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Nothing Else Matters by Renfair
Chapter 6 : Chapter Six - Severus
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 4

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The following evening Avrille and I brought Char to Lavinia’s house in Hogsmeade following supper. Even though she had married, my fellow professor still kept her rooms in Hogwarts’s Astronomy Tower during the school year for convenience. She had finally retired to the village for the summer to be with her husband in his house once the term had ended and her last couple weeks of lesson planning were completed; Lavinia had not yet decided if she would be returning to teach later in the year after the birth of her daughter, or whether she would even come back at all until her delivery. Avrille was encouraging her to take the full year off, citing that those first twelve months of a baby’s life were so fleeting and impossible to relive later, but I also understood Lavinia’s desire to return to a profession she loved as soon it was possible.

As Avrille ran around hurriedly after we had finished eating, stuffing handfuls of Char’s belongings into bags and chasing Char himself down to wipe sauce from his hands and face before he rubbed his hair full of it, I stood at my desk and pulled together what I would need for the Order meeting. The folio of the Department of Mysteries plans had been left at headquarters for us all to reference when setting up the new patrol shifts, but I still needed my own notes as well as the various tables and instructions Professor Dumbledore had entrusted to me earlier that day. Fortunately I had already prepared almost everything the night before because I was finding it very hard to concentrate with Char constantly shrieking with laughter and ducking between my legs to avoid his mother and the dreaded wet washcloth.

I rubbed at my forehead in near distraction, trying to remember all of the items I would need to cover tonight. I knew there were certainly some things I should discuss with Avrille before we arrived at headquarters to familiarise her with current Order happenings, but I was damned if I could recall a single one at the moment. Char had barely given us five minutes alone all day, so it had been impossible to even consider broaching such a serious topic before now, when we were about to leave. Shaking my head slightly in an attempt to jostle my thoughts into some semblance of order, I stacked my paperwork to conjure from headquarters later. Avrille had just finished cleaning up our son, so the three of us were finally ready to walk down to Hogsmeade.

Lavinia and her husband, Henry, greeted us when we arrived at their cottage, the former actually gracing me with a pleasant smile which I returned with a tight one of my own. Perhaps she was finally starting to forgive me for stealing her best friend away. Avrille had been carrying Char and placed him down in the doorway to take Lavinia’s hand inside since her third-trimester body did not recommend itself well to toting around a twenty-odd pound toddler. When it appeared our son was not going to collapse on the ground in hysterics at being “abandoned,” Avrille began conjuring his luggage, stacking each item in Henry’s waiting hands to the point where I soon couldn’t see the poor man’s disbelieving eyes behind the precariously teetering pile. Though I had told Avrille the Order meeting probably wouldn’t last longer than an hour or two at most, she insisted Char needed his “things.” A random selection of these apparently life-or-death items consisted of: his teddy bear, his pillow, his special blue blanket, two changes of clothes, several nappies (“just in case”), towels and soap in the event he needed a bath, an assortment of snacks for him to choose from (even though he had just eaten, and it was somewhat likely Lavinia and Henry kept food in their house), and his “Conjure-A-Nursery” expandable cot that he had never actually once slept in.

When I reminded Avrille, while watching Henry’s upper body fully disappear behind the mountain of gear, that it was very likely we would be back before Char’s bedtime, she replied slightly cuttingly that I had no way of knowing that for certain, and it was always best to be prepared. I wished I had held my tongue. For some reason Avrille had been in a sullen mood since we returned from the beach the day before and prone to extra sensitivity. I thought she would be happy to be on her way to her first Order meeting since joining up had appeared so important to her. However, this was the first time she was leaving Char somewhere other than in the castle, so I was trying to be understanding of how she must be feeling. On the other hand, I secretly worried that if leaving Char alone for an evening was this taxing on her emotions, was she really prepared for something as serious as an Order meeting that was bound to broach uncomfortable and possibly upsetting topics?

