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Nothing Else Matters by Renfair
Chapter 4 : Chapter Four - Severus
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 9


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CHAPTER FOUR
Severus


Professor Dumbledore had requested a conference with me first thing the following morning since there had been no time to speak privately at headquarters after my report to the Order. I knew Professor Dumbledore would be desirous of a more comprehensive account of how I had retrieved the building plans from the Ministry.

The headmaster was seated at his usual position behind his desk when I entered his study. He was conversing with Minerva, who was dressed in Muggle clothing and clutching what I recognised to be Moody's spare invisibility cloak. Apparently she was just going to or returning from guard duty over Potter at his aunt's and uncle’s house. I was not surprised to see the usually stuffy and modest deputy headmistress had dressed herself in a short sleeved, though high-necked, blouse and a prim, knee-length skirt since reports from other Order members had confirmed that the summer heat and drought down south were positively brutal this year. Seeing me waiting by the door, Minerva quickly wrapped up whatever she was saying then made to leave. She paused to acknowledge me brusquely before leaving the office.

“Severus.”

“Minerva,” I replied with an amused smirk. She narrowed her eyes at me. I knew her suspicious squint at my expression had nothing to do with any qualms of whether or not I was truly loyal to the Order; no doubt the Head of Gryffindor already had the quickly approaching new school year on her mind. With the reappearance of the students would come the return of Quidditch, which had been put on hiatus the previous year with Hogwarts’ hosting of the Triwizard Tournament. Minerva knew I was most desirous of returning the Quidditch Cup to its rightful place on its reserved shelf in my office, since it had been unfortunately relocated to a display case in her own after the last played season brought a disappointing loss for Slytherin. Perhaps she believed that if she glared long enough, she might quell my fighting spirit and force divulgence of my plans for this year’s Slytherin team just to make her stop.

With a frown, Minerva continued past me to descend into the main castle. I walked over to Professor Dumbledore’s desk and took a seat as he cleared a space in front of him from piles of correspondences and several stacks of newspapers. The frozen solidarity of the photographs in many of the newspapers proved them to be Muggle publications from various areas of the country.

“Can I get you anything, Severus? Hot tea, perhaps?” Professor Dumbledore asked. The weather in London might have been unseasonably warm, but an overcast sky here had left the headmaster’s tower office slightly draughty and cool.

“No, thank you,” I replied, irresistibly reminded of a summer morning three years prior when I had sat before the headmaster, impatient and annoyed by the prospect of having to soon “waste” my year supervising a young, secret-laden witch from Canada. If only my problems now were as minor as they had been back then, my largest concern being how dealing with an apprentice would cut into my private time set aside for research.

“Please excuse me while I partake, then. Business with the Ministry kept me from making it down to the Great Hall for breakfast this morning.” With a quick rap with his wand, a golden tea service and a plate of various pastries appeared to the side of his desk.

“Thank you for coming to see me so quickly,” he said after putting a crumpet on a plate before him and sipping some tea. “I realise you need to report to Voldemort soon, and the less you keep him waiting, the better.” I did not flinch at the mention of the Dark Lord’s name, as so many others did, but I still rather wished Professor Dumbledore wouldn’t use it around me. “I know I told you last night how incredibly grateful I am that you were able to procure the plans for us. Knowing that Voldemort will now be unable to take them for himself is a relief to me, though I know he will surely think up another way of learning about what he seeks and much too soon.

“But I won’t deny I have been debating back and forth within my mind whether it wouldn’t have been better to just let Voldemort have what he wanted, and thwart him at another junction. It would have increased your standing in his eyes and, much more importantly, saved you from having to suffer any punishment from his disappointment.”

The plans the headmaster was referring to were the mostly complete architect’s renderings of the Department of Mysteries located in the deep bowels of the Ministry in London. Of course, since the department was constantly evolving to meet the needs of the research conducted there, the plans wouldn’t be one-hundred per cent accurate, but the Dark Lord had seemed convinced that they would be sufficient to give him the information he was seeking. When he had summoned me last week, the sudden, burning pain in my left forearm bringing a swift end to the intimate evening I had been planning on enjoying with Avrille, he had informed me that I was already being given the honour of performing for him a task of paramount importance.

He described the folio of drawings he was in search of, confident I was the most suitable man for the job. Though Potter had lived to report of the Dark Lord’s return, something he had been most desirous to keep quiet until he had firmly re-established his base of supporters, he knew no one in the Ministry believed Potter’s seemingly wild tales. However, he also didn’t want to take any unnecessary  risks. He knew that my spotless reputation, having never been tried as a Death Eater in open court, along with my many connections at the Ministry due to my position at Hogwarts would make me much more likely to succeed than someone with a more questionable history like Lucius, who was constantly having his manor searched, or Macnair, whose occupation as an executioner made him both conspicuous and unlikely to invite confidences. Professor Dumbledore believed, and I agreed with him, the underlying reason for the Dark Lord’s interest in these particular plans was that he was eager to find the exact location of the Hall of Prophecy.

Sixteen years ago, when I had overheard Sybil Trelawney’s unexpected prediction while eavesdropping as an ardent supporter of the Dark Lord, I had been inelegantly evicted from the premises by Aberforth Dumbledore before she had finished prophesying. I nevertheless faithfully reported what I had gleaned to my master, who rewarded me for my priceless information by bestowing the thing I had been coveting of my older Death Eater companions for years; that very night he branded me with his Dark Mark, fixing me irrevocably amongst his most trusted servants. But I only relished that gift for the briefest time. All too soon I realised to my horror that those words I had carried eagerly to the Dark Lord’s ears set in motion his ruthless hunt to locate and destroy the newborn son of the only true friend I had ever had.

The chink of a golden spoon stirring against china brought me back to the present.

“I know you well enough to be certain you covered your tracks masterfully, but I am still very worried, Severus, about how Voldemort will react when you return to him empty-handed,” Professor Dumbledore said as he added a splash of cream to his tea.

“I’m sure he will be angry,” I replied, “but I’m positive I haven’t given him any reason to do me harm. I was able to obtain the plans from Rogers, Head of the Department of Wizarding Records and Magical Documents. I’ve held an acquaintanceship with him for some years since he has often aided me in the location of historical texts to reference in the books I’ve authored. He was only too happy to track down the drawings I described, again on the pretext of needing them for a piece of writing I was working on. Once I had the plans in my hands, I modified his memory so that he wouldn’t ever recall even hearing of the plans, let alone that I had taken them from him.

