Chapter 1 : Prologue
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He did not like it when his Death Eaters failed him. He liked it even less when they failed so terribly that they had to be retrieved from a heavily guarded prison. What was more was his immense dislike of discovering years later that certain missions had not been carried out as ordered. The Malfoy's, with all their better-than-you pretenses, were barely worth their salt as Purebloods. How had he ever thought Lucius worthy of his inner circle?
He stopped on the left side of the fireplace and turned to look at them, the flames casting his features in shadow. Father and son knelt before him while the mother stood back next to her sister, one of his most loyal followers. They still didn't know why he wanted the boy before him as well. Voldemort relished in the anticipation of their reactions when he revealed the answer.
His wand flicked into a ready position.
"Crucio," he whispered. It was with mild interest that he watch Lucius crumple into a writhing mass on the floor. To his credit, he did not scream, though he grunted and hissed his discomfort. Draco and Narcissa looked equally uncomfortable at the sight, but let no other emotion through.
Good, Voldemort thought to himself. He lifted his wand and Lucius took long, panting breaths into his constricted lungs. Within moments, he was back to his kneeling position. His usually perfect white blond hair was now dishevelled and sweat beaded on his flush face.
Voldemort smiled just slightly. "Welcome back, Lucius," he said pleasantly.
"Thank you, my lord," he replied, his voice strained. Carefully, he wiped dampened strands of hair from his face. He took extra care not to meet the Dark Lord's gaze, choosing instead to watch the dancing flames beside him.
He began pacing again, much more animated now. "It has come to my attention, dear Lucius, that you keep failing me over and over again and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight!" He paused once more to wait for a response.
Lucius' mouth worked itself over until he finally persuaded his lips to open. "My lord, what happened at the ministry-"
"The ministry?" Voldemort interrupted. "This is only the latest of your failings. But you seem to forget that you have been failing for much longer than the last year since I have returned. Wilkes saw him, Lucius. While he and the Carrow siblings took down the Brockdale Bridge, they saw him!" He raised his wand, pleased to see the flinch on his pale face. "How many times have you defied me, Lucius?"
Like a Remembrall turning red, recognition flickered across Lucius' ever paling face. "My lord, I... I had a moment of weakness..."
The admission alone was humiliating. His son cast a disbelieving glance at his father before remembering his place. Voldemort swept across the floor to crouch behind Draco, hands on either of his shoulders.
"No, boy. Look. Look at the pitiful excuse of a Pureblood your father has become. He doesn't know what loyalty is, Draco. Do you?" A smile pulled at his lipless mouth. Fear was evident on Lucius' face and he waited a moment to see what the fool would do.
Nothing, of course.
In the shadows behind the men, one sister looked on with fear and concern while the other leered, eyes full of blood lust.
"Tell me, Draco... What do you know of loyalty?" Voldemort asked softly.
Lucius trained his face to be impassive as he stared into the flames.
"I would never... Intentionally fail you, my lord," the young Malfoy said, choosing his words carefully. They both protected him from accidental failure while telling his father how disappointed he was by this revelation that he could have defied the Dark Lord.
"Well... What a good answer!" He straightened himself and moved to stand before the boy. "I have a special assignment for you, but it can only be for the most willing- the most loyal. Why... I would only trust one of my inner circle with this task..." He turned slightly away, the fire lighting his featureless face. "I suppose you're too young... I've made that mistake before, haven't I, Lucius?"
"No!" Draco cried, jumping to his feet. Lucius grabbed at his arm, hissing at him to get back down, but his son shook off his hand and took a step away. "I'm old enough to do this! I... I'm loyal! And willing! I won't fail!"
Voldemort allowed a glimmer of admiration at the boy's determination. It hid his fear well. Whether to show his father up or to protect his family name, he didn't care. What he had in store for this young man would be more than enough punishment for the whole family.
"Excellent!" he exclaimed softly. "Now, to prove yourself... Present your left forearm. Come now, boy, this isn't the time to be shy!"
Apparently Draco hadn't expected him to actually brand him, to make him part of the coveted inner circle of Death Eaters. He looked frightened now, hesitating before finally taking a step forward, rolling up the sleeve of his robe. His arm shook slightly. Voldemort smiled.
He wasted no time taking hold of Draco's arm and placing the tip of his wand to the delicate pale skin. As the black ink began to spread, Draco began to twitch and grunt from the burning sensation now coursing through his arm. Finally, to Voldemort's great satisfaction, he gave a short cry of pain as the signature skull and snake finished forming itself.
The Dark Lord took a step back as Draco stared at his tender arm, branded forever a Death Eater.
"You know, Draco, if more Purebloods your age had your courage, well... This war would be quickly finished." He needed to make him feel as important and accepted as possible for him to perform his task as well as could be expected. Of course, he would end up dead in the end. "We will talk more of your orders tomorrow. Rest tonight. You will need your strength."
Draco nodded and took a step back, cradling his arm. He did not kneel again, but he did reclaim his position next to his father.
"As for you, Lucius," Voldemort began, looking at the man. He had his undivided attention from the fire now. "I hope you know your orders. Clean up your mess or I will not be lenient a second time!"
Lucius actually jumped at the snap in Voldemort's voice and could barely manage an audible, "Yes, my lord."
Voldemort dismissed the lot of them with a wave of his arm. He placed one hand on the mantle and Nagini, who had been resting there, began to move toward it. She slid across his fingers and arm almost like a caress. He gave her a sinister look. "With any luck, my dear, the Malfoy family will be gone by this time next year."
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