Disclaimer: Some of these characters are the intellectual property of JK Rowling, while those you do not recognise are my own. No monetary profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
AN: Special thanks go out to my beta, Bil, who has done a fantastic job. This chapter is dedicated to my friend Kit, who heard the story first.
Chapter One: There and Back Again
'The Battle of Britain is about to begin … Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour'".' - Winston Churchill
The halls of Hogwarts were utterly silent. The whole castle: the paintings, the ghosts, the amours lined up against the wall, were all subdued, as if they too were mourning the death of Cedric Diggory. To Severus, the only thing more painful than the loss of one of his students was the circumstances that had brought it about. The Dark Lord had returned. The idea was so terrible he did not want to believe it, but Severus did not have the chimerical luxury of denial; he had seen the Dark Lord with his own eyes. Severus had spent a week in the company of the Dark Lord, risking everything to return to the one who he had sworn never again to serve.
Pushing such thoughts to the deepest recesses of his mind, Severus made his way to the Great Hall. Dinner was about to begin, and an appearance would be required to show Albus and his students he had returned.
In order to account for his abrupt departure, rumor was spread of a "family emergency"- it was utter drivel of course, but it was the only explanation given. His godson had likely deduced the true reason for his absence and Severus could only hope that Draco kept that tidbit of information to himself.
Severus entered the Great Hall, his eyes sweeping over the assembled students. At the Slytherin table, Miss Parkinson nudged Draco and hissed, 'He's back.' A few others glanced up from their plates as he prowled by and seated himself at the Head Table, but most kept their heads bowed. The Hufflepuff table was especially solemn.
'Welcome back, Severus. I am glad to see you are well,' Albus said, his usual smile was conspicuously absent.
Severus merely scowled, heaping generous amounts of food onto his plate. The Headmaster gave him a concerned look, but Severus forestalled any attempts of further probing by taking a large bite of salmon.
Clunk, clunk, clunk. Moody hobbled into the Great Hall and made his way to the Head Table, though he faltered when he spotted the Potions Master. Moody quickly recovered and took a seat- as far away as he could manage.
Minerva arrived next, slightly breathless as she hurried to the table. 'I'm sorry for being late, Albus, I happened upon Miss Chang in the corridor…'
Albus waved his hand. 'No need to apologise, Minerva.' He sighed heavily. 'I fully understand.'
The Transfiguration teacher sat on Severus's other side. She nodded to him in greeting, but said nothing, which suited him just fine. Taking a sip from his goblet, Severus became aware of the feeling of being watched. Lifting his eyes from his plate, he immediately spotted the culprit: Potter. The boy was frowning at him, eyes full of suspicion.
There was the rustling of robes and Severus looked away. Albus had set down his cutlery and risen to his feet. The hall immediately fell silent. 'The end,' Albus gazed at the students, the grief, as well as the fear and uncertainty apparent on the children's faces, 'of another year.'
Severus remained silent through the speech, except to give the toast to Mr. Diggory, his face a stoic mask. Beside him, Minerva blinked rapidly, her lip trembling. Further down the table, Pomona blew loudly into her handkerchief.
'…we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Lord Voldemort's gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.
'It is my belief—and never have I so hoped that I am mistaken—that we are all facing dark and difficult times.'
The clock struck midnight as Severus flung the door open and stalked into the staff room which (with the addition of half a dozen chairs) had become the improvisatory Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix.
Albus glanced up from his conversation with Elphias Doge as Severus found an unoccupied spot in the crowded room and leaned against the wall. 'Now that everyone is present, we shall begin. But first, I would like to introduce or rather re-introduce someone I believe you all know.' The Headmaster gestured to a form behind him and a massive black mutt stood and transformed into Sirius Black.
There was a collective shout from the room. Both Diggle and his hat toppled out of his chair; a black man in red Auror robes leapt to his feet drawing his wand; Hagrid roared, 'TRAITOR!' and pulled out his bumbershoot, and a squat, black-haired witch fainted dead away (she was caught by Sturgis Podmore, who looked quite pale himself.)