Avrille and I followed Henry, stumbling blindly ahead, inside for a moment so Avrille could brief Lavinia on Char’s night-time routine. Having deposited his burden in a corner of their comfortable sitting room, Henry ran his hands through his sandy hair while discreetly flashing me a look of sheer incomprehension at Avrille’s detailed instructions of which specific illustrations in Char’s picture books sometimes made him cry so Lavinia could skip those pages. I shook my head as imperceptibly at him to convey that he had better start preparing for this sort of thing himself.

“Really, Avrille, I’ve got it!” Lavinia insisted, placing a pale hand on my wife’s shoulder to stop her torrent of suggestions. “You’re going to miss your reservation if you don’t hurry.” Since Lavinia was not a member of the Order, Avrille had told her we were going to have dinner in London in celebration of our upcoming wedding anniversary to explain both the need to leave Char behind and our Muggle attire. At the end of the previous school year, Professor Dumbledore had sent owls to each teacher not already a member explaining what the Order was and inviting them to join, with the explicit understanding that they would suffer no repercussions whatsoever for refusing. However, he had not sent the letter to Lavinia since he had an unofficial policy of not allowing currently pregnant women or mothers of babies under one-year-old to enlist. Therefore, in order to protect both my and Lavinia’s families, a slight deception was necessary.

Agreeing for once with Lavinia, I gently took Avrille’s arm to steer her towards the door before we were truly late for the meeting. She wanted to give Char one last kiss, but I insisted it would be better to just leave while he was distracted disassembling the Astronomy professor’s very expensive-looking model of the Milky Way. Avrille was finally convinced of the wisdom in my suggestion and followed me back out into the warm summer night. We thanked Henry one more time after he showed us to the door then both Disapparated to appear instantly in Grimmauld Place.

Though the sun had set not long ago, a mostly overcast sky concealed the waxing moon making the square appear much darker than one would expect at this hour in early August. The electric streetlamps were already lit atop their skinny metal podiums. The lamp nearest to where we appeared was flickering from a shorting circuit, its triangle of sickly, artificial orange light barely revealing Avrille and me as we hurried across the street and up the stairs to number twelve. The throbbing bass of obnoxiously loud rock music from an adjoining building muffled my whispered incantation to unlock the door, not that there appeared to be anyone around to hear me anyway. The front door creaked open to allow us admittance, and I made sure to close it silently behind us to prevent the usual cacophony arising from less conscientious Order members forgetting themselves when entering headquarters and awakening the dreadful portrait in the hall.

The gaslights flared to life as Avrille and I stepped further into the entryway. Their sputtering fire, scarcely casting any more light than the dying lamp outside, nevertheless showed the hallway to still be in the same state of disorder and filth as it had been last time I visited headquarters nearly a month ago. I wondered what Black could possibly be doing all day long shut up in this place that was so horribly important he couldn’t even find a moment to clean his former home to make it suitable for Order use.

Apparently our arrival hadn’t been as silent as I thought, for I saw Black’s house-elf, Kreacher, peering at us from around a corner. He croaked something unintelligible under his breath before slinking away out of sight again. I knew common decency didn’t allow us many options, but I still wished Professor Dumbledore had been able to think of something else to do with Kreacher besides letting him wander around headquarters aimlessly. It may sound cold, but there was no denying the elf was a liability. Though I came from an old, pure-blood wizarding family myself, I was fortunately spared the burden of having to supervise a house-elf in these difficult times. My mother had greatly objected to the enslavement of house-elves by her ancestors and set the one remaining one free upon her inheritance of the estate, hiring several human servants to take her place. The ancient female elf had helped raise my mother and hers from infancy and refused to leave, having nowhere else to go. My mother kindly consented to her staying in the house, but only when she was sure the elf understood she could leave at any time she wished. The elf remained in the house as a welcomed guest, though one still unable to resist cleaning once a day, until her death the year before I was born.

