A couple of days after the meeting, I received a short note from Molly Weasley. She wrote that Sirius had decided to go on an unexpected cleaning spree around headquarters, and she was wondering if I wouldn’t mind assisting her with the library once more. More pressing matters had kept her from being able to continue with the sorting we had started a few weeks ago. I smiled as I held the note up at eye-level to keep it out Char’s grabby reach. It was a small request, but I was honoured she had invited me to help her. We didn’t have a chance to speak after the meeting, but I think Molly knew instinctually how let down I had felt when I hadn’t received a guard duty shift. Of course common sense had set in a split second after I realized I’d been passed over. With Severus’s delicate situation, it was unthinkable that his wife could be given such an assignment. Most other people in the Order could come up with a reasonable excuse as to why they might be in the Ministry after-hours, especially since most members worked there. However, what reason could I give if caught? Not only would I risk trespassing charges, but I’d also be suddenly putting a spotlight on Severus, who now more than ever needed to be left to work in the shadows.
So yes, I knew all of this, but it didn’t mean I wasn’t still feeling a little left out of Order business. At the moment it seemed I was a member in name only. Molly’s invitation to help her with something practical for the Order, therefore, came as a very welcome and needed request for me. It was also well timed, for Severus would be resuming classes soon. Between his work and his own duties for the Order, I had literally only a handful of days where I could go out and do something alone without having to worry about who would take care of Char.
Severus seemed a little bit relieved when I asked him if he minded if I went to London for the day. I admit I’d been sort of moping around the dungeons since our outing to the beach. I was trying to keep in mind every single day how lucky our family was that Severus was even alive. However, I also couldn’t help resenting how the Dark Lord’s influence was already restricting our day to day lives when most other people in the country were blissfully ignorant that anything was wrong in the world.
So following Severus’s command that I take the afternoon off from parenting, and treat myself to something nice in Diagon Alley once the cleaning was done, I Apparated to Grimmauld Place after lunch. I recalled the spell Severus had used to open the door so as to not wake-up the banshee in the hallway and let myself in. Sirius’s “out of the blue” (Severus had filled me in on the conversation he had with him earlier in the week) cleaning frenzy didn’t seem to have reached the entryway yet. Hopefully it would be at the top of the list soon. Seeing those house-elf heads on the wall every time I came here was really grossing me out.
Silence filled the house, and the doorway leading down to the kitchen was dark, so I thought Molly might already be up in the library. I ended up locating her just as she was unwinding the chain from the library doors with her wand to let herself in. After a few moments of catching up, we walked inside to get down to work.
I saw a few very nice changes from the last time I’d been in here. For instance, all of the annoying portraits were gone from the walls. This was easily seen since the space was now illuminated with natural light as opposed to what’d been barely able to shine from the sooty fireplace previously. About half of the bookcases that had completely lined the walls before had been removed, their unsorted contents piled into numerous teetering columns on one side of the room. The remaining shelves had been more evenly spaced out to reveal several long, skinny windows that had been hidden behind the impenetrable walls of books. Though the rest of the room had yet to see a good dusting, the windows at least had most of their grime wiped clean to allow the bright afternoon sun to shine in.
“I thought since we were binning the majority of these books, we could open up the space a little,” Molly explained. “With a little work, this might even be a better meeting space than the kitchen.”
I definitely agreed with her. Now that half of the junk was cleared out, it was easy to imagine this room as the heart of headquarters. At the very least, it would be more dignified to hold a meeting here amongst ancient tomes than in the kitchen, sitting next to a barrel of potatoes.
“I really appreciate your coming here to assist me, Avrille. I know it’s simply terrible, but I just don’t trust the boys’ judgement on what books are appropriate to keep. Hermione has more sense, but the poor girl looked on the verge of tears when I mentioned how many books we were already able to discard. But hopefully with your help, we can finish this room today while the children are busy with the dining room.” Molly rolled up her sleeves and began carefully extracting volumes from the top of one of the book stacks. She kept her wand at the ready in her other hand, perhaps in case the books suddenly banded together and attempted to crush her.
I decided to start sorting through several crates that had been shoved into a corner near the windows. I sat down beside them on the enormous Oriental rug that covered most of the floor. The rug had probably been exquisite when it was woven, but now it looked like it would need to be taken outside and hit with a fire hose to rinse out the centuries’ worth of grime dug into it by careless feet tracking soot from the fireplace across its formally vibrant colours. Glancing cursorily over the contents of the cheap, splintery pine boxes beside me, I saw many of the items inside seemed to be personal effects of the Black family.
