The Order sat around the kitchen table of Grimmauld place waiting to start their meeting. They were waiting for the arrival of one man. Severus Snape was not usually late.

As the minutes ticked by, the occupants started shifting uncomfortably. The conversation was hushed but held an air of anticipation. It was not that most in the Order really liked Severus, but they couldn't help but be aware of the dangers of his work. Albus Dumbledore was a man that more than appreciated Severus' works. He trusted him and loved him like a son and defended him against all suspicion. So when Albus began pacing, no one was surprised.

Over the years, Minerva had come to care about Severus too. Oh, they argued a lot at school, but really, she was fond of him and she worried about him. She had seen glimpses of Severus' compassion and dedication over the years. She never ceased arguing with him over her Gryffindors, but she knew that he was more dedicated to his Slytherins than perhaps any other Heads were of their own houses. No one commented when she stood abruptly to stand staring out the back window.

Moody did not really like Snape. He had had trouble trusting the Death Eater. If he could get an answer out of the boy, then he might trust him more. But despite that, he'd seen firsthand Snape's intense commitment to his job. He had seen lives saved because Snape put himself in the greatest danger. And so like any solider, Moody found that he cared what happened to the little bugger, because he was a brave warrior. Moody just sat there unmoving.

The slamming of the front door startled them all. The screaming of Black's mother's portrait made them all roll their eyes. Her abrupt silence made their eyebrows rise. Then in walked Severus Snape in all his dark glory. The assembled found themselves wondering how Snape got his robes to flow so menacingly and how they could get a similar effect. Severus was scowling and blood was running down his face from a wound on his forehead. This was not a happy man.

"Albus, forgive me my tardiness."

"Of course, my boy. But what happened? Here let us tend to that cut."

Severus paused and as if he only just noticed the cut, raised his fingers to it and looked at them curiously when they came away with blood. Taking a small pack from his robes and enlarging it, he took from it a square of cloth, a jar of some balm and bandaging. Working quickly and with deft hands it was only a moment before he had his cut bandaged and was seated, as if he had been waiting for the meeting to start the entire time.

Everyone was still watching the man. Severus decided to respond to that by finally replying to Albus' earlier statement. "Thank you Albus, I can take care of it." Leaning back in his chair, he looked at all the faces watching him. His scowl was gone and in its place was an expression devoid of any emotion. This was really the reason that the others were wary of him - because he didn't lose control. The only other face he revealed was a sneering disdain, but at least that contained some emotion - something human.

Taking his own seat, Albus leaned forward. "Severus, is everything alright? You were late and came in injured. What is going on?"

At school and at home, Severus allowed himself to sigh in weariness. But here, he treated it like a battle room. These people were all allies, but he knew that he was outside of the friendship that they all seemed to share. He didn't really care, but it meant that to him, they were only fellow soldiers. What would normally be a sigh anywhere else, became a tight grip on the table here. Leaning forward, he looked straight at Albus.

"I am quite alright Albus. But 'everything' is not. I believe you got my message last night?" Seeing Albus and the others nod their heads, he continued. "Greyback is becoming more vicious and the Dark Lord has been encouraging him. Last night I was called by the Dark Lord to attend to no less than five children that Greyback had attacked." He saw the others wince, but today he could take no pleasure in it. Turning his head slowly towards Remus, he continued, staring at the man. "As you are all aware, many werewolf victims do not survive the attack. Despite my best efforts, only one of the children survived the transformation. Unfortunately, he died early this morning from self-inflicted wounds; which is where this cut came from." At that, there was a sharp intake of breath from the assembled.

"Are you. . .were you. . .Severus, are you infected?" Remus stuttered with no little amount of concern in his voice.

"No, this is not from the boy directly. I bound him, hoping to stop him from harming himself and others. He kicked out with his legs instead and I fell against a rock. He was unfortunately unable to process pain and struggled to the point of inflicting fatal damage. I couldn't get near him to give him any potions and by the time he stopped fighting it was much too late. The Dark Lord was not pleased to lose five new converts, which is why I'm late."

