You are viewing a story from

Nothing Else Matters by Renfair

Format: Novel
Chapters: 31
Word Count: 254,938

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Sensitive topic/issue/theme, Spoilers

Genres: Drama, General
Characters: Dumbledore, McGonagall, Snape, Molly, Narcissa, Voldemort, Umbridge, OC
Pairings: Snape/OC

First Published: 02/29/2012
Last Chapter: 05/18/2014
Last Updated: 05/18/2014

Banner by panacea.@TDA

Severus once spied for the Order of the Phoenix because he had nothing to lose. Following the Dark Lord’s resurrection, he finds himself once more walking a knife edge, this time to protect everything he has gained. 

After conquering the demons of her past, Avrille has come to terms with the fact that it’s impossible to change what the future has in store … Or is it?

Sequel to The Dream of One Night

Chapter 5: Chapter Five - Avrille


If I had expected Severus to instantly open up to me after his meeting with the Dark Lord just because I was now a member of the Order, then I would have been very disappointed. However, knowing Severus so well, my hopes of this happening were slim to none, so I wasn’t bothered at all when on his return he said absolutely nothing about what had transpired during his most recent trip out to the Riddle estate. Even more to the point, I found talking to be the last thing I wanted to do for the forty-five minutes or so we had alone before Char woke up from his nap. At least the surge of desire that rushed through me when I saw Severus was home again, safe and unharmed, wasn’t tinged with guilt this time as it had been the night of the Dark Lord’s resurrection. I was pleasantly surprised to see that, far from looking half-dead like that horrible night, Severus now returned to me exuding an air of confidence I had not sensed from him ever since the moment the Dark Mark first burned on his arm during the tournament. The self-assuredness I saw in his posture alone when he stepped into the room convinced me instantly that not only would he probably not mind if I shamelessly indulged in some of my bored housewife fantasies and had my way with him, but also, against all odds, things seemed to be actually going well with his spying for the Order.

But even if Severus had been toying with any thoughts of finally telling me something about his mysterious meetings with the Dark Lord and the other Death Eaters, he was never given the opportunity to bring up the subject. Having occurred so late in the day, Char’s long nap unfortunately did nothing for his mood. He seemed determined to whine from the very instant he woke up until bedtime, nothing appeasing his petulance except cuddling with me on the couch while clutching his bear and shooting Severus dirty looks if he dared to come within ten feet of us. I know I probably shouldn’t have been tolerating such behaviour toward his father, but Severus and I had both agreed when we moved back into the castle to give Char a bit more leeway than we normally would to help ease him into his new environment and routine. Not to mention the withering glares Char kept giving his father were, frankly, hilarious and seemed just a bit like poetic justice for the long lines of petrified first years from school terms past who had, probably undeservedly, been on the receiving end of my husband’s signature annoyed glowers from the very moment they alighted the Hogwarts Express.

I thought perhaps Severus would confide in me once we were alone after Char’s bedtime, but he remained silent. I let him be, not wanting to push my luck by asking for information when he seemed to be truly not angry about the whole “blatantly disregarding his wishes and joining the Order” thing. I figured he would come around in his own time if left alone. We spent the evening sitting quietly together, reading and discussing “safe” topics like interesting articles in the latest academic journals and the upcoming new school year, especially Professor Dumbledore’s unsurprising shooting down of Severus’s most recent attempt to leave his current job and take up the Defense Against the Dark Arts post. However, Severus refused to disclose who had been hired instead, stating that he was still far too insulted to discuss the topic in greater detail. I supposed I would simply have to either find out from someone else or wait to see for myself once the new year started.

When our conversation lulled, Severus turned back to the book he had been reading. I watched him discreetly out of the corner of my eye, wondering why he kept applying for a position he must know he’d almost certainly never get. I also wasn’t sure why he was so tenacious in his attempts to ditch Potions instruction when his brilliance in the subject was world-renowned. I thought perhaps he felt a sense of duty to at least try to obtain the position as some kind of reparation for the brief time he had served the Dark Lord in earnest before starting his career.