“Are you sure Sirius doesn’t want this stuff?” I asked Molly over my shoulder as I wound my hair up into a loose knot to keep it out of my face.
“It’s all to go, he said!” Molly confirmed, slightly out of breath from lobbing an enormous atlas of the magical world, its cover stained rusty brown with what looked like blood spatter, into her rubbish bin.
I shrugged my shoulders then turned back to my crates. Most of the books in the first one I dug through were ledgers of financial records. I’m sure if I was better at accounting, I would have seen some impressive tax-evasion work recorded in them. After flinging the ledgers into my own bin (which accepted them with a barking, croupy cough as though the records had been too dry for its taste), I cleared out a second crate by sending several thick stacks of Transfiguration Today back-issues, circa 1953 and speckled with swampy green mildew, in after them. I made short work of the crates since for every one item I deemed to have enough value to keep, there were around ten that I tossed. When I had finished that set of sorting, I placed the few books and periodicals I had set aside into one of the empty crates, only filling it about half-way, to be shelved later.
After standing and brushing the back of my skirt clean, I studied the bookcase nearest to me. I assumed no one had checked over these shelves yet since in the middle of it sat a set of candleholders made out of probably real human skulls. A thick layer of melted yellow wax that smelled like sulphur coated the skulls like a new skin and had sealed the eye sockets closed. Wrinkling my nose slightly, I used my wand to pitch the skulls into the trash so I wouldn’t have to touch them with my bare hands. Unfortunately, the rest of the bookcase’s contents weren’t quite so obviously Dark. Some books were clearly destined for removal (cover art depicting humans being burned alive on pyres were a bit of a giveaway), while others were completely innocuous, like Miss Cecily Primrose’s Guide to Proper Etiquette for Young Witches. A handful of the books weren’t so clear as to which side of the line they fell on, and these were the ones that took up the majority of my time. I spent almost ten minutes skimming one with no title on the spine and a similarly unadorned green jacket before finally figuring out that the “great, noble sport of our ancestors” the author kept referring to was not Quidditch but Muggle-hunting.
Once that highly inappropriate treatise had been chucked into the trash where it belonged, I turned back to the shelf it had come from and picked up the next book for judgement. It was a large, square volume covered in silver brocade and surprisingly heavy. Upon opening it, I discovered it was a photo album. I flipped through it randomly. Haughty, proud faces stared insolently up at me from every page, their names engraved beneath them on thin slices of tarnished silver glued to the paper. It seemed like most of these people were extended family of Sirius since very few had the last name of Black.
While the older photographs in the beginning were mostly faded into sepia from the developing potions losing their potency over time, a handful near the back were more recent and still retained their true colors. A flash of blue-grey shot through me, my chest suddenly feeling as though I had been stabbed with an icicle, as I turned a page and found myself staring into the cold, slowly blinking eyes of Lucius Malfoy. I stifled the gasp of air my instincts had wanted to take. It was only a picture, after all, and I didn’t want to attract Molly’s attention. However, I think I had very good reason to be momentarily freaked out; this was the first time I’d been “face to face” with Lucius since the night he tried to assault me. Severus often reassured me Lucius barely ever showed his face at Hogwarts now after the humiliation of being kicked out of the school’s governing council. He didn’t even attend his son’s Quidditch matches any more. His absence was just fine by me, but I really thought I’d gotten over that whole incident. The way my heart was pounding right now seemed to indicate otherwise.
I regained my composure by focusing on the rest of the photograph to break the hypnotic hold of Lucius’s photographed stare. The picture appeared to be a portrait of him and his wife on their wedding day. Both Lucius, in his pressed, black dress robes and the new Mrs. Malfoy, swathed in an ivory gown so simply draped you just knew it had cost a fortune, were standing beneath a white trellis crawling with morning glories. The golden caption beneath them read, “Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, June 10, 1978.” Narcissa looked like she was just barely out of school and kept gazing up at her husband adoringly as she clutched his arm with a satin-gloved hand. Lucius’s image, however, never broke his intense eyeing of the photographer.
