A few notes and warnings before we begin (actually, a lot—sorry. Future notes will be more limited):

Slytherin's Warning is a story about one direction Draco Malfoy's life could have taken after the disastrous end of his sixth year at Hogwarts—a direction he never would have expected. It is compliant with canon through the end of book six. As such, there will be a nod to the romantic relationships depicted in canon. However, that won't be the story's focus at all, and I think of it as gen.

Now, a warning: I think JKR is killing 2 major characters in DH--and I' relieved she's not killing more. But in this story quite a few won't make it. I am, for example, killing off 59 percent of the students we know to be in Harry's year (but I'm not telling you who, of course). Consider no one safe (not even the narrator). While almost all the deaths take place off-screen, as it were, discussion of them may be very blunt. If you disagree with the rating I've given it, please let me know.

If you want to flame, all I ask is that you include plenty of spelling and grammatical errors. That would make me feel a bit less crushed. : ) Also, if you see something that seems "wrong," please keep in mind that this story is from Draco's point of view, and consider if he has the information we (having seen the stories through Harry's eyes) possess. It is my stated intention to have the story completely online before DH comes out (and makes it all AU). It will be close, but I think I can do it.

It goes without saying, of course, that neither Harry Potter nor the universe he inhabits belong to me.

Thanks for reading, and on with the story….

1 - Running

Everything burns
While everyone screams
Burning their lies
Burning my dreams
All of this hate
And all of this pain
I'll burn it all down
As my anger reigns
'Till everything burns…

chorus from Everything Burns (Ben Moody ft. Anastacia)

Draco ran. He was faintly aware of Master Snape somewhere behind him, and other shouting voices, but he didn't slow down or dare a look back. He breathed heavily, focusing on the mechanical task of running. It took him a moment to realize he'd passed the gates and thus Hogwarts' wards, so he ran a little farther than he really needed to before stopping. Still not looking back, he concentrated and Disapparated with a "pop."

He reappeared in a large, empty room, devoid even of furniture and wall decorations. Draco took a few deep breaths, but could still feel his heart hammering. His legs suddenly felt like jelly, and he barely made it to the wall before they gave out completely, forcing him to slide to the floor. It was shock, he realized; his hands were trembling as well. Letting them fall to his lap, Draco closed his eyes and let his head fall back to rest against the wall. Master Snape would be here soon; until then he just needed to wait. Master Snape was fine, and he'd know what to do.

Professor Dumbledore is dead.

Draco stiffened again at the thought, and his trembling increased. Of course the fool was dead, and good riddance too! After all, hadn't that been his goal all year? Hadn't he been patient, crafty, the ultimate Slytherin as he closed in on his prey like a shark circling a minnow? But—the image was fixed in his mind; the green light jetting forward, those infuriating blue eyes going blank as the headmaster fell.

"You are not a killer," the headmaster had said. It was practically the first thing he'd said, in a conversation where Draco should have been the one in control, yet still was not. What if—Merlin, no! It couldn't be—but what if… Dumbledore was right? Faced with his moment of ultimate glory, Draco had frozen. Even now as he grappled for some excuse, some justification for his failure, they all sounded empty. If the old man was right, it was all over. Draco had no illusions about the future of a Death Eater unable to do his duty. Belatedly realizing his hands were clenched into fists, he let out a long breath and consciously fought for calm, for self-control. Master Snape would come soon, and he'd know what to do.

A few seconds or an eternity later—and surely one of the two—Master Snape appeared with the signature soft crack that accompanied skilled Apparition. He didn't appear injured, but Draco still flinched away a little as the older man strode towards him. Master Snape's black eyes gleamed with a hatred and revulsion that Draco hoped to Merlin wasn't directed at him. Though he had failed….

"What are you waiting for?" Master Snape hissed, and roughly pulled Draco to his feet. Resisting the urge to rub his arm even though it hurt, Draco took hold of one end of the scrap of green fabric the other man held. It was a Portkey, of course. Only a chosen few were given access to the geographical information needed to Apparate directly to their Lord, after all. After a moment Draco felt the familiar tug from behind his navel.

They landed a moment later in another featureless room and Master Snape disintegrated the used Portkey without a word before drawing another scrap of fabric a slightly different shade of green out from his robes. It would be a multiple-Portkey trip. These were hardly Ministry-authorized Portkeys, and such measures were to make them as difficult as possible to trace.

Two more jumps—this time they landed on a desolate, snow-covered hill. Draco had no idea where they were. Master Snape brought out the next Portkey, but instead of offering the other end, curled his fingers over it and turned his dark eyes on Draco. He did not need to incant Legilimens aloud to break into Draco's mind, and Draco still felt far too rattled to properly defend himself. His mental barriers were ripped apart as easily as parchment soaked in water.

