A/N: To begin, a disclaimer: everything HP isn't mine. Bummer.

Rating is for gore, violence, language and later sensuality. Due to release of Deathly Hallows, this fic is sadly AU.

Chapter 1 - The Stakes are Raised

It was raining in Wiltshire. Not that it was unusual for it to be raining. The countryside seemed to be a magnet for every storm within a hundred-mile radius. The ground was little more than a marsh, unfit for growing anything but scrubby moss. Rising up in the middle of the wide plains was a large hill, encircled by lavishly gilded ironwork. The grass on the hill was unnaturally green. The only trees for miles were the large shade trees lining a long gravel road to the top of the hill.

At the end of the road, there stood a house of ostentatious magnificence, castle-like in its architecture. Some observers to the building of the house had commented that it looked similar in some ways to Hogwarts Castle. Abraxas Malfoy had been furious at the comparison. He wasn't out to make his home, the mansion he had worked his entire life for, look like anyone else's. He was establishing the cornerstone of his dynasty and by God, no Malfoy was ever going to follow the crowd. They were to be statement makers and trend setters, the new face of Pureblooded Wizardry. The house - Malfoy Manor - was to be an everlasting sign of the family's status in society, a status that was to be upheld at all costs.

On this particularly rainy evening at the end of May, Abraxas's only grandson appeared with a loud crack before the gates of the Manor. He was completely drenched as he frantically pulled out a length of hawthorn wood and tapped the gate in a precise pattern, his muttered words carried away on the howling wind. The gates slowly parted. Draco forced his way through them and took off sprinting up the path to the house, unconcerned about the mud he was kicking up onto his black school robes. He had been such a fool to think he could kill Albus Dumbledore, the greatest wizard of all time. His heart sank at the thought of all the bragging he did to Pansy and the others, eager to prove himself a great person within Slytherin House.

When he attended dinner parties with his parents, all anyone every talked about with him was his godfather and how great a man and Head of Slytherin House he was - intelligent, crafty, graceful, the leading Potions researcher in all of Great Britain, and some would even venture to say, all of Europe. Draco's father had reveled in forcing the reclusive Severus Snape into the limelight, grinning smugly to himself as his friend's face flushed a slight pink and tried to graciously fend off the many inquiries into his latest research project or orders for beauty masques. Draco, on the other hand, had to stand there, watching those same people give him that look, that gaze of feigned interest in his meager academic achievements and snide, backhanded sympathies over his Quidditch losses to Gryffindor.

The summer after his fifth year, he had been given the chance of a lifetime - one chance to show every single person who doubted him that he was just as good a Death Eater as his father and godfather. He had been given a mission, with promises of protection for his mother and the potential for promotion into the prestigious Inner Circle --the Dark Lord's most trusted confidants, the lieutenants who were deemed worthy enough to lead the rest of the Death Eaters in dangerous attacks and scouting raids. Only they had the power to make or break another's standing within the general circle. Any rumours against an Inner Circle member, if unsubstantiated or falsified, could earn the messenger a severe punishment or possibly even a horribly painful death. Every one of their victories were extravagantly celebrated, their rewards for valuable intelligence beyond reckoning.

It was only after Draco had been branded that the Dark Lord had enlightened him as to the consequences awaiting him should he fail, and in front of his mother, no less. Narcissa Black-Malfoy was notorious for being an ice queen, showing no emotion other than contempt in public. But that informative meeting had put her in hysterics when she and Draco had returned to the Manor, his Aunt Bellatrix accompanying them home despite being uninvited. Draco had stared in shock when his mother marched herself down to the gate and disapparated. Bellatrix had cursed her sister's motherly intuitions as she raced down the hill after her.

Of course, Narcissa had gone to the only person who could have possibly been any help to them. However, she hadn't bothered to ask Draco if he wanted help. In fact, he had been ordered specifically not to ask for assistance of any kind from anyone, which Draco had thought a bit odd at the time. After his mother's visit to Spinner's End, Severus had been relentless with his offers to aid Draco with his task. "Come to my office after dinner," "Come and spend a weekend with me, Draco," oh, and Draco's personal favorite, "You will need my help if you want to succeed in this." By Easter, he resented Severus's meddling so much and was under so much pressure and stress that he was very close to telling the man to piss off.

