A circle of black figures surround me, chanting together with hoods drawn over their faces. I cringe away from them, making myself as small as possible on the wooden stool. Only two people stand close to me; one I know as my Father. The other I have seen before, just once, but this does not quell my nerves. He towers over me, a black figure with two oddly burning eyes distinguishable in a twisted face. Lord Voldemort.
I've been prepared for this night my entire life, but all the same, a single word from my Father had sent a shiver down my spine. Tonight. I will forever remember the exact tone of his voice as he said it: so cold and simple. It defined everything. I had had no say in it, as I will have no say in the rest of my life. No say in what I become and no say in what I will have to do. Behind my eyes, which cannot hide my fear, my mind is racing with possibilities.
I don't want the Dark Mark. However, my reasons have nothing to do with any false ideals about a happy world. In truth, it's far more selfish; I never want to be the slave of someone else's will. I'm not fool enough to believe that my opinions or thoughts will matter to Voldemort if I become a Death Eater. That, by gaining his Mark, I will somehow be that much more important. Being a Death Eater is like being a pawn, with Voldemort as your King.You have no identity except as a servant and your life may be forfeit for the greater purpose. In fact, you may as well not have thoughts of your own as they will, ultimately, count for nothing. Even those who have risen higher in rank, like my Father, matter little more than the rest of us.
However, there had been nothing to say in rebuttal to my Father. 'No thanks, I've decided not to join Voldemort' would, quite simply, not go down well. Now that the ritual is under way, there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop it. There would be no excuse for running from this ritual and I wouldn't get far if I tried. The only option I have is to get the mark and somehow - through means as of yet unknown to me - escape Voldemort. All in all, my chances for survival are looking pathetic, especially since the Death Eaters plan to attack the Ministry in only one month's time.
The chanting builds in volume, shaking me out of my reverie. Now, seven deadly, still arms are pointing at me, wand tips directed almost accusingly at my chest. This is it. A deep breath rattles through my mouth as I fix my eyes on the ceiling, trying unsuccessfully to calm down.
Receiving the Dark Mark is far from simple and my mind is in turbulence, trying to observe everything being done to me. That's the only hope I have for ridding myself of the Mark later. I should have received it almost a year ago and, although I'm thankful that I didn't, I can't deny that it's a little peculiar. The other Death Eater children from my year have all received the Dark Mark and there has most likely been speculation as to why I haven't. However, none would dare ask me about it.
Out of the corner of my eye I see a flash of silver only seconds before my arm is pulled away from my body and a stinging pain throbs below my elbow. I risk a glance downwards, swallowing the bile rising in my throat.
The mask slips.
A silver dagger is poised just above my skin, hilt clutched in Voldemort's palm, blood marring its shiny surface. It is soon replaced with an almost full black goblet, which is held under my wound until a few drops of sickeningly-red blood fall into it. When the drops hit the surface the bubbling liquid hisses, instantly absorbing it and appearing no different. Once the goblet is removed, the blood runs down my pale forearms, spiralling down until it runs between my fingers.
Those pale, wrinkled fingers reach out for my arm again, snatching at my wrist. Voldemort's tongue, much redder than my own, darts out as his fingers tighten their grasp. The skin against mine feels inhuman and I involuntarily try to tug my arm away. He looks up at me then, smirking, before he leans down and trails his tongue down my arm. The crimson blood is taken from my pale skin, leaving an utterly repugnant and wet trail behind it. There is no concealing my strangled cry. His smile stretches and there is nothing pleasant about it. It is predatory and sadistic, as true a reflection of himself as his eyes. My chest is heaving with the effort to breath. With a final swirl of his tongue he takes the blood from between my fingers, straightens up and takes the goblet wordlessly from my impassive Father.
"Drink it," Voldemort commands, his voice like a low hiss. He hands me the now-steaming goblet, his fingers brushing against mine. A shudder wracks my slender frame, but my hand doesn't shake.
The goblet is warm against my fingers as I watch bubbles rise to the surface. Feeling much too queasy to think about what could possibly be in such a vile potion, I swallow it quickly, tilting my head back and closing my eyes. It feels as though something burning -- something alive -- slides down my throat and into my stomach.
Voldemort steps back and now there are nine wands pointing at me, their tips pulsing with a glowing green light. It's reminiscent of the killing curse and does not help my nerves. My cheeks howl in agony as I bite down on them savagely to stop the scream that so desperately wants to be heard. The lurid green now fills the room and the voices around me change, suddenly so much deeper than before. So formidable.
