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Mark of Loyalty

Title: Mark of Loyalty
Fandom: Harry Potter
Pairing: Snape/Lucius Malfoy
Summary: There is a very fine line between loyalty and betrayal... Written for tsarina for mistletoemagic 2005. (S D)




The Dark Mark still burned, a residual throb of white-hot pain, even after he'd obeyed its summons. Severus Snape clenched his hands into fists to resist the urge to rub at it. Other black-cloaked forms popped into place around him.

In the center of the circle, Voldemort sat cross-legged, eyes closed, a spinning ball of crackling blue-white energy floating before him. Even as he was, barefoot and bare-headed without a wand in sight, he was anything but harmless, and the Death Eaters stood waiting in a silence that was half respectful and half afraid.

When they were all there, Voldemort's eyes opened, and the ball of energy vanished without a sound. He got to his feet, movements as graceful as always. In a quiet voice, he said, "There is a traitor here. Someone-- one of you, one of the people I have given my trust to-- is acting as a spy, leaking our secrets to those who would destroy us."

Behind his mask, Snape did not blink. There were a few murmurs of shocked protest rippling from the weaker Death Eaters, but most stood silent, unmoving.

"If anyone wishes to come forward and admit what you have done, I will have mercy on you. Death will be swift and mostly painless. If not, do not think you will escape. I will find you, and you will wish a thousand times that you had taken my offer."

Silence.

"Very well." Voldemort raised one hand to point at Snape. "You," he said, in the same calm voice.

Snape stepped forward and knelt deeply, head bowed, face hidden by mask and hood and fall of hair and yet completely open to the Dark Lord's gaze. "Yes, Lord?" The heavy thud of his heart could, he knew, be explained away as a perfectly natural fear, or as a sign of guilt.

Voldemort didn't respond immediately. The hand moved to another person, singling him out. "You."

A pause, and then the other Death Eater also stepped forward, kneeling next to Snape. In a cultured, elegant voice, he said, "Yes, my lord."

I know that voice, Snape thought, but he didn't glance over.

"Everyone else may leave," Voldemort said, "but remember that I do not forgive even the slightest betrayal. I will not hesitate to punish anyone, no matter how much loyalty they have shown me in the past. With me, there is strength and power and purity. Without me, there is shame and displeasure and death. Remember that. Now go!" he snapped, and the assembled Death Eaters vanished, leaving only the two men kneeling before Voldemort.

"Well," he said very softly. He gestured once, and the cloaks and masks vanished from both men. Snape did not flinch. Voldemort gestured again, and Snape could feel a subtle mental probe, nudging his mind like moth wings fluttering against glass. A slight hiss from the man next to him indicated that he, too, was being probed.

He threw up one shield, fast enough to be seen as an instinctive reaction, crude enough that it would not hold long against a Legilimens of Voldemort's class. The lowering of that shield was a deliberate submission.

It took all of Snape's strength to keep up the second, deeper mental shield. One that wouldn't look like a shield. If the first was a door, a pretense of keeping people out that he could open at will, this was a secret passage hidden behind a bookcase.

The moth in Snape's head fluttered around but didn't seem to notice the second shield. It withdrew, leaving a lingering feeling of something close to satisfaction.

"Good," Voldemort purred. He stepped forward. One cool hand touched Snape's chin, tilting his face up. "Severus." His other hand lingered on the other man's face. "Lucius. My dears. I have a job for the two of you."

#

For a time after Voldemort left, there was silence. Then Malfoy muttered, "He expects the impossible."

Snape gave a mirthless grin. _When does he not?_ he thought, but didn't say. Instead, he said, "I don't suppose you have any suggestions?"

"Not of anything that would work," Lucius said. "You?"

"One," Snape said reluctantly. "We need to convince a bunch of fools that we have knowledge of Voldemort's plans but a sincere reason for helping them instead." His lip curled with disdain that was partly feigned. "We two are not exactly borderline supporters of the Dark Lord, so the only *plausible* reason for us to... go elsewhere... is if the Dark Lord no longer tolerates our presence."

