Severus Snape woke with a start and a harsh intake of stale, dank air. He hurt, not just from the hard surface he lay on, but from the horrible muscle-twisting and mentally-dimming effects of the Cruciatus Curse. It was dark around him–black as pitch, and though he was sure his eyes were wide open, there was nothing before him but the void of darkness. Somewhere nearby he could hear random drips of liquid and he could smell not just the musty, damp air, but also the harsher scents of decay, and death.
He reached out along the floor, groping awkwardly for a wand he knew would not be there. He found cold hard rock beneath him, the edges of large, flat, squarely cut stones where they abutted one another. The careful fitting revealed that this was a place wrought by the hand of a thinking creature, wizard, goblin, elf, possibly even human, but he was not sure of what use that knowledge could be except to confirm that he was a prisoner. But that much he knew already.
His aching body protested as he pulled himself up to a sitting position, his legs crossed. He was a very powerful wizard, but he had never been particularly good at wandless magic. Still, he held his hand out in front of him, palm upward, and concentrated on articulating the words, “Igni Lumen,” in his head. There was a sharp sound like the momentary scrape of flint on steel; a small ember glowed about an inch above his palm. It lasted only an instant and it was gone.
His lungs protesting, he took a deep breath and tried to calm himself, focusing his mind.
“Igni Lumen!” he spat the words forcefully.
There was a crackling sound, and again an ember appeared an inch above his palm, a lightly glowing orange point in the darkness. He concentrated and a small flame grew from the ember flickering and growing like a newly lighted candle guttering in a light breeze. The flame grew larger and brighter illuminating the cell. It was a stone room about three meters square and possibly two meters tall. Each wall, the floor, and the ceiling were the same, composed of rectangular stones carefully fitted together to cover the whole space. Some of the stones were as large as a meter across and nearly as tall as the room itself. Any of these, he knew, could be the doorway.
Here and there drips fell from the ceiling and Severus thought he detected the liquid movement of millipedes across the joints of the walls, but he knew he was otherwise alone. He also knew that further exploration was futile as the cell would be magically sealed, and, wandless as he was, there would be little he could do. The light in his palm flickered away and he remained still in the darkness. He wished he could access a healing draught from his stores in his dungeon office at Hogwarts, but he recalled with sudden and terrible clarity that he could not.
He could not because all of Hogwarts and, for that matter, all of the civilized wizarding world were now his enemies, made so the instant that he had spoken the words that had taken the life of Albus Dumbledore.
That was the thing... He had done it. He had taken Dumblebore’s life.
And the Dark Lord was furious.
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
“Draco Malfoy, whining, whimpering, worthless schoolboy!” The words hissed from the taut lips of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the Dark Lord Voldemort.
Draco lay prostrate on the cold floor, magically bound, as the berating words poured forth from the lips of his father’s master – the master he himself had longed to serve. Pain seared through him as Voldemort quite casually twisted his limbs with the Cruciatus Curse. Draco was sure he would have passed out from the agony had another curse not been keeping him conscious to experience the torment.
Draco had wanted to prove himself, to atone for his father’s failure in the Ministry. He wanted to earn a Dark Mark, making him a true Death Eater, but he had failed in the last minutes of the plan when he had let doubt and uncertainty rob him of what might have been a certain victory. He was afraid... afraid then of what he would become if he killed his headmaster, the only wizard that the Dark Lord had ever seemed to fear, and afraid now of what would become of him at the hands of the most fearsome and terrible wizard to ever live.
So much pain had been inflicted upon Draco that it was now a dull ache compared to his fear. That fear gripped his throat and chest more tightly than the magical bonds that held him to the ground.
They were in a grand hall, but where that hall was exactly, Draco had no idea. In the middle of the floor where he lay was a large pentagonal stone of polished granite. Surrounding this centerpiece were darker slabs of a finer grained stone which continued outward from the center in alternating circles of color. Interwoven in the floor design was the image of a large snake, a basilisk, curling outward from the center, its head emerging from the design, becoming a raised dais directly above and in front of Draco.
Voldemort circled him moving counter clockwise while the snake, Nagini, slithered a wider circle in the opposite direction. Somewhere there were brightly burning torches casting flickering illumination and long shadows, but bound as he was, Draco could not see from where. Beyond the Dark Lord, there stood some twenty Death Eaters in a wide semi circle.
“How could you fail me when I made it so easy?” spat the Dark Lord, “When Dumbledore did not defend himself with magic, but only words?”
