"How do you know he knows!?" Severus asked for about the fifth time that night. He was stalking back and forth, glaring at me in agitation every few paces.
"I just know!" I yelled, also for about the fifth time that night, and viciously threw a pillow at his head. "He knows that we went to see her within an hour before she died! If they establish the time of death, we're completely fucked!"
Severus paled a bit, but continued to pace intensely. "We're not dead yet," he said quietly. "Lucius is known for his occasional oversight of the completely obvious."
"Oh yeah!? Like when!?"
"Like the resurrection of the Dark Lord and all that—but it doesn't really matter. We just have to pray that luck's on our side this time."
I scowled bitterly. "Yeah, or that he loves us both an extra-special lot."
Severus came to a stop in front of me. "Please restrain from further gratuitous sarcasm," he groaned. "Any more madness today and I will have an aneurysm." He rubbed his eyes, and muttered something about murder under his breath.
"Oh, no problem," I snapped. "I'll just keep quiet—until we DIE!"
Severus opened his mouth, and then shut it again, looking extremely peeved. He paced back to the table in the corner of his room, which was already a bubbling mess of antidote-preparation, and added something to something and stirred something else. It all smelled vile, but the stench seemed to clear his head some.
"Draco," he said, more quietly. "You are the son and only heir of one of the most powerful Death Eaters in the world. I myself am probably the best Potionsmaster in all of Great Britain. They will not kill us until they have absolute proof that we are indeed the culprits."
"And what would that be?" I asked, bitter to the core.
Severus sighed. "Marian's word. So as long as we kill her quickly enough—"
"—We'll be alright," I finished, looking none-too-convinced. "That's a long shot at best, Severus."
"Tsk, tsk," Severus said as he moved to rifle through the cupboards. "Where's your sense of optimism and adventure, old sport?" he said scathingly. He found what he was looking for and tossed it to me.
It was a thick leather case, old, dusty, musty, and about as long as my forearm. I ignored it momentarily.
"I thought you said no sarcasm," I snapped, glaring.
"Scratch that," Severus grumbled. "It's the only thing that keeps me going." He motioned to the slim leather bundle in my hands. "Open it."
Still scowling, I unwound the bindings and unrolled the aged leather. The heady smell of an article that had aged a long time in the coffers of Malfoy Manor rose in the air, and my curiosity was piqued. I delicately lifted the article, and drew it out of its inconspicuous black scabbard.
It was a dagger.
It might have been a thousand years old or it might have been forged yesterday; the craftsmanship was immaculate and the bright steel held the sort of perfect sheen which outlasts eternity. Entranced, I ran my finger along the tip and quickly recoiled at the touch of reality: a line of blood appeared on my pale skin. The dagger's edge was as keen as shattered glass.
"Severus," I murmured in awe, "this is beautiful. You can't give this to me. It's probably priceless."
Severus was concentrating on his potion, and did not turn to face me. "Hold the blade up to the light, Draco," he advised.
I did, a few times and at a few different angles, but I couldn't see what he was talking about. I set it gently on the coverlet.
"You're mad," I concluded aloud.
Severus sighed. "Sometimes I almost agree. But no matter—the dagger's yours. I'm not taking it back. I want you to use the belt—yes, the case is the belt, please don't interrupt—and keep it with you at all hours of the day until Marian is dead."
A sudden lump developed in my stomach, and I stood. "You said I wouldn't have to do it," I said hollowly.
Severus sighed, and turned to me. He picked up the belt and the scabbard from the bed, and set about fastening them to each other in the proper fashion. "I'd save you the trouble if I could," he muttered, "but complications lead me to think that I am not going to be the one with a lot of free time here. Now, if I find a way to kill her myself, I will." He looped the belt around my waist and pulled it tight. "But you need to be prepared to take matters into your own hands." He stepped away, and I slowly took it upon myself to buckle the belt about me.
The dagger was lying on the bed, awaiting my touch.
"I'll be ready," I said quietly. I forced myself to pick up the knife. It was heavy and cool in my grasp. I held it to the light once more, inspecting the glittering blade before sliding it smoothly into the scabbard. The new weight at my hip was alien and unwelcome, but I willed myself to accept it. Desperate times, desperate measures.
I looked to Severus, and found he was calmly watching me with an odd half-smile on his face. For the first time in months he looked almost peaceful.
"Your father is lucky to have an heir like you," he said softly.
"Yes," I returned. "The question is: am I?"
Severus threw me a reproving look, and looked about to scold me when there was a sudden knock on the door.
We both leapt a foot in the air. I scrambled to pull on my outer robes and conceal the new weapon at my side, and Severus quickly walked back to his potion, tinkering with it needlessly.
"Come in," Severus called aloud once all was secure.
The door opened, and in came one of the hotel's house elves.
"Mr. Draco Malfoy?" it asked, looking between the two of us.
"That's me," I said, stepping forward.
The house elf bowed its head respectfully. "His Majesty the Dark Lord is requesting your presence, Mr. Malfoy, sir."
Oh god no.
My knees gave out beneath me and I vaguely felt myself hit the floor.
Far off, people were still talking.
"Is Mr. Draco Malfoy alright, sir? Do you want me to call a mediwizard, sir?"
"No. He's just a bit tired. He'll go up to see the Dark Lord in a moment." A strained pause. "Thank you for your message."
"You are very welcome, sir. Is there anything else you would like?"
"No. We're fine. Everything is fine. You may go."
The door shut, and instantly Severus had dragged me onto my feet.
"Are you alright?" he asked hurriedly, face even paler than usual.
"Yes," I whispered, and fought to stand up on my own. My thoughts were a manic carousel of images, both past and possible, both enchanting and horrifying.
"Then don’t ever do that to me again!" my mentor growled.
Oh no, oh no, oh no.
"He's going to kill me," I said blankly, staring at the buttons on Severus's shirt. "Oh my god, he's going to kill me." I looked up into his eyes in panic. "Will they torture me, Severus? Did they torture you?"
Severus looked sickened and wretched and helpless, like a man stuck behind a glass wall watching his life fall apart. "Just—just calm down," he said, his tone unnaturally stiff. "Just—just go up there. It might not even be about this. It could be something completely different. We're overreacting. Nobody's dying here."
"I think I'm going to throw up," I said, and looked at my feet.
"No!" Severus shouted, shaking me, and a panicked look into his eyes showed me that at long last, he had reached the breaking point. "No, you are not. You are going to go up there and you are going to feed the Dark Lord the best batch of bullshit you have ever brewed. You were practically born for this, Draco!" His gaze commanded me, coerced me, begged me. "This is what you're good at. Make Him believe every word you say."
"Every word," I echoed hollowly, and closed my eyes, begging the emptiness inside my chest for strength.
"Every word," Severus confirmed. "Show me you are a Malfoy."
I exhaled a long breath, and opened my eyes. Gently moving his hands from my shoulders, I turned to glance in the mirror. I straightened my collar, smoothed out my hair, and suppressed the urge to cry like a little baby.
"It's probably nothing," I said, forcing myself to believe the projected lie. "Heh, an hour from now you'll probably be mocking me for almost fainting on a house elf!"
Severus nodded. "Of course," he said.
I looked at the door. "I'd best get going," I said, the claws of fear already inches deep in my flesh.
"Yes," Severus said. "You'd better go."
"Bye, now," I said, my voice a tad higher than I'd intended. With willpower I didn't even know I'd possessed, I walked out that door and down the hall. I did not allow myself to look back.
I wouldn't know it for many years afterwards, but inside the room I left behind, Severus Snape closed his eyes and let a few agonized tears roll down his usually emotionless face.