But tonight, up there on that Tower, he had come to the realization that he was not anywhere near as strong as he thought he was. He had stood there, looking into the old man's watery eyes, and could not bring himself to extinguish the light that shone out from them. Even at wandpoint, the Headmaster had treated him as a student who had been caught breaking curfew, not a branded Death Eater making an assassination attempt on his life. With each sincere offer of help, Draco's determination that had given him the courage to breach the castle's defenses withered. The disappointment in Dumbledore's eyes at the sight of the crazy werewolf had been unbearable. And then, Severus had run up those stairs. The old man had cried out his name, pleadingly, imploringly. The sheer power that rippled off Severus after he cast the curse had been incredibly frightening. Everything that followed was a blur, moving as if in slow motion. He could only remember Severus telling him to run.

He raced up the stairs leading to the main entrance of the house. The doors opened, revealing his mother dressed in her favorite midnight blue robes.

"Draco!" cried Narcissa as Draco stepped inside the foyer. "What in heaven's name are you doing here?" He kissed her cheek quickly, unclasping his cloak and throwing it to a waiting maid.

"He's dead," gasped Draco as he caught his breath. "Severus, he - I had -" he scoffed at his speechlessness and turned to go upstairs. "Send the house elves up to help me pack, Mother."

"What?" shrieked Narcissa, frightening the maid drying Draco's cloak. Draco whipped around, glaring at her.

"House elves! Now, Mother!" shouted Draco. Narcissa snapped her fingers, summoning an old elf with long ears.

"Alexy, go help Draco," she ordered. "Take Hatcher and Mipsy with you. Go!"

"Yes, Mistress," said the elf, bowing and disapparating with a crack. Narcissa put her hands on the sides of her head, trying to focus on a single thought. She jumped at a loud beating on the door.

"Narcissa, open the door!" cried a rough voice on the other side. Tears of relief sprung to her eyes as she pulled open the door, revealing an exhausted and tattered Severus Snape.

"May I come in?" asked Severus quickly, the rain dripping steadily off his drenched, shoulder-length hair. Narcissa grabbed his arm and pulled him inside.

"Severus?" asked Narcissa, reaching up to unclasp his cloak. He gently stopped her hands, his breathing still ragged from his sprinting up the hill.

"Where is he?" whispered Severus. "Is he alright?"

"Yes, he's fine," said Narcissa. "He's upstairs packing. Severus, what happened? Oh my God, you're bleeding!"

"I'm alright, Cissa," said Severus firmly. He took a deep breath and sighed. "Dumbledore is dead. I kept my end of the bargain, as Draco did not have the courage to cast the curse."

"But what about the Dark Lord?" asked Narcissa. Severus's eyes narrowed, causing Narcissa to unconsciously cower away from him.

"You weren't so worried about the Dark Lord's opinion on the matter when you made me swear that Vow," said Severus silkily. "It's too late for second thoughts, Narcissa. From here on out, it's simply damage control."

"Damage control?" shrieked Narcissa. "DAMAGE CONTROL?"

"Calm yourself, woman!" said Severus sternly. "You must leave and leave quickly. The Aurors will be here soon. Draco must come with me to report to the Dark Lord."

"Will he be alright?" she asked, looking fearfully into his blank face. His expression softened slightly.

"I don't know," he whispered. "The Dark Lord's wrath will be terrible. It will be a miracle if he is allowed to live. I think," he paused, gazing intensely into her eyes, "I think we may have made a mistake with that Vow, Cissa." He turned away from her, taking a few steps towards the staircase and shouting up to the second floor. "Draco! We need to go!" Draco reappeared on the landing, dressed in a black tunic and trousers.

"What took you so long?" snapped Draco. He quickly descended the staircase and drew his wand.

"I had to take care of something," said Severus evasively, trying not to think of the fury and betrayal in Potter's eyes. He flicked his wand into his hand from a wrist holster strapped to his bloody forearm. With an elegant twitch, a black cloak appeared on the end, as if his wand were a coat rack. He plucked it off and swung the heavy fabric over his shoulders as Draco did the same. He reached into the cloak's interior pocket and pulled out the white, faceless mask as he completely occluded his mind. He slipped the mask over his face, gritting his teeth slightly at the nauseating feel of it plastering itself to his clammy skin. He lifted the hood of his cloak over his head and slid back his left sleeve.

"Are you ready?" asked Severus, eyeing the boy carefully. Wordlessly, Draco grabbed Severus's right arm. Severus glanced back at Narcissa and nodded curtly. He touched his wand to the Mark on his arm.

"Locuseres," murmured Severus. After a second of silence, both Death Eaters disappeared with a crack.

