DISCLAIMER: Harry Potter and all other characters and locations belong to J. K. Rowling
Chapter One - A Noble Mission
The small village of Hogsmeade was wrapped in a blanket of white powder. Flakes still floated softly from the gray sky, settling upon the roofs of shops and houses. Chimneys spat forth dark streams of smoke which became lost in the shadows of the night. Streets were barren, footprints slowly being erased by the steady deluge of snow. Just up the abandoned paths of Hogsmeade, a sprawling encampment sat. Surrounded by high stonewalls, the buildings occupied by the men and women of Hogwarts Mercenaries and Guards were still lit brightly. Candles glowed in windows, creating small spheres of light as the night crept on.
Along two walls, four barracks stood. The long buildings were home to select individuals, all chosen carefully for their power and skills. Hogwarts consisted of four companies, the Red Lions, the Black Badgers, the Blue Eagles, and the Silver Snakes. Each company slept, ate, and trained with the members of their unit. In their training, they learned this created a unity within the company. Everyone knew the strengths and weaknesses of the other members. In an emergency, they would be able to flow and balance each other, protecting and attacking to the best of their capabilities. Thus, Hogwarts had a company for every occasion.
Within the Red Lion's barracks, laughter and drinking continued into the night. Its fourteen members sitting shoulder-to-shoulder around a roaring fire, mugs of firewhiskey cradled in their numb hands. Passing his mug to Ron for a refill, Harry Potter huddled deeper into his thick cloak and tossed his head back, laughing at Neville's antics as the other wizard tried to explain something in a slurred voice. Shaking his head, he accepted the frothing cup and nodded his thanks. Raising the glass to his mouth, he groaned in dismay as Seamus's elbow knocked his arm and the whiskey sloshed over his chin and the front of his shirt. Setting the mug down, he rose with his arms out to the side and glared angrily down at his chest.
"Here, Harry." Hermione called helpfully, fluttering a red napkin at him from beside Ron.
A quick wave of his hand had the cloth flying into his dripping fingers. Mumbling under his breath, he wiped away the whiskey and crinkled his nose at the strong smell it left on the fabric. "Thanks," he said, holding the stained handkerchief out to her. Raising her eyebrow, the brown haired witch stared at him. Frowning, he rolled his eyes and pulled his wand from its sheath. A few whispered words and the cloth was returned to its former condition.
A sharp cough and the slamming of the main door had everyone lunging to their feet and whirling around. Whiskey sloshed and chairs skittered against the wood floor as everyone pointed wands at the individual standing before them. Faces paling, wands were shoved into sheathes and whiskey mugs were hidden behind backs.
"Things haven't changed much since I occupied a bed in this barrack, have they?" Captain Moody drawled, arms crossed over his wide chest. Thin graying hair stuck up in all directions as he walked slowly towards them, boot heels thudding in the silence of the room. "Dumbledore wants to see you in his office, Potter."
"Sir, yes sir." Harry snapped out, saluting with his right hand. His face went bright red when he felt the cool press of glass against his forehead. Snorts and forced coughs barely concealed the laughter of amusement as his friends and teammates shifted behind him. Shooting them a glare promising revenge, he walked towards his captain.
Smirking, Moody held his hand out and accepted the glass as Harry trudged past him. Raising the mug in a silent toast, he tossed the contents back before throwing the empty glass to Seamus. Startled, the younger wizard barely managed to catch it before it struck the ground and shattered. "I suggest you all get to bed." He ordered with a smile, giving a nod of farewell before turning and walking from the room. A brisk breeze swirled into the room as the door slammed closed behind him, sending shivers down spines.
"Cheers." Ron mumbled, finishing the rest of his firewhiskey and standing. Rubbing his hands together, he tossed another log onto the fire and began to straighten the room. Following his example, the Red Lions set about returning the room to its previous arrangement. Chairs were returned to desks and trunks were slid under beds. While the girls took their turn in the bathroom that adjoined the sleeping quarters, the wizards changed into pajamas and blew out candles. Several minutes later, the thirteen witches and wizards climbed into their beds and snuggled deep beneath the rough red blankets.
"What do you think old Dumbledore wants with Harry?" Seamus asked sleepily, chuckling at the resonating snore that erupted from Neville's corner of the room. The loud squeaking of mattress springs announced the smaller wizard's change in position, a few muttered words broke the snoring before it once again picked up. "We should really get that fixed."
"Who knows what Dumbledore wants, let's just get some sleep." Fred called loudly from the far end of the room. Grunts of agreement sounded before silence settled on the barracks.
Harry knocked loudly on the door of Albus Dumbledore's office, shuffling in place as he waited for a reply. Wiggling his fingers in hopes of getting some feeling back into them, he hunched deeper into his cloak and sighed. Raking the red digits through his black hair, he brushed snow from the top of his head before opening the door.
"Ah, Harry." Albus Dumbledore crowed in greeting, rising and holding one hand out. Striding forward, the raven-haired wizard shook the proffered appendage before jamming his tingling hands into the depths of his pockets. Gesturing Harry towards the roaring fire, the old wizard sat down at his desk. "I recently received a missive from the Lord Malfoy. He wishes to hire several guards to oversee his son's trip to Diagon Alley. Since the Eagles and Badgers are already spoken for, I felt it necessary to elect your team."