“To further protect myself, I planted a fabricated unconscious memory of me performing the Cruciatus Curse on him when he denied the plans’ existence. If any other Death Eater questions him and decides to break the memory charm, that scene will be replayed should they perform Legilimency to discover if I was telling the truth. However, the nature of the implantation in his unconscious thought is one where, should that happen, Rogers himself will still be unaware of the memory, meaning he can’t accuse me of performing an Unforgiveable Curse on him.

“So, though the Dark Lord will undoubtedly be disappointed in me for returning without his quarry, he can hardly hold me at fault for not obtaining an item that doesn’t exist,” I concluded.

Professor Dumbledore looked impressed at my explanation, his tufty white eyebrows rising up to nearly meet the silver of his hair. “Well, I still hope Voldemort isn’t feeling particularly brutal when he questions you later. My mind will be much more at ease when you are back here safely. With that resolved for the time being, there was another matter I wished to speak to you about. I have, of course, reviewed your most recent application.”

Having finished his brunch, Professor Dumbledore Vanished the tea service, and in its place he laid a single piece of parchment on the desk in front of him. I recognised it as the petition I had submitted to him at the end of the previous term several weeks ago to, for the fifteenth time, argue that I would better serve the school teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts than in my current position as Potions master. I sat up a little straighter in my chair, for once slightly optimistic. The casual inquiries I had put out to colleagues in the academic community had come back with the confirmation that, so far, Professor Dumbledore had proved quite unable to find a single person to fill the position for the upcoming term. Apparently the occurrence of the previous hire being abducted and held hostage in his own trunk for an entire school year had been enough to scare off whatever few people might have wanted the job still.

“I’m very sorry, but I must once again turn your application down,” Dumbledore said with sympathy, as though he hadn’t given me the same news year after year. However, his seeming pity of me simply made me bristle slightly with annoyance.

“Well, who have you found to teach the class?” I asked, trying to keep my irritation to myself.

“No one,” he replied enigmatically, his hands resting on my application with steepled fingers.

I gave him a moment to explain himself, but when he simply remained sitting there, watching me with apparent sadness, I finally said, “I’m afraid I don’t understand, sir.”

I have not found anyone, but the position has been filled. Dolores Umbridge will be heading the class this year.”

“Umbridge? Fudge’s secretary!?” I had only met the woman once in the past, when I had been summoned to the Ministry to give a statement on my involvement in the escape of Sirius Black from Hogwarts a year ago. I had, of course, been completely resolved of any blame, but the impression I had been left with after Madam Umbridge questioned me on behalf of the Minister was that I had never met a more unpleasant and repulsive woman in my life. And having spent an unfortunately large amount of time in the company of Bellatrix Lestrange, that was certainly saying something. When, at the end of the interview, she had offered me smarmy congratulations on the recent birth of my son, I had felt like I needed to return immediately to Hogwarts and give Char a bath.

“Is she even qualified?” I asked condescendingly, slouching back down in my chair slightly and crossing my arms.

“It doesn’t matter what her qualifications are,” Professor Dumbledore replied, pushing another piece of parchment across the desk towards me. I reached out to pick it up and glanced at it peevishly. It seemed to be some Ministry declaration that if the headmaster of Hogwarts was unable to find a suitable candidate to fill an empty position at the school, the Ministry would choose the candidate for him.

“I didn’t have any other choice,” Professor Dumbledore said when he saw I was done reading.

“You had me.” I was unable to keep the anger and disappointment out of my voice this time.

“I did have you,” he agreed with a sad nod, “but if you had taken up the post, I wouldn’t have had you the following year. And forgive me for being so selfish, but right now I need you at Hogwarts more than ever.”

“Oh please,” I scoffed, tossing the Ministry decree back on to the desk, full of sudden disdain for my mentor, “you can’t seriously be telling me that you of all people take stock in those ridiculous rumours of the position being cursed? That if I teach Defence, a horrible something will keep me from continuing after a year?”

“It’s not a rumour. It is the truth,” was his simple reply to my scorn.

“Fine. If you’re so convinced, then appoint me with the stipulation that I go back to teaching Potions the following year. I’m sure you can find someone easily to fill in for me temporarily. That should satisfy the conditions of the ‘curse’ as well as give you more time to fill the Defence position permanently.”

“I doubt that’s how it works, Severus, and I’m very sorry, but you are much too valuable to be the test subject of such a risky theory. I’ve made my decision. I will not fight the Ministry on this point, and Dolores Umbridge will be filling the post of Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.” Professor Dumbledore then slid my application into a desk drawer to further emphasise that the matter was closed.

I stood up from my chair, intense anger welling up inside of me at the sight of the headmaster’s apologetic expression, anger vastly disproportionate to the loss of a potential position that I’d been, in truth, unhopeful of obtaining since I had been denied it fifteen times and counting. But the rage still surged within me, and I found suddenly I couldn’t look at him for the moment. Instead, I strode over to one of the towering windows set into the circular walls of his office and glared down at the school grounds far beneath me, my hands gripping the crenelated sill so tightly my knuckles blanched white and the masonry cut into my fingertips.

“I had no choice, Severus,” Professor Dumbledore repeated quietly behind my turned back.

“You could have tried harder,” I said through gritted teeth.

Knowing my loss of control was incited by more than what he had just told me about Umbridge, he said sorrowfully, “You know I tried as hard as I could. She’s not one of my students. I could counsel, offer my opinion, but no more than that. I have no claim over her besides that of great mutual respect. I told her I was very apprehensive of allowing her to join the Order without your consent, but she would brook no refusal. You know far better than I do that she is not easily swayed when her mind is made up about something.”

I didn’t reply right away, but my clenched jaw relaxed somewhat with thoughts of Avrille and what she would say if she knew I was being difficult with Professor Dumbledore. I was also aware that within hours I would be before the Dark Lord again, and it would be very dangerous to face him while my mind was clouded with anger and resentment. I watched as two thestrals with a foal between them rose up from the shadowed depths of the Forbidden Forest to fly a few tight circles before descending out of sight once more.

“I’m fine with risking myself to serve the Order. I can even stomach what the Dark Lord will surely ask me to do, as long as it helps keep others safe. But if another woman I care for dies because of my own failings …” I said quietly, mostly to myself.

But Professor Dumbledore heard me, and his voice behind me said, “The circumstances are vastly different than what they were last time. Voldemort cannot move in the open, and his resources are greatly limited. Avrille is a mother now and will be much more careful about putting herself into any situation that could be dangerous. You need to trust her. Trust that she will know when to fight and when to simply protect herself and your son, just as you know how to do.”

I nodded and finally let my bitterness go. I knew Professor Dumbledore was right. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Avrille not to do something reckless, but I had just never quite gotten used to the idea of her not needing my protection. Even though she had spectacularly saved my life completely on her own, I still secretly cherished the memory of her in the school library, being unable to simply levitate down an out-of-reach book without my help.