'Silence!' At Albus's command they all quieted, though they looked at Black with fear; the Auror did not lower his wand. 'I have spoken with Sirius and he has given me irrefutable proof of his innocence. He is no more a servant of Voldemort than I am.' Dumbledore paused at that point, allowing for Sturgis to revive the witch with a wave of his wand. 'Sirius Black is here at my invitation, as is every single one of you.'
Hagrid shrugged his massive shoulders. 'If Dumbledore trusts him,' he announced to the room, 'tha's good enough fer me.'
The Auror lowered his wand. 'Are you saying I've been chasing the wrong man all over Britain? I've spent hundreds of hours looking for him, all the Aurors have been-'
'Wasting their time, Shacklebolt,' Black interrupted, crossing his arms and lifting his chin; a pose that reminded Severus acutely of Regulus. 'I didn't betray James and Lily.'
'Then who did?' Sturgis asked, eyeing the Azkaban escapee suspiciously.
'Pettigrew,' Lupin said, speaking from his place at the table. 'Peter Pettigrew betrayed the Potters to Voldemort.'
This revelation produced more shocked exclamations and Diggle's hat once again found itself on the floor. Despite the numerous interruptions, Black's whole story—the bluff, his imprisonment, his escape and his attempt to catch Pettigrew—was eventually told.
At its conclusion the room was silent before Elphias asked Black, 'How long… how long was Peter working for You-Know-Who?'
'From what I've heard, over a year, but it's hard to know for sure, Azkaban inmates aren't exactly a truthful lot.' Black's eyes flicked over to Severus briefly, his eyes hard.
Mad-Eye growled. 'Why didn't we know about this sooner?' He demanded. His electric blue eye swiveled towards Severus, though his next words were directed at Albus. 'Isn't that what we have Snape for? Or maybe he knew all along and didn't think it was worth mentioning?'
At this accusation, everyone turned toward him- Mad-Eye smirked.
Severus surveyed the group: the suspicion was apparent on many of their faces, while others- Albus, Minerva, Molly Weasley, Arthur, and most surprisingly, Lupin- were looking at him without any animosity. Shacklebolt merely looked perplexed. Severus hesitated. The Auror along with the dark-haired witch were new to the Order… he was now forced to damn himself once more.
'The Dark Lord has many secrets,' he said, selecting his words carefully. 'There is much He did not and shall not tell, even to the most loyal. The Dark Lord has worked very hard to assure that only He Himself knows the identity of all His supporters. That was the very reason why Igor Karkaroff was able to give less than half a dozen names in his own defense.'
'Which included you,' Mad-Eye snarled.
Severus flinched before he could compose himself. 'If you recall, Alastor,' he snarled through gritted teeth, 'I was the one who deduced the Dark Lord had a spy in the Order, and I was the one who informed you all of that fact. If it was not for my information the Potters would not have hid under the Fidelius Charm.'
Mad-Eye opened his mouth to argue, but was silenced by Albus's quiet, 'That's enough, Alastor.' The group fell into an awkward silence. Severus could feel Shacklebolt's eyes on him, and kept his gaze determinedly locked on the opposite wall.
Arthur shifted in his seat and cleared his throat. 'What are we to do now, Albus? Cornelius Fudge may not accept You-Know-Who is back, but we must do something.'
The Headmaster smiled. 'You need not worry, Arthur, I do not plan on just sitting idly by. I have spoken to Hagrid and Madame Maxime and they have agreed to leave tomorrow to act as envoys to the giants. I hope that they will either persuade them to become our allies, or at the very least not to become our enemies. I myself will address the International Confederation of Wizards; Cornelius may not accept Voldemort's rebirth, but I believe I shall be able convince a number of the representatives regardless.'
'Do you think you will be able to convince Britain's other representative?' Doge asked. 'If she is not on our side it could make things quite difficult.'
Albus smiled, his eyes twinkling as if he was in on some private joke. 'I know Miss Ahlgrim quite well- I consider her a close friend of mine. I firmly believe she will be among our strongest allies in the Confederation.'
The news appeared to put Doge at ease, though Severus doubted there was much a Mugwump could do- no matter how often she had the Headmaster over for tea. Their biggest enemy in the Ministry was Cornelius Fudge, and he had already made his views quite clear.
'What about the goblins?' Bill Weasley asked.
Dung snorted in his drink. 'Goblins? What do we want 'em fer? We don' need no rebellin'!'