A prickle at the base of my neck made me feel like there was another pair of eyes on me. I looked up from the photo album to see the ancient house-elf Severus and I had glimpsed before the Order meeting standing in the hallway and peering around the ajar door at me. The sunlight from the newly cleared windows wasn’t strong enough to penetrate the hallway’s gloom, and stubborn shadows clung in pockets against the elf’s sagging, greyish skin. Like the other night, he was muttering to himself under his breath. While that act might hint at some sort of diminished mental capacity, the way he was sizing me up with his clouded, beady eyes made me certain he knew exactly what I was about to do with his family’s old photographs. While I felt a small measure of pity for the poor creature who was now irrevocably bound to serving a master he most likely detested, I nevertheless gave the elf a cool look of my own as I slammed the album shut on Lucius’s face and tossed it unceremoniously into the trash. The elf visibly winced as I did so but quickly scurried away at the sound of a pair of feet thudding down the hall toward him.
The owner of the lumbering gait turned out to be Ron, Molly’s youngest son. His freckled face wrinkled in disgust as he looked back behind himself at the retreating creature.
Molly quickly pulled his attention over to her by asking curtly, “Why aren’t you down helping Harry and Hermione, Ron?”
Ron started a bit at his mother’s briskness, mostly likely having been ejected from this room in the past. “I just thought I’d make some tea, Mum. I was wondering if you want any.” He rubbed at the back of his reddening neck with a grimy hand. However, if anything, Ron’s apparent thoughtfulness made Molly’s eyes squint together even more suspiciously than before.
“That would be lovely,” she finally said, though in a tone that seemed to imply the opposite. “You can serve it with that rhubarb tart I baked this morning. Would you like some tea, Avrille?” Ron’s eyes flicked over to me at her question. I don’t think he realized someone else was in the room.
“Yes, thank you, I would,” I replied. Molly spared an approving nod at the work I’d accomplished so far before rounding once more on her son.
“Make sure you also offer some to Remus. He got in late last night and is around here somewhere. And don’t forget Sirius and your brothers. They should still be pruning back those Fanged Geraniums that were allowed to grow rampant in the morning room.” She glared at the back of Ron’s head when he waved at her over his shoulder as he left the library, a gesture only slightly less rude than rolling his eyes at the amount of extra work she’d just volunteered him for.
“And wash those hands before you touch anything in my kitchen!” she hollered with her wand pointed as though threatening a scrubbing charm just before he turned the corner to the stairs. I was glad she said out loud what I’d been thinking to myself.
Looking down at my own filthy palms, I asked Molly if there was a bathroom where I could clean up before Ron returned with our refreshments. She gave me directions to one on the ground floor since she wasn’t completely sure what sort of being was currently making its home in the one down the hall from us. I made my way back down through the still nearly silent house to the bathroom, which was around the corner from the horrible screaming portrait of Sirius’s mother and near the end of a long hall. I’m surprised I didn’t accidentally wake up the portrait when I flushed the toilet; the water rushing through the ancient plumbing roared like rocket launching. At least the entire commode didn’t collapse on top of me when I tugged the ancient pull-chain gingerly. All of the chipped porcelain fixtures looked they’d been originally installed when the room would have been referred to as “the water closet” and hadn’t seen a hint of maintenance since.
But at least the ridiculous clamour of my personal hygiene didn’t seem to spread beyond the echoing confines of the lavatory. When I opened the door with freshly rinsed hands, there was no sound of screamed raving carrying to me from down the hall. The only noise I heard at all besides the distant ticking of a clock somewhere was the sound of laughter coming through the crack of an ajar door at the very end of the corridor.
As stepped from the bathroom, I heard Ron’s annoyed voice huff, “Make up your mind, George. I already have about fifteen cups of tea to make.”
“If that’s the case little brother, I’ll take two,” George Weasley replied saucily.
“You’re a right git, you know that?” Ron shot back.
“Well, it’s your own bloody fault for offering. Who else is here anyway?” George asked.
“Remus is in his room. Oh, and Snape’s wife’s here helping Mum.”
I had started to walk back to the stairs but froze in the middle of the dim hallway when I heard Ron mention me. Turning back toward the speakers to make sure I couldn’t be seen from their location in the morning room, I listened as another voice, Sirius by the sound of it, suddenly exclaimed, “Would someone please tell me how the hell that happened?!” A round of male snickering followed his outburst. I stepped backwards into a patch of shadow, cast by a towering grandfather clock blocking a solitary gas lamp, unable to stop myself from listening further.
“Most of us always assumed a love potion. He is the Potions master, after all,” George finally admitted.
