Written for a MNFF challenge (write a one-shot using the theme of choices or betrayal) in August 2005.

In the Veins of a Traitor

The faint, flickering flames of the torches attached magically to the stone walls of a dark, winding corridor cast ghostly shadows across the hooded figures passing by. Every now and then, a torch would burn out with a low hiss, only to be re-lit by a muttered incantation.

As the group moved through the sphere of light cast by a particularly bright torch, a boy's pointed face was illuminated briefly. Unlike his companions, he was not wearing a heavy black cloak, nor was he hooded. Instead, he wore a tattered grey robe that gave off the appearance of not having been removed for many weeks. His features looked just as worn-down and uncared for; his light blond hair was matted and unevenly cut, while his ghostly pale face was marred and disfigured by half-healed cuts and bruises. His shoulders shook slightly as he moved alongside the others in the group, and the faintest tremble could be detected in his bottom lip. However, his light grey eyes were empty and void of emotion, and he walked on resolutely.

The party continued down the dark passageway, never pausing, never slowing. The only sounds came from the listless dripping of water from the ceiling and the hollow echoing of their footsteps. None of them uttered a word, but tension and fear hung thickly in the air.

At last, the tall figure heading the group stopped. He had hit a dead end. Reaching up, he muttered a few words in an ancient language under his breath and swept his hand across the jagged rocks protruding from the wall before him.

Almost instantly, a low rumbling filled the corridor. The pale boy gave a noticeable twitch as the wall began to retreat into the ground, but made no attempt to move away. At last, the wall disappeared completely, and the group moved onward into a dark, circular room, lit even more dimly than the passageway they had just come from.

The moment the wall returned to its original state, the dying flames on the torches located around the room suddenly burst into life, throwing everything into view. The circular area was bare, save for one thing: In the very centre of the room, in between two burly robed men, rose a cracked stone throne, upon which sat a very tall man wearing a crimson cloak. His features were hidden beneath his hood, but his long, white fingers, the only parts of his body that were visible, were curled on the armrests of the throne, looking like octopus tentacles clinging onto a rock.

"Master," murmured seven or eight voices, as every one of the hooded figures, as well as the blond boy, fell to their knees and bowed their heads in respect.

A pause, and then came Lord Voldemort's chilling, unnaturally high voice. "Stand up, Draco."

The boy immediately scrambled to his feet, his head still bowed. "My Lord," he whispered, his voice cracking.

"Look at me," hissed Voldemort.

The boy named Draco, now trembling violently, seemed to have no choice but to obey as he slowly lifted his head. His eyes met a pair of scarlet, slanted ones, hidden underneath a hood of the same colour, and Draco's face – if it was even possible – paled even more. For the first time, a hint of fear was detectable in his blank grey eyes.

"I – I..."

"Be quiet," commanded Voldemort. There was no anger or impatience in his voice; on the contrary, it sounded as if he were enjoying himself.

Draco fell silent at once. His thin frame was shaking so madly that he looked as though he would fall to pieces any second, but he continued to stare up at the figure on the throne, apparently unable to tear his eyes away.

"So," remarked Voldemort calmly, "I have recently received news from my loyal Death Eaters that you have involved yourself in a...sticky situation." He laughed, a high, cold sound that held no trace of joy. "Why don't you entertain us with details?"

Draco's eyes widened. "M-master," he stammered, and he swayed dangerously. "Master, I never intended to...I was forced to...didn't have any choice..."

"Silence," ordered Voldemort quietly, and all the amusement was gone from his voice now. "You claim you were forced to tell them?"

"I was, my Lord," whispered Draco, sounding relieved but still frightened. "They surrounded me at the manor, they tortured my mother, and then –"

"Liar!" shrieked Voldemort, cutting Draco off, and at last he stood up. His red cloak slid off the throne behind him like a thick river of blood. The row of hooded figures behind Draco let out a simultaneous gasp and shrunk back. Draco, too, looked as though he would have given anything at that moment to retreat as well, but he remained rooted to the spot as his master continued to speak in a shrill voice. "They did not force you; you were too weak to carry through with my orders. You approached them, begging for protection...protection in exchange for –"

"NO!" shouted Draco, and his knees finally gave out underneath him. He tried to stumble to his feet, but he fell again. "No, my Lord, it isn't true!"

"You dare interrupt me?" bellowed Voldemort. "You dare, when you have betrayed me and my Death Eaters?"

"I didn't!" screamed Draco, lifting his head up to look at Voldemort. The flames on the torches flared up, illuminating his tear-streaked face. "I – I had to! They would have killed me!"

