Draco Malfoy held his head high as he stepped into his room, an expressionless mask set firmly on his pale face. The doors closed behind him with a sharp click. All at once, darkness engulfed the vast expanse of the chamber, making the inside barely discernible, distinguishing scarce pieces of furniture merely by moonlight seeping in through a gap between curtains shielding a window. Draco let himself close his eyes as he leaned against the cold wooden surface, reveling in the silence that followed.

No more screams. No more cries. No more pleas . . . No more anything. He almost felt at peace – but peace was something Draco wasn't allowed in that while. No sooner than the mere idea dabbed at him, images of what had happened less than fifteen minutes prior plowed into his mind again, hot and fresh in his memory, scorching his brain like fire, and Draco's eyes snapped open. He blinked. This was a far cry from peaceful.

He needed to clear his thoughts, Draco knew – and even more so, much more so, he needed to get damned used to his screwed up situation already. He was all too well aware of his heart still beating irregularly in his chest and of his pulse not quite steady yet, and he cursed himself for it repeatedly in his mind. It was the screams getting to him, and the cries plaguing him, and the pleas just plain mocking him, and all three playing over and over in his ears, all at the same time . . . And he just couldn't turn them off - no, please, spare me, no, no, don't do it, please, please, just leave me alone, please, don't, no, please, not anymore –

and they were even louder in the heavy silence of his bedchambers.

As he took one calming breath, Draco was once again reminded he had a problem. A problem that had persisted and persevered, and just wouldn't fucking disappear, even after just about three months since it had first presented itself at the Astronomy Tower that night – it just was there. Somewhere. And Draco wished it weren't.

Conscience. It currently bothered him to no end.

His legs felt heavy as lead when he finally pushed away from the doors, but he ignored it, venturing into the darkness of his room. He knew the interior well – a desk here, a clothing cabinet there, a leather armchair further still – he knew it all by heart. Only footsteps could be heard resonating between the walls as Draco headed towards his bathroom, the Malfoy pride still evident in his stride and face, even though nobody was there to witness his feigned nonchalance. Appearances . . .

Those days, it was essential to keep up appearances.

Draco crossed the room in a few steps. As he appeared before his bathroom's doors, he pushed it open and walked right in, pale light filling the inside with a snap of his fingers. Even dimly lit, the bathroom – just like everything else in Malfoy Manor – proved to be of impressive size, and positively luxurious, with a large marble bath in one corner and a shower in another, and a couple of dark wooden, ornate cupboards in between; dark grey dominated over other colors, although the furnishings themselves were made of white marble and there was also a pile of green towels on one cupboard.

Draco found himself treading on shining, large tiles made of grey stone, each step stressed by a loud clack of his impeccable boots. The foul odor of torture he'd caused was evident in the air as it clung loosely to his clothes, but Draco was so used to the smell now he could barely catch it. There was a metallic tang of blood, and an acrid one of sickness, and he could also single out the scent of his own sweat, and yet it was all so normal it made him nod with a twisted sense of satisfaction. It meant he was getting somewhere. Learning. Maybe in another few months time he wouldn't be feeling anything at all. Maybe.

There was a magnificent mirror hanging above a marble sink several feet in front of him; Draco slowly made his way towards it. His reflection was frowning slightly, but otherwise didn't give anything away. He promptly smoothed his face.

No expression. No emotion. Nothing but impassivity and grim indifference. Draco looked into his stone grey eyes as they gazed right back at him, and then, he suddenly felt as though he wasn't looking into his own eyes at all, but into intense blue orbs of a girl a few years older than himself, who now lay barely breathing two floors below, her striking irises already as pale and faded as she.

He remembered her trembling all over and coughing up blood. Crawling away from him. She'd started pleading then, and he could do nothing more than shout "Crucio!" yet again, to block out her choked words . . . Again. Again and again . . .