Claw-like fingertips dig into my soft flesh painfully, holding me in place. I can imagine the round bruises they will leave. A hiss echoes through the room and the immense pain hits me all at once. My breathing stops for a moment as I choke on nothing but air, so wracked with pain that I forget what it is to breath. With a thin wail, barely recognizable as my own, I fall from my chair and onto my knees. The hand leaves my arm, but it feels as though it's still there, burning, in my last moments of consciousness. With my knees bent and my palms against the stone floor I glance down at my forearm and see the bold tattoo, surrounded with blistered red skin. I feel it throb, echoing the screams in my mind, before my knees give way and everything turns black.
My nails bite into my palms as I follow my Father down the hall, eyes locked on the constant flapping of his black robes. The mark on my skin still burns, permeating my entire body with its almost-numbing pain. Father assures me the pain will recede after a few weeks; as though he actually cares. However, it's not the pain that bothers me. It's the constant reminder of what I let happen. Of Voldemort's claim on me.
After a week of careful consideration I have made a decision; I cannot let Voldemort win this war. I do not want to live in a world where he is the master, and I cannot sit back and let it happen. Voldemort's opposing side, the perfect 'Angels' to his so-called 'Devils', the faultless white to his black, have no idea that in one month their lives will be thrown in chaos. Through Snape, Voldemort has been feeding incorrect information right to Dumbledore's ears for the past year.
For me to get to Dumbledore, the one Wizard who can truly rally an army, I have to leave the Manor before Voldemort's grasp becomes tighter and inescapable. However, I need an excuse to leave or I won't make it past the front gate. Once I'm outside I may be able to remove the mark and start a new life, though that may be terribly optimistic.
Keeping my tone neutral I speak in a calculated, practiced manner. "Father, as Lord Voldemort is aware, Potter has the pesky ability to interfere with his plans. This does not bode well for our triumph."
Before he turns around, my expression becomes one of calm consideration. Now is my chance and I will not ruin it foolishly.
With an expressionless face he regards me, looking as though he sees far more than I say. I can only hope that that isn't true. When he speaks, his voice is cold. "You are correct, though we are already aware of this."
"What I mean is that I believe I can be of service to Voldemort in this matter."
My Father is unable to hide his shock, perhaps because I presume to strive into a trusted position so soon after initiation. However, a smirk soon takes precedence. "Interesting. What are you suggesting?"
With a shrug I continue, playing the role of his loyal servant, as he would expect from his doting son. "Dumbledore knows we're planning an attack, he just doesn't realize how soon. Our spies have revealed that he is gathering his main force, which would mean-"
"That Potter will be at Hogwarts," Father interrupts.
I nod and continue. "I propose that I return to Hogwarts also. I will find his weaknesses and I will exploit them. He will be dead before we attack."
With a laugh, that cannot be mistaken for jovial, he turns away. "You really think they'd accept you in their little army? So naïve," he says condescendingly, his voice a low purr. "I thought I taught you better than that."
"That's not what I'm suggesting."
I must not have disguised the anger in my tone well enough as he turns around, mouth set in a hard line. Fantastic. I've already managed to jeopardize everything.
"Then what are you suggesting? I must say, I find your presumptuous attitude very amusing."
Ignoring the obvious insult, I respond, keeping my voice in check this time. "I will tell Dumbledore that I wish to leave Voldemort and seek his protection."
"What makes you think he won't suspect otherwise?" This time, he lets his mask slip and I can see that he's actually curious about my plan.
"I'll play my role well, as you have taught me." The compliment is not lost on him and he tilts his head back, gazing down at me arrogantly. "Asides from that, Dumbledore loves to reform the wicked and that will obscure his judgement."
Obviously considering my plan, my Father remains quiet for a moment. "I will discuss this with Lord Voldemort. Do not speak of it to anyone else." With that, he heads down the corridor, soon turning the corner and leaving me to my thoughts.
Once I have told Dumbledore, I will have to leave Hogwarts immediately to stay hidden. That is, of course, if Dumbledore believes me. While my words were confident and not without reason, I still have hesitations. All the same, I have to move now.
However, there is one other problem that I have no solution for. Voldemort will expect me to report on my progress and I will not be able to give it. I can neither afford to help him nor to completely sever contact. It is essential that Voldemort believe that I am at Hogwarts, but as of yet I'm not sure how I will make that happen.
