Updated: 6 November 2005
disclaimer: Books, fortune and empire belong to JK Rowling. I only dally with her characters.
When Remus woke, it was to find a leaden weight across his chest, a warmth against his throat. Still lingering halfway between sleep and wakefulness, he nestled closer to the source of the warmth—even if it was not cold, there was a comfort to be had by curling closer. His mind emerged from the quagmire of sleep and stepped into the morning light, and a smile flitted across his face as he consciously put a name to the security wrapped around him.
Remus eased himself onto his side, careful not to wake Severus. With a fond smile on his lips, he moved aside the curtain of black hair that hid Severus' face and looked at him for a moment, studying at his features in a way that Severus would not have allowed when he was awake. In sleep, Severus' face was relaxed, devoid of the lines of care that normally creased it. There were no contortions of fear, no grimaces of pain, no hint that he was caught in the grip of a nightmare. His head lay on the same pillow as Remus' head, his lips parted slightly, his chest swelling with each silent breath he took.
Slowly, Remus rose and leaned over Severus' sleeping form, hands braced on either side of the sleeping man's head. His first kiss was barely a caress of his mouth against Severus' lower lip, his second little more than the first. With the third, he caught Severus' lip between his, and as Remus flicked his tongue against the corner of his mouth, Severus woke.
A momentary confusion shadowed Severus' face, but confusion gave way to bliss as Remus plunged his tongue between gently parted lips. With a soft sigh, Severus wrapped his arms around Remus, pulling him closer until Remus lay atop his chest, their hearts beating in unison. When Remus finally pulled away from the kiss, smiling down at him, hands still braced on either side of his head, Severus lay blinking up at him.
"Good morning," Remus said, smiling.
Severus snaked an arm around Remus' waist, pulling him down onto him. "Good morning," he replied as Remus settled on top of him.
"Did you sleep well?" Remus asked.
"Yes, actually. Did you?" Severus shifted, and Remus found himself nestled comfortably in Severus' arms, the velvet-smooth tones rumbling from within Severus' chest.
"Yes, I did," Remus replied. A moment of silence passed before it occurred to him that Severus wasn't tense and wasn't struggling to get away. His arms were draped around Remus, his hands stroking in a slow, methodical caress that suggested an absence of thought. It was a rare unguarded moment, and Remus felt a thrill at being permitted to share it, and he was at once eager to hold onto it and afraid that to grasp it too greedily would be to crush it and destroy it. "You're thinking awfully loudly," he said at last, hoping those wouldn't be the words to break the spell.
The caresses paused, and Remus was afraid that was the foreshadowing of the return of Severus' reticence, but after a moment, the stroking resumed. "I was thinking that I wouldn't mind waking up like that more often," Severus said, tightening his arm around Remus' waist.
Remus smiled and closed his eyes again. "I wouldn't mind it either," he replied.
They fell into a peaceful silence again, lying together for several more minutes before Severus finally shifted again, disentangling himself from Remus' arms and legs.
"You're not leaving, are you?" Remus asked as Severus sat up on the edge of the bed.
"Only for a few minutes," Severus replied, standing and reaching for his robe. There was something singularly appealing about watching the shifting of Severus' shoulder blades as he raised his arms over his head to pull on the robe. As he watched Severus settle the robe over his back and push it down over his hips, Remus felt a surge of desire. "I'll be back," Severus said, gathering the shaving kit he'd brought with him. He opened the door a bit, peered out into the hall, then looked back at Remus.
"To the left," Remus offered.
Severus nodded and edged into the hall, shutting the door behind him. While Severus was occupying the bathroom adjacent to his bedroom, Remus gathered his own things and tiptoed to the second bathroom on the floor. It was much smaller, with neither tub nor shower and it smelled like something had died in it, but it would do in a pinch. That was the story of number twelve, Grimmauld Place—it would do in a pinch.
As he reemerged into the hall, he nearly tripped over his own feet when he saw Sirius coming up the stairs.
"There you are," Sirius said. "I was wondering if you were going to sleep all day."
"Just most of it," Remus replied.
"What were you doing in there?"
Remus pulled a sardonic look that Severus would have been proud of. "Playing a game of snap before I came downstairs," he said.
"Is someone in there?" Sirius asked, jerking his head towards the door of the bathroom where Severus was.
Thinking quickly and speaking loudly, Remus said, "I saw the light under the door so assumed someone was."
"Everyone else is downstairs. Moody's going over the plans to bring Harry here, and he wants you down there."
"Oh." He wasn't quite successful at keeping the disappointment out of his voice.
"Nothing," he replied, then, remembering Severus' advice about not piquing curiosity where he didn't have to, amended, "I was just going to get a couple more hours of sleep."
