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Breaking Even by TenthWeasley
Chapter 29 : Into Hogwarts Again
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 6


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When Beth next awoke, she was greeted by moonlight filtering in through the filmy white curtains that shaded the twin windows across from the bed. She stretched and snuggled deeper into the thick duvet, half-wishing for a few more minutes of sleep, but then realized that the pillow her fingers had brushed was cold. She jerked upright, heart racing, and then heard the trickling of water from a shower faucet behind the closed bathroom door.

She sank back against the pillows, grinning into the blankets, unable to contain her happiness. Butterflies were flitting around in her stomach, and every time she remembered that it was Severus behind that door, and that the two of them really were married, it was as though she had to continually pinch herself to prevent it from being a very wonderful dream.

Beth emerged from beneath the covers again, drawing out her left hand and laying it on top of the blankets. One of the fragile rays of moonlight sparked off the diamond on her wedding ring, throwing minuscule rainbows on the fabric. She turned it, making the rainbows dance. She was still looking at the silver band when Severus stepped through the door, steam wafting around him in great clouds. Beth grinned at him, just a bit sheepishly.

He crossed the floor and bent over her, kissing her forehead; the ends of his hair dripped water onto her shoulders and collarbone, but she didn’t mind. “Good morning,” he said, lips still against her forehead.

“Hi,” she said, and then smiled even more widely for no reason at all other than that she could. She watched as Severus crossed to the dresser across the room, grabbing the same shirt and trousers he’d worn the day before and making to move back to the bathroom. But just before he crossed the threshold again, he stopped, turning to look at her.

“Beth?”

“Hmm?” Beth’s eyes had flicked back down to the ring on her finger; she looked up at him, running over the gems with the pad of her right thumb. His eyes softened when he noticed, but a determination came back into them almost immediately.

“I have to run to the school.” Severus’s mouth twisted slightly, as though tasting something sour. “I’m sure I’ve been… missed. I’ll have to explain everything to Dumbledore.” He shifted slightly, moving the shirt in his left hand to his right. “Will you stay here until I get back?”

“I’m coming with you,” she said immediately, swinging her legs out of bed and moving toward her own dress, in its own heap on the second dresser. “We’ll both explain.”

“You can’t –“

“Sev.” Beth looked at him over her shoulder, straightening the skirt of the red dress and fiddling with the sash around her waist, tying it loosely over her navel. “If he’s going to find out that you remember who I am, he sort of needs to know how I got into the castle and got the bottle of memories back in the first place. Besides,” she added, straightening the shoulder seams and lifting her hair from inside the dress’s neckline, “he deserves to hear it from the both of us.”

Severus smiled, and she knew she’d won. Submission was carved into every line of that gesture. “I’ll be ready in five minutes,” he told her, and eased the door closed behind him, swathes of steam still issuing out from the crack beneath it.

*

As they approached the castle nearly an hour later, Beth and Severus both found that their euphoric mood was dimming somewhat in the prospect of facing Dumbledore and telling them exactly why his potions professor had gone missing in action earlier in the day. It had been easy to forget that morning in the light of what they were doing, but nightfall had meant that he had to face up to what he’d done. It was time that both of them did.

His fingers were twined snugly with hers leading up to the gate, and he let go of them as he closed his hand around the bars of the school gate. They melted away like smoke, and the path leading to Hogwarts’s front doors stretched dimly ahead of them up through the sloped lawn. Beth averted her eyes from the blank gaze of the winged boars again; even now, they made her feel nervous.

“God,” she heard Severus mutter under his breath, and pressed a bit closer to him for reassurance. They’d both done much scarier things than this in the past year or so alone – what was walking into Hogwarts compared with mission work, Death Eater meetings, dodging Timothy Parrish around every turn? He began up the path, and she followed, stomach turning all the same.

Beth hadn’t had much time to appreciate Hogwarts at night when she’d been here a few days earlier – it hadn’t escaped her notice that this would be the second time she’d crept into the castle under darkness in less than a week – but she looked about her carefully now, as though to drink it all in. The moon limned the edges of the towers and turrets that poked their heads above the castle walls, turning the black roofs silver and white. The grass on either side of the path was black, but in the distance, stars glinted off the lake, mirror-like.