"He dislikes Muggles," Malfoy said, a slight mocking lilt to his voice, "and Mudbloods, and those of impure breeding. Which of those do you expect to impersonate?"

"He also dislikes those who resist him," Snape pointed out. "And--" He hesitated, and made an aborted gesture with one hand. Delicately, he finished, "--those with irregular tastes."

It took Malfoy only a moment, and then his pale eyes narrowed. "You must be joking."

Snape spread his hands. "It's hardly my preference," he said acidly-- which was in large part a lie; Malfoy was a gorgeous man, though Snape would never admit it to his face-- "but it's something that would be believed by *them*. Unless you have any better ideas."

"No," Malfoy said softly. "I don't."

"Well, then." Snape made an exaggerated bow in Malfoy's direction. "Shall we, my darling?"

A spasm of irritation crossed Malfoy's face, and then he bared his teeth in something that wasn't quite a smile. "Yes," he said crossly, "--pookums."

#

Albus Dumbledore was not a stupid man; and though he trusted easily, too easily in Snape's opinion, it wasn't an automatic reaction. When Snape and Malfoy tracked him down, he did not exactly welcome them with open arms.

"The wizarding community," Snape explained, "tends to be very... accommodating. Too much so, but relationships like ours..." He ran one hand down Malfoy's long fine hair in a gesture meant to look almost absentminded.

"I see." Dumbledore peered over his half-moon spectacles at them. Behind him, the three wizards standing like bodyguards were scowling. "Interesting that I have heard nothing of this before. And that you," flickering his long fingers at Malfoy, "are married..."

Malfoy's lips thinned. "It is the responsibility of pureblood wizards to maintain the line, and it is easier to do that when married to one of the opposite gender."

Dumbledore gave a faint smile. "...and you," he continued, peering at Snape, "are..."

Snape glared narrow-eyed at him. _Don't say anything,_ he thought. Dumbledore would not reveal Snape's secrets to those on the Dark Lord's side, but if he truly thought that Malfoy had converted...

"...well," Dumbledore said finally. His face gave nothing away, and Snape relaxed imperceptibly. "Perhaps this is why you have never married, hm?"

"Or perhaps," Snape shot back, "this is the only person I have been able to tolerate sufficiently."

Dumbledore gave a flicker of a smile. "And what assurances do I have," he asked softly, "that you are not simply here to spy on us?"

Malfoy gave a derisive snort. "If _he_ needed spies," he said acidly, "wouldn't you think he would choose less... visible... members of his followers? Ones who could blend in?"

"Hm," Dumbledore said, lacing his fingers together, forefingers pressed to his lips. "I suppose."

Which, Snape thought, was exactly why the Dark Lord had chosen them.

#

They were given access to a tiny safe house, an Unplottable house with plenty of wards and protections. "And," Snape murmured sourly, trailing his fingers along the gilded ornate edges of a mirror, "probably a thousand ways to spy on us."

"For our own protection, of course," Malfoy said.

"Naturally."

With one last glance around the room, Snape moved close to Malfoy. He took the other man's hands in his, dropping a light kiss on the knuckles. "At least we're safe now," he said, a bit too loudly.

Malfoy gave him a wary look. Snape leaned in for a kiss; when Malfoy stood stiff, unresponsive, he changed to nuzzle the elegant line of Malfoy's jaw. Muscles jumped under his lips as Malfoy's teeth clenched together.

"Play along." Snape breathed the words, almost inaudible, into Malfoy's ear. One hand untied the leather clasp holding Malfoy's silver-blond hair back, freeing it to spill like a waterfall over his back and shoulders. "They're watching."

"So?" Malfoy hissed back.

Snape pulled back to look into the pale unfriendly eyes. "This is why we came here," he murmured. It had a double meaning, one for the potential listeners and one for Malfoy. For the benefit of anyone watching he added, "There's none here that will condemn us, not like _he_ would."

Slowly, Malfoy relaxed. "You're right, I suppose," he admitted, with the same set of double meanings. He smiled, the expression almost reaching his eyes, and kissed Snape on the mouth with surprising gentleness.

