An Order meeting was in session in the basement of Grimmauld Place. Snape, as per usual, gave his report at the beginning, curt and to the point, before sinking back into the shadows to observe with glittering black eyes. Mad-eye Moody made paranoid comments about his trustworthiness. Sirius Black made scathing queries about his true loyalty. Dumbledore assured everyone else of his faith in the spy. This was nothing out of the ordinary. What happened next, was.
The fire flared green and spat out a paper airplane. Now, this in itself was not a shocking event. In fact, it was a common way to send urgent messages, if more expensive than owl post due to the rising cost of floo powder. What was shocking was that the very few who knew where to find the Order of the Phoenix headquarters were already present - or so most of them had believed. This was enough to send a few into a panic, thinking it to be a trap of some kind. They need not have worried, however, for the airplane was headed for none of them. Rather, the aerodynamic parchment flew like a bullet from a gun towards the man in the shadows - Snape.
With reflexes that had served him well in the past, Snape whipped out his wand and shot off a silent impedimenta, causing the airplane to stop in mid-air and the nose to crumple slightly, as though it had hit an invisible wall. Snape reached out a thin-fingered hand and plucked the parchment neatly out of the air in front of a bewildered Order.
Dumbledore in particular was eyeing the parchment with interest. "Is that not the Leclair crest, Severus?" he asked delicately, looking at the coat of arms of fleur-de-lis in the four corners of a shield below a crossed wand and rapier and above the words 'In vita est nex'.
Snape, however, made no answer. Instead he stared at the parchment unfolded before him, his face whitening dramatically with every passing second. Without warning he stood and without a word swiftly made his way to the fire. Throwing in a handful of floo powder he intoned quietly, "Chateau Leclair, De inimico non loquaris sed cogites" and with his wand drawn, disappeared in a flash of emerald flames, his black eyes glittering dangerously.
The Order was left in a state of silent shock, all completely bewildered by their spy's actions. Dumbledore quietly reached over towards the abandoned parchment and read it, the eyes of the Order upon him.
"Oh dear," he said quietly.
"What is it Albus?" Minerva McGonagall said urgently. "Where has Severus gone?"
Dumbledore, in lieu of replying, read the note aloud into the encroaching silence.
The wards are down. Opponents remaining number nine. Madame is dead. Assistance requested.
"But what does it mean?" asked Tonks as she watched Mad-eye examine the parchment for enchantments and fraud.
"It means," stated Dumbledore heavily, his face grave, "that we will shortly be hosting a new house-guest."
An hour later, the Order was still milling around. Their meeting had long since concluded, but everyone was waiting anxiously for the return of their resident Death-Eater-turned-Good-Guy. Amidst the quiet conversations, Dumbledore sat silently, his thoughts his own.
Suddenly, the fire flared green and out stepped Snape, limping slightly and holding a pack of ice to his left temple. The Order immediately bombarded him with questions, those who had been seated leaping to their feet at the sight of Snape's injuries. The man in question, however, made answer to none. Instead, he turned back to the fire, as though expecting something. Not a moment later, a trunk appeared which Snape took out of the flames and placed off to the side. Still he was silent. Finally, the fire flared for a third time.
Out stepped another dark figure, also tall, also thin, also slim-fingered. He was clutching his left arm to his chest with his right, though this did nothing to lessen the natural grace with which he moved. Snape gently reached into the flames and helped the stranger out, shocking much of the Order. Snape rarely sought physical contact with another. Not so with this one; he kept his hand on the stranger's shoulder as he straightened up and lifted his head to take in the watchful stares.
There was a tense quiet as the Order contemplated the new-comer, one who must have been greatly trusted to be granted welcome to Headquarters. Finally, Snape broke the silence, gesturing at the small crowd of people briefly.
"Ashley, this is the Order of the Phoenix."
To the rest of them he motioned to the young man next to him, the one with dark hair pulled back with a silk ribbon, the one with expensive black robes that they now noticed were ripped and singed in places, the one with ankle-high dragon-hide boots and the one with a ring on the second finger of his right hand. Dumbledore alone noticed that it bore the same coat-of-arms as the letter head of the hasty note. What Snape said next only confirmed the old wizard's suspicions.
"May I introduce Ashley Etienne Theon Snape Leclair. My son."