He felt a fissure of fear; he'd be punished for his failure, of course, but surely that was for the Dark Lord to decide? Or was Draco so unimportant his fate was put in the hands of the man before him, whose eyes still flashed with rage?

Finally, Master Snape spoke, his dispassionate voice at odds with his expression. "Naturally you wonder if the Dark Lord intends to kill you. It is difficult to say; he has possibly not yet decided himself yet. Your actions have put me in a tenuous position, Draco. Did you never think what should happen if you were to fail?"

"Of course I did! I've been thinking of nothing else! He sent a message… he'll kill my whole family."

Master Snape sneered. "Hardly. Why should he kill your mother? A skilled politician, socially connected, and untainted by a physical Mark, she is much more useful alive. Your father languishes in Azkaban and would forsake you in a moment at the Dark Lord's command. No, Draco. Only a child would believe such a threat. Your failure endangers you and me."

"You?" Draco gasped, mind reeling. His mother was never in danger? But surely Master Snape knew how worried Draco had been for his mother, the sleep he'd lost when, as plan after plan failed, he had nightmare after nightmare over what could happen to her.

"I swore an Unbreakable Vow to aid you and protect you from harm. Not to do so would kill me as effectively as an Avada Kedavra. And now, as you go—rightfully—to face your punishment, I nevertheless am sworn to aid you or die."

"And helping me will be against our Lord's wishes," Draco said, finally understanding. He bowed his head. "I'm sorry, Master Snape."

"Do not waste my time with useless apologies. Here." Master Snape removed a small silver ring from his robes' inside pocket and held it up. There was a single small emerald set on it, which caught the light. "Give me your hand."

He slid the ring onto the first finger of Draco's left hand, the emerald facing towards his palm. "A true Slytherin always keeps his options open, Draco. You will complete the last two Portkey jumps with me and present yourself to the Dark Lord. Perhaps he will be merciful. If he is not, you may accept your punishment as your due, or… you may use this Portkey."

Draco stared. "I don't understand."

Master Snape looked impatient. "To use such a Portkey means to defy our Lord. I will not force you to take such action, not in these times. And perhaps if you inform the Dark Lord of its existence you could escape his wrath by turning it onto me. Yet I made an oath to aid you. This is the most I can do."

Draco stared at the metal. It looked so innocuous, as most Portkeys did. "Where will—would—where would it take me?"

For the first time in Draco's memory the other man hesitated. "It will take you someplace as safe as anywhere in these times. And to someone who will listen to you. Someone…" Snape grimaced, "…trustworthy. To activate it, press your thumb to the stone and say, 'I refuse.' It will at least be something you won't accidentally say." He seemed on the verge of saying something else, but instead closed his mouth in a severe line and extended the fabric Portkey. Draco took it, the ring feeling cold on his skin even as they were jerked away. He'd accepted it to fulfill the other man's oath, of course. Draco Malfoy had too much honour and pride to run away from his just punishment. And he would never defy his Lord.

When at length they appeared in the Dark Lord's council room, Draco was so unsettled by the repeated Portkeys he was unable to land on his feet. Master Snape jerked him upright again and strode forward, robes billowing around him, as Draco stumbled behind. There were perhaps ten other Death Eaters in the room, and they backed away from the pair, clearing a path to the dark throne.

Five feet away from the throne, Master Snape dropped to his knees, and Draco hastily did the same. "My Lord," they both said.

"Severus, you may approach." Their Lord's voice was a sibilant hiss. Master Snape crawled forward and kissed the hem of their master's robes. "Malfoy." Draco inched forward, dearly hoping he wouldn't stumble or somehow foul this up too. "Not so confident now," the Dark Lord mused. "Look at me."

Draco reluctantly did so, knowing the Dark Lord would see his shame. For even if his Occlumency skills were a match for the Dark Lord (which of course they were not), he would never hide anything from his master. Draco was faintly aware of his aunt, Bellatrix, standing in the shadows behind the throne, attentive to their Lord's needs.

The events of the day flashed before his eyes again, what might have been called a smile curling onto the Dark Lord's face as he saw his old adversary alone and weak. After an age in which Draco felt as though his every weakness had been laid bare, the Dark Lord stepped back, saying simply, "I am displeased." He brought up his wand casually, almost lazily. "Crucio." A scream tore out of Draco and he collapsed to the floor as fire flew down his veins. An unidentifiable amount of time later it was over and Draco was gasping on the floor. The Dark Lord's voice was little above a whisper. "I had hoped for great things from the son of one of my most faithful servants… if not always the most competent. Now I confess myself… disappointed. Yaxley, Goyle… escort him to cell eighteen while I consider his fate. Accio." Draco's wand flew into his Lord's hand, who pocketed it before turning away.