Snape could feel something coil snakelike inside him, a dark and partially unwanted lust. He closed his eyes, submitting to the press of Malfoy's body against his. The fingers of one hand slid through the soft, fine hair.

Malfoy nipped a trail down Snape's throat and back up, finishing by scraping his teeth lightly over the earlobe. "Severus, my darling," he murmured, "you really must wash your hair sometime."

"Overrated," Snape said with a grin.

#

Unsurprisingly, it took a while for Dumbledore and his people to trust the two of them. By himself, Snape knew, he would have a chance at having Dumbledore's trust, if not that of the others; with Malfoy by his side, they were both treated with suspicion.

"This is taking too long," Malfoy hissed to Snape, once, impatient.

"Patience," Snape said. He wanted to point out that it wasn't as though either of them had expected it to be immediate. For that matter, if it *had* been-- if they had waltzed in and Dumbledore had immediately dropped the name of someone sneaking information from the Dark Lord's camp--

(...if there were someone else...)

--they wouldn't be able to trust that information. Secrets that are too easily revealed are rarely the true secrets.

The turning moment, it seemed, was when their arms both burned with a summons to Voldemort's presence, yet neither left. The tattoos stood out vividly against the skin of their forearms, and the pain increased as they resisted, so that by the end both men were white and sweat-drenched from it.

"That was brave," Dumbledore said to them, after the episode was over. He gave a wry smile.

"Foolish," Malfoy said breathlessly, still clutching his arm. "He does not take kindly to those who... disappoint him."

_It would be more foolish,_ Snape thought wryly, _if he had not given us explicit permission to do this._ As long as they were doing this job for Voldemort, they were allowed to ignore the usual duties of a Death Eater, including the summons of the Dark Mark.

"Foolish, perhaps," Dumbledore murmured, "but bravery often is." His eyes flicked to Snape. Almost conversationally, he said, "Besides, I heard that Voldemort was displeased with you before you left."

"Oh?" Malfoy said.

"Indeed. As I understand it, he singled you two out for... personal attention." His spectacles flashed in the firelight, seeming to wink at them.

"How do you know this?" Snape asked him, feeling cold. He hadn't had a chance to speak alone to Dumbledore, which meant either there _was_ some other spy among Voldemort's followers, or Dumbledore had poked around in Snape's head without him noticing. (Or, he supposed, Malfoy had provided the information, intentionally or not, but would Dumbledore have bothered to hide the source in that case?)

"A little bird told me." Dumbledore smiled at him.

"And I suppose it was a little bird with a Dark Mark on its... wing?" Malfoy said dryly.

Dumbledore didn't reply, just gave a secretive little smile.

#

"Severus, come in, come in. Ah, would you like some ginger snaps? They're quite all right as long as you bite them before they bite you."

"Professor." Snape shook his head, giving the ginger snaps a wide berth. They were purring softly. He sat stiffly on the edge of a chair.

Dumbledore watched him over the familiar half-moon spectacles. "Just so you know, I'm speaking with you and with Malfoy separately. Something I would do regardless of who it was that came to me. Do relax, my dear boy."

Snape didn't. "I expect you would like to know what's going on, sir."

Dumbledore picked up one of the ginger snaps, one finger stroking its... stomach?... as it purred and squirmed on his palm. "Let me guess. Voldemort--"

Snape flinched, just slightly. Dumbledore glanced sharply up at him, but his voice didn't change.

"--knows, or suspects, that one of the Death Eaters is leaking information, and he... hm. Either the two of you are both suspects, and he has exiled you, so to speak; or you are trusted and are simply here to discover on your own who the leak is."

"The first," Snape said after a long pause. Some instinct told him to lie, even though they were alone.

"Ah. Yes. I thought as much." Dumbledore smiled at him. "I'll see what I can arrange."

"Professor," Snape said, but Dumbledore's look silenced him. His lips pinched together. "Yes, sir."

Dumbledore said softly, "I meant what I said earlier. It is brave, your being here."

Snape smiled crookedly.

#

"This is impossible." Malfoy paced the small room like a caged tiger. "I can _not_ live like this."