 

The Dark Lord was still lodging at his Muggle predecessors’ manor house. Though it may have seemed foolhardy to stay in the same place where his resurrection had been witnessed, obviously the Dark Lord was confident no one would come searching for him there. Either he was certain Professor Dumbledore didn’t know where the manor was situated or, more likely since he must have assumed Potter would have reported every detail of what he witnessed that night in the graveyard, he didn’t care if the headmaster did ascertain the house’s location. He would consider it a wonderful personal affront to Professor Dumbledore to set up his own headquarters in the most blatantly obvious spot since he knew the Minister for Magic refused to believe Professor Dumbledore’s claims that the Dark Lord had returned at all. It doesn’t matter where you hide if no one is looking for you.

Though from outward appearances little had changed to the Riddle House since the Dark Lord had taken up residence there—the blasted-off names on several incriminating gravestones being the exception to this—the house and grounds were now veritably impenetrable from outside intrusion. For instance, I could no longer Apparate directly onto the property. When the Dark Lord summoned us Death Eaters, we now were forced to Apparate onto an overgrown path in the woods a quarter mile from the house and walk the rest of the way on foot. When we reached the border of the Riddle estate, a wall of enchantments prevented any witch or wizard without the Dark Mark to proceed further. The Dark Lord may have been confident that no one would come searching for his base of operations, but he also wasn’t leaving anything up to chance.

I left the school several hours after the conversation with Professor Dumbledore in his office to once more present myself to the Dark Lord. With regret I had left Avrille, sullen and frustrated, behind in our rooms in the dungeons with an overly excited Char. I knew she worried greatly every time I had to face the Dark Lord, though she had tried her best to put a smile on her face as she wished me a quick, safe return. This was soon twisted into a look of pain as Char pulled roughly on her hair, she having made the mistake of turning her attention from him for five seconds. When I started to admonish him, Avrille pushed me out the door, reassuring me she could handle things so I wouldn’t be late. The last thing I heard before heading away to my office was Char shouting his new favourite phrase of, “No, no, NO!”

Though my love of being a father was only equalled by that of being Avrille’s husband, I still couldn’t deny that the role could be positively maddening sometimes. I just didn’t have the endless reserves of patience Avrille seemed to possess, she never once having raised her voice at Char unless he was doing something that threatened his own safety. I couldn’t claim such a spotless record on that account, though I tried my best to simply leave the room and take a few deep breaths when he drove me beyond the point of vexation. I suppose it was ironic how I could completely mask my emotions before the Dark Lord, but my small son just seemed to know what buttons to push sometimes that made all my decades of training for naught.

But whatever trials to my patience Char subjected me to during the day, they were all forgotten when he lay in between Avrille and me at night, usually burying himself in the crook of my arm. He had refused to sleep in his own bed since the night the Dark Lord returned. Any attempt to cajole him into doing so resulted in the most heartrending spell of crying I had ever witnessed until I scooped him up out of his cot and deposited him in the centre of our bed, even if we weren’t in it yet. Yet even once he had calmed and finally fallen asleep, oftentimes he still seemed fretful while he dreamed. Avrille was certain he was picking up on her worry and my stress, even though we tried our best to not project such negativity when Char was awake.

I felt guilty leaving Avrille behind to deal with Char, whose rambunctiousness was being compounded exponentially by his refusal to take his nap, but she was right in that I needed to be on my way. After departing our rooms, I took a while to meditate in the silence of my office, emptying my mind of all feelings and preparing it for whatever the Dark Lord might subject it to. When I felt reasonably collected, I walked to the school gates until I had passed through the thick protective barriers and was able to Disapparate.

I appeared deep in the forest bordering the Riddle estate. I could not fail to notice with annoyance that though most of the country was in the grips of  a record-breaking drought, here it was pouring rain. Immediately, I cast an Impervius Charm over myself, which helped keep me dry as well as allow me to slip through the dense underbrush without having to worry about my robes catching on a tree limb and throttling me. I was glad I had already made this journey to the house once, for the rain was falling so heavily it would have been difficult otherwise to find my way. As it was, I arrived on the boundary of the Dark Lord’s power after only a few minutes of walking. I stopped momentarily to raise my left arm, pulling back my sleeve to expose the skin beneath. The deathly grimace of the skull seemed to grin even wider as the Mark writhed and blackened while I stepped past the magical wall effortlessly. Once I was through, the Mark returned to its dormant state, unmoving and dusky grey.

I hurried over the windswept and soggy grounds, biting my cheek in aggravation the several times my feet sank into hidden pockets of soupy mud. I came upon and quickly left behind the abandoned stables and carriage house, any signs of horses long gone from the former and the latter only housing several luxury automobiles coated with rust. Rounding a bend in the drive, the crumbling brick manor house itself soon came into view, though the drizzling haze softened some of the rough edges collapsed masonry had left behind. It was still impossible to tell from the outside that anyone had once more taken up residence here. Though I was sure the Dark Lord must have had several fires lit due to the damp weather, the crooked chimneys blew forth no smoke and the flickering of a light could not be seen from any of the windows.

After climbing the few treacherously crumbling steps to the front door, I hesitated on the stoop to take one final moment to compose myself and clear my head. To anyone observing me, I would have merely appeared to be cleaning the mud from my shoes with my wand and shaking out the several droplets of water that had fallen onto my robes and hair before I had charmed myself impervious to them. Satisfied I was in complete control of my thoughts and emotions, I opened the magically-locked door with my wand and stepped a now pristine foot across the threshold into the foyer.

While the exterior of the house remained the same as when I had first beheld it that night several weeks ago, the inside had undergone a drastic transformation. Though the Dark Lord may have disdained his Muggle ancestors, he certainly was making the most of their former possessions, likely believing they were truly his anyway as the only surviving heir. Perhaps he hadn’t cared much what the place had looked like while he was hiding here, smaller and weaker than a Muggle child, but now he had returned to full strength, he seemed determined that though he might be forced to live in secrecy at the moment, he would certainly live in luxury as well.

The grand foyer and the other rooms I could see from my position by the door had been fully restored to their previous Edwardian glory, no doubt unwillingly by Pettigrew, who was now going by the singular name of Wormtail. The dustcovers had been removed from all the furniture, which was arranged back into its respective stations in the various rooms with woods oiled, upholstery brushed, and glass shining. The electric fixtures had been ripped out of the walls and ceilings and replaced with sconces to hold hundreds of mage-candles. The window treatments and tapestries had either been replaced or expertly repaired since they were completely indistinguishable from their previous tattered and moth-eaten state.