I, Draco Lucius Malfoy, do solemnly swear that I will bear true and eternal –

Draco gripped the edges of the sink, clasping until his knuckles turned no less whiter than the marble beneath. That damned Mudblood and her stupid pleas . . .

She'd screamed, and she'd cried, and she'd pleaded, and she'd done every single thing the other dispensable prisoners had done, before they . . . Before. She would break soon, too, Draco knew. And her eyes . . . they would glaze over just a little bit more.

He futilely fought a visible shudder.

Please, don't, not again, please, not again, no, please, stop, spare me, it hurts, it hurts, no, no, please

. . . do solemnly swear that I will bear true and eternal allegiance to –

A clock in his bedroom struck midnight; Draco jerked. Before long he felt sickness crawling up his stomach and chest, and all the way to his throat until he tasted it on his tongue, and with no way to force the sensation down, he leaned into the sink, vomiting the remnants of his dinner.

Stupid, crying Mudbloods . . .

Draco wasn't having second thoughts, he was not. He refused to even consider it. What good would that do, really, or what difference would it make? He would begin growing more useless feelings, more scruples, more conscience – and he didn't need that. Especially, not when he'd already started learning to push the pointless thoughts down. All the way down, every time they resurfaced, because he hadn't a choice, even if he decided in the end his doubts were right, and his side was wrong, and . . . Dear Lord, had he really just thought that? Draco's shoulders sagged over the sink he was still holding on to. How could one even begin to question his loyalties with a Dark Mark carved into his skin? That was his choice – one he'd proudly made last summer, when he'd pledged his allegiance to Voldemort, and when he'd sworn to murder Dumbledore by the end of May. There it was, the ceremony, sealed into his memory –

I, Draco Lucius Malfoy, do solemnly swear that I will bear true and eternal allegiance to the Dark Lord, and that, as his faithful servant, I shall render – no, please, please, have mercy, please – I shall render unconditional obedience and – no, please, stop, stop –

He abruptly turned on the tap; it released a stream of ice-cold water that hit the marbled surface, promptly washing down his dinner's remains.

. . . I shall render unconditional obedience and unwavering devotion.

Unwavering devotion. Draco rinsed his mouth and then splashed his face, but he knew without looking up that his fatigue was still blatantly evident on his face. He turned off the tap. His own voice still rang through his head.

I do further swear that, notwithstanding any circumstance or change of circumstance that may arise . . .

He'd stammered through his talking at times, Draco recalled. How could he not? There was Lord Voldemort standing so close by and it was his first time seeing the terrifying wizard, and it was unforgettable; he remembered feeling an array of sundry emotions, varying from excitement, through pride, awe, and apprehension, to absolute, unspeakable dread – but Draco had been sure it was the path he wanted to take. It was only right.

He'd also stammered because he was in the process of taking an oath that was forever going to determine his future, and then, he'd been convinced he was a step away from obtaining eternal glory. He was greedy, power-hungry and vindictive. He'd wanted revenge for his father who had been imprisoned, and he'd been avid for the Dark Lord's praise and everything else that could have been bestowed upon him. There'd been this quirk about killing Dumbledore, of course, but Draco had assured himself fiercely he just needed to come up with a good plan. And he had – the thing was, that wasn't the problem.

Draco hadn't been aware what effect being initiated into Voldemort's inner circle would have on him, but then, there wasn't really a room for him to make a decision, either. Joining the Dark Lord's ranks was a moment he was born and raised for, and honestly, the decision had been made for him before he could see daylight. But that was alright – Draco had wanted nothing more. Developing these new feelings of regret and remorse had not been in plans, at that time.