Harry grimaced and stretched his hands out toward the fire. Of all the jobs they were hired to do, guarding the children of nobles was the worst. Carriages tipped, wagon axles broke, horses lamed, and avalanches destroyed roads all before his team had even left the barracks. "Sir, I apologize for being presumptuous but the Snakes are also currently free." Harry pointed out, praying he could drop the duty on the shoulders of Theodore and the Snakes.
"I'm quite aware of that, Potter." Dumbledore said, his amusement creeping out slowly. "Your Lions are becoming lazy with the cold. The last assignment you undertook was three weeks ago. Since then all you've done is train and sleep."
Sighing in defeat, Harry ducked his gaze and nodded. Gliding over to stand before the wood desk, he held his hand out and accepted the pile of parchment the older wizard offered. "When do we leave?" He asked, flipping the first page over and scanning the writing. A loud pinging broke the silence, making him jerk and drop the papers, hand snatching for his wand. Blushing at the loud chuckle emitted from Albus, he slid his wand away. The clock continued to chime, oblivious to its near destruction.
As the last ping faded, the older wizard folded his arms and leaned over his desk to watch Harry pick up the scattered papers. "Today." He announced, blue eyes bright as the younger wizard's gaze jumped to his.
"Today?" Harry parroted, hands trembling on the folder. He narrowed his eyes at Albus Dumbledore's smile. Standing, he held the file out and saluted. "I suppose I had best get to bed then, shouldn't I?" He bit out, dropping the file on the cluttered desk and prowling quietly from the small chamber.
Shaking his head in anger, he stomped all the way out of the main building, pausing in the courtyard. He tilted his gaze up towards the night sky, ignoring the cold flakes that drifted to rest upon his upturned face. Snarling, he aimed a kick at a bank of snow before storming onwards. The Red Lion barracks were silent as he entered, snores and mumbles filling the room every now and then. Shedding his clothes, he fell into bed without a thought to brushing his teeth. His mind still trying to get over the older man's high handedness. Burying his face in his pillow, he gritted his teeth and tried to get some sleep.
Malfoy Manor glowed softly under the gray sky. The large estate was completely dark, the only light being emitted from one large window on the third floor. Standing in the center of his bedroom, Draco Malfoy shot a mutinous glare at the clothes scattered across the carpeted floor. Nearby, one trunk sat full, it's lid closed and locked in preparation for the days journey.
"I don't see why we can't floo or apparate." He grumbled angrily, giving his second trunk a light kick as he walked around it. Rubbing his hands together, he bent down and began to repack the wooden box with the hope that this time everything would fit.
"I think he's trying to teach us some sort of lesson." Blaise stated from where he was sitting atop his already packed trunk. Nibbling on his lower lip, he tipped his head and regarded Draco's efforts.
"Well, it's an evil one." The blond gritted, sitting on his trunk and trying to fasten the latches. Bouncing up and down, he smiled victoriously as the lock snicked into place. "Traveling across wild country with only fourteen people to protect us."
"It'll be fun." Pansy murmured tiredly, raising her head from her pillow as she looked back and forth between the pair. Smiling at the identical grimaces currently occupying the wizard's faces, she sat up and yawned. "We'll get to spend the entire trip together. We can plan our itinerary and make a list of everything we need and want to do."
Rising from his trunk, Draco picked out the clothes he was planning on wearing and laid them on his desk. Shaking his head, he ran a hand over the thick velvet cloak before glancing up. "You haven't considered the fact the Severus will be traveling with us, have you?" He purred, grinning when his friends both gasped. "You didn't really think my father would allow me to travel without a proper chaperone, did you?"
"That killjoy!" Pansy gasped, groaning and flopping backwards. Moaning, she raised her hands and set them over her face. "He'll have us studying the entire trip there! This is horrible."
Laughing, Draco settled himself before the fire. Smirking, he held his hands towards the crackling flames and sighed in pleasure. "Like he would trust my safety to fourteen strangers. Though I think your parents did have something to do with it." The blond pondered, crossing his legs and staring thoughtfully at his friends.
Nodding his head miserably, Blaise rose and began to pace, bare feet silent on the floor. "Dad said he was going to speak with your father before we left. I assume he wanted to speak about guards or something of that ilk."
"Look on the bright side," Pansy said. Rolling off the bed she marched across the room and sat in the chair across from Draco. "Maybe we'll get to see Theodore. He was admitted into Hogwarts several years ago."
"I never knew what you saw in him." Draco and Blaise chorused, exchanging a look with each other. Chuckling at Pansy's huff of annoyance, they both stilled at the quiet knock on the door.
The portal slid open slowly and Severus Snape peeked around it's edge, dark eyes pinning all three of them in place. "I suggest you all go to bed." He murmured quietly, pale hand twisting on the doorknob in warning when Draco opened his mouth to rebut the order.
"Yes, sir." Pansy whispered, rising and quickly exiting the room. Her soft goodbye had Blaise standing and strolling slowly past Snape. A wave of farewell his only send off.
"Good night, Draco." Snape said in warning, closing the door silently. Rolling his eyes, Draco mouthed killjoy at the door before staring into the flickering flames. Sliding deeper into the comfort of the chair, he closed his eyes and sank into his thoughts.
A/N: Alright, first chapter out of the way. This is probably more AU then everything else I've written so far, so wish me luck.