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Chapter Two | A Silly, Silly Mistake

"Bloody git, he is, honestly," I blabbered, throwing random cuss words here and there to exonerate my speech. For it was, after all, a highly important one that needed to be said aloud. I had decided long ago that everything I said was important and should be treated as such. Unfortunately for me, the man whose company I was currently in did not, under any pretense, look interested in what I had to say about the stupid, stupid goat of a man, Lucius Malfoy. I had a feeling it was because Severus already knew exactly what Malfoy was like and therefore didn't need to be told. But when I needed to talk, I couldn't be stopped, and so my old professor merely picked up the pace and didn't try to stop me.

He was supposed to be the one doing the talking, briefing me on what I should inform the Order and how I should say it, but as it so happened, I already knew exactly what my purpose was this evening. Severus Snape, genius as he was, could do nothing but allow my irregular speech patterns. Irregular, because I hardly ever talked in front of others in such a free manner. I trusted Snape with my life, and so, I supposed, that fact allowed some breathing room between us that was not there in any other's company.

It did not take long to reach the street in which the Order was currently residing. We had stopped using the Noble House of the Blacks – I inwardly scoffed at the ridiculous, un-perpetual title – and now traded our meetings between various member's houses instead. It mattered not, though, because we hardly had meetings anymore due to the influx of events going on. Everyone was doing what they could to stay alive and the meetings were unnecessary unless in dire consequences. Tonight was not, in any way, a dire consequence. We did like to have meetings once in a while, just to make sure we were all accounted for.

I was just about to take a step into the road when Severus' hand gripped my upper arm and dragged me back into the shadows.

I glowered up at him and tore my arm back as he scolded me, "You can't just go walking around like that, Belladonna. Be more careful."

My responding growl was equal to his, "No, you can't go walking around like that. Might I remind you that I'm still welcome at the Order, Severus?"

His upper lip curled distastefully at the sound of his first name, uttered so callously and intimately from my lips, and he released his grip on my arm, "What did I tell you about calling me that? It's Professor Snape, Black."

I merely smirked and shrugged, feeling free from him as I replied, "Oh, back to last names, I see. Fine, I'll call you Snape, but don't expect anything more. You are not my Professor, thank God."

He scowled at me and turned his back to my figure. While he was facing the other direction, he muttered two things. One was, in my opinion, a very well thought out curse word that I immediately added to my mental list. The other remained much more important.

"Spinner's End. Tell me everything you learn after the meeting," and with an unexpected, but no less startling pop, Severus Snape was gone.

I merely rolled my eyes and murmured, "Such a dramatic old fool...honestly..." before continuing on my way toward the mussy little shack that the Weasley family shared.





It didn't take very long to reach the protective enchantments circling the home. Before I had even reached the threshold, about a dozen wands were pointed at me and determined, yet somewhat relieved, faces were gazing at my figure.

A familiar voice I had not heard in months spoke up, and I smirked at the sound of my closest living relative, "Where were you and what were you doing during the night of my tenth birthday party?"

I heaved a sigh and muttered, "Honestly, Nymphadora, you had to choose the most outlandish question, didn't you?"

I wasn't looking for a response to that, but I got one anyway as wands were uplifted silently. I rolled my eyes, "Fine, fine. For God's sake, I swear you're trying to ruin me... On the night of your tenth birthday party, I, Belladonna Lilith Black was – indiscreetly, I might add – attempting a mass prank involving swarms of little beetles and your mattress, dearest sister. And might I go on to say that it did not work because you decided to be a silly prick and go tell on me. I still hold a grudge against you, by the way. Cake was good, though, perhaps the only redeeming feature. Really, Nymphadora, you don't know how to throw a party at all-"

My lengthy speech was cut off by two arms lurching around my waist and my half sister's relaxing laugh drifting into my ear, "Oh shut up, you – I was bloody ten years old, you prat. And don't call me Nymphadora," I supposed she added that for good measure. I never listened to her anyway.

"And what a warm welcome I get," came my drawling reply, but nonetheless allowed my arms to wrap around her and return the affection. It was probably the only form of it I got, save the love from my mother and step father. I allowed my sister to drag me inside the cosy house and greeted the other members as they meandered in after us.

To Remus Lupin I sent an especially fair smile, solely because he was the husband of my beloved sister and was quite deserving of such a title. He nodded to me and stood beside his new wife, who was now gazing at my pale face with a slightly worried expression.