Of course, pandemonium ensued.
Most of the comments being made were quite tame in nature, generally ones of surprise and mild incredulity. Some, however, namely those made by one Sirius Black, were more offensive.
Snape, of course, was not unused to nor unprepared for such a reaction. Ashley, however, was not, nor was he in any mood to be dealing with them, and though no obvious outward sign was given, his father seemed to sense this for he quickly snapped out, "If you could perhaps save your inane commentary for a more appropriate time, medical attention for my son and myself would be appreciated."
Most of the Order looked appropriately abashed at this and Hestia Jones, the resident healer, rushed forwards with pink cheeks to tend to their wounds, as it were.
Ashley submitted his arm to the healer's examination in silence, in no mood to meet and greet these people. Snape observed him surreptitiously but said nothing, obviously waiting until they were in private before speaking of anything of importance.
Dumbledore looked on all of this with eyes that twinkled a merry blue, though his face seemed more lined than usual. "Perhaps Mrs. Weasley can show young Ashley to a room for the night," he suggested lightly, his eyes on Snape, clearly telling him to stay behind and explain just what had happened.
Snape nodded and looked to his son who was just having his arm bandaged by Hestia. "I will come speak with you once I have completed my report, Ashley," he said.
"Of course, Father," Ashley replied, standing and following Mrs. Weasley out of the room and up the stairs.
At his words, several eyebrows rose, as though they had not really expected Snape to have been speaking the truth when he claimed the lad as his son.
Snape's black eyes followed his child to the door and rested there for several long moments, lost in thought, oblivious or consciously ignoring the impatient shifting of the waiting Order members.
Finally, he turned to address the Headmaster and gave his report.
As Snape stepped out of the fireplace, he was immediately forced to duck as a bolt of blue-purple light came shooting straight for his head. Rolling behind a nearby sofa, he managed to shield his body from most of the flying debris caused by the exploding mantle behind him. One large chunk unfortunately struck him in the left temple, stunning him slightly. Reaching up to feel for blood, he hunkered down in his sheltered spot, thinking as quickly as he could and blinking quickly to clear his oddly foggy vision.
Taking a deep breath, Snape waited for a slight break in the fire before sneaking a look out from behind the sofa to take stock of the situation.
He had, inadvertently, chosen a particularly horrible place to shelter himself - not that there was much to choose from. The sofa he was currently hiding behind was near the centre of the room and slightly off to the side furthest from any doors. The stained-glass windows of what he now realized was the Entrance Hall were far too high up to be of any use. Currently there were four bodies lying strewn about the Hall in varying states of near-death. They all seemed to have been exposed to something noxious, as one of them was blue from asphyxiation and the other three were frothing at the mouth, eyes wide and white, limbs flailing in panic. Snape felt a sort of grim pride in what he assumed was his son's handiwork - Snape had taught him well in the fine art of potions and what was seen here was a prime example of the use of the Throttling Draught.
Forcing himself to focus on the present, Snape counted two figures in Death Eater garb to his left, each cached away in a small alcove where marble statues once stood, and three more to his right, sheltered behind the remains of the grand oak front door. As he watched, the back wall of the alcove behind one of those on the left slid to the side and two arms stretched out, pulling the man into the darkness beyond.
Crouching back down quickly behind his make-shift shelter, Snape reviewed what he knew. Of the nine opponents, four were confirmed dead or dying in the centre of the Hall, one was confirmed incapacitated in a hidden room. That left four to deal with, with one ally, Ashley, armed and, he gathered, in decent fighting condition. He had seen worse odds. In addition, it was clear that Ashley knew his surroundings well enough to use them to his advantage.
Just as he had this thought, the piece of blank wall behind him opened up slowly.
His wand in front of him, Snape waited. Shortly, a pale hand emerged and tossed something into the centre of the room. Instantly, the entire hall was filled with an overwhelming blackness. Peruvian Darkness Powder, was all he had time to think before a long-fingered hand grabbed his arm and shuffled them off into the cloud of false night.
From the sound of it, they were in a small enclosed tunnel that wound and twisted. A hand on the wall revealed it to be made of a smooth, cool stone, dry and clean. These halls were obviously well cared for.