She was reminded of all the times back in school, standing watch over the Whomping Willow while Remus transformed. Beth turned her head up and squinted at the moon, cradled in the silhouetted branches of a tree. It was nearly full – did Remus sense that, wherever he was, whatever he was up to since she’d stormed out of his flat? She imagined she could feel the wind ruffling her feathers and see it glinting off James’s antlers. She wondered if she’d ever transform again; without the boys, it almost seemed foolish.

She let out a small sigh, brushing hair out of her eyes, and Severus looked back at her. The turn of his head shadowed his eyes, but she could see concern in them still. “All right?” he asked softly, as though speaking too loudly would break whatever spell held the castle in midnight limbo.

“All right,” she responded, and despite the reminiscing, it was the truth.

The thing to be said for making one’s way into the castle under cover of blackness was that it was almost a sure thing that no one would be inside the doors, and that truth held now. The entrance hall echoed with the emptiness of their footsteps when Beth and Severus stepped inside it, the torches ranged along the wall burning low in their brackets and stretching their shadows wide across the stone. Severus held his hand up, listening.

He apparently heard nothing, and started forward across the hall. But Beth was only a few steps behind him when there was a noise at the top of the grand staircase, and suddenly the lit tip of a wand flared into existence. Both of them shrank back as one, lifting their hands to shield their eyes from the sudden, harsh light.

“Mr. Snape.” Even though they had been working together at the school since the beginning of term, Professor McGonagall had apparently not yet dropped her habit of addressing Severus as though he was still a pupil of hers. In the wandlight her already-angular features looked even sharper and more birdlike, lit from below like a perverse jack-o’-lantern. “And Miss Bridger. Professor Dumbledore has been expecting you.”

Severus’s eyes darted to Beth’s; his were wide and not a little anxious, and she imagined that hers looked much the same. “Has he?” she asked the deputy headmistress, her voice shaking against her best efforts to prevent it. “How… nice.”

“Quite.” Professor McGonagall looked down at them from the top of the steps with an unreadable expression. “If you would both follow me, please. The headmaster is in his study.” Without stopping to make sure they would, in fact, follow her, she turned and disappeared around the corner. Severus reached back his hand, and Beth took it wordlessly, twining her fingers in his and gripping tight.

“Oh, lord,” she whispered. “Is it – is that a good thing or not?”

Severus didn’t answer, shaking his head and still staring at the spot where Professor McGonagall had disappeared. Tension made the lines of his muscles rigid, but then, with sudden decisiveness, he moved forward. Beth nearly tripped in trying to catch up with his long strides.

They had caught up to Beth’s old Head of House and were now walking briskly down the same carpet runners, past the same stone walls, the same torches in their same brackets. It was amazing, Beth thought, half-listening to her husband, just how much everything within these walls had stayed the same when everything outside had changed.

“There’s nothing he can do,” Severus was muttering under his breath. “He can – he can fire me, or whatever, but he can’t do anything about us. He can’t take me away from you again, not like last time.” Professor McGonagall glanced sharply over her shoulder, and he lowered his voice even further. “We’ll be fine. I promise.”

“I know,” Beth whispered back – and she did know. Severus was right. But that didn’t make her any less nervous as they rounded a corner and found themselves facing the blank hallway leading to Dumbledore’s, guarded at one end by its stone gargoyle.

“Exploding bonbons,” Professor McGonagall said, stopping abruptly. Severus ground his heels into the ground, and Beth, not watching closely, smacked her nose into his shoulder. She pointed austerely at the gargoyle. “That’s the password. He’ll be waiting for you upstairs.” And again without looking behind her, she marched off down the corridor, disappearing around the corner at the end.

Severus watched her go, one eyebrow raised. “All right, then,” he muttered, and Beth stepped around him, approaching the gargoyle hesitantly. She repeated the password to the statue, and it sprang to the side, allowing them entrance to the narrow spiral staircase leading up to the tower. Riding it twice in a week wasn’t something she would ever do under normal circumstances – but then again, under normal circumstances she shouldn’t have needed such frequent visits to the headmaster’s – and she closed her eyes tightly against the vertigo until her feet had landed against solid stone again.