Voldemort stopped and stared down at the whimpering boy. He kneeled low, getting down on his hands and knees, and bringing his serpentine face near Draco’s. “Shall I kill you for your failure, or merely punish you for being a stupid boy… so much less than a man?”
Draco had no words to respond, his face grimaced in pain, his tongue magically plastered to the roof of his mouth to prevent his screaming.
The Dark Lord grabbed him by the hair and pulled him to his knees. Stepping back Voldemort raised his wand and pointed it at Draco’s chest.
“NO!” screamed a hooded figure lunging forward from the circle of Death Eaters.
Tearing away her hood and mask as she lunged forward, Narcissa Malfoy threw herself between her tortured son and the wand of the dreaded Dark Lord. Her blonde hair and pale face shown brightly in the torch light as she thrust herself to the ground at Voldemort’s feet, the straight locks of her hair splayed out from her upturned face.
“I beg you my Lord; do not kill my only son! My husband is sentenced to life in Azkaban. How am I to serve you well if you take everything from me?” Narcissa’s pleading words filled the room, her voice choked with anguish and hysteria, her face covered in tears.
Voldemort stopped still, a look of fear playing across his face for a split second as this frantic woman threw herself at his feet, pleading to protect her son.
He directed his wand at Narcissa and a stream of red light arced from its tip engulfing her pale form in tendrils of light, like arcing electricity. She was lifted violently from the floor and tossed hard against one of the large stone columns that flanked the hall. She slid down the pillar collapsing limp to the floor. None moved to offer her assistance as she lay there broken, her chest heaving for breath.
“You have nothing save that which I grant you!” the Dark Lord hissed.
Voldemort again leveled his wand at Draco and the boy’s lean tortured form rose up off the floor as though suspended from wrist bindings.
Voldemort spoke calmly now, all anger gone from his voice, “You shall learn the price of failing me, boy.”
With a flick of his wand a pair of cat-o’-nine-tails appeared in the air behind Draco. The Dark Lord smiled sadistically as each whip began in turn lashing the suspended boy. With a twist of Voldemort’s wrist Draco’s tongue was unbound, each lash eliciting an agonized scream. Blood dripped freely from the deep gashes spattering the granite beneath.
The Dark Lord stepped up onto the basilisk head shaped dais, and slid easily into a throne so elaborately carved that it appeared to be a mass of writhing snakes. From this vantage point he sat observing his Death Eaters as the whips performed their horrid work. Finally, after some twenty lashes each, Voldemort lightly flicked his wand and the whips disappeared.
Draco’s head hung limp as his brain screamed for the release that might come through passing out. Low throaty sobs escaped him. Up again from his seat Voldemort approached Draco as he dropped slightly lower. Voldemort’s outstretched left hand reached for Draco’s face and he gripped it tightly. Turning it up a little he looked deeply into Draco’s wide, terror filled, grey eyes.
“I must know your mind,” he stated simply, flicking his wand. Voldemort’s Legilimency spell was so intense it caused a rush of visible mental energies to flow from Draco’s head into the Dark Lord’s own, the effect blurring and obscuring Draco’s terrified features.
For long seconds, Voldemort turned his head from side to side as though considering the rush of memories. He breathed halted “ahs” and slight gasps as the events, and more than that, the emotional essence of what was Draco Malfoy flooded through him.
Suddenly he broke his contact and stepped back. Voldemort breathed deeply and looked up at the boy, his eyes burning with disgust and hatred.
“Greedy, spoiled, lying, selfish, brat!” The words were venomous. “You believe that you actually deserve the wealth and station into which you were born.” The Dark Lord’s voice cackled dangerously as his anger rose. “You are nothing but an ignorant boy, and a coward!”
Voldemort raised his wand again, this time holding it close to Draco’s forehead. A bright tendril of orange light streamed suddenly from the wand tip appearing to burn the boy’s flesh. Sparks arched away as the Dark Lord slashed across Draco’s face. The wand light dissipated revealing a bright yellow, ragged “X” crossing at the bridge of Draco’s nose. “Now, you have the ancient coward’s mark, and I am done with you.”
As the Dark Lord turned, slowly stepping up the dais toward his throne once more, Draco fell unceremoniously to the hard floor, his mother crawling painfully and desperately toward his unconscious form. Narcissa pulled Draco’s limp body into her arms, sobbing.
“I am done with you both,” Voldemort’s voice intruded, again dripping with malice as his wand arm thrust forward. “Be gone from me.”
A massive arc of violet energy struck the two broken figures like a flash of lightning. They were momentarily engulfed in dark flame and then they were gone, leaving only a scorch mark and a wisp of acrid smoke.