The quiet hum of voices and a slice of firelight cutting across the mouldy carpet down the hall directed Avrille and me to where the other members of the Order were gathered together in the parlour. We stepped silently down the hallway towards the room, Avrille casting an anxious, sidelong glance at the curtained painting when we passed it as though the frame was rigged with explosives. Fortunately the portrait remained dormant.

Upon walking into the parlour, which Molly had already graciously cleaned last month, I was surprised to see only Arthur, his son Bill, and Black present. The meeting was due to start in several minutes, and though I knew several members must be off escorting Potter from his relatives’ house, I had expected many others to be here already.

My confusion must have shown on my face, for Bill instantly spoke up from his position next to his father on a black leather sofa, “The others should be here any minute with Harry, Professor Snape. Most of them volunteered to be the advance guard for him.”

I had to keep myself from rolling my eyes at his comment. I had specifically told Moody that the Dark Lord was leaving Potter be for now, so a full guard would be unneeded and probably just attract unwanted attention. If that many people had volunteered to be the advance guard, I wondered who he had been able to track down to serve in his completely unnecessary rear guard. But being an ex-Auror, Moody believed man-power equalled might, not understanding that sometimes subtly and stealth accomplished much more.

Remembering my manners, unlike the last time I had been at headquarters, I gestured to Avrille, who had entered beside me, and said to Bill, “I don’t believe you’ve met my wife, Avrille. This is Bill, Molly and Arthur’s eldest son.” It still felt incredibly strange to not address him as “Mr Weasley,” even though I hadn’t been his teacher for six years. I had never minded the older Weasley children, even though they were in Gryffindor. However, the diligent way Bill and his brothers Charlie and Percy had applied themselves in Potions made the sloppy mediocrity of their youngest three brothers that much more disappointing.

“Nice to meet you,” Bill and Avrille said to each other at the same time, then both smiled at their overlapping words.

“Molly’s in the kitchen preparing supper for after the meeting. Will you two be joining us?” Arthur asked me while he wiped his horn-rim glasses on a corner of his faded business robes.

“Thank you, but no. We already ate.” I confess I usually made sure to either eat beforehand or lie about having done so when visiting Grimmauld Place. The less time I had to stew in the seeping discontent of Black, who had not even bothered to glace our way yet, the better.

“If Molly doesn’t mind us invading her workspace, we’ll hold the meeting down there,” I continued. “Since most members will be in attendance tonight, we’ll be more comfortable in a larger area.”

“For someone who never bothered to attend a meeting last time around, you sure know how to give the orders now, don’t you?” Black remarked snidely from his position slouching in an armchair near the smoking fireplace, still not breaking his broody studying of the cracked hearthstones to meet my eye like a man.

“Last time it was because of Professor Dumbledore’s instructions that I did not attend Order meetings, to protect me in the event the Dark Lord had a spy of his own planted within us. It was fortunate he directed me so, else I would have most likely been executed by the Death Eaters after your friend betrayed us all,” I reminded him coldly. “If you have a problem with my authority, I suggest you register your complaints with the headmaster himself next time he comes here since, again, it was his wish that I lead the meeting tonight. In the meantime you’re more than welcome to retire to your room while the rest of us discuss the safety of your godson.”

With that, I turned on my heel and left the room. Avrille followed me, taking a couple extra quick steps to match my impatient strides.

What the hell is his problem?!” she whispered to me when we were back in the hall.

His problem is that he never grew the hell up,” I hissed back, then felt immediately guilty for snapping at her. I took her hand in apology as we descended into the basement. Avrille squeezed my fingers before letting go as we stepped into the kitchen, conveying that she understood my irritation and wasn’t offended.