Abruptly, they halted and his arm was released. A muttered moment later and wall-sconces lit, revealing a smalling, round stone room from which seven hallways branched off. Before him stood the pale-faced Ashley. Blood spatters covered his face and his fine robes were ripped. His expression was one of stone.
"Father," was all he said.
"Ashely," he replied. First things first. "Are you injured?"
"I am not," he replied.
"Then perhaps you will allow me to assist you in dispatching the final opponents," he asked.
"That would be much appreciated," the teen replied blankly.
"I have kept one for questioning," he commented as he led the way down another of the halls, to where, Snape knew not.
"Good," Snape said shortly. This may have been his son's first experience in a real battle situation, but it was most certainly not his own, and he wanted to know just exactly how they had managed to breach what he had been assured were unbreakable wards.
Shortly, Ashley led them to what appeared to be a dead-end wall, but with a murmured password and a press to a certain brick, the wall slid away like the others revealing the dark night outside. Just on the edge of the horizon, Snape could see the beginnings of dawn creeping out, and the air was thick and warm.
Following Ashley's lead along the wall, Snape soon recognized that they were on the eastern edge of the castle. They quickly came upon the corner leading to the north side of the building and paused to peer around just in time to see the three Death Eaters entering through the remains of the broken door. Ashley snarled under his breath but did not move, waiting for his father's word before going forward.
"Try to draw some of them out," Snape said softly, "but not too many at once - they have the advantage when we're out in the open. We want to keep them contained."
Ashley nodded briefly before sprinting off in the direction of some topiary. The last Death Eater going into the manor either heard or saw him; either way, he alerted his companions and they took off after him.
What they seemed to have forgotten, of course, was Snape. Big no-no.
He was waiting and a well-placed slicing curse neatly slit the throat of the third figure out the door. The first one had already pursued Ashley into the maze of hedges beyond, and the second immediately realized his disadvantage of being the only one left without cover. He was obviously of decent intelligence because he did exactly what Snape would've done: he bombarded the corner of the wall behind which Snape was crouching with a flurry of light blasting curses while backing towards the garden. Once he was close enough, he made a break for it.
Snape sighted down his wand - but swore to himself and lowered his hand, spell unfired. His aim at such a distance was not reliable and it would be a wasted effort. Resigning himself to the fact that for now he would have to trust Ashley to take care of himself, Snape turned back to the doorway that currently housed his two remaining opponents. They would not remain long.
Removing two vials from his cloak, Snape tossed one into the air and held it up with a quick spell, levitating it rapidly through the broken door. The Death Eaters behaved just as he thought they would: their first instinct was to shoot a blasting curse on sight of movement. The vial, of course, exploded, allowing the pale green gas within to spread and fill the room. By this time, Snape was at the door, and then sprinting through it towards them.
Their next reaction, having seen the effect the last potion had on their comrades, was to dissipate the perceived poison. How were they to know that it was nothing more than a harmless coloured cloud, aimed precisely for this, to distract and deceive? The further of the two Death Eaters conjured a wind to blow the green smoke back at Snape while the closer one performed a quick bubble-head charm. Keyword: quick. Meaning it would function fully by filtering air for a minute at most, if he was of average power; then he would be reduced to the air in the bubble itself, meaning another few seconds before he began breathing in his own carbon dioxide.
From there, it was as a dance.
Step. Launch a sticking curse at the closer of the two opponents' feet to ensure he always knew where he was.
Step. Roll under the Closer's cutting curse and the smoke to keep clear vision.
Step. Transfigure the Further's robes to cement to slow his movement.
Step. Roll under spell-fire again (something really had to be done about the Closer).
Step. Jelly legs jinx at the Further (now he was really in trouble).
Step. Half turn out of the way of a third spell. Throw an expelliarmus at the Closer (he was now immobile and without a wand). Complete the turn.
Step. Uncork the second vial with a flick of his wand.
Step. Toss the contents into the face of the Further who was just now managing to turn his wand towards himself to counter the transfigurations, but was too late to stop the acid now burning down his throat and through his trachea walls.
Step, slow. Disarm the Further from a distance, as always.
Walk back to the Closer man. Catch him with a fumbling hex before he can pull his feet out of his charmed shoes.
Watch from the corner as they both suffocate, one from lack of available oxygen, the other from the air passing in through his mouth but never reaching his lungs, exiting instead through the hole in his neck.
