10:50 p.m. Draco slipped from behind the pillar he’d used to block himself from Filch’s view. Heart pounding, he stole out of the Great Hall and into the ominous night. He pulled the hood of his cloak up to hide his white-blonde hair and tried to calm his breathing. Everything’s fine. Everything’s fine. Everything’s fine. Far too soon, he reached the edge of the Dark Forest. He stepped cautiously into the shadow of a copse of trees, glancing back at Hagrid’s hut, where smoke stretched lazily from the stone chimney.
“Draco,” an urgent whisper called to him from his right.
“Come.” Her voice was terse with fear. She and Draco stepped further into the Dark Forest. After a moment they came to a clearing. A small circle of Death Eaters stood in the shadows, the green light from their wands casting an eerie glow. Draco’s already-pounding heartbeat increased. Almost unconsciously, he closed his mind, sending a silent thanks to his Aunt Bellatrix for training him in Occlumency over the summer.
“Well, well,” a voice hissed from the shadows. “The prodigal son arrives.”
Light, jeering laughter echoed around the circle, fading as the speaker stepped into the wandlight.
His serpentine eyes held Draco’s as an adder might a mouse. Draco was paralyzed with fear. His mother clenched her hand on his arm tightly, and he found himself grateful. Focusing on her grip, he was finally able to wrench his gaze from Voldemort’s.
“My Lord,” he whispered, bowing low.
“Come now, there’s no need to sound so – nervous,” Voldemort said slowly. “I’ve called this meeting to grant you a gift.” He smiled: bloodless lips curling back in a way that made Draco shudder. He felt his mother tremble next to him. “Your father has displeased me, but you will do better, won’t you?”
Draco nodded automatically. “Of course you will, of course you will,” Voldemort hissed as Nagini curled around his feet.
Draco swallowed hard. “How can I serve you, My Lord?”
“I am prepared to honor you – far earlier than any in my service have ever been honored.” Draco closed his eyes and waited for the hammer to fall.
“I am making you a Death Eater.”
“NO!” His mother screamed, before she could stop herself.
“Mother, be quiet!” Draco whispered urgently, taking her hand and squeezing hard.
She held it tightly, tears streaming silently down her face.
Voldemort looked amused.
“You aren’t happy for him? Narcissa, I’m shocked. I thought that including your son in my ranks would be the greatest wish of any mother… isn’t that what your son was bred for?”
“Of course, M-m-my Lord. It’s just – I only – he’s so young. He just turned 16 – I thought, perhaps, when he was of age – he would be able to serve you better.”
“Aaaaaah, so did I, so did I…. but your husband’s precipitated arraignment leaves an opening in the ranks…and don’t worry, Narcissa, he won’t even have to leave school.”
She stared at him warily.
Voldemort’s tone was mocking, his eyes narrowed in gleeful spite. “Draco, you will kill Dumbledore before the snow thaws.”
Draco and the other Death Eaters gasped. Narcissa was in horrified shock.
“Kill….Dumbledore? B-b-b-but, My Lord…” Draco stuttered.
The other Death Eaters tittered excitedly.
“If you aren’t up to the task you’re welcome to say so.” The Dark Lord’s voice was deceptively soft.
Draco held his tongue. He felt frozen in time.
“Good boy. Your father has already failed me…but I am generous enough to give you a chance to redeem him. If you do not, then it would seem that I have no use for your family after all.”
The implications were clear. Fear clutched him as it never had before. My family.
Without warning, Voldemort summoned Draco to him and cruelly pressed his wand into the tender skin of his forearm. Draco couldn’t help crying out as the Dark Mark was burned into him.
With a last evil chuckle, Voldemort released him and Disapparated. One by one his Death Eaters followed.
As soon as they were gone, Draco’s mother gave a guttural sob and sank to her knees in the snow. Draco still couldn’t move, but he felt a pressure building in his chest. Panic. His heartbeat had slowed almost to stopping, but each pound felt like it would break his ribs.
“I should get back to the castle,” Draco heard himself say.
His mother pushed herself up slowly. He didn’t help. Draco was barely holding himself up; there was no way he could support his mother too.
“I’ll go back with you,” she said. “I must speak to Severus. There must be something – anything – we can do. He’s the Dark Lord’s favorite, yes. He can speak to him. Convince him to take anything else. The Manor, our Gringotts account, anything.”
Draco didn’t have the heart to discourage her, but he knew it was hopeless. He had been set an impossible task, and the price of failure would be his life.
“NO! NO, it can’t be….”
Narcissa did not know her husband was capable of showing so much emotion. We watched Lucius break with detached numbness. Her own emotion had been wrung completely out. Summoning up some reserve of strength, she tried to placate him.
“Severus said he would do everything in his power to protect him,” she whispered. “He made the Unbreakable Vow.”
Lucius nodded and stared into the flames of their gilded fireplace, clutching the mantle for support.
When he looked up again, his grey eyes were filled with desperate shame.
“This is my fault. I’ve brought this upon us. Upon our son.” He collapsed into his dragonhide armchair. “Our only son…”
Lucius and Narcissa stayed in the drawing room until the fire burned low, neither one able to speak further, united in their despair.
The first thing Hermione noticed was Malfoy’s eyes. They were hardened, dead.
He was back among his friends – Theodore, Pansy and Dareon flanking him, Crabbe and Goyle sitting across from them – but he wasn’t attempting to speak, or even eat.
She frowned slightly, and briefly caught Pansy’s eyes. Hermione caught the worry in her gaze, and tilted her chin to the right to indicate Malfoy. Pansy nodded and shrugged almost imperceptibly.
“Hermione?? Hermione? I’m talking to you…” Ron said indignantly. “What are you looking at?”
“Nothing, just staring into space. Tired,” she lied.
“Oh. Just looked like you were staring at the Slytherins for a minute.”
She laughed. “Well their table is the next one over.”
“Yeah, but I like to pretend the slimy gits don’t exist.”
“Do you think they’re gonna retaliate for Fred and George’s prank?” Dean asked worriedly.
The Gryffindors scanned the Slytherin table, noting the many students shooting them angry glares.
“Yep, I’d say that’s in our future, mates!” Harry said.
They laughed. “Let ‘em try, they can’t do much that the twins couldn’t outdo!”
"Still, we should be vigilant,” Ginny reminded them.
The next few days passed quickly, but their professors were piling on the homework with the Christmas holiday approaching.
Hermione struggled awkwardly with her books and groaned in frustration when they spilled out her arms in the Common Room.
“Hi Hermione, let me help!” Harry said, rushing over.
“Thanks, Harry. I’m so stressed.”
“I wish the profs would let up a little,” Harry sympathized. “McGonagall didn’t have to give us that extra Transfiguration essay. I mean, what’s she playing at? She’s assigned us three already, due next week!”
“By the way, Ron thinks its bollocks but have you noticed anything different about Malfoy lately?”
Hermione stiffened. “How so?”
Harry ran his hand through his dark hair, making it even more unruly-looking. “I don’t know, just – he’s harder, somehow. You know how I told you this summer that I thought Malfoy might be made a Death Eater if his dad gets sent to Azkaban?”
“Yes,” Hermione said with a frown. “But Harry, you don’t think that – you couldn’t possibly think that Malfoy had become a Death Eater, do you?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. But something’s up with him, that’s for sure.”
“I agree,” Hermione admitted. “I noticed that Monday morning.”
“Well, let’s keep an eye on him, alright? If Malfoy has taken the Dark Mark he needs to be watched.”
“I don’t think he’s that harmful, though. I mean, come on Harry, this is Malfoy we’re talking about. Yes, he’s a git, but he’s not….” She paused.