Draco felt rather than saw two Death Eaters approach him from behind and was roughly dragged away from the council room, to the twisting corridors leading to the dungeons of the Dark Lord. He caught a last glimpse of Master Snape's face, which was devoid of emotion, before the room disappeared from sight. There were many turns Draco couldn't keep track of, some stairs, going deeper… and at length he was thrown into the cell.

It was a small square, with a slot in the door for a food tray, and chains securely hooked to the walls. At least he wasn't chained, he thought, but it was a small comfort. He didn't even look at the ring on his finger. It meant nothing. He would be strong and take his punishment, whatever Crucios or other torture he deserved. Still, he felt jittery, unsettled. As he forced himself to an uneasy sleep, a final thought stole across him: Dumbledore is dead; everything has changed.

He dreamed, and even as he stepped into the dream he knew it was also memory. It was a grey room, wide and mostly empty, with a high, vaulted ceiling. There were rows of cages along one wall, a rabbit in each. Draco unlocked one cage and levitated its rabbit out. It was white with black spots on its ears. Then he said levelly, "Imperio." He practiced making the animal do all sorts of amusing things, his favourite being when the rabbit danced a little jig, ears bouncing. It wasn't a difficult curse at all, really. Eventually growing bored, he thought perhaps he could begin practice on the next curse. He'd received a message that by summer's end, he needed competence in all three. So he'd eyed the rabbit a little, but then thought that there was certainly plenty of time left. A flick of his wand sent the animal back into its cage. In his sleep, Draco shivered. When he opened his eyes there was only darkness, so he closed them again but remained awake. He didn't want to think about the rabbits, or the previous summer, or most of the past year, really.

But there was nothing to do but think. The room remained dark and quiet; no one came to check on him, to bring him food or torture or release. Draco measured off the cell—it was nine paces by eight. He counted off hours but eventually lost count. Sometimes he slept but the dreams always returned. He only knew he was dreaming because he wasn't thirsty in his dreams. And soon he avoided the back right corner as well; they hadn't even deigned to give him a pail, and there was nothing else to be done. That somehow humiliated Draco more than being imprisoned.

Draco leveled his wand at a rabbit and said, "Crucio." It was a brown rabbit this time, with ears that flopped down. The curse was sound but he released it almost immediately, startled when the rabbit screamed. It was high-pitched and utterly terrified, when he'd never considered the creatures as being able to feel pain before. He'd been grateful for the silencing charms on the room; he was embarrassed by his failure. And perhaps more important in a way: he had no intention of listening to the sound again.

Draco thought that perhaps a day or more had passed. He imagined Wanted! posters with his name and picture being distributed, Aurors trading information on his whereabouts. Perhaps the Seventh Years had already been initiated; it had been Draco's intent to be among them, honoured by the Dark Lord a year before his peers. Maybe not though—it was only that morning he himself was standing in the Slytherin common room, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle, feeling a kind of breathless excitement that his plan was so close to fruition, he could almost taste it. And now he would never see Hogwarts again, until the day it fell. If he was allowed to live.

He'd imagined it countless times, the Dark Lord leading them all into the Chamber of Secrets; he'd always pictured a grander, more pure version of the great hall for some reason. He'd imagined faceless blood traitors and mudbloods cowering in terror as they awaited judgment and execution. He'd imagined Granger in particular kneeling at his feet, sobbing and kissing his robes in supplication. In his imagination, he'd stomped on one slender outstretched hand and dragged her by that obnoxious hair before his Lord. I beg of you, my Lord… kill this one slowly. And make the Weasel watch. He'd mused that he might even be given the honor of killing the mudbloods and blood traitors in his year.

Even after putting silencing charms on the rabbit, the Cruciatus continued to give him trouble. He could no longer hear the terrible squeals, but he could still see—had to see—the animal twitching and spasming as pain ripped away control of any kind. After a time the jerking body stilled, and Draco had to abruptly conjure a pail to vomit into. He vanished the pail when he was done, wondering why that had happened, and checked his robes to make sure they were clean. After that he pictured Potter's face while casting the spell—focused on that arrogant, defiant, smirking smile. How he longed to wipe that face of any happiness; despite the lectures about controlling his temper, he felt he restrained himself rather well… it was just that Potter was so infuriating….

Potter. Malfoy had imagined often enough the look on the other boy's face upon learning of Dumbledore's death. But this was the first time he'd thought of the Prat-Who-Lived since that day. Hope he's broken up completely, Draco thought, a malicious smile curving across his tired face. Hope he's a right mess. Hope all the mudbloods are scrambling to get out of England. They won't get far. Not for long. That he was sure of, whether Draco would get to step over the broken stones of Hogwarts with his Lord or not.

Then Draco heard footsteps.