Severus let go of his book for a moment to rub distractedly at his left forearm as though his Dark Mark was irritating him under his shirtsleeve. I’d seen him do a similar motion several times since the Dark Lord’s resurrection. Never in public, of course, since he purposefully chose every single word and gesture with the utmost care when around other people, but sometimes when it was just the two of us alone, and he was more relaxed, his guard would slip. Seeing his unconscious discomfort, I thought maybe he hoped that, given the chance to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, he might be able to better influence the students and keep one or two of them from making the same mistakes he had, mistakes he was still paying for dearly to this day.

It took over two weeks of waiting for Severus to finally acknowledge my new role as a fellow member of the Order of the Phoenix, but eventually my patience was rewarded. Since summer had begun, I’d been shamelessly wheedling him to allow us to go on some sort of outing as a family, knowing a true vacation was out of the question given the current precariousness of our situation. Indeed, for a long time, Severus was against us going anywhere at all since he was very concerned about not wanting to give any Death Eater possibly keeping tabs on him cause to consider even for a moment he was trying to flee. After valiantly enduring three straight days of pouting from both Char and myself, Severus finally relented and agreed a day trip to the seaside of his childhood home could hardly be taken out of context.

We left directly following breakfast after ordering a picnic lunch from the kitchens, which Severus then sent ahead to the beach since it was still easier for him to bypass the protective enchantments he had set on the property long ago. After slathering three layers of a sun-screening potion over every inch of Char’s pale skin, we left the castle and Disapparated once through the gates to instantly appear outside the equally towering iron gates of Greyadder House. It took Severus literally seconds to temporarily peel aside the layer of magic keeping the gates inaccessible to us, unlike the hours it had taken me last time I was in this location.

Though it had been his practice in the past to return here every year right before Christmas to take care of the property and his mother’s grave on the anniversary of her death, as far as I knew, Severus hadn’t been back once since we left here together over two years ago following his imprisonment in his father’s tomb. This past December and the previous one, I had asked Severus if he was going to make his annual pilgrimage. Both times he found excuses to postpone it, seemingly indefinitely. The first year he had cited my looming delivery of Char as the reason and his wish to be right at hand in the meantime while Sirius Black was on the loose. The second time it was because of the extra pressure the he and the other teachers were under with preparations for the Yule Ball, as well as Karkaroff’s presence in the school. All of his justifications were legitimate, but I still wondered if it was healthy for Severus to give this place even more power over him by avoiding it instead of working through his past trauma and facing it head-on.

But maybe that was what drove Severus to suggest our coming here now, in the middle of summer with his family by his side. Indeed, Severus didn’t appear to be the least bit uncomfortable and was evening smiling as he pointed out to Char the names and properties of plants we passed as we slowly crossed the verdant park, many of which he hadn’t seen since he was practically a boy himself since he only ever came here in the beginning of desolate winter. As it had been such a long time since he’d last checked on his mother’s gravesite, Severus understandably wanted to make a stop there before we headed down to the beach. I was also looking forward to visiting Charlotte’s grave, if that’s the right way to word it, because I wanted Char to finally “meet” his grandmother and namesake. He must have had a vague notion in his toddler mind of who she was. I often showed him her picture and faithfully told him every single night before bed how much she loved him, just as I had sworn to do after the last remnants of Charlotte’s spirit helped me save her son’s life.

