Although many Death Eaters were present at the Manor, only the Inner Circle had been summoned. They had filed in and sat down at the long table in one of the less ornate, darker dining rooms, waiting for the Dark Lord to make an appearance and tell them all why they had been called. He did not keep them waiting long, sweeping into the room with a dramatic flair of his robes which made Draco miss Snape for a moment. Bellatrix was right behind him, her hands held behind her back as she made sure not to let them see whatever it was she was holding out of sight.
"My followers," greeted Voldemort, and his tone was calm, and Draco felt the panic which had created an iron vice around his heart ease a bit—it was one of the Dark Lord's saner nights, then. "You are my most loyal. You are my most trusted. And yet, you have something to prove to me tonight."
The Dark Lord began to walk the perimeter of the table; everyone kept their gazes firmly down. "One of you is a traitor—or perhaps more than one." Draco felt the grip around his heart redouble as panic began to rise—this must be about Snape. The Dark Lord hadn't mentioned it in the two weeks since Snape's disappearance from the Manor. At that time, however, the only ones who would have had access to the double-agent were those seated around the table.
Draco's aunt stepped forward, an excited gleam on her face as she brought from behind her back a Muggle revolver and a single bullet.
"The game," she said as she opened the chamber and inserted the single round, "is Russian roulette." She spun the chamber, pointing the gun at the floor, and then laughed loudly, putting the gun to her temple. Draco felt bile rise in the back of his throat.
Albus Dumbledore strode towards his office, returning from the Infirmary. He no longer walked jauntily, or returned the greetings of the portraits and ghosts around him, so lost was he in his thoughts. His Potions Master—yes, he would even go so far as to call the man a friend—was at the mercy of their Medi-Witch yet again, having returned from another meeting with Voldemort battered and shaken.
He privately wondered how much longer Severus was going to last even as he reassured the man, although the dark eyes would always tell him how little Dumbledore really fooled the other man.
"Albus." The voice of his friend and Deputy Headmistress Minerva McGonagall halted his progress, and the woman came from a branching corridor to walk with him. "How is Severus?"
"He escaped death, this time, at any rate," said the headmaster, even though such cynicism was uncharacteristic of the man.
"He'll go back," said Minerva, and it was a statement, not a question, and her voice was laden with sadness; though she'd not been very fond of Severus when he'd been her student, after years of working together as colleagues, she'd come to care for him as a friend.
"He will," agreed Dumbledore wearily. They reached the entrance to his office, and Minerva stopped him, a hand on his arm, before he could give the password. He gave her a questioning look.
"Mr. Malfoy is waiting for you in there," she explained. Dumbledore's eyebrows rose marginally—the summer term had begun, and the students, including Draco Malfoy, had been sent home. "He said that he took the Floo to Hogsmeade and then walked here."
"Whatever for?" murmured Dumbledore.
"To speak to you, apparently," said Minerva, and then patted him on the shoulder. "I'm off to the Infirmary to visit Severus, and then to bed. Goodnight, Albus." He returned her salutation quietly, and then ascended the winding staircase to his office.
Draco Malfoy was indeed waiting for him, standing in front of Fawkes, peering at the bird. He seemed to be holding his breath as the two stared off. Dumbledore stood his ground, trying not to be seen, as Draco raised one hand as if to touch the phoenix, but it merely hovered there until Fawkes butted it with his head, demanding to be stroked, and Draco laughed quietly. The expression seemed strange to Dumbledore, who had never before seen the Malfoy scion display any sort of joy.
"Curious," said Dumbledore, and Draco jumped, his hand immediately falling away from Fawkes, who then glared at Dumbledore for interrupting his attentions; Dumbledore ignored his feathered companion. Draco composed himself quickly, and raised an eyebrow. "It's curious that you are here at school, Mr. Malfoy, rather than on vacation as most teens are, just as it is curious that Fawkes should like you, for phoenixes do not generally take to those who dislike their masters, and I was never given the impression that you thought very highly of me. Do sit down, Mr. Malfoy, and we will discuss why you are here." Dumbledore walked around to the other side of the large desk and sat as the young Slytherin sank down into one of the two armchairs across from him.