Slip back to the door. Check the area is secure before dashing in the direction of the garden. In the direction of his son.
This dance was done. Now on to the next.
The first sign that alerted to Snape that his son was in decent condition was a little hard to miss.
It appeared in the form of the blue-faced body of the first Death Eater. He was still being strangled by a fledgling Devil's Snare which normally would not have had the strength to defeat him, even without the wand that was currently being twirled idly by an unoccupied vine. That was normally, were it not for the animated unicorn-shaped topiary bush which was now behaving in a most un-unicorn-ish way. As it was, the man was pinned to the soft grass by its front hooves, its single, thorned horn tickling his cold chin threateningly and its tail tossing playfully.
It would seem that the Snape-obsession with asphyxiation ran true to its blood. Snape allowed a rare mile to grace his sallow face before moving on.
The first sign that Ashley was not doing as well as he might hope was much less evident.
It appeared not in a visible form at first, but a olfactory one: smoke. Snape made his way cautiously through the labyrinth of hedgerows, taking care to avoid any statues and topiary should Ashley have been a little over-zealous in his animations, and ducking around the venemous tantacula which had apparently been recently provoked.
Really, what was Madame thinking, planting such dangerous things near as curious a child as Ashley? Like a stunner to the head, he realized he would never be able to argue the point with her. He knew without having to ask, though, that what she would want now (read: be reprimanding with an intense barrage of sarcasm and insults) was for him to cease thinking about things which he could not change and focus, you immense, unhygienic imbecile on looking after my illiterate heir.
His step quickened in the direction the smoke led. him. Soon enough, he came to what at first seemed to simply be a large courtyard, but he soon realized was at one time a rose garden. Currently it resembled more of a war zone. Great craters littered the ground and roses were strewn about, their petals great splashes of crimson, pink, yellow, and the occasional white against the fresh black soil. As he observed this scene a white stone bench crawled feebly by, making little headway with its two remaining limbs, while a marble, kelpie-shaped fountain in the corner put out the remains of the flames.
He noticed all this in the fraction on an instant it took him to assess the situation, but the bulk of his attention was drawn to the centre of the garden where Ashley stood, his robes smoking faintly. A large boxwood to one side was still smoldering.
Snape guessed that Ashley had been using guerrilla tactics thus far, as was his preferred style, but that the opposing Death Eater had tired of his methods and forced him into an open fight. He obviously thought that this was one he could more easily win, and had Snape not considered him a vital enemy, he would have lauded the man his tactics - they were the same he tended to employ when dueling Ashley.
That he had again had the same thoughts as the Death Eater worried him. It meant that he was no pushover. And while Ashley himself was the top of his dueling class, he had yet to defeat Snape in an open duel.
Currently, Ashley was doing an admirable job of distracting the Death Eater, tying his feet together with rose branches, blowing smoke at him, blasting loose earth into this eyes and sending babbling, tap-dancing, and over-powered cheering charms at him. While relatively harmless at first glance, any of these charms' effects could give a dueler the advantage needed to place a winning strike. In addition, they were low-powered and had simple wand movements and incantations, meaning that they could be fired at an extremely rapid pace. The disadvantage to this was that they were extremely easy to block with a good shield, as the Death Eater was doing now.
Snape quickly disillusioned himself, recognizing Ashley's tactic for what it was - a time sink. Employed when a dueler knows themselves to be outmatched in skill or power, or when a dueler is too injured or tired to win, it was the perfect tool when help is on the way and/or escape is not an immediate option. Snape guessed that Ashley had used much more energy than he had let on earlier in the fight - his note had, after all, read nine opponents remaining, and he had taken down six of them since then. Small wonder he was tired.
Moving quickly to flank the Death Eater before he could notice his presence with the telltale water-like effect of his disillusionment, Snape watched both their movements for an opening.
The disadvantage to using the strategy his son was was that it was easily recognized and also fairly simple to dispatch for an experienced fighter. They need only wait for the slightest gap in spell-casting to drop their shield and return on the offensive with powerful curses which would easily overwhelm their further-tired adversary.
Luckily, Ashley was no slouch and knew this counter-strike, of course. He therefore was keeping up such a stream of jinxes and hexes that his Latin was practically flowing one word from another.