Molly was busy stacking clean dishes to shelve when we entered and greeted us pleasantly, with an especially warm smile for Avrille. She didn’t mind us using the kitchen space at all for the meeting, agreeing with me it would be much more suitable than the small, stuffy room upstairs. She and Avrille started conjuring extra chairs and setting them in a circle around the table, which I had magically expanded to stretch nearly the length of the room. As soon as everything was arranged, Arthur and Bill joined us, their natural affability quite unaffected by my brief confrontation with Black. He slunk into the kitchen a few minutes later and fell into a chair at the far end of the table from me with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face. I ignored his petulance and busied myself skimming through my conjured notes and double checking the folio of Garnier’s Ministry plans was in order.

Molly and Avrille, who were sitting to the right of my position at head of the table, chatted idly for a few minutes, Molly mostly inquiring after Char and if Avrille had been given a moment to breathe in the three weeks since they had last spoken. The sound of the front door creaking open interrupted my wife’s reply, followed by the muted sound of numerous sets of footsteps in the hall above us. Molly excused herself to get Potter settled in a room with the other children. A minute later nearly a dozen Order members filed down the stairs, most leaning broomsticks against the wall near the kitchen door before hurrying to take a seat around the table. Apparently Bill hadn’t been exaggerating about the size of the advance guard.

Moody had led the procession, his magical eye swivelling around spasmodically as though searching out any Death Eaters who might have hid themselves in the butter dish. Next came Elphias Doge, limping slightly as he shuffled to the table as though it had been many a year since the ancient man had last ridden a broomstick. Emmeline Vance and Hestia Jones followed after pouring each other cups of tea. Vance pulled her green shawl more tightly around herself while cupping her warm mug gratefully, and Jones busied herself smoothing down her black, windswept hair. Unfortunately the wind hadn’t blown away Dedalus Diggle’s ridiculous violet top hat, which he placed on the table in front of him as he took a seat next to Sturgis Podmore. Nymphadora Tonks hurried down the stairs tailing Lupin, and she proceeded to knock down everyone else’s neatly stacked brooms while attempting to lay hers next to them. The brooms were quickly put to rights with a lazy wand wave from her senior Auror, Kingsley Shacklebolt. Shacklebolt settled himself on my other side while Lupin and Tonks took chairs near Black at the far end of the table.

Brief introductions were made for those who didn’t know Avrille, which was virtually everyone besides the Weasley family and Lupin since I had barred her from the previous meeting. The exchange between Moody and Avrille was slightly awkward since both knew they should have met already almost a year ago.

Finally Molly returned. As she took her place next to her husband once more, wine was conjured and poured while several pipes were lit. The smouldering pipeweed duskily illuminated the lower half of the smokers’ faces in the dim room. I had just welcomed everyone and was about to offer Professor Dumbledore’s regrets for his absence tonight when I was halted by the shuffling late arrival of Mundungus Fletcher. Looking as always like he had spent the previous night asleep in a gutter, Fletcher mumbled some incomprehensible excuse before collapsing next to Lupin at the table. I bit my cheek to keep myself from reiterating to the petty criminal that the reason we had to meet tonight was primarily because of his own irresponsibility when he abandoned his guard duty over Potter to chase after stolen goods. But knowing Professor Dumbledore had already severely reprimanded him himself, I pushed my annoyance aside and carried on.

“Professor Dumbledore and Minerva apologise for their inability to be in attendance tonight. Since, as you know, the Ministry is poised to keep tabs on us all at Hogwarts with the appointment of Dolores Umbridge to the staff, they as the primary administrators have much to accomplish in the next few weeks before she descends on us.”

“—Eew, Umbridge!?” Tonks interrupted me with her turned-up nose wrinkled in disgust, apparently not in the loop after all. “How did she weasel her way in there?”

“The Ministry passed a decree stating that if Professor Dumbledore couldn’t fulfil an empty staff position, it would be filled at the discretion of the Ministry,” I explained. “No one volunteered to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts, so Umbridge was assigned to the school.” Avrille furrowed her brow slightly when I said this, knowing I myself had applied and been denied by the headmaster. However, she didn’t say anything to contradict me, of which I was grateful. Hoping to push aside this still-sore matter, I opened my mouth to continue, but Tonks once again cut me off.

