The same house elf had been waiting dutifully for me at the end of the corridor, affording me no final chance to escape. He'd led me up the stairs, and up again, to a level of the hotel that I hadn't even known existed. And then, with an awkward little bow, he'd left me.
I stood outside the door of the hotel's executive suite, trying not to think about death. I cracked my knuckles, obsessive-compulsively inspected my nails, and exhaled all the carbon dioxide in my lungs. Oxygen rushed back in.
I was going to be fine. I was the bullshit king of the world.
I courageously opened the door.
The Dark Lord's quarters were a bustle of human activity. I didn't see him at first. Most of the people just continued working hurriedly away at their varied assignments as I sidled in, but a few looked up and glared at the interruption. Nobody seemed too cheery.
There was a sense of hushed, manic urgency about the room that I didn't like one bit. Glancing about, I realized that almost all of the Death Eaters on call in the island area were in that one room, working feverishly. The organization had transformed a hotel room with pineapple-print wallpaper into a makeshift headquarters for the Dark Lord.
I was still gawping like an idiot when Voldemort strode out from the cloud of industry, Delilah in tow. My face went bone pale and I staggered a step back, suddenly remembering myself.
"Took you long enough, Draco," the Dark Lord said nastily.
It was really all I could do to just not piss my pants.
"I'm very sorry, my Lord," I said shakily, and bowed down on one knee. "It will not happen again."
"Damn straight it won't," the Dark Lord hissed. "Now stand up, I don't have time to kick you in the stomach today."
I was upright so fast that I got a head rush. "Thank you, m'Lord."
"Shut up." He waved his thin, pale fingers about, gesturing about the room. "What does this look like?"
"It's…ah, quite the commotion, my Lord."
"Quite correct," the Dark Lord said, and looked back to me. "It's a commotion. Whoever poisoned Madame Lestrange did it the damn right way, and they also happened to completely disrupt my plans."
A tiny glimmer of relief shone on the horizon. "You have no leads, m'Lord?"
He looked positively livid. "None at all." He lowered his voice conspiratorially, and took another step towards me. "This whole fiasco is especially inopportune because, through Marian, we were just on the cusp of discovering the identity of a spy in the organization." His perfect lips curled into a hateful sneer. "So now I have my entire workforce mobilized, a mole potentially undermining it all, no Seer to guide me, and a Revel set for tomorrow evening. Things are completely out of hand, so I have to call in the reserves. Do you know who they are, Draco?"
I blinked. "Ah, um…no."
The Dark Lord glared at me. "You," he snapped sharply. "You are the reserves."
I blinked. Twice. "Oh. Okay." I shook myself and got back with the program. "Of course, my Lord. What do you need me to do?"
"That's my boy," the Dark Lord said. "Delilah! Make a note that Malfoy the Short gets brownie points." He turned back to me. "Draco, your task is unbearably easy. You may enlist any of the other juveniles in the organization should you require aid. I need you to find and capture a Muggle sacrifice for the Revel. Understood?"
"Yes, my Lord," I said enthusiastically. No one wants to kill me, yay! "By what time?"
"Elevenish tomorrow night," He said. "I'd advise you get up early."
"Sounds fine. Is that all, m'Lord?"
"That is all." He sighed dramatically, and turned away from me. "Oh, but I did so want to sacrifice a traitor. Ah well. Can't have your snake and eat it, too." He paused. "Delilah! Write that down and burn it. I despise puns."
"Very good, m'Lord."
I quickly bowed, and made for the door.
"It's almost dawn, Malfoyette!" the Dark Lord called after me. "Get to your room and get some sleep!"
"Yes, m'Lord," I said quickly, and then I was out in the hall again, safe and free.
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, but in either case I was happier than I'd been in a thousand years. I was home free. We'd gotten away with it, and the Dark Lord had trusted me with quite an important task. Everything was looking up.
I practically skipped all the way back to room 329, and bounded in the door. My good mood was momentarily put on hold by a purse, which collided with my head at full speed.
With a rather ungraceful "Ungh!" I had hit the floor and was staring at the hem of a froofy pink bathrobe.
"Where the hell have you been?" Pansy snapped. "I've been worried sick about you!"
"You know," I said thickly, "I'm really not going to be able to give you any answers if you insist on bludgeoning me with that dirty little bag."
