I woke up the next morning in Severus’s bed with a small foot practically shoved up my nose; apparently Char had climbed in with us sometime after we finally got dressed and went to sleep. I delicately extracted his toes from the side of my face and waved a candle alight so I could read the clock. It was already almost seven; Severus would be late if he didn’t get up soon. I felt horrible having to wake him, knowing how incredibly exhausted he had been last night, but I also knew he had never taken a sick day in his fourteen years of teaching. He would be furious with himself if he overslept.
I reached across Char’s sprawled legs, untangled his other foot from his father’s hair, then poked Severus in the back. He grunted in his sleep and shifted slightly but didn’t wake up. With a sigh I sat up and leaned over to shake his shoulder.
“What?” he asked grumpily.
“It seven o’clock. You have to get up.”
With a resigned groan, Severus rolled onto his back and sat up as well, wincing slightly as he did so.
“Are you alright?” I whispered as I pulled on my robe, deciding to get up too, so I could have a chance of perhaps eating breakfast in peace before the baby dragon stirred.
“I’m just a little sore. It’s nothing,” he replied dismissively, though not quite meeting my inquiring stare. I wondered what could have happened last night to leave him sore this morning but was certain he wouldn’t tell me even if I asked. Instead, I climbed across the bed and sat behind him to rub out his shoulders while he fumbled with the dials on his watch, either because he was still half asleep or his fingers hurt that badly, I wasn’t sure which. He sighed appreciatively at the massage and let me continue for a minute more before taking hold of one of my hands and turning around slightly to look at me.
“Stay within the grounds today. I’m going to ask Professor Dumbledore this afternoon if we can move you and Char back into the castle for the time being.”
There went my hopes of spending the summer all together as a family in our new house. I tried to keep disappointment out of my voice when I asked, “Do you really think that’s necessary? I mean, didn’t things go alright last night with … with him?”
“Yes, it’s necessary,” Severus replied sternly as he rose to get dressed. “Just because the Dark Lord trusts me today, it doesn’t mean he will trust me tomorrow.” I didn’t press the matter further, knowing it was stupid to be upset over where we would be living this summer when I should be simply grateful Severus was alive at all.
I watched him get dressed with unabashed enjoyment, remembering our night together a mere few hours ago, then followed him out into the parlour after he had groomed in the bathroom. Severus immediately headed over to the low, claw-footed cabinet near his desk where he kept his prepared potions. Though he kept all purchased ingredients in his storeroom in the largest dungeon classroom, several instances of theft in the past had led Severus to store potions ready for use in his office. Anything above O.W.L. level, especially more dangerous potions such as Veritaserum and Draught of Living Death, he kept locked in his private rooms for extra security. But the cabinet also held more common, medicinal potions for ready access, like the Strengthening Solution that Severus now knelt down to retrieve from the back of a bottom shelf. I couldn’t help making a face watching him tip back his head, downing the spicy red solution in a single swig and on an empty stomach.
“While I was waiting for you to come back last night,” I said to him as he pulled on his school-robes, slightly awkwardly from his tight muscles, “I came to a decision about something. I’d like to talk to you about it later when you’re done with classes.”
“Of course,” he replied, kissing my cheek quickly as he glanced at the clock over the mantle. “I have to go. Professor Dumbledore is probably going to address the students about last night’s events, and I don’t want to be late.” I pulled him against me for a quick squeeze and forced him to take a half-second to kiss me on the mouth, his lips tasting slightly of cinnamon and cayenne, before he hurried out the door. Left behind in the near darkness, the sunlight not yet having penetrated the depths of the lake outside the windows, I quickly ordered myself some breakfast from the kitchens. I sat at the table by the windows and ate, staring at my reflection in the glass and wondering how Severus was going to react to what I needed to tell him.
Char woke up the moment I had finished eating, and I spent the first part of the morning picking small bits of cereal out of his long hair after he had an uproariously good time placing his bowl full of oatmeal on his head to make a helmet. Though I could quell an ancient Revenant with a single spell and effortlessly blow up marble tombs, I still had trouble sometimes with those finicky little cleaning spells other witches seemed to pick up effortlessly growing up in a magical household. I hadn’t paid much attention to stuff like that when I was younger since I had convinced myself that my magic, which I had suppressed after my father’s murder, would never return.
Once Char was good and clean, we spent our day exploring the lakeshore. I conjured a little picnic lunch for us, though I had to practically beg Char to stop feeding bits of his sandwich to the giant squid, who kept fishing out a tentacle near him in the water, looking for handouts. When the shadows from the Forbidden Forest began reaching their dark fingers toward us across the grounds, I took Char’s hand and slowly led him back up to the castle. I knew Severus would have finished his classes by now, and I was hoping to catch him before he went to dinner.
Severus wasn’t in the rooms when we returned, but I heard him enter as I was laying Char down for a late afternoon nap. Once he was asleep, I left the bedroom to find Severus flipping through several piles of papers on his desk.
“I don’t know why the students always seem to think that just because it’s warm outside, they are suddenly excused from handing in homework,” he remarked irritably as I approached him. “I had to hand out several detentions, so I’ll be in my office all evening.” He scooped a thick stack of papers into his open briefcase on the desk, most likely uncorrected student work to keep him busy during the detentions, then turned to me.
“How was your day?” he asked, pulling me against him and kissing me deeply before I had a chance to answer. I hated that it was caused by him suddenly being thrust back into the dangerous role of a double agent, but I had to admit I was quite enjoying this seeming return to our newlywed sex drives. When he released me from his embrace, I had completely forgotten his question. He seemed to have as well, for he asked instead, “What did you want to speak to me about?”
“What? Oh, right. I’d rather we sat down when we had more time …” I said, glancing at the clock, knowing he’d have to leave for dinner soon.
“Well, can’t you just give me a hint?” he asked friskily, reaching up under my blouse to run his hand down my back. I pulled his hand out and held it in mine. I figured it would probably be best to broach the subject now, while he was obviously in a good mood, instead of later when he would have been sitting in detention for hours.