"It's nearly noon," Sirius said. "Are you all right?"
"Is it really?" Remus shook his head. "Yeah, I'm fine. All right. Tell them I'll be down in a minute. What are you doing?" Remus knew his voice held a note of panic, but he couldn't help it. Sirius was reaching for the other bathroom door.
"Turning off the light," Sirius said.
"Are you sure no one's in there?"
Sirius moved his hand from the knob and knocked twice. No answer came from within, so he shoved the door open and Remus held his breath. Severus was nowhere to be seen. Sirius flicked his wand into the bathroom and the light went out. "Don't be too long. Moody's being a world-class prat."
Remus barely waited for Sirius to disappear downstairs before he knocked on the door and whispered, "Severus?"
The door opened and Severus stepped out, looking composed and calm as he ever did. "This, Lupin, is why I'm going to insist that we use my home for our next rendezvous," he said as he pushed past him into the hall. "Make sure you have their attention."
"Are you leaving?"
"Do you propose I nap up here until you come back? Yes, I'm leaving. I'll see you later."
"How are you getting out?"
"The front door." Severus dropped his shaving kit into Remus' hand. "Do something with this."
"What do you want me to do with it?"
"I don't care. Stash it somewhere so that if I lose my mind and agree to stay in this house again, I won't be lacking a toothbrush."
Remus smiled. "Does that mean you'll be back?"
"I'll be back this evening," Severus replied as he gathered the rest of his things. "I'm giving a report, remember?"
"Are you going to be back here, though?"
Severus sat on the edge of the bed and sighed. "It's bad enough being in this house to begin with," he said. "To be in constant danger of running into Black is rather disagreeable—I know he's your friend, but he's not mine."
Remus sat beside him, reaching for his hand.
"I don't want to spend a minute more than I have to spend here," Severus said. "Particularly not when Potter is here as well. I get more than enough of the pleasure of his company during the term."
"Of course," Remus said. An invitation to Severus' house didn't seem forthcoming, and he wavered over whether or not to fish for one.
"We'll find an excuse to talk this evening," Severus said. "No commitments right now. Too much is supposed to happen today."
Remus nodded. "I'll see you this evening, then."
Severus stood and reached for Remus. Remus joined him, drawing him into his arms. As Severus leaned his head forward to nuzzle Remus' neck, he murmured, "If things are settled enough, perhaps you will join me for a night where we needn't worry about who might see?"
"What brought this change on?" Remus asked, tilting his head back as Severus nudged at his throat.
Remus groaned at the sensation of Severus' tongue against his throat. "This," he murmured.
Trailing kisses back to Remus' mouth, Severus whispered against his lips, "I told you—I could get used to waking up like that."
It turned out the Mad-Eye Moody didn't just want to go over the plans again, he wanted to reinvent them. For the next two hours, they made plans, scrutinized them, discarded them and made new ones while Moody raised objection after objection.
"I've got an idea," Tonks said finally, collapsing onto the sofa beside Remus, her head landing in his lap as she propped her feet on the end table. "Why don't we set up a series of safe houses between here and there and each take turns transporting decoys to the safe houses, while the real Harry is en route to Germany. We'll develop a signal, and once it's safe to move, we'll relocate Headquarters to Finland and rendezvous in Copenhagen, where we'll all be committed as criminally insane. One of us, however, will have stayed behind and will pose as a Muggle psychologist and send word that we are all to be transferred to an asylum in London, but we'll stage a bus crash and all reconvene here. What do you think?"
Remus rubbed a hand over his face, trying not to laugh as Moody appeared to consider it.
"No good," Moody said at last. "I don't know where we'd get a bus on such short notice. Too bad you didn't think of this three days ago, Tonks."
Tonks shook her head and looked up at Remus, whispering, "He's mad, I tell you." She frowned and raised her head from Remus' lap. "I didn't even ask if you minded me flopping on top of you."
Shaking his head and smiling a bit, Remus reached for a cushion and placed it in his lap. "You're fine," he told her.
"Good," she said, lying down again. "I'm comfortable."
He would never have thought that he'd be sitting on a dust-mauled couch in the Black house with a purple-haired witch in his lap while he wondered where to put his hands. He settled on toying with one of the violet spikes as he offered his own opinion on the question. "I still think our original plan was best."
The original plan had been to lure the Dursleys out of the house, then simply walk in and retrieve Harry and be gone before his aunt and uncle returned. Tonks had even sent them a letter by post, congratulating them on being short-listed for an All-England Best-Kept Suburban Lawn Contest or something similar.
"I still don't like it," Moody said gruffly.
"Aww, you don't like anything, Mad-Eye," Tonks replied. "Are we done, then?"