One week later I find myself locked in my room with a cauldron and several ingredients laid out before me, an activity I've taken to as of late. Pages lay scattered across my floor, held down by heavier and readily available objects. I reach just past my cauldron, snatching a piece of parchment that I'd pushed between the pages of a book.
With a frown, I scan the page then place it beside my knee, charming it so it will remain in place for a short time. For a few minutes afterwards my thoughts are focused solely on the task at hand, my fingers precise in their movements. I don't want to have to do this all over again, as a well-trained student of Severus' I believe it would be a disgraceful waste of both my time and the ingredients.
I place three seedpods into the marble bowl before me, then grind them down using the marble rod in a circular motion. When only a fine powder remains, I empty it into my cauldron, thus completing the potion.
Once settled, it is almost clear, barring a slightly orange tinge. I lower my pinkie in and it doesn't resist, appearing to have much the same consistency as water. It's lukewarm to the touch and is really quite ordinary. None of the ingredients I have included should be harmful, so I ladle some into a goblet and take a sip.
There is no immediate effect and I begin to wonder if this isn't going to work at all. However, after a moment I feel a tingling sensation and when I glance down at my forearm I can see the mark beginning to fade, the black lines seeming to sink into my skin. With a grin I lie down on my back, holding my arm in front of me. Eventually, there isn't a mark at all. I can almost imagine that the initiation never happened, that I never became a Death Eater, except for the fact that I can still feel it.
Of course, this isn't a permanent solution. This potion was created for the removal of unsightly marks and is mostly used by vain women, not reformed Death Eaters. Still, it should make the mark disappear for a time, which will be essential for my integration into society, and furthermore may prevent the Ministry from sending me to Azkaban. I cannot simply cover the mark with carefully selected clothes, as any attempt to hide it will be a sure indication of my guilt.
With this potion, they won't see the mark they're looking for. Finally, everything is beginning to seem a little less difficult.
Ignoring the shouts I continue to lie on the grass, hands stretched above my head. My shirt has ridden up, exposing my stomach to the sun. For the most part I stay inside the Manor, preferring to stay away from the sun, so my skin is lapping up the warmth. My eyes, however, are having difficulty remaining open as the sun assaults them.
"You'll ruin your skin."
I sit up finally, silently chiding my Mother's superficial worries when the time of the attack is drawing near. Still, as cold and detached as she is, I suppose that is her way of coping.
"Your Father wants you," she says, her voice devoid of emotion.
She shakes her head, though I know she's been informed. This is obviously important if she won't tell me herself. Perhaps he has finally spoken to Voldemort about my plan. With this thought in mind I stand up, brushing my hands down my back to dislodge the grass blades that stick stubbornly to my black shirt.
I begin to walk back towards the Manor, contemplating what I will do if Voldemort has rejected my plan. As soon as I step through the doors to the Manor, the cold hits me, taking away the sun's warmth. With a grimace I make my way to my Father's office, winding deeper as I go through the corridors. After a short time I'm standing in front of his office, facing my Father. His arms are laid carefully along the arms of his leather chair, fingertips curled around the ornate wooden decoration at each end.
"Father." I take a deep breath, composing myself. "Mother said you wanted me."
He nods his head slightly. "I've spoken to Lord Voldemort about your plan and he approves. However, I must warn you that any misbehaviour will not be tolerated. You will follow his orders without question."
I nod briefly, dismissing this caution. That's a given, in addition to the fact that I've been fretting over it since my initiation. I am quite sure that this betrayal would qualify as misbehaviour, just as I'm sure his orders don't include telling Dumbledore about his grand plan. "Of course."
He lowers his head, peering at me through grey eyes that are so similar to my own. "You are aware that if you are discovered, there is no telling what Dumbledore may do, aren't you?" He pauses, waiting for my confirmation, then continues once I nod. "Are you sure you will carry this through to the end?"
Though my insides are churning without mercy, my face remains blank. "I'm sure. I want us to win, regardless of the cost. However, you needn't worry for my safety. I will be careful." My voice is full of biting sarcasm, as I have no doubt it's not my safety he's concerned for.
"Good. It would be best for you to pack immediately and leave as soon as possible." He stands, then begins to pace. On my Father, this is not a sign of anxiety so much as deep thought. With a spin of his heel he faces me again. "Once there we will not be able to contact you often, lest they wonder whom you are writing to, so act at your own discretion. Make sure nobody so much as sees you writing a letter. They cannot read the contents or you will be lost."
