A/N: I own none of the associated canon.
Prologue: On the Run
A lightning bolt crashed across the sky, shortly followed by a loud crack of thunder that signaled the oncoming deluge. Slowly at first, rain began to fall from the heavens, eventually transforming into a steady downpour. On a beaten gravel roadway a man in tattered robes slowly walked with purpose to an unknown destination. Ignoring the rain, he calmly kept his steady pace, only wavering to avoid rather deep potholes that had quickly filled with muddy water.
He entered a small hamlet in an isolated countryside. He paused a moment to glance over the dillapitated buildings barely standing, most of them constructed hastily out of local wood and stone that could be easily salvaged from the nearby hillsides. At the end of the way was a small inn and tavern, a half-broken sign swaying haggeredly in the wind. The man took a glance backwards, as if waiting for someone, and then pressed forward, headed towards the inn.
Glancing up at the swaying sign, he read the name of the place. Dragonshead. There would be no safer place for him right now, and truthfully no safer place for the parcel that he carried. Confident that he had chosen the right course of action, at least for now, Severus Snape strode into the inn, the door remained open for a few seconds longer than it should have, before slamming shut.
The inn was a small place, with little more than a few wooden tables and chairs strewn about, surrounding a small fireplace that was slowly fading away into the night. Behind the bar stood a man cleaning a few mugs. He slowly nodded to Severus, and motioned for him to come closer.
"Evenin' sir," the Cockney-eyed man said warmheartedly. "Are you here for a room, we got plenty of 'em available for the night."
"Yes, perhaps in a few minutes," Severus off-handedly replied. He kept a strong eye out for anyone in the room, eyes darting this way and that. "Has a woman come in here recently. She would be wearing all black, blonde hair, wouldn't say much?"
"Come to think of it, there was someone like that a bit earlier. Said 'er name was Black or something like that. She got 'erself a room. Prolly asleep I'd imagine." The barkeep contemplated this for a moment, before going back to his glasses. He kept on talking, uncaring that Severus had turned up the stairs in search of his intended companion. "Nice lookin' one she was, a bit on the hagged side though..."
Severus walked down the narrow hallway, swaying this way and that for the right room. There were eight rooms lined up, with four on either side of the hallway. The door was securely locked on three on the left side, and there was no indication of any light coming from behind the large wooden door. Down at the far end on the right, a door stood slightly ajar, but was dark as night. Turning to the second door on the right, which had a small amount of lantern light seeping through, he pulled his wand out from his robes and took a deep breath. Slowly he reached for the door handle, and found it unlocked. Hesitating but for a moment, he opened the door and pointed his wand ahead.
The room was empty.
Silently cursing himself he walked into the room and pinched out the lantern. He returned to the hallway, leaving the door open halfway. He walked down a ways before stopping at the door at the far end on the left. Not sensing anyone in the room, Severus nonetheless opened it with his wand at the ready. Inside he found a ghostly white figure, sitting on the ramshackled bed, staring outside at the ever-raging storm with a solemn look etched across her face.
Severus noted that in the months since he had last seen Narcissa Malfoy, her once radiant beauty had slowly withered away to the spectre now lain before him. He took a few moments to process what had become of her, before alerting her to his presence.
"Narcissa." The woman turned to face Severus, the bags under her eyes indicant of the recent lack of sleep she had gotten. In her eyes he could see a distant, yet hopeful, gleam of the future.
"Please Severus," she spoke in an even tone, "Tell me what happened at the school. Your letters to me were too brief."
"Imagine my surprise when you contacted me."
"I have to know Severus. Is Draco alright? Has he been…"
Severus took this moment to take the woman and give her a soft embrace. Quickly, the facade of calm that had been present on Narcissa Malfoy's face gave way to near utter hysterics. After several minutes, Snape pulled back and looked her steadily in the eye.
"Draco is fine. Voldemort was less than happy when he learned the circumstances surrounding Professor Dumbledore's death, but he got over it relatively quickly. I can't say that it's been easy however; the Dark Lord has been harder on Draco than he has been on the other students."
"Other students? Severus…what is he doing?"
"He's preparing an army Narcissa." This last revelation sent Narcissa's mind for a shock. Severus took the opportunity to sit in the small leather chair in the corner of the room. "A group of individuals comprised of students from Hogwarts, Drumstrang and several other schools throughout Europe is being trained by Augustus, with their instruction overseen by the Dark Lord himself."
"Augustus? Augustus Longshanks? I thought he was in Azkaban!"
"He was. There was an attack on the prison a week ago and Augustus was freed….along with your husband."
Narcissa dropped at hearing this. She slowly stood up and headed closer to the window. Staring out at nothing in particular, she took note of the slowly dying storm, and forcefully tried to hide back the onslaught of emotion that she wanted to let out.
"The best thing for you to do," Severus finally said, "is stay in hiding. The Dark Lord is none too pleased with the fact that you forced me to do what I did...and while he has spared me some of his wrath I cannot say he will hold you in the same regard."