It hurts, It hurts, please, leave me alone, please, don't hurt me anymore, no, no, please, have mercy –

He looked up at his reflection then; with satisfaction Draco noted his eyes revealed nothing; they still held no compassion, no sorrow, and no warmth, whatsoever. His complexion was whiter than usual, almost to the point of looking unhealthy, but the face that stared back at him through the mirror remained as regal as ever - with a chiseled jaw, pale lips, aristocratic, straight nose, and these grey orbs that held nothing but coldness. A few white blond strands had escaped from his usually slicked back hair and now clung to his forehead, wet with water and sweat. Draco wasn't surprised to observe he was sporting black shadows under his eyes, as well. Truthfully, he didn't look much better than he had in his sixth year, yet he managed a somewhat important appearance. Good; it was, after all, appearances that mattered most now.

He absently grabbed one of the towels to his right to wipe the wetness from his features, but his mind was long since elsewhere.

It was half an hour after the meeting, he was in his dimly lit bathroom two floors above the dungeon, and he still couldn't shake off the unsettling thoughts – his mind continued to envision hollow, distorted faces of people held in his house, their sunken eyes and gaunt bodies in tattered clothes. He kept replaying the pleas, the cries, and the blood-curdling screams as though they weren't just reverberating in his head, but came right from beside him.

. . . as his faithful servant, I shall render unconditional obedience and unwavering devotion. I do further swear . . .

Somewhere in the back of his mind he was still hearing the words of the oath he'd taken the year before.

I do further swear that, notwithstanding any circumstance or change of circumstance that may arise, in the Dark Lord's humble service I shall fulfill his will and execute his orders to the utmost of my power – no, please, spare me, please, please, no –

How weak he truly was.

He snapped back to reality. He really needed to get a grip, Draco reminded himself, as his face became impassively blank once more. He noticed, while examining himself in the mirror, that he'd really become quite adept at it when he tried – not only at keeping up appearances, but also at forcing his feelings down entirely, as though he were warding off some persistent fly. If there was anything Draco was sure of in that moment, it was that he'd learnt a lot through summer this year – expertly compartmentalizing his emotions being only one of many. But then again, he'd always been rather good at that sort of thing, hadn't he? His success in Occlumency only served to prove it further.

Draco discarded the towel he'd been holding to the floor, for the house elves to take care of, and he moved back towards his room. On the threshold, he snapped his fingers once again - the pale light that had been filling the bathroom, swiftly flooded into the bedroom. The sudden brightness before him revealed a spacious chamber with dark green walls, ebony wood furniture and a luxurious grey carpet that covered most of the stone floor below. There was a heavy writing desk with intricate carvings next to the exit doors, and in the far corner, right beside a curtained window, was an imposing looking four-poster bed with emerald, silver and raven velvet sheets. Draco made his way in its direction, his shoulders shrugging off his tailored black coat and his hand loosening his tie. He sat on the edge of the mattress and kicked off his boots; there were traces of dried blood on his soles.

Mud blood. Draco frowned, remembering this dirty blood being spilt and mentally juxtaposing it with the pure blood that ran in his own veins. It no longer shocked him that he visually couldn't see a difference. Maybe it was supposed to be like this. Or maybe he was going mad.

Maybe if his sixth year hadn't happened . . .

. . . in the Dark Lord's humble service I shall fulfill his will and execute his orders to the utmost of my power and abilities . . .

For Draco, those last several months changed nearly everything in his life – the final, unforgiving night of May the 30th, when he'd failed his first task as a Death Eater, merely proved to be a tipping point of his strenuous situation. It was now well into August, but to Draco it felt more like a year had passed since the fiasco at the Astronomy Tower – he hadn't been the one to kill Albus Dumbledore as the Dark Lord had commanded, and so, now came time to pay. And pay he did.

He'd known he wouldn't go unpunished for his failure. As soon as he'd Disapparated from behind Hogwarts' gates to stand before Voldemort, Draco could tell by the way his Master's mouth had curled into a cold smile that the Dark Lord hadn't been expecting him to succeed from the beginning. There had already been a few other Death Eaters gathered around when Draco appeared, and they were all looking at him derisively; he figured everyone in Malfoy Manor had by then been updated on how the mission had gone.

