The snow fell heavily from the sky, obscuring the view around them in large, fluffy flakes. It clung to their black robes, and made deep drifts around them in the streets.
“I said,” The voice repeated in Draco's ear in a low hiss, “Who are you?” The hand on his shoulder propelled him to the dank alley the other three were hiding in. His feet slipped and slid on the ice in the street, and he almost fell into the wall once they stopped.
“It's not what you think!” Draco said as he caught himself with one hand against the wall. He looked at the Death Eater before him, their matching robes and masks making him cringe.
“Don't think I didn't recognize you,” the other continued, “I taught you that little trick,” He advanced closer to Draco, the anger in his voice evident. “You may have aged a year or so- but the stubble almost had me fooled. Too bad I have to know all the Death Eaters and their names. Artie Davis doesn't exist.” The voice hissed again, low and menacing as he reached up a hand to pull the mask from Draco's face.
“Petrificus Totalus,” And a flash of spell light came from the darker part of the alley. Hermione stepped from the shadows, her wand still pointing at the Death Eater as he fell to the ground with a thunk. She grinned at Draco who stared back in horror at her. The enchantments on him dropped and he returned to his former self.
“Bloody hell, Hermione- he is not going to be pleased.” Draco said, “Quick! Pull him farther back into the alley.” He bent down and grabbed one of the Death Eater's arms and then looked up Harry. “Now, before we are seen.”
“Who is it?” Harry asked and Hermione watched them silently. Standing over by Ginny, she tucked her wand back into her pocket. The boys settled the unconscious Death Eater behind a dumpster, and Draco pulled the mask off his face.
“Severus Snape.” Draco replied quietly, “Rennervate!” He said with a wave of his wand, and Snape slowly aroused. He sat up and his gaze hardened as he took in the four faces surrounding him. He looked at Draco and stood up, a sneer plastered on his face.
“So I was right,” Severus brushed the dirt and snow from his robes as he talked, the anger evident on his face. “What in Merlin's name were doing looking for a Valentine's gift for your girlfriend,” His finger pointed at Hermione, “During a war in a Death Eater infested area? Are you all mad?” Snape hissed out angrily. “You play games with your safety... all of you!” His hands shrugged in the air as he spoke.
“It wasn't a gift for Hermione,” Draco replied, “It's part of the-” He stopped speaking and looked at Harry. He wasn't sure if Snape knew what was going on, and his lips pressed together.
“He knows,” Harry said and looked at Snape, then Draco. “We had to get some help after Ron died, a few-”
“Stop the prattling!” Snape hissed out low, and looked out towards the entrance to the alley. The sight of other Death Eaters passing had him turning back to look at the four younger wizards. He was still angry for the spell Hermione had casted on him, but secretly he was pleased she had the guts to do it. The four before him were a force to be reckoned with, and soon the Dark Lord would face them down. He only hoped their will was strong enough to defeat him.
“Get back to the Headquarters!” Snape shook himself from his thoughts. The danger was all around them, not just for them but for him himself. Being caught with them and not doing anything to them would bring unwanted attention and questions- and to do the Dark Lord's bidding with them would take a lot of the hope of defeating the master he unwillingly served.
Charlie watched as Tonks and Remus finally left him in the sitting room alone. He relaxed by leaning back on the couch, and he grinned happily. He and Tonks had dated briefly while they had been in Hogwarts, and he had always regretted the break-up when he took the job as a dragon handler so far off in Romania. Seeing her with Remus had brought back a lot of those memories, but he was pleased for them, and glad for her to have found her perfect match. Their love gave him hope that their world would go on, and their soon to be born child was only a small indication of the future he dreamed of. “Cubby,” Charlie uttered with a laugh that broke the silence of the room. No matter what the two of them named that child, he had his own small name for him.
Charlie had always thought being a dragon handler was lonely occupation. It was dangerous and far from the civilized world that others lived. But lately his life had been drawn back to the people he cared for because of the War going on around them. He couldn't or wouldn't ignore the fact that friends and family were placing themselves in harm's way to keep their magical society safe.
With a deep sigh, Charlie pushed himself off the settee and headed towards the kitchen. Since Christmas, he been here on and off until his return to Romania to pick up Matilda, the dragon he'd raised from an egg. She was his test, to see how much control he could gain over a dragon- and how willing they'd be to follow commands. Dragons were beautiful creatures, and he held a great respect for them. The burn scares on his body he wore proudly as signs of his dedication to them.