They reappeared inside a dank, dark chamber. The stone walls were covered in tiny droplets of liquid, giving the room an uncomfortable chill. Severus immediately dropped to his knee and pulled hard on Draco's arm, signaling for him to follow suit. Draco quickly dropped down beside him as a torch flared to life, revealing a raised dais and the legs of a black marble chair.

"What is your report, Severus?' said a cold, mirthless voice, its tone full of malice and ill-disguised impatience. "It had better be good news, for your sake."

"My lord," said Severus quietly. "Albus Dumbledore is dead." He felt Draco start violently as Voldemort leapt up from his seat.

"You're going to have to repeat that," said Voldemort softly, glaring hatefully at Draco. "I'm not quite sure I heard you correctly."

"Dumbledore is dead, my lord," repeated Severus, the adrenaline racing through his body causing him to shiver. This did not bode well. Not well at all. He could feel the Dark Lord walk ever so slowly towards them, and resisted the urge to lift his eyes.

"Is he, now?" murmured Voldemort. He sneered down at Draco's visibly trembling head. "My young Dragon, if you would be so kind as to enlighten me on how you killed the old man, I would be most grateful."

Both Severus and Draco's hearts skipped a beat. Draco turned his head slightly, looking to Severus for help.

"Answer me! Do not look at him!" snarled Voldemort, seizing Draco by the back of his cloak. With remarkable strength, he threw Draco across the room, drawing the gnarled length of yew from his cloak.

"Crucio!" shouted Voldemort, hitting the boy with a full strength curse. Severus closed his eyes, knowing he would never be able to forget those screams. He cringed at the sound of several bones snapping cleanly in half. Voldemort lifted the curse, leaving Draco whimpering in the corner as he began circling Severus.

"Who killed him, Severus?" said Voldemort, his tone deceptively melodic.

"I did, my lord," said Severus softly. There was a brief stretch of silence, punctuated by gasps of pain from Draco.

"I see," said Voldemort. Another pause. "And why did you complete young Malfoy's task when I had not instructed you to do so? In fact, now that I think about it, I don't even recall informing you of the boy's task."

"My lord," said Severus quickly, "I can explain."

"I'm sure you can, Severus," said Voldemort blithely. "However, I have a job for you to do before we begin. I want you to go and find this impertinent whelp's whore of a mother and bring her to me. Now!"

"Yes, my lord," muttered Severus. He stood and immediately apparated back to the Manor's gates, being doused with rainwater yet again. He sprinted back up the hill, cursing Lucius's paranoia about intruders on his property. Again, he beat on the front doors. This time, a house elf answered the door.

"May I help you, Master Snape?" asked the elf humbly.

"I need to speak with your Mistress," shouted Severus over the sound of the storm. The elf stepped aside too slowly for Severus's liking. He pushed open the door and stormed into the foyer.

"NARCISSA!" roared Severus. "NARCIS-oh, there you are." Narcissa appeared from a side room, holding a book in her hands. He stood there, catching his breath and staring at her sadly.

"What is it?" asked Narcissa, dreading his response.

"Your presence is requested," said Severus. "By order of the Dark Lord." Narcissa's face paled alarmingly.

"Alexy," called Narcissa. The long-ear house elf appeared immediately at her side. She handed him the book. "Continue with the packing. Make sure to pack everything from underneath the drawing room floor." She walked towards Severus, who held out his hand to her. She took it, squeezing it tightly. Steeling his nerve, Severus raised the hand that held Narcissa's and touched his wand to his Mark. The two of them reappeared inside Voldemort's receiving chamber.

They stared in shock at the sight of Draco, naked to the waist, dangling from a chain that hung from the ceiling, his back facing them. Voldemort stepped out from behind him, smirking cruelly at the tears streaming down Narcissa's face.

"Welcome, Madam Malfoy," hissed Voldemort. "I'm so glad you could spare me a few moments of your time this evening. I am in a bit of a situation here, you see. Oh, but I have been so rude as to not offer you a seat. Please, my dear, sit down." He waved his hand, conjuring a wooden chair behind her. Before she could turn, Voldemort drew his wand and bound her to the seat. She struggled against her invisible restraints.

"Now, now, Narcissa," said Voldemort kindly. "The show is just about to begin. Your dear sister has informed me of a meeting you had with my lieutenant last summer. Does this ring a bell?" Severus exhaled shakily, his eyes on his godson's bent neck.

"Yes, my lord," whispered Narcissa. A sob escaped her throat as her eyes were glued to her son's body.