Another sign that he was tired, conserving energy through speaking incantations aloud, thought Snape as he advanced quietly to the side, looking to get around the others' shield. He'd nearly reached the edge of his firing range when several things happened in quick succession and changed his course of direction drastically.
First: Ashley's unrelenting spew of spells relented as he paused momentarily for breath.
Second: The Death Eater raised his wand in such a characteristic movement that Snape felt horror such as he had never known rise in his gorge as he was suddenly made aware of the spell about to be cast and the identity of its proficient caster.
Third and most importantly: Ashley made no move to dodge, block, or otherwise avoid the soon-to-be incoming spell. Instead, he gathered what was a surprising amount of remaining strength for a final curse, this one one that few would dare at such a distance. For the killing curse was meant to be a close-range spell. It was why it was used so rarely. That, and it required an amount of power, mental discipline, practice, and desire to cast successfully that few possessed. Power which Snape thought Ashley to currently be depleted of, and practice which he was unaware he'd undertaken.
Snape's last thought before he threw himself sideways to knock his son's body out of the path of Dolohov's organ-slashing curse was that he really ought to have talked to Madame at greater length about Ashley's summer curriculum.
"And?" Tonks said into the ensuing silence. "What happened next?"
Snape sneered at her as well as the enraptured faces of the surrounding Order members. "I would have thought that to be obvious. I have stated already that Ashley excels in guerrilla tactics, the principle skill needed for which is above-par aim. His curse hit its target, and I managed to knock him away in time. The curse nicked my left leg, resulting in a minor flesh wound and Ashely sustained a sprained wrist due to the unexpected landing."
Hestia Jones shook her head a bit, looking confused. "That was a big risk he took. Firing a killing curse when you're that tired? He might have missed and by then it would've been too late to dodge! Why didn't he just try to get away?"
"A question that I asked him (read: berated in a cold, hissing voice) immediately after ensuring our immediate safety."
"And?" someone asked.
"And his reply was most unsatisfactory. Apparently he'd been faking the degree of his exhaustion in order to spring his trap, which, while successful, would have resulted in his grievous injury should I not have been there. He admitted to being ignorant of my presence much as Dolohov was, but as soon as he recognized that Dolohov's intentions were not to kill instantly, he gambled his chances that he could score a hit and that I would be along shortly to heal him of whatever curse he would have taken."
Snape, uncharacteristically, gave a huff, and characteristically, glared malevolently around at them all.
"Your son holds great faith in your abilities to heal, much as he does in your skills in outnumbered combat, it seems," Dumbledore put it unexpectedly, his eyes twinkling again.
"Too great, perhaps," Snape barked out harshly, still scowling.
"And it seems he will risk everything to win," Dumbledore continued musing to himself.
"That is not atypical of him," Snape replied, his tone softening somewhat. "He can be very single-minded at times."
"Much like his father, then," the old headmaster commented gently.
Snape's eyes darkened once more at the mention of family. "He's taking Madame's death very hard indeed."
"Is that situation being handled?" Dumbledore asked delicately.
"All the arrangements were made before we left. He will wait the traditional six months before the funeral so that it can be held at the beginning of the winter holidays, just before Yule. It will not be a private affair and he wants as many of his friends as well as hers to be able to attend."
"And what of Ashley in the coming times?" Dumbledore's face was a blank of contemplation and thoughtfulness. Snape didn't like it when that happened and it gave him pause over his next words, though they remained unchanged.
"With the mutt's permission (this with a sneer in Sirius' direction), he will stay here until either the end of the summer or the breach in the wards is found, though I suspect it will be the former as the wards are extensive and it will take many weeks to examine them thoroughly. And as for the school year..." Snape paused quietly before finishing. "I would appreciate it if he attended Hogwarts so that I might keep a closer eye on him. We do not yet know the reasons behind the attack - if it is the Leclair family that the Dark Lord is after, then he being the sole heir leaves him vulnerable and I do not trust to leave him with his headmaster. Karkaroff may be indebted to me, but if the Dark Lord wants something from him, he will not disobey. I would prefer to have Ashley where I can see him."
Snape sneered harshly to show his abhorrence for the situation his son was being forced into and tried not to worry too much about the triumphant gleam in Dumbledore's eyes.