When the grave under the chestnut tree came into view, Severus instantly bemoaned its ragged, overgrown state and vowed to return when he had more time to truly take care of it. He probably could have easily put things to rights with a few wand sweeps, but I knew he preferred to tend to it manually as a sign of respect. I offered to bring Char on ahead so he could do some work now and maybe have a few moments of quiet for reflection, but Severus shook his head and said it could wait whereas he’d never have another chance to watch our son’s reaction to seeing the sea for the first time. So we made our way down behind the back of the house, fortunately in a different direction from the family mortuaries, which neither Severus nor I were in any hurry to view. The gentle slope of the lush lawns quickly gave way to a small but wild stretch of forest thick with surprisingly ancient-looking beech, oak and ash trees. Severus did pull out his wand at this point to clear a way through the almost completely overgrown path while I followed, carrying Char to keep him from getting caught up in the few stubborn creepers that refused to be forced aside. After only a few minutes of walking, we broke through the other side of the tree line and were greeted by the breathtaking sight of the late morning sun sparkling off the English Channel.

Char could barely contain himself at the sight of the waves below him and kept trying to pull his hand from mine as I guided him down the steep, crumbly path of sandstone and clay to the beach. I finally released him at the bottom of the cliff to totter unsteadily through the rocky sand to the very edge of the water, of course only after Severus had assured me that because this stretch of water was in a sheltered bay, Char was perfectly safe from the numerous things driving my mommy-brain in overactive protection mode like undertows, poisonous jellyfish, hammerhead sharks, and marauding pirates. My mind was eased even further with the realization that Char was unlikely to go past his ankles since the cold water rushing over his feet made him turn tail and run back to us crying. Severus laughed as he scooped up our son, who was already demanding by vigorous pointing to be brought back over to the water, as long as he was about five feet higher this time. I found I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard Severus laugh, and the sound of it calmed me greatly.

It took a while for Char to consent to be put down. However, after a few minutes of Severus bending over yet holding him high up enough to let his feet dangle a bit in the waves (I made a mental note to massage Severus’s probably aching back once Char was asleep later), Char decided the beach wasn’t so bad after all. Severus stood guard over him as he ran splashily back and forth through the surf foam, picking up treasures and stashing them in his pocket for later like broken pieces of shell and dried-out crab carapaces. I lay out a blanket on the smoothest patch of sand I could find and dropped down on it to catch a bit of sunshine while listening to the roar of the sea drowning out my son’s delighted squeals. Though I certainly didn’t want to burn, my skin felt ravenous for the light. I had gotten used to having plenty of sunshine while living in our Hogsmeade cottage, and this transition to living in the dungeons again seemed a bit harder than before in that respect. Maybe it was because I had a subtle feeling of actually being trapped down there now, even more so than when we wrongly believed Sirius Black was trying to break into the school to kill Harry Potter.

The fresh scent of the salty, seaweedy air, the feel of the gusting coastal breeze blowing off the waves through my hair, and the cackling cries of the gulls around us made me realize just how much I had missed the sea, as well. Growing up near Yarmouth in Nova Scotia, then spending much of my adolescence and early adulthood in New England, there was barely a time in my life before coming to Hogwarts where I wasn’t near the ocean. I hadn’t noticed this sense of loss until now. I wouldn’t exactly call it homesickness, because I truly felt my home was wherever Severus and Char were, but it still left me a bit wistful.

But mothers can’t be allowed to indulge in luxuries like nostalgia. Char was kind enough to remind me of this by dropping two handfuls of freezing wet mud onto my stomach while my eyes were closed. My shriek from the cold and Severus’s yelled reprimand from behind him instantly brought a quiver to Char’s lower lip, but I was able to distract him from crying again by handing him a piece of sea-glass I had found earlier as I scooped wet sand off of me with my other hand to fling it away.

“Forgive me,” Severus said as he rushed over. “For some idiotic reason, I thought he was going to build a sandcastle.”

I raised my eyebrows at him as I pulled out my wand to dry the saturated spot on my sundress. “Yeah, that was a bit silly considering he’s never even seen one before.”

“Somehow that makes me feel like a horrible father,” Severus commented, dropping down on the blanket beside me and brushing sand from his hands.

“I’ll make sure to inform the proper authorities of your neglect as soon as we’re back home,” I replied solemnly and patted him on the shoulder.

“I’m serious. I can’t believe I haven’t brought him to the beach until now. I’m sure my mother had me out here the day I was born.”