"Hmm," mused Voldemort. "I admit that I was hesitant to believe her. You can just imagine my shock at hearing that one of my most trusted counselors had sworn to complete a task he was not to know about and not only that, but he swore with his life!" He threw his head back in mirthless laughter. "Oh, oh my goodness. I think I might just break a rib." His face fell immediately.

"This is the price one pays for meddling in my affairs, Madam," said Voldemort silkily. "Know that this punishment was brought upon yourself and your husband by your arrogance and pride. You have lost me my spy within the Order of the Phoenix and on that blasted brat Potter. I do not like losing things, Narcissa." He turned and stepped off to the side. He slowly lifted his wand.

"Please," cried Narcissa. "Please! Not my baby, please!"

Voldemort flicked his wand. Thin leather straps shot out from the tip. The shards of glass tied to the end of the strips glinted in the torchlight. Narcissa could no longer contain her sobbing and shrieks for mercy. Grinning, Voldemort swung the whip and lodged the glass into the boy's back. Draco screamed in pain as Voldemort yanked the whip back, pulling bits of flesh and muscle with it. Drops of blood and flesh splattered everywhere, hitting Severus and Narcissa's faces and robes.

Severus's stomach rolled as Voldemort continued to whip the boy, tearing his back to shreds. Albus had warned Severus that the Dark Lord would not take Draco's failure lightly, that the boy would most likely pay dearly for his pledging his loyalty to the madman, especially after Lucius failed to retrieve the Prophecy orb. But this? Nothing could have prepared him for watching his godson be tortured to death before his very eyes. Despite Draco's attitude and disrespect of him since he entered Hogwarts, there was still a part of him who pitied the child, a part of him that loved the little boy that Draco had been back before the war had started again. He had tried so hard to keep Draco from blindly following his father into the Circle. He had tried to explain some of the horrors of being a Death Eater to counter Lucius's depictions of the glories of serving the Dark Lord, but it had all been in vain.

His heart sank with guilt as he continued to watch Draco be tortured. The boy had fallen unconscious, blood soaking through the waist of his trousers. Voldemort cancelled the charm on his wand and turned Draco so that he faced them. Narcissa was in complete hysterics, shrieking and pulling so hard at her restraints that her wrists were bleeding through her robes. Voldemort aimed several Slicing hexes across Draco's chest, criss-crossing the huge scar that ran down the length of his pale torso.

"Ennervate," muttered Voldemort, touching his wand to Draco's chest. Draco's eyes opened, then shut tight as he cried out in pain. Voldemort turned his wand to Narcissa.

"Imperio," crooned Voldemort. He waved his hand at her, releasing her restraints. Narcissa's face became blank as she rose from her chair and walked slowly towards Draco, drawing her wand.

"Mother," gasped Draco as Narcissa stopped directly in front of him. "Mother! Throw it off! Mother!"

Narcissa didn't hear him. She raised her wand to his face, and with two quick motions, gouged out his eyes, allowing them to hit the floor. Severus lifted his mask, staring at the Dark Lord in horror. Voldemort smirked cruelly at him as he kept his wand on Narcissa.

She bent down, deaf to her shrieking son, and picked up his eyes in her hands. Voldemort cancelled the curse, laughing as Narcissa looked down at her bloody hands. Shaking violently, she spun around, meeting Severus's glassy eyes as she gasped for breath.

"Allow me to put this miserable wretch out of his misery," said Voldemort. "Incendio!"

Narcissa stumbled back as Draco's body erupted in flames. Voldemort's laughter echoed in the stone chamber as she released Draco's wrists, dropping him to the floor. Severus could not restain himself any longer. He rushed to her side, casting charms and spells to put out the flames and to prevent the boy's skin from burning further. Voldemort pushed him aside, pointing his wand at the deformed flesh.

"Avada Kedavra!" hissed Voldemort furiously. Draco's mutilated body went stiff, before crumbling into ashes. Voldemort swept his wand in front of him, scattering the ashes across the room.

"I hope that you have learned your lesson, my Snake," said Voldemort softly, turning towards a shocked and dumbfounded Severus. "Take Narcissa and go. I will summon you once I have had time to think through some things. I will be recalling Wormtail to my side. You are no longer in need of surveillance. I think your loyalty to me has been shown to be quite strong, despite your attachments to your students."

"Yes, my lord," choked out Severus, tears of rage and frustration streaming down his face. Voldemort smiled and sat back down on his throne. Severus reached out a hand for Narcissa, but she stood and disapparated before he could reach her. Severus closed his eyes and concentrated on the bridge near Spinner's End, leaving the chamber without a sound.