Since no Wormtail had greeted me this time as I entered the house, doubtlessly because he was being kept busy somewhere, perhaps polishing the silver with his likewise magical appendage, I allowed the all-encompassing oppression of the Dark Lord’s magic guide me to his location. I found him easily, biding his time in a drawing room near the back of the house. He was accompanied by Lucius and Selwyn, the former avoiding my eye as he sulked on a chaise and the latter staring back at me as he slouched against a wall with his usual brazen disregard for my appearance. The Dark Lord’s giant snake, Nagini, lay curled on a slab of obsidian before the lit fire like some sort of obscene take on a lap cat.

The Dark Lord was standing at a high window with his back to me when I entered the drawing room. He appeared to be studying the sprawling garden that stretched from the back side of the house to a high hedged wall, merely an undefined, hulking shape in the misty rain, on its opposite side. Uncharacteristically for the property, the garden looked like it had been tended fastidiously in the recent past but was now wild around the edges with new growth.

Though he did not turn around as I entered the room, the Dark Lord said nevertheless, “I am … disappointed, Severus. I did not expect to see you return empty handed.”

I bowed slightly to his back, feeling that to kneel would be to admit wrongdoing and the need for forgiveness. “Neither did I, my Lord, when you seemed so certain of these drawings’ existence.”

The Dark Lord did turn to me then, his red eyes narrowed to near slits. “Explain.”

“I sought the plans from the Head of the Department of Wizarding Records and Magical Documents, Dermott Rogers. However, he claimed he had never seen or heard of such a thing. I asked him if it was possible he had overlooked them, given the extensive nature of the Ministry’s archives. He assured me he was certain, having examined the drawings of Gaston Garnier personally many times in the past with Ministry workers needing to revitalise the spells built into the building’s structure. I, of course, assumed he could be lying to me, but application of the Cruciatus Curse did not make him change his story. If Garnier ever drew plans of that part of his creation, he either destroyed them due to the inherent secretive nature of the Department of Mysteries, or the plans were lost a very long time ago.”

The Dark Lord continued watching me suspiciously for a moment before saying, “How unfortunate. I trust you modified this man’s memory? I would not like it getting out that you were interested in tracking those documents.”

“Naturally, my Lord. I also would not like it getting out that I had tortured a Ministry employee,” I replied with an ironic smile.

“Very well,” he said with an impatient wave of his long fingered hand as though brushing the matter away. “That method of obtaining the information I seek has failed me. Fortunately, I have many others.

“Lucius.”

Lucius jumped slightly at the Dark Lord’s summons, no doubt still twitchy from the punishment he had been dealt for his missteps concerning the diary, and he hastened to my side. He fell into the same position as me, standing like a soldier “at ease” with my hands clasped behind my back. That is, the proper way to appear before the Dark Lord, giving him the subtle advantage should a need to draw wands arise, unlike Selwyn’s lazing about like a common hooligan with his hands shoved deep in his pockets.

Selwyn snorted quietly behind us at both Lucius’s sudden formal stance and the waver of uncertainty in his voice as he asked, “My Lord?”

“You will go to the Ministry and place the Imperius Curse on an Unspeakable. Choose one who is relatively unattached so there is little risk of any uncharacteristic actions of his being noticed. When you have done so, you will report back here,” the Dark Lord commanded.

“Lucky you’re so well-practiced in the Imperius Curse,” I muttered to Lucius beside me. His face reddened at my words, knowing full well I was referring to the time he had placed it on Avrille while trying to seduce her, and he shot me a venomous look out of the corner of his eye.

“Lucky indeed, Severus, since you are now of little use to me to spy at the Ministry.” The Dark Lord’s eyes whipped across to me like a lashing. It had been foolish of me to think he wouldn’t overhear. I would not make that mistake again, no matter how tempting it was to hold that bit of information over Lucius’s head. At least the Dark Lord did not seem to understand that I had been goading Lucius, perhaps assuming I was agreeing on his choice to infiltrate the Ministry. However, I had no idea what the Dark Lord had meant by his last comment. I had just, after all, finished explaining how well I had covered my tracks.

“With Dumbledore thrown out of the Wizengamot,” the Dark Lord continued, unintentionally answering my unasked question, “it is likely the Ministry will be keeping a closer watch on those who are closely associated with him. In this instance, your supposed fellowship with Dumbledore is a hindrance to me.”

Ah, so that was it. I kept my face impassive at the news of Professor Dumbledore’s dismissal as though I wasn’t just hearing about this now. I was, however, quite annoyed that the headmaster hadn’t chosen to confide this bit of information to me when I had spoken with him earlier in the day. It was a rather glaring fact to not be party to when I was supposed to be keeping a close watch on his movements and habits both at Hogwarts and the Ministry.

The Dark Lord began to slowly pace back and forth behind a large sofa, running a white hand across the nap of the upholstery. His movement gave me the impression of a guard dog keeping a wary eye on us two immobile intruders.

“I’m not pleased I had to read of this in the Prophet this morning, instead of hearing it directly from you,” the Dark Lord said to me dangerously, pausing his pacing and gesturing to the open paper lying on a side table. I heard Selwyn snigger quietly again behind me. Though I usually read the Daily Prophet every morning at breakfast, I had, regrettably, missed this morning’s issue in my haste to meet with Professor Dumbledore. Fortunately, though Professor Dumbledore may have accidentally forgotten to arm me with that bit of information, I had been keeping up with the rumour mill myself so as to not be totally unprepared at moments like this one.

“My Lord did not give me a chance,” I said, inclining my head deferentially to him, “in your haste to hear of my lack of success at the Ministry. Yes, the Wizengamot has voted him out, bowing to the pressure Cornelius Fudge is exerting on them. Some of the council members still obviously support Dumbledore, but they are in the minority to those who believe he is either trying to discredit Fudge to make his own bid for Minister or that he is simply losing his grip with old age.” This much was easy to assume, and the Dark Lord didn’t interrupt me to point out any errors, so I continued.

“Dumbledore is due very shortly to make an appearance at the annual convergence of the International Confederation of Wizards in Amsterdam. It is very likely, owing to his inability to keep his mouth shut, that he will suffer a similar fall from grace there.”

The thought of further humiliation for his arch nemesis seemed to appease the Dark Lord’s displeasure with me, and he laughed mirthlessly. “Yes, the old fool simply can’t bite his tongue when the truth is at stake. I shall expect you to find out the details of this convention as soon as he returns from it, Severus. I want to know exactly which truths about me he is telling the world. See that I hear it from you before a reporter this time.”

“Certainly, my Lord.” That would be no easy task since many reporters were likely going to be swarming the convention on location in Amsterdam while I was back home at Hogwarts starting to prepare for the coming school year. I would have to ask the headmaster to send me word by Patronus the moment he had finished his speech.