“I guess I should give Snape more credit. That had to have been the most difficult potion in the entire world to brew,” Sirius said, the mixture of revulsion and twisted glee in his voice making my blood instantly boil. “How could he have slipped it to her, though? She seems like she’s smart. Though, I don’t know how smart you could really be if you let someone like him give you a love potion over and over again—”
“—Knock it off.” A new voice interrupted Sirius. My guess was it belonged to Fred since it sounded like George’s but quieter. “We shouldn’t be talking about her like this. It isn’t right.”
“Oh come on, Fred. You’re not still hung up on her, are you?!” George sighed with exasperation. “She has a kid. Mum did tell you how babies are made, right?”
I pushed off from the faded papered wall I had been leaning against and walked briskly away from the morning room, my face burning. Unfortunately, the universe seemed determined to humiliate me even further since I nearly walked straight into Remus Lupin, who had been standing just around the corner in front of the curtained portrait. The way his own cheeks flushed bright pink at my appearance clued me in to the fact that I hadn’t been the only one eavesdropping on that conversation.
We held each other’s gaze for a beat before Remus broke our connection by glancing sideways at the heavy drapes. I was about to excuse myself when he cleared his throat softly and said as he straightened the buttons on his slightly frayed cuffs, “I was about to go tell Ron that I’d changed my mind and would like a cup of tea, but I think I’ve decided to abstain after all.”
“Oh,” I replied, not really sure what else to say.
I made a move to continue on, but Remus stopped me by asking, “Could I speak with you for a moment, in private?”
The last thing I wanted right then was a conversation with a man who had just overheard a group of teenagers referencing my sex life. But he had asked so politely that I found myself replying, “Sure,” and following him up one flight of stairs to his room.
Remus allowed me to enter first and gestured to a black winged armchair near an empty fireplace. He propped the door open ostentatiously then sat down in a similar chair facing me.
“I’d offer you something to drink, but I assume you might have something on the way,” he said as he settled himself.
“I do. Thank you anyway.” I was still too embarrassed to look at Remus directly. Instead, I focused my attention on the impressive collection of books he himself had acquired, which filled several shelves flanking the fireplace beside us, as I tried to poke a tuft of protruding stuffing back into its hole in the armrest’s upholstery with my finger.
“I won’t keep you long, then.” Remus seemed just as reluctant to begin his own conversation as I was to be a part of it. His gold-flecked hazel eyes followed mine to his books.
“Sirius generously allowed me to pick through his family’s library for anything that piqued my interest before you and Molly began your expunction. It was a novel experience for me.” Remus sighed heavily at himself. “Forgive the horrible pun. It was unintentional.” I couldn’t help smiling a bit at that.
“What I meant to say is that I’ve never been able to indulge in the luxury of owning a personal library before. My living situations have always been too unpredictable to waste trunk space with all the books I’d love to own but don’t necessarily need.”
I finally looked back to Remus. He was still admiring his newly acquired collection, though with a sad, wistful expression on his face, as he stroked one of his scarred cheeks with his thumb. A little ball of guilt knotted itself into a corner of my stomach.
“That much instability in your life must be incredibly difficult for you. I can’t help but feel partly responsible. If I’d only tried to convince Severus not to tell everyone about your condition, perhaps you could still be teaching at—”
Remus silently interrupted me by finally meeting my eye and shaking his head with a raised hand. “I meant what I said at the meeting. I truly do not hold any ill feelings towards Severus for that, and certainly none towards you. I would have done the exact same thing in his situation if I believed my own students were in danger. No, I should be the one apologizing. The way Sirius was speaking with the boys was inappropriate, and I’m very sorry you had to overhear that.”
“It’s ok. I’m used to people thinking I’m crazy for marrying Severus,” I said, trying not to fidget. I wished Remus would just drop the topic, but he inevitably continued.
“No, it isn’t ok, and I’ve never thought you were crazy for marrying him. Though both Sirius and Severus seem immovable in their wilful oversight of each other’s positive attributes, I’ve known for years that Severus is a decent man with many good qualities. As for what you overheard just now, Sirius should not have been speaking that way about a fellow Order member, no matter what his personal feelings are towards your husband. I also should have gone in and told him so myself.” Remus hesitated and slouched a bit more in his chair, either simply to get more comfortable or as an unconscious gesture to diminish himself because this conversation was just as awkward for him as it was for me. Apparently his own guilty conscience was nagging strongly for he valiantly pressed on.
“We hardly know each other, but I feel like you’ve already discovered one of my worst flaws.”
I looked at him quizzically.