"Oh, dear! Belladonna, darling, sit down, please!" came the overly warm voice of Molly as she rushed into the room. She scurried to conjure up another chair – there were already a good dozen thrown haphazardly about an elongated table – and all but pushed me down into it before running into another room and disappearing from my view.

I shook my head, "Bloody crazy woman, she is, but God I love her..."

"Talking to yourself again, Donna?" came a pair of matching voices I wished not to hear at the moment. I rolled my eyes and crossed my arms, putting on my best scowl that could rival that of Salazar Slytherin himself.

"Really, darling," one said, mimicking his mother's higher tone as he placed himself in the seat beside mine, "It's a sign of insanity, but I'm sure you already know that."

I did, in fact, know that quite well, but chose to remain silent about the matter. I'd seen my share of Cruciatus victims to understand such a word. Sometimes, I even felt as though I was going insane myself.

"Fred, George, you two shouldn't be down here," Arthur's voice spoke up, and I opened my eyes just in time to see a hot bowl of soup being lowered before me. I smirked – one that nearly turned into a smile had I not stopped it – and thanked Molly before digging in. I simply adored her for her unbeaten hospitality. She truly had the kindest heart I knew. I had to admit, as well, that such a thing was especially hard to come by in my line of work.

"Bella?" came my sister's voice, and I glanced up at her during the same moment I bit into a piece of bread.

"...Wha?" I asked, sounding a bit groggy, and chuckles emitted from the ever cheerful twins as they vacated their seats and moved into another room.

"Are you...alright?" I noticed that she was wringing her hands. It was a sign of uneasiness, I knew, and understood exactly what would bring about such a question. I knew I didn't look very good; it had been four years since I attained my Dark Mark – since I became a full fledged Death Eater – and I looked nothing like the smarmy, arrogant, and vainly pretty young woman from my seventh year at Hogwarts. My curly, once luxurious black hair had lost its bounce and shine; my eyes, their previous spark; my skin, its former softness. I was gaunt, and I was pale, and I was anything but beautiful. The only thing I didn't understand was why she was asking me this now, of all times. It was hardly important, and my appearance had been like this for years now. It had probably shaved off a good few years of my future, not like I had much to live for anyway.

I swallowed the bite of bread and stared at her, unreadable expression latching itself into my eyes as I recalled exactly why I had become such a hollow shell. My motives were silly, really. They all centered around making the Black family proud, and serving the Dark Lord like my father and aunts. My mother and her stupid side family didn't make any difference, of course – they had only fueled my desire to prove myself to the Dark side. I hoped to capture the fear of every human, Wizard and Mudblood alike, and I knew that could only happen with the Dark Lord's assistance. I remembered feeling so free, so exhilarated, after I had received my Mark. My father would have been proud, I had been told. I immediately left my house and went to live with my Aunt Narcissa, who I believed understood me more than my filthy, blood traitor of a mother. I had wanted nothing to do with her or her rebounded family. They had made me sick.

It hadn't been until I had first faced the Dark Lord's wrath that I wanted out. I had done something terrible – defied the Master – and thrown the Black name into an even greater turmoil. I had been frightened and confused and all too young to understand why no one would save me from the curse that was so heavily thrown upon me. I hadn't known, at the time, that there would be more. More times I would mess up and earn another punishment – another wringing out. I supposed I had been a mess for years now, and either Nymphadora had only just realized due to the happiness she had encountered, or had seen all along but chose to remain silent.

I hadn't a clue what to say to her, so I allowed what I hoped was a plausible smirk to etch it's way across my face. My sister's eyes were the epitome of worry, probably from my silence.

"It's nothing I can't handle," I answered her confidently, and returned to my meal as though I hadn't eaten in weeks. But we both knew it wasn't an issue of whether or not I couldn't handle it, because I would be forced to either way. After all, once you got in...there was no getting out.

Suddenly, chairs were being moved and people were beginning to sit down in them. I concluded that it was time for the meeting, and politely pushed my makeshift dinner away from me as Shacklebolt began speaking.

"Now that we have all settled down," he nodded to me before continuing, "I think it would be wise to begin. I have a bit of information I'd like to share before I give the floor to Miss Black."

If there was one thing I liked about Kingsley Shacklebolt, it was his sense of propriety and honor. I sat back in the chair and listened closely as he spoke.