“But there has to be someone else! Why can’t you go teach it again, Remus?” she asked Lupin, who was sitting across from her at the other end of the table.

Lupin shook his head sadly. “Because I truly can’t. Dolores Umbridge herself authored and forced through a mandate five years ago adding onto the Werewolf Regulation Act, which already required people like me to obtain a special permit from the Ministry to work. Her addendum stipulated that a werewolf who voluntarily leaves a salaried position for any other reason besides documented medical illness not related to their affliction would thereby be banned from seeking salaried employment in the country for three full years. Apparently we werewolves are expected to be simply grateful to have a job at all, no matter if we have other extenuating circumstances.”

Apparently unable to let the subject drop, Tonks demanded with the tips of her ludicrously purple hair flaring bright orange for a moment in her passion, “If you knew that was going to happen, why did you ever resign in the first place?”

Lupin glanced delicately aside at me, but before he could say anything Black interjected, “Because someone opened their big mouth and blabbed about Remus’s condition at the end of the year.” He finally met my eye by glaring hotly at me while pouring himself a second goblet of wine. I, of course, was used to Black’s tantrums and didn’t rise to his bait, instead sitting back and waiting patiently until everyone saw fit to continue with the meeting.

Lupin turned to his friend and said pointedly, “I hold no ill will at all towards Severus for that; he was trying to protect his students from what appeared to everyone at the time to be an out-of-control werewolf, who had just aided and abetted the escape of a mass-murderer. Whatever blame there was to be issued for the events of that night fell rightfully on me. I should have gone directly to Dumbledore and told him what I suspected about your innocence. Even more importantly, I should have made taking my Wolfsbane Potion, that Severus kindly volunteered to brew for me the entire school year, my absolute first priority.

“But enough about that. The past is over, and we’re here to discuss the present,” Remus said, shaking his greying hair slightly wolfishly as he turned to look back at me while Black snorted and downed his wine. “I apologise for the interruption, Severus. Please continue.”

I sat forward in my chair again and pulled out my first of several sheets of notes. “Now that Potter has been safely relocated here …”

I couldn’t stop myself from sighing in utter exasperation as I was prevented from beginning for the fourth time by the sound of shouting echoing down the stairs. I tapped my quill point impatiently on the table while Molly quickly cast an Imperturbable Charm on the door to block out what sounded like Potter giving his unbridled teenage angst free rein; he must have been yelling at the top of his lungs for the noise to penetrate the several floors between us. As soon as Molly’s charm took effect, and we were blanketed in sweet silence once more, I paused while staring at each member of the Order to see if anyone else would like to prevent this meeting from getting underway before I wasted any more breath. When I was sure I was the sole focus of all fifteen pairs of eyes around the table—Fletcher having, fortunately, already fallen asleep—I cleared my throat and recommenced.

“Since Potter sounds like he is in excellent health, I will assume his retrieval from the Dursleys’ house went smoothly.” I glanced at Moody for confirmation. Moody nodded slightly, his creviced face screwed up in concentration as he dribbled some of the provided wine into the spout of his hipflask for later consumption.

“Because we’re now able to forgo the around-the-clock vigils in Surrey,” I continued briskly to make up for lost time, “Professor Dumbledore has drawn up a schedule for monitoring the Department of Mysteries corridor every night. Please review this and commit your assigned nights to memory, for these schedules will be destroyed once the meeting concludes.” I pulled out a stack of papers and handed them to Shacklebolt on my left to pass around the table. “If you are unable to perform your assigned guard duty on a certain date, it will be up to you to find another Order member to take your place. However, any changes made to the prearranged schedule must be cleared with either Professor Dumbledore or Minerva well in advance. They understand sometimes legitimate things will arise that conflict with your assignment, but keep in mind there is nothing more important in the world right now than protecting that prophecy.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Avrille’s face crease slightly with confusion at both my mention of the prophecy, which I realised I hadn’t explained to her the moment I said it, and also when the guard duty schedules fell short just as Molly took the last one beside her. I discreetly passed her my original copy. I saw her expression fall further when upon scanning the tables, she failed to locate her name even once. I hoped no one else in the Order would notice this omission because I didn’t feel like having to defend my wife’s absence on the schedule at the moment. Though it may come across to some as favouritism, it was actually Professor Dumbledore’s instruction that Avrille be kept away from the Ministry because of my own complicated situation.