Lost. A pleasant word for murdered. All the same, my mind readily digests this information, as this much was expected. "Is there anything else?"
His eyes lock onto mine and I'm reminded of why our eyes will always be different. His eyes seem almost inhuman, where as I have been told that, though guarded, mine express far more than his if you know how to read them. "One more thing. This is your first mission, and it is crucial that you do not do damage to your name at this early stage." My name, Father, or your name?
"I won't," I respond, without breaking our locked gaze.
With a satisfied nod he dismisses me, quickly heading over to his desk.
After I leave the office I let my mask fall; revealing all the trepidation I've been experiencing since I came up with this idea. At the time, it had seemed like a good solution. Now it seems like the only one.
As the sun is almost at its peak the following day, I complete my packing, pushing the last of my clothing into my trunk. After doing so, I charm it so that it will float behind me, and I head towards my door. I don't bother to check if my charm is working; it always does.
Once I'm downstairs, my Father gives me some instructions, most of which are simple and quite obvious, before heading back to his study. My Mother simply nods at me and leaves the room. No good luck, no good bye, no sign that either one cares about my safety. Which, of course, they don't. Then again, I suppose they must have some feelings about this. If I died, who would be their heir?
I place a hand on my trunk and Apparate from the Manor, quite possibly for the last time. I arrive at a desolate area in Hogsmeade, which the Malfoys have used for generations. After all, to uphold our dignity we must avoid an embarrassing entry (lest we Apparate where someone is already standing, among other things). Though it is a long walk from here there is no escaping the fact that you cannot Apparate directly into Hogwarts.
I eventually approach the castle, wishing that I had flown instead. However, my broom lies at the bottom of my trunk, minimised so that I don't have to deal with its cumbersome size. The broom companies eventually discovered a way to minimise them for a short time, much to everyone's relief. The final walk up the driveway is not a pleasant one, however, as a time of judgement is upon me, so to speak.
With a grimace I step quickly up the stairs, lifting my hand from my thigh. Before I can touch the ornate metal handles, the door swings open, apparently of its own accord, and I am not prepared for the sight of Dumbledore waiting patiently behind it.
I have to bite my tongue to stop myself from asking how he knew I was coming. The only conclusion I can reach is that the front gate is somehow monitored, which seems likely enough.
Dumbledore smiles, his eyes twinkling as I have come to expect. "I suppose you are wondering how I came to be waiting here?"
With a sigh, barely audible, I nod. The old wizard always seems to know everything you don't want him to.
He lays a finger against his nose and winks, in what I find to be a very infuriating manner. My temper is at its end and I am anxious to finish this, whether he should believe me or not. "That, my dear boy, is one of Hogwarts' many secrets. Follow me, please."
Though he is always polite, his words have a way of seeming to be a command no matter how he phrases them.
Glaring at the space between Dumbledore's shoulder blades, I follow the Headmaster through corridors, up and down stairs, soon lost in a way that is only possible at Hogwarts.
Dumbledore soon stops, his robe fluttering down to fall to the floor neatly. "Perhaps it would be best if you walked beside me. It is most disconcerting to walk ahead of someone glaring daggers into your back." He turns his head to peer back over his shoulder and grins, obviously amused.
I clamp my jaw shut and breath deeply, not trusting myself not to snap back with something very detrimental to my cause. This is definitely one time when I must admit that neither my wit, nor temper, would be beneficial. With a new resolve I close the distance between myself and Dumbledore and walk beside him.
Eventually, after many minutes of awkward silence, he stops in front of a familiar Gargoyle and says "Mr Mallows" in a serious tone. As I have seen before, it springs aside to reveal a spiralling staircase. "I think it would be best to be sure we were alone, don't you?"
"Of course." Though my voice does not reveal it, a sense of dread is building in my mind.
Once inside his office he crosses behind the desk and sits down, stroking his beard with one hand and gripping the chair's armrest with the other. With a flourish of his hand he gestures towards the chair before him. I sit down, then stare back at him.
"I am sure you are aware that your arrival would not come without suspicion, so I will not tell anyone you are here if you do not wish it. Tell me what you will." He leans back in his chair, an indication that he will listen without interruption.
Deciding it is best not to beat around the bush, I get straight to the point. "First you must promise not to reveal my name to anyone." Dumbledore nods. Though I may not always approve of his methods, he is honourable and will hold his word. "Voldemort is planning an attack on the Ministry in two weeks and five days time," I say, keeping my voice calm.
