally brightly-wrapped packages gleamed by the light of the overhead fixture. Beth felt her shoulders relax almost as soon as she entered, tension falling away from them like water. This was where she and the boys had spent so many of their Hogsmeade weekends, mostly at Sirius’s insistence. This was comfortable and safe, and in a world where not much else was anymore, it was a welcome respite.
The shop seemed deserted at first, not even the long counter at the front revealing that the proprietor was in. She moved gingerly through the tall shelves that stretched to the impossibly tall ceiling, steps loud on the polished floor, feeling as though she were in a place she shouldn’t have intruded on – a library or a church, maybe. And yet Beth couldn’t help but smile all the same, just because nothing had changed. Sugary, ethereal Sugar Quills were still lined up in neat rows on the end of this shelf, the violently green Frog Spawn Soap on the top of that one. It might as well have been as though nothing had been touched since Beth had left Hogwarts three years earlier.
She reached the end of one row, looking up at the pink sky outside the high windows, hands behind her back. Something unnamable swelled within her, strong emotion, and Beth was almost surprised to find tears prick her eyes then. She was eighteen years old again, innocent and hopeful of the life that stretched before her. Would she have ever predicted that she’d stand where she now stood, only three years earlier?
Would she have still gone on with it – the Order, the missions, the secret meetings with Severus – if she had?
“May I help you?”
She didn’t hear the sound of anyone approaching behind her, and so when a voice spoke just over her shoulder Beth jumped so violently she stumbled sideways into a shelf, banging her shoulder against a display of Nose-Biting Teacups. One of them snapped violently at her robes, and she jumped away hastily.
“Goodness,” said the newcomer mildly, and she whirled around, already feeling her cheeks growing bright red. “Did I frighten you, my dear?”
“I – well, yes –“ Beth started, but as soon as she’d spun on her heel the man before her had smiled brilliantly, eyes crinkling into nonexistence behind his thick glasses. Zonko was a small man with a shock of frizzy white hair that stood straight up from his skull, but he never acted his obvious age – the happy laugh he emitted now better suited a man half as old.
“Don’t tell me Beth Bridger’s returned to Hogsmeade!” he said, still chortling as he reached up to straighten his cherry-red bowtie, which was forever hanging crooked about the neck of his orange velvet robes. “Oh, goodness, how long’s it been since you left Hogwarts? Has it been a year already?”
“Three, actually,” she told him kindly, gingerly stepping back in the direction of the teacups; one of them was still growling slightly. Zonko’s eyes widened.
“But surely it hasn’t been so long!” He shook his head slowly, ponderously “My goodness. It seems as though the years grow shorter the more of them I live through, eh? And where’s that bloke of yours? Mr. Black? You haven’t brought him with you?”
Beth’s mouth turned dry; she swallowed against it, rearranging her face to look as pleasantly neutral as possible. “He’s just a friend of mine,” she told the older man, “and no, I’ve made this trip alone.”
“Memory lane is often best traveled as a solo venture,” Zonko said, with the air of a wise man passing out sage advice. He reached out and absently straightened a stack of dusty-looking cushions, ones that made rather rude sounds when anybody sat on them. Beth recalled Sirius pulling that on Severus one year, and smiled in spite of herself, although she didn’t know whether it was with appreciation for the former or pity for the latter.
He didn’t say anything else after that; apparently he had spoken his piece. Beth rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet, chewing on the inside of her cheek and searching for something to respond. She definitely didn’t feel like talking about any of the boys anymore – that went without saying – but she had nothing else that tied her to this place, really. A sort of hollow took root in the pit of her stomach at that thought. It was as though she wasn’t much of anything around here without the men who’d shaped that time in her life. Without them, she was weightless, unanchored, all her strings cut loose to let her float free.
She was thankfully spared groping for conversation when her eyes flicked to the front windows of Zonko’s, behind the owner himself. The sun had fallen fast after she’d entered, and it was nearly full dark on the high street now, but the shadows that passed by were darker still. And in the faint halo of light from the lamp set over the joke shop entrance, a man passed through, and she would have recognized that profile anywhere.
“It’s been lovely to see you again,” she said now, turning back to the small wizard, who had become absorbed in whatever product was sitting on the shelf above the joke cushions. “I just wanted to stop again, you know – nostalgia,” she added, and Zonko nodded, as though he understood perfectly.
“Come back anytime you like,” he said warmly, and then moved back in the direction of the counter of tills, disappearing into a back room. Beth stood in the middle of the shop for a few moments more, breathing in the smell – who knew when she would be back, who knew if she ever would come back? – and then left the shop, a tinny bell tinkling in her wake.
Severus was already much farther down the street by the time she’d stepped back into the chill of the November evening, a fleeing shadow. Beth tamped down the urge to call out his name, for prudency – and also because she remembered anew just how scared she was to talk to him in the first place.
What will I do if he’s changed?