"They would not have," Voldemort hissed, and he swooped forward, halting a metre away from Draco. The boy let out a loud gasp and tried to scramble backwards, but though he struggled, it was as though he were held in his spot by invisible chains. "They would have let you go. They knew you were no threat to them, that you were the worthless, lying child you are."

Draco began sobbing loudly, gasping and gulping for breath. Murmurs rose from the row of cloaked figures who had brought him there, but they died down when Voldemort held up a long-fingered hand.

"Yes," he mused, and the malice in his voice was suddenly replaced by amusement again, "you are a child. You do not know better. I will admit that I had expected nothing less from you – which is why I gave you false information."

Draco's hunched-over form immediately went rigid. "M-my Lord?"

"I did," whispered Voldemort, laughing softly again. "Everything I told you meant nothing. It was a test, Draco, a test to see where your loyalties lay and whether you were willing to endure pain and death for your master."

"S-so...so it was not valid information...I...I'm not to be p-punished, then?" Draco looked up again, and suddenly there was hope glimmering in his grey eyes. Though tears still shone on his cheeks, he had stopped shaking.

"No, for you see, you didn't pass the test. You betrayed us. You are only a child, but you are pathetic and weak. I have no use for anyone like you." Voldemort finished his sentence by brandishing a thin wooden object: his wand. He pointed it straight at Draco.

"You were afraid of the consequences of being a Death Eater. Why don't we see how you deal with real pain?" The red eyes flashed before their owner said quietly, "Crucio."

Draco, who had, seconds ago been whimpering pathetically, let out a bloodcurdling scream. His thin frame began to thrash violently against the dusty stone floor as his arms flailed wildly in front of him, fighting off an invisible enemy. Behind him, one of the cloaked figures on his knees near the end of the row tensed up, but otherwise remained still and watched with his companions as the young boy began to claw at his face with his own hands, opening nearly-healed wounds and carving new ones. His shrieks of pain echoed within the stone confinements of the room, each one louder than the previous.

The moment Voldemort lifted his wand up, Draco's arms fell to his sides. However, before another incantation could be uttered, Draco had struggled frantically to his knees. His short, ragged breaths filled the silent room as he began to crawl desperately towards the cloaked man who had earlier showed the faintest sign of discomfort when he was being punished.

"Severus," gasped Draco the moment he collapsed in front of the man. "Severus...my mother...she would have wanted you to spare me..."

"Stand up, Draco." The hood was removed to reveal a long, hook-nosed face surrounded by a curtain of black hair. Severus smoothly got to his feet, keeping his dark eyes on Draco the entire time.

In response, Draco fell forward, grabbing Severus by the ankles. "You have to help me..." he pleaded, frantically clutching at the hem of his former professor's robes.

Severus' thin lips curled at the corners in contempt. There was disgust etched in every line of his face, and not a single shred of pity could be found in the stare he fixed on the boy at his feet as he said in a hard voice, "I said, stand up."

Instead of waiting for Draco to obey, Severus grabbed the neck of Draco's robes and hauled the shaking boy to his feet. Once released, Draco toppled forward almost immediately, and was forced to grab Severus' arms to steady himself. Severus' face paled, but he continued in a calm voice, "You brought this upon yourself, Draco. You knew what you were getting yourself into. You chose your own fate."

"Noooo," moaned Draco, falling forward and burying his face in the front of Severus' robes. "I was so scared...you know them, they would have murdered me...and you've been my protector...for so long...in Hogwarts...every day...please..."

A muscle tightened in Severus' cheek, but he simply pushed Draco away from him, holding him out at arm's length instead. "Hogwarts is gone, Draco. I no longer watch over you. I serve no one but the Dark Lord, and that is the only similarity that exists between us now. Or so" – he paused and looked up quickly at Voldemort, who still had his wand pointed at Draco and was observing the exchange between his two Death Eaters, amusement glinting in his cruel red eyes – "we once thought."

"You'll watch me die, then?" asked Draco, and his voice was suddenly steadier. He lifted his tear-filled grey eyes up to meet the fathomless black ones gazing down at him, and said in a barely-audible whisper, "I was almost your second son. You spent so many years protecting me...making sure harm didn't come my way...preparing me for this...assuring my mother that I would survive...You'll watch your son die, Severus?"

"You are no son of mine, Draco. I would never allow my blood to flow in the veins of a traitor," said Severus, his voice pregnant with cold fury, as he let go of Draco's shoulders with one hand, drew his wand, and pointed it at Draco. "Return to your master," he hissed.

In response, Draco said nothing. Instead, he reached up and gripped Severus' forearm tightly. "I never really betrayed you," he whispered before wrenching himself away from his former professor's grasp on his shoulder and taking a step backward. However, his legs could no longer support his weight, and he toppled over.

Draco was dead long before the two jets of green light ever hit him.