As Professor Slughorn led him through the corridors to Professor McGonagall's office, Goyle couldn't help thinking how eerily silent the castle was since that strange music had stopped. There had been so much noise and activity before, with shouts and curses and spells ricocheting off the stone walls, and then more shouting and the sounds of people running away, and somehow Potter was in the middle of it all, his voice rising above the others as he chased after them, and then there'd been more voices, voices of students and professors, and more footsteps, and then, strangely, Gregory heard people crying, even blokes, for Merlin's sake, and then there'd been that weird music that he couldn't escape from even when he pulled all his bedcovers over his head and stuck his fingers in his ears.
Now there was only silence, and Gregory found that even louder and more nerve-wracking than anything else. Even Slughorn, who usually huffed and wheezed like an asthmatic walrus everywhere he went, made no sound.
Slughorn had entered the sixth year boy's dormitory—something Snape would never have dreamed of doing—and asked which bed was Goyle's. He'd tried to feign sleep, but when Slughorn yanked the bedcovers down and found him fully dressed, Gregory conceded defeat and opened his eyes. The old man, usually fairly crackling with energy, looked as though he'd been taken out to the Quidditch pitch and used for Beater practice. "Get up," he said. "Professor McGonagall wants a word with you."
Gregory had a fair idea why. The sight of Vince's ashen face as they passed him on their way through the common room reinforced his suspicion. He stared hard at Crabbe, looking for some sign or gesture that might give him some idea of how much McGonagall knew, but Vince didn't even acknowledge him, instead staring morosely into the fire.
He was shaken from his daze by the realization that Slughorn had not turned left at the landing to go towards McGonagall's office, but was instead climbing the next flight of stairs. "Hey," he said, cringing inwardly at the sound of his voice disturbing the silence, as though he'd just farted in the middle of an exam, "I thought you were taking me to see Professor McGonagall."
Slughorn's shoulders stiffened, but he did not stop walking or turn to address Goyle directly. "I am."
"But her office—"
"Is this way now." Something in the tone of his voice told Gregory not to push the matter any further.
Gregory could think of only one office on this floor of the castle, which was confirmed when Slughorn stopped before the familiar gargoyle and said, "Macbeth." The gargoyle hopped to the side, giving them room to pass, and Goyle followed Slughorn up the circular staircase leading to the Headmaster's office.
McGonagall was seated at the large desk when they entered, but immediately got up and came around. She, too, looked tired, with blotchy cheeks and red-rimmed eyes. "Thank you, Horace," she said. "Please return to your House and see that the other students are all right. I'll make sure Mr. Goyle makes it back safely. Good night."
Slughorn's moustache quivered, as though he were about to protest his dismissal but in the end thought better of it. "Very well, then," he said. "Good night, Minerva."
The door closed behind him with such an air of finality Goyle felt as though he had just been locked in a cell in Azkaban.
"Sit down" McGonagall ordered, indicating one of the two armchairs that had been placed before the fire. As he did, Goyle spotted the open bottle of Firewhisky and the tumbler beside it. He wondered, if he asked politely, if she would agree to share with him. He had a feeling he'd be needing it.
McGonagall settled herself in the chair opposite him and folded her hands on her lap. "All right, Gregory," she said, "I want you to tell me everything you know about what happened here tonight."
Goyle stared blankly at her. "Huh?" he finally managed to say.
"Don't play the fool with me!" she cried with more vehemence than he'd ever seen from her, making him flinch. "I know you were privy to Draco Malfoy's schemes."
He thought he was in danger of swallowing his own tongue. "Er," he began, stalling as he sought desperately for the right words, "er... where is Draco? Did something happen to him?"
"He should be the least of your concerns right now," she said, her expression as flinty as steel. "But if you must know, he has left Hogwarts. He fled with your erstwhile Head of House and the Death Eaters he let into the castle after—" Her voice wavered at the end. "—after his task was completed."
"Huh?" he said again. He scratched his head as he tried to make sense of what she'd said. "Draco's gone? And-And Snape too?"
"Yes. It seems that Professor Snape never fully renounced his allegiance to-to Voldemort." She shuddered. Then, leaning forward, she asked, "Did you know of Draco's plot to let Death Eaters into Hogwarts?"
"Er." He felt as though he were suffocating. "Erm. Not exactly."
"Not exactly?" Her lips thinned. "What does that mean?"
The words spilled from his mouth like vomit. "Well, y'see, I knew he was up to somethin', 'cause he made me an' Vince drink Polyjuice and act as lookouts so he could sneak into that-that room where, y'know, Potter had his secret club an' all last year, but I didn't know what he was on about, 'cause Draco, see, he never tells us anything, he jus' says if we don't do what he tells us to do he'll tell his aunt about it and then won't we be sorry." It was probably the most he'd ever said at one time in his life and he slumped, out of breath and mentally drained, when he was through.
"I see." She seemed to doubt him. Gregory really wished he knew what, if anything, Vince might have told her.
McGonagall's expression softened slightly. "Did you know that Draco is a Death Eater himself?"
He nodded. "He told us—me an' Vince, that is—that he joined last summer, right after we got home from school. Showed us his mark an' everythin'."
"Indeed." She leaned back. "Why? Why did he want to become one of them?"