“Last night ... Well, I hated just sitting here, waiting to hear the worst and being unable to do anything to help you. I was thinking …” I hesitated for a moment, toying with Severus’s wedding band distractedly. “I was thinking of asking Professor Dumbledore if I could join the Order of the Phoenix as well.”
“No,” Severus said sharply, his face instantly hardening as he dropped my hand. “Absolutely not.”
“But you’re going to be risking your life all the time. I can’t just do nothing!”
“Yes, you can, and you will,” Severus said, turning away from me to pick up his briefcase. I sighed with exasperation.
“Can’t we please just wait and talk this through tonight when we have more time?” I asked.
“There’s nothing to talk about. You are not joining the Order, end of discussion,” Severus replied with finality. “I have to go. I’m going to be late for dinner.” I reached out to touch his face, but he brushed roughly past me and strode angrily from the room. I glanced at the clock again, seeing that Severus had plenty of time to get to the Great Hall. I suppose he was just using it as an excuse to not talk to me.
I tried to bring up my possibly joining the Order a few times over the next several days, but every time I did, Severus would instantly turn stormy and stop speaking to me until I changed the subject. I was more frustrated by his refusal to actually discuss the matter with me like an adult than his flat out forbiddance of my speaking to Professor Dumbledore. After a week of this, I finally stopped mentioning it because I hated how it was coming between us. My feelings hadn’t changed, but seeing Severus’s stress level rise daily between preparing his end of term marks for submittal and also waiting to be summoned by the Dark Lord again, I didn’t have the heart to keep pestering him.
Soon the Hogwarts students had all returned home on the train for their summer holidays, the Beauxbaton and Durmstrang students having departed for their home countries the same day as well. Professor Dumbledore had immediately granted Severus permission to relocate Char and me back into the castle, so I regretfully packed up the things I would be leaving behind in our Hogsmeade house to keep them out of the sun and dust until we were able to return.
Thoughts of wanting to join the Order never stopped swirling through my mind and were only increased when, a week after the school year had ended, the Dark Lord required Severus’s presence once again. It had unfortunately happened right when we were in bed together, removing each other’s clothes with tantalizing slowness. After the Dark Mark burned on his arm, Severus had been unable to continue and had retreated to the parlour, leaving me behind in the bed feeling frustrated and helpless. He reported in first thing the following morning, and though he was only gone for a couple of hours like before, I felt like I was going to throw up from the anxiety of awaiting his return. Also like the previous time, he looked completely drained when he did finally come back, and he refused to discuss anything that had happened with me.
One day half-way into July, Severus informed me he would be gone until late in the evening. When I asked him where he was off to, he only said that it was on the orders of the Dark Lord, and he couldn’t discuss it with me. However, he reassured me several times that it wasn’t at all dangerous, and I wasn’t to worry. I tried very hard to believe him. After he had left and I’d gotten Char to take a nap with Lavinia watching him—she reaffirming her need to get some baby-wrangling practice in (it being better to start while they were sleeping)—I steeled my resolve and walked hurriedly through the castle corridors before I could talk myself out of what I was about to do. Much too soon, I found myself standing in front of a large stone gargoyle.
“Cockroach Cluster,” I told the statue with a bit of inner revulsion. Who seriously ate those things? I had gotten the password out of Lavinia instead of asking Severus since I didn’t want him to guess what I was planning. The gargoyle jumped aside, granting me access to Professor Dumbledore’s office. At the top of the revolving staircase, I knocked on his door, hoping he was in since I didn’t know if I could keep up my nerve of blatantly defying my husband’s wishes for long. Fortunately, I heard Professor Dumbledore’s voice inviting me admittance. As I entered his study, I saw a swooping flash of silver tail feathers as a Patronus flew through one of the many towering windows, open to the balmy summer afternoon, and disappear into the enveloping sunshine.
“Avrille!” Professor Dumbledore exclaimed happily as he turned from the window where the Patronus had flown from. A gust of deliciously fresh summer air blew past him, ruffling the ends of his long beard and sending numerous pieces of parchment tumbling from his desk to skirt across the polished stone floor. “And to what do I owe this pleasure?” he asked as crossed the room to sit behind his desk. With a long-practiced mastery, he simply waved a hand absentmindedly and the scattered papers flew back onto the desktop, reshuffled themselves into their correct order, then sat tidy and slightly dimpled under the pressure of a conjured marble paperweight. Professor Dumbledore gestured with an open palm to one of the chairs before him, into which I settled myself.
“I need to speak to you about something, Professor, while Severus is out of the castle.”
“Is everything alright? Does it have something to do with his assignment?” he asked with concern. He waved his wand and a tray of iced tea and biscuits appeared on his desk. Professor Dumbledore poured two frosty glassfuls of the beverage and set one before me.
“Well, sort of,” I said, accepting the offered drink with a smile. I hesitated, taking a sip of the perfectly brewed infusion, wondering if the headmaster was going to respond to my request as negatively as Severus.
“I guess I’ll just get right down to it. I want to join the Order of the Phoenix,” I said in a rush. Professor Dumbledore studied me over the rims of his half-moon spectacles for a moment as he sipped his own tea carefully so as to not spill any into his beard.
“Forgive me for asking, because you are your own woman, and I don’t want to make it sound like you need anyone’s permission to make this request, but have you discussed this wish of yours with Severus?” he asked finally.
I took a deep breath. “Yes. Well, rather, I’ve mentioned it to him several times, and he has flat-out forbidden me to even consider it.”
“Yes, I figured he would,” Professor Dumbledore said with a small sigh, helping himself to a thin biscuit dusted with powdered sugar. “I’ve never spoken of the possibility to Severus myself, of course, for I’m fairly sure he would use one of his wonderfully nasty invented curses on me for even thinking it, no matter how close our relationship is.” I smiled since that sounded about right.
“Though, as I said, you are free to make your own decisions,” Professor Dumbledore continued, placing his tea back down on his desk and folding his hands inside the long sleeves of his light, linen summer robe, “I would feel better knowing that Severus was in agreement with this. He is already risking his own welfare in assistance to the Order, and to ask him to risk the safety of his wife as well, without even his consent, does not sit easy with me.”