At first he thought they were his imagination, but then he realized that he ached and smelled and his throat burned, so it was probably real. He thought about lounging against a cell wall like he hadn't a care in the world—oh, this was meant to be unpleasant?—but fortunately realized in time how ludicrous that would be. Besides, he should be respectful, at least. He was here for a reason. For failing his Lord. So he slowly stood, and waited behind the bars. He wondered if they'd brought water.

It was Yaxley and Goyle again. They smirked at him. Draco made his face expressionless, and they actually looked a little disappointed, the idiots. What did they expect to find, a broken man? Did they truly not realize the strength and quality of Malfoy blood? Yaxley waved his wand and Draco's hands were tightly bound behind his back. The cell door swung open and Goyle grunted, "Come along then."

The council room was much more crowded now, Death Eaters lined along each wall. Draco knew many of them, but their faces were concealed by their masks and hoods. The Dark Lord's head was bare and gleaming, his eyes glowing red. He was terrifying and awesome to behold. Draco's guards had to pull him through the crowd to a small clearing in the room's center. There was another woman there, kneeling on the floor—a muggle woman, judging by her odd clothing. Her face was very red and every few seconds she sobbed loudly. She brightened the tiniest amount when she saw Draco, and he could only assume that she believed him to be an ally. Stupid bitch. He was pushed to a place beside her.

And then there was a sudden silence mingled with breathless anticipation, as the Dark Lord rose to speak. "My friends. Many among you have wondered when we would bring our power to bear upon this country. You have not spoken of it, but you have wondered. I have seen your thoughts… Yes… you wonder when the blood of the mudbloods will flow in the street gutters where it belongs, when the ring of their screams will echo in your ears. I tell you now; Dumbledore is dead and buried—it is time!"

The muggle cried even harder, but the sound was drowned out as the Death Eaters roared their approval. The Dark Lord continued, "Do not worry about Harry Potter. Soon enough you all will have your chances to make him scream. Without the Old Fool guiding his steps he shall be as easy prey as the filthy muggle now cowering before you." Another cheer.

Draco tensed as the crowd turned its attention to him. Did they already know of the part he'd played this past year? Did they know of his failure? Knowing his circumstances were shared with a mudblood, worth less than the grime of the dungeons on his robe, was humiliating enough, but would the muggle ever stop its useless sniveling? Draco's hands were suddenly free, and he struggled to keep his face impassive. The crowd quieted and Draco could feel their stares. Yaxley returned Draco's wand, and it felt warm and welcome against his palm. The Dark Lord gestured to the mudblood and spoke two words. "Kill it."

Draco raised his wand. He felt nothing for the creature before him, save disgust. He should be in the shadows with the others now. But his arm trembled, betraying him, and though he wanted more than anything to incant the curse, the words somehow disappeared inside his throat. Dumbledore's eyes went wide and blank and he fell backward. The rabbit howled. The Death Eaters murmured, their words indistinct.

"You can't do it," said Draco's Lord, his tone inscrutable. Draco couldn't answer. His wand still pointed towards the mudblood, but his hand was shaking very badly now. What was wrong with him? How could this be happening? The Dark Lord said quietly, "Severus?" and a Death Eater at the front of the circle stepped forward. Draco could recognize his teacher's smooth voice in the cool, "Avada Kedavra." The mudblood screamed once and slumped forward. Again Draco had failed a test.

His wand was snatched away again, and though no chains appeared, Draco's fingers suddenly fused together. Something hard was digging into his thumb, but he couldn't quite register it as red eyes bored into his grey ones. "It seems," the Dark Lord purred, "that young Malfoy hasn't the will to be one of us. How disappointing this ancient House has been to me. The father with no brains, the son with no will." More murmuring around the room, and Draco was angry and frightened and ashamed all at once. The dead mudblood seemed to be staring at him, but of course that was ridiculous; its eyes were open, but sightless. Draco felt transfixed by the sight, and was jolted into awareness by a powerful cutting curse, followed by the Cruciatus. He was slammed into the floor, his joints twisted, flesh burnt and ripped away, the dark room swaying above him. And the Cruciatus. Again and again, always stopping just before he could sink into blissful darkness.

It seemed to last forever, and when the air grew heavy and quiet, and the Dark Lord raised his wand again, Draco understood with every fiber of his being that the Killing Curse would be next, that he would die here, gasping, sprawled on the slick black stone, without glory or honour or in any way befitting his status. Utterly without conscious thought, he blurted, "I refuse!" and got a split-second view of actual emotion—surprise, no less—on the Dark Lord's face before he was swept away.

The Portkey sent him tumbling a second later onto a worn wood floor, and now he could feel the cuts across his body much more sharply. Reeling at both the day's events and his own actions, Draco was only faintly aware of a shocked voice saying, "Mr. Malfoy?" before he fell into unconsciousness.