The assembled looked harder at him at those words. They knew what it meant for the Dark Lord to not be pleased with Severus. The fact that he always walked through the door of his own volition was quite impressive. Looking closer, they could see the dark shadows under his eyes and his skin looking slightly paler. His clothes, which were normally impeccable, were torn in several spots and there was a wetness in certain places that was hard to see because of the color. The Order had stopped wondering why Snape wore black a long time ago. It was obvious that it hid the bloodstains perfectly. But no one said a word about this. Snape was here and he was conscious. He would not need their help, and not for the first time, they wondered if he ever needed anyone's help.

Standing slowly and leaning forward, Snape spoke again. This time there was a steeliness in his voice that hadn't been there before and a hard gleam in the eyes that would speak of violence if eyes could speak. "Greyback must be killed. I cannot get close to him and believe me, I've tried." And they did believe him, both that he had tried and that he would kill Greyback. Turning to Remus he continued, "But you can get close. You know how to find him. You can get help from others. He must be killed Lupin."

Lupin swallowed but rose anyway. "I am not a murderer. What you're asking is too much. I can try to find him and have him arrested but I cannot kill him."

Several people were nodding with Remus. Moody sat silently, curiously watching the exchange. Albus cleared his throat. "No, we certainly don't mean to make anyone a killer. But Severus is right. We should turn our efforts to putting an end to his violence."

Everyone was startled when Severus smashed his fist down on the table. He had never lost control before. His face became cold, as if it was made of the same stuff as the frozen northern plains. In contrast, his voice seemed barely able to contain a seething rage. "The Dark Lord's army is not some criminal organization. The aurors are acting like police, not soldiers. This is a WAR! Why can you not see it? You talk of your high moral standards and while you do, people die. But you cannot know the carnage. Would you like to see my memories of last night? Of last week? Care to take a trip down memory lane with me and watch a six-year old die? Bury his body, half wolf and half child? Greyback is a monster, not because he's a werewolf but because he is cruel. Do you think the walls of Azkaban will hold him. . .hold any of them?"

Everyone was silent; they were appalled. Severus, who had moments before been barely controlling his energy, letting it whip through the room, seemed to pull it all back in. It was a fascinating show really. How his face became smooth and impassive, how his magic seemed to pull back into himself as if it were an animal on a thick leash. It seemed to all watching like a long process but really only lasted a few seconds. He didn't drop back into his chair - oh no, that was not the way with the deliberate Snape. He slowly lowered himself into it. Despite his mask, he would never be able to deny the pain that had flared in his eyes during his outburst. The assembled had seen it and been moved by it. And they were equally moved by his absolute control now. Even when he had been arguing with Black, there had always been a sort of inhuman calm about him, a sort of calculating coolness that seemed to insulate him from emotions. But in that one short outburst, he had shown the Order his heart. Sure, it was surrounded by rage, but there had been raw pain there too; pain for those victims that he had spoken of. And although many assembled wouldn't say they liked Snape any more, they all of a sudden had a glimpse of what they thought might be his true self and something human inside them responded strongly. No, they did not pity Snape for the pain they had seen in his eyes. They could pity a lesser man; a man who wore his heart on his sleeve, as they had often heard Snape say. What they felt was something harder to explain. It was a sort of awe, as if they had never truly seen the man before. Oh, they had all seen horrors. It was war after all, just as Snape had called it. But what had this man seen? What had he endured? All of a sudden they thought that perhaps this man had more reason to fight than every single one of them. Perhaps that was why he was always so intense. Perhaps that was the reason that things like mere physical pain couldn't bother him.

Albus was perhaps the most moved. He didn't like to see pain in the younger man's eyes. He knew Severus better than most. He also knew, unlike them, that the mask wasn't always a mask. Severus was a man who could feel deeply, but rarely bothered. He was in fact one of the more hardy people Albus knew. He did not ever wallow in self-pity. But occasionally, Severus would come back to the school and Albus would see the shadow in his eyes - the ones that no others seemed to notice. The shadows that meant that he had seen or done something painful and was pushing it away, alone and always without help. Pushing it away until it was only a memory in a long list of memories that gave him fuel for the fight and made his resolve stronger. Pushing it away until the pain was muted. And while some might imagine Severus as some kind of tragic hero who only repressed his feelings but was still an extremely sad man, Albus had come to know a different man . . .a man who carefully crafted a persona of bitterness. But Severus wasn't bitter; angry maybe, but not bitter. Other men and women who had suffered as he had were bitter. Severus truly could push away the pain and look toward tomorrow. Albus had been very surprised to come to this conclusion many years ago. Severus Snape was not cold and uncaring, but he was extremely pragmatic. Albus would almost say that Severus was an optimist. But he was also ruthless. Albus' heart bled for Severus that he had to do things that the others would balk at. But he also secretly admired him, because he did what had to be done. He knew Severus could kill, but he did not for one second believe that it was cold blooded in the least. Because it was the nights that he had killed that the shadows in his eyes seemed to be deepest and seemed to linger the longest.