"You came here specifically to speak to me, is that correct?" asked Dumbledore, and Draco nodded. "What can I do for you, then, Mr. Malfoy?"
"This has more to do with what I can do for you, Headmaster," said Draco, and the words were said flatly, and Dumbledore knew that this would not be another of the boy's childish boasts.
"The Dark Lord knows that Professor Snape is a spy," said Draco bluntly. "You can't send him back. The Dark Lord wouldn't bother with testing his loyalty, he would simply go straight to torturing him. It would be suicide." Dumbledore leaned back ever so slightly in his chair; he'd been afraid that this was the case, even though there was no guarantee that Draco was telling the truth. The boy seemed to sense this and grinned ruefully. "You may not believe me, but that doesn't really matter, does it? If I'm right, and Snape returns anyway, he'll die. If I were lying, and Snape returns, then the Dark Lord would end up knowing that he's a spy anyway, and I'd be right after all." Dumbledore frowned at that, because he knew that Draco was right.
"Thank you for this information, Mr. Malfoy," said Dumbledore, somewhat curtly, "but may I ask how you've come by it?" At that, Draco actually laughed.
"Really, Headmaster? I've Death Eaters for family members," he said. "It's hard not to hear things."
"And are you a Death Eater?"
"BANG!" screeched Bellatrix as she pulled the trigger, but the gun did nothing more than click loudly. Bellatrix went to join the Dark Lord at the head of the table, still laughing, and then bent over and placed the gun in front of Crabbe Senior. He stared at the Muggle weapon, and then looked up at the Dark Lord.
"Crabbe," the wizard said simply, and the name in itself became a command. The Death Eater nodded, and picked up the gun with shaking hands. He fumbled for a moment with the barrel before getting it to open, and spinning it clumsily. He closed it, and then stared for a moment longer before swallowing and closing his eyes, pressing the gun to his temple.
The boy shrugged. "No," he said, "but that's another thing I can do for you." At that, the headmaster stared openly at the young man in front of him—if he was right in what Draco was suggesting... "I don't have the Dark Mark—yet. But I'm sixteen, now, not quite the age of majority, but old enough to silence most of the objections anyone would have to my taking the Mark. With my father in Azkaban, I'm going to be expected to take his place with the Dark Lord." He said this all with such casualness that Dumbledore felt a surge of anger and resentment towards the boy's family at the way he'd been raised, but said nothing.
"And for what reason," said Dumbledore carefully, "are you telling me this?" Draco raised an eyebrow at him.
"Don't pretend not to understand, Headmaster—you're a highly intelligent wizard," said Draco, and it was said as a statement of fact, and Dumbledore could detect no hint of flattery. "You can't send back your spy. I'm about to take the Dark Mark. I'm a student here. Put the pieces together, Headmaster." Dumbledore was silent for a time, and then leaned forward, his blue eyes staring into Draco's grey ones. He reached out to the boy's mind with Legilimency, but retreated when he found only the boy's shields.
"As you said, Mr. Malfoy," said Dumbledore, "you are sixteen, about to start your sixth year here. While Tom and his followers would not object to an underaged wizard participating in this, I do."
"Come off it," said Draco, and Dumbledore started slightly at the sudden change from his previously formal, polite language. "Potter, Weasley, and Granger have been in the thick of things since we were first years. I know that you were well aware of what they were doing, always. Potter's come face to face with the Dark Lord three times since he started school, not to mention a number of dangerous dark wizards. You can't exactly make the claim that underaged wizards shouldn't be involved, can you?" No, realized Dumbledore, no he could not. Besides, if Draco was in earnest, did he really want to reject the boy's help?
