Note: The characters here represented are the property of JK Rowling. Absolutely no profits have been derived from this work, and no copyright infringement is intended.

1:00 a.m. 1st August, 1996

Narcissa Malfoy truly was a beautiful woman. Hers was an icy, regal beauty; so perfect as to seem artificial, but absolutely authentic. Only a woman as beautiful as Narcissa Malfoy could look so lovely in the throes of the Cruciatus.

Antonin Dolohov smiled down at her as she writhed, basking in the warmth of his master's approval, reveling in rewards of his careful work, and most deliciously, savoring the sight of an achingly beautiful Malfoy brought low.

She screamed less than he would have liked. Bella had shown no such restraint.

After a small eternity, the assault ceased. Narcissa curled in on herself, pulling her knees to her, keening softly as she struggled to regain her composure. As soon as she was able to find her voice, she spoke in a tremulous whisper.

"What have I done to offend, my lord? Whatever it is I…"

The Dark Lord raised his wand in threat as a man might do with the back of his hand and Narcissa cowered satisfyingly, wincing as she turned her head away.

"…I beg your forgiveness" she sobbed to the floor.

"Do not, Narcissa, force me to the usual theatrics," the Dark Lord barked. "I will ask you once more. Why does Dolohov tell me that he saw you and your sister in such an unlikely place as Spinner's End earlier this evening?"

Narcissa's eyes snapped to Bellatrix Lestrange who stood pale and remorseful in the corner. She looked back at Narcissa and anger twisted her somber expression.

"I was… We were," Narcissa began, eyes still locked on Bellatrix.

"You will look at me when you speak," the Dark Lord hissed. Both women gave him their eyes instantly. "Bellatrix can be of little help to you in any case. She has received her due discipline without being allowed to confess. I wish to hear this confession from your own lips as you are undoubtedly the architect and she the victim of this insubordination." He twitched his white wand threateningly in his fingers. "And besides, I dislike punishing Bella."

Narcissa's eyes flickered warily to the wand in his hands.

"Severus is a trusted friend of Lucius'," she began. "And I wanted his council…regarding my son. The task you have given him, it…we are honored…but he is only a boy. I hoped Severus might, offer advice or even help, just help him, somehow…help keep him safe." Her aristocratic tones cracked on that final word.

The Dark Lord turned from the trembling Narcissa to gaze at her dark sister, his eyes narrowing with fury. "Bella," he said softly; his voice full of danger.

Bellatrix didn't even attempt to occlude when the Dark Lord entered her mind.

Voldemort found the memory in seconds…Narcissa pleading with Severus Snape to save her son, dropping to her knees before him and clutching his hand in her own, gazing up at him in desperation and obedience.

The ice cold sensation of fear pierced the Dark Lord's chest at the sight and he withdrew rapidly from Bellatrix's mind, leaving her swaying. Bellatrix crumpled to the floor as he reeled away from her, his frenzied movements leading him rapidly to her sister. He stooped to grasp Narcissa's perfect jaw in his white hand. He was too shaken to perform the spell wordlessly and his voice sounded almost hysterical as he hissed "Legilimens" and entered Narcissa Malfoy's mind.

He watched in horror as Bellatrix, his most fiercely loyal servant, cast the spell to bind Narcissa Malfoy, the sole provider of his extensive and necessary material resources, to Severus Snape.

Snape.

Villain, he thought wildly. Usurper, his hands began to shake. Traitor, he clenched his jaw, trying not to snarl and scream.

He was his most dangerous spy, his most precious and precarious ally. No one else knew so much, no one else had such power, and no one else was so maddeningly enigmatic. The Dark Lord was a brilliant manipulator – effortlessly weaving the desires and fears of his followers and victims into a straight jacket of control. But Severus Snape had, for many years now, appeared to have none to tangle. The power hungry, wounded, rejected and unloved little boy, grasping at the strands of affection and belonging so hopelessly, had long since disappeared. And the dark man who remained was something of a mystery, and also, the Dark Lord thought with a sickening lurch of terror, a boon that he simply could not carry on without. For now…

Voldemort pulled from the vision and stood, turning away from the beautiful sisters.

He wanted to kill the stupid Malfoy bitch and then open Snape's throat over her husband's Persian carpet. He allowed the fantasy to placate him for a long moment.

Taking a calming breath he began to think rationally. Bellatrix was still his loyal servant. He could feel her remorse and her devotion as he read her thoughts. That she acted as Binder for the Unbreakable Vow…that was an act of idiocy no doubt fueled by her endless rivalry with Snape. Bellatrix may have been his favorite, the Dark Lord thought, but she too knew the influence Snape had, and it drove her mad. She must never have believed he would take the vow. The shocked look on her face as she cast the spell said that she didn't believe it even as the third circle of flame entwined the wrists of Snape and Narcissa, and then it was too late.

Narcissa, he could see, was purely motivated by foolish motherly affection. She would, as she had said to Bella in the memory, 'do anything' to protect Draco. He would have Dolohov continue to tail her and now she would know it. That threat would be neutralized.

As for Snape – there was nothing for it. He needed him in position to kill Dumbledore when Draco inevitably failed, needed him to continue to spy until that time, would need him afterwards to take over the school and begin the cleansing process. So, until some future time, what was the old adage? …Keep your enemies closer.

He had no other choice. Voldemort clenched his fists and silently swore the moment Snape outlived his usefulness, his hubris would be answered for.

Focusing on the elaborate carvings etched into the marble of the wall before him, the Dark Lord finally spoke, "Dolohov, you have done admirably. Leave us now."

Dolohov bowed deeply before slipping quietly from the room, a satisfied smile on his face. The Dark Lord schooled his features into controlled anger and slowly turned to face the Black sisters.

"You have both disobeyed me tonight. Some might call it betrayal."

"No, my lord, please! I would never…" Bella screamed.

"Silence, Bellatrix!" he snapped. "You will learn to control yourself with regard to Severus Snape. Your insistence on his treachery led you to actions of unprecedented recklessness this evening. You will leave us now and you will not speak of tonight's events to anyone."

Bellatrix nodded vigorously as she rose. She held his gaze as she escaped, mouthing a heartfelt "Forgive me" as she went.

The Dark Lord turned back to look at the small, dark shape that was Narcissa Malfoy. She hadn't moved and appeared drained, exhausted. Judging from all that he'd seen, she'd spent the majority of her evening prostrating herself in tears. She must have a headache, he thought without sympathy.

"Narcissa, look at me."

Blue eyes met red reptilian slits.

He bent forward slightly before he spoke. "One must have hope in these difficult times." He said it softly and with a convincing look of concern. Narcissa blinked, confused.

"I, for instance, hope that in the new world that we are building the name Malfoy will still grace these halls," his eyes roamed up and around the beautiful room briefly before coming to rest once again on Narcissa's face.

"I hope that Draco will continue to be, as you said, honored by the task to which he has been appointed and that he will continue to apply himself to its completion. I hope that you understand that the moment you speak of the Vow that you made with Severus Snape tonight to your son or to anyone else, I will kill Draco," Narcissa made a choked noise, "I hope that you comprehend my magnanimity in allowing you to live after this transgression."

He smiled cruelly and leaned even further towards her, now speaking in an icy whisper that grazed the skin of her forehead.

"And finally, I hope that you are able to remove yourself from my presence…before I change my mind."

As soon as the door closed behind her the Dark Lord cast a silencing ward on the room. Picking up a crystal statue from the ornately carved desk he flung it against the marble, drowning the explosion of shards in a blood curdling scream of rage.