Those ever-twinkling eyes harden, though he is not surprised. He is resigned, as though the exact date was not known, this battle was inevitable. "Need I ask how you know this?"
Without hesitation I pull my sleeve up, revealing the blistered tattoo. I have to struggle to remain calm but he does not flinch at the mark, only glancing at it for a moment. "I realise that this makes it hard to trust me but I haven't been involved in anything so far. I was only initiated a short time ago and, if given an option, wouldn't have been. I'm willing to go under Veritaserum."
He shakes his head. "That is not necessary. How is it that Severus has not warned me about this?"
"Voldemort knows of his betrayal. He thought better of killing him, though he came close." I pause for a fleeting moment, remembering my anxiety when my Father had told me. "For the past year, false meetings have been held one hour before the real ones. Severus never found out, or so I assume."
"How is that possible? We've stopped many of his attacks during that time."
I shake my head, trying to dispel the look of disbelief on his face. "He let you know enough that you would not suspect a change, but not enough for you to even suspect what he was planning. He's willing to sacrifice many Death Eaters if it means he will be victorious. The small attacks were merely a distraction."
He nods slowly. "It seems I have underestimated him. Have you got more details?"
I nod, then list the names of all of the Death Eaters that I know work in the Ministry. Including my Father. "With such a large number inside the Ministry and Fudge unwilling to accept Voldemort's growing power, they won't be prepared for an attack. The Death Eaters working in the Ministry will sneak many more inside the building before the attack, and the others will be let in as soon as the first spell is cast. It will begin at around 12:30 pm, during their lunch break, when many of them won't even be holding their wands."
This time, my words bring a slight smile to Dumbledore's face. "Your information will not only prepare us, but turn the tables on them. They will not expect us to be waiting for them. However, I must ask, why are you are telling me this?"
Though I knew this would come, it is the first time I have spoken these words to anyone. "I don't want Voldemort to win this war."
"What do you intend to do now?" he asks and for once it is clear that he does not know the answer.
"Leave," I sigh, running a hand through my hair. "I don't have any other option. Nobody will accept me here and I'm not sure I'm ready to join you anyway. All I know is that I can't sit back and let him win. Besides, I may cause more trouble than anything."
With a sad smile he speaks. "This is true, though I am grieved to let you go without aid. How did you get away from the Manor?"
"I'm on a mission," I admit. "They think I came here to kill Potter."
"Your suggestion?" he asks. I nod. "Then they will want letters of your progress, I presume?"
"Yes." This is the one part of my plan that I have never been sure of, for I do not have an owl that I could trust to bring with me.
He reaches for his quill as he speaks and hastily writes something on a piece of parchment in front of him. "I buy my own owls here," he says, then hands the paper over. "They're very trustworthy people and though the owl will be expensive they are intelligent and faultlessly loyal. If you show them this note they'll be happy to sell you one. I trust you can afford it?"
I let out the breath I hadn't realize I have been holding, watching my plan take its final shape. "Yes, I have my own vault. I'll remove all of the money at precisely 12:30 so that, even if my Father has a way to find out, it will be too late."
Too late for him to stop the attack and too late for them to catch me. If I act too soon, Voldemort will take pleasure in making me regret my disloyalty. "I must leave straight away."
"Certainly. However, I believe we have time for one more if you do not mind answering. Why do you wish to keep your name a secret? You may well be our saviour." His eyes regard me quizzically as he leans forward.
"I want to disappear from the Wizarding world until it's safe to return. I won't be able to do so if they know it was I who warned you. Plus, how will people ever trust me when I have betrayed my own family?" This fact comes from my lips naturally, as though I had been thinking it all along. In reality, that has only just hit me. I am, essentially, betraying the two people I should care about most, but never have.
"But to save us all," Dumbledore insists, though he appears hesitant to voice this opinion, as though he too cannot be optimistic about people's response to me.
"That won't matter. Their initial reaction to my name won't be a good one."
"It is true that people will find fault where they want to," he says gravely, then stands up.
With a nod I follow suit. "Thank you." Though these two words cannot express how valuable his assistance and trust mean to me, he seems to understand the depth of my gratitude without me voicing it.
He shakes his head. "It is I who should be thanking you. Good luck." He smiles, though it looks wistful.
As I leave he speaks once more, his voice so soft that I'm not sure if I was meant to hear his words or not.
"I'm sorry it had to come to this." There is no blame in his voice, only sadness.
The words stay with me as I leave Hogwarts' grounds and head towards my hope, my new home.
The Muggle world.
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