I waited a moment for everyone to memorise their shifts. When I had the full attention of the room once more, besides the unconscious Fletcher, who hadn’t been trusted to pick up a single night of duty anyway, I carried on.

“Everyone who stands guard must do so under an invisibility cloak, even those who are Ministry employees.” Tonks groaned slightly at this.

I looked down the table at her and said, “It is imperative you do not rouse anyone’s suspicion in the Ministry by being caught loitering around a department that is not your own.” Then addressing the entire room once more, “Several Death Eaters have also been spotted investigating that area. I still haven’t ascertained whether or not Lucius Malfoy has been successful in putting an Unspeakable under the Imperius Curse, but once I’m able to find out a name or description, I will pass it on to everyone immediately. Keep in mind that besides watching out for known Death Eaters, you also must avoid drawing the attention of any non-Order Ministry worker. After all, we have no way of knowing exactly how many of them were involved in ordering the dementor attack on Potter.”

“I’m still not clear why exactly Dumbledore’s acting on the assumption that it was someone in the Ministry who ordered the attack. Wouldn’t it be much more likely You-Know-Who was behind it?” Vance asked as she pushed aside her empty tea mug and lit a cigarine, blowing a puff of clove-scented purple smoke into the air above her.

 “Well, You-Know-Who probably doesn’t even know Harry lives with his aunt and uncle or where their house is, right?” Podmore piped up.

“He knows,” I said solemnly. Podmore’s hopeful face fell.

“And how do you know Voldemort knows?” Black asked me, every word glazed with brittle suspicion. A collective shudder passed through everyone sitting around the table, except for Lupin, Avrille, and myself, as though Black had let loose a blast of artic air with his careless use of the Dark Lord’s name.

I looked long and hard at Black for a moment for replying simply, “Because I told him.”

You what?!” Black leapt out of his chair sending it banging to the fieldstone floor behind him and making most of the other Order members start yet again. At his movement, Avrille reached into her pocket to take hold of her wand since it appeared Black was about to dive across the length of the table and garrotte me barehanded. Lupin stopped him by jumping up as well and roughly grasping Black’s shoulders to hold him back.

“Calm down, Sirius!” he commanded. “I’m sure Severus had a very good reason for it.” However, when Lupin looked over his shoulder at me for confirmation, I would have preferred to see a bit less hope and slightly more trust in his glance.

With a heavy sigh I said, speaking slowly and deliberately as though explaining to someone Char’s age, “He would have found out soon enough on his own anyway. Potter’s official place of residence is on record, and we all know the Dark Lord has already started infiltrating the Ministry. I took it upon myself to offer up that bit of information to further secure my own place within the ranks of his most trusted Death Eaters. The more he trusts me, the more sensitive information I can become privy to, rendering me that much more able to protect Potter from whatever the Dark Lord has in mind for him down the road.”

Lupin had finally managed to force Black back into his up-righted seat. My explanation had mollified Black slightly to the effect that he was contenting himself with ominous knuckle-cracking. However, he was suddenly refusing to keep me out of his direct sight, even staring at me over the rim of his goblet while he put back a third glass of wine, as though I might suddenly run from the room to betray all of the Order’s secrets.

“With all due respect, Severus,” Vance spoke up once again, dropping her extinguished cigarine end into her tea dregs, “that still doesn’t answer my original question. Knowing for sure that You-Know-Who is aware of Harry’s location during the summer makes it seem even more likely he ordered the dementors after him.