"Well, because..." He took a deep breath. "'Cause of his dad, I reckon. Because of his dad and Potter, y'know, 'cause it was Potter's fault Mr. Malfoy got sent to Azkaban."
McGonagall raised an eyebrow. "Don't you think it was Draco's father's fault, for breaking wizarding law in the first place?"
"Well, yeah, I suppose," Gregory said with a shrug, "but if Potter hadn't meddled around in stuff that wasn't any of his concern Mr. Malfoy wouldn't've got caught."
The eyebrow went even higher. "Did Mr. Malfoy—Draco, that is—intend to use his connections as a Death Eater to harm Harry?"
"He wanted to, yeah. He was always going on about how Potter would regret the day he ever crossed the Malfoy family."
"He wanted to? But he never actually did anything, to the best of your knowledge?"
Gregory opened his mouth to answer, then closed it. He wondered if that's what all the ruckus earlier had been about. Draco might have bragged about being a Death Eater and all the glory that would come to his family after he'd helped the Dark Lord come to power, but he'd never actually divulged how he intended to do that. Was it possible—? "Professor?" he asked tentatively.
"Yes, Mr. Goyle?"
"What happened tonight?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean..." He ran his fingers through the thatch of coarse, bristly hair at his temple. "Is Potter dead? Is that why you're Headmistress now—'cause Potter's dead and Dum-Professor Dumbledore's gone into hiding?"
Until that moment, he'd never seen all the color drain out of someone's face. It was a strange sight to behold, he thought, like someone'd stuck a tap in McGonagall's neck and opened it up to let all the color flow out. Even her hair looked several shades lighter, as if it'd gone suddenly gray. He'd heard of that happening before too, but didn't think it possible before now.
"Potter isn't dead, Gregory," she said so quietly he had to lean forward to hear her. "Professor Dumbledore is."
Goyle expelled all his breath with a loud "whoof," as though he'd been hit directly in the stomach with a Bludger. He felt like it, too. "D-D-Dumbledore's—?"
McGonagall nodded. "Dead, yes. According to Potter, who was an involuntary witness, at the hands of Professor Snape."
"Snape?" he exclaimed. "Snape killed Dumbledore?"
The tips of her fingers dug into the padding on the chair's arms as she leaned forward and hissed, "Because Draco was unable to complete the task himself."
Goyle leaped to his feet. "WHAT?" Suddenly dizzy, he sat back down heavily and leaned forward, dropping his head between his knees.
"Apparently Voldemort had personally ordered Draco to murder Professor Dumbledore," McGonagall said hoarsely. "I believe his scheme to let Death Eaters into the castle may have been incidental to that mission, but I cannot be certain." He heard a rustle of cloth, then felt her hand rest lightly on his shoulder. "You truly had no knowledge of any of this." He shook his head. "Vincent said the same thing."
He looked up at her and cleared his throat. "Dumbledore really is dead?" McGonagall nodded. "What-What's going to happen?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean... I mean..." He sighed. "I don't know what I mean."
"Did you intend to follow in your father's footsteps?"
His pulse was pounding so loudly in his ears he could hardly think. "Dunno. He wants me to, yeah, but I just... I don't know. It's one thing to go 'round scarin' people for a bit of sport, but being a Death Eater, using Unforgivables and killing people?"
"Do you feel the same way Draco does about Muggle-borns and half-bloods?"
"Haven't really thought about it before," he said honestly. "Vince an' me, we just did what Draco told us. No one ever asked us what we felt about it, so we didn't see any reason to care one way or the other."
McGonagall sighed and pressed her fingertips to a spot just above the bridge of her nose. With her eyes closed she said, "It's time you started to think for yourself, Gregory. Now that Professor Dumbledore is dead, war with Voldemort is unavoidable." She opened her eyes to look at him. "Professor Dumbledore believed very strongly in the importance of choice. He always said that it's our choices that define who we are. The time has come for you to choose who you will cast your lot with. Mr. Crabbe as well. Everyone here at Hogwarts will have to choose."
He licked his lips. "Do I have to tonight?"
"No. You have until Professor Dumbledore's—" She inhaled sharply and looked away. "The Hogwarts Express will not be taking students home until after the funeral. You have until then to make your decision. In the meantime, you may remain at Hogwarts." She turned back to him. "I advise you to avoid Potter and his friends as best as you can. I fear he is a far greater threat to you and Mr. Crabbe now than Bellatrix Lestrange ever was."
Gregory grimaced at the memory of what had happened to on the train ride home last summer, when he, Vince, and Draco thought they had Potter cornered and instead found themselves turned into slugs. It'd taken him a week to wash the last of the mucus out of various crevices. He wouldn't risk that happening again. "Right," he said.
McGonagall rose stiffly from her chair, and Goyle followed her example. "Very well, then. I will accompany you to your House to make sure you make it back safely. What happens to you after that is out of my hands." She gestured towards the door.
Just as he reached for the handle to open it, he felt her hand on his shoulder and turned to her, recognizing for the first time that he was several inches taller than her. "Gregory, I won't presume to tell you what to decide," she told him. "But whatever you do, choose carefully."
A/N: Thanks to BeccaFran and Author by Night for beta-reading this and offering suggestions for improvement.