"I suppose," Moody answered.
"Good. We're meeting back here at six, right?" Tonks said as she swung her feet to the floor and stood.
"Right. And if you're late, you're not going," Moody said, narrowing his normal eye at her.
"Where are you off to?" Remus asked as Tonks as he replaced the cushion on the end of the sofa. "Got a hot date or something?"
"Oh yeah," she said. "With a three-foot stack of parchment on my desk at work." She winked at him, and he chuckled. "See you tonight, then? That's the hot date I'm looking forward to." She leaned closer to him and made a sound deep in her throat, her tongue vibrating against the top of her mouth, and before he recovered from the shock of being the recipient of what he could only call a growl of invitation, she kissed his cheek and was halfway out the door. "See you!"
A hush fell over the room, but it was interrupted by a crash and a screech.
"TONKS!" Moody snarled as the portrait of Mrs. Black took up her indignant howls. "How did that girl ever get to be a bloody Auror?" he muttered as he headed downstairs, Sirius on his heels.
Remus sat on the sofa still, avoiding everyone else's eyes. It didn't do any good.
"So," Bill said, the first to break the silence, "when were you going to tell us, Remus?"
"I beg your pardon?" Remus asked.
"About you and Tonks."
"There's nothing to tell."
"Oh, no, of course not," Mundungus said. "Just because she's crawling all over you..."
"And growling at you..." Diggle added.
"And kissing you..."
"And just generally flirting..."
"Really, Remus, she's far too young for you," Hestia said, smiling a pink-cheeked smile. "She's barely old enough to be a qualified witch."
"Believe me," Remus said as he stood, "there is no reason for any of you to be protesting. I'd never even spoken to Nymphadora Tonks until last night."
"I, for one, think you could do worse," Shacklebolt said. "She might be a bit unconventional, but that girl's got her head on straight."
"Too bad she can't walk straight," Bill muttered. "I'd almost be afraid of her."
"Well, whether you have any intentions to or not, I'd say you've certainly turned her head," Hestia said. "Be careful, Remus. A young girl's heart is a fragile thing."
"Who's fragile?" Sirius had returned to stand in the doorway, his arms folded across his chest.
"They were just ribbing me about Tonks," Remus said. "It's nothing, because there's nothing between us and there isn't going to be."
"Why not?" Sirius asked. "Hell, I'd shag her if she wasn't my cousin."
"You'd shag a brick wall," Remus replied, pushing his way past a gaping, sputtering Sirius and leaving the room shaking with fits of laughter.
A few hours later, at a signal from Shacklebolt, the advance guard convened on the front step of number four, Privet Drive. Moody tapped his wand on the door and it creaked open, the group of them filing inside in what was planned to be a silent procession.
"Ouch! Get off my foot, you baboon!" Hestia hissed.
"Sorry," Diggle said.
"Watch where you're going!"
"I can't see anything, it's dark!"
"Do you lot think you could possibly make any more noise?" Shacklebolt whispered. Tonks rose to the challenge masterfully, knocking a plate off the wall and sending it to the floor with a crash.
"Sorry," she said.
"Why doesn't anyone ever crawl up her arse for making noise?"
"Will you all be quiet?"
"Reparo." Remus aimed his wand at the shattered plate and it knitted itself back together before returning to its perch on the wall.
"Quiet," Moody said. "I hear something upstairs. Wands at the ready."
"You think it might be Harry?" Tonks suggested under her breath, but Remus noticed that her eyes were trained on the stairs and her wand was clutched tightly in her hand.
Moody waved his wand at the stairs, and Remus heard the clicking of locks and creaking of hinges as doors swung open. After a few seconds, a shadowy figure appeared at the top of the stairs. Remus smiled with relief.
"Lower your wand, boy, before you take someone's eye out," Moody growled.
There was a hesitation, then an uncertain reply from upstairs. "Professor Moody?"
"I don't know so much about 'Professor'," Moody replied, "never got around to much teaching, did I? Get down here, we want to see you properly."
Harry lowered his wand, but he didn't pocket it and didn't move. Remus hardly blamed him for his hesitation. "It's all right, Harry," he called up the stairs. "We've come to take you away."
"P-professor Lupin? Is that you?"
"Why are we all standing in the dark?" Tonks asked. "Lumos." The tip of her wand flared and the hall illuminated, bringing the entire party into the light. Remus smiled sympathetically up at Harry. It was probably not the most comfortable feeling to walk out of one's bedroom and find eight people—six of whom were strangers—at the foot of the stairs, staring up at him.
"Oooh, he looks just like I thought he would," Tonks said, grinning. "Wotcher, Harry!"
"Yeah, I see what you mean, Remus," Shacklebolt said. "He looks exactly like James."