"I'm not going to be some coward," she said forcefully. "I'm going to reunite with my son and we're going to start a new life. Away from Voldemort. Away from Lucius. Away from everything."
"It's not that simple. The Dark Lord is not going to give up on your son very easily." Severus stood up and walked over to Narcissa, who continued her vigil of staring outside. "'Cissa, you have to trust me on this. Things are set in motion now that cannot be undone, and the best thing we can do is simply let them play out."
"Easy for you to say!" she suddenly exclaimed, catching him a bit off guard. "You haven't had to give up every..." she trailed off as she saw Snape actually show anger. It boiled up from out of him, and he couldn't stop it from boiling out.
"I HAVEN'T HAD TO GIVE UP EVERYTHING?!? Who had to watch as both of the people that he cared for most in this world were cut down by Voldemort? Who had to stand by and see Lily killed like a dog because he couldn't get there in time!" He stopped short, catching his breath, and trying to re-establish some semblance of calm.
"I'm sorry Severus...I..."
"No. I'm sorry. You're frustrated, I know. But for know...you'll just have to deal with it."
Narcissa nodded at this and slowly turned out of the room. She took a few steps out of the doorway and turned back to Severus. "Please, tell my son that I love him."
On that note Narcissa lifted the hood of the jet black robe she had been wearing and headed down the hallway towards the exit of the inn. Snape sat in the room, lingering for a moment longer. The sound of some footsteps entering the room and the door shutting alerted him back to the present. In front of him, there was a sudden figure, seemingly to appear out of thin air.
The young man was a haggard figure, much like his mother. A fresh scar covered his left eye, which was an even lighter shade of gray than his right one. He was clad in makeshift Death Eater robes that were torn along the seams and barely covered his pale skin. Without missing a beat, the man through the invisibility cloak onto the bed and proceeded to resume the position where Narcissa had been a few minutes prior. He said nothing to Snape, who merely stared back at him.
"I'm sorry you had to hear that Draco," Snape said, his voice never wavering from its consistent tone. "And I'm sorry that you can't be with your mother. If she were to see you now in this condition, Merlin knows what she'd do."
Draco merely kept a firm gaze out of the window as he saw his mother head out into the returning storm. Snape walked over and placed a hand on the younger Malfoy's shoulder for but a moment, before turning back to the room. Removing his wand he transfigured the small chair into a larger couch and pillow. "We'll sleep here tonight," he said firmly.
"Who's Lily?" Draco finally said, his gaze still not leaving the window.
"No one you need to concern yourself with," Snape retorted, after contemplating the question for a few moments. "Now get some sleep. I have to put in an appearance with the Dark Lord tomorrow, you'll be safe here for a few days yet. Hopefully by that time we'll have received a letter from our benefactor instructing us on the future."
Draco wished to know who the benefactor was that Snape kept mentioning, but he simply let the subject rest for now. Taking a last look out of the window he maintained an even keel, despite the solitary tear that fell down his face in time with the falling rain. He turned, and waited to confront sleep.
Elsewhere in the wizarding world a lone figure had already been embraced in sleep. A loud roar of a thunderclap later and he was up in a rush.
The figure was clad solely in boxers, his deep blue eyes darting this way and that. The pale moonlight and limited light from the street lamps outside revealed the scars which darted across his body this way and that. After a few moments to make sure that he was in fact just startled from a rather pleasant dream, he took a deep sigh and lowered the wand which had sprung to his grasp when he had awoken.
Grimacing as he saw the time from the non-magical watch sitting on his nightstand, he quickly deduced that sleep would not return anytime soon. Sighing he outstretched his hand and a deep blue bathrobe quickly came to him. Slipping it on he opened the door and headed downstairs to his kitchen.
After placing a kettle of hot water on the stove, the man grabbed a glass and teabag from the counter overhead. He glanced out the window every few seconds, and before long his gaze returned to the window over the sink and noticed a curious thing sitting on the fence in his yard. Lowering the heat on the kettle he walked over to the window and took a closer look. There in the lamp light he could see the outline of a tabby cat, curiously perched on the fence, staring straight at him. After pondering this sight for a moment he smiled to himself and opened the window.
"You can come in if you like," the man said, the grin not leaving his face. The cat surprisingly obliged and jumped from the fence onto the ground. After climbing up a flight of stairs to the deck, it jumped up onto the windowsill and then onto the kitchen counter. Idly, the man scratched underneath the cat's chin, a gesture that the cat didn't seem to appreciate.
"Oh come now, you alway liked that when I did it before...Minerva." At this notion the cat jumped to the floor and began to change shape. The orange fur melted away to reveal emerald green robes and slightly rosy flesh underneath. After a moment the shape of Minerva McGonagall appeared where the cat had once been.
"Seriously Demetrius," the woman said with a shake, "I don't have time for your nonsense. And besides, that was a long time ago." There was a hint of pleasure in the last bit as her voice tapered off, leaving Demetrius to consider it. There momentary reunion was interrupted by the loud whistle of a tea kettle.
"Well, perfect timing. Care for a cup of tea? It's Earl Gray..."