“In the middle of January?” I asked with a bit of scepticism.

“Well, perhaps a few months later,” Severus admitted, “but earlier than this, certainly.”

“We were a bit busy last summer with the Ministry inquest, buying a house, and preparations for the tournament,” I reminded him. “Not to mention Char only started sleeping through the night about three months ago.”

“I know. I just …” Severus stared off across the water, his eyes squinted in the bright sunshine creating the traces of several lines I’d never noticed before on his face. “Sometimes I just wish I hadn’t chosen to shoulder so much responsibility before I met you.” I wasn’t sure if he was referring to his duties at Hogwarts or his past decisions regarding the Dark Lord and the Order, though the slight slump of his shoulders made me guess it was the latter.

“Come on,” I said, grasping his arm and pulling him up with me as I stood. I knew I had to distract Severus before he began wallowing in guilt over things that couldn’t be changed now. “We’d better start remedying the deficiency in Char’s sandcastle education before any more time passes.”

The hard set of Severus’s expression softened somewhat as he followed me over to where Char was crouching on a barnacle-crusted stretch of breakwater rocks, poking globs of stringy seaweed in a tidal pool with a stick of driftwood. He was still clutching the smoky-green shard of sea-glass I had given him tightly in his other dimpled fist. Severus finally smiled as Char handed the sea-glass to him, trusting his father to safeguard his priceless artefact so he could smack at the sun-warmed water of the tidal pool with an open palm.

Once the pool stopped holding Char’s interest captive, we led him over to some damp sand the retreating tide had left behind to show him how a sandcastle was made. We didn’t have any proper shovels or pails since neither of us knew where we would conjure such a thing from without accidentally stealing from a Muggle store, and we didn’t have anything suitable to try and transfigure, so Severus Summoned over an old set of cooking spoons and pots from the house’s kitchens. After a good hour of unrelenting effort to convince Char to stop dumping out the pots full of sand before we had them even halfway full, and to please not step all over the one standing mould we had managed to erect successfully, Severus and I decided it was a bit of a lost cause and agreed we’d just try again next year.

By then it was past noon, and all three of us were ravenous; I had forgotten how much the sea air awakened one’s appetite. After Summoning the picnic basket, I looked around a little hopelessly for a bit of shade since the sun’s heat was already searing, even with the breeze. Severus said that if Char and I could bear to wait just a little longer, he had a place in mind for us to eat that would probably also keep Char’s interest for the rest of the afternoon. Intrigued, I let him take the basket of food to send to the mystery place while I held Char’s hand and followed him up the beach a ways.

The stretch of sand we had been occupying soon gave way to rough jumbles of reddish rocks, fallen down from the nearly sheer cliff face that had blocked our view of the rest of the cove. Once we had carefully stepped through the uneven and slippery terrain to turn the bend around the cliff, I was amazed to see an old stone lighthouse before us, situated at the end of a long jetty of enormous rocks.

At the sight of the lighthouse, Char instantly tried to bolt away from me to charge headlong at it, so I had to take a moment to wrestle him into my arms. He finally consented to be held, as long as I kept walking toward the incredibly big, cool building he needed to explore now. It didn’t take us very long to reach the actual lighthouse, though we needed to go very slowly across the jetty since I didn’t want to touch the ancient-looking steel wire handrail that was as red as the surrounding clay cliffs from rust. Char leapt out of my hold once we had mounted the steps up to the base of the lighthouse and instantly began running laps around it, the smack of his sandals keeping us apprised of his location like a cat’s bell.

The wind was even fiercer out here away from the shelter of the cliffs, sending both my hair and Severus’s whipping around our faces and spritzing us with a salty mist. I was glad the lighthouse was surrounded by a guardrail of thick metal bars since I felt like one good, strong gust could send Char tumbling into the ocean. These rails, at least, looked in much better condition than the rusted wires on the jetty, though I cast a waist-high Imperturbable Charm around the perimeter just in case. Char discovered this almost instantly when he ran over to try and climb the fence to look down at the waves crashing against the sloped side of the small rock island. He bounced gently off to fall back on his bottom then turned to glare at me fiercely for a second before jumping up and running at the door of the lighthouse instead, threatening to tear it from its steel hinges with his violent attempts to wrench it open.