"Except the eyes," Doge said. "Lily's eyes."
"Are you quite sure it's him, Lupin?" Moody asked. "It'd be a nice lookout if we bring back some Death Eater impersonating him. We ought to ask him something only the real Potter would know. Unless anyone brought any Veritaserum?"
"Harry, what form does your Patronus take?" Remus asked, stamping that doubt in the bud.
"A stag," Harry said.
"That's him, Mad-Eye," Remus said. Harry gave them all one last considering look, but stowed his wand in the back pocket of his jeans as he started downstairs. Remus breathed a sigh of relief, but it was short-lived.
"Don't put your wand there, boy!" Moody bellowed. "What if it ignited? Better wizards than you have lost buttocks, you know!"
"Who d'you know who's lost a buttock?" Tonks asked.
"Never you mind, you just keep your wand out of your back pocket!" Moody stomped off towards the kitchen, muttering about elementary wand safety and expounding at length on how irresponsible young wizards were these days. Tonks rolled her eyes, but Moody snarled, "I saw that!"
Trying to keep from laughing, Remus turned his attention back to Harry, who was still on the bottom step, a point from which he could look Remus in the eye. Remus' first thought was that Harry had grown, but he kept that one to himself. After all, boys were known to do that on occasion.
Far more disturbing, though, was that Harry looked like he hadn't combed his hair in a week, and not all the shadows on his peaky face were courtesy of the dim light. His shirt was rumpled and stained, his jeans smeared, as though he'd swiped his hands across them several times. It was the way his eyes darted suspiciously between his unexpected guests that rent Remus' heart. Remus held out his hand. "How are you?" he asked.
"F-fine," Harry replied as he shook the proffered hand.
Remus suppressed the urge to pull Harry against him and tell him everything would be all right. It wasn't the first time he'd wanted to do that, and it wasn't the first time he'd successfully squelched the impulse. Harry struggled so hard to be the man he thought he was supposed to be, and it was far from Remus to circumvent his efforts. The year that he'd taught at Hogwarts he'd found himself politely not noticing that a thirteen-year-old was wiping his tears surreptitiously on his robes, and now he politely did not notice that Harry looked caught between fear and anger and hurt. It must have seemed to him that no one had cared at all, far as that was from the truth.
"I'm—you're really lucky the Dursleys are out..." Harry mumbled. Remus caught the slip for what it was, though everyone else seemed to think it was the stuttering of a boy caught off guard.
"Lucky, ha!" Tonks said. "It was me that lured them out of the way. Sent a letter by Muggle post telling them they'd been short-listed for the All-England Best-Kept Suburban Lawn Competition. They're heading off to the prize-giving right now.... Or they think they are."
Harry's eyes widened a bit, and Remus thought he looked a bit more pale than he had a moment ago. "We are leaving, aren't we?" Harry asked, his voice edged with nervousness. "Soon?"
"Almost at once," Remus assured him. "We're just waiting for the all-clear."
"Where are we going? The Burrow?" Remus couldn't miss the note of hope in Harry's voice, and he certainly sympathized with it. The Weasleys had a way of being a surrogate family to anyone who needed one.
"Not the Burrow, no," Remus said, gesturing for Harry to lead the way into the kitchen. He was hoping to get him away from the interested stares of the rest of the guard, but the lot of them trooped in behind them. "Too risky. We've set up headquarters somewhere undetectable. It's taken a while...." He felt a need to include that last. We hadn't forgotten you, Harry. We haven't abandoned you.
Moody was sitting at the table, drinking from his hi flask, his magical eye spinning wildly as he peered around the kitchen.
"This is Alastor Moody, Harry," Remus said, pointing towards Moody.
"Yeah, I know," Harry said, shifting his weight between his feet.
"And this is Nymphadora—"
"Don't call me Nymphadora, Remus," Tonks said, shuddering. "It's Tonks."
"—Nymphadora Tonks, who prefers to be known by her surname only," Remus finished, fighting a smile.
"So would you if your fool of a mother had called you 'Nymphadora,'" she muttered.
"And this is Kingsley Shacklebolt, Elphias Doge, Dedalus Diggle--" Remus continued, gesturing to each in turn. Diggle dropped his hat in his excitement.
"We've met before," he squeaked.
"—Emmeline Vance, Sturgis Podmore, and Hestia Jones." Harry nodded to each of them as Remus introduced him, looking quite a lot like he wished he had a mask to hide behind. Beyond the self-consciousness that was a natural condition of fifteen years old, Harry looked overwhelmed.
"A surprising number of people volunteered to come and get you," Remus said, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
"Yeah, well, the more the better," Moody said. "We're your guard, Potter."
