About two weeks after school had begun, Severus sat at his desk, doing paperwork, when a letter flitted through the window and landed in front of him. Glad for the distraction, Severus set aside his work and opened the letter.
I have considered your request and would like to speak with you in person, if you can get away. I require certain... reassurances that I would not like to put in writing, you understand. Please apparate over at your earliest convenience.
Severus read the letter through again before tossing it onto the pile of papers on his desk. He glanced at the time. It was only a little after nine, late enough that many of the students were in their common rooms, but not so late as to make a visit to the Malfoy Manor seem obtrusive. Plucking a spare piece of parchment from one of his drawers, Severus penned a quick note to Dumbledore. In it, he explained his reasons for leaving and promised to be back within an hour.
With a flick of his wand, the letter soared out of his office through the crack under the door, winging away to Dumbledore's office. Gathering his cloak, Severus set out, walking through the empty corridors for the door to exit the castle. He ran into few people on the way, and those students whom he did find wandering the halls were wise enough to hurry in the other direction, heads low. Severus almost smirked. He loved seeing the effect that he had on the students. Almost to the door, Severus stopped as his name was called.
"Professor Snape?" the high pitched voice sounded.
Stiffly, Severus turned, saying slowly, "Yes?"
Umbridge came to a stop with a click of her heels at the bottom of the stairs. "May I ask where you are going at this hour?"
"I do not see how that information concerns you," Severus replied in a clipped voice.
Umbridge gave a polite smile. "I am sure you are aware that the Minister placed me here at Hogwarts because he was concerned about how the school was being run," she said. "Now, if one of the professors is running off after hours without permission, I do think he'd like to hear about it."
Severus could hear the challenge in her voice and responded in kind. "I have informed Dumbledore of my intentions and he has expressed no objection."
"The fact that he hasn't told you that you couldn't does not, in my mind, constitute permission," Umbridge replied.
Severus was rapidly tiring of this conversation. "In the past, we agreed upon this system, for he realized that I would occasionally have matters that must be dealt with outside of Hogwarts," he lied. In truth, it was more of an unspoken agreement in the past, but given that he was operating on behalf of the Order, Severus figured that was a safe statement to make.
"Hm," Umbridge said, pursing her lips. "That seems like a most haphazard way of doing things. One could even go as far as to say that it compromises the safety of the castle."
Severus's eyes narrowed. "How do you figure?"
Umbridge gave a little shrug. "Well, if Professor Dumbledore doesn't know the location of his teachers at all times and a situation were to arise, his lack of knowledge could put the castle and its students in jeopardy."
"In case you missed it when I stated it the first time, I will reiterate that I do inform him of where I am going beforehand," Severus cut in, not bothering to conceal his annoyance.
Umbridge held up a hand. "I am not finished. Additionally, if one of the teachers were to, say, be involved in illicit activities, this policy is practically facilitating their malfeasance."
Severus obviously knew that she was insinuating that he was up to something illegal. Her very gaze was a challenge, one that Severus was prepared to meet.
"Then it is a good thing that the Headmaster trusts all of his teachers," Severus said. Deliberately, he added, "Or, at the very least, the ones with whom he has worked with for the past decade."
Severus didn't want her to get the impression that Dumbledore trusted her. Whether or not he did, Severus didn't know.
Umbridge thrust her chin in the air and looked him up and down. "I wonder if others share that trust," she said, probably alluding to herself or perhaps the Minister. "Very well. I will take this conversation into consideration."
"For what?" Severus asked.
Umbridge smiled slightly. "I don't see how that information concerns you," she said smugly, turning away and heading for the dungeons, heels clicking with every step.
Severus watched her go with disgust. Regardless of whether or not she realized it, Umbridge had just made a new enemy.
"Sit. Would you like a cup of tea?" Narcissa asked politely.
"Certainly," Severus replied, taking a seat. "We must make this short; I told Dumbledore that I would be back in less than an hour, part of which time I was otherwise detained."
Narcissa nodded. With a slight sigh, she said, "I have been giving your offer for me to join the Order of the Phoenix a lot of thought. I realize that I owe both you and Harry much-"
"Do not make your decision based upon that," Severus said firmly. "You do not owe us anything."
"I do, and you know it," Narcissa replied. "But regardless, I have decided that it would be in both mine and Draco's best interest if I were to join." She drew in a deep breath and leaned forward. "Though we do not generally flaunt the fact, I am sure you are aware that we Malfoys tend to...shall we say, choose the winning side."
"And you think that to be ours?"
Narcissa nodded slowly. "I do. In the beginning, not so much, but now..." she hesitated. "In the past year or so, I have seen the passion with which you and the others fight against the Dark Lord. That was something lacking in the Death Eaters. Most of the time, they acted out of fear or love of cruelty, not out of firmness in their beliefs, as I'm sure you realize."
Severus nodded. "I do." He paused. "What sort of... reassurance did you need from me?"
Narcissa looked away. "My husband is to be released from Azkaban next year, at the earliest. Naturally, if he knew-"
"I understand," Severus said, cutting her off. "We could protect you in the event that does happen."
Narcissa hesitated. "I... I don't know. I don't mean to doubt you, but I'm not sure if you could."
Severus clasped his hands. "You could work uncredited, per say. Your involvement would not be broadcasted, but, rather, covert. If we need something that you are capable of helping us with, we could contact you without Lucius's knowledge. You might actually be more helpful to us that way."
After a moment's thought, Narcissa nodded. "Yes. I think that would work."