The Dark Lord stepped from behind the sofa to stand before Lucius and me, as if to inspect us. I noticed that his feet below the hem of his black shantung robes were, as usual, bare and made no noise when placed carefully down on the hard wood floor with each purposeful step. I inwardly wondered if he could even feel the cold sinking into his skin, or if he was truly so serpent-like that he simply absorbed it. He stopped a pace in front of the pair of us, his hands hidden in the layers of his robes as he stood with crossed arms.

“I suppose it was only a matter of time before I had to decide on a new contact at the Ministry. You will soon be too busy once again moulding young minds, Severus, and it was perhaps foolish of me to think Dumbledore would prefer to work against me in the shadows. Fudge, with his delightful obstinacy, will certainly blacklist you soon. You have done well to prove yourself so loyal to Dumbledore in public appearance, but that is hardly useful to me at the moment. No, you would be put to best use by continuing to serve me as you have at Hogwarts. Perhaps once I have destroyed Dumbledore and brought the Ministry to its knees, we can find a more illustrious role for you than teaching.” The Dark Lord said the last word with a sneer.

“I suppose I am forced to put my trust back in you,” he said, rounding on Lucius beside me. “Walden will be leaving with Claudius for Liechtenstein tomorrow,” he indicated at Selwyn, who continued to glower silently, “so he will be unable to be a presence for me in London. I’m sure you can find a good reason to visit the Ministry often, Lucius. The trustees of St. Mungo’s Hospital would certainly appreciate a new wing, I would imagine. Let no one say in the future that Lord Voldemort did not provide for his people!”

Lucius gulped but was quick to mutter, “Yes, my Lord.” I could see him trying to not mentally sum up how many hundreds of thousands of galleons that would set him back. How deliciously cruel of the Dark Lord to hit Lucius where it truly hurt him most.

“You have your assignment, Lucius. Return to me when it is completed.” The Dark Lord swivelled and glided over the floor to look out the window again. The rain seemed to be lessening somewhat. I was now able at least to see the dark, hazy outline of the forest behind the house. Lucius bowed to the Dark Lord’s back, then pulled his cloak more tightly together and hurried out, doubtless before he could be asked to make any more contributions to wizarding social welfare.

“Don’t you have some preparations to make, Claudius?” the Dark Lord asked Selwyn pointedly. “Though, you might want to pack light. I can’t imagine climbing mountains while dragging a trunk behind you would be very enjoyable. But be sure to leave room for my gifts to the Gurg. I entrusted them to Walden already.”

Ah, so that’s why Selwyn had been gracing me with his glare of death ever since I entered the room. It appeared my invented taunt from the other night had inadvertently hit very close to the mark. I wouldn’t be very happy if I was being sent to court the favour of the giants, either. I wondered what Macnair and Selwyn had done to anger the Dark Lord enough to send them on such a dangerous mission. But perhaps he simply believed it right up Macnair’s alley, with his familiarity of dealing with dangerous creatures, and though Selwyn had never given me a reason to like him, he left me with the impression that he was a formidable magic user himself. At the very least, they were going to have a much easier time of it than Hagrid and Madam Maxime, who I knew Professor Dumbledore had dispatched to parley with the giants as soon as the previous school year had ended.

Selwyn turned on his heel and stormed from the room without acknowledging the Dark Lord’s words. Perhaps he believed himself above such trivial formalities, having served the Dark Lord for years before his downfall, but it certainly wasn’t the way I would personally have chosen to behave. I knew the Dark Lord did not easily forgive and forget, and as one of the Death Eaters who never made the effort to seek his whereabouts after his downfall, I preferred to err on the side of utmost respect.

However, Selwyn’s insolence seemed to merely amuse the Dark Lord since he chuckled coldly to himself once Selwyn had slammed the door shut behind him. Nagini raised her head and hissed angrily at the sudden noise. She resettled herself after her master hissed back a few words in Parseltongue, slithering around in a circle a few times and once more bringing to mind the idea of a cat disturbed from an enjoyable nap.

The Dark Lord once more moved from his look-out spot by the window to stand by the fireplace instead. Though he walked on two legs, the fluidity of his movement made it appear he was slithering through the room like his pet, who was now once more asleep on her warm stone slab by his feet.

“Sit, Severus,” he bade me, indicating a winged armchair by the fire several feet to his right. I did as he asked, wondering what more he could have to say to me after he had virtually declared me only fit to remain cloistered at the school and spy on the headmaster; though, in actuality, he probably still considered that the most useful thing a Death Eater could do for him. Skulking around the Ministry throwing Imperius Curses around or scrambling over mountainsides certainly had their places in his grand scheme, but deep down he must have still been very fearful of what Professor Dumbledore knew in regards to the Prophecy that he himself did not.

“Would you care for a drink?” he asked, and before I could answer, a few measures of amber liquid appeared midair before me. I caught the crystal glass before it could fall into my lap, the Dark Lord smiling tightly at my deft reflexes. It was not in my habit to have a drink at two o’clock in the afternoon and certainly not one given to me by the most dangerous wizard alive conjured from who knows where. However, I had done very well so far to prove to him that I had nothing to hide, and there was no way I could safely refuse it without raising his suspicions. He did not partake himself. I had never in the past seen the Dark Lord eat or drink anything. I wasn’t even sure if he was still human enough to need physical sustenance.

I brought the glass up to my nose and inhaled, hoping it wouldn’t be too obvious that I was trying to detect if anything had been added to it. Of course it would be impossible to discern any taste or smell of Veritaserum, but I highly doubted the Dark Lord would attempt to slip me something of that nature. He would, undoubtedly, find the idea of relying on something as base and fallible as a potion beneath him when he had a much more reliable method of discovering deception with his mastery of Legilimency.

To cover the movement I had made, I asked him, “Rogozhin’s?” I had lucked out immensely, the Dark Lord having offered me inadvertently my dead father’s favourite spirit. Growing up, I had smelt it on him and around the house too much not to recognise with certainty his poison of choice.

“Indeed,” the Dark Lord confirmed, obviously impressed. I raised the glass and downed the pertsovka in one swig, trying very hard to look as though I had enjoyed it and not show how the smell and taste of the peppers made me want to vomit.

“I wasn’t aware it was still being made,” I commented, slightly hoarsely since the alcohol had set the back of my throat on fire, and placed the empty glass on a fragile, inlaid stone table beside me. I remembered well an incident that had occurred when I was about fifteen of my father breaking his valet’s jaw when the man reported he would no longer be able to obtain that particular brand for him.