"Hm," Snape said. He was sprawled more lethargically on the single couch. "I can't say it's my ideal arrangement either." He caught Malfoy's wrist as he passed, pulling the other man down on top of him. "However," he murmured, "it is the situation we are in, and we may as well act like we mean it. Such as, for example, you kissing me."

"You are impossible too," Malfoy said, but he was almost smiling as he lowered his head.

#

Their tattoos burned again; this time, it was meant as a trap.

"We can take you to where they meet," Malfoy said smoothly.

Dumbledore regarded him pensively. "Perhaps it would be safer if you told us, and stayed here."

Malfoy's lip curled. "Hah. Trying to protect us, are you?"

There was the faint hint of a smile on Dumbledore's face. "It seems prudent," he said. "Voldemort's anger is not a slight thing."

"Unfortunately," Snape put in, "it isn't possible. We don't know in advance where it is-- the spell we use to get there, one that he created himself, determines the location at the time of transit."

'Ah. I see. Interesting." Dumbledore regarded his clasped hands with half-lidded eyes, thinking. "Yet you can bring others along with you?"

"I've never tried," Malfoy said with a thin smile. "However, it seems likely. Others have appeared with their... pets... in hand, so to speak."

"I will consider your offer," Dumbledore said, in a neutral voice that indicated he still didn't trust them.

Malfoy swept forward, only barely refraining from towering over Dumbledore. "Don't be a fool, old man," he hissed. "This is your chance to capture your enemy! They will be easy targets, unprepared for you."

Dumbledore glanced at Snape, who kept his mind closed and his face blank. If he told the truth in front of Malfoy, he would sabotage both sides, and could not expect to remain alive.

Dumbledore's gaze flicked back to Malfoy. He seemed unafraid of the man, even though he was seated and Malfoy stood above him. "Your fervor is appreciated," Dumbledore said softly. "But there will be other chances, will there not?"

Malfoy's mouth tightened to the point where his lips turned white. "I suppose there will," he said stiffly, and swept out. Snape followed, with a last glance at Dumbledore.

#

Snape wasn't sure, later, what it was that gave him away. Incautious words from others on Dumbledore's side, perhaps, or a sum of glances and gestures and hesitations that built a framework of suspicion in Malfoy's mind.

He was mentally tired enough that it seemed normal, given the story they claimed as their reason for being there, for Malfoy to all but jump Snape, a strange glint in his pale eyes, hands moving restlessly over Snape's body. Snape, half lost in kissing Malfoy, let himself be led over to the bed, pushed gently down,--

--and bound with a murmured spell from Malfoy, invisible but unbreakable bonds snaking over his wrists, ankles, and neck, holding him in position with very little room to move.

Malfoy knelt panting over him, hair in disarray, wand held loose in one hand, a mad grin on his face. "Severus," he said in a soft dangerous voice. "How long have you been a spy for Dumbledore?"

Snape opened his mouth to make a baffledly offended answer, found the words twisting in his throat, and snapped his mouth closed again. "It isn't any business of yours," he forced out. More words built up inside him, choking him. He swore thickly.

"Yes," Malfoy said, answering his unanswered question. "Veritaserum, in the eggnog."

Snape recognized the taste now, far too late. "So," he said, resigned, "not a different sort of rum. Where did you get it?"

"A gift." Malfoy's eyes narrowed. "The Dark Lord didn't trust you, Severus. Can't imagine why."

"And you didn't use it until now?" Snape forced a mocking lilt into his voice, stalling. He could feel the Veritaserum like a thickness in his throat and mind; the longer he waited, the more it would wear off, and the more in control he would be.

"It was a gamble." Malfoy settled into a more relaxed position, sitting on Snape's hips in a position that would have been rather nice in other circumstances. "If I used it and you were true to our side, you would be offended and with reason; it would have undesirable repercussions. I needed to wait until I was more certain of your... loyalties."

"I am loyal to the correct side," Snape murmured. It was true enough, as far as it went, as long as Malfoy didn't ask--

"And which side is correct, hm?"

--that. Snape sighed. "The one that will win."