For a second he'd just stood there – out of breath from running just a while ago and dazed by a tumult of swiveling emotions – momentarily stunned. And then, without a moment's hesitation, he'd dropped to his knee.

"M-My Lord," Draco remembered himself stuttering, voice barely audible, his head bowed and eyes downcast, his entire body shivering, but he didn't know whether it was from the cold or fear or internal conflict. He only knew that every part of his body that hadn't been overcome with numbness was telling him to flee, and it'd taken all of his willpower to ignore his impulses and stay kneeling on the stone floor before the Dark Lord. He'd had his gaze set persistently upon a spot on the ground, but he knew if he'd looked around the crowd, he'd have seen his parents' pallid faces among the Death Eaters.

"Ah, and here is Young Malfoy," Voldemort had hissed softly. Draco was certain he'd had all the more reason not to look up as he'd recognized that tone – it promised pain. "One who could have been rewarded above all my other Death Eaters, one who could have been granted everlasting glory and honor . . . All if he had just disposed of a slight obstacle in our path to purify this soiled world," the Dark Lord's quiet voice was perfectly clear in the deep silence; the hooded figures gathered around seemed to be hanging on their Master's every word. "And yet, I hear you have failed me tonight, Draco, have you not?"

But Draco hadn't been prepared to speak just yet; he hadn't even been able to think with his brain clouded by fear. Luckily for him, the Dark Lord didn't seem to expect an answer, either, as he carried on talking. "Ah, yes, I have, naturally, been informed about your displeasing performance. And it is a curious story, my friends, that Alecto and Amycus indulged me with when they came to my side after leaving Hogwarts' grounds . . . Quite curious indeed. They said that the late Albus Dumbledore had been not only completely defenseless, but also peculiarly weakened whilst at the Astronomy Tower . . . And still, they said, Draco here hadn't been capable of putting the old fool to his death." The Death Eaters jeered and laughed as though they'd just heard the most hilarious joke; then, all noise ceased abruptly, and Draco, with his head still bowed low, could only imagine Voldemort rising his hand lazily, demanding quiet. "Do tell, Draco, why is that? Was a weak, wand-less old man too much for you to handle?"

The Dark Lord asking him questions was one of the last things Draco had wanted at that time; he'd been so terrified that thinking of what to say to improve his situation seemed to be an intense exertion, let alone forming the words. The only reassurance he could find for himself lied in hoping that there were no words which could help him, and that keeping silent was the best way to appease Voldemort. He'd been only vaguely aware of the mocking comments directed at him as he'd remained shaking and kneeling on the floor where he'd first collapsed, some two dozen feet in front of the Dark Lord. It was a petrifying experience; Draco remembered himself continuously comparing it to awaiting a verdict, just wanting the judging to be over. It was truly absurd that his head had been filled with such useless notions, but all rational thought appeared to have fled his mind.

"My Lord, if I may interject," somebody in the crowd had been saying.

"Ah, Severus," the Dark Lord responded, almost genially. "Tonight's hero . . . Do speak your mind . . ."

"My Lord . . . It is true Draco faltered at the last stage of his assignment. I feel, however, it would be reasonable to point out that he otherwise carried out the task without omission. Not only did Draco's idea to use the Vanishing Cabinets prove thoroughly successful, but moreover the plan –"

The voice stopped suddenly; it could only mean Voldemort had raised his hand yet again.

"Yes, yes . . . I can guess what point you are making – and your input is much valued, Severus, it is indeed. I admit I did not expect our young friend to go as far in his task," the Dark Lord confessed calmly. "The dedication you showed does not go omitted, Draco. Nevertheless . . . one problem persists, still – you have failed me, in the end. You were not able to cast the Killing Curse, is that not right, Draco? What a pity – I think there is but one way to teach you . . ."