“It isn’t. The distillery was razed to the ground by wizards sympathetic to the Muggle Bolsheviks with Rogozhin and his workers still inside. Perhaps he shouldn’t have supplied so often to Rasputin.”

Suddenly he turned to me and commanded, “Give me your wand, Severus.” I only hesitated a moment before mutely reaching into my robes and pulling out my wand. The Dark Lord reached for it lazily, then made a great show of studying it in the firelight. First I was expected to consume an unknown drink without question and now hand over my only means of defending myself? I certainly hoped that if the Dark Lord had been harbouring any lingering qualms over my devotion, I had finally put them to rest.

“Cherry, is it not?” he asked, running a long, pale finger along the length of the wood.

“Yes, my Lord,” I replied, forcing myself to act completely natural as though I handed over the key to my magical powers every day to Dark wizards. I tried not to think about how the last time I was wandless in the presence of a Dark creature, I had barely escaped with my life.

“Around eleven inches?”

“Twelve and a half,” I corrected him respectfully.

“Yes, it feels nearly the same length as mine,” he agreed as he waved it through the air in a couple graceful arcs. To my wand’s credit, it didn’t emit even a spark for him.

“And the core?”

“Dragon heartstring.”

The Dark Lord raised a hairless brow. “Cherry and dragon heartstring? Quite a formidable combination. I was under the impression Ollivander refuses to work with cherry. Something about the wood being too temperamental.”

“I believe you are correct, my Lord. However, my wand was in fact crafted by Masamune Atsushi of the Sakurai wand-crafting house in Kyoto as a personal favour for my mother’s family.”

This was in essence true. Masamune did craft my wand, but he had actually made it for my grandfather, Edmund Greyadder, not me, to replace his original that had been destroyed when he saved Masamune’s life in a duel with a rival wand-maker. The fact that my wand was nearly a century old made it even more powerful, something I did not think the Dark Lord needed to be apprised of. Edmund and Masamune had gone to school together, my great-grandparents having sent him to Mahoutokoro since it was apparently all the rage in England at the time for rich, young wizards to have a foreign magical education (my mother once told me he had tried to send her there, as well, instead of Hogwarts, but she had steadfastly refused, citing her certainty that she would die if forced to subsist merely on raw fish and rice for seven years). My mother had presented me with her father’s wand on my eleventh birthday, telling me he had stipulated in his will that he wanted to be entombed with a replica so his true wand could be passed on to his daughter’s future heir. Her entrusting me with such a priceless family heirloom was one of the proudest moments of my life.

The Dark Lord held my wand out to me. I leaned forward in the chair to accept it gratefully. Sitting back, I waited in silence to see what more the Dark Lord required of me. He remained standing in front of the hearth for some time. Nagini must have sensed her master’s presence in her sleep, for she raised her diamond-shaped head to his hand and nudged it until he started stroking it sensually. Finding the interaction rather indecent, I averted my gaze to a portrait hanging above the mantle. Because this was a Muggle house, its subject sat frozen in his chair, similar to the one I was currently occupying.

While I studied the curious Muggle fashions the man in the portrait was wearing, I wondered to myself what was coming next. I half expected to be tortured again, not trusting this strange sense of intimacy the Dark Lord seemed to be trying to cultivate between us. I was feeling no ill effects from the pertsovka, besides a lingering burning sensation in my stomach, so it had likely been simply a drink. Maybe the Dark Lord merely thought I might enjoy such a rare “treat.” It was inconceivable that he would ever apologise to one of his subordinates, but perhaps he had offered the drink as a sort of conciliatory gesture after having tortured a “loyal” Death Eater several weeks ago. Now that he was sure Professor Dumbledore wasn’t keeping silent about his return, he truly did need to be in my good graces for the time being. Of course he knew the threat of certain death should I desert would keep me loyal to him, but it didn’t necessarily mean I would work my hardest if I felt I was being mistreated.

His seemingly arbitrary examination of my wand was slightly more explainable. I had heard, of course, of the extraordinary singularity that had occurred between his wand and Potter’s in the graveyard the night of his resurrection. The Dark Lord had no way of knowing Potter’s wand shared a core with his own, and I certainly wasn’t about to enlighten him to the fact. It seemed he was unfamiliar with the phenomenon of Priori Incantatem, most likely considering anything beyond the most basic study of wand lore to be of little importance to him. After all, his own wand had never failed to do his every bidding up until the night he was unable to kill Potter, so what else did he need to know? But now I was sure he was desperate for an explanation as to why his wand had once again failed to work against the boy. Perhaps that was why he was attempting to bribe me with exorbitant vodka and allowing me the great honour of sitting in his presence while he stood. He was painfully aware that no other Death Eater had as much interaction with Potter as I had since he returned to the magical community four years ago.

Right on cue with my deductions, the Dark Lord swept himself into a chair facing me and asked, “Tell me about the Potter boy.”

I shrugged my shoulders and shook my head. “There is hardly anything worth telling, my Lord. He is his father’s son; brash, arrogant, exceptional only in the all-encompassing extent of his mediocrity. He believes his fame for defeating you gives him the right to break school rules left and right, not to mention being allowed to perform underage magic wantonly and disregard the Statute of Secrecy. Such laws are clearly not intended for celebrities.” I sneered the last word, just as how the Dark Lord had shown such disdain for my chosen profession. I finally broke off my intense eyeing of the portrait to venture a glance at the Dark Lord’s face. He seemed to be eating up my deprecating account of Potter with relish.

“He is not a good student, then?” he asked sardonically as Nagini slid over to rest her head on his lap.

“I cannot speak for his other classes since I’m not party to his marks, but for my own part, I can report with confidence that he lacks the concentration and attention to detail to ever create anything beyond the scope of the most elementary potion. Whatever “great” feats Dumbledore believes he has accomplished, such as preventing you from obtaining the Philosopher’s Stone, were merely the result of cunningly surrounding himself with cleverer, more talented friends or allowing accomplished wizards to clear the way for him. I confess I am greatly looking forward to next year when I can finally exclude him from my instruction.”

“So there is nothing the boy excels at?” the Dark Lord asked, perhaps fishing for information that would explain how Potter had managed to escape a second time when he was completely surrounded by Death Eaters. I knew it would be slightly unbelievable if I painted Potter to be completely incompetent at everything, so I searched my mind for a safe talent to disclose.

“Quidditch,” I admitted grudgingly. “He’s a good flier.”