"You realize that you would not be involved in the meetings, unless you find yourself able to attend without arousing suspicion," he pointed out.
She nodded again. "That's fine."
Severus stood. "There is only one final thing to do, then. If you would take a vow not to reveal the Order's members, plans or other sensitive information unless in absolute dire need when your family or well being is threatened."
"I, Narcissa Malfoy, swear not to reveal the members of the Order, nor their plans or other sensitive information, unless in dire need or in the case of immediate threat to my well being or that of my family's," Narcissa said. She touched her wand to Severus's in a spell that was binding, but not to the level of an Unbreakable Vow. This didn't call for that.
"That's all," Severus said with a nod. "I must be getting back now before I am missed."
"Thank you, Severus," Narcissa said.
Severus inclined his head. "And in turn, thank you for joining. The Order needs everyone it can get."
"If it means keeping Draco safe..." she trailed off with a shake of her head. "Keep an eye on him, will you?"
"Of course," Severus replied. "Until next time," he said, walking to the door.
"Goodbye, Severus. Contact me if you need anything."
"I will," Severus said, stepping out into the night. As she closed the door behind him, his only source of light disappeared, casting a dark blanket over the world.
It was nearing nine thirty when Harry left the common room. He knew that he had less than a half hour before curfew, but thought that he would head down for a quick chat with his guardian. After all, it had been at least three days since they last spoke outside of class. After the distance last year, Harry didn't want to take his guardian's availability for granted. Since the twins still had the mirror, Harry hadn't even gotten a chance to speak to Sirius in a while, so he figured Severus could make up for the lapse.
"Harry Potter!" a squeaky voice called as Harry walked down the hallway he believed to be empty.
With a slight jump, Harry turned. "Oh, hi, Dobby. What are you doing here?"Dobby's wide eyes were filled with happiness. "Headmaster Dumbledore gave Dobby a job here! Dobby gets paid!"
Harry grinned. "That's great, Dobby. I'm happy for you," he said earnestly. He eyed Dobby's odd assortment of clothes. "Have you been buying more clothes with your pay?"
Dobby's ears flapped under his raspberry beret. "Dobby has a whole collection of clothes. Does Harry Potter like them?"
Harry smiled. "They look great on you," he said, lying a little bit. In truth, the clothes were garish. Dobby's button down hawaiian shirt was much too large and clashed horribly with his plaid pants. He wore so many layers of socks that it was hard to tell what shape his feet were. All things considered, he was quite a sight.
Dooby looked elated to hear Harry's approval. "Would Harry Potter like something to eat or drink?"
Harry shook his head. "No, thanks, Dobby. I've got to get going. It was nice running into you," he told the house elf.
"The honor is Dobby's," came the reply.
"See you later," Harry said, turning to continue on his way.
Harry didn't run into anyone else until he reached the dungeons, where Severus's office was located. When at last he made it down there, he turned the corner and walked up to Severus's door, knocking loudly. There was no reply. Harry knocked again, wondering where Severus could be at this hour. Perhaps he was off disciplining the Slytherins or something.
"Severus?" Harry called, giving it one last shot before he went back to his common room.
"Mr. Potter," a horribly familiar voice said from the end of the hall. "What are you doing out of bed at this hour?"
Harry spun around as Professor Umbridge clicked her way towards him. "I came down to talk with my guardian," he replied, growing guarded.
"He isn't here at the moment," she informed him.
"Where is he?" Harry demanded.
Umbridge gave him a condescending look. "I assume that if he wanted you to know, he would have informed you."
Harry's jaw hardened. He was certain that Severus would tell him if he asked and could tell that she was simply trying to sow discord between them. "He will," Harry said confidently.
Umbridge frowned. "More to the point, what makes you think that you can wander the corridors after curfew?" she challenged.
"I didn't realize it was past curfew," Harry replied.
Umbridge took a step closer. "Just because your guardian is here, you do not have permission to break the rules. Or have you become accustomed to doing what you like, with no one to challenge you considering Professor Snape is on your side?"
"No, that's not-"
She shook her head pityingly. "I fear that is what's happening here. It will not do for you to be overconfident," Umbridge stated. "Detention, Mr. Potter, seems to be in your best interests."
Harry's mouth almost dropped open. "How could that be in my best interest? What are you even talking about?" Harry demanded. "I came down to have a chat with my guardian-"
"Why? Is there something important that needs addressed?" Umbridge asked with false attentiveness.
Harry sucked in a breath. "No. And I wouldn't tell you if there was. Am I not allowed to come down and talk with my guardian anymore?"
"Not after curfew, you are not," Umbridge replied. "And if it leads to this attitude, maybe not at all."
Harry fixed her with a stony glare. "You can't stop that from happening. You can't tell me when I can com-"
"You cannot tell me what I can and cannot do," Umbridge cut him off sharply. "Let's make that a week of detentions, shall we?"
Harry clenched his jaw. She smiled at him, daring him to push it. Harry knew very well that if he did, it would soon become a month of detentions. Through gritted teeth, he said, "Fine."
"Good. Now go straight back to your common room and report to my office tomorrow at seven thirty, understood?""Yes," Harry managed. Before he lost it, Harry turned away, fist clenched as he stalked back up to the common room. It was not until he arrived back in his dorm that he realized that it was still three minutes until ten. He hadn't broken curfew. Harry was fully aware that any declaration of the injustice would go neglected and the thought made him furious. Now, more than ever, he wanted to talk to Severus, if only to vent about how Umbridge was the most loathsome person he had ever met.
AN: I can't know what you guys are thinking unless you review, so please review!