“Is this really a good idea?” I asked Severus with a raised eyebrow and a sigh.

“Absolutely. Boys his age need to explore,” Severus replied as he took out his own wand and flicked it once at the door to unlock it. Char hadn’t been counting on this sudden allowed access and fell over again when he did, in fact, pull the door open by throwing his whole body weight at the handle and dangling from it with both arms. However, Severus was spared the same look of censure I had been graced with since our son didn’t mind a few bumps and scrapes if it was in pursuit of what he wanted. Instead, Char leapt to his feet once more and was poised to sprint inside the shadowy entrance before being stopped by his father’s hand on his shoulder.

“But perhaps I had better go in first to investigate,” Severus conceded.

I allowed Char to follow him inside to the ground level of the high-reaching circular tower. I cast the same charm on the coiling metal stairs as I had on the railing outside since I had learned long ago it was much easier to just physically prevent Char from going where I didn’t want him to than dealing with his tantrums when he was constantly removed from the inappropriate places he was climbing. Fortunately, Char was ignoring the stairs for the moment and instead had begun digging for his water bottle in the picnic basket, which Severus’s magic had sent to rest in the middle of a coil of thick rope near the door. I helped Char find his drink and set him up with a handful of carrot sticks before hearing Severus’s voice beckoning us further into the lighthouse’s interior.

We quickly found him a couple rooms in, cleaning off the grimy surfaces of a plank table and two chairs set in an alcove of the wall in front of a window overlooking the water. When the dining area was sanitary, Severus and I sat and started eating while Char explored the few, tiny rooms of the former lighthouse keeper’s apartment. Every couple minutes he would run back to us for a bite of sandwich like a begging pigeon before tearing off to resume activities like pulling battered copper pans out of a cupboard or staring intently at a dusty ship in a bottle on a nearby windowsill.

“So what is this place?” I asked Severus as I dug into a bowl of pasta salad heartily.

“A lighthouse,” he replied dryly, pouring himself a glass of wine.

I rolled my eyes. “Really? I never would have guessed on my own,” I said with a slice of cutting sarcasm myself. “But what’s the history? Did your family used to run it?”

Severus laughed humourlessly and sat back in his rickety pine chair to sip his wine. “The Greyadders would have never deigned to engage in a task so menial; they probably would have found my own respectable occupation unsuitable on the mere grounds that I actually work for my living. I’m sure my ancestors employed some family of lesser standing to maintain this place for them.”

“So it was already closed when you were little?”

Severus nodded and put down his glass. “My mother barely even remembered it running. She said it had been built a century earlier as a gesture of goodwill towards the Muggle government to keep them out of our affairs, but my grandfather shut it down when it appeared the Muggles were going to entangle themselves in a second World War. He never bothered reopening it, wanting to save the expense to increase my mother’s inheritance instead.” Severus said this last part with contempt, and I knew he was thinking that his grandfather’s thoughtful gesture had probably just given his own father more money to drink away.

I stopped asking questions at that and finished my sandwich in silence. Severus’s family history was still a very sensitive topic, and it was hard for me sometimes to figure out what I could ask that would give me more insight into the lives of my dead in-laws without drudging up too many painful memories for him. Char’s uncharacteristic quietness attracted my attention, but on looking over at him, I was relieved to see he was merely sitting on the floor in front of a blackened hearth, examining a collection of scrimshaw he had discovered in a carved wooden box. He was turning each piece of whalebone around with his fingers several times to examine it at every angle with surprising attentiveness before placing it gently on the flagstone floor next to him, arranging them in order of length.