“I know,” I said with a sigh of my own and placed my empty glass back on the tray. “I know it’s dangerous, but Severus doesn’t tell me anything. He doesn’t understand how it only makes it worse for me having to imagine the horrible things that might be happening to him in my mind instead of just knowing the truth. I’m tired of sitting around here being useless.”
“I would hardly call what you are doing useless, Avrille,” Professor Dumbledore said solemnly. “You are raising a child, for much of the time on your own while Severus has been teaching. I won’t insult you by asking if you have considered what joining the Order might mean, but please humour me by stopping and truly reflecting once last time on how this could affect your son.”
“It’s because of him that I have to join,” I said, feeling spots of colour flood my cheeks from my emotion. “I couldn’t live with myself if I let him grow up in a world where the Dark Lord was able to regain his full power because people like me stayed at home and did nothing. I know I can’t be of much use to the Order right now, but I want to do anything I can to help. And once Char is a little older, I’m sure I will be able to do more. Please understand this is simply something I have to do.”
Professor Dumbledore exhaled heavily, but then slowly nodded. With a shrug of his bony shoulders, he said, “I have done all I can without overstepping my bounds to counsel you against it. I pray Severus forgives me someday. But I can’t deny you would be a powerful asset to the Order, and not merely because of your gifted magical ability. You have proven on many occasions that you would do anything, including risking your life, for those you love. If there were more people in the world who loved as faithfully as you, Avrille, Lord Voldemort would never stand a chance.
“As it is, I must instead gratefully accept your offer of help, even though it is against my instinct to once again let a young mother shoulder such a dangerous burden.” For a moment I saw a shimmer in Professor Dumbledore’s eyes, but when he blinked, it had vanished. I thought he must be currently thinking of Lily Potter and the sacrifice she had made for her own son the last time the Dark Lord was alive. I sometimes wondered if it was because of his close friendship with Lily, who had been murdered when Harry was even younger than Char was now, that further cemented Severus’s vehement opposition to my wish of assisting the Order.
“Can I join right now?” I asked eagerly, wanting to have everything over and done with before I saw Severus next.
“If you wish. You will need your wand.” Professor Dumbledore stood, removing his own wand from a deep inner pocket of his sky-blue robes, and crossed to the other side of his desk to stand before me. I rose as well and raised my wand to match his stance, as though we were preparing to duel each other.
“Before we begin, I have to make sure that you are aware this constitutes a binding magical contract. Though not as irreversibly final as an Unbreakable Vow, you are nevertheless swearing to uphold the constituents of the oath. Should you break them, you will suffer a great, perhaps irreversible detriment to your magical power.”
I took a slow, deep breath and nodded. “I understand.”
“Very well.” Professor Dumbledore elegantly shook back his sleeve and put forth his wand to touch mine. As soon as the tips connected, a faint pinkish glow enveloped our outstretched hands.
“Do you, Avrille Snape, agree to join the organization known as the Order of the Phoenix, the sole purpose of which is to destroy the Dark wizard who calls himself Lord Voldemort and to help fulfil this purpose to the best of your ability?” he asked me.
“I do,” I replied. The mysterious light glowed slightly stronger, casting across both our hands with a deep rosy hue. Also from somewhere there suddenly came the faint, sporadic notes of a complicated birdcall. It wasn’t being sounded by Professor Dumbledore’s pet phoenix, who was drowsing on its perch in a sunny corner of the office, and I honestly couldn’t have put a direction to the noise at all. It was like a large bird was chirping musically in my own head.
“Do you swear to protect the identities of other members of the Order of the Phoenix and to never reveal an identity to a non-member, no matter who it is?”
“I swear it.” The light surrounding our wands burned even brighter, now darkening to a blazing crimson sparked with glittering flecks of orange. The twittering melody also grew more constant, though it was still petering out too often for me to grasp the flow of any particular tune.
“And do you swear to guard the secrets of the Order of the Phoenix, even if it means compromising your own safety to ensure the continued welfare of others?”
“I swear it.” The light from our touching wand tips suddenly ignited into a small ball of flame that gave off waves of heat but did not burn. With the sudden flash of light, the birdsong burst forth with its full measure of lilting effervescence. I had never heard anything like it before. The flow of the music was completely alien, as if it had been composed by someone using a scale consisting of thirteen notes instead of eight, but at the same time, something about it spoke of comfort and home. Hearing the soaring melody in my mind, I was at once both elated with encouragement but also sobered by its more haunting refrains that seemed to beseech, “Do not forget those who came before you.” Its purpose fulfilled, the fiery light slowly extinguished, receding into the wand tips as though being absorbed into each instrument’s core. Once the light had completely disappeared, the birdsong also faded away to nothing. I felt a comforting warmth spreading up my outstretched arm that soon settled around my heart, leaving me feel surprisingly calm and at peace with myself about my decision.
“Well, that’s that, then!” Professor Dumbledore said with a sudden levity as he stashed his wand away into the folds of his robe once more. “I was actually intending on visiting headquarters in several hours to check on how things are shaping up there. You are very welcome to accompany me, if you wish, and I can introduce you to whichever members of the Order are there at present. Some you will already know; Minerva and Hagrid, obviously, and you know Remus Lupin from when he taught here a little while back. The true Alastor Moody has valiantly agreed to continue assisting me despite his ordeal this past year. I’m sure you’ll get on quite well with everyone. A new member is usually cause for a small celebration,” he said with a slightly sad smile. I guessed from his words that the recruitment drive wasn’t going so well. Severus had told me a couple weeks ago that the Minister for Magic was trying his best to discredit Professor Dumbledore and keep people from believing the Dark Lord had truly returned.
“I’d like that very much,” I said. “Char will be awake from his nap by then. I assume it’s alright if I bring him along?” I asked.