"We're just waiting for the signal to tell us it's safe to set off," Remus added, looking out the kitchen window. "We've got about fifteen minutes."
"Very clean, aren't they, these Muggles?" Tonks said, looking around the kitchen. "My dad's Muggle-born and he's a right old slob. I suppose it varies, just like with wizards?"
"Er—yeah," Harry said, then looked at Remus again. "Look, what's going on? I haven't heard anything from anyone, what's Vol—?"
The half-spoken name died on Harry's lips as the more nervous of the guard hissed and gasped. Diggle dropped his hat, and Moody growled, "Shut up!"
Remus resisted another urge—this time to round up the lot of them and shove them into the back garden. As a whole, they were a rather embarrassing lot of companions, and although Remus knew they were all capable, he also knew that they were all paranoid. With good enough reason, he supposed.
"What?" Harry asked.
"We're not discussing anything here, it's too risky," Moody said, turning to look at Harry. "Damn it," he added, putting a hand to the magical eye, which had stuck. "It keeps sticking—ever since that scum wore it—" With an unpleasant sound, Moody popped out his eye.
"Mad-Eye, you do know that's disgusting, don't you?" Tonks said conversationally. Remus continued to stare out the window, thinking about what Shacklebolt had said earlier—Tonks had her head on straight.
"Get me a glass of water, would you Harry?" Moody asked.
From the corner of his eye, Remus could see Harry crossing to an odd type of cupboard built into the wall. He took out a glass and filled it with water, still the focal point of every eye in the room. Remus felt that the least he could do was keep his own eyes from being part of that audience.
"Cheers," Moody said as Harry handed him the glass. "I want three-hundred-sixty-degrees visibility on the return journey."
"How're we getting—wherever we're going?" Harry asked.
"Brooms," Remus replied, turning back into the kitchen. "Only way. You're too young to Apparate, they'll be watching the Floo Network, and it's more than our live's worth to set up an unauthorized Portkey." That was a lie Remus thought Severus might have been proud of, because it was a good one. And he wasn't even particularly intending to mislead Harry, only, perhaps, to simplify things somewhat. The bit about the Portkey and the Floo were simple honesty, and Harry was too young to Apparate, though he wasn't too young for side-along Apparation. The fact of it, though, was that Apparation was noisy, and there had been considerable discussion about whether it was even possible to accomplish side-along Apparation when the person on the side wasn't aware that a location protected by a Fidelius Charm existed. Apparating into headquarters was a trick, even for a skilled and experienced wizard who knew the charms protecting the place. It had taken only a few minutes of speculation to decide that it was a question of theory and one none of them wanted to test.
Besides, Remus had a feeling that the broom ride would help relieve some of Harry's pent-up frustrations.
"Remus says you're a good flier," Shacklebolt said.
"He's excellent," Remus corrected, checking his watch. "Anyway, you'd better go and get packed, Harry, we want to be ready to go when the signal comes."
"I'll come and help you," Tonks volunteered.
Remus waited until he heard their feet upstairs before he turned to his companions. "Do you lot mind not staring at Harry like he's a goldfish?" he asked.
"Ah, Remus, everyone just wants a good look at him," Podmore said.
"I know that," Remus replied. "But he's just a kid, and no kid wants that kind of attention."
The others grudgingly agreed with him and, deprived of their desired subject, they turned their attention to the House Harry Potter Had Grown Up In. Remus sat at the kitchen table, ignoring the lot of them as he began penning a letter to the Dursleys.
"How do you think he looks?" Moody asked, still prodding at his magical eye, which was spinning ever faster in the glass of water.
"I think he looks like he's been away from his friends for too long," Remus replied without looking up from his letter. "They're his support network, and without them, he's suffering."
"Is he going to be up to such a long broom ride?" Moody asked.
Remus snorted. "We need to remember to tell him not to outpace us. That Firebolt of his could leave us all choking on his vapor clouds. Hey! Will you two stop that!"
Diggle and Doge were indiscriminately pressing the buttons and making a box on the counter beep. Remus had no idea what they were doing, but he was leery of the wizards experimenting with Muggle conveniences that they didn't know anything about either.
Hestia was rummaging through a drawer, pulling out one gadget and another, laughing at each as she made them spin and click. Podmore and Shacklebolt bent to examine the box Diggle and Doge had been playing with, while Diggle and Doge had moved onto bigger and better things, namely, the refrigerator with its automatic ice-maker. Remus glanced up at the ceiling, hoping Tonks and Harry weren't going to be long. As much as Harry might be self-conscious about having so many people looking at him, Remus thought it might be preferable to curious witches and wizards blowing up the house by pressing buttons they didn't know what did.