Severus was finished eating as well and had been sitting with his chin resting on his hand, staring out the window at the ocean. Without breaking his intense scrutiny of the horizon, he suddenly asked me, “Are you still completing the daily Occlumency exercises I set you last year?”

“Yes, of course,” I said. I thought I should have been presented a medal at the very least for managing to keep up with those despite the chaotic mess my mind was left in by the time Char was done with breakfast.

“And employing Occlumency each night before you go to sleep?”

“Um … most of the time,” I admitted guiltily. It was really all I could do to remember those damn finicky little exercises of his every morning. Half the time at night I was nearly asleep before my head even hit the pillow, any thoughts of trying to bulwark my thoughts beforehand completely lost in a zombie-like daze. I knew I really should be putting more of an effort into trying to maintain a twenty-four hour straight Occlumency spell like I’m sure Severus did. At the very least, I was nearly certain learning Occlumency was the reason I hadn’t dreamt a vision since the night over two years back when I purposefully set out to have one in order to find Severus when he had fallen under his father’s curse. It was probably sheer luck no visions had arisen from my lax enforcement of my mental walls.

“Avrille …” Severus began, looking sidelong at me, his voice slipping by habit into his disappointed-teacher tone.

“I know, I know. I promise I’ll work harder at it. I know how important it is, especially now,” I hastily interjected before he could chastise me too much.

He sighed and began fiddling with the discarded cork from the wine bottle. I waited patiently, trying not to hold my breath in anticipation. There seemed to be only one reason why Severus would broach the subject of Occlumency out of nowhere. He must want to tell me something important, something that he wouldn’t like to discuss unless he was sure my mind was as impenetrable as his own.

Finally, he said to the tabletop, “There’s going to be an Order meeting tomorrow night.”

“Oh?” I asked lightly. Severus looked up at me through his wind-tousled hair, scowling slightly, but I could tell he was fighting to keep a smile off of his face as I stared back at him, the absolute picture of innocence.

With a heavy sigh of resignation like I’d physically beaten him into submission, he continued, “If Lavinia would consent to watch Char for us, I think you should come with me.”

I did mental fist-pumps in the air before inwardly composing myself and stating, “I’m sure she will. She told me when the term ended that she’d be glad to babysit him any time we wanted to do something just the two of us.”

“I’m positively astounded. I was under the impression she still assumed I had used a love potion to seduce you against your will.” I knew Severus was joking, but little did he know Lavinia had actually accused him of it when I told her about our engagement after that school year ended. I’d finally put her mind at rest by offering to drink an antidote. She wouldn’t let me, but only on the grounds that she didn’t know if it would be safe for the baby.

Now that it appeared Severus was finally ready to admit I should be given at least some idea of what was going on in the fight against the Dark Lord, I couldn’t resist taking advantage of it. However, I reigned in the excitement I was feeling. I didn’t want him to think I wasn’t taking the responsibility of being a member of the Order incredibly seriously. “What’s the meeting for?” I asked.

Severus hesitated before answering, glancing over at Char, who still playing quietly with his discoveries, as though checking to see if our son was listening in. I know it was simply a habit of his to be so cautious, but it seemed kind of silly to be concerned with Char repeating anything we said when his entire vocabulary consisted of about seven words, three of them having to do with going potty.

“This will most likely be the last time most of the Order is able to gather since those of us at Hogwarts will be preparing for the new term very shortly, and it’s going to look suspicious if several members of the staff all leave the school together in the future,” Severus eventually replied, speaking in a slight rush as though relieved he was finally able to share some information with me. “Professor Dumbledore has reason to believe the Ministry is going to be keeping a close watch on Hogwarts in the coming months. However, we won’t hear any more about that tomorrow night since I’m going to be heading the meeting. Professor Dumbledore stated he will be busy with other matters, though he wouldn’t tell me specifically what.” I felt a rush of pride thinking of Severus having such an important duty. It somehow balanced out the risk he was taking with the Death Eater side of things.