"Very good," murmured Voldemort, sounding very pleased indeed. Crabbe quickly put the gun down in front of Goyle Senior, who was seated next to him.
Draco wished that the two men didn't have sons with such striking resemblances to them, because Draco could only think of his fellow Slytherins, whom he had seen just hours earlier...
"We can keep you from taking the Mark at all, Mr. Malfoy," said Dumbledore, giving Draco one last chance to rescind his offer. Draco shook his head.
"You need something I can give," said Draco, "and I'm sure I'll get quite a lot out of the arrangement as well." Dumbledore smiled at that; even when offering to undermine the Dark Lord, the boy was Slytherin.
"I'll need to verify your allegiance," said Dumbledore, "before we continue. You are an Occlumens already, that much is done; if you lower your shields, I will check myself." Draco sneered at him.
"Not a chance," he said. "Use Veritaserum. I know you have some you brewed yourself in here in case Death Eaters tamper with Snape's batches." Dumbledore hesitated, and then nodded.
"Very well." He administered the Veritaserum, making Draco down half a vial—more than enough. "Are you a Death Eater?"
"Are you otherwise a follower of the Dark Lord?"
"Have you ever been?" Draco paused to think.
"I followed my father's wishes," said Draco, "and my father follows the Dark Lord." Dumbledore nodded.
"Do you want to be a Death Eater?"
"I've... I know what they do," he said, "and I know I'm not capable of it."
"If you spied, you would have to be," pointed out Dumbledore, but Draco shook his head.
"With Snape gone, I would become a brewer," he said. "I'm nowhere near Snape's skill level, but I'm better than anyone else he could use. The Dark Lord might be a maniac, but he isn't a fool. He knows how to find your strengths and exploit them, just as he does with weaknesses." Again, Dumbledore followed his logic and nodded.
"You would be in grave danger if you accepted this role, Mr. Malfoy," said Dumbledore.
Click. Goyle was safe.
"Very good," said the Dark Lord again when Goyle's eyes met his own. Goyle passed the gun to Peter Pettigrew.
"M-m-my Lord," said Pettigrew. "My Lord, I-"
"Shoot, Wormtail," hissed the Dark Lord, but his voice was still strangely calm. Draco stole a glance at the Dark Lord, and saw that the red eyes held poorly veiled excitement. He felt sick again.
Pettigrew was whimpering quietly as he opened the chamber and spun the barrel, and then pressed it to his temple as the others had. He sought out the Dark Lord's eyes then.
"Shoot, Wormtail," repeated the Dark Lord, and Pettigrew's whimpers grew louder, and he squeezed his eyes shut, his entire face seemingly screwing itself up, and then he cried out loudly.
"You are really willing to die for this? To be tortured?" persisted Dumbledore.
And Draco, still under Veritaserum, answered. "I-I am."
It took everyone a moment to realize that the gun had not discharged—it took Pettigrew a moment longer than the rest, and he opened his eyes and looked around before shifting uncomfortably and setting the gun down in front of the next member of the Inner Circle. He received no praise from the Dark Lord.
Draco's stomach lurched again, but this time not in disgust—in fear. It was Narcissa's turn.
As his mother's hands—small and pale, with long, thin fingers—hands he had inherited from her—picked up the gun and mirrored the other Death Eater's motions, Draco felt himself go cold, and he thought he might be sweating.
Grimmauld Place is subdued; today, Order members have rarely been in the same room for very long, and when they were, few words were spoken, often none at all. When it comes time for lunch, no one comments on Molly Weasley's uncharacteristically simple fare of soup and sandwiches, as none of them feel much like eating. The Weasley clock, recently moved from the Burrow, still reports the entire family to be in danger, made worse by the fact that only Molly, Arthur, Bill, Fred, and George have been able to make it to Grimmauld Place for the summer holiday; although the Weasley matriarch knows Ron and Ginny are safely ensconced inside the walls of Hogwarts, taken in for the summer after getting caught in Diagon Alley by Death Eaters, it's still somewhat frightening not to have her brood gathered about her in the middle of a war.