Pansy made a derisive noise and sat down on the foot of her bed, allowing me to pull myself into a sitting position without fear. "It's not a dirty little bag, you uncultured git," she said haughtily. "It's Prada."
"Oh, fantastic. So now I'll have some foppish fashion logo bruised into my face. Joy."
Pansy rolled her eyes. "So what's the news from the top?" she asked. "Because you're obviously not going to tell me anything else."
"Nothing else is important," I said, getting to my feet. "As the situation now stands, Marian is out of condition for about five more days, there is an intensive investigation force in search of the culprits, and the Revel is still on for tomorrow. The investigation is yielding no new information and we're seriously understaffed." I glanced around. "Where's the Adorable Scourge of the Universe?"
"Gone," Pansy said, shaking her head. "Dad sent him and my mother home. He only let me stay because I convinced him I could be useful."
"And you can!" I said, strolling to the hotel desk and rustling up some stationary. "You can get me a glass of water, and help me find a Muggle sacrifice tomorrow!"
Pansy balked. "Wait. The Dark Lord has asked you to allocate a sacrifice for the Revel?"
I glanced back at her. "When I said we were understaffed, I meant we were really understaffed, okay?"
"Fine, fine." She got off the bed and padded into the bathroom. I heard the tap turn on, and she came back in and clinked a glass of water down next to me. "What're you writing?"
"A couple of notes. Enlisting Crabbe and Goyle; telling Snape what's going on."
"Potter sent you another letter," Pansy said.
"Oh?" I looked up, rather surprised. "Where is it?"
She walked over and fetched it from where it was lying on the bedside table. It was already open.
"Pansy," I snapped crossly, stuffing the mangled envelope into my pocket. "Must you always open my private correspondence?"
"Oh, hush," she said. "I only open the letters from him. I think it's cute."
I glowered at her…and then had a lovely malicious idea. "Cute. Yeah. Cute. You're going to be really cute in a second. Just without the 'e!'" With a dramatic flourish, I drew the dagger from its hidden sheathe and Pansy screamed blue murder.
I burst out laughing.
Pansy was gasping for breath and giving me the Look of Death. "That…wasn't…funny!" she snarled. "Where the hell did you get that thing!?"
"Present from Sevvie," I gloated, admiring it.
Over the initial fright, she began edging forward. "It's really…shiny," she said dumbly.
I smirked. "That's what I said." Sweeping aside my robes, I put the dagger back in its scabbard.
Pansy looked a tad sad at this development, but she let it go. My ex-girlfriend flounced back to her bed and plunked down on it, intent on lazily staring at the ceiling. I slipped off my boots, and returned to my writing.
That would do it. I walked to the balcony, and whistled for an owl. Two owls, actually. The note to Severus was already written, assuring him that everything had gone perfectly fine and that the olives had gone over well (I hadn't had time to think of a good code, so I just stuck to the distasteful and strange).
Two owls landed in front of me: one mottled brown, and one white. I gave them each their respective burdens and told them the addressees, but my eyes hovered on the snowy owl. Even as they took flight, I watched the ivory bird disappear. I smiled. Harry's owl…what did he call her? Hedwig? She looked like that. Her beak was lighter, though. I wondered if she'd ever bring me anything again.
I remembered Harry's letter in my pocket, and drew it out.
The envelope was torn and the paper a bit rumpled, but I smoothed it out. He had the stupidest handwriting. It was ungodly messy, and so thin and slanted and hurried. It suited him well.
I'm sorry you're not having a good time. I'm sure you'll make something interesting of it, in any case. And always remember: at least you're not me. It's very taxing, what with You Know Who breathing down my neck. I actually don't think I've ever been on vacation. Not from that, anyway.
My owl has forgiven you and consented to bringing this letter. Ron wants to know—and I'm only asking this because he's standing above me and threatening to douse me in orange juice—if you eat little children. Hermione wants me to give you this long tirade about being polite, but I'm sure you'd just burn it so I'll skip the whole thing. The twins keep saying absolutely unintelligible things about Nundu fur and cowboy hats. This place is a mad-house.
Okay, I'm just babbling now, so I'll wrap this up. I'm going to be seeing you pretty soon—school's only a few weeks away. That should be amusing, or at least catastrophic. Bye, now. I miss you, too.
I stood on the balcony and watched the sunrise turn the gray clouds into pink and golden fire.