“But of course! Arthur and Molly Weasley have enlisted the help of their four youngest to tidy things up around headquarters, though they are obviously not allowed to officially join the Order yet. I’m sure there isn’t anything Molly would like better than to have the chance to dote on a little one.” Professor Dumbledore crossed back to behind the desk and took his seat once again. “Do you have any more questions? I’m sure everyone will be more than happy to apprise you with what has been happening, now that you are officially a member.”
“No, thank you. I just wanted to get this first step over with as quickly as possible.”
“Very well, then. If you would care to meet me just outside the school gates at half past four, I will escort you to the headquarters in London.” He gave me a little wave of dismissal as though I were one of his students, which made me smile, and turned back to open several letters strewn across his desktop. I turned to go, but just as I had reached the door, he called out my name.
I turned back to Professor Dumbledore, and he said quietly, “Severus will find out very soon what you have done. It would be best if you told him yourself before another member of the Order lets the news slip to him.”
“I know. Thank you, Professor Dumbledore.” I left the office to return to Lavinia’s rooms to check on Char. As I walked through the castle, the soft glow of the oath I had taken seemed to slowly recede from my chest, leaving me with a heavy heart full of guilt for going behind Severus’s back after all. But he had left me with no choice. He should know me well enough by now to realize I would never be happy remaining in the dark, safe but maddeningly ignorant.
At four-thirty on the dot, I stood outside the school gates with Char, he happily playing with the sticks littering the path. I was feeling slightly nervous. I didn’t know exactly what sort of other people were members of the Order, though Severus had scoffed disdainfully to me once about the “riffraff” Professor Dumbledore was allowing to join this time around. Unfortunately many of the Order’s strongest members of years past had been killed by Death Eaters or the Dark Lord himself during the last war. To further complicate things, a majority of the most powerful British witches and wizards nowadays held high-ranking positions in the Ministry of Magic, making them unlikely to join the Order, which would be viewed as an act of defiance against the Minister himself.
Minutes slowly ticked past, and I started to grow even more anxious waiting on the exposed road. I kept glancing around me, half expecting to be confronted by Severus Apparating next to me at any moment. Finally at quarter to five, I saw Professor Dumbledore jauntily walking down the hill from the school, whistling a snippet of a song.
“I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting, Avrille,” he said as he stepped through the school gates, which had opened automatically to grant him passage. “It seems like there is always just one more owl that needs answering whenever I have plans to leave the school. And how are you this afternoon?” he asked Char, bending down with surprising agility to give him a warm smile. Char happily handed him a moss-covered stick, to which the headmaster replied, “How thoughtful!” and handed it back to him, effortlessly transfigured into a liquorice wand. Char squealed with delight, loving any sort of magic performed for him, and began chewing on the sweet with gusto.
“I hope I didn’t just spoil his dinner,” Professor Dumbledore said apologetically as he straightened up once more.
“No, he had a late lunch,” I replied, lifting Char into my arms so we could get going.
“He looks so much like Severus,” Professor Dumbledore said fondly. “Except he certainly has your eyes.” This thought seemed to make him sad for a moment, but he was instantly full of youthful vigour again as he asked, “Shall we go, then? But forgive me, I hadn’t considered your son; I was planning for us to Apparate there. Have you ever Apparated with Char before?”
I nodded. “I’ve been Apparating with him since he was a newborn. It used to make him cry quite a bit, poor thing, but I wanted him to become used to the sensation early.” Bundled in my arms, Char held out his liquorice wand to me to share. I took a small bite to appease him, then he resumed happily chomping on it with his brand new molars.
“Excellent! Well, as I am Secret Keeper for the Order, I need to tell you where we are going or else it will be impossible for you to find it. We are Apparating to the charming London neighbourhood of Grimmauld Place. The headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix can be found at number twelve.”
“Number twelve, Grimmauld Place,” I repeated back.
“Quite correct. I shall see you momentarily, then.” With that, Professor Dumbledore turned spritely on the spot and vanished with a small pop.
“Ready?” I asked Char.
“Yeah!” he replied.
“Ok, hold your nose!” I instructed. Char immediately grabbed his nose with his free, though very sticky, hand. Sometimes the sudden change in pressure from Apparating bothered him, and I had found that having him plug his nostrils kept his ears from getting too stopped up. I also turned on the spot, keeping the address the headmaster had confided in me firmly in the forefront of my mind. After an instant of very uncomfortable compression where it almost felt like Char would be pushed back into my body through my chest, we appeared in a small city square, Professor Dumbledore again at our side.
It was much hotter here than at the school, the blacktop of the street incubating the late afternoon sun’s rays, which were casting a reddish haze over a neighbourhood I would certainly not have described as charming. We were standing in front of a block of large row houses, looking as though they might have housed well-to-do townies in the Victorian times. However, they now just seemed exhausted from the passing of decades and leaned haphazardly against each other. A rank stench filled the hot air, coming from dozens of overflowing trashcans lining the sidewalk. Perhaps the Muggle collectors were on strike at the moment.
“There we are!” Professor Dumbledore said, pointing to one of the townhouses directly in front of us. It seemed even more dilapidated than its neighbours. Its grey stone exterior was crawling with ivy, though more in an infested, not dignified, looking way, and the windows were as grimy as though they hadn’t been washed once since London abandoned coal for heating. A mail carrier was making his late rounds and passed by us with a curious stare at Professor Dumbledore’s flowing robes (I having changed into slightly less conspicuous clothing), then continued his delivery. He inserted a handful of mail into the box hanging from number eleven, then passed the house in front of us without even a glance in its direction before inserting several envelopes through the mail-slot of number thirteen.
“A fascinating charm, isn’t it?” Professor Dumbledore commented, before leading the way up to the door the mailman had ignored. On it a tarnished silver number twelve hung lopsidedly against peeling black paint, the numerals fashioned out of thin serpents. Professor Dumbledore entered without knocking, and I followed him into a space so dark I couldn’t see anything around me for a full minute until my eyes adjusted from the sunny afternoon outside. When I could finally make out my surroundings, I saw we were in a very dim hallway. The only light came from several sputtering candles since heavy black velvet drapes blocked any sun from shining in the tall front windows. Everything was covered in a thick layer of dust or wispy cobwebs. A disturbing row of mounted house-elf heads confirmed that this house had long belonged to wizards, presumably all hailing from Salazar Slytherin’s family line since the décor’s general motif seemed to be primarily based around silver snakes like the door number. I was more than slightly confused as to why this place was the headquarters for the Order when it looked much more fitting to house the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters.