"Yes, thank you."
Demetrius walked over and grabbed another glass and bag from the cabinet. He poured the hot water into the two mugs and placed the bags in a second later. Banishing the kettle to the sink to deal with later, he headed towards the small sitting area table where McGonagall had taken a seat.
"One lump please."
Smiling and shaking head head, Demetrius complied, and handed the cup to Minerva. "After all these years Minerva," he said with a smile still on his face, "you still haven't changed a thing about you."
"Perhaps not this..." she trailed off as she took stock of the room. The sitting room was connected to the larger living area, which actually looked quite mugglelish all things considered save for the small pad of parchment and quill on the oak desk and the grayish owl asleep in a cage in the corner. There were twin bookcases on the far end of the room, each filled with various books that had been enchanted to appear as normal Muggle novels but to a magical eye would actually be a rather impressive library of spells and tomes. "I'm sorry to visit you at such a late hour," Minerva continued, turning away from her inspection of the house, "but frankly we have a serious problem."
"Yes I read your last owl," Demetrius responded, regarding the witch in front of him. Age had only improved her looks in his mind, where as it had taken it's toll on him. Minerva too regarded the shoulder-length brown hair that had a slight hint of gray along the sides, and the rugged chin and goatee that gave him a roguish appearance. Both regarded each other in this way for a few moments before continuing their conversation.
"Then you know what a problem we have. The governors are still debating now and it's looking more and more likely that the school will be closed. If the students are left to their own devices...they'll be easy targets."
"I agree." He concluded this simple statement by swirling the bag around in his mug for a moment before continuing. "The question is what do we do about it?"
"Well...several families, the Weasleys for example, are actively campaigning to keep the school open. The other professors and myself are going door to door trying to convince parents that Hogwarts is the safest place for their children...but we aren't making much headway..." she trailed off before continuing, trying to formulate this next thought precisely. Though Demetrius had an inkling what she would ask, he kept to himself.
"Demetrius, that's partially why I'm here. It would greatly help my position if I could say that the great Demetrius Longshanks was going to be returning to Hogwarts and teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts." Demetrius chuckled as he stood up and headed towards the kitchen.
"I gave that job up years ago," Demetrius said without pause, "What's changed other than having Voldemort back that would make me change my mind?"
Minerva followed Demetrius into the kitchen, where he was attentively washing out the kettle he had used earlier. "Demetrius, people are going to die if Hogwarts doesn't reopen..."
"Seems likely to me people are going to die anyway."
"Yes but at least at Hogwarts they'd have a chance. The ministry is going to be stationing Aurors at the castle at all hours of the day."
"If Voldemort attacks in force on the castle, you won't hold it. You might hold out, even make him work at it, but if the man can break into Azkaban without difficulty, Hogwarts castle will fall just as easily." He paused a moment before continuing, "The only chance you really have is if you had more forces..."
"Which is exactly why we need you. You're the foremost expert on wizard's duels in the country, probably throughout Europe. Need I go into your many accomplishments as former Deputy Head of the Auror Department too?"
"That won't be necessary," Demetrius replied, heading back for the sitting area. Instead of taking a chair he contemplated the area outside, where the storm had completely passed, and considered the offer placed before him. "If I accept, their would be certain conditions."
"I can be as accommodating as possible."
"Good...firstly I'd be supplying the text books. Nothing against you're vaunted Hogwarts staff and governors, but you need books for the younger years that actually teach them something. Secondly I'll teach the class my way. I promise you if there's something that would make you cringe or the Ministry would frown upon with lifetime passes to Azkaban, then I'll get your approval first."
"Those sound reasonable..."
"I'm not finished. Finally, I'll require a list of every sixth and seventh year student that will be attending as soon as you can have it available."
"I'll be creating a special section of Defense. Let's face it, if Voldemort attacks in force you're going to need all the help you can get..."
"I'm not going to use the students as my own personal army!"
"I'm not asking you to. It's simply as a defense of last resort to protect the castle should the aurors and whatever other reinforcements we can dig up fail. This term is non-negotiable Minerva, take it or leave it." Minerva contemplated this but for a moment before her reply.
"Very well. I will send an owl to the professors tomorrow telling them about our newest teacher." She paused and went back to the living area. There on the wall, something she had not noticed before, sat a few pictures that obviously were of a wizarding origin. A few pictures of herself and Longshanks she ignored, it was the center photo of one Albus Dumbledore, there posing with a much younger Demetrius Longshanks as he received his Order of Merlin award, that caught her eye and brought a tear.
"I can't believe he's really gone sometimes," Demetrius said, noticing the look on McGonagall's face. "How's the Order faring without him?"
"Frankly we're lost without Professor Dumbledore. We still are acting, but there's less of an organization to it. We're running around like a bunch of birds with our heads cut off." She paused a moment before turning back to Demetrius, "Perhaps you could..."
"No," he flat out responded. "There's only one person who can lead the Order right now. Only one person uniquely qualified to do so, and it certainly isn't me.