Filius frowned, but several laughed. Lupin however, nodded. 'Bill is right, they are a part of our world. Voldemort is as much of a threat to them as He is to us.'
Emmeline Vance leaned forward. 'I agree. We need all the allies we can manage. You-Know-Who is certainly searching for them- I say we do the same. We should put aside our differences and work together.'
'Hear, hear!' squeaked Filius, raising his teacup in a toast.
'Would you talk to the goblins, then?' Albus asked, peering at Bill through his spectacles.
'I don't see too many when I'm out hunting treasure… I suppose I could request a transfer, get a desk job…' Weasley did not look too thrilled at the prospect.
'What about the students, Albus?' Minerva asked. 'Will Hogsmeade Station and Platform Nine and Three-Quarters be safe?'
It was as if a dementor had swept into the room. Molly stifled a cry behind her hands, while a pale Black sunk down next to Lupin.
'There, there, Molly…' Arthur put his arm around his wife. 'We'll get the students home safe and sound.' He looked to Albus. 'Do you think King's Cross will be targeted again?'
'No, at this point Tom is gathering allies and information; He will not strike until He is ready.'
Many did not look convinced, so Severus chipped in his two Knuts. He crossed his arms over his chest, attempting to ignore the slight shaking in his hands. The muscle relaxant he had drank earlier was beginning to wear off. 'King's Cross is safe, as safe as anywhere can be at this time. The Dark Lord has yet to attack the same place twice. It is a set pattern and He has not deviated from it.'
'Yet,' Mad-Eye growled. 'I'd rather not bank the safety of the students on a "pattern".'
'Only a fool would attack King's Cross tomorrow,' Severus snarled. 'The Minister has denied the Dark Lord's return, thus leaving everyone susceptible to attack. If the Dark Lord were to attack King's Cross, it would only serve to prove He really has returned. No, He will wait, reorganise His followers, reclaim His allies, and then, when He is ready, He will strike.'
'Severus is right,' Lupin said slowly, causing many to look at the werewolf in surprise, and Black to spit out his drink in shock. 'Because of Fudge, Voldemort virtually has free reign. He's going to use that to His full advantage; He wouldn't throw all that away so soon.'
The general room mumbled their agreement and Albus clapped his hands together. 'Now that that particular matter has been dealt with, shall we move on?
'Tom has regained His body a scant week ago, yet we already know a great deal of what He has been up to. Severus, at great personal risk, has returned to spy on Voldemort, and he has been able to learn some of what Tom is planning.'
After the Leaving Feast, the Headmaster had summoned him to his office to hear his report. Albus had little to say in response to Severus's information, though he had made it clear that when he was to reiterate his report for the benefit of the Order he was to leave nothing out. Severus had immediately objected- if the Order only doled out information on a need-to-know basis, leaks would be less likely to occur. But the Headmaster had remained adamant that he was to share everything. Including the existence of the thrice-damned prophecy.
Severus flicked his eyes over to Albus, who merely nodded. Tearing his eyes away, he sneered at the assembled group. 'The Dark Lord is in high spirits, despite His failure to do away with Potter the night of the Third Task. As the Ministry has yet to attempt any action against Him, the Dark Lord knows Fudge does not believe He has return. The Aurors were among His main concerns and without them He is able to focus on more important matters… such as the prophecy about Potter and the Dark Lord.'
The silence in the staff room was absolute and lasted for a good many moments.
'What prophecy?' Black asked, looking at the other Order members, hoping one of them knew what was going on. 'What prophecy?' he repeated, his voice rising.
The werewolf stared at the dregs in his tea. 'I suspected something like this had happened,' he said quietly. 'Remember that night at Godric's Hollow, around Valentine's Day?'
Black nodded slowly. 'I thought Lily was acting a bit off… but I just assumed she was worried about the baby.'
'So did I, but then I overheard her talking to James… Lily was going on about Voldemort going after the baby; she kept on saying they needed to be careful. After I heard that… I knew was something going on, but I just didn't know what.'
'Why didn't you tell me?' Black demanded.
'If Lily had wanted us to know, she would have told us herself,' Lupin said evenly.
Black, unable to think of a rejoinder, sulked for a moment before asking impatiently, 'Well, what does the bloody thing say?'