She trailed after him at a respectable distance, trying not to feel as though she was stalking him. He moved at a quick pace, and once she nearly lost him round a corner toward the end of the main stretch of shops, after he’d ducked through a side alley she hadn’t anticipated. But when Beth rounded the final turn in the road, there he was, waiting for her at the end of it, before the pavestones gave way to a dirt track through the low hills surrounding the village.
She could feel her heart speed up as she approached, her breath coming in short and shallow gasps from her lungs. Severus’s eyes betrayed no emotion as she came to a stop in front of him, a few steps away. Bits of hair that had escaped from her bun blew across her eyes but she didn’t push them away. Each looked at the other, doing nothing else but studying.
Severus spoke first. “Hello,” he said – politely, formally. Beth felt a small clench of panic and swallowed against it.
Severus shifted to step a bit closer to her, so that his face was cut even deeper into shadow; there were deep hollows beneath his cheekbones. “How are you?” he said softly, and a small chill darted up her spine. And it suddenly hit Beth that he didn’t know what had happened last night – he didn’t know anything about James and Lily, or Peter, or Sirius. Did he? She searched his eyes, but there was nothing in them.
“I – have you heard?” she asked bluntly. His forehead wrinkled.
Beth blew out a breath, closing her eyes briefly. He needed to hear – but saying the words aloud would make it more true, every time she had to. In some absurd way, she would have liked to have withheld the need to talk about it forever. Better to live in ignorance.
“Do you want to sit down?” Severus asked, and, without waiting for an answer, walked a bit farther back the way they had come. Madame Puddifoot’s tea shop was shuttered against the night, but tables of white lacework iron were still propped up on the pavement, and it was to one of these he moved. Beth followed him apprehensively. He seated himself at one and motioned across from him, silently urging her to sit.
Out with it, then.
“James and Lily are dead,” she blurted out, even before she had taken her seat across from Severus. He froze, hands in the process of moving from table to lap, and looked up at her blankly.
“I’m so sorry.” Her voice had lost its quality in between this sentence and the previous one; Beth sank heavily into the chair opposite him and clenched her own hands together in her lap, wringing her fingers together. He had lowered his eyes from hers to stare at the top of the table, mouth half-open in shock.
“And there’s more,” she continued in a rush. Now that she had started talking, Beth could feel more words bubbling up inside of her, desperate to be said so she could shove them aside, not think about them anymore. “Peter… he’s dead, too. Sirius is in Azkaban.” It sounded so fruitless out loud: Her life, fractured to pieces.
“My God.” Severus lifted a hand, rubbed his lips with the tips of his thin fingers. “My God.” There was nothing else for it but to appeal to higher powers. Beth watched him nervously, pressing her lips together. And the worst of it was that she could feel years-old feelings welling up within her – jealousy, primarily, that he was thinking of Lily. How could she be so stupidly selfish at a time like this?
It seemed ages before he met her eyes again. Severus lowered his hand to rest with the other, and swallowed hard. “Are you okay, Beth?”
“I – yeah,” she said automatically, and then paused. “I mean… no,” she amended carefully. “I don’t know. I don’t know.” A small, sad smile twisted the course of his mouth, and he stretched his hand across the table towards her, palm up. She laid her own on it gratefully, grateful tears pricking her eyes. “Are you?”
“I hadn’t spoken to Lily in years,” Severus said, but a mask had dropped across his eyes at that. There was much under the surface, she could see, but knew no specifics; Severus and Lily had had an understandably complicated relationship. He had retreated to a part of himself that Beth couldn’t access, but she knew better than to try and follow him there.
He looked up at her suddenly, eyes dark with sudden remembrance. “Beth. Your dad’s dead too.”
Her stomach twisted, hard; she felt suddenly nauseous. “I know,” she said, voice cracking, and cleared her throat. “I – yeah. I found out not long after he died.”
He pressed his fingers into his eyes and groaned. “Beth, I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. It was –“
“It’s okay.” She didn’t mean to cut him off, but she found, quite suddenly, that she didn’t want to know. Severus wouldn’t have known her dad was dead unless he’d been around for it in some way, or heard about it from one of his friends, or maybe… No, Beth didn’t want to think about that. It didn’t matter now. He was here, and her dad was dead, and what was had been done was in the past. Whatever he’d been about to say, she forgave him for it.
And still curiosity burned in her throat. Beth spoke his name before she meant to.
Just like that, he returned to her; his expression softened at her nickname for him. It made the next question sit even more heavy with guilt in her stomach. “This sounds so stupid,” she prefaced, as though that would make it easier, “but did… when you forgot me…” Beth swallowed, her mouth bone-dry. “Did you think you were doing it for Lily?”
There. She had said it.
Severus blinked, as though expecting her question to have been about something different. “Yes.”
“Oh.” She hated how small, how feeble, her voice sounded. But he seemed to sense the weight behind her question, what she had left unasked: Did you do it for the same reason you told me you were doing it when you still remembered me?