Charlie entered the kitchen, a slight hitch to his walk from the pains he had received trying to get Matilda over the wards surrounding Hogwarts had caused. It had been a perfect plan, and knew if the wards had been a might lower, he could have accessed the castle proper. His only regret of his attempt was the pain it had caused his dragon, but his satisfaction was the fact when they'd failed Matilda had toasted a few Death Eaters before dropping him to the ground in her pain. She knew the way back to the compound though- and there were others there to care for her.
Charlie's steps stopped when he caught sight of the young girl sitting at the kitchen table, papers spread everywhere in front of her. Her pen was in her mouth as she looked at them, and he could tell she was deep in thought. He leaned on the frame of the door and watched her silently. The sight of a map on the table had him walking over near her, his eyes taking in that it was of Hogwarts.
“It's too dangerous to try and break into there,” Charlie said quietly, and slid down on the bench beside Mariah. His hand covered the map, and he turned his head to look at her. Meeting her at Christmas had shaken him out of his lethargy, and made him realize just how lonely he had created a world for himself. “If that's your plan, that is.” he continued, his eyes watching her face as her nose wrinkled and she dropped her pen to the table in frustration.
“I feel useless,” Mariah said with a roll of her eyes. “How would you like to be trapped in these four walls, unable to leave and your brother was in danger in a place you can't get into?” It was a rhetorical question, and all he could do was tap his finger on the map. “I'm more than a bandage and potions maker.”
Charlie placed an arm around her shoulder, and pulled her close in comfort. “It would drive me crazy,” he admitted, knowing if one of his brothers was where Caleb was, he'd do his damnedest to get to him. Mariah's dedication to her brother was no less, and he wondered if she would do the same for Draco. Knowing who her birth parents were had rocked the Order, and the knowledge of why she was cooped up in the Headquarters made sense to him. Still, it didn't make it right, and he would have fought against the strictures also.
Charlie sighed, and Mariah looked up at him. His eyes met hers in a shy smile, and she placed her head on his shoulder in a comfortable silence. She was becoming attached to this Weasley, and she looked forwards to his visits to Grimmauld Place. She didn't feel as alone as she had been when the others went off to do what ever things they did. Between her worry over Cal and them, she thought she go mad enough to break the china in the cupboards at times.
“I'm not used of not doing anything!” Mariah said as she shifted in his arms. “I know what I am doing is needed, but dang Charlie,” her eyes looked into his, a frustrated look on her face. “I am a fighter also- top of my class in dueling back at Salem's.” She settled back down, and leaned against him. “I am not a child to be tucked away in cotton.”
Charlie hugged her again, his eyes watching her as he thought. “Tell them- Snape and Remus, that you want out,” his head bent closer to her ear, “I'll back you up, love.” he said firmly, his arm tightening around her in comfort. Knowing that Ginny and Hermione were out fighting, he could well understand her feelings about being treated as a child. She hadn't grown up fearing Voldemort though, so she didn't understand either the dangers to Snape. He actually hated thinking like Snape also, for if his only daughter had shown up, he'd want to keep her protected also. His own fears were for Ginny, his baby sister, and he hoped that Harry could keep her safe in this all. He definitely didn't want to lose another sibling to this horrible War.
The four young wizards entered 12 Grimmauld Place, the door closing quietly behind them. “You hexed Professor Snape,” Harry said with a laugh as he nodded at Hermione. She rolled her eyes at him, and tucked her arm through Draco's. Harry laid an arm over Ginny's shoulder and they all walked towards the kitchen.
“I don't think it was funny,” Hermione retorted back, and looked at Ginny for support. Her friend shrugged her shoulders, a sheepish grin covering her face.
“It was kind of amusing,” Ginny replied with her own laugh, bumping her hip into Harry's lightly.
“I'm for getting something to eat, and then settling in for a game of chess,” Draco said with an arched eyebrow at Harry. It had been odd, but he had taken to coaching the other wizard in the finer arts of the game. Maybe it was that he wanted to see him beat Ginny, or the fact he liked beating him at the game himself.
“Tomorrow, Malfoy.” Harry answered back, and their steps neared the kitchen. “We need to discuss-”
“Charlie!” Ginny exclaimed happily and pulled away from Harry to run to her older brother.
“Weasley,” Draco said in a hushed tone, and he felt Hermione's hand tighten on his own. Her whispered 'Don't,' held him in check, and he relaxed visibly. Inside though, he railed at the sight. He knew they were friends, but still- he didn't like it. He was a Weasley, but at least it wasn't one of the twins. He could only imagine Snape's reaction to that.