He heard footfall on the stairs again, and Harry and Tonks reappeared, Tonks levitating Harry's trunk in front of her.
"Excellent," Remus said. "We've got about a minute, I think. We should probably get out into the garden so we're ready. Harry, I've left a letter telling your aunt and uncle not to worry—"
"They won't," Harry said.
"That you're safe—"
"That'll just depress them."
"—and that you'll see them next summer."
"Do I have to?"
Remus smiled. Harry really was a lot like James.
There was a confusion of activity as Moody Disillusioned Harry, Remus ushered the others outside and Tonks strapped Harry's trunk into a harness hanging from her broom. Remus ignored the conversation about the possibility and probability of everyone dying as they rode back to London. Meanwhile, a shower of sparks flared among the stars.
"Mount your brooms, that's the first signal!" Remus announced over the bickering. A moment later, green sparks exploded and Remus said, "Second signal, let's go!"
Harry soared into the sky, and Remus wasn't the only one struggling to keep up with him, but they caught up with him eventually and put their plan into action. Harry might be enjoying his first broom ride in two months, but the rest of them were acutely aware that they were fully exposed. Remus struggled to stay directly below Harry as Tonks led them to the southeast, following Moody's shouted instructions.
Soon, the cold of the night, which had been refreshing at first after the damp heat of another scorching August day, became less exhilarating and more numbing. Remus' hands were aching as he gripped his broom handle, but he didn't dare distract himself with pleasant thoughts that might have helped to make the ride more comfortable.
"We ought to double back for a bit, just to make sure we're not being followed!" Moody shouted, and, though he couldn't hear it to know for certain, Remus was sure he wasn't the only one who groaned.
"ARE YOU MAD, MAD-EYE?" Tonks screamed. "We're all frozen to our brooms! If we keep going off course we're not going to get there until next week! We're nearly there now!"
And sure enough, Remus could see the broad boulevard that intersected a busy motorway. "Time to start the descent!" he shouted, praying that it would put an end to any discussion of doubling back.
Tonks headed into a dive and Harry followed, Remus shifted out of the way as they plummeted towards the ground. They landed a moment later and Remus flexed his fingers, allowing himself a fleeting distracting thought for the first time since they'd left for Surrey. He wished he was curled up in Severus' arms.
"Where are we?" Harry asked, looking around.
"In a minute," Remus replied quietly. Moody rummaged clumsily in his cloak and withdrew the Put-Outer, holding it into the air. One by one, he put out every lamp in the square, until the only light in the square came from the curtained windows of surrounding houses and the gibbous moon overhead.
"Borrowed it from Dumbledore," Moody said, pocketing the Put-Outer. "That'll take care of any Muggles looking out of the window, see? Now, come on, quick."
While Moody guided Harry away from the grass and onto the road, Remus grabbed one end of Harry's trunk while Tonks took the other, the rest of the guard flanking them, wands drawn. Moody thrust a piece of paper towards Harry's hand, illuminating it with his wand. "Read quickly and memorize."
Harry stared down at the paper for a moment, then frowned. "What's the Order of the--?"
"Not here, boy!" Moody snarled. "Wait till we're inside!" He took the parchment from Harry's and and set fire to it with the tip of his wand. Harry looked around at the houses, peering into the darkness.
"But where's--?" he began.
Remus leaned down, speaking directly into his ear. "Think about what you've just memorized," he said quietly. Remus could tell the moment Harry saw number twelve, he gaped at it until Moody prodded him in the back.
"Come on, hurry," Moody said.
Harry walked up the stairs, still gaping around, and Remus came up beside him, tapping his wand on the door once. With a series of metallic clicks and clatters, the door creaked open.
"Get in quick, Harry," Remus whispered. "But don't go far inside and don't touch anything."
Harry stepped inside, and Remus followed him, still carrying one end of the trunk while Tonks held the other. Moody returned the lights to their lamps as the others filed in, wands still drawn.
The door shut behind them, the Disillusionment Charm lifted and the old gas lights began flickering along the walls. Molly came bustling into the hall, wiping her hands on her apron as she reached for Harry, beaming. She had no compunctions about smothering him with the affection that Remus had been reluctant to display.
"Oh, Harry, it's lovely to see you!" she whispered. "You're looking peaky; you need feeding up, but you'll have to wait a bit for dinner, I'm afraid...." She looked around Harry to the rest of them, who were still shifting their way further into the hall.
"He's just arrived," Molly whispered, "the meeting's started...."
The others began hurrying towards the door immediately, and Remus held back, allowing them to precede him through the door and down to the kitchen. With a final smile at Harry, Remus turned to go as well.
"No, Harry, the meeting's only for the members of the Order. Ron and Hermione are upstairs, you can wait with them until the meeting's over and then we'll have dinner. And keep your voice down in the hall."