He closed his fingers briefly around hers, squeezing for only a second before releasing them again. “It wasn’t the same,” Severus told her. “And it’s very strange, knowing that now, but it’s like… my memories of the past year, and my memories of you, they’ve meshed together again. In my mind.” He frowned. “I can remember not remembering you… but I know now what I did to you, and what came before. Does that make sense?” She must have still looked confused or worried, because he added, “You’re different, Beth. I promise you that. If I’d had any idea –“ He broke off, smiling that same sad, small smile. “I won’t do that to you again. Not by choice.”
Beth let out a shaky breath. “Good.” She grinned at him and it was her turn to squeeze his hand. They said nothing for a few minutes, and there was no sound at this deserted end of Hogsmeade, save the wind whipping round the corners of the surrounding buildings. In the distance, an owl hooted once, twice, and then fell silent.
“What happens now?” she asked at last. It had not occurred to her until just a few moments ago that neither of them had planned beyond this moment, this meeting outside Madame Puddifoot’s. Combined with everything else that had happened in such short succession, it hadn’t even crossed her mind that they would have to come up with what came next. All her plans had stopped at getting Severus’s memories back. Beyond that, time was infinitely unknown.
He cleared his throat, drawing his hand back toward them, settling them in his lap. “Well.” Severus reached up and rubbed his hand along the back of his neck. “I – I had a bit of time to think about it, last night,” he said, almost as if in apology. “Everything that’s happened, I mean.” He looked up at her, eyes boring into her so that Beth felt her cheeks prickling with warmth, without knowing why. “Let’s get married.”
It felt as though something had just slammed into Beth’s chest at high impact. Her blood was thudding in her ears; she was sure she hadn’t heard him correctly. “What?” she gasped, as though deprived of air. She found that she was standing up, with no memory of having risen to her feet.
Even in the darkness, she could see his cheeks color. “Hear me out,” he said quickly, apparently preparing himself for impending rejection. “I just – I wanted to keep you safe, Beth, you know that. I still want to keep you safe. And I’ve known for a long time now that I was going to ask you someday.” Severus’s eyes sharpened, though not unkindly. He jumped to his feet alongside her. “Why not now? What’s stopping us?”
Beth’s head swam. “You want to marry me?” she rasped, unable to produce more sound than that.
“We don’t have to now,” he said hastily, ducking his head now. Beth clasped her hand beneath her chin, digging the bone into the space between her middle and ring finger. Her tongue felt thick and ungainly in her mouth, and something dangerously close to happy delirium was boiling inside of her. She wanted to say a thousand things, a million of them, but they all got lost on the way to her mouth. But the fact remained that here he was, and he remembered her, and he wanted to marry her and had known even before his memories of her had been erased…
“I’m sorry,” Severus muttered. His hands balled into fists at his sides, and he tilted his head toward the ground, curtains of hair swinging to hide his eyes. “Just –“
“No!” Her hand snaked out and wrapped around his wrist, and he looked up at her again. “I – yes. Yes!” Beth’s mouth split into a wide grin, desperate to convey what her fallible words could not.
Something sparked in the pit of his dark eyes. “You’ll marry me?” It was his turn to whisper, for words to fail him. A flit of a grin crossed his face and the lamplight glinted off his teeth. Beth nodded, pressing her fingers to her lips as a smile slipped across them, squeezing her eyes shut. She heard, rather than saw, Severus step forward. With light hands, he placed his palms on either side of her jaw and kissed her forehead.
“Soon,” Beth whispered around her fingers, and she felt him smile against her skin.
“Give me two days,” Severus said. “I’ll come and get you at your flat.” He drew back and smiled down at her, his hands still lying flat on her cheeks.
“This is crazy,” Beth laughed, but Severus only grinned.
They began walking unconsciously back in the direction of the main section of the village, and it was growing brighter with more lamps to light their way. Somewhere along the way he had slipped his hand into hers, lacing their fingers together, and as absurd as the idea would have been only a week earlier, nothing seemed more natural now. Beth felt as though she were walking on clouds. It was impossible, improbable, absurd – and true.
She was getting married!
A/N: SCREECH. GUYS, THEY'RE GETTING MARRIED, REALLY AND FOR REAL, AND YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW HOW LONG I'VE HAD TO SIT ON THIS INFORMATION. ♥ ♥ ♥ I have seriously known that Severus and Beth were going to get married since I sat down to write In The Black, and with the exception of one or two people, I have had to keep it inside for two years. BUT NO MORE. WEDDING BELLS, ANYONE? Oh my gosh, I can't stop smiling. I'm so excited! Consider this your small, perhaps inadequate but well-intentioned present after the melancholy of the last few chapters! And every chapter after this will include some sort of Severus/Beth moment, too. I promise.
GUYS. THEY'RE GETTING MARRIED.
Okay. I promise I'll stop now. Three chapters left! (Holy cow.) Thank you so much for reading and reviewing and everything awesome!
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