“Ginny!” Charlie said with a laugh, and Mariah sat up. He jumped from the chair and rounded the table to give his sister a huge bear hug. “So you guys are back?” He looked around their faces, and his gaze landed on Draco's. He gave the other wizard a slight nod of the head.
“For a bit anyhow,” Harry said, his own looks over what he had seen passing to Hermione. He shrugged his shoulders and headed towards the cabinet where the food was kept cold. He pulled out some makings for cold sandwiches, and Hermione grabbed a loaf of bread from the sideboard. Ginny and Charlie grabbed some plates and placed them on the table.
Mariah got up from her spot at the table, a disquiet settling through her. While Draco may be her brother, he still didn't have the right to give her friend that look. She gathered up her map, pen and papers into a neat pile and went to grab some glasses from a different cupboard.
“You all want pumpkin juice?” Mariah asked them, her nose wrinkling with the thought. She still hadn't gotten a liking for it, and grabbed the jug of milk also for herself. Harry and Hermione had quickly assembled a plate of sandwiches and that they placed between the two pitchers of drinks.
Charlie took a spot next to Ginny, Harry on her other side, while the rest settled themselves in other seats. Mariah found herself tucked between Draco and Hermione, and she looked at Draco with an arched eyebrow. Not even Caleb had ever questioned her choice in friends, and Draco was looks towards Charlie had her wondering just exactly he thought was going on.
“So,” Ginny said after a sip of juice, “Why are you here?” she asked Charlie, smiling over at him. Her hands grabbed one of the sandwiches, placing it on the plate before her.
“Remus brought me back after I tried to fly Matilda over the wards,” Charlie said with a laugh, an explained to them what had happened. His hands gestured in flying motions as he described the happenings, and his eyes twinkled. Ginny rolled her own eyes at him, and looked him over after he said he was thrown.
“What Death Eaters died?” Draco asked curiously, his respect for the Weasley growing. While he had never thought them cowards, he didn't ever think one of them would try a stunt like that. The twins terrorizing of Umbridge in Fifth year on their brooms should have given him an inclining of it though.
“Not your family,” Charlie said, his laughter suddenly falling into discomfort. While Draco was not in good terms with them, he thought of the fact that those were his family. He would worry even for Percy in things like that. His brother's blind following of the Ministry and Umbridge had him boggled, but he still loved him.
“Pity,” Draco replied softly, an unfathomable look on his face. He took a sip of his own juice after pouring it, and nodded his head towards Charlie. “Maybe next time?” He smirked with his words and looked over at Hermione passed Mariah.
Severus Snape entered the crumbling mansion outside of London, his arm still burning from the call he had received through his Mark. He took a deep breath and nodded towards Wormtail, and proceeded to walk the halls to the door that his master sat behind.
The door was open when he arrived at it, and he adjusted the cuffs of his robes before entering. His eyes adjusted to the harsh lighting of the flickering candles, and his ears took in the hiss of the snake coiled at the feet of the one they all served.
“Master,” Severus said with a respectful low bow, his forehead touching Voldemort's feet. His long hair covered over his face, and his eyes looked into Nagini's briefly.
“Severus,” Voldemort said, his hand waving for him to raise up. “I've heard reports of a suspicious fellow wandering Knockturn Alley looking for a necklace,” his hand raised up and ran over the smoothness of his head. “He needs to be found, and stopped.” His eyes looked hard into Snape's, and his long fingers trailed over his chin before Snape nodded.
“I was looking for the one who called himself Artie Davies when you called, my lord.” Severus told him, “But his trail went cold before I could follow it. There is no one by that name registered at the Leaky Cauldron, so I will have to more investigating.”
“Someone tried to fly a dragon over the wards at Hogwarts also,” Voldemort hissed out, his fingers tapping on the armrest of his chair in a lazy motion. “There may be ways of our getting over them ourselves. How goes the breaking of those wards? Dumbledore should have consulted you in placing them, it would have made things so much easier.”
“I've almost got the signatures broken,” Snape replied with another respectful nod of his head. “A few more days-”
“I want it done now,” The Dark Lord hissed out, and leaned towards Snape. “Go, work on it.” He dismissed Severus with another wave of his hand.
I want to thank Anne for reading this over before posting. Hope you all enjoy it, and I'm so sorry this took so long to get written up. If you have time, please review. Thanks ~~juls