"As you all should have heard, the Ministry of Magic has indeed fallen into the hands of he-who-must-not-be-named. There has been an influx of Death Eater's into the Ministry and," he took a breath, "they are currently working on ways to overpower Muggles and half bloods. Anyone who isn't pure, it seems."

Kingsley went on to explain the rest of the events transpiring, for those who didn't hear about them, before turning to me and gesturing with his hand for me to speak.

I didn't move from my straight-backed position in the chair – I supposed I was too used to sitting in certain way before the Dark Lord – but no one seemed to noticed my discomfort. I glanced at each face before starting in a low, urgent voice, "Before I begin, I'd like to say that Shacklebolt is completely right. The Ministry is, in fact, under the influence of the Dark Lord. Pius Thicknesse – the new Minister of Magic – is currently under an Imperius curse, but they're planning on replacing him soon. All the talk about Mudbloods and –" I stopped here, at first not realizing why everyone was casting aggravated glances at me, and then realizing my mistake, "Er...sorry, Muggles and Half Bloods is true as well. I'm going to the Ministry tomorrow to get a few new leads on the location of Potter – though I doubt I'll find anything – so I'll have more to say on the matter during the next meeting."

My mention of the Boy who Lived seemed to be an avid topic here, not like I was surprised, and noticed a few glances thrown around the room at the sound of his name. I chose then to speak up, " is Harry, then? And Ron, of course, and Hermione...?"

I knew they were all together, as did Snape, though where they were and how they were faring were both questions I had no answer to.

There was a collective sigh around the room.

"We don't know, really," Arthur said, turning his saddened eyes to me, "Haven't seen them since Bill and Fleur's wedding. But I think they're alright, wherever they are. So long as they're together."

His words seemed to give everyone at the table a breath of fresh air. I found myself almost smiling, for heaven's sake, before I was once again reminded of the gravity of my life and shook the happy feeling. I wasn't supposed to feel happy; I wasn't supposed to feel anything but suffering for what I did to those I once loved – still love.

The conversation, after that, took a turn for the better. After everything involving the Dark Lord and such was spoken about, inquiries began sprouting up involving the health of each person's family and friends. It was nice to speak about things that for once were not at all centered around death and gore. I found myself nearly smiling more than once before the clock had struck midnight.

When it did strike the hour, though, I immediately sobered up and realized I had to leave. I wasn't the first to go – others had departed before me to put children to bed or go to sleep themselves. When they had left, however, the table hadn't turned completely silent.

I rolled my eyes at their drama and sighed, "Snape's waiting for me. I'm to meet up with him after the meeting and inform him of what's going on," I shrugged, and added safely, "Don't worry. I won't tell him anything critical."

My words seemed to put most everyone at ease and Molly rose from her seat to give me one last farewell hug, "Stay strong, dear. We're always here for you if something goes wrong."

I nodded, but did not answer her back, because I knew that if something were ever to go wrong, I wouldn't be coming here: I probably wouldn't get out alive at all...

I had just made it out the door and into the yard when a hand enclosed itself around my upper arm, for the second time that night. I decided I hated it when people tried to stop me from walking...

"Belladonna, be careful at his house," my sister's voice recommended. I glanced over my shoulder to see her standing behind me, eyes wide with worry. Remus was standing inside the house, by the door, and it struck me that he didn't trust me. But then I realized I wouldn't have trusted me either and I didn't feel as offended.

I focused my attention on Nymphadora's face and responded, "I've been doing this for three years, Dora. You don't need to tell me to be careful. I can look after myself."

She knew she wouldn't be getting anything more through my somewhat thick head and so instead of speaking, enveloped me in a sweet hug. I hugged her back, enjoying the last bit of warmth and hoping it would get me through the next few months.

"If you can, visit mum," Nymphadora suddenly murmured, pulling away to look at me, "She misses you."

I nodded slowly, a light, airy smile making it's way onto my face. It only ever smiled in my sister's presence. She had told me before that it made me look younger, more reminiscent of my school days, and I had laughed at her. But as I stood there, smiling at her, I felt younger, and happier, if only for a moment.

She smiled at me, as well, and hugged me again, this time more tightly, before pulling away. I moved my gaze from her to Remus, who was now watching me with a softer expression, as though I was more human in his eyes now that he had seen my smile.

Before walking out to where the protective enchantments wore off, I turned to my sister once more and murmured a soft, "Congratulations, by the way...on your wedding. Lupin's a right nice git, if you ask me."

And without waiting for her answer, I walked off without a backward glance.

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