“I’m loath to ever make waves,” he explained with a sad smile. “I’m often polite to a fault, even with my friends. I went so long without having any as a child. Once I finally made some at Hogwarts, I did anything I could to keep them, even going along with things I didn’t agree with personally. I rightly earned and deserved Severus’s dislike back then. He saw my silent complaisance of my friends’ ill treatment of him as condonation. Now that I’m an adult, I certainly wouldn’t tolerate such cruelty in my presence. However, I still feel like I don’t have the right to contradict Sirius or to tell him what is right or wrong. Sirius was tortured for twelve years in Azkaban for a crime he never could have even considered committing. Who am I to judge what is or isn’t appropriate behaviour for someone who survived that, more or less in one piece?”
Remus fell silent. A blanket of sullenness seemed to have been draped over his thin frame, his shoulders stooping even more under its intangible burden. He once more turned his attention to the bookshelves. The repeatedly healed gashes and premature lines crosshatching his skin were even more noticeable viewing his profile like this, hunched over the arm of his chair, his chin pressed into his fist. His posture demonstrated the guilt that had been eating away at him for years without him needing to say a word. Even though it might have seemed condescending, I suddenly felt immense pity for him. Imagine having things happen to your friends so horrific that you are ashamed for “only” having to deal with living your entire life as a werewolf.
“Like you said, I barely know you or Sirius,” I said quietly, “but if you were my friend and I was in Sirius’s situation, I’d want you to tell me if I was doing something wrong. I know you’re especially sensitive to Sirius’s feelings right now, which does you credit, and I agree it’s a miracle he’s as stable and functional as he his. However, from what I’ve seen of him, he doesn’t seem like the type of person who would want to be coddled. I would think that after so many years of having no control over anything in prison, the sudden absence of any sort of accountability or control might be just as frightening for him. He missed out on over a decade of experiencing life and all of the lessons that come from both succeeding and making mistakes. So maybe instead of avoiding any sort of conflict with Sirius, it would help him more to gently guide him to be an even better man than he already is.”
Remus glanced at me with raised eyebrows as I said this, making me grin.
“Yes, just as how you’re able to see past your best friend’s prejudice of Severus to see his good qualities, I’m also able to think independently and separate my husband’s steadfast hatred of Sirius from my own observations of him. He’s obviously not as mature as he should be at his age and understandably very angry at the hand he’s been dealt in life, but he’s still willing to put his life on the line to continue working for the Order. I don’t doubt he’d be out there hunting down You-Know-Who this very moment if he hadn’t been ordered by Professor Dumbledore to stay hidden here. That willingness to put aside one’s own desires to better serve the good of the group shows a different type of bravery and maturity, even if some people like Severus think otherwise.”
Remus sat up straight in his chair, heaving a giant sigh that relaxed the tension from his muscles. “You have no idea how much it means to me to hear you say that. And you’re absolutely right; I haven’t been doing Sirius any favours by tiptoeing around him. Thank you for your honesty, and I apologize again for any embarrassment or discomfort you might have suffered today because of my reluctance to do the mature thing myself.”
A steady thump-thumping of sneakers on the stairs around the corner from us mixed with the muffled murmur of Ron’s griping about the heaviness of the tray he was carrying alerted me to the fact that I probably should start making my way back to the library. If I waited any longer, Molly might start to think that the Fanged Geraniums had branched out into the bathroom downstairs and eaten me. Remus apologized once more as we stood for keeping me for so long. I told him I really didn’t mind.
As he led me over to the door he said quietly, “I’m glad we had this chance to talk. Though we still don’t know each other well, I would like it if we could become friends someday.”
“That would be really nice,” I replied. I truly meant it, despite what Severus would say if he ever heard me saying that. Discord and enmity had allowed the Dark Lord to get a foothold and almost destroy the Order in the past. Perhaps by forming new friendships and alliances, even reluctantly, we in the new Order would be better prepared than ever before to cast his influence off for good.
Author's Note: Ugh, I'm so sorry this chapter took a ridiculously long time to write. It was one that I didn't have very clearly imagined in my head, so it was a lot harder for me to motivate myself. But I'm really looking forward to what's coming up in Severus's next chapter! The only thing that might postpone me working on that is NaNoWriMo coming up in a few weeks. I'm planning on working on a lot of later chapters in this story during that month to hopefully add 50,000 words to it by December :) So rest assured that even if there's another dry spell of updates, there's a lot of future material being written. Thank you so much, as always, for reading! ~Renny
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