“I see Molly’s cleaning crew hasn’t yet tackled the hallway,” Professor Dumbledore said quietly with a chuckle, also taking stock of our surroundings. “No matter, I’m sure the kitchen is spotless by now. Let us head down there.” He gestured to an open door to our left, which led to a short flight of stairs.
Before I could descend, I heard the shallow thudding patter of feet above me then a whispered voice ask, “What’s she doing here?”
“Obviously she’s in the Order, Ron!” another voice replied, the bossiness still conveyed through the hushed tone making me fairly sure it belonged to Hermione Granger. “And anyway, she’s nice!”
“Nice or not, anyone who marries Snape can’t be right in the—oomph!” Ron’s voice was suddenly, and apparently painfully, silenced. Perhaps Hermione realized their whispers had been carrying because I didn’t hear anything more. Professor Dumbledore looked up at the retreating pairs of shoes with another quiet chuckle, before gesturing for me to precede him through the open door. I sighed as I took the steps down. I wish Severus wasn’t so talented at making every non-Slytherin student dislike him.
The bottom of the staircase opened into a large kitchen, merrily lit by a fire cracking in an enormous fieldstone hearth. Numerous bunches of onions, shallots, and garlic hung from the splintery rafters alongside fragrant bouquets of various dried herbs. At a large, scrubbed oak table sat Ginny Weasley, cutting a veritable mountain of carrots the same color as her vivid hair. Ginny gave me a small, shy smile of recognition. Behind her at an old-fashioned pump sink stood a short, red-headed woman, who turned toward us when she heard our footsteps while drying her hands on a dishtowel.
“What a pleasant surprise! I had no idea you would be stopping in, Albus,” she said, casting an appraising glance at the stack of carrots.
Professor Dumbledore raised a hand and said, guessing her thoughts, “I won’t be staying for dinner, Molly. I wanted to simply check in and have a quick word with Arthur, if he’s here.”
“He’s just sent along a message saying he was held up at the Ministry, but he should be here very shortly,” Mrs. Weasley replied. She turned to me and held out the hand not holding the damp towel. “How do you do? I’m Molly Weasley,” she said with a warm smile. Mrs. Weasley had the healthily full figure and comforting air of a woman who had birthed a brood of children and enjoyed a life of good, hearty food. I liked her instantly.
I shook her hand and returned her smile with one of my own. “Avrille Snape. I’m very pleased to meet you.”
Mrs. Weasley raised her eyebrows. “You must be Severus’s wife, then! I read about your wedding in the Daily Prophet, and of course, Fred told me all about you when you were teaching.” Ginny snorted into her carrots at this for some reason. “And who is this little love?” she asked, turning to Char, who had been most uncharacteristically burying his head shyly in my neck ever since we entered the house.
“This is Char, and he’s normally not this modest,” I said. “Can you say ‘hi’ to Mrs. Weasley?” I asked him cajolingly.
“Call me Molly, dear, I insist!” she said. Char raised his head to grace her with a flirty smile and a small wave. “Oh, would it be alright if I held him? It’s been so long since I’ve had a baby in my arms.”
“Of course!” I said and held Char out to her since he seemed to be warming to Molly as quickly as I had. Molly gathered him up into her ample bosom before swinging him around in a well-practiced motion to sit on her hip.
“Why don’t you two have a seat?” Molly offered. “Ginny, move those over to make room.”
I sat at the table at a place cleared from carrots, but Professor Dumbledore said, “I think I may just come back later, Molly. I have some business to attend to at the Ministry myself. Perhaps I will run into Arthur there. Do you mind if I go on, Avrille?” he asked me.
“No, not at all,” I said. Professor Dumbledore inclined his silvery head to us then walked back up the stairs to leave.
“Could I get you some tea?” Molly asked me, fetching down a copper kettle hanging over the hearth with her wand and setting it instantly steaming while she continued bouncing Char on her hip. I could tell Molly had done many years of multitasking while holding babies.
“If you wouldn’t mind,” I said.
“Mmm … something energizing, I think,” Molly said with a knowing smile at my probably exhausted-looking face. Char had napped well, but he had been up several times the night before, crying. I wondered if he was able to sense the worry that had been surrounding Severus and me lately.
“Mum, I’m done. Can I please go back upstairs, now?” Ginny asked, putting down her knife and pushing the last of the chopped carrots into a stew pot sitting on a bench.
“Yes, yes, yes. But why don’t you take little Char with you, if it’s alright with his mother?” she asked, looking at me. I nodded that it was fine, thinking Char might enjoy seeing the rest of the house.
“Come with me?” Ginny said to him with a big smile and an exaggeratedly perky voice. Char seemed fascinated by her long red hair and gladly allowed himself to be handed over to her. “Oh, he’s just so cute!” Ginny said to me, bouncing him on her hip like her mother had. “Wanna go meet my horrid, nasty brothers? Yeah, let’s go!” she said in her insanely cheery voice once more before bouncing away with Char toward the stairs.
“Keep him in your or the boys’ rooms, Ginny” Molly called after her daughter, gesturing with her wand pointedly at Ginny’s retreating back. “Do not bring him into any room Mr. Moody hasn’t given the all-clear to yet!”
“I know, Mum!” Ginny shouted back over her shoulder in sheer teenage exasperation.
I didn’t know if I liked the sound of that warning, but Molly instantly distracted me by placing a steaming mug in front of me. “I hope you don’t mind,” Molly said, sitting down across the table with one for herself. “You just seemed like you needed a moment to yourself.”
“Is it that obvious?” I asked despondently, inhaling the invigorating, spicy aroma of the steeping ginger tea.