Draco hadn't been able to help it – he gasped and swayed on his knees. He'd glanced up at the Dark Lord, but quickly averted his eyes from the unforgiving red irises. "No . . . My Lord, I . . . please . . ."

But the Dark Lord merely stared coolly. "Silence . . ." he hissed slowly. "Lord Voldemort is very merciful – you shall be spared your life. Punishment, however . . . is, I'm afraid . . . unavoidable . . ."

And that was when his payment had truly begun. With another hissed word from Voldemort's lips, the pain had hit, piercing through Draco's body like countless daggers, twisting and searing, setting his nerves aflame, and he'd been unable to help the scream that forced its way out of his raspy throat. His fingers had kept digging into the floor, almost to the point of breaking the small bones in his hands, but the screams kept coming from behind his gritted teeth, and it seemed there would be no end to the torture.

Only when he'd become aware of his nails tearing at the stone surface beneath him, Draco realized he'd fallen from his kneeling position to the ground. The cries of pain became sharp gasps, while two or three massive shudders overtook his body. He'd tried to compose himself, but it proved both entirely fruitless and quite pointless, for soon came the next wave of unbearable agony. He couldn't have possibly counted those waves – but he knew that every time the pain ceased his hopes crushed one after another, because the Dark Lord was relentless in casting a curse after curse. There had been words said, too, but, truthfully, Draco was above caring at that point. His mind was blank, his vision white. The blessed state of tranquility only came when he blacked out.

He hadn't been aware of it at first, but that horrible night was merely the beginning of his punishment. The summer following his failure turned out to be a string of unwanted lessons on killing and torturing curses. It was a summer spent on learning.

Still, Draco didn't allow himself to have second thoughts. If he were honest with himself, it wasn't even so much a matter of loyalties any longer –

I, Draco Lucius Malfoy, do solemnly swear that I will bear true and eternal allegiance to the Dark Lord, and that, as his faithful servant, I shall render unconditional obedience and unwavering devotion.

– not fundamentally, anyway. It wasn't faith or suspicion . . .

I do further swear that, notwithstanding any circumstance or change of circumstance that may arise –

. . . enthusiasm or reluctance . . .

in the Dark Lord's humble service I shall fulfill his will and execute his orders –

. . . rightness or wrongness . . .

to the utmost of my power and abilities.

. . . Pure blood or Mud blood . . .

I swear by my blood this undying oath –

. . . this side or that side . . .

that in my loyalty I shall not waver –

It weren't those things that truly made him act. It was the need to survive.


And if there was one thing Draco never had to learn to master, it was just that – surviving.

– 'till the end of time.

As he sat on the edge of his comfortable bed, so many weeks after May 30th, Draco was only starting to notice how drained he was truly feeling. He rubbed his face tiredly, frowning to himself. He supposed dwelling on unwanted memories never did anyone well, and he was apparently no exception to the rule.

Forgetting every thought about shower, he quickly took off his black shirt, followed by equally black slacks and threw them to the floor - the house elves would tidy the mess up by morning. Sleep wasn't easy to get those days for Draco, mainly because it hadn't exactly been an escape he was hoping for it to be, but this night seemed rather inviting. Merlin knew he needed a moment of peace. He needed a rest.

The slumber he fell into that night wasn't overly peaceful, however. He dreamed about a dozen of haggard looking Muggles who were chasing him across their Muggle city that was built with nothing but glass, waving their sticks and shovels, threateningly. As he ran passing hundreds of glass buildings, Draco took a look at his reflection - he suddenly realized he was dressed all in black while everything around was blindingly bright. Concluding there was no way to hide in those surroundings, he stopped abruptly and turned to face the Muggles – only to see they were already right behind him, their primitive weapons jabbing, stabbing and hitting all across his body. Draco collapsed to the glassy floor, its surface stained with blood red flowers, and all he could think about were his attackers' mad, blue eyes that kept boring into his, while the onslaught never stopped. As he lay on his back, Draco realized instead of a sky above, there was only glass.