Moody, not for the first time, agreed with Snape. He himself had never used an Unforgivable and he was praised for it. But that didn't mean that he would never. And every time Snape or Remus brought back information on Greyback, he could feel his resolve strengthen. Perhaps not an Unforgivable, but he could break the man's neck or something equally unpleasant. Moody had seen more horrors than all of them, except perhaps Snape. With that realization came the strangest feeling of all. He didn't like Snape, but all of the sudden he felt a sort of brotherly affection that seemed completely out of place but was there nonetheless. But what he really suddenly appreciated about Snape was the man's iron control. Every single one of the Order members had lost control on numerous occasions. Even he himself had had outbursts. But Snape, even the little that Moody had just seen could hardly be called a loss of control. It was just that, for Snape, it was as uninhibited as he ever had been. Impressive boy really, Moody thought. There's definitely a great deal of strength there.

The silence could only last so long. Albus, for his part, was trying to decide what should be said. Lupin was looking for some sort of defense and Moody was satisfied to wait for a reaction. Oddly enough, it seemed that Snape was the only one prepared to continue. Or maybe it wasn't so odd for him to be the first one to recover, thought Moody with a smirk.

"Of course, this is war. You should not do anything you're uncomfortable with," he said with a sneer. "But in that case, I suggest you double your efforts to bring the werewolf population to our side. Perhaps, Albus, you could help the matter by forcing the issue of werewolf rights and assistance with the ministry. If it would help, I could brew larger batches of Wolfsbane every month. As for Greyback, never mind. I will continue my efforts there and see what can be done," he ended on a dark note. The aurors in the Order shifted a little. Now what could that statement have meant? Severus, however, was not going to elaborate.

Albus saw this as the signal to continue the meeting. "Thank you Severus. Please be careful though." That was that. It didn't matter how Snape dealt with it, the Order didn't want to know. Turning to Remus, he continued. "Remus, you told me earlier that there were several men and women who were coming around to your view of things. Severus is right, of course. They would no doubt commit themselves if the ministry supported them. Tomorrow, I would like you to accompany me to the Wizengamot meeting. If we gain their support, we can force Fudge's hand." Turning back to Severus he asked, "Severus, have you anything else to report?"

"Yes, just a few things. The other Death Eaters seem reasonably assured of success with the Giants. The Dark Lord, however, seems less assured and has been...encouraging his diplomats to do a better job. He has asked me to make a large batch of healing potions, so it is safe to assume that an attack is planned for the future. I have an idea of what it may be, but I have not yet confirmed it and I will pass any information I am able to confirm on as soon as I have it. He has also been asking about the wards for the Hogwarts Express. This is nothing new. However, he is becoming more organized and I have witnessed at least one new initiate whom I was told, knew quite a bit about ward breaking. In the remaining months before the school year resumes, I believe we should plan for a guard for the train and the station. There have been at least three new recruits in the last week, but I have not yet learned their names." Pausing, Snape seemed to be considering the next news before revealing it. His eyes fell on Mundungus Fletcher as he said, "Two Death Eaters have gone missing. McGill and Frey. The Dark Lord is unaware of their whereabouts... but I have reason to believe they are dead. On a side note, I would like to recommend that Fletcher lay low, for, oh, I don't know. . . the rest of the war perhaps?"

Fletcher was already turning pale under Snape's scrutiny, but at his words, he could only stutter one question. "W...What?"