'I am afraid I cannot tell you,' Albus said to Severus's surprise. 'It is not that-'
'He's my godson!' Black leapt to his feet, toppling his chair. 'I deserve to know!'
Severus could not help feeling a bit smug. He might not know the entire prophecy, but he still knew more of it than the mongrel did.
Albus raised his hand. 'Sirius, I understand it must be frustrating for you, but we simply cannot risk-'
'-Cannot risk Voldemort discovering the contents of the prophecy.'
'What we are concerned about, Black,' Severus drawled, 'is another one of your mates ratting on us.'
Black's eyes flashed and Lupin flinched.
'Severus?' Minerva asked stiffly. 'Have you anything else to say?'
Severus finished his report, though admittedly there was not much he could give that the Order had not already surmised. General warnings, half-formed plans and speculation were all he knew.
'Well done, Severus.' Albus's eyes were solemn, his gaze understanding in such a way that Severus suspected the Headmaster at least had some inkling of what he had gone through to be allowed back in the Dark Lord's fold.
The Headmaster stood and chairs scraped across the stone floor as everyone followed suit. 'We shall reconvene on the fifth. If we have not found another location suitable for Headquarters, we shall meet here. Until then, try and convince those you can, and, as always, stay vigilant.'
The rest of the Order members lingered, but Severus had no wish to converse and slipped out of the staff room. He was almost to his quarters when his mind belatedly registered the sound of footfalls trailing him. He glanced over his shoulder then whipped around, unsheathing his wand.
Black was shaking with fury, teeth bared, wand out and a truly mad look in his eyes. Shockingly, he looked near tears. 'You bloody bastard,' he rasped. 'I'll kill you for this!'
'You've already tried, Black,' Severus said snidely, trying to sort out what the hell Black was going on about.
'And I wish it worked! I wish Moony had ripped you to shreds!'
He tightened his grip on his wand; it was public knowledge Black despised him, but still the rancor in Black's voice was beyond anything he had heard before.
'You made Regulus become a Death Eater- don't deny it, Bellatrix- Bellatrix told me! If it weren't for you-' Black sputtered, his rage choking his words.
'And your cousin certainly told the unimpeachable truth,' he sneered.
There was a flicker of doubt in Black's eyes, but it was driven away. 'Plavato!'
He ducked and the curse soared overhead. 'Expelliarmus!'
Black erected a shield and the red sparks glanced off; Severus seethed. He was exhausted, in pain and in no shape for a duel.
"A Disarming Spell? Going soft, Snivellus?'
He snarled, frightfully tempted to cast a Dark Spell or two, instead he nonverbally cast Levicorpus and Liberacorpus in rapid succession- Black was yanked up into the air by his ankles and then dropped painfully on his head with an echoing crack. 'Not so amusing, is it?' Severus sneered.
The mutt scrambled to his feet. 'Ictus!'
'Prote-' The hex hit him full on the face and he staggered back, blood spurting from his nose.
'You forced him into it!' Black roared advancing, though his wand was no longer pointed at him. 'You as good as killed him!'
Severus stiffened. 'I fail to see why you would care,' he sneered.
'He was my brother!' The shout echoed in the stone corridor, the word brother reverberating around them.
'You never cared about that fact before! You didn't give a damn about him!' Seeing Black was about protest, he barreled on. 'As soon as he befriended me you gave him up as a lost cause! If you cared so much, why didn't you try and stop him? But no, you ran away when he needed you the most!' His lip curled in disgust. 'Regulus was twice the man you are!'
Black snarled and pointed his wand straight at Severus's heart. He screamed, 'Crucio!'
The curse slammed into his chest and he collapsed, limbs jerking, nerves aflame as a scream tore through his throat. The pain couldn't be borne, he was going to die… in the distance a terrified voice was yelling, 'Finite! Finite! Finite Incantatem!'
It stopped. His arms and legs twitched spasmodically and his chest heaved with the effort to breathe.
Black was white as a sheet, eyes wide, a look of dawning horror on his face. 'I-no oh no, Merlin, I didn't…'
Severus continued to lie on the cold stone, struggling to bring his body back under control.
There was a popping noise and he managed to focus his eyes long enough to see a black dog running away.