“No, you look wonderful. I just remember the toddler years very well, having survived them so many times.” Molly smiled warmly at me again. “I don’t think I slept for a year straight after Fred and George learned to crawl. It will get easier, but before you know it, he’ll be too big to hold your hand, and you’ll find yourself missing those sleepless nights you used to dread when he was a baby.” I nodded, knowing she was right. Char was already growing up so quickly, but I still couldn’t help yearning for a time when he wouldn’t be so utterly dependant on me for every little thing.
“Albus never mentioned you’d joined the Order. Have you been in it long?” Molly asked, squeezing out her tea bag and placing it on her saucer.
“Well, actually …” I began, but stopped when I heard two raucous male voices echo down toward us from the hall. A third voice, female and screeching violent obscenities, soon joined them.
“Shut up, you miserable old hag!” one of the male voices shouted and with an echoing bang, the female voice was instantly silenced.
“I do wish they would be quiet in the hallway!” Molly sighed huffily. At my confused expression, she explained, “The house’s previous owner fixed her portrait in the hall before she died, and her painted memory is not very happy we’re using the premises.”
Before I could ask more about the place, since I was very interested in why such an old, derelict building was being used to house the Order, the male voices grew even louder as the owners came down the stairs. Two men soon appeared, laughing and shoving at each other like school boys. One of them was Remus Lupin, who I knew from his brief tenure teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts the year Char was born. We hadn’t often spoken with each other, but he was a nice enough man, though I knew Severus greatly disliked him for some reason besides him being a werewolf. The other man I didn’t know, though he looked vaguely familiar. His long black hair, slightly peppered with grey, hung roguishly in his eyes, and he swept it back when he spotted me sitting at the table.
“Molly, why didn’t you tell me we had a new member?” he asked, sounding scandalized like he should have been the first one in the house alerted. Lupin gave me a small wave but was instantly shouldered aside as the other man strode past him to hold out a hand to me.
“Sirius Black,” he said, introducing himself with a grin. I forced myself to keep the surprise I was feeling off of my face. The handsome, grinning man before me bore no resemblance to the haunted visage that had stared fiercely from the wanted posters plastering Hogsmeade two years before. He also didn’t seem nearly as unpleasant as Severus had always made him out to be.
“Avrille Snape,” I said, standing to shake his hand.
“Snape?” Black’s flirty smile faltered for a brief moment before he quickly recovered. “Severus never mentioned he had such a lovely younger sister!” he said, still holding my hand in both of his.
“I’m not Severus’s sister …” I said slowly.
“Ah, you’re American!” Black exclaimed excitedly, hearing my accent. “You must be his cousin, then!” I glanced behind Black to see Lupin rolling his eyes.
“Canadian, actually, and no, I’m his—”
“—Niece?” Black’s face had taken on a look of mad, hopeful desperation, and for a moment he once more resembled his mug shot.
“I’m his wife,” I said, point-blank. Black slowly let go of my hand, a small, vacant smile still on his lips. He stared at me for a beat before breaking into a barking laugh.
“Oh very funny, Remus! I tell you yesterday how dreadfully bored I am being shut up in this rat hole, and you go and pull this together to cheer me up!” Black turned to smirk at Lupin, who had covered his eyes with one hand and was shaking his head, obviously mortified by his friend. Black didn’t seem to take the hint and continued, “Quite amusing! But not very convincing, I must say. You’re losing your touch in your old age.” Black turned back toward me, studying me intently like I was an actor in a play he was reviewing. “I mean, Snape? Being married to her!? The mere idea of it is just–”
“—Just what, exactly?” I cut in icily. Black’s smile wavered once more as I glared at him, and he turned back to Lupin with a look of such disbelief it would have been comical if I wasn’t already so pissed off.
“It’s true, Sirius,” Lupin said with a resigned shrug. “Severus married Avrille right before I started teaching at Hogwarts.” Sirius flashed me another lopsided grin, as though he could distract me from being offended if he just smiled enough, then took a few paces backwards before rounding on his companion.
“And no one thought this was worth mentioning to me?” he hissed in Lupin’s ear, though not quietly enough to keep me from overhearing.
Lupin shrugged again and said unworriedly, “I thought you knew!” He brushed past his still-blustering friend to settle himself at another end of the table.
Black remained turned away from us, staring at the door for a moment before spinning on his heel to face the table, rubbing at his hair with one hand in obvious embarrassment. The movement strangely reminded me of a dog scratching at a flea behind his ear.
“Er … yes. Right. Nice to meet you,” he said to me haltingly. “So happy for you both. Oh, is that the time already?” he asked with exaggeratedly wide eyes, focusing on a spot above the hearth behind the table. “I have to go feed Buckbeak. Now. Don’t want him tearing the room apart looking for ferrets.” I turned to see a clock on the wall that was stuck at half past eleven, its pendulum unmoving and several wires and cogs hanging haphazardly out of the face. “Ah, I might be down for dinner, Molly, or maybe not …” Black said, before turning and walking from the room as quickly as he could.
Lupin laughed quietly beside me, shaking his head. “Please let me apologize on behalf of my friend. He has a good heart, but he can really be a complete ass sometimes. Thank you, Molly,” he said, accepting a mug of tea for himself. “Are there any biscuits?” he asked her as he added some honey.
“Yes, but we’ll be eating soon, and you’ll ruin your appetite,” Molly replied with a quelling stare at Lupin, who was glancing around the kitchen trying to spot a cookie tin. I took a sip of tea to hide my smile at her bossily maternal tone. “Will you and your boy be staying for dinner, Avrille?” she asked, turning back to me.
“I’d like to, but I really think we should be getting back to the school soon …” I said but was once again stopped by the sounds of the front door slamming above us and another loud voice carrying down the stairs. It was a wonder anyone in the Order was ever able to finish a conversation with all the comings and goings around here.
“This really is excellent! What a windfall! I just can’t wait to tell Molly!” the jovial male voice was exclaiming but was quickly cut off by the insane raving from the portrait in the hall.