The Dark Lord nodded but asked me no more. I hoped I had convinced him of Potter’s normality. The less he appeared to be a rival to the Dark Lord’s powers, the longer we in the Order might be able to keep him alive. A commonplace, though lucky, boy was less of an immediate threat than one with budding talent that could, if unchecked, explode into a power to be reckoned with under the tutelage of the instructors at Hogwarts. I didn’t think it would be difficult to continue to report truthfully that Potter was just barely scraping by with his marks. I couldn’t deny he did indeed have an unusually natural gift with magic, especially for one not raised in the magical community as a child, but he was certainly not making the most of it in his day to day schoolwork. If only he would apply himself with the same amount of flashy gusto he put forth into trying to singlehandedly save the school every single year, I would be dreading less having to read the rubbish he was bound to throw at me this coming term in his O.W.L. preparatory work.

“I have an additional task for you, Severus.” The Dark Lord’s words brought my attention back to him for me to see that he was now considering the portrait over the mantelpiece thoughtfully while running a finger across his fleshless lips in distraction. Not for the first time, I found myself wishing it were possible to perform Legilimency on him instead. Yet, perhaps not, for could one ever really be the same again after seeing first-hand the depths of his soullessness?

“Along with Dumbledore, I want you to keep a close watch on Potter this year,” he continued. “I have decided to be merciful and will not pursue him for the time being. There will be plenty of time to deliver him to his predetermined fate once the old codger has been dealt his.”

Merciful my foot. The Dark Lord was petrified of moving against Potter while he lived safely under Professor Dumbledore’s protection at Hogwarts. But acting the dutiful servant, I edited my inner monologue, saying only, “I am yours to command, my Lord. With regards to the boy, is there anything in particular you wish for me to keep an eye out for?”

“No.” The Dark Lord eyed me askance, Nagini also raising her head once more to hiss slightly in my direction as though saying her master might trust me, but she certainly didn’t. “If he is as unremarkable as you have described him, there shouldn’t be anything of note to report anyway, should there? Watch him closely, but do so unobtrusively.” Ironically, that was practically the same sentence the headmaster had spoken to me four years ago when Potter was first entering Hogwarts. “Your obvious, though rightfully placed, dislike of the boy will make it suspicious if you take a sudden public interest in him this year. I take it he has no knowledge of your service to me in the past?”

“Certainly not, my Lord,” I said, sounding affronted he would even suggest such a thing. “It’s not as if I go around pulling up my sleeve and displaying my Mark for the world to see.”

The Dark Lord laughed coldly. “Of course not, Severus, of course not. I was merely making sure since it seems the whelp has an unusually detailed knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes at the school. It must be those cleverer friends of his you spoke of. They will, of course, also be dealt with appropriately when the time comes.

“You may go,” the Dark Lord said, waving the back of his hand towards me. “I shall likely summon you again once more before the end of summer since I know you will be kept busy managing the affairs of my great ancestor’s House once your new term begins in September. You need not report to me in person until then unless you obtain information of sufficient importance. Since the Ministry will most likely be watching you from now on, I do not want you visiting this property often.”

“As you command, my Lord,” I said, standing and bowing to him as he once more flitted his long-nailed fingertips at me a few times to confirm my dismissal. As I left the drawing room, the sound of the Dark Lord singing a quiet refrain in Parseltongue followed me out the door as though he was lulling Nagini back to sleep on his lap. Suppressing a revolted shudder, I walked briskly from the house, no volleying of insults with fellow Death Eaters impeding my departure this time.

Outside, the high summer sun had finally pierced the slowly dissipating rainclouds to blanket the Riddle estate with an oppressively humid warmth. I raised a hand to shield my eyes until they adjusted to the sudden brightness and crossed the cracked paved drive, my quick pace blowing the steaming clouds of evaporation away to swirl back together behind me and shimmer as heat haze. Of course the grass was still sopping wet, so I recast my previous Impervius Charm, this time taking care it extended down around my shoes as well. Though the wind had mostly died down, an unfortunate thing since a light breeze would have helped make the walk back to the Disapparation point less unpleasant, a stray gust would occasionally blow through the trees once I had re-entered the forest and send a shower of fat droplets down to slip off my charmed exterior.

Though I was protected from the aftereffects of the morning’s rain outwardly, I still found myself damp and sticky with sweat by the time I had left the Dark Lord’s wards far behind me. I became so overheated that I stopped in between two dripping oak trees to peel off my outer robes, exasperated with this summer’s aberrant weather patterns. But even after removing the extraneous layer of clothing and rolling up the sleeves of my shirt, I still arrived back at Hogwarts with my hair clinging to the back of my neck and toying with the tempting notion I seemed to have around this time every year of taking up a silver dagger and hacking all of it off. Unfortunately, I didn’t think Avrille would be very happy with me if I did so.

At least the slightly brisk highland breeze coursing off the lake refreshed my wilted mood, and by the time I had walked back up to the front doors of the castle, I found myself actually a bit chilled. I stopped on the threshold and donned my robes before entering the castle once more properly attired. As per my usual practise following a meeting with the Dark Lord, I proceeded straight to Professor Dumbledore’s office to present him with the report due him. He was still sitting at his desk right where I had left him earlier in the day. Though a slight dent had been made in the piles of parchment and newspapers stacked around him, it was apparent the summer holiday would provide the headmaster with no time for relaxation this year.

I recounted my most recent venture to the Riddle House almost word for word, my years of mental exercises making my powers of recollection fairly more detailed and accurate than most men’s. Professor Dumbledore was dismayed to hear of Macnair’s and Selwyn’s upcoming excursion to seek out the giants, though he was optimistic Madam Maxime and Hagrid had been given enough of a head start to discover the giants’ location before the Death Eaters. At the very least, the pair were slowly making their way to the Ural Mountains, where the last reports of giant sightings had come from, instead of the Alps like Macnair and Selwyn, a range no giant had resided in since the Dark Lord’s first downfall.

Professor Dumbledore also knew there was little the Order could do about Lucius’s appointed task of finding an Unspeakable to Imperius besides asking those members employed at the Ministry to keep a discreet lookout for suspicious behaviour. We had no one in the Order working in the Department of Mysteries, and any attempt to warn the Unspeakables, even if we were able to ascertain all of their identities, would at best be brushed off and at worst cause reports to be filed against Order Ministry workers with Fudge’s office. I knew Professor Dumbledore was planning on setting Order members to guard the door to the Department of Mysteries later in the summer when Potter was moved to the Weasley house and their around-the-clock presence was no longer required in Surrey.

Professor Dumbledore agreed with my deduction that the Dark Lord’s interest in my wand probably stemmed from his burning need to discover why his own was disobeying him so stubbornly around Potter. His order for me to watch Potter closely this year came as no surprise to the headmaster, and he held no qualms that I could fulfil the duty most competently, having already been keeping an indiscernible eye on the boy at his own bequest ever since Potter first step foot in the castle.

