Author's Notes: Thank you to those who reviewed my 'A Dragon's Light', but I'm afraid that story has to be put into a halt as this one called me more than that one did. Anyways, hope you'll like this! It'll be quite dark and angsty… but that's how we all like our fics now, don't we? *grin* Please, please, please review!

Bitter Cold

Prologue

"NO! Please! I do not know anything! I beg you, have mercy!"

Silence echoed over all of them, temporarily replacing the jubilant merriment that reigned supreme merely moments ago. Then one sound, a harsh laugh, escaped from a woman's lips, then from another one, and another one, until finally all the people inside one of the great rooms of the Malfoy Mansion erupted into peals of deranged laughter.

"Have mercy?" One man asked as he stepped forward, as he stepped towards the latest source of entertainment for the Death Eaters. He arched one brow as he looked down on the form that sprawled on the floor, a dirty female muggle with rags for clothes and trash for worth. "You dare deny us the answer to our question and now you ask us to have mercy? On you?" Laughter bubbled from his lips before he spoke again. "Mercy is only for those who deserve it, for those who follow Our Dark Lord's will. You, on the other hand… you do not deserve anything." He raised his hand, and with a cruel yet sadistically pleased expression he gestured with his wand and said, "Crucio!"

The effect was instantaneous. The woman allowed one tiny scream to erupt from her lips before she convulsed, her body trying to fight wave after wave of intense and horrific pain that coursed through her. Blood began to run down her chin, the effect of accidentally biting her lower lip with her teeth; her blood only blemished her fair skin more and mingled with the cuts and bruises that already covered her face. She bent her knees and brought them towards her chest, trying to form a protective coil around her body or as much as the chains that bound her wrists and ankles would allow her. Sweat and tears began to soak her rags, turning them to an even dirtier color and making her look more disgusting and loathsome. After what seemed like hours of torture, the spasms subsided, and the woman lay still on the floor, her ragged and uneven breathing the only indication that she was still alive. Barely, but alive.

From where he was, he could see the muggle struggle valiantly to live. Lucius Malfoy merely smiled. The sufferings of lower beings still amused him to no end. "Thank you, Vincent. I will handle everything from here." His voice was smooth and elegantly tinted with evil, the signature of a pure Malfoy.

Vincent Crabbe nodded. "My pleasure," he said and then blended once again with the crowd.

Lucius then languidly rose from his chair and slowly approached their captive. The crowd parted for him, and gave him the respect that only the highest among Dark Lord's chosen disciples commands. With his cane, he tapped the woman, jabbed at her shoulders and finally at her knees. When he still got no response from her, he lifted his cane and swung it towards her head, and hit her at her temple.

The woman finally moaned in reply.

"You have strength in you. Impressive." Lucius said silkily, his compliment utterly out of place in a time like this. "Most of those who receive Vincent's curse immediately die. His curse is very effective in inflicting so much pain, pain that a weakling could never endure, let alone survive."

Crabbe noticeably huffed with pride that only made him look bigger and fiercer than he really was. He was truly a gruesome beast.

"But you…" Lucius tapped her again, "…you are no weakling. You are still alive, which only means one thing: you still have something to tell us. Now I ask you: Where is Harry Potter?"

The woman emitted a sound so much like a whimper. "I do not know!" A voice hoarse from screaming and crying emerged, sounding so much like her throat was burned.

The crowd watched with great interest as the man simply looked down at the woman on his feet. "Well then," Lucius said. "Such a shame that your strength will be wasted merely because you do not know the one thing that could save your life."

The woman slowly lifted her head and met the stare of the one who spoke to her. "Please sir—"

A lethal mistake.

Everybody realized this, save for the one who did it.

The exquisite face of Lucius Malfoy broke into an expression full of rage and contempt. "You are not worthy to look at me in the eye." He said calmly, furiously, and then withdrew his wand from his robe and cursed her with the killing curse. "Avada Kedavra."

There was a scream, and then there was death.

"Take her away," Lucius muttered with a wave of his hand, and immediately two house elves appeared and dragged the dead body of Harry Potter's muggle aunt away from the presence of her killer and his watchers. When the foul body had been removed, Lucius turned towards the silent crowd of the Dark Lord's followers. "The Dark Lord is becoming impatient," he said loudly, his voice strong and demanding. "We have almost obliterated all those who stood on his path, except for the deadliest of his foes. This is the source of His… disappointment over us all." He made eye contact with each and every one in the room, made them feel fear and dread with what his words meant. "Our efforts should be doubled. I will assign one of you to find Harry Potter and bring him to me in the soonest possible time. Do this and He will give you your fitting reward, fail… and you will suffer the fate that the Boy Who Lived will meet in the hands of the Dark Lord."

Suddenly, as he met the eyes of one of the men, the contours of his face changed so quickly and dramatically that it was almost terrifying to look at. Lucius Malfoy smiled, a tinge of affection appearing on his lips. "Ah. At long, long last." He muttered almost fondly. "My son has arrived."

*

Draco could only do what his father told him to, so when he told him to walk towards him, he did.

"My son!" Lucius said, his voice almost with pride at saying those words. "Join us." He lifted one hand and offered it to his child.

The younger Malfoy nodded, and when he was near enough he took his father's hand and held it in his own. He almost thought he saw approval in those eyes that looked back at him. "Father," he said simply and in recognition.

"Draco, my son." Said Lucius. "To you I will entrust this task of finding the enemy for our Lord. It is His most challenging task yet – one that I am sure you will have no problems of accomplishing." He squeezed the hand that he held, squeezed it tightly enough that it was an agonizingly painful caress. But he had taught his son well, he realized; no acknowledgement of the pain ever flared in those silver eyes of his. "You will succeed." He then leaned in closer so only Draco can hear: "You will make me proud."

The son could only nod. "I will make you and the Dark Lord proud, Father. I will find Harry Potter for you." His voice was filled with certainty and conviction, with arrogance and confidence. No other emotion can be detected in his tone or face.

"Excellent, excellent indeed." Lucius then released Draco's hand. He turned towards the group before him. "As much as I am confident that my son is capable enough," he said as he glanced at Draco again, "this mission is of utmost importance. We need to ensure that Potter will definitely fall into our hands and that there will never be any room for any mistake. Now I ask one of you to accompany him in this task. Who among you is brave enough to come forth and accept His will?"

Murmurs began to fill the group as each one of them began to argue with the other on who should be chosen to work with the only son of Lucius Malfoy.

And then before any one could summon the courage and dare speak or step forth, one of them already did. This one raised her hand, and with a voice to equal the quality carried by the Malfoys, she said, "I am."

Silence once again reigned supreme over them.

Lucius Malfoy inclined his head and asked, "Are you certain?" the doubt in his voice was very much evident.

"Very much so." The woman nodded. "I will find Harry Potter for you and for our Dark Lord."    

And the older Malfoy smiled once again. "Very well." He said, and his eyes betrayed a knowing gleam, as though he had known all along that it would be she who will come and present herself to him. He turned towards his son. "Draco?"

But Draco was not paying attention to him, or to anything else for that matter. Because he was not expecting this, he was quite slow in recovering from his initial shock.

Standing before him, wearing the mark of a Death Eater at her arm, was Hermione Granger.