“You’re right,” I replied with a slight, courteous nod in her direction. At least someone in the room knew how to conduct a conversation with proper decorum. “However, the Dark Lord told me himself that he has no current plans to move against Potter.”

“And you believed him?!” Black laughed with obvious disdain. “You took the Great Deceiver at his word?!”

Yes, Black, I did,” I retorted cuttingly. I was growing very tired of having to defend every single sentence and action of my own to someone who, conveniently, couldn’t even leave his mother’s house. I felt Avrille touch my knee under the table. Remembering that she and the others were looking to me to maintain order amidst the terrifying chaos of the Dark Lord’s return, I forced my rising temper back down.

“It would have been to his advantage to tell me if he was planning on setting dementors on Potter,” I said, more calmly. “It would be the perfect way to test whether or not I was repeating everything he said to Professor Dumbledore. If he believed me to be completely loyal to the Order, he would know I wouldn’t be able to risk jeopardising Potter’s life when he is so integral to the prophecy. But none of this is even relevant since all the dementors are still under Ministry control, correct, Kingsley?”

Shacklebolt nodded his bald head and replied in his deep, slow voice, “There have been no reports of any dementors going rogue from Azkaban, meaning the two that attacked Potter had permission to do so. As Dumbledore and Severus have said, the most likely scenario is that a high-ranking Ministry official was behind the whole thing.”

Everyone finally seemed satisfied by Shacklebolt’s confirmation since he had the most direct knowledge of inner Ministry workings of any of us, and we were able to progress with the meeting. Now that I wasn’t being constantly interrupted, things moved along more quickly. However, I did have to pace myself a bit and not rush through some items. Avrille kept looking down to discreetly check her watch, and I could see her mentally running through Char’s bedtime routine with each passing minute. The decreasing quality of the air in the room also made me want to leave as soon as possible. My throat already felt raw and scratchy from breathing in the heavily perfumed pipe smoke while speaking. I was able to take a break and sip some water while several other Order members gave brief reports of their own, mostly updates on their surveillance of various Death Eaters or explaining their lack of success recruiting new blood to the cause.

When every order of business had been taken care of, I said in closing, “Keep in mind we all need to be more discreet now that Potter is here at headquarters. Remember Professor Dumbledore’s specific instruction that Potter is not to be told more than he needs to know to keep himself out of danger. He is still underage, not a sworn member of the Order, and should not be given classified information, no matter how many times he has personally faced the Dark Lord. And under no circumstances is anyone to mention the prophecy to him. Professor Dumbledore has been more than clear on numerous occasions that it is a topic he will broach with Potter himself when he feels the boy can handle it. That’s all for this evening. Word will be passed along to you when the next meeting is scheduled.” With that, I closed up my notes to dismiss the group.

Many people had other engagements or had tacked on Order duties after an already long day at work, so few loitered in the kitchen once the meeting had concluded. Bill and Arthur stayed back to help finish up supper while Molly went upstairs to fetch the children. No one moved to wake Fletcher, who was now drooling on the table and making me very glad Avrille and I weren’t staying to eat. The procession up the stairs was a slow one with the members of the advance guard walking extra carefully so as to not bludgeon anyone’s head with their broomsticks.

As we waited in the musty darkness of the stairwell for Tonks and Shacklebolt to move away from the entrance to the hall, Avrille leaned in and whispered in my ear, “You did wonderful!” I smiled at her amidst the shadows and placed a hand on her back to steady her on the steep, banister-less stairs as Shacklebolt was inadvertently pushed a few steps back towards us from the congestion of the hallway. I resisted the temptation to move my hand lower, remembering there was no guarantee Char would actually want to go to bed once we were all back home.

Finally most of the group had shifted closer to the front door, and we were able to squeeze into the hall ourselves. I saw Black standing in front of the curtained portrait of his mother away from the crowd, holding a whispered conversation with Lupin. I excused myself from Avrille’s side to go over there myself.