Remus didn't wait to hear Harry's response to this. As he headed down to the kitchen, he had the disquieting feeling that they'd plucked Harry from one prison of isolation and lack of information and dropped him into another.
He took one of the handful of available chairs, which left him sandwiched between Minerva and Bill. Severus was a few chairs down, and Remus couldn't see him clearly from where he was sitting, so he was left to listen to the report, already in progress, and to content himself with the lilting cadence of Severus' voice. He didn't know what Severus had already said, and would ask about it later, but whatever it was had the entire room hanging on his every word. Even Sirius was uncharacteristically attentive.
"...arousing suspicion. No one has said anything specific, but the Dark Lord and Macnair have been trying to get me to tell them what the Order is guarding."
"You haven't told, have you?" Sirius asked, his eyes narrowed.
"Yes, Black, I've told them everything. Not only that, I have placed Dumbledore under an Imperius Curse so that he could make me a Secret-Keeper as well, and I have announced to the world at large and the Death Eaters specifically exactly where the Order's headquarters are. Further—"
"Enough, Severus," Dumbledore said mildly. "Go on."
Remus didn't need to see Severus to know that he was scowling. "As I was saying, they are aware that we're guarding something, and they've certainly seen more suspicious activity around the Ministry than they're willing to dismiss."
Molly came in, and the entire Order was present at last.
"What do you suggest, then?" Arthur asked as Podmore moved to allow Molly to sit beside her husband.
"More care? I don't know who all in the Ministry can be trusted," Severus said.
"No one?" Sirius suggested. Half the people at the table seemed to take offense at that comment, and for good reason—there were many Ministry officials who were part of the Order.
"More to the point," Dumbledore said, ignoring the exchanged glances, "I worry about those who are neither on our side nor on Voldemort's. There are too many people in the Ministry whose loyalty seems to lie entirely with themselves."
"I'd thought the same thing," Severus said. "Whether they are Death Eaters or not, Lucius Malfoy holds half the Ministry in the palm of his hand and—"
"SO YOU HAVEN'T BEEN IN THE MEETINGS, BIG DEAL!"
Almost in unison, all eyes shot to the ceiling.
"YOU'VE STILL BEEN HERE, HAVEN'T YOU? YOU'VE STILL BEEN TOGETHER! ME, I'VE BEEN STUCK AT THE DURSLEYS FOR A MONTH! AND I'VE HANDLED MORE THAN YOU TWO'VE EVER MANAGED AND DUMBLEDORE KNOWS IT—WHO SAVED THE SORCERER'S STONE? WHO GOT RID OF RIDDLE? WHO SAVED BOTH YOUR SKINS FROM THE DEMENTORS?"
Remus looked down at the table, avoiding anyone else's eyes, but he could see that the others were shifting uncomfortably.
"I think perhaps Harry is a bit upset," Dumbledore said. "Severus, why don't you contin—"
"WHO HAD TO GET PAST THE DRAGONS AND SPHINXES AND EVERY OTHER FOUL THING LAST YEAR? WHO SAW HIM COME BACK? WHO HAD TO ESCAPE FROM HIM? ME!"
Molly pressed a hand to her mouth.
"Someone should go tell Potter to stop shouting before he wakes up the whole fucking neighborhood," Severus said without a trace of compassion.
"Back off, Snape," Sirius snapped.
"BUT WHY SHOULD I KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON? WHY SHOULD ANYONE BOTHER TO TELL ME WHAT'S BEEN HAPPENING?" Harry's voice was getting louder and higher pitched as he shouted.
"I was going to mention this, actually," Remus said, still not looking up. "I think Harry is a bit put out with the lot of us for keeping him in the dark this summer."
"He's a child," Severus said. "He doesn't need to know anything more than he already does."
"He doesn't need to know half of what he already knows," Remus replied, glad he couldn't see Sirius' face. It was hard enough to contradict him when he only had his imagination to fill in the scowls.
"CAN'T HAVE WANTED TO THAT MUCH, CAN YOU, OR YOU'D HAVE SENT ME AN OWL, BUT DUMBLEDORE MADE YOU SWEAR--"
Dumbledore, for his part, looked as uncomfortable as the rest of them. "Perhaps I should have been a bit more forthcoming with him."
"It was for his own good, Albus," Minerva reminded him.
"FOUR WEEKS I'VE BEEN STUCK IN PRIVET DRIVE, NUCKING PAPERS OUT BINS TO TRY AND FIND OUT WHAT'S BEEN GOING ON—"
"We can't change what we've been doing all summer, but we can change what we're doing now," Sirius said, rising.