Malfoy gave him an abrupt, sound slap, leaving a stinging patch on Snape's cheek. "How long have you been on Dumbledore's side?" he asked deliberately.

Snape didn't want to answer, but the words spilled out of him regardless. "All the time. I just didn't know it."

Malfoy snorted derisively. "And have you ever been on the Dark Lord's side?"

"Yes." The Veritaserum twined in Snape's throat, trying to force out more words, clarification that he didn't want to let out. He clenched his jaw.

"Are you now?"

"No." Snape's laughter surprised him as much as Malfoy. "And neither are you. We're both on Dumbledore's side, hadn't you noticed?"

"I," Malfoy said coldly, "am loyal to the true Lord of the wizarding world."

Another voice, quiet and laced with amusement, said, "That would not be Voldemort, then." Malfoy whirled, just as three simultaneous stunning spells hit him. The breath went out of him in a hiss, and he collapsed half on top of Snape.

For a moment, there was silence. Snape raised his head and calmly met the amused, friendly eyes of Albus Dumbledore, and the less friendly eyes of the wizards with him. "Thank you," Snape said gravely. "Now, would you mind terribly getting me off the bed?"

#

"You knew something like this would happen," Snape said. Fully dressed again, his robes and hair in order, he felt more in control. It was a nice feeling.

"I suspected." Dumbledore looked down at the unconscious Malfoy sprawled in a less-than-elegant manner on the bed. "This may have been as much to test you-- to test both of you-- than to find a leak."

"He searched my mind," Snape said, "and found nothing of import."

"And that may be why," Dumbledore said with a smile. "It doesn't matter, though."

"No," Snape said. "I suppose not." He reached down, brushing a stray lock of silver-white hair from Malfoy's face. "What will you do with him?"

"Memory charm, I think."

"He'll detect it," Snape said. He wasn't quite sure whether he meant Malfoy or Voldemort.

"I expect him to." Dumbledore smiled at him. "Conveniently, there will be an implanted memory buried beneath, one that looks rather like a real memory. It will implicate a certain person as a spy. Alas," he added, sounding almost like he meant it, "there was an unfortunate accident a few days ago that resulted in this man's death." His eyes sparkled with mischief.

"I see," Snape said. He'd heard fragments of rumors the past few days about a Death Eater captured, and killed by his own hand before he could betray any secrets. "In truth, was he?"

"Working for us?" Dumbledore shook his head. "You know better than to ask that, Severus."

_It doesn't particularly matter,_ Snape thought. Either way, the man was dead. Either way, the timing worked out for him: he could claim that the man died not because of being captured by Dumbledore and his fellow wizards, but because Snape and Malfoy had learned the 'truth' about him.

"We will need to perform a memory charm on you as well," Dumbledore said gently. "It isn't that I don't trust you, Severus, but it would seem... suspicious, otherwise."

"Yes," Snape said. He closed his eyes. "Tell me," he added conversationally, "will I know that the memory is implanted rather than real?"

"Hopefully not," Dumbledore said. "And you may not remember our conversations, you understand."

Snape nodded in understanding. They stood a moment in silence. Malfoy began to stir.

"Well," Snape said. "I will perhaps see you later, Professor."

"I'm sure you will," Dumbledore replied serenely.

His wand swept upwards, and there was a flash of light and then darkness.

#

Voldemort stalked in a slow circle around them. His boots, sleek black leather of origins that Snape didn't particularly want to know, made almost no noise against the floor.

"I am a little disappointed," he said in a low voice. "Letting them play around in your heads? I expected better of the two of you." Almost conversationally, he flicked his wand and murmured, "Crucio."

"My apologies, Lord," Malfoy said, panting, when the pain had passed. "Some of us," with a glance sideways at Snape, "trust too easily."

Voldemort raised one eyebrow, looking more amused than angry. "That seems to be a common failing," he said, voice mocking.

"It was an error in judgment," Snape said stiffly, as he got to his feet again, "that will not happen again."

"See that it doesn't." Voldemort's hands rested, one on each of their shoulders. Snape could feel a tingle, not quite pain, running down his arm to settle in a prickling coil where the Dark Mark was.

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