“Filth! Vermin! Putrescent Mudblood spawn! Besmirching the halls of my ancestors with their horde of blood traitor brats!”
With another loud bang like before, the crazy woman was silenced, and I heard the man’s voice say with relief, “Thank you for that. I always forget, and Molly gives me her look of doom every time.” I glanced out of the corner of my eye to see Molly was indeed glaring at the stairs as though they had done her a personal injury. “I’ll just pop down and round up the others, shall I?” he asked his silent companion. The sound of a quick tread down the stairs preceded the appearance of a middle-aged man, tall, lanky, and wearing horn-rimmed glasses. The way Molly continued to glare at him combined with the bright shade of his thinning hair made me convinced this must be her husband, Arthur.
“Oh, now don’t look at me like that, Molly,” Arthur said cajolingly, “I have wonderful news! Severus was able to get us the plans!” He raised a long cardboard tube he was holding over his head and shook it as though in triumph. His jubilant expression, and the soon matching ones of Molly and Lupin beside me at the sight of the tube, clashed with the sudden sinking feeling in the base of my stomach.
“Oh, pardon me! I’m Arthur Weasley,” he said when he noticed me sitting next to Lupin.
“This is Avrille, Arthur,” Molly said on my behalf, leaving me relieved since I was still smarting from my beyond awkward introduction to Sirius Black.
“How wonderful!” Arthur proclaimed, his effortless enthusiasm making him as instantly likable as his wife. He must have heard of me before since he continued, “Why, I had no idea Severus’s wife was a member of the Order!”
A voice behind him remarked coldly, “Strange, Arthur, neither did I.” The bottom of my stomach dropped out completely as Severus stepped into view beside Arthur, having descended the stairs without making a sound. He looked daggers at Lupin, as though the werewolf had been directly responsible for my presence at headquarters, before sweeping his eyes onto me. I met his furious glare for only a second before dropping my focus to my tea mug, my face burning with guilt.
The atmosphere of the room turned instantly from celebration into one of extreme discomfort. I heard Arthur clear his throat nervously before remarking, “Ah, perhaps we should go upstairs and prepare things, Remus? Molly?”
Guessing Arthur was trying to give him and me some time alone to sort things out, Severus said brusquely, “Professor Dumbledore will be here momentarily. We should assemble now.” I risked a glance up to see Severus shoot me a withering look that was clearly daring me to even think of following him to the meeting, before he turned on his heel and stormed from the kitchen back up the stairs.
“Oh dear,” Arthur said sadly, watching Severus go. Lupin gave me an apologetic smile before depositing his mug in the sink and heading upstairs himself. “Er, well … as Severus said, Dumbledore will be here any minute. I saw him just as I was leaving the Ministry …” Arthur looked at Molly and me inquiringly. I once again buried my face in my mug and turned my stinging eyes away from him.
Seeing my devastated expression, Molly said quietly, “Go on ahead, Arthur. You can fill me in later after dinner.” I heard Arthur slowly climbing the stairs back up to the entryway.
Molly reached across the table and took my hand in both of hers, patting it gently. “Don’t fret, dear. Things like this are bound to happen in any marriage. If I had a sickle for every time Arthur and I have quarrelled …”
I shook my head, feeling utterly wretched. “It’s all my own fault, though. Severus was adamant about me not joining the Order. I tried to follow his wishes because he’s risking so much, and I didn’t want to create one more thing for him to worry about, but I was going absolutely insane being shut up in the castle unable to do anything.” Molly patted my hand again before taking my empty mug from me and placing it with hers and Lupin’s already in the sink.
“I understand completely,” she said, as steaming, soapy water shot out the end of her wand to spray the mugs. “Arthur acted the exact same way with me when the Order was first formed years ago. He would tell me over and over that it was far too dangerous. He never said so, but I knew he was also thinking, what good would I be able to do? What with three little boys running wild around the house and being out to here with the twins?” Molly held a soapy hand a good two feet out in front of her stomach. I nodded sadly, knowing exactly how she had felt then.
“So I did follow his wishes that time. I stayed at home, raising our boys, while others risked and lost their lives.” Her voice trembled here slightly, and she turned her back to me to rinse the mugs.
I gave her a moment before asking, “But he let you join this time?”
Molly laughed and turned around, hanging the clean mugs back up on hooks above the sink. “I thought we were in agreement that it’s not about them letting us join! Of course Arthur was against it again this time! But I finally put my foot down. We couldn’t forbid Bill and Charlie from joining up, since they were of age and out of school, so I told Arthur under no circumstance would our sons be in the Order without me right there alongside them to keep their noses clean.
“Well, dinner is set to go,” she said, tapping her wand against the lid of the enormous stew pot which instantly began emitting steamy vapours and tantalizing bubbling sounds. “Why don’t we go check on your little boy? I know it’s very hard to take a break from them without making sure they’re truly alright every five minutes. Then perhaps you can assist me in the library. I’ve been trying to find a little time to go and toss some of the more questionable books before the children stumble upon them. I personally find having something to do with my hands helps me stop focusing so much on what’s troubling my mind.” I nodded in agreement and allowed Molly to lead me from the kitchen and up into the main hallway.
We passed a closed door behind which I could hear Severus’s muffled baritone, his speech made unintelligible by the thick wood. My stomach flipped uncomfortably once more, but Molly led us past the door and up the stairs. When we reached the first landing, we heard a voice mutter a swear and the sound of several pairs of feet on the floor above us retreat hastily into a room followed by the slam of a door. Molly glared at the ceiling above us then said in explanation, “Ron and the twins. They keep trying to listen in on meetings even though Arthur and I have strictly forbidden them to.” Shaking her head and muttering something that sounded weirdly like, “If I find any more of those ear strings …” Molly led me on along the first floor.