“As far as what we’ll be discussing, obviously Harry Potter’s safety needs to be addressed since certain people have been shirking their assigned duties,” he continued with disdain, though I didn’t know who he was referring to specifically. “Tomorrow evening, several Order members will be escorting Potter from his aunt and uncle’s house to headquarters where he’ll spend the remainder of his holiday. I’m sure you’ve read in the Prophet how the Ministry is trying to discredit both him and Professor Dumbledore, but circumstances over the past few days have shown it likely that at least one person with clout in the Ministry is attempting to harm Potter more seriously than just bruising his inflated ego. Until we discover who that person is, Potter is to remain under the direct supervision of Order members at all times until he returns to school.”

“But why would anyone in the Ministry want to hurt Harry?” I asked, inwardly furious that once again that poor boy was in danger. Couldn’t he even have his summer vacation to be left alone in peace and recover from his horrible ordeal in June?

“We don’t know. It could be a Ministry official was Imperiused by a Death Eater, or someone in the Ministry is actually working for the Dark Lord, though I highly doubt this since I know all of the current Death Eaters, their numbers being so few nowadays, and it’s unlikely he would have been able to turn someone new in such a short time with his current resources. It’s my opinion, and Professor Dumbledore agrees with me, that it’s most likely someone trying to protect the Ministry’s reputation by silencing Potter permanently.”

“That seems even worse than the Dark Lord doing it. You would expect that sort of thing from him … but our own government?”

Severus smiled wryly. “You obviously don’t know many politicians. It’s a disturbing thought, but not at all unlikely given the sort of people Fudge has handpicked for his cabinet over the years. But that will be something Professor Dumbledore has to investigate himself. Tomorrow night’s meeting should mainly consist of bringing everyone up to speed on the current situation and making sure we’re all on the same page in case we’re not able to meet like this again until Christmas.”

A quiet sigh brought our attention over to Char. He had pushed aside his scrimshaw collection and was lying on the hearth with his head resting on his elbow.

“I guess that’s our cue to head home,” I said, standing up and tossing things back into the picnic basket. Hopefully the outing had worn out Char enough for him to take  a long nap. I was considering joining him, the combination of fresh air, hearty food, and a glass of wine having made me fairly drowsy. Severus scooped Char up and held him with one arm as he sent all of the items Char had pulled out back to their proper places with his wand. I didn’t see the point of it since no one lived here, but that’s simply the sort of thing Severus does. Char’s lids were already drooping over his brown eyes before we had left the lighthouse. Once outside, the bright sunshine ensured that they stayed closed for good.

Fortunately there was a more direct path up the cliff in front of us to the border of the property where we would be able to Apparate back to Hogwarts, sparing us the long trek back down the beach the way we’d come. After hiking up the pebbly trail, we stopped at the cliff’s edge to catch our breath and take one last look at the sea. Char had long ago fallen into a deep sleep, his face nuzzled against Severus’s neck and one arm dangling limply over his father’s shoulder.

“Did you have fun?” Severus asked me seriously over Char’s head.

“Of course!” I replied with a smile. But something about his tone bothered me. I don’t know what exactly, but in the pit of my stomach, I suddenly felt apprehensive like when you’re watching one of those Muggle movies where everything is so perfect, you know something has to go wrong soon.

I tried to force the feeling out of my mind as I followed Severus and Char into the dappled shade of the forest, but staring at the backs of their identically black-haired heads, I couldn’t shake the morbid thought that this was the first and last time Char would visit the beach with his father.

Author's Note: I would like to thank everyone reading for their patience with the delay in the posting of this chapter. It took a really long time to write, even though it's half the length of previous chapters (thank goodness!) Hopefully updates should be a bit more frequent now that I'm settled back home and in a normal routine. I considering attempting Camp NaNo in August with this story, so maybe there will be a big burst of material coming out of that. Thanks so much for reading, and I'll really try my hardest to get the next chapter out more quickly! ~Renny