He did also apologise profusely for not making sure I was properly apprised of his situation regarding the Wizengamot during our earlier conference. The highly understandable burden he was shouldering, virtually singlehandedly trying to force the wizarding world to open its eyes and dispel its deadly blindness to the Dark Lord’s resurrection, had simply pushed the matter from his mind at the wrong moment. He assured me nothing of that nature would ever happen again and promised I would be the first to know the reaction to his upcoming oration to the International Confederation of Wizards. He pulled out a final draft of the speech itself from under one of the tottering piles of parchment and gave it to me to study at my leisure.

My report concluded, I accepted Professor Dumbledore’s heartfelt gratitude for my continued assistance to the Order before letting him return to his work and making my way back down to the castle dungeons. I hoped Avrille’s afternoon with Char had improved after I had left. It seemed lately he was growing almost jealous of me and tended to act out more when I was present. I suppose going from only seeing his father several evenings a week to having to share his mother with me all day long and through the night was a bit of a difficult adjustment for him.

I waited impatiently for the moving staircase I had become trapped on between the second and third floors to dock at its next scheduled landing point. Though I normally enjoyed the quaint peculiarities of the castle like the shifting staircases, I rather wished the headmaster would disable them when the students were away for the summer. Just once I would like to go somewhere directly without having to worry about rerouting myself several times to make it there on-time. Pushing off from the marble balustrade I had been leaning against as the staircase came to a grinding halt, I debated once more like the other night how much information I should pass on to Avrille concerning my meeting with the Dark Lord. Since her not-very-surprising defiance yesterday of my wishes that she stay far away from Order business, I still hadn’t discussed any such things with her, even though she was now officially cleared to hear it. She would obviously have to be told something. Though it had been motivated by a desire to protect her, my previous reticence with Avrille had driven her to do something even more rash than she probably would have if apprised with more details about my own assignments.

When I arrived back at my rooms, I was thankful to see Avrille was alone, sitting in an armchair by the hearth and reading—or rather holding a open book on her lap while staring blankly into the fire. Our closed bedroom door stood as a testament that she had somehow subdued Char’s boisterousness long enough to put him down for his overdue nap. Her eyes shot over to me as I stepped into the light, perhaps being too lost in her reverie to hear me opening the door, and relief washed tense lines from her fair face. Tossing her book aside, Avrille ran to me and pulled me into a surprisingly crushing embrace before I even had a chance to fully enter the room. I welcomed her attack wholeheartedly. I wouldn’t say that we had been distant with each other after our slight confrontation at headquarters the day before, but I had regretfully left her behind earlier in the day feeling as though we still hadn’t been fully reconciled.

Ever since I had resumed my previous employment of being the Order’s resident spy, I noticed two things resulted from my face-to-face meetings with the Dark Lord each time without fail. The first was that I always found my senses to be slightly heightened for a period afterwards. This arose perhaps from having to rely so completely on my powers of observation when speaking with the Dark Lord to help keep me alive, whether by correctly ascertaining the moment when his mood shifted imperceptibly or even simply by keeping one eye always on where his right hand was in relation to his wand. I once again noticed the same sensitivity as my thoughts were suddenly brought back to my graduate school days in Italy by the faint scent of marinara as I kissed Avrille’s forehead. The source of my non-sequiturial reminiscence became apparent as I noticed near her temple a streak of true tomato-red gumming up a small section of her otherwise shimmering, silky russet hair.

This temporary keenness also made it impossible for me not to notice that Avrille had changed from one frock into another, the previous most likely having fallen victim to some sort of pasta catastrophe stemming from Char “eating” his lunch, since the more recent choice was of a slightly elastic fabric that clung to her recently regained figure in such a way that made me quite glad I was no longer sharing certain parts of her with Char. It’s slightly difficult to wholly enjoy taking a full measure of your wife knowing the curves you’re currently admiring are viewed as supper by your infant son.

The second inadvertent outcome that usually arose from the casting off of my Death Eater façade was the inexplicable, burning need to fully possess Avrille the moment I saw her again. But perhaps that wasn’t so strange. I imagine after spending a solid hour in the presence of the closest thing in existence to Death personified would tend to make a man eager to reaffirm his own virility at the first presenting opportunity. The way that Avrille was currently dragging her fingers through my hair as she kissed me fiercely, besides reminding me instantly why I grudgingly suffered through the discomfort of the summer months in order to keep it long for her, ignited that particular aftereffect to such a mind-numbing degree that I found myself grasping blindly and furtively for the zipper pull on the back of her dress before I had even removed my school robes.

Avrille paused her ferocious kissing just long enough to ask me, “Shower or couch?” as she hastened to rid me of my bothersome outerwear. Since Char had weeks ago put his small foot down and refused to nap anywhere except in the dead centre of our bed, those were usually our only two options when desiring a quick rendezvous with each other before he awakened.

“Shower, I think,” I replied, thinking of my own sweaty walk away from the Riddle House and reinforcing my point by running a finger over the dried sauce in Avrille’s hair. She broke off unbuttoning my shirt for a moment to pass a hand over the section of clumped strands then rolled her eyes.

“Shower,” she agreed, kissing me once more quickly before grabbing my hand and literally pulling me across the parlour behind her to the closed doors of our bedroom. I smiled to myself in complete contentment as Avrille led me carefully through the dark space where our son lay peacefully sleeping and into the bath, muffling her giggles with her free hand like a student sneaking out after curfew. I will not delve into the particulars of our reunion except to say that Char slept just long enough.

 

Author's NoteIt's very against my usual practice to put a note at the end of nearly every chapter, feeling it interupts the flow of the story, but since this is a WIP, I feel like it's good to update the (three or so, very appreciated :D) readers as to what's going on with this novel. This is likely to be the last chapter for a little while, maybe even until the summer. Hopefully circumstances in my personal life will have rearranged themseles back to normal then, and I'll have much more time to write. I'm not expecting the majority of upcoming chapters to be as long as these first few, where I needed to get a lot of introductory information conveyed before switching POVs, so hopefully once I'm able to get back into the swing of things, updates will come much more quickly.

I've also started a blog on the forums  ("There are 7 Melons Who Saw You") where I'll be able to give more accurate details of what's going on. My Meet the Author thread is always available, as well, if you have any questions for me. Thank you so much to those who have read this far. It really means more to me than I can say. And a quick extra thank you to panacea. from The Dark Arts for the fabulous banner. Now I feel like it's a *real* story!


If you haven't left a review yet, please do! I'm fairly sure you can even leave one annonymously. Feedback is so appreciated, and it helps me to keep improving as a writer. I'm very quick to reply to reviews and usually write back with way more info than you probably needed ;)


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