"I SUPPOSE YOU'VE BEEN HAVING A REAL LAUGH, HAVEN'T YOU? ALL HOLED UP HERE TOGETHER—"
"Where do you think you're going, Sirius?" Molly asked.
"I'm going to get Harry and bring him down here."
"Like hell you are," Severus snapped.
"He's my godson and—"
"And what goes on in these meetings affects an entire world that doesn't revolve around Harry Potter!" Severus had shoved his chair back and stood nose-to-nose with Sirius.
"He has the right to know! He's the one who has been most affected by all this—"
"Why?" Severus snarled. "Because the damn war made him an orphan the first time around? Because the Dark Lord is on a personal mission to kill him? All this has affected everyone, some people for twenty years, thirty years, fifty years!" Severus and Sirius were circling each other maliciously now, wands drawn.
"Gentlemen, I think that will be quite enough," Dumbledore said, standing.
Severus took half a step back, but Sirius did not even blink. "That's right, Snape," he snarled. "Voldemort has taken a personal interest in Harry Potter, and that makes it his business! He's right, you know! How many times has he defeated Voldemort?"
"None!" Severus snapped, returning to the face-off. "As I recall, the Dark Lord is alive, well, and more powerful than ever!"
"Harry has faced him four times now and survived! What other wizard can claim that?"
"That's only because the adults who were supposed to be responsible and protecting him put him in harm's way and facilitated!"
Remus traded looks with Minerva; Severus had just made a powerful accusation against Dumbledore, if anyone cared to notice it. Remus stood, edging towards his best friend and his lover. "Come on, you two. Sit down. Let's finish this meeting and—" He had reached for Severus' arm, but Severus jerked away from him.
"Get your hands off me," Severus snarled, turning his glare to Remus for a moment.
"Don't you fucking talk to him like that!" Sirius shouted.
"ENOUGH!" Everyone froze as Dumbledore's voice rose. "Sirius, sit down. Severus, you too. You too, Remus." Neither of the other two seemed to intend to be the first to obey, so Remus made the first move. Severus returned to his seat as well, his eyes still narrow, and Sirius did the same.
"Harry will not be joining our meeting, because this is a meeting of the Order of the Phoenix and Harry is not a member, and is not old enough to become a member," Dumbledore said calmly once everyone was seated again. "I agree that there are those things which he needs to be told, and Sirius, you and I will discuss that at another time. For now, let us continue this meeting."
The rest of the meeting passed without any additional explosions, either from upstairs or in the kitchen. Severus relayed the remainder of his information, Bill produced several blueprints of the Ministry, which they all leaned over as they chattered about a new plan of action. Now that Harry was safely in the house, they would be able to dedicate more of their time and energy to the prophesy.
In their enthusiasm, born of equal parts eagerness to see Harry and eagerness to get out of the tense atmosphere, the Order concluded their meeting and began their exodus from the kitchen. Sirius was the first to be gone, and the others followed him quickly, but Remus held back and met Severus' eyes.
Severus didn't move, and once they were alone in the kitchen, it was Remus who pushed back his chair and walked towards him. "Severus," he began, but Severus held up a hand.
"Do you think it would be unacceptably ill-mannered for you to leave the festivities this evening?"
Remus' throat went dry and he smiled. "You're not angry with me, then?"
"Angry? No. A little miffed, perhaps, but not enough to deny myself the pleasure of your company if you're so inclined."
"I think I ought to stay for dinner, at least," Remus said. "I don't know what anyone has planned afterwards, but I'll duck out as soon as I think it's appropriate."
Severus brushed his thumb against Remus' lips. "I'll be waiting for you," he said, standing. Halfway to the door, he paused and turned back. "If I'm not waiting, don't wait for me. The only reason I wouldn't be there is if I've been summoned, and if I am, I prefer to be confident that there is nothing damning for any of my colleagues to see should they return with me."
Remus nodded. "If you're not there, you'd better send me a message as soon as you return so I'll know when I can stop worrying about you." Severus started to leave again, but Remus interrupted him. "Oh, what did I miss at the beginning of the meeting?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"That's my excuse for lingering."
Severus shook his head a bit. "You didn't miss anything, actually. I'd already told you almost everything I told them tonight." After another moment's hesitation, he stepped into the hall, where he was immediately surrounded by the others, all clamoring and chattering excitedly. Remus lingered in the doorway, watching as Severus pushed through the crowd, and followed the lot of them to the door, locking it behind them.
A/N: Quite a lot of this chapter is dialogue copied from OotP, chapters three and four, and this leads me to a caveat. I ignored the reference to the moon as a 'sickle' on the night Harry was rescued—I based my timeline from a later reference to the moon, and... um... I don't have JKR's talent for making time do what I want it to do.