Most of the doors down this hallway were shut tight, but Molly brought us outside of one that was open and casting a large rectangle of bright light across the tattered, decaying carpet. Inside the room we found Char sitting with Ginny and Hermione on a large canopy bed, hung with curtains that were also falling into tatters but at least looked like they had suffered a good washing. Char was so entranced by the Fillibuster Fireworks Ginny was setting off that he didn’t spare me even a glance when I called his name. Satisfied that he was being well looked after, Molly led us back up the hallway and around the corner to the very end of another corridor where a heavy set of double doors were standing firmly locked tight by a thick, tarnished chain and padlock. Molly waved her wand once, and the chain and lock fell away with a slither onto the carpet, creating a small puff of dust with its impact.
The library room itself was not large, but it was packed wall to wall with rickety, tottering bookcases, each one stacked so full of books that many had rows of them three deep. Molly lit a small blaze in the fireplace but said she didn’t feel comfortable making it any larger until she had confirmation that the chimney sweeping charm she had cast the week before had actually worked. The tiny fire and few hanging candelabras not emitting enough light to reflect the words on the gilded book spines, I shone my wand over a few of them to better make out their titles. I wasn’t surprised that Molly had kept the kids out of here with half the books being called things like, Pruning the Rot: How to Keep Your Family Tree Pestilent-Free and A Pure Bloodline At Any Cost. The thought of destroying books normally made me cringe, but I had no problem tossing volume upon volume like those into the bin Molly had conjured to accept the refuse.
Several grimy oil paintings hung on the walls, their occupants muttering angrily as they watched our progress, though fortunately not screeching like a banshee as the one downstairs was wont to do. Only one portrait was truly outspoken, the impression of a Restoration Age wizard with a long, tightly curled black wig, who kept exclaiming things to me whenever I tossed a book such as, “You’ll be sorry you don’t have that when your Squib grandchildren can’t conjure a matchstick!” and, “Now, really! That book cost me over two galleons!” (the exchange rate apparently being much higher back in his day).
“I’m so thankful Sirius has given me permission to dispose of all the portraits. Hopefully these ones prove easier to remove than his mother’s in the hall,” Molly said after a while with a sneeze from all of the dust.
“That’s his mother?” I asked incredulously. I had to raise my voice slightly to cover Mr. Chatty Portrait’s cry of “Scandalous! Absolutely scandalous!”
“Yes, this is his house. Or rather, he owns it. He hasn’t voluntarily lived here since before he graduated Hogwarts.” I figured upon learning that, I should try to cut Sirius some slack. He may be an egotistical jerk, but it was really astounding he didn’t turn out to be an actual mass-murderer growing up with that piece of work for a mother.
Molly had stopped mid-motion of heaving a book into the proportionately larger toss pile and was staring past me with her eyebrows raised. I turned to see Severus standing in the doorway, once more having come up behind me silently.
The shadowy threshold kept his expression a mystery, and his controlled tone betrayed no hint of the state of his mood as he asked, “Could you leave us please, Molly? I would like to speak to Avrille alone.”
“Of course,” she replied and bustled from the room after giving me a small smile of encouragement. Severus closed the library doors behind her after she passed through. I sat down on a sheet-draped couch with resignation, waiting for the chastisement I knew I was overdue for. However, as Severus stepped into the room, he didn’t instantly explode as I had feared he might. He didn’t even look at me but instead strolled calmly past where I sat to examine a row of books Molly and I hadn’t sorted through yet. I kept waiting as he pulled a book down, seemingly at random, and began absentmindedly flipping through the pages.
Unable to bear the suspense, I finally said after taking a deep breath, “I know you’re furious with me—”
“—I’m not furious with you,” came Severus’s soft contradiction. His long black hair had fallen forward as he perused the book closely in the dim light, veiling his face. Finally with a sigh, he tossed the book back onto a shelf and said, his face still turned from me, “I’m furious with myself. Because of foolish, thoughtless mistakes I made when I was younger, I’ve now put you in great danger. It doesn’t even matter that you joined the Order. I chose to risk your life the moment I married you.” Severus finally turned to look at me, and the expression of misery on his face hurt me far more than the rage I had originally expected.
“Please don’t say that,” I whispered.
“It’s the truth,” he said, his voice now rising slightly, though I knew the anger in it was directed at himself. “The day the Dark Lord disappeared, I knew it was only a matter of time before he returned. I swore I would be ready when he did; I assumed I wouldn’t have anyone’s welfare to risk but my own. After all, with a Death Wish hanging over my head, who would want to be with me anyway?” His mirthless laugh stabbed me in the heart.
“Stop it, Severus.” His sardonic smile slid off his lips at my quiet command. “You don’t get to take all the blame. That’s not how it works.” I felt my own anger rising within me.
“Do you think I was blind to the dangers of falling in love with you? Are you saying that you somehow hoodwinked me into marriage? In case you’ve forgotten, within hours of our first kiss, you disclosed to me you used to be a Death Eater and that you had defected to work for the Order instead. You told me all of that not to put me in danger by knowing those things, but to protect me from what could very well happen in the future. You gave me an easy out, and I chose you. So stop acting like I was this innocent little girl you selfishly threw into harm’s way!”
Severus stared at me after my outburst, him apparently not expecting it just as much as I had been expecting one from him. After rubbing his hand across his mouth and chin as though fighting to keep in more words of self-deprecation, he finally came over to sit next to me on the couch. He took my hand in his, and the warm strength of his grip helped dispel some of my anger.
“Where’s Char?” he asked finally.
“With Ginny Weasley and Hermione Granger,” I replied, then added at his raised eyebrow, “and I seriously doubt they’re trying to brainwash him into hating Slytherin in an hour’s time.” Severus laughed quietly, and the remaining resentment I was feeling at being treated like a porcelain doll melted away at the sound of it.
“I’m so sorry I went behind your back,” I said, resting my forehead against Severus’s shoulder.
“I know.” He squeezed my hand again.
“And I promise I won’t volunteer to do anything dangerous.” I glanced up at his profile to see him nod slightly, his gaze fixed solidly on the sad, dying fire in front of us. I fought back another surge of guilt from seeing a trace of fear in his grey eyes.
But he mastered himself the moment he noticed I was watching him and said with a smile, “Let’s go home.”
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