The few who have managed to get themselves to Grimmauld Place for the holidays gather at the table: the aforementioned members of the Weasley clan, Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks, and Kingsley Shacklebolt. The eight of them sit, and at first, the only words said are the traditional compliments to Mrs. Weasley on her excellent cooking, which she accepts demurely.
"Did Professor Dumbledore want anything?" asks Molly, glancing at those at the table. Remus shakes his head, and lays down his sandwich.
"He said he wasn't hungry," answers the werewolf. He blanches slightly. "Neither am I, truly, after seeing..." Remus trails off, and most of the table glance away, knowing what he had been about to say.
"How... how is Severus?" asks Arthur haltingly, and Remus pales further.
"He'll live," says Remus grimly, "but he'll probably be here for rather a long time, recovering." Arthur nodded.
"I-" He's cut off as the fireplace roars to life, their Floo activated.
There were six chambers and one bullet. There was a one sixth chance that his mother would die right here at this table. Draco wanted to look away from her, but she was right next to him, and he found that he could not tear his eyes away.
Narcissa's features were placid, except for the storm brewing behind her eyes. She did not close hers, as the others had, instead turning to look straight at the Dark Lord.
Draco felt his heart hammering in his chest painfully as he stared at his mother, and then she was pushing down on the trigger, and-
He felt his heart skip a beat, and then became aware suddenly that he was shaking.
The entire table of Order members tenses—there's no meeting scheduled until after Christmas, so it must be an emergency. But who-
The gun clicked. His mother was still alive.
He felt relief was over him, but just as quickly as it came, it was gone, because he was sitting next to Narcissa.
The revolver was set down in front of him. It was his turn.
"Merlin," breathes one of the Order, though no one was quite sure who.
"Draco." He realized that he'd been staring at the gun when Bellatrix said his name. "Draco, you stupid boy-"
"Bella," said the Dark Lord, coming to stand just behind Draco, "don't reprimand the boy. He's never done this before." His voice was mocking, filled with a jeering shadow of sympathy. The Dark Lord reached out, one of his hands cupping Draco's chin, and bringing Draco to face him.
"If you are loyal to me, there is nothing to fear, Draco."
Molly Weasley recovers first, drawing out her wand in preparation to cast healing spells. "What happened? Where are you hurt?"
"Pick up the gun, Draco," said the Dark Lord, "pick it up. Take a breath, Draco. Now pick it up."
Draco took the revolver in his hand, and it felt heavier than it looked. He opened it and spun the chamber, and then looked at it for a long moment.
"That's it, Draco," said the Dark Lord, and then he was bent over Draco, so that the blond could feel warm breath on the back of his neck. He shivered.
He put the gun to his head.
"Nonsense, you have blood all over you. What did you do?"
He squeezed his eyes shut, and put his best shields in place. He only hoped Occlumency would save him.
"It's not... the blood..."
He took a deep breath. His finger found the trigger. He pressed down.
"It's not my blood."
He was alive.
"Well done, my dragon." He opened his eyes, and passed the gun to his father.
"Who—whose blood... what happened, Draco?"
Lucius efficiently spun the barrel, closed it, and pointed it at his head. He turned to his son. Two pairs of grey eyes met, and Lucius smiled.
Draco went cold, because he suddenly knew that his father knew what he had done.
"The Dark Lord was searching out traitors tonight."
Not to tell the Dark Lord would be treacherous. "If you are loyal to me, you have nothing to fear," the Dark Lord had said.
"They didn't realize you're a spy?"
"They didn't realize it was you who rescued Severus, and brought him to us?"
"Was there another spy?"
"Then... whose blood is that, Draco?"
Lucius pulled the trigger.