"Your powers of speech are equaled only by your intelligence, I see. Imagine my surprise to hear two of my Comrades speaking about one flea-ridden thief as if he were some kind of a threat. They seemed to think that this fool had said something about one Mr. Potter and protecting him. They were, indeed, eager to return to their master to report such juicy news. Unfortunately, they never did make it," he said with mock sympathy. "But I wonder now, whether I should just Obliviate you and send you out right now." Now Snape was hissing. "You fool, how dare you put MY life at risk by your amazing lack of restraint. Or do you honestly believe that you could keep your secrets from the Dark Lord if you were caught. Listen to me carefully Fletcher, because I will say this only once. If you are captured through your own stupidity, I will make sure myself that you can neither speak nor remember even your own name. This time you were lucky. I was able to find everyone that was present during your little outburst and Obliviate them, but next time you may not be so lucky."

Snape always did command most of the attention at these meetings. He did, after all, always have quite a bit of information. And he was always very thorough in his fact finding. The other members had noticed that his recommendations for action were often general pieces of advice on strengthening the guard on something or someone. He seemed to show up frequently with some sort of information about actions already accomplished. He was always very vague about what had happened - never claiming any sort of responsibility for the death of the Death Eaters or the rescue of some family. Still, it was apparent to the more astute at the meetings that Snape had taken his own steps to neutralize the danger. Occasionally they would question him and if he were pressed he would say something about not having time to call for back up, as it were, and shrug off the whole incident as though it were merely due to the accidental folly of the enemy.

Turning his attention to Tonks and Kingsley, he blew off the red-faced Fletcher as if he were nothing more than an irritating fly and continued his report. "You two are targets by your very job. It is painfully obvious to the Dark Lord that you are Order members as well, but then, I imagine that really didn't need to be kept a secret. I would however, like to recommend that you pay more attention to your surroundings. You should be aware of the fact that duels are not always fought with honor. Expect assassins and snipers. Do not let your guard down. Apparate everywhere you need to go and have your wand up and ready when you travel. When you return to your home, proceed with caution. I may not always be able to warn you before an attack. If anything is amiss, leave immediately."

Tonks nodded with gratitude and said, "Thanks." Kingsley also offered his gratitude. He remembered a night not that long ago when he had been walking to his apartment and heard a snap and a thud in the alleyway by him. He had drawn his wand and slipped over to the alleyway. A dark man in black robes had disapparated before he could say a word. At his feet lay another man, only this man was a Death Eater. And he was lying dead, with his wand drawn, his mask cracked and his neck broken. It had been a mystery then, but at the very next meeting Snape had reported that another Death Eater had gone missing. He seemed to think that the man had run afoul of some auror. Staring at Kingsley, he had then said quietly, so that only Kingsley could hear, "As Moody always says, 'Constant Vigilance.'" Kingsley had known then and there that it had been Snape that had saved his life by killing the other Death Eater that night.

Snape next turned to Moody for a moment and a small smirk was on his lips. But he said nothing. There was no need. If Moody was not careful, it was not for lack of trying. There was no need to say a word there. Moody for his part, felt a small smirk grace his lips too. He had felt the unspoken compliment and found it meant more to him than he would normally have admitted, coming from Snape. After all, it turned out that Snape gave a whole new meaning to the words paranoia, deliberation and daring: words that had a nice ring to the old auror.

There was only one more thing Severus had to say and it involved the whole order. "There is nothing else specifically to report, but I would like to end by saying that the Dark Lord is becoming more organized. You should all be more careful, with your own lives and especially with Potter's. We should also consider more recruitment, but I want no part of that." Looking with disdain towards Fletcher he continued, "Too many people already know about my involvement." He then sat back, effectively conveying to the group that he was done.

The rest of the meeting went by without another word from or to Snape. When they started to rise and discuss other matters, Snape headed to the door. He never stayed there.

Molly Weasley called out to him. "Severus, stay for dinner? There's plenty enough."

But Snape just kept right on walking with a muttered, "no thanks" thrown over the shoulder. As he walked toward the front door, the first one to leave, everyone heard Mrs. Black start shrieking. "How dare you! How dare you curse me? Don't point that thing at me!" And then all was quiet until the front door was heard shutting. Walking into the hall, curious about what had happened, the rest of the Order almost fell over in laughter. There in the portrait shooting murderous daggers at them all, was Mrs. Black in a straight jacket and with a gag tied tightly over her mouth. Severus Snape definitely had an interesting sense of humor.