“I want a word in private, Black,” I said to him. He seemed like he was going to object, but apparently deciding to save face with both Lupin and Avrille watching us, he rolled his eyes and pushed off from the wall to follow me into the parlour.

“What?” he huffed in annoyance once I had closed the door quietly behind us. I took several steps into the room until I was directly in front of him. Black held his ground and brushed his long, peppery hair out of his eyes so he could stare back insolently. I’m sure he wished he could physically look down on me but was prevented from doing so since I was, in fact, marginally taller than him.

Matching his glare with one of my own, I said, “You will never speak to me that way in a meeting again.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Did I embarrass you in front of your wife?”  he replied with heavy sarcasm as he crossed his arms.

“The only one who embarrassed himself was you,” I countered coldly, not even bothering to conceal the disgust I was feeling towards his unshaven appearance and alcohol-reeking breath. “If you cannot conduct yourself in an appropriate manner in the future, I will inform Professor Dumbledore that you are too emotionally unstable to be allowed to sit in on meetings. And rest assured, he will believe me, especially when he sees how you are apparently unable to even complete the simple assignment of cleaning your own house.”

With an ugly scowl twisting what remained of his ravaged good-looks, Black pushed roughly past me. He strode from the room, slamming the door behind him so hard it rattled the tarnished crystal chandelier above me and sent a white powder trickling down from the crumbly plaster ceiling. I quickly sidestepped the dust and left the room with a grim sense of satisfaction. Though he would never deign to admit it, Black must have known I was serious since he simply left without throwing more snarky comments at me.

There was no sign of Black in the hallway when I re-entered it, so he must have retreated to nurse his blistering pride in another part of the house. Lupin gave me a slightly curious look as I passed him to re-join Avrille near the front door, but he asked me no questions, probably guessing the gist of the unheard conversation from his friend’s stormy departure from the parlour. Avrille also didn’t mention my brief absence, except she seemed to be fighting back a slight smirk. Loath though I was to have to offer what should be an unnecessary explanation to Black of how adults behave, at least I had a wife who sympathised with my obvious annoyance at having to deal with an Order member with the maturity level of my fourth-year students. After a few more minutes of answering last minute questions about assignments, I gratefully left the decaying headquarters building behind with Avrille to retrieve our son.

We found him much as we had left him at Lavinia’s and Henry’s house. Their sitting room and what could be seen of their kitchen appeared to be in total disarray; Char had obviously discovered strewing about the contents of someone else’s cupboards to be much more entertaining than playing with his own toys, which appeared to have never even been unpacked from his mostly untouched mountain of belongings. The fact that Char had probably only used one-twentieth of what she had packed didn’t seem to bother Avrille in the slightest. I didn’t comment, understanding that she had been more relaxed at the meeting than she would have been if distracted by thoughts of all the things she didn’t leave for Char.

We thanked Lavinia and Henry once more. Both refused to let us help clean up the mess Char had left in his wake. Avrille quickly vanished all of our son’s possessions back to the castle, and we gratefully accepted the couple’s offer of using their Floo to return there ourselves since Char appeared half-ready to fall asleep on my shoulder again like he had the day before. We put Char straight to bed once we were back in our rooms in the dungeons. He fell asleep almost instantly. Apparently completely tearing apart and exploring a new house was exhausting work.

Avrille didn’t speak to me much the rest of the night besides a few inconsequential remarks. Questions about the prophecy and Order assignments didn’t come as I had expected them to the moment we were finally alone together. I wasn’t sure if she was somehow angry at me and didn’t want to press the matter myself in case she truly was. Instead I watched her as she stepped silently throughout our bedroom, putting away Char’s clean clothes the house-elves had placed on the end of our bed. Her thin, silent frame was almost ghostlike as she moved with careful purpose around the space occupied by our sleeping son. As I saw her lean down and give a lingering kiss on Char’s head as though smelling his tousled hair, I wished I could know what was on her mind.

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