Her hand had not even touched the wood of the door before she and Severus were asked to enter. They peeped around the doorframe timorously; Dumbledore was sitting behind his desk, looking fully engrossed in a red leather-bound book opened before him. He did not look up, but waved his wand wordlessly, and two chairs appeared in front of the desk. Severus and Beth each took one apprehensively.

“We’re married,” Severus blurted out. Beth fidgeted in her seat, fighting between the desire to cover her eyes and reach for her husband’s hand at the same time. Dumbledore reached for a scrap of gold ribbon and laid it across the pages of his book, closing the covers and folding his hands across the top.

“I suspected.”

“How?!” Beth said before thinking, darting her eyes at Severus. He’d folded his lips together in an emotionless expression. “It’s not even been twenty-four hours yet!”

Somewhat to her relief, Dumbledore smiled at the pair of them, a genuine smile that made the skin around his bright blue eyes crinkle. “A ring worn on that finger,” he said, indicating the fourth finger of her left hand, “usually indicates marriage or an engagement to be married. I’d narrowed it down to one or the other.”

“Oh,” she muttered.

Severus wasn’t finished. “And I’ve been absent since the morning,” he said. “I had lessons to teach today.”

“Fortunately, Professor McGonagall’s schedule coincided nicely with yours today,” he said, fingering the edge of the ribbon that was peeking out from between the pages of his book. “She has set your students to copying down the instructions for several of the potions you’ll be accomplishing in the coming weeks.” Dumbledore looked at Severus steadily through his gold spectacles and waited for him to say more.

But it didn’t make sense. There were no reprimands, there was no shouting… Dumbledore was acting as though the pair of them were making a routine visit to his office, nothing more. To him, it seemed that Beth and Severus appearing at his door in the middle of the night was no more of an interruption than a fairly pleasant social call.

The headmaster sighed and shifted in his chair, and Beth leaned forward unconsciously. Severus’s posture remained as rigid as it had been since arriving. “I was wrong,” Dumbledore said.

Severus blinked. “Come again?”

The older man again turned unblinking eyes onto the other. “There is plenty of hate in this world,” he said. He rose from his chair and turned his back on them, strolling over and turning his head slightly as though reading the titles on the spines of the books that lined his shelves. “I’m sure that is not a fact I have to explain to either of you, who have both worked along the sidelines of a war for the past few years. Hate is found festering in the hearts of men and women and children everywhere.” Dumbledore turned back around, and the light from the lamps caught on the silver stars on his robes, setting them briefly ablaze. “There is too much hate for me to inhibit love when it arises naturally. I was wrong.”

Beth felt a bit like the wind had been knocked out of her; glancing quickly to her left, she saw that Severus looked much as though he felt the same way. “You know about the memories,” she said hesitantly. It wasn’t a question.

He nodded and resumed his seat, again folding his hands on the leather-bound book, placing his chin on the tips of his fingers. “I had known for quite a while that your friends” – Beth’s throat closed up at the mention of James and Sirius – “had found out where they were. I had a hunch you would try and take them back before too long. You did have a few unexpected tricks up your sleeve, of course,” he added, smiling again.

The Invisibility Cloak and the Marauder’s Map. Did he know what had happened to them? But before she got a chance to ask, Severus spoke again.

“Your memory charm didn’t work,” he said. “Not completely.” He reached up and pressed the tips of a few fingers to his forehead. “When my memories were still gone… I remembered her. Halfway. Her face was fuzzy and indistinct, but her name was in a distant corner of my mind. I had headaches…” Severus trailed off, shaking his head slightly as though clearing water from his ears.

“Ah. Yes.” Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. “It was another effect I’d thought might occur, but of course there is no way to know unless something is tried. The very finicky thing about memory charms is that they are extremely complicated bits of magic, and are as yet only poorly understood at best.” He leaned back in his throne-like chair. “When the memory of something as strong as a deep personal relationship – like yours with Miss Bridger – or Mrs. Snape now, I suppose –”

Beth ducked her head, grinning in spite of the relative seriousness of the conversation. Dumbledore continued. “The memory of something as strong as that is extremely difficult to fully remove from all parts of the brain. Although I did as much as I knew how, Beth more than likely still existed in other sections of your mind: Your school days, where you’d heard her name spoken by classmates, or triggers of objects not specifically centered around her as a whole identity, would have potentially caused your mind to ring like an alarm clock.”

“Her bracelet.” Severus glanced down at the bird on its silver chain, still encircling Beth’s left wrist. “I remembered her because of the bracelet I gave her?”

“In part,” Dumbledore said, nodding and looking rather pleased, as though Severus was a student who’d just answered a revision question correctly. He turned his head to Beth. “Would you please tell me what happened when you restored Mr. Snape’s memories?”

Beth’s forehead wrinkled, attempting to remember as accurately as possible. “He… he sort of fainted.” Severus was looking at her with a slightly pop-eyed expression. “He swallowed the memories and slumped down behind his cauldron, and when he woke up… he remembered me again.”

To her surprise, this response made the headmaster beam happily. “And there you have it.”

Beth waited for a minute, expecting him to go on. When he didn’t, she ventured, “Sorry?”

“The memory charm did something rather peculiar,” Dumbledore said, turning back to look at Severus, “and took immediate effect. It melded nearly seamlessly with the memories already in your head, and that is something that could not have happened unless the memory charm had not removed them all in the first place.” He smiled. “In all my years, in all the books I’ve read, that is one thing that I have never known to happen. And it has puzzled me until now how you have managed to do it – but now I understand.”

For a short time after this, both Beth and Severus were silent. Neither could think of a thing to say to this, but there was some comfort in Dumbledore choosing to explain all of this to them. It made her feel slightly more secure, and less as though she needed to fear Severus’s brain rejecting its resurgence of memories or something.

“So… is that it, then?” Severus asked at last, the question dragged from him by necessity.

Dumbledore looked from him to Beth and then back again. “There is one request I must ask of you,” he said. “It involves Harry Potter.”

Beth sucked in a sharp breath. “Is he all right?”

“He’s fine,” the older man reassured her gently. “Getting along just as well as can be hoped at his aunt and uncle’s. But he won’t be under their care forever, of course. His name as already been inscribed on the register for first-year students of his age. He will be at Hogwarts in ten very short years, and while he is here he must be protected and watched over. We do not know what the remains of Lord Voldemort’s followers are planning. We can assume nothing. He must be brought up in as little danger as those among him can possibly allow.” He fixed his sharp eyes on Severus yet again. “I am asking you to watch over him when he is here. Both as a tribute to Lily and in memory of your wife’s good friendship with Harry’s father.”

Beth tried not to feel a small pang of jealousy at the mention of Lily, but Severus responded without hesitation. “Yes.”

Dumbledore nodded once, and then made to open his book again. “I do appreciate your coming to see me tonight,” he said, and traces of a smile played around the edges of his silver mustache. “We have cleared up many important matters, I think. It is by no means over, this war, but you have both come through it very admirably."

Tears sprang, unbidden, into Beth’s eyes, and she felt Severus’s hand reach out to seek hers. She locked her fingers with his, and warmth shot up her arm, coming to rest squarely in the middle of her chest. “And congratulations,” Dumbledore added. Severus smiled.

They left the office, bidding the headmaster good night, and descended the slowly-moving spiral stairs until they again stood in the blank corridor leading up to the stone gargoyle. Beth turned and wrapped her arms around Severus’s neck, burying her face in his chest. She felt him rest his cheek against the top of her head, and they stood like that for a long time, cloaked in moonlight coming in one of the windows dotting the corridor.

Dumbledore was right: The war was by no means over. Battles had been won and lost, and more were to come; lives had been sacrificed in the process, and she would feel the sting of their loss for a long time. So much had changed since that summer before her seventh year, when her greatest worry had been whether or not the boys would discover she fancied Sev in the first place.

She had him here with her now, though. It was not perfect… but it was close.

A/N: We're so close to the last chapter now, you guys! And this is basically the last REAL chapter -- chapter 30 serves the purpose of jumping ahead a bit and tying up just a few loose ends, but for the most part, this story is done. And that is too shocking for words, so I will not continue to ramble on about it... but this is weird, isn't it? Wow. I don't think I ever seriously thought I'd get here, but here we are indeed!

Any lingering questions or comments? I hope you enjoyed this chapter, and that you'll come back next week for my usual huge list of blubbering and thanks and all that jazz. End-of-novel author's notes are usually quite substantial on my part...

If you have the time